Atlantic City’s mayor organized a secret meeting to unseat a political rival, a $1 million civil action served Saturday claims.
City Councilwoman LaToya Dunston claims the Nov. 23 meeting at Morton’s Steakhouse in Caesars Atlantic City was just the latest in an ongoing “pattern of systematic harassment, intimidation and political retaliation” toward her by Mayor Marty Small.
But the mayor said the claim is merely a distraction, and alleged Dunston owes nearly $20,000 in back rent.
Dunston claims she first became a target of Small when she ran against him for his Second Ward City Council seat in 2015.
Just a month into her tenure, she claimed unfair treatment.
The action, which has not yet been filed in court, was served the same day Small hosted a swearing-in ceremony/celebration for himself and his winning ticket, which includes Council President George Tibbitt, along with newly elected Councilmembers Bruce E. Weeks and Stephanie Marshall.
Those four along with Councilmen Aaron Randolph, Kaleem Shabazz, MD Hossain Morshed, Muhammad Zia and Jesse Kurtz. Atlantic County Commissioner Ernest Coursey, the mayor’s chief of staff, was also there, the notice claims.
“No meeting took place,” Tibbitt said.
“Anyone can file a lawsuit, it’s a distraction,” Small told BreakingAC. “But it’s important not to be distracted.”
Instead, he said he is “focused on continuing the progress made.”
Small said Dunston “needs to focus on serving the residents of the Second Ward, which she is not.”
The mayor also claims Dunston owes nearly $20,000 in back rent.
Neither Dunston nor her attorney would comment on the civil claim. Dunston also would not comment on the mayor’s claims.
The civil action says that the alleged meeting would fall within permissible exceptions, but neither the mayor nor sitting councilmen complied with legal prerequisites necessary to conduct such meetings.
That includes that “the public body must first adopt a resolution at an open meeting setting the date, time and subject matter of the closed meeting on the agenda,” the claim notes.
The councilmen at the meeting also failed to properly notify Dunston, depriving her of the right to ask that the meeting be held in an open forum, she claims.
No minutes from that meeting were made available to the public, another requirement, according to the claim.
The meeting is not the only time Dunston claims she was targeted. She alleges that the mayor’s wife, Dr. La’Quetta Small, leaked private information she acquired in her position as vice chair of the Atlantic City Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners about Dunston’s personal finances and the lease for her home.
Marshall and Kurtz also serve on the authority’s board, the claim notes.
Dr. Small, who is set to be sworn in as the city’s new schools superintendent this month, also sent numerous letters to Dunston regarding her son’s attendance issues.
Small, who at the time was the High School’s principal, knew Dunston’s son does not attend a city school, but continued to send the correspondence anyway, Dunston claims.
Dunston also alleges her office was broken into and vandalized about six months ago, But her request to police and the mayor “fell on deaf ears.”
“The Smalls, both Marty and La’Quetta, had their hands in each of those events of harassment, intimidation and political retaliation, utilizing the resources of their respective offices for their own ill purposes,” the filing reads.
The Smalls, six councilmembers, the city of Atlantic City, the Atlantic City School District and Board of Education are all named.
Dunston says she was deprived her constitutional due process rights under the 14th Amendment and the rights afforded her under the state Open Public Meeting Act.
The amount of the claim is $1 million.