Hern, Morgan Fracas Mars Business Owners' Meeting

Political rivals clash over claims by Hern's girlfriend that she was bilked at NP Fuel. Don Murphy, owner of NP Fuel, refutes alleged incident.

A meeting of the New Providence Business and Professional Association aimed at promoting cooperation among town merchants was disrupted by a public dispute between Mayor J. Brooke Hern and former Mayor Al Morgan.

Last Thursday night's meeting, punctuated by the shouting match between Hern and Morgan, came nearly two weeks after an anonymous comment on NJ.com’s New Providence forum, entitled “BOYCOTT NP FUEL!!!”, blasted the gas station owned by Morgan's friend and fellow businessman, NP Fuel owner Don Murphy. 

The initial comment, posted by someone identified as “sugarmagnolialmf,” accused NP Fuel of "ripping off customers" at the gas pump. Seven comments refuting the claim followed, including one from Murphy.

At the meeting, Morgan implied that, given the scenario printed in the comments left by Murphy, “sugarmagnolialmf” is Hern’s girlfriend, Lisa Sherry. Sherry confirmed to Patch that she posted the comments on the site because she wanted to alert residents that they might be "ripped off" at NP Fuel if they pay with cash.

Murphy, who has owned NP Fuel for 17 years and never got into the fracas at the NPBPA meeting, immediately refuted Sherry's online claims within the days after she made them and said that Sherry claimed to be “the girlfriend of the mayor.” In his post, Murphy also said he later received a phone call from Hern, which he did not return. Hern later told Patch that he made this call to smooth things over with Murphy.

The NP Fuel incident occurred on the morning of Jan. 12. Sherry posted her comment about NP Fuel in the afternoon of Jan. 13, Murphy posted his rebuttal on Jan. 16, and the NPBPA met on Jan. 26.

During the Question and Answer session following Hern’s speech at the meeting, Morgan brought up the online poster who said "Boycott NP Fuel." Morgan said he believed many business owners had already seen the post about Murphy’s business and said it made him very upset that someone in the community was attacking a fellow small business owner.

“I’ve known Don for a lot of years,” Morgan said. “This guy is a great community partner, going to every single organization in this town and for him to get a blog, “BOYCOTT NP FUEL,” is outrageous!”

Morgan, who said "it was [Hern's] girlfriend pushing [his] name around," further claimed Hern knew something about the online post.

As the argument ensued, business owners awkwardly watched and many appeared to be uncomfortable with the situation. But a few were trying to defuse the situation, including Martha Jaynes, Manager at TD Bank, Gary Kapner, co-owner of Creative Wallcoverings & Interiors — who also wrote a regarding this situation — and Christine Morgan, Al Morgan’s wife.

After the scrap, Hern, who has been mayor since 2010 and denied having any involvement, claimed that Morgan's comments at the meeting were merely mean-spirited opportunism from a political rival. 

Following the meeting, Murphy said he left quickly to get home to his 5-month-old baby.

He Said, She Said

In the days that followed the altercation, Patch spoke with Murphy, Hern, Sherry and Morgan about the gas-station incident that prompted the dispute.

Sherry, who lives in Randolph, said she stopped at NP Fuel around 7 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12, which she described as a “rainy, dark morning,” while on her way to work in Newark. Although she said she never gets gas in town or pays with cash, she asked for $20 in gas.

“The guy made some noise around the back where my gas tank is and sent me on my way really quickly. I thought it was kind of quick but it was early, I was tired and it was pouring rain and I didn’t check the gas [gauge] like I should have, but I just drove away.”

Sherry said that when she got on Route 78 East, headed for Newark, she noticed that her gas gauge hadn’t moved.

