Democrats hoping to head over to Connolly Station for an early start celebrating the swearing in of newly appointed councilwoman Jennifer Nicolay had to be pretty unhappy Wednesday evening. Strong public dissent against various actions (and in one case, inactions) of our leaders extended the meeting well past ten o’clock.
The first matter of contention was the outrageous $168,000 initial budget submitted by the leaders of the Special Improvement District. This is double the amount projected last year when the SID was being sold to us. (Ever get that feeling of deja vu?) First to object was Vince Petruzziello, owner of Mr. Shrimp. He expressed his displeasure at the enormous size of the SID budget. He also is unhappy that the money would be spent on fixing up and attracting shoppers to Main Street, which won’t do anything for his business on Rt 71. Mr. Petruzziello later pointed out that volunteers already do many of the things the SID wants to spend money to do and that these volunteers can be counted on to do even more in the future.
Richard Hunt, whose company, Shark River Investors, is the largest commercial property owner in town also took issue with the magnitude of the budget. He pointed out that the seaport development scheme (which was supposed to accomplish what the SID is trying to do now) had already cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars with almost nothing to show for it. Mr. Hunt is no partisan. I recall that he supported the seaport project at the time and defended it in a conversation he and I had about it five or six years ago.
Other business owners criticized the SID too. One asked what would happen if she were just plain unable to make the SID payment. She was informed that the remedy would be tax foreclosure. Nice.
Tom Volker and Stuart Koperweis were on hand to defend the SID and it’s out-sized budget. They pointed to the “success” of similar projects in Jersey City and Red Bank. If I recall, the Jersey City redevelopment under Bret Schundler had all sorts of allegations of corruption, and, as I pointed out at the meeting and in the past on this blog, Rivercenter in Red Bank has not prevented the sixty or seventy vacancies that currently are blighting downtown Red Bank despite all the (other people’s) money spent on it. I also mentioned that Red Bank and other cities developed in the near total absence of government interference and that it was liberal big-government policies like those espoused by Matt Doherty and company that caused their decline in the first place. Several proponents of the District said that we should give it a try for a year and see what happens. I retorted that it’s not right to “give it a try” when it’s other people’s hard-earned money that’s on the line. Several people in the audience expressed their agreement with that sentiment.
The council then unanimously approved the $168,000 SID budget.
Things got even more uncomfortable for our new team during the public comments part of the meeting. First up was Siro Mazzara, owner of Mazzara Excavating. It seems Belmar still hasn’t paid him for the excavating work he did for the sewer project on RT35 last year. Robin and Matt brought up some issue with a change order for unanticipated additional work performed and asked Mr. Mazzara to come back February 2. He replied that all the work he performed, including the work done as part of the change order, was signed off on by T&M Associates, the company managing the project. He also pointed out that he hadn’t even been paid for the initial contract amount, so it had nothing to do with the change order. Mr. Mazzara then informed us that he had been waiting patiently for weeks and months and that Belmar can now expect a lawsuit.
Then things got bad.
Resident Gene Creamer asked the mayor why there had been no public comments segment for the organizational meeting held January 2 at The Barclay. I don’t know if it’s a violation of law, but it’s certainly not good government to vote on public appointments without allowing questions and comments beforehand. Mayor Doherty conceded the point to Mr Creamer.
Then things got very bad.
Resident Mike Seebeck, who is a Republican and ran for school board a few years ago, announced that Mayor Doherty and the Democrats violated their very own campaign finance law, which they enacted and then campaigned on.
Seems that by accepting a $1000 campaign contribution from The Barclay, they violated this provision of the law:
Any elected official who has received any Belmar campaign contribution or other elected office campaign contribution from any Belmar alcoholic beverage licensee or any other alcoholic beverage licensee in excess of the limits set forth in Section 9-6b,2. hereof, shall be ineligible to participate in, be kept informed of, or cast any vote with respect to, any application by the alcoholic beverage control licensee for an alcoholic beverage control license or permit relating to the said alcoholic beverage control licensee, or with respect to any hearings or proceedings relating to same, or with respect to any investigations relating to same, or with respect to any local or State enforcement proceedings seeking to impose fines, suspensions or revocations relating to the same; or with respect to any matters relating to the regulation of permit parking on any street in the Borough, ferry or water tram service upon the Shark River, or taxi or shuttle service anywhere within the Borough.
They did vote, after the contribution was made, on things they apparently were ineligible to vote on. Those votes could now possibly be nulified. Uh Oh!
I have invited Mr. Seebeck to detail his case on this blog if he wants to. I extend that invitation to any readers who wish to respond to that, or, for that matter, anything that appears on these pages. Of course I reserve the right to comment on anything that’s written.
I don’t think all this acrimony was quite what our newly-seated councilwoman, Ms. Nicolay, was expecting for her first meeting. Even if she had attended and participated in council meetings in the past, which to my knowledge she never has, this one was one particularly contentious. I’m sure it was embarrassing for her fellow Democrats up there on the dais.
Actually I sort of embarrassed myself in front of Ms. Nicolay before the meeting started by not recognizing her and her husband Bart, even though they live around the corner from me and our kids occasionally play together. Aside from the obvious fact that there’s something wrong with my brain, my defense is that Jennifer rarely comes around the corner and I don’t recognize Bart without his bicycle helmet on. Maybe he should have worn his helmet to the meeting. And with all the protestations and accusations at Wednesday’s meeting, Matt probably wished he had his own helmet on.