By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – Three-term Mayor Stephanie Murray announced her resignation from Middletown’s governing body Friday due to “increased career responsibilities” in her professional career.
That means Deputy Mayor Kevin Settembrino has been elevated and will serve as Middletown’s Acting Mayor in the interim until the township committee reconvenes and reorganizes at its July 16 meeting.
“It was certainly a bit of a surprise to us on Friday,” Settembrino told The Two River Times Tuesday, June 26. “But we’re in a transition period at the moment.”
Murray accepted a part-time job as West Long Branch’s borough administrator Aug. 9, 2017. She was promoted to full-time administrator Feb. 7, 2018, according to West Long Branch meeting minutes. That position comes with an $89,000 salary prorated from Feb. 1, her effective hire date.
Murray, a Republican, resigned effective June 22 after submitting a brief letter to the township clerk.
“When (West Long Branch) made me full-time I was ecstatic and it just became apparent that if I was dedicating time to my career, it was difficult to give the time to Middletown that it needed,” Murray told The Two River Times on Wednesday. “It was time for me to focus on my family and my job. It was a natural decision.”
Murray’s resignation comes months after she won her third Middletown election with running mate, Committeeman Tony Fiore. A local history buff, Murray helped start Middletown’s Heritage Tourism program which highlights historic sections of town and chaired the yearlong Middletown 350 celebration in 2014. Murray’s community involvement traces back about a decade to when she hosted neighborhood meetings called “Middletown Mornings.”
The process to find her replacement begins immediately, Settembrino said. According to state statute, the incumbent’s local party committee has to submit three names to fill the vacancy within 15 days. At the 30-day mark, the governing body must act and officially appoint a replacement, which will happen at the July 16 meeting. The township committee will also reorganize and name a new mayor and deputy mayor at that time.
Murray’s resignation, however, leaves Middletown’s governing body in a unique and unfamiliar place. When her replacement is chosen in July, Middletown’s governing body will have more appointed officials than elected officials, with Settembrino and Fiore the remaining elected representatives on the five-member committee.
“I’ve been on for eight years and nothing like that has been close to happening,” Settembrino noted.
Stephen Massell resigned in October when he took a position at the Monmouth County Tax Board and was replaced by Committeeman Tony Perry. Gerry Scharfenberger resigned this winter when he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Rick Hibell was chosen to fill Scharfenberger’s seat in February.
“I know that Tony Perry and Rick Hibell have made themselves aware of the budget and everything that goes on in the township,” said Settembrino. “And we would expect that of the person we choose to fil the vacancy with.”
This situation also means political control is at stake in November, considering Middletown is a unanimous Republican-led government. Both Perry and Hibell have announced their election campaigns. The seat Murray held will be up for election, as well. Murray’s replacement will not automatically become the candidate for that position in November, although that person could run for election in the fall.
Democratic candidates Tricia Maguire and Danielle Walsh are also running in November.
Despite the recent turnover, Settembrino said the township plans to make a responsible appointment next month.
“I’m not concerned about it and we’ll make sure that the person we appoint to fill that vacancy is willing and able to understand the business of the township,” he said.
This article first appeared in the June 28 – July 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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