"I had about a quarter tank and I drive a small Volvo. It’s not like I drive a gas-guzzling SUV and it takes $80 to fill my tank. My tank fills up for $45 or $50. For $20, I’d have more than half a tank. It hadn’t moved, so I’m flicking it, thinking maybe it’s stuck. But it doesn’t move and I don’t want to be stuck in Newark with no gas," Sherry said. "So I stop [for gas off Route 78] again and I gave the guy $10 and boom, it works. All of a sudden, I have half a tank of gas so then I’m thinking that guy [at NP Fuel] did not put any gas in my tank,” she said. “So that’s when I decided I’m going to have to call this guy. I thought we could settle this. I just wanted to let him know what happened and he’d be reasonable and we could civilized and that was my intent. I was very nice and I told him what happened and he was so rude and so obnoxious and actually insulted me and Brooke that I hung up on him.”

“She called [the station] and talked to my service writer," Murphy said, "and then she talked to me. I was trying to explain [why the needle wouldn't move]. It’s not the first time we’ve seen that, especially with the different types of vehicles,” Murphy said. “I explained to her that I’d give it back to her in a heartbeat but in this situation, we’ve seen it where it’s just not registering on the gas gauge because the gas already in the vehicle was just too low.”

Murphy said his longtime employee, a Berkeley Heights retiree named John Lee who has regularly opened NP Fuel in the morning since he began working there in 2005, pumped the gas himself for Sherry on Jan. 12. Murphy said that, according to Lee, Sherry asked for $10 in gas, which would yield about three gallons and hardly move the needle on the car's gas gauge.

Murphy said Sherry wouldn't accept his explanation. “So I’m going through this conversation with her and she says, ‘My boyfriend’s the mayor,’” Murphy said. “I try to stay out of politics. I said, 'Fine, no big deal.' I suggested that if she doesn’t like our establishment, there are lots of other gas stations and she might want to go somewhere else.”

Sherry confirmed the conversation. “He said, ‘Why don’t you not come back to our store?’ And I said, ‘I won’t come back and I’m going to tell my boyfriend not to come back and he’s the mayor and he knows a lot of people and I’m going to tell them all not to come back,’” Sherry said. “That’s how it went. So yes, I did say I was the girlfriend of the mayor.”

Following her conversation with Murphy, Sherry said she then filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which Patch was unable to confirm at the time of publication. NP Fuel has an A+ rating with the BBB and has been accredited since March of 2011.

Sherry said she also posted her critical comments on NJ.com. She said she used her screen name, as she generally does, not to try to hide her identity.

“I wanted to work this out with him and I didn’t appreciate the way I was treated,” she said. “It’s just that I’m a consumer and I wanted other people to know that if you go to NP Fuel and you pay cash, you may be ripped off. Those are my rights and I can say that if I want to.”

Murphy said he was alerted to the post after his phone call with Sherry and responded to the post because he believed her post didn't match the facts and was concerned that she way trying to damage his business.

“By [threatening to keep] everyone from coming here, we’re out of business in theory, right? So we responded,” he said.

“I felt that for his girlfriend to go and post a blog online that says $20, when it was a $10 sale, there had to be a reason she would go to this extreme for a $10 sale,” Murphy said. “I just contacted a couple members of the NPBPA, told them, ‘There was a blog and we responded to it so you might want to check it out.’ The meeting was coming up and I said we should probably let the business members of the NPBPA check out the blog just to be aware that there’s a potential conflict of interest between the mayor’s office and the business community.”

Sherry stands by her story. “It was $20, but he thinks it was $10 because I said $10 in our conversation. I said, ‘Well, I stopped and got another $10 on my way to Newark because I wasn’t sure I could have made it.’ I didn’t want to get stuck in Newark,” she said. “So I did say $10, but it was $20.”

From Cooperation to Confrontation

Murphy said he was sitting at the NPBPA meeting with Pam Steiner, co-owner of Organization Resources in Summit with her husband, Joe, whose clients include NPBPA and the Borough of New Providence. He said they were discussing the upcoming Farmers Market in New Providence with Pam, which she organizes every year, and he did not speak up about the online post because he felt he’d already said his peace online.

