Committee approves release of internal investigation reports to the public

Mayor Anthony Minniti motioned on Dec. 4 to release reports detailing an investigation into committee member Don Brauckmann

Tensions flared at Monday night’s Cinnaminson Township Committee meeting after members approved a motion to hand over to the public official reports of an internal investigation into a committeeman’s alleged misconduct.

Mayor Anthony Minniti, noting the committee’s Oct. 2 vote to forward the findings to both the Burlington County prosecutor and the state ethics committee for review, made a last-minute motion on Dec. 4 to waive attorney-client privilege on Cinnaminson labor counsel’s findings as well as an initial report by attorney M. Lou Garty. The committee approved the motion with one opposing vote from Committeeman Howard Evans.

After complaints of inappropriate communication with township employees, age discrimination and harassment were levelled against Committeeman Don Brauckmann in February, the township’s labor counsel, Joseph Betley, was asked to look into Brauckmann’s alleged behavior, according to Betley’s report.

“While the prosecutor’s office and ethics committee continue to investigate and will come to their own conclusions, I believe the public has a right to review these reports,” Minniti said during the motion. “They should be able to make their own determinations about the actions of Committeeman Brauckmann and others that are detailed in the reports.”

Brauckmann has previously called the investigation a “trial by public lynching,” saying he was targeted over disagreements regarding structuring of the public works and police departments, and for not supporting Minniti in his primary bid for re-election against Republican Ernest McGill. Members of the public present at Monday’s meeting expressed heated disappointment with Minniti’s motion.

“Mr. Minniti’s actions during the last minute of the Dec. 4 township committee meeting are typical of the dictatorial style he has operated as a member of this township committee since being elected 15 years ago,” Brauckmann said in response to the motion. “To not include his pre-prepared ‘motion’ to make public the legal, personnel and internal findings of the special report on the posted agenda, when he obviously had a prepared written speech, is all too typical of how he manipulates public meetings from his ‘bully pulpit’ to carry out his vindictive objectives.”

Brauckmann added the motion should have been included in the public agenda, and that Minniti deliberately withheld the motion until the closing of public and committee comments to preclude counter-discussion.

“To make this worse, Mr. Minniti, [Deputy Mayor Ben ] Young and [Committeeman John] McCarthy also supported releasing an unredacted version of this report, which would include employees’ names without previously asking these employees if they were OK with that,” he said.

The findings of the 31-page Betley report were read aloud at the Sept. 25 township meeting by Garty, revealing claims that Braukmann attempted to exchange a vote to appoint Deputy Mayor Young to his current position for a “good job” at Burlington County College for his wife, Michele Brauckmann. Labor counsel found credible evidence to support the claim, namely a text message stating, “I guess there is no hope to cash in a coin if there is no coin coming. Pretty disappointing.”

The complaints from February also alleged that Brauckmann inappropriately inserted himself into police matters involving a damaged township vehicle and the subsequent issuing of two summons. Reports of clandestine interactions with a Department of Public Works employee and a Cinnaminson police officer concerning restructuring the two departments, which Brauckmann allegedly denied, were found by labor counsel to have made the township vulnerable to possible litigation and noted that while Brauckmann overstepped his authority, he did not create a hostile work environment for those employees.

Brauckmann is additionally said to have disclosed privileged committee information to former Committeewoman Kathleen Fitzpatrick, but labor counsel could find no evidence that Brauckmann breached confidentiality.

The Betley findings concluded that while Brauckmann’s actions were not “sinister,” they were inappropriate and in some cases “suggest that the reasons for secrecy were motivated to advance the interests of Mr. Brauckmann.”

In a June 12 interview with labor counsel, Brauckmann expressed what the report calls “sincerity” regarding his duties as an elected official.

“I am a proud Cinnaminson Township committeeman who serves in a township committee form of government. When I was first elected to township committee back in 2010, I fully accepted this responsibility and knew that I would do my very best to represent the residents of Cinnaminson Township,” Brauckmann said in the interview. “In doing this, I do not simply rely upon what I am told, so I do my best to ask questions from various sources when I feel I want to learn more about township business. […] I will continue to do my job as an elected official and will continue to represent the residents of Cinnaminson to the best of my ability. They are, and will always be, my top priority.”

Betley agreed with Solicitor John Gillespie, Minniti and Administrator and Director of Public Safety Michael King that committee members should respect the organizational structure vesting primary operational authority with the township administrator. Further, a derogatory text message sent by Brauckmann regarding Young’s age was found to be a “‘stray remark’ made in the heat of the moment that was motivated more by the underlying animosity between the two committee members and not an indication of a pattern of age discrimination, the report said.

“This investigation has been a challenging assignment to say the least. The Committee should move cautiously in its decisions on the return to a chief of police and the filling of the superintendent of public works position with full consideration of my report,” Betley advised in his concluding statement.

The redacted Betley and Garty reports are available per request by members of the public from the township.

Committee approves release of internal investigation reports to the public was originally published in The Cinnaminson Sun on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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