On June 2 of this year the lovely and ever-gracious Nicole and I were married in the historic Drawing Room of Proprietary House by Judge Maria Del Valle Koch. It was the place where in 2010 I first participated in the reenactment of the arrest of Governor William Franklin.
A year later, I was promoted to the role of Col. Nathaniel Heard, the militia officer who conducted the June 16, 1776 arrest heard ’round the Garden State – an arrest that, for over twenty years, has been faithfully re-enacted every June on or close to the 16th.
Except for this year:
The event was cancelled due to circumstances beyond the control of the folks who run Proprietary House. I have no doubt that many people are wondering: just what ARE those circumstances and why are they beyond control?
Were any of the re-enactors ill? Nope. On strike? Not a chance. Was there a fire or other disaster that took place at Proprietary House? Not exactly. There was a disaster, to be sure, but it didn’t involve a fire, a flood or anything of that nature. Rather, it involved members of the Executive Board and an emerging scandal that now threatens to undo decades of good will and the tireless efforts of dozens of people.
As June rolled around, preparations for the re-enactment on the 16th were proceeding smoothly and without a hitch – as they had every year before. All of the re-enactors knew their lines and had rehearsed the script at least once on location and all were looking forward to playing to a packed audience that coming Saturday.
It all changed on June 12 when Kurt Epps – the star of the show who portrays Gov. William Franklin – stumbled across the following comment posted on the Perth Amboy Forum at NJ.com:
“June 1, 2012. School Administration notifies teachers and City Administration that students will no longer be allowed to visit the Proprietary House on Kearny Ave. Reason??? The Board of Trustees knowingly invited a convicted sex offender (Child Pornography) to be a trustee and on the Executive Committee. As Vice-President Jane Hogya said “We have no intention to do anything about this”.
He copied the message and forwarded it to me (and others), inquiring if we knew anything about this.
I did not and replied that if it was true, the offender ought to be removed from the Executive Board immediately. Kurt wrote back:
I did a search on the NJ Sex Offenders site, using the name [redacted], currently the [redacted] on the Prop House Exec Committee. He is a 2nd tier offender for child pornography according to the State Police site.
I don’t know (though I can guess) how you feel, but I refuse to lend my name and talents to the House while this individual serves in any capacity.
I agreed and responded that if the person in question did not resign immediately, I would have no part of Saturday’s event.
Over the course of the next 48 hours, news of this scandal began to spread; it was a public relations nightmare in the making and unless it was nipped in the bud, would grow to proportions beyond anyone’s control.
On June 13, Epps wrote:
I have a call in to the Mayor as well, as she is aware of the situation. And I just came from speaking with Linda Blomquist at the House who claims she was NOT aware. I told her that none of us would participate Saturday if this fellow hadn’t resigned by then.
On the morning of June 14 I received this e-mail from Kurt:
Needless to say, members of the city council are now aware of this conundrum and are just shy of livid, realizing the potential black eye this could cause the city, even though the city doesn’t oversee the house. They, too, are desirous of no negative press in this regard, as despite their political views, they all see the house as a precious jewel in the city’s crown.
Interestingly, the thread on the forum at NJ.com that initiated this firestorm has now been deleted, but it’s too late, in my view. The facts are what they are. [Redacted] is a listed child sex offender and distributor of child pornography, and he sits as [redacted] of the Proprietary House Executive Board.
Until that changes, I’m unavailable to volunteer my time and service, and if anyone asks, that’s exactly what I’ll tell them.
That a certain person has failed to contact me is rather surprising, causing me to have questions about how much he knew, when he knew it and whether he sanctioned or supported it.
The “certain person” was Jeff Huber, who still had not returned any of Kurt’s phone calls or e-mails. In desperation, Epps dispatched a final message at 8:53 AM on June 15:
Jeff, the window to save the show is closing, and I still have not heard from you.
Shortly after 9 AM Epps received a bizarre text response from Huber, who gave every indication that he had no idea what was going on. Was he serious? It had been well over 48 hours since the news broke and both Huber’s e-mail and voicemail in-boxes must have been crammed with messages. How could he act as if he had no clue what was happening?
During the day Kurt phoned me with the news that members of the Perth Amboy city council prevailed upon State Senator Joseph Vitale to get involved and pressure the sex offender to resign from the Executive Board.
Around 8 PM, Kurt updated me on the day’s transactions:
Senator Vitale and the prosecutor’s office got involved. The person in question is not allowed in the house. There are major changes
Oh, there were major changes, alright. Kurt forwarded the following to me:
From Jeff Huber:
Come by the Proprietary House tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 and watch Colonel Heard arrest Governor Franklin as history repeats itself once again in our presentation. This year we will be introducing a whole new cast of fine actors.