“As far as I’m concerned, it was over for me. We responded to the blog and that’s all I needed to do,” he said. “You can tell by the response of the business members [at the meeting] that at least half of them didn’t know about the blog. I think Al wanted to bring it up and talk about it because the membership could then decide what they think about the situation. [Hern and Morgan] got a little heated because they’re politically connected, but I just ignored that. I can imagine other members were uncomfortable not knowing what was coming.”

Murphy said Morgan has been a friend for many years, dating back to when Morgan worked as the UPS deliveryman for New Providence, before he became a councilman and the mayor. Morgan was mayor from 1999 to 2006 and is now the owner of Al Morgan Painting & Home Improvements in New Providence.

“Maybe it’s even political because at one time, we campaigned for Al Morgan. We had his magnets and his signs around the station. We were actually asked by someone campaigning for Hern [at that time] if I would put his signs out also and I said no because Al Morgan is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for 20 years and I know who he is,” Murphy said. “He probably stuck up for me at the meeting because he’s a friend of mine. I had no idea. I just sat in the back and didn’t say a word.”

Sherry says there's nothing political about her dispute with Murphy or her comments on NJ.com, adding that she never discussed the incident with Hern until he asked her about it.

“I never even told [Hern] that I posted that. Somebody in town mentioned it to him, so he asked me, ‘What did you post?’ And that’s what I told him,” she said. “I had never even told him before that. So how this turned into some enormous political thing that revolves around Brooke is beyond me. It has absolutely nothing to do with him. He wasn’t in the car. I told him that the guy ripped me off. I never told him I was posting anything. He is completely not involved in this at all.”

On Friday, Hern shared his thoughts about this dispute with Morgan.

“Mr. Morgan saw fit to involve me in that because the person who had this very negative experience at NP Fuel happens to be my girlfriend. That’s how I understand the situation,” Hern said. “Of course I understand for somebody to be upset if they didn’t get what they paid for and be doubly upset if the owner of the establishment is rude and aggressive, and frankly, just impolite. The bottom line is Mr. Morgan’s comments were, in my view, politically motivated.”

Hern explained that Morgan has been his political adversary ever since he became a councilman, standing up against policy positions that Morgan took as mayor.

“Ever since that time, which dates back to 2005, he has been a political adversary and has looked for opportunities to do exactly what he did [Thursday] night and be very political,” Hern said. “He didn’t call me before the meeting to express his concerns over the situation. I saw him at the meeting before I began my remarks and he never mentioned it and he attempted to blind side me, catch me off guard and to, I think, try to embarrass me and I think he only succeeded in embarrassing himself. I defeated Mr. Morgan by 50 votes in the Republican Primary in 2010 and I don’t think he’s gotten over that. I think he wants to be mayor and I think it’s just very political.”

Patch spoke with Morgan on Saturday and Morgan refuted Hern’s statement that his motivation for addressing this online post at the NPBPA meeting was politically motivated.

“I am a trustee of the Business Association. I wasn’t there as Mayor Morgan, I was there representing my own small business and my concern was that this could happen to anybody in the business community and it wasn’t right. He can say all he wants about politics,” Morgan explained. “What Mr. Hern doesn’t say is that when he won the election, Al Morgan, the Republican Committee Chairman, supported him wholeheartedly in the campaign and for him to insinuate that this is politically motivated is just a deflection of what happened.”

“When this kind of thing happens, when an elected official’s name is thrown around like that, you know what?" Morgan asked. "It has to be addressed. It’s very simple. I wasn’t there as the mayor. I’m not the mayor anymore. If it were politically motivated, I would have gone to a council meeting and brought it up.”

During the heated discussion between Hern and Morgan, Hern said Murphy “physically threatened” him before the meeting, which he later explained to Patch.

”I had walked into the meeting early and there was already a small group of people there and Mr. Murphy was there. Again, that was the first time I ever met him and he literally asked me to step outside and we went out into the area between the inner doors and the outer doors, and he was very aggressive with me,” Hern explained. “He actually physically threatened me. It is just that ridiculous and at that point, I ended the conversation and went into the meeting.”

