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PARKS & REC DUO BACK IN SWING

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The top two people at the Red Bank Parks & Recreation Department, whose names were curiously absent from the borough council reappointments list on Jan. 1, have gotten the seal of approval to remain in their positions.

Director Bob Evans and Assistant Director Tomora Young were reappointed by the council last week, following an oral report by Councilman John Curley on efforts to address issues raised by a recent audit of the department.

Citing personnel policies, borough officials are still rather vague about what the holdup was.

But redbankgreen has learned that the audit, completed in October, turned up some bookkeeping mismanagement issues in the department.

There was no suggestion of any type of malfeasance, Curley said.

“There were difficult problems of accounting procedures, and that’s about all I can say,” Curley told redbankgreen.

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BECK GRABS FOR NEXT RUNG

After just a year in Trenton, Red Bank’s Jennifer Beck has announced she’ll try to leap from the Assembly to the state Senate in November.

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According to a story in the Asbury Park Press, Beck said she’ll run for the 12th District seat now held by Sen. Ellen Karcher.

The Press reports that Beck announced her intent in a letter Monday to Monmouth County GOP chairman Adam Puharic a few days ahead of a Feb. 1 deadline with the county committee.

From the story:

In her letter, Beck cites a lack of leadership on the Senate side in the past year on several important issues to the district and the state, including school funding and busing; State law 1701 which restricts local school district spending; disposition of the Marlboro Psychatric Hospital property; improving exit 8 on the NJ Turnpike; and the Fair Haven cell tower land swap before the department of Environmental Protection.

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WHITE BLANKET

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COP SOUGHT IN DUI DEATH SURRENDERS

A Jersey City police officer who lives in Middletown, already facing DUI charges arising from a car crash on the Pulaski Skyway, surrendered to police this morning in connection with the death of 2 1/2-year-old boy as result of the wreck.

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From an Associated Press dispatch posted at the Star-Ledger online:

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A Jersey City police officer, charged last week with driving drunk after an off-duty crash, surrendered Monday to face an aggravated manslaughter charge following the death of a toddler who was in the other vehicle.

Officer Kevin Freibott and his lawyer arrived shortly before 9 a.m. at the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, Prosecutor Edward J. DeFazio said.

The manslaughter charge, which carries up to 30 years in prison, was filed Sunday, just hours after 2-year-old Juan Carlos Zelaya died from injuries suffered in the crash last Tuesday. The child’s mother, Ruth Zelaya, 37, remained in critical condition at Jersey City Medical Center.

Police had attempted to arrest Freibott Sunday, but his whereabouts was not immediately known.

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BOROUGH MAN INJURED IN FIRE

An explosion and fire in a hunting trailer in Upper Freehold injured a Red Bank man over the weekend, according to a report in today’s Asbury Park Press.

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Raymond Mass was in critical condition Sunday at Helene Fuld Medical Center in Trenton, with burns to his hands, knees and 10 percent of his face, the Press reported, citing a State Police official.

A second man, from Monroe, and a 13-year-old boy whom the Press did not identify were also injured in the Saturday morning incident, but were treated and released from a hospital. A third man declined treatment.

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WESTLAKE GETS THREE MONTHS

Red Bank resident Jack Westlake, former president of the Monmouth County Board of Taxation, was sentenced to three months in federal prison and seven months home confinement Thursday for tax evasion.

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Westlake, 76, of Ambassador Drive in the Elk Ridge condo complex off Spring Street, had been prosecuted for his role in a corruption scheme that also involved former state Senate President John A. Lynch Jr. Westlake admitted failing to pay federal income tax on $350,000.

The plea was unrelated to Westlake’s role as a gubernatorial appointee to the six-member county tax board, which oversees local tax rates and rules on appeals of property tax cases.

From today’s report on the sentencing in the Asbury Park Press:

Westlake expressed contrition in his brief prepared statement.

“Words cannot express how much I regret having committed this offense,” he read, in a strong, steady voice. “This is the first time in the 76 years of my life that I have been in a courtroom.”

Westlake asked forgiveness from his wife, Marietta, and daughter, Lynn — both of whom were seated behind him — and said that he is “committed” to paying the rest of his back taxes.

“I ask the court to blend mercy with justice in my case,” he said.

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BEAUTY AND…

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One’s an ultra-urbane purveyor of high-fashion eyewear displayed in a store so spacious that a visitor cannot help but marvel at the empty acreage between the walls. It goes by the delicate name of Chic Optique. The proprietor has a plummy British accent.

The other is packed to the gunwales with the gruntwear of war and outdoor labor. Its name all but cries out for heavy stenciling: Red Bank Surplus. The guy behind the counter speaks undiluted Brooklynese.

