By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – A newly published report commissioned by the borough slams Red Bank’s “ineffective” and “dysfunctional” municipal operations.
The 42-page-long assessment entitled the Management Enhancement Review, shared Friday on the borough website, says Red Bank’s government needs to modernize its numerous departments, requires an active redevelopment agency to compete with neighboring towns and should overhaul its form of government.
“It’s definitely disappointing. Heart-wrenching, in a way,” said Red Bank Councilman Michael Whelan Tuesday, who has been on the governing body for two and a half years. “It’s our fault and we just can’t get out of our way.”
It was authored by Government Strategy Group (GSG) over a seven-month period from October to April. Its leadership – CEO Kenneth DeRoberts and Joseph M. Harnett, executive managing director – were contracted by the borough earlier this year to oversee operations after former borough administrator Stanley Sickels’ retirement at the end of 2017.
DeRoberts and Harnett took Red Bank’s current temperature by interviewing 45 borough employees, elected officials, business owners and business agency staff about how the town operates. Though their names were listed in a section called Roster of Interviews, their comments were published without attribution. The results detailed a rising fever.
“Our facilities are a disaster,” said one person, who was not named. “We are all out of sync. I don’t know what the goals and objectives of the Mayor and Council are,” another proclaimed. “You have to be a pest to get anything done here,” described a third person.
“The Borough of Red Bank is at a major crossroads,” the report’s introduction reads. “Strong opposing dynamics, as well as external forces, present challenges that if not addressed, threaten to leave the community’s fate outside of its control.”
Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna said Monday there needs to be “an organic, complete administrative overhaul” about how “the borough has historically functioned.”
The top recommendation was for Red Bank to commission a charter study and investigate changing its form of government. The report finds the borough council form has essentially morphed into a commission-style, giving elected officials too much oversight in daily operations.
Menna called investigating such a change a “cop out.” Instead, consolidating its numerous departments into potentially three, he said, would “address the redundancy and the administrative changes that have taken place in 50 years.”
The recent hire of new business administrator Ziad Andrew Shehady should help solve that problem, Menna said.
Whelan, however, supports changing Red Bank’s governmental system. He and fellow Republican Councilman Mark Taylor recently started the “Red Bank First” initiative as an effort to reform the borough government into a nonpartisan governing body.
“Being in that government for the last three years, we have seen how it’s inefficient and how nothing gets done,” said Whelan. “A lot of times we stand in the way of progress, and this independent group pretty much agrees that the way we’re set up is archaic.”
The report, which Red Bank initially paid $17,500 for in October, also went into great detail concerning the numerous other functions and policies of Red Bank.
By redefining the interior chain of command and an organizational structure, the GSG report said Red Bank could eliminate up to 12 full-time positions. It suggested consolidating the code enforcement, planning, zoning and building departments into one main office that handles it all.
Open permits in the construction code office have been “symbolic of dysfunctionality that set in over the years,” according to the report. With about 4,400 properties, there are a staggering 9,000 permits in that department. Although most might be for small items, it presents a “real measurable effect on taxes” involving properties with added assessments that should be on tax rolls.
Morale among borough employees “is very poor,” the report continued. It detailed a culture where employees take orders from multiple bosses and multiple elected officials, leaving them feeling “not fully supported in their jobs or their careers.”
Some recommendations to fix borough-wide operations were to improve information technology programs, hold a regional shared service summit to contract projects out and changing the structure of how employees are assigned work.
Establishing a redevelopment agency and addressing the downtown parking problems top this section. Redevelopment projects in Long Branch and Asbury Park, as well as at Fort Monmouth could soon rival Red Bank’s downtown, according to the report.
GSG suggested the borough hire a full-time redevelopment director or create a similar agency to help communications with current and prospective business owners.
Additionally, the borough should implement a new master plan with specifics for the downtown and create a “consistent brand identity” to develop a marketing plan.
Hiring a firm to conduct a parking study was also suggested. The borough council beat the report to the punch, though, as it hired Walker Consultants last month to begin that study.
“The planning for and availability of such parking has been a source of contention for a number of years,” according to the report. “There are as many different opinions about whether more is needed, if so how much and where as there are stakeholders with an interest in the issue.”
Click here to read the rest of the report on redbanknj.org.
This article was first published in the June 14-June 21, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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