Some Hamilton, N.J., residents call charge against their mayor political

Kelly Yaede, seeking another term, has been charged with releasing an opponent’s expunged arrest record. But residents say the charge is just politics.

A large red-brick building with white columns at the front is visible.

Municipal Building in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, N.J. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Some residents of Hamilton, New Jersey, call charges against Mayor Kelly Yaede as she seeks another term political.

“We’re in a political season,” said Bob Alu, “and anything goes in a political season.”

Yaede and her campaign manager, Dan Scharfenberger, were charged Tuesday with publicly revealing the expunged arrest record of David Henderson, according to Henderson was the mayor’s challenger in June’s Republican primary.  She easily defeated him in a contest that saw the Mercer County Republican Committee back Henderson.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office accused the two of sharing the information on a blog they controlled, a campaign Facebook page, and through media outlets. Yaede’s Democratic challenger, Township Council President Jeffrey Martin, called on Yaede to take a leave of absence as the legal process plays out while urging voters to “close the book” on her administration.

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Despite the charges from prosecutors, some residents felt that Yaede didn’t do anything wrong in disclosing the arrest information.

“Even in lieu of being expunged, [Henderson] was brought up on valid charges,” said Al Dyott, a lifelong Hamilton resident who worked in law and code enforcement. He added that the information is important if someone is running for office: “If I were in the same position — yes, I did something wrong; yes, it was expunged — in my opinion, it should be public knowledge.”

Ralph McClaskey, another resident, said the arrest was public record.  “If it was known that he had done something and it was expunged, the story should be out,” he said. McClaskey added that if the expungement part was left out, “they should make an effort to let everybody know that it was.”

In an unscientific sampling of opinions at different locations in Hamilton, none of the people who agreed to talk to WHYY criticized Yaede’s alleged disclosure.

Henderson acknowledged to The Trentonian that he was arrested in 2001 on domestic charges.  Those charges were ordered expunged in 2008.

But Henderson’s arrest record was allegedly obtained through an anonymous Open Public Records Act request.  Detectives for the prosecutor’s office ultimately discovered that the expungement order was not delivered appropriately to the records clerk due to the sudden death of former Hamilton Deputy Police Chief George Zimmer, who was responsible for disposing of the records. So when the public records request was made, the information about the arrest was still there.

Henderson notified the township after the June primary that he would sue over the record release.

But still, many people believe the charges were politically motivated.

“I think it’s a bunch of bull,” said Dennis McGowan, who recently met the mayor at Fred and Pete’s Deli.  “I don’t think that she has anything to do with it, and I don’t think it’s that serious.”

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