Together, they’re a kind of beauty-and-the-beast of retail, emblematic of two ends of the downtown spectrum: a store that well-heeled shoppers flock to, and another at a price point that many locals think we need more of.

Each is also kind of new to town, which made us wonder what paths led them to storefronts just around a corner from one another. So redbankgreen popped in them recently to get their stories.

Follow the jump to read about Chic Optique; our story on Red Bank Surplus is below.

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…THE BEAST

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VINCENT J. FAIELLA
RED BANK SURPLUS
16 WALLACE STREET

I’ve been here four months. We were in Brooklyn for 79 years — Reliable Naval Tailoring Co. I’m third-generation.

I’ve been living in Little Silver for 15 years. I was born and raised in the city and wanted to get out of there, found a house in Little Silver and was commuting for 15 years. The opportunity came about that I could rent a nice little store in Red Bank, and I jumped on it.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

It can be feast or famine here in the land of ‘Where.’

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You’ll recall that our last entry — showing the brick facade around the JCP&L substation in Fair Haven, aka the “building dickey” — brought an unprecedented number of responses, all of them, amazingly, correct.

This week? One answer, and it was off the mark.

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STRETCHING FOR A FRIEND

Rita Lemole may have left her lifelong digs in Monmouth County, but her fellow instructors and other friends from the Community YMCA in Red Bank haven’t forgotten her.

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Lemole, formerly of Middletown and Atlantic Highlands, taught aerobics, spin, Pilates and more at the Y, where she inspired a number of students to also become instructors.

“She would sometimes bring home-made muffins to share with everyone after a spin class,” says instructor Mary McGrath. “Or she would bring apples in the fall for everyone to take after class. You can see what a wonderful person Rita is.”

Last summer, Lemole moved with her husband and two children to Florida. Soon afterward, she was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer, and had a double mastectomy in December.

Now she’s going through chemotherapy and faces further surgery.

On Sunday, the Y will hold a fundraiser to help Lemole and her family with medical costs. Cycling, yoga, step aerobics and more will be offered into the early afternoon, followed by a party.

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PRINCESS GRACE?

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Kaye Ernst wants Grace Cangemi to succeed her on the Borough Council.

But will Mayor Pasquale Menna and his Democratic majority risk giving the tailwind of incumbency to a Republican who came within a couple of dozen votes of winning the seat now occupied by Councilman Michael DuPont?

In filling the vacancy, the council gets to choose from three nomimees to be submitted by the local GOP leadership. Like Ernst, Councilman John Curley, the other Republican on the six-member body, has endorsed Cangemi.

Menna, though, is keeping his counsel about the presumed frontrunner for the spot.

“I don’t have a feeling for it,” Menna said Tuesday, when asked for his first-blush reaction to Ernst’s recommendation. “What Kaye Ernst expressed is a personal feeling. We can’t even consider until we get three names from the Republican Committee, and I have no idea whose names they’re going to be submitting.

“This is not a monarchy, and Grace is not the crown princess to the abdicated queen,” Menna said.

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BRIDGE JUMPER CHILLS DATE

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Today’s Asbury Park Press has a story about the difficult rescue of an intoxicated, 25-year-old man who jumped off the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge early Saturday morning to impress a woman he was on a date with.

It didn’t work: the Rumson woman told police it was only their second date, and that there wouldn’t be a third, the Press reports.

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ERNST RESIGNS; CANGEMI MAY GET SEAT

In a move that stunned her council colleagues, Kaye Ernst Monday night announced that she’s resigning and moving to Pennsylvania after little more than a year on the Borough Council.

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One of two Republicans on the six-member governing body, Ernst cited personal reasons for her decision, including past mistreatment by unnamed others on the council, taxes that have increased more rapidly than her income, and the needs of her retired parents, with whom she’ll be moving to Lord’s Valley, Pa., in the Poconos.

Ernst said that the political atmosphere at Borough Hall had begun to change for the better since the start of the new year, a turnaround she credited to Mayor Pasquale Menna. Still, she said, her personal circumstances compelled her to sell her house and move out of state.

“You cope with your fate as a matter of choice and not chance,” she said, “and I am making the choice to change my life. I no longer feel that I am able to live the life that I want to in the town that I love so much, and in fact, not in the greatest state in America, which is New Jersey. My parents have offered me their unequivocal love and support throught my life, and it is now my privilege to take care of them.”

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‘RAH-RAH’ ARCHITECTS SET SIGHTS ON PS5

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The ingredients are compelling, to say the least.

There’s a handsome West Side school building built in 1912 with great bones, but nestled in a neighborhood that sorely needs fresh economic and aesthetic blood.

There’s a high-profile architectural firm, one that loves reimagining old buildings in non-traditional ways.

And there are the firm’s two partners, a couple of admitted “Red Bank rah-rahs,” one of then a founding board member and past chairman of RiverCenter.

