BASKING RIDGE, NJ—An independent investigation into the June sale of 27 horses from Lord Stirling Stable in Basking Ridge has been completed.

The probe, initiated by the Somerset County Freeholders and conducted by the law firm of Ruderman & Roth, found that the Somerset County Park Commission failed to follow proper procedures with the sale, which caused controversy throughout the county.

“The Park Commission and the Executive Director did not follow the established procedures for disposing of public property,” the firm’s report states, “be it equipment or, in this case, livestock.”

The commission was required under New Jersey law to designate a “Qualified Purchasing Agent” (QPA) to administer the disposal of surplus public property, the county said. The Park Commission designated the Somerset County Purchasing Agent as its QPA, but the purchasing agent was not notified of the sale of the horses, which was conducted without the purchasing agent’s knowledge.

“The Park Commission made difficult operational decisions that needed to be made early on during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the financial survival of the Park Commission,” said a statement by Mark Caliguire, President of the Somerset County Park Commission. “The Park Commission will certainly review the findings of this investigation and take appropriate corrective procedural steps, if necessary, to be certain that any such operational actions taken by Park Commission staff comply with all applicable purchasing laws and regulations.”

Despite the procedures not being followed, the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office said in July that there were no criminal violations connected to the sale of the horses.

The Park Commission is an independent agency. The Somerset County Freeholders appoint commissioners to the Park Commission but the freeholders have no direct control over the operations of the organization, a statement by Somerset County said.

The stable has been located on South Maple Avenue for about 50 years and has been closed since March. A petition started after the horses were sold gathered more than 4,000 signatures last summer.

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This article originally appeared on the Basking Ridge Patch

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