By Susanne Cervenka
Asbury Park Press
October 8, 2016, Asbury Park Press
Essex County wants Joseph DiBella to stay away from its health insurance accounts until the investigation to the former Brookdale Community College trustee's Twitter account is complete.
DiBella and his Twitter account have been the center of scrutiny since late August when it was revealed the account was linked to "likes" on tweets that referred to President Barack Obama as a "monkey" and used a racial slur. A "like" is a social media term that typically refers to favoring another's post.
"We are appalled at the content of these posts and believe that having Mr. DiBella represent and work with Essex County is inappropriate," Essex County Human Resources Director Robert Jackson wrote in a letter to Conner Strong & Buckelew, a national insurance advisory firm that employs DiBella.
"We request, that while the Prosecutor's investigation is ongoing, Mr. DiBella be prohibited from performing any further work on Essex County business or servicing the health benefits of Essex employees/retirees."
George Norcoss, a principal with Conner Strong & Buckelew and a powerful South Jersey Democratic political leader, did not return calls for comment, but his firm forwarded a letter it sent to Essex County that confirmed DiBella is off the county's accounts for now.
"While we are extremely confident that prosecutor’s office will confirm what our own forensic IT review found when it determined that Mr. DiBella’s account was hacked and he had nothing to do with the offensive messages, we understand and will honor your request that Mr. DiBella not work on Essex County accounts until the investigation is complete," according to a letter signed by Heather Steinmiller, a senior vice-president and general counsel.
DiBella's attorney, William Tambussi, did not return calls for comment.
DiBella has said previously his Twitter account has been hacked and an unauthorized third-party is responsible for the "likes" on his account. He reported the incident to Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, which is investigating.
DiBella took a leave of absence from Brookdale after he said the school got a "death threat" against him. The Monmouth Prosecutor's office confirmed that it is investigating a reported threat.
The Essex County letter came days after it received its own letter rebuking DiBella from the CWA Local 1081, a union representing employees in the county's Division of Family Assistance and Benefits.
In it, union president David H. Weiner said it "would be an insult to all of the County's nearly 800,000 residents and to all civilized people everywhere" if DiBella continued to work on its accounts. He cited census data that shows Essex County's population is nearly 42 percent African American.
"The majority of my members are African American and Hispanic. For him to make comments about African Americans and our president, that’s completely offensive," Weiner said in an interview with the Asbury Park Press. "I don’t want somebody who not only thinks that way but expresses it in public, they are not worthy of working on behalf of our members, in my personal opinion."
Susanne Cervenka: 732-643-4229; firstname.lastname@example.org.