Complaint planned in dispute at Cape May County board

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Former head of women’s commission takes issues with attorney’s actions

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — The former chairwoman of the Cape May County Advisory Commission on the Status of Women said she is filing an ethics complaint against the county’s attorney with the New Jersey Bar Association.

Kathleen Bresan resigned from the organization in January. She accused Cape May County Freeholder Marie Hayes of unfair treatment. County attorney Barbara Bakley-Marino came to Hayes’ aid, and Bresan has called Bakley-Marino’s response in a letter to the editor in an area newspaper inappropriate.

“I think she [Bakley-Marino] went over, above and beyond, her capacity,” Bresan said.

Bakley-Marino has served as the attorney of the Cape May County Advisory Commission on the Status of Women. Bresan said that Bakley-Marino violated the attorney-client privilege of the organization. Bakley-Marino said she said she represents the county, not the organization.

The issue goes back to a dispute between Bresan and Hayes, which Bresan cited as a reason for her resignation from the advisory commission earlier this year.

Bresan said Hayes forced her off the board.

But the county government says that Bresan was irresponsible as chairwoman because she ordered canvas bags through her husband’s business, made too many copies and too many people had keys to the organization’s office.

Hayes declined to be interviewed for this story and directed questions to Bakley-Marino.

The organization is volunteer run and has a goal of enhancing the quality of life and position of the women and girls in Cape May County.

Things came to a head in January, when the two women had an argument after the Jan. 8 Cape May County Advisory Commission on the Status of Women. 

On Bresan’s way home from that meeting, she said, fear followed her.

County officials dismiss that fear as ridiculous.

“As I was driving home, I was shocked, frightened and noticed cars behind me. I was so afraid I pulled over to let the cars pass,” Bresan said. “Given Marie Hayes’ past power within the prosecutor's office and now freeholder, I am afraid of her influence in coming back to me. I cannot sleep at night.”

In a letter emailed to The Gazette, Bakley-Marino said that some public criticism of elected officials is expected.

“However, the outlandish statements made by Mr. and Mrs. Bresan about Freeholder Hayes must be debunked,” Bakley-Marino said.

In her letter, she said that the issue at the advisory commission came down to canvas bags, copies and keys.

Bresan said that is all smoke and mirrors.

During the last two years, the Cape May County Advisory Commission on the Status of Women held a job fair. At the event, last held in March 17 at the Wildwood Convention Center, participants received canvas bags with the Women's Commission logo.

Bresan said that her husband found the bags wholesale. In March, the invoice for the order totaled $2,035.

She said she was under the impression that if a contract is under a certain amount, the project doesn’t have to be bid out. The bags were purchased for the last seven years, Bresan said.

"Joe Bresan, who is a chemical engineer, has in the past donated hundreds of dollars for various conferences as a sponsor," Bresan said.

She said that the other members were aware the canvas bags would be purchased through her husband. As the chairwoman of the organization, she did not cast a vote.

The county ended up looking into the matter after a red flag came about the transaction.

“An investigation revealed that Consulmag, Inc. is owned by Mrs. Bresan's husband, Joseph Bresan,” Bakley-Marino said. “A request was made for information concerning this transaction. In response to this request, Mrs. Bresan submitted an invoice from a Stroudsburg, Pa. company dated the day of my request to Mrs. Bresan for information as to the provider of the products.”

Apparently, the county didn’t realize the order came through her husband’s business.

Bresan said she did not gain a profit from her husband ordering the canvas bags.

Bakley-Marino suggested that the Bresans are not concerned about taxpayer money being used to secure the canvas bags at an inflated cost.

“The overage of the cost was being funneled to the Bresans' personal benefit,” she said.

In a letter emailed to The Gazette, Bakley-Marino said that Bresan failed to document who had keys to the commission office, saying that it “demonstrates the same lack of concern for taxpayers' property.”

“This directly led to an exorbitant amount of unaccountable copy fees, a cost that will be borne by the taxpayers. For Mrs. Bresan to state she is in fear for her safety is ludicrous. She has been held accountable for her actions vis-à-vis taxpayers’ money,” Bakley-Marino said.

Bresan said there is more to the story.

“There was never in my nine years as chair, any correspondence as to a budget meeting for the commission to attend, or any notice for a budget to present to the county,” said Bresan. “During the past nine years no training was conducted as to the securing quotes from various vendors. Also note, the copier machine is a continuing charge as every two to three years we are given a new copier.”

She also said that the many copies were likely the 500 pages of a booklet the county printed for the job fair.

Bresan holds a degree in hospitality, restaurant and tourism from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

She’s not ending her community involvement. Now, she is undergoing training for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

She has also volunteered for the Dennis Township Chamber of Commerce, Coalition Against Rape and Abuse, and Caring for Kids.


* Changes were made to this story on Feb. 21 to remove incorrect information. 

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