Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37) announced her opposition to Republican Ocean County freeholder John P. Kelly being appointed to the State Parole Board Monday. The Bergen Democrat joined Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) in questioning Kelly’s qualifications and citing his participation in the board’s 2005 attempt to deny a dying county employee the ability to leave her pension benefits to her same-sex partner.
Despite Weinberg’s own domestic partnership legislation giving Police Lieutenant Laurel Hester the legal right to leave her pension to partner Stacie Andree, Kelly voted for the freeholder board’s initial decision to deny Andree Hester’s pension. The board reversed its decision shortly before Hester’s death from breast cancer in 2006.
Weinberg argued in a statement that Kelly’s role in that decision, which drew national attention in the press and was the subject of the 2015 movie “Freeheld,” shows a predilection for allowing personal bias to sway what should be impartial decisions.
“I have serious concerns about this nominee,” Weinberg wrote. “He clearly lacks the qualifications for this important position but he also lacks the judgment and moral capacity to perform the job. His past actions show that he is willing to inject his personal views of intolerance into his decision making as a public official and, in fact, he did so in a domestic partnership case that gained national attention.
“The decisions issued by the parole board dramatically affect the lives of our residents, and appointees should possess the ability to make decisions based on the facts, not on their personal prejudices. Allowing Mr. Kelly to serve on the Parole Board would do a disservice to our state and to all of those whose futures are determined by the board’s actions.”
Kelly has been on the freeholder board since 1993, and would be receiving a pay bump from $30,000 a year to more than $100,000 a year as an appointee to the Board. Weinberg questioned Kelly’s qualifications for what Lesniak previously described as a “dumping ground for political appointees.” Kelly does not have a law enforcement background or a college degree.
“I don’t know how long one [senator] can hold them up,” Lesniak told the Asbury Park Press earlier this month. “The Parole Board is a It’s very ineffective at determining who should get out [of prison] and who should stay in.”
Ocean County Republican chairman George Gilmore was did not immediately return a request for comment.