By Chris Rotolo |
RED BANK – A 42-page report filed in June described the borough’s municipal operations as “ineffective” and “dysfunctional.”
Could that assessment effect Red Bank’s political landscape for the next four years?
The Borough Council-commissioned study has already shaken up the 2018 election, as the Republican party will top its ticket with 64-year-old Pearl Lee, a political novice who found enough inspiration in those scathing pages to run against Democratic incumbent, Mayor Pasquale “Pat” Menna. It will be the first time Menna will face a challenger in a general election since he won the seat in 2006.
Lee called the report “revealing” and “an accumulation of many years of neglect.”
“When someone runs unopposed for this long, you’re really not accountable to anybody except your own party,” Lee said.
In an Oct. 17 interview with The Two River Times, Menna said the report wasn’t a reflection of current municipal leadership, but rather a necessary step before changes should be made in the borough.
“Whether it’s me or anybody else, there had to be a complete review of borough operations. No one had ever done anything like this ever before in our 100-year history,” Menna said.
Menna said the governing body commissioned the study because “the people had a right to know” where changes are needed.
“Any review that is open and is candid and provides a way forward for operations in the next century is a positive step, especially if we’re implementing it, which we are,” Menna said.
For Lee, the message of the report – conducted by consulting firm Government Strategy Group – was inefficiency. The study suggested Red Bank could eliminate 12 full-time positions and recommended consolidating code enforcement, planning, zoning and building departments into a single office.
“They had in the report that there were 9,000 open construction permits. There’s only 12,000 people in town and 4,000 houses. It’s about attention to detail. If you show you’re not paying attention, then nobody is paying attention,” Lee added.
Menna called the number of open construction permits “unacceptable,” and blamed it on a lack of administrative oversight. He also added those open permits have since been resolved.
The firm’s leading recommendation was for Red Bank to overhaul its form of government. The report found that the borough council form had given elected officials too much control over daily operations.
In June, Menna said such a maneuver would be a “cop out,” though in Wednesday’s interview he admitted, “I think we are overhauling it.”
“Are we a small borough, like back in 1907? Or have we evolved into a center of the region? And the answer is we’ve evolved. I think we have to shape our departments and our government to reflect that,” Menna said.
Red Bank’s current form of government consists of a mayor and six council members. The council acts as the legislative branch of the municipal government, while the mayor presides over meetings and only casts a deciding vote on issues in the event of a tie.
Lee said, if elected, she’ll approach Red Bank as a business owner would, since she has 40 years of experience to draw from after heading a video production agency in New York City.
“If the town was a business, I think it’d be out of business right now,” Lee said. “The amount of mismanagement in almost every department is outrageous.”
Lee was critical of a vision statement crafted earlier this year by Red Bank RiverCenter, which was meant to guide the actions of local businesses and the governing body in hopes of securing a financially healthy future for the borough.
Lee said the notion is contradictory and confusing.
“How can you have visions for the future when you can’t even take care of the things that are right in front of you?”
As a political outsider, Lee hopes to play a large role in developing that future, while Menna said the future is something he’s been working toward for the past three decades by “striving to overcome challenges faced by all the different members of our community” and by supporting the progress of the Borough’s public and charter schools.
“What sets me apart is that, whether it’s been in prominent situations or completely anonymous tasks, I’ve been actively involved in every fabric of life in this town for 30 years,” Menna said. “I’ve tried to represent the municipality as much as I have been able to do with stability and responsiveness. This isn’t something I started last year. It’s 30 years in the making.”
The mayoral and Borough Council candidates are scheduled to appear at the 22nd Annual Candidates Night from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 23 at the River Street Commons. It will be moderated by Amy Goldsmith, West Side Community Group president. The event is open to the public. Street parking only.
This article was first published in the Oct. 18 – Oct. 24, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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