Murphy told Patch he did speak with Hern, but he did not physically threaten him.

“I did talk to him. I said your girlfriend is doing a disservice; she’s making you look bad. If you’re going to take food off a man’s family’s dinner table, you got to expect that he’s going to ask you about it,” Murphy explained. “She’s trying to run my business out of town. So he kept denying any information about it, which is fine. I don’t care. I just tried to tell him, if she’s your girlfriend, maybe you might want to think about getting rid of her. Because I got him in between the two doors, I thought he was uncomfortable with that. He said, ‘look, I don’t know anything about it. Stay away from me.’ I was just trying to have a conversation about it and he didn’t really want to have it.”

Constance D'Amico January 31, 2012 at 11:31 PM
This woman is a classless idiot. How about you go back to Randolph and get your gas there. As a New Providence resident, I am disgusted that she would try to run a New Providence institution out of business. NP fuel will be here long after you and your boyfriend! Sleeping with the Mayor does not entitle you to any privileges. She doesn't even pay taxes in our town! I think the Mayor needs to step down and get his personal life together, so someone with some moral and ethical aptitude can take over.
SSH February 01, 2012 at 01:08 AM
I Unfortunitally received bad gas at NP Fuel. I called the next day and I was given a loaner car, they towed my car to the station, and went above and beyond what I expected in repairs to make sure nothing was damaged. There was no charge and i believe this is what a truely honest businessman would do in this situation. If I had purchased gas in any other town I know they would have ignored my complaint. NP Gas is an honorable business!!!!!
Caitlin Mahon February 01, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Thank you for your comments, Constance and SSH.
Peter J Arts February 01, 2012 at 02:59 AM
This was a bad show for Mssrs Hern, Morgan...and, Murphy. First off, no one knows what really happened/was said, except for Mr. Murphy and Ms. Sherry. Ms. Sherry may have acted like a petulant boor. However, that is part of the price-tag for 'Freedom Of Speech'. The idea that the Mayor's squeeze could influence NP Gas clients is simply purile (I'm a loyal client, and don't give a tinker's damn about that woman's opinion). 1) Mr. Morgan was out of line bringing it up...particularly at a meeting of business owners looking for common ground. It was Mr. Murphy's issue...not his 2) Mr. Hern is the MAYOR; and,, being town leader trumps defending his babe. 3) Mr. Murphy should have taken ownership of his issue, and stopped the spite Bottom line: the meeting was supposed to be a forum for developing our downtown to bring in new blood, and their wallets. Instead, 3 men let personal enmity and immaturity develop into a red face for our town. SHAME on the Mayor, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Murphy for not fighting his own battles.
Maria Cozzini February 01, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Is the Patch a news organization or a gossip site. The Mayor is a duly elected official and he should be treated with respect, not have his name and personal life trashed by your site. I would think that there would be more imprtant issues in New Providence than the Mayor's personal life and a nominal transaction at a local gas station.
Kara DeChaine February 01, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Do you even know Lisa Sherry? How is this any of your business? She has every right to complain when she is ripped off. Everyone is entitled to Freedom of Speech and that is all about but some people are trying to make this something much bigger and their personal issue. Have you people nothing better to do or worry about? Your comment sounds like you are the one with no class. Apparently getting what you pay for is a special privilege and should not expect to get the gas you pay for unless you pay taxes in New Providence.
Maria Cozzini February 01, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I believe that your comments are completely inappropriate and you should look at your post and consider your own political motivation to determine who is a "classless idiot". Whether or not she pays taxes in New Providence is completely irrelevant and does not entitle you to such vile name calling and innuendo. You should be ashamed of yourself. .
Kara DeChaine February 01, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Way to go Peter!! You can see this for what this really is, a whole bunch of nothing - a ridiculous waste of everyone's time.
