SPRING LAKE HEIGHTS — A Jersey Shore councilman who was once arrested on charges of hiring a prostitute in a cemetery is facing expulsion from the Borough Council after his colleagues censured him over a more recent arrest.

The Spring Lake Heights Borough Council censured member Robert Merriken, 68, at Monday night's meeting mainly because he told Neptune City officers during a drug bust that he is "a major figure" in his Monmouth County community.

Merriken was charged on April 5 with possession of drug paraphernalia, including a hypodermic syringe, a needle cap, a bloody cotton ball and a rubber band.

Passenger Cherice M. Hernandez, 39, a friend of his late son, was also charged.

He then turned in his resignation to borough administrator John Barrett before withdrawing it.

Story continues after the video

In video of his police stop, which was released by Neptune City police in response to an Open Public Records Act request by New Jersey 101.5, Merriken tells police that he "forgot" about the needle.

Borough Administrator John Barrett told New Jersey 101.5 that Merriken "basically resigned and then unresigned" after his arrest under advice of his lawyer, which Barrett called "the most stupid move in politics."

But Merriken's political career has remained alive despite another embarrassing episode.

According to the Asbury Park Press, Merriken was charged in 2015 for paying to have sex with a woman in the Chesed Shel Ames Hebrew Cemetery in Neptune Township. A prostitution charge was dismissed and he pleaded guilty to loitering and paid $539 in fines. That arrest became news only this year.

According to the borough resolution, Merriken continues to completely ignore his duties as a councilman."  Merriken's behavior during the stop, telling officers about his standing in the borough, is described as "unacceptable."

"This comment was a clear attempt to suggest that his status as an elected official should cause some departure from the obvious objective investigation being conducted by the police.  This statement and what it tells us of Councilman Merriken's character is beyond unacceptable, reprehensible and calls for an immediate resignation."

Merriken's actions and statements "compromise the integrity of our government and undermines faith in the leadership of our community," according to the resolution.

The resolution was approved by a 4-1 vote with fellow Republican Sara King the only member to vote against the resolution. Barrett said Merriken came to the borough hall before Monday's meeting to review paperwork for the council committee he heads but did not stay at the meeting because he had to care for his wife, who Barrett said has terminal throat council.

"It's a horrible, horrible situation. Rob Merriken's son about seven years ago was despondent and walked in front of an oncoming NJ Transit train that passes through Spring Lake Heights. There's a lot of sorrow," Barrett said.

If Merriken misses the Council's next meeting on June 4, he faces removal for three unexcused absences over an eight-week period unless colleagues pass a resolution excusing him. Merriken is not on the June 5 primary ballot and leaves office at the end of June.

Merriken is the latest official in New Jersey to face criticism for trying to curry special treatment during an interaction with a police officer.

A Maplewood-South Orange school board member had to apologize last week after being caught on police dash cam telling an officer who pulled her over for speeding that she was an elected official. At the end of the encounter, Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad calls the South Orange police chief a "skinhead cop."

Last month, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey censured one of its own commissioners after a dashcam video went viral. The video shows Caren Turner pulling up to a traffic stop involving her daughter and then telling an officer to "shut the f*** up!"

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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