A “whole new cast?” Maybe they’re cutting us out?
It was unthinkable. Who could possibly step in to fill the roles of Gov. Franklin and Col. Heard on such incredibly short notice?
There were also a lot of questions surrounding the recent million dollar grant secured for Proprietary House from the state of New Jersey: that amount of money could have funded further restoration of the building, purchased new uniforms, costumes and stage props for the annual re-enactment, and improve the association’s ability to publicize Proprietary House. And yet – inexplicably – the Executive Board turned down the grant. Why on earth would they do this? Were they afraid they would have to open the books to state auditors?
As it turns out, he meant what he said about “a whole new cast:” in an e-mail to Kurt on Friday evening, Huber explained that because Kurt and I declared that we would not participate in the event, two other actors were found to fill the roles.
This was astounding. Huber knew perfectly well that our boycott was predicated on the removal of the sex offender from the Executive Board and once that was accomplished, we were prepared to return to Proprietary House and perform the re-enactment the following day. Why on earth would he do this?
The lovely and ever-gracious Nicole – who had been witness to this drama for the past few days – had enough nonsense and early on Saturday morning she posted the following on her Facebook page:
Today at 1 PM the Proprietary House will be hosting its annual re-enactment of the arrest of Governor Franklin. In today’s performance the roles of William Franklin and Col. Nathaniel Heard will NOT be played by Kurt Epps and Gene Hoyas – but two other actors brought in at the last minute.
Why were Kurt Epps and Gene Hoyas dismissed from this event by Proprietary House Executive Board President Jeff Huber? Was it because State Senator Joseph Vitale intervened at the request of the Perth Amboy city fathers to remove from the Executive Board a convicted sex offender who served as its [redacted]?
We can’t be sure and so it’s important that if you visit Proprietary House today, you take a moment to ask some questions.
Ask Jeff Huber how it was possible for a convicted sex offender to become a member of the Executive Board.
Ask Jeff Huber if he was aware that since June 1 the superintendent of the Perth Amboy school system has prohibited all students in the district from visiting Proprietary House.
Ask Jeff Huber what he was doing for two days after Kurt Epps alerted him about this prohibition on June 12, since he didn’t respond to any of Kurt’s e-mails or calls.
Ask Jeff Huber why it was necessary for members of the city governing body to bring the matter to the attention of Sen. Vitale in order to force the sex offender to resign from his post.
Ask Jeff Huber why he dismissed Kurt Epps and Gene Hoyas (both of whom said they would not perform in the re-enactment if the sex offender remained on the Board) AFTER the sex offender was removed from office.
Ask Jeff Huber why he and the Executive Board rejected a million dollars in state funding secured for Proprietary House. Ask him if they refused it so they wouldn’t have to open their books.
Ask Jeff Huber what he knew and when he knew it.
Finally…Ask Jeff Huber to resign from the Executive Board of Proprietary House.
At the time of her post, the Proprietary House web page for the re-enactment event still listed Kurt Epps and Gene Hoyas as the principal leads. However, the page changed at around 9:40 AM to announce that the event had been cancelled. Apparently, someone read Nicole’s Facebook page and acted swiftly to avoid any embarrassing confrontations.
I find it more than strange that people were told before 9:30 AM that the reason the event was cancelled was that “Kurt Epps didn’t show up.” Even had there been no scandal, Epps & Company would not have shown up till 11:30 or so anyway for the dress rehearsal. I would have no problem if the official reason given was “Kurt Epps refused to show up until the convicted sex offender on the Exec Board resigned,” but telling visitors that Epps simply “didn’t show up” is a half-truth that impugns his character, integrity and dedication to the House.
This whole affair is an absolute disgrace – it stinks like a mackerel rotting in the moonlight and must not be allowed to slip quietly into oblivion: those who precipitated this scandal together with those who enabled them must face a day of reckoning. To that end I call for the following:
- The entire Executive Board must resign or be removed from office by the State of New Jersey and a new Board appointed to replace them.
- A full investigation of this matter must take place in order to determine who was responsible for a convicted sex offender becoming a member of the Executive Board.
- Finally, a full examination of the Proprietary House financial records must be made by State auditors to determine if malfeasance or misappropriation of funds have occurred.
Swift prosecution of these matters might – just might – avert disaster. The authorities must act with speed and deliberation if this matter is ever to be put behind us for good and we can focus on the mission of making history come alive at Proprietary House.