By: Susanne Cervenka
Asbury Park Press
Asbury Park Press, February 26, 2021
FREEHOLD - A Monmouth County recreation board member resigned after his Twitter activity from four years ago — which prompted him at that time to resign from a board that oversees Brookdale Community College — drew renewed scrutiny.
Joseph DiBella said he mailed a resignation letter Wednesday to the Monmouth County commissioners and emailed a copy of it Thursday morning to a general county email account, which he also shared with the Asbury Park Press Thursday evening.
DiBella said he did not talk with any of the county commissioners directly. He declined to comment beyond the contents of his resignation letter, which you can read at the bottom of this story.
In the letter, DiBella reiterated his 2016 assertion that his Twitter account — which drew concerns from Brookdale students because it had been linked to offensive and racist tweets — had been hacked.
DiBella said the "polarized environment" would make his position on the recreation board distract from its mission and would subject himself and his family to "continued unwarranted and untruthful attacks."
He wrote, "Those who know me know the person that I am; someone who respects everyone and supports diversity and inclusion. I’m no racist; end of story."
The county commissioners appointed DiBella to a five-year term on the Monmouth County Board of Recreation Commissioners earlier this month. The recreation commissioners oversee a $46 million budget to operate, maintain and develop the county's parks and recreation programs, and coordinate between state agencies and municipalities on recreational issues.
DiBella resigned from the Brookdale board of trustees four years ago after students spoke out about activity on his Twitter account, which as since been deleted. They found that DiBella's account had "liked" — a social media term often interpreted to mean approval — a number of offensive tweets.
Among the "liked" tweets were messages that repeatedly used the n-word and referred to then-President Barack Obama and other Black leaders with racist terms. Other "liked" tweets were vulgarly dismissive of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
DiBella claimed his Twitter account had been hacked and reported the incident to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office. County prosecutors determined the account was not hacked after a six-month investigation into the complaint.
DiBella's resignation letter was mailed the day before Monmouth County commissioners decided to investigate his Twitter activity despite the probe from four years ago that found no evidence his social media account was hacked.
Commissioner Director Tom Arnone asked Monmouth County Counsel Michael Fitzgerald to conduct the investigation and report back to the five-member commissioner board in two weeks.
The Prosecutor's Office declined to comment on the new investigation.
Arnone's request for the matter to be reinvestigated came after the board received a spate of emails during its Thursday afternoon meeting from people who wanted to comment publicly on DiBella's appointment to the recreation board.
It's not clear what those residents said. Monmouth County livestreams its meetings on Facebook and YouTube, and the only way for the public to comment is to send an email.
Fitzgerald did not read the dozen or so comments publicly, but rather said that they were all regarding DiBella's appointment to the recreation board. He did, however, list the names of people who emailed the commissioners and said those comments would be part of the public record.
Fitzgerald said Thursday evening that he wasn't aware of DiBella's resignation and said county staff would review the county's emails for the message from DiBella
Brookdale Board of Trustee Joseph DiBella, left, sits alongside Brookdale President Maureen Murphy and Board Chairman Carl Guzzo at Tuesday night's meeting
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DiBella's resignation letter
Dear Commissioner Director Arnone and Commissioners:
When I was asked to join the Recreation Board I did so out of a desire to help the community and advance the interests of the organization. I have been involved in public service for most of my adult life in elected and volunteer positions with an unblemished reputation.
As you know, I resigned from the Brookdale Board only after repeated attacks on me, calls for me to lose my job, and documented death threats that put my wife and children in harms way. As I said in 2016, my social media account was compromised. I never “liked” any racially inappropriate tweets. I had an independent forensics IT firm review my account and they determined it was in fact compromised. In the nearly 5 years since then, we have seen countless instances of social media accounts being hacked and compromised literally every day.
Regrettably, it is clear that with today’s polarized environment my serving on the Board may distract the organization from its mission. I will not allow such distractions to impede their work. I will also not subject myself, my reputation or my family to continued unwarranted and untruthful attacks. As such, I am stepping down from the Board. Those who know me know the person that I am; someone who respects everyone and supports diversity and inclusion. I’m no racist; end of story.
I do hope that as a society and as a community that we take down the level of divisiveness that exists today. The current climate will prevent anyone from volunteering at any level out of concern that they and their families will be subject to unwarranted ridicule, media dramatization, bullying and public shaming that simply has no place.
With continued respect,
Brookdale's DiBella pulled from Essex County work