Democrats Back at the Helm in Red Bank

January 8, 2018
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Running mates Ed Zipprich and Michael Ballard, both Democrats, were sworn in to the Red Bank borough council after a resounding victory in November. Zipprich was voted to serve as council president in 2018.

By Jay Cook |

RED BANK – Now that the Democrats are in power on the governing body, they plan to influence the most important hire in the borough in nearly 40 years.

Longtime borough administrator and 38-year Red Bank employee Stanley Sickels retired effective Jan. 1, and the borough enters 2018 without a full-time replacement.

The ruling Democrats are hopeful a new process will provide the perfect hire, yet minority Republicans say a six-month-long search dating back to June had been politically disrupted.

“This is the first time in 21 years that I’ve been here that he has not sat on the dais as the administrator here,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said during his address to a packed borough hall on Jan. 1. To Sickels, who was seated in the audience, Menna simply said, “Thank you.”

The Democrats’ plan of action to find his replacement is a new approach for Red Bank. For the next three months, the position of borough administrator will be filled by three people. By a 4-2 council vote, Kenneth DeRoberts and Joseph Hartnett, both of the firm Government Strategy Group, were appointed interim administrator and interim assistant administrator, respectively. Clifford Keen, the borough’s director of public utilities, was appointed as the acting interim administrator.

DeRoberts and Hartnett will work on a part-time basis until the end of March by helping run the borough, while Keen will oversee day-to-day operations. DeRoberts has past experience as an administrator in Summit and New Providence, while Hartnett has been an administrator in Cranford, Montclair and Rahway. Menna said DeRoberts and Hartnett are both “imminently qualified, well-recognized professionals.”

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After the meeting, DeRoberts said Government Strategy Group will conduct a “management enhancement review study” of borough hall to find the right qualities for Sickels’ replacement.

“Frankly, it’s the first full review in 30 years,” Menna admitted. “It’s been an eye opener and a critical review, but good, and it’s necessary.”

Sickels’ retirement came as no surprise. He announced at the beginning of 2017 it would be his last year, providing the borough time to find his replacement while assisting in the transition.

Republicans Mark Taylor and Michael Whelan, who dished out the two “nay” votes against temporarily contracting out the administrator’s job, said after the meeting that Sickels’ replacement procedure has been politicized.

Taylor, who was on the committee to screen potential candidates last year, was critical of the council Democrats. He called the process “a complete backdoor political move, nontransparent and a complete disservice to the residents.”

According to Taylor, the search began in June with 39 resumes coming to borough hall to fill the vacancy. Those were whittled down to 10 resumes, with seven making it to the last round. Taylor said the plan was to make a hire by Dec. 1, “so we could move forward into 2018 with a month of experience, get the offices set up, learn who everyone is.”

Democrat councilman Erik Yngstrom said after the meeting that the borough hall audit is the best decision going forward for Red Bank.

“We really want to pick the right one,” he said, referring to the new administrator. “From what we’ve had, we don’t know if the right one has been interviewed yet.”

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As borough officials have said in the past, Sickels has worn “many hats” during his tenure in Red Bank. In addition to his borough administrator position, he also served as the qualified purchasing agent, fire marshal, construction code official, community development liaison and municipal housing liaison.

To fill those voids, Menna and the borough council approved Eugenia Poulos as the qualified purchasing agent; John Drucker as the acting construction code official; Thomas J. Welsh as the acting fire marshal; Keen as the community development representative; and Glen Carter as the municipal housing liaison.

“We are grateful for Mr. Sickels for his dedication to Red Bank and I look forward to working with the professional staff as we chart a new course,” said council president Ed Zipprich after he was sworn in.

Looking forward to 2018, Menna addressed the public and touched on a number of different issues continued from last year. He said Red Bank is committed to passing a local ordinance prohibiting local pet sales with animals bred in puppy and kitten mills, and it could happen in short order this year.

Menna said decisions about the “big elephant in the room,” referring to the downtown parking situation at the White Street lots, will be decided “as a unified body, in my opinion.”

He added the endgame has to be increased inventory, increased parking, a manageable mixed-use facility with no cost to the taxpayers. The direction of a White Street parking garage could change this year, as Whelan is not chairing the parking committee for the first time in his tenure. It is now directed by three Democrats – Yngstrom, Zipprich, and Kathy Horgan.

This article was first published in the Jan. 4-11, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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