Megan Flynn February 01, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Al Morgan claims that his actions were not politically motivated? A former mayor (that insists on being addressed as Mayor-weird) chooses a public forum to launch a vicious blindside attack on the present mayor (who beat him in the election). Hmmmmm. Sounds politically motivated to me. Morgan easily could have just used a phone! This meeting was certainly not the time or the place to address this matter. This incident could have happened to anyone a citizen of New Providence, or simply a passerby. The fact that the passerby is the Mayor's girlfriend is completely irrelevant. The New Providence Business Community should be concerned that someone was "ripped off" and try to rectify the situation. Why is the present administration being attacked? Mayor Hern should be commended for handling the assault with dignity. Al Morgan, please keep your petty attempts to undermine the government to yourself and MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!!!
Rob February 01, 2012 at 02:27 PM
I read the initial post from Ms. Sherry and nowhere does she mention any relationship with the Mayor. She never stated that she was the girlfriend of the Mayor. It was Al Morgan and Mr. Murphy who decided to bring that fact and this issue to the public forum, for their own political reasons. Mr. Morgan and also Mr. Kapner need to get a life. This is a dispute between two people and has nothing to do with them. They are butting in, wasting our time, and so is the Patch by printing what could be their longest article ever on what amounts to a non-story. This is the work of a few people with small minds and empty lives bent on revenge.
MC February 01, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Posting a blog and making this issue into a public farce, especially given it is the "Mayor's girlfriend," indicates incredibly poor judgment. I cannot believe that Mr. Murphy would have made up her reference to him as the Mayor's girlfriend, that the elderly gentlemen stole $10 and that is why she ran out of gas. If anyone is being ridiculous it is Sherry who made this into a public incident without giving any thought to the potential embarrassment to the Mayor and impact on a business in New Providence and on any other prospective investors. We need our economy to remain stable and grow and currently have a number of vacant business locations. It is remarkable that anyone would excuse her conduct. For $10, given the repercussions, she should have appreciated the ramifications. Quite frankly, having someone call a well established business to accuse them of "stealing" $10 and suggest special treatment because of their status, taxpayer or not, is bizarre and petty.
Diane S. February 01, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Why do you think that she requested special treatment? If you read the article, after being verbally assaulted and rudely told not to return to the gas station, she merely said that she wouldn't, and her boyfriend wouldn't either, and since he happened to be the mayor, and knew a lot of people, she would be telling them too not to return as well. How is that requesting special treatment? If you read the actual words, you can see that originally, she didn't accuse anybody of "stealing" or of doing anything intentional. She didn't get the gasoline she paid for and called to try to straighten out the situation. It's ignorant people like you that create "public farce" and try to impute bad motives on people. Whatever happened to "the customer is always right"? This incident could have easily rectified with politeness and understanding on the part of Mr. Murphy. He chose to escalate it and involve innocent parties, and now is the victim of bad publicity. That's sad.
MC February 01, 2012 at 04:52 PM
The only person who escalated this was Sherry herself by publicly posting a blog alleging theft. Had she dealt with this issue on a personal basis in a professional manner, keeping in mind her relationship with the Mayor and his relationship with the businesses in Town, we would not be reading and writing about it. In fact, none of us would even know about the incident. No, a customer is not always right when they make accusations of theft that are not proven in a public arena, People have been taken to court for making written statements that someone is a thief and damaging their reputation. The point is she herself thrust this issue and the Mayor's relationship into our laps.
Caitlin Mahon February 02, 2012 at 04:33 AM
This situation became news because the initial argument between Mayor Hern and Mr. Morgan occurred during a public forum. We did not immediately publish an article following the New Providence Business and Professional Association meeting because we wanted to allow all individuals involved the chance to comment on the situation. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.
Music Lover February 02, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Constance, Constance, Constance. Name calling?? Didn't your mommy tell you that people that resort to name calling do so because they are not intelligent enough to form a coherent opinion? Don't be a poopie-head. Now go back outside to your sandbox and don't come back until the adults are finished talking.
DaddyButter917 February 02, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Where do we live? Last time I remember, TMZ doesnt work in this area. Everyone in this town needs to grow up and get out of the stupid high school drama. All of you live in a fantasy world. This is all over a $10 bill. Get over yourselves.
