TOMS RIVER – The conflict between two board of education members is escalating, with each one calling the other unfit to serve.
Toms River representative Robert Onofrietti and Beachwood representative Dan Leonard have been at odds for months, which has now culminated in one filing a civic harassment complaint.
The short version is that Onofrietti is accusing Leonard of stalking him, and Leonard is accusing Onofrietti of fabricating stories to discredit him because he’s criticizing Onofrietti’s financial decisions.
Onofrietti said he saw Leonard’s truck outside his home at 5:30 p.m. on July 15, and then heard it speeding away a half hour later when his wife was outside walking the dog. After that, Leonard texted him “Cute dog” and an emoji of a winking smiley face, which Onofrietti took as a threat.
Five officers responded to this call, but no charges were made. He was told he could file a civic complaint, which he has.
“This gentleman’s had a problem with me for a year and a half now. I don’t understand why. We used to be friends,” Onofrietti said. “I don’t know what this gentleman is capable of.”
He said that video from a neighbor’s security camera and audio from a recent board meeting might prove him right.
Leonard said this entire issue is being fabricated by Onofrietti to discredit him. Leonard has been making public statements about Onofrietti’s finances.
“I’ve seen him make some very poor financial decisions on the board,” he said. “He’s spending money like it’s his.”
Specifically, he voted to spend $20,000 more on an auditor for the district over others that were less expensive and just as qualified.
This comes from some digging Leonard did, learning that Onofrietti’s house was in foreclosure. Leonard’s opinion is that someone in charge of public spending needs to be able to manage his own finances.
He took a drive to see Onofrietti’s home, because he wanted to see what he had been writing about on Facebook. “I heard he had a million dollar house,” he said. When he was spotted by Onofrietti’s family members, he knew it was going to look bad. He drove past, and then had to turn around and drive past again, because he didn’t realize that Onofrietti lived on a cul-de-sac.
He said he was never parked. This part of the issue is fabricated to make it look worse than it really is. He said he is offering his cell phone to police, so that presumably they would be able to learn where he traveled.
The next Board of Education meeting after this incident made the issue even worse. According to Onofrietti, Leonard called him a profanity and threatened him along the lines of “Next time I come to your house, you’ll be sorry.”
Onofrietti said that Leonard had called him a vulgar word. Leonard said he had called him a “snitch.”
This particular issue stemmed from Leonard’s wife’s SoulSational event in Berkeley. The district had approved SoulSational fliers to be put up. So he said he had dropped them off on the table at the board meeting.
Leonard said Onofrietti called over the district business administrator in the middle of the public comment period to ask who had approved them. The two got into an argument which interrupted the public hearing.
Other school officials are staying out of the feud.
Board President Ben Giovine said that he cannot comment officially about the matter.
“It is important however, that our Board of Education remains focused on its mission to support our schools, students and staff,” he said.
Board attorney Stephen Leone said he is not up-to-date with all the facts in the case.
“The board, as a whole, does not encourage these things to occur. It’s strictly a private matter between them,” he said.