DaddyButter917 February 02, 2012 at 07:52 PM
In conclusion, I digress..
Ryan P. McD February 03, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Have you seen the Mayor's babe? Quite an upgrade.
Ryan P. McD February 03, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Here are three things I know about Don Murphy: 1. He's a grease monkey. (not very bright) 2. He's a bully. 3. He's been incarcerated several times for assault. Ask him, he'll tell you. He's actually proud of it!! (see 1 and 2)
Bill Romanofski February 06, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Don Murphy is anything but a nice man. He verbally assaulted my wife and 9 year old child because she complained about them pumping the wrong gas. He screamed obsenities at them making my son cry. He then told them to tell everyone they knew including their Church Members never to come to his station. He then went into his garage and slammed the doors down. Mr Morgan. Will you not do anything to further your political aspirations?
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I went to NP Fuel on several occasions. I quickly learned how unprofessional Don Murphy truly is. It is unfortunate that I had a complaint about something one day. The adage that the customer is always right need not apply here. If you have any complaint for what you paid your hard earned money for -- he will promptly tell you that he doesn't need your business, to get the H*** off his property and that you, your family etc. are unwelcome to go there. This was more likely what happened to Ms. Sherry..................I was told to go somewhere else after I paid for something that I did not receive. Don Murphy -- what you sow is what you reap and always be careful what you wish for -- I have stopped going to your business as well as my friends and family. It seems like I was not the first person you told this nor the last. I posted a review re: his outrageous behavior myself last year and I noticed that I was not the first to have done so. I even considered calling the Independent Press, but decided it wasn't worth it. Sooner or later, many more would realize his true nature.
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:18 PM
In continuation of my prior comment: Mr. Morgan -- you obviously never had a complaint at this place -- if you had you will quickly learn that he is not the reserved, soft spoken gentlemen you make him out to be. My children were in the car that day -- and are still afraid to go near the place. They quickly crossed the street on Halloween and our Christmas Walk -- so, this calm and gentle man that does so much for our community really left a lasting impression on my very young children. I am proud to have Mayor Hern as my Mayor -- I feel that it is outrageous that you are making such a big deal out of this. Ms. Sherry never mentioned she was his girlfriend in her post!! I for one could care less about his personal life -- put yourself in his shoes -- you to were divorced -- it's a difficult time for him and his family (let him just do his job) -- and as former mayor I hope you are intelligent enough to know that Don Murphy is a hot head -- it didn't take me long to realize this -- I was very shocked and dissapointed when I found out, but I'm over it. Move on.
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:21 PM
P.S. Why why this turned around into something that Ms. Sherry did. I saw some really awful posts calling her a classless idiot. She is a consumer/like all of us. From my personal experience with Don Murphy -- he acts like a classless idiot!! I'm sure Ms. Sherry wouldn't waste her time over a lousy $20!!
NP Pride February 06, 2012 at 03:22 PM
as I read all of these comments, the whole situation is avoided if the GF doesn't post the trash talk on nj.com. since that posting, many other facts have surfaced which don't exactly paint a great character picture of a Mayor who believes it's more important to serve a community than to pay his taxes or his debts or take care of his family.
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:26 PM
He is a bully!!
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I for one at the request of Don Murphy have boycotted his business -- I don't know the GF but I know from personal experience what Don Murphy is like...................he is very intimidating, obnoxious and unprofessional. I went straight home and posted my own reviews last year -- she did not post on her review that she was his girlfriend there!!
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:32 PM
I hope many more post reviews regarding this guy...............................that's why I did and was happy to see that over the years many others have. It was unfortunate that I had an unpleasant experience -- I was shocked by it because I truly wanted to support the local businesses in our town.
new providence February 06, 2012 at 03:49 PM
As for Lisa Sherry -- good for you!! Don Murphy is in fact a bully (as someone else has mentioned on this forum!!)


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