The mixing has begun.

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HOVNANIAN SLASHES SPACE BUDGET

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Hovnanian Enterprises, the publicly-traded homebuilder that last year moved its corporate headquarters to the heart of Red Bank from Middletown, is scaling back its ambitions in the borough, according to a published report.

GlobeSt.com, a real estate industry publication, says Hovnanian is now planning on subleasing 66,000 square-feet of the 88,000 SF it had committed to use for itself in the PRC Corporate Plaza. That building, shown above, is under construction on West Front Street, just across the street for Hovnanian’s new 65,000 SF HQ.

Instead of taking all four floors for itself, the company will be using just one floor, according to GlobeSt.

What is Hov saying about this self-haircut? From the report:

“We are very excited with the expansion of our presence in Red Bank,” says president/CEO Ara Hovnanian in a prepared statement. A spokesman declined further comment on the reduced occupancy.

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FEDS: CRASH SCAM WAS BASED HERE

The owner of a now-defunct auto body shop on Pearl Street in Red Bank was the ringleader of an alleged insurance scam that led to federal indictments yesterday of 11 people in three states, authorities contend.

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John Cotona, 38, of Marlboro was arrested on insurance fraud charges stemming from what U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in Newark contends were staged auto accidents, including at least five reported to Red Bank police in 2004.

Also among seven arrested yesterday were Cotona’s wife, Vincenza Girone, 35; his brother, Vincent G. Cotona, 43, a restaurateur in New York; and Shawn P. Streberger, 37, of Red Bank. Four other defendants were being sought.

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DOUBLE WHAMMY

Utility-pole work on East Front Street outside Heritage Liquors and a stalled truck on West Front near the Front Street Trattoria created a one-two punch that brought today’s midmorning traffic to a crawl.

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GO. STAY. COME BACK. GET COMFY.

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Last time we wrote about Shrewsbury Manor, the 59-unit apartment complex just east of the Molly Pitcher Inn was being prepped for shut-down.

The family-owned real estate development firm that built and still owns the complex was planning to replace it with… well, even the owner didn’t know what at the time.

All that Samantha Bowers, vice president of the could tell us then was that “the buildings have reached the end of their useful life, and so this is, unfortunately, what we have to do. It’s time to redevelop the property.”

Tenants of the 79-year-old, two-story red brick buildings got the message. Informed by letter that their leases would not be renewed beyond the end of this year, they started moving out, or making plans to do so.

So imagine their surprise last September when landlord Philip J. Bowers & Co. did a one-eighty and told the remaining tenants they could re-up for another year.

“Relieved? Oh my gosh, I can’t tell you,” said Barbara Cottrell, an 86-year-old resident. “My feet didn’t touch the floor for about a day.”

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FECAL BACTERIA: THEY’RE ON IT

Shellfishermen downriver in Sandy Hook Bay weren’t entirely satisfied, but Red Bank and state officials say they’re attacking elevated fecal coliform levels in the Navesink River with all they’ve got, and that it’s working.

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The most effective tool at their disposal, they say, is a study conducted by a unit of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection showing high levels of bacteria entering the river from borough storm drains.

With that as a guide, the borough has been tracing sources of storm-sewer flows on dry days, videotaping the insides of sewer lines, re-lining or replacing infrastructure and taking other measures, borough officials told a gathering of several dozen people at Borough Hall Wednesday night.

A state official endorsed the strategy.

“We’re very optimistic,” Eric Feerst, of the DEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring told the audience. “You have a very proactive approach.”

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FORT SCAMMERS SENTENCED

The Red Bank trio who last year admitted defrauding Fort Monmouth out of close to $1 million through a no-show-jobs scam have been sentenced to federal prison, the Asbury Park Press reports.

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The tally: 46 months for Michael Rzeplinski, a West Point grad and retired Army engineer; 12 months for Connie Davidson; and 18 months for her daughter, Kirsten Davidson, all three of whom reside at the Branch Avenue house shown here, or did at the time of their pleas last August.

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GIVING A TOP-SHELF CAT SOME SKIN

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Ralph Gatta, aka “Johnny Jazz,” did not set out to become an institution. It was never his intent to transform what had been a simple family-owned butcher shop into a working monument to what he considers America’s greatest art form.

All he wanted, really, was to be able to continue experiencing the wonders of jazz after life threw him a curveball back in 1963. With the death of his father, Johnny Gatta, Ralph’s freewheeling Saturday nights at Birdland and other clubs in New York and Newark came to a sudden halt, as he and his mother, Helen, put in 12, 13 hours a day keeping their Shrewsbury Avenue grocery going.

So onto the turntable in the back room went the LPs. And out of the speakers above the shelves of cereal and canned goods and sacks of rice came Bird, and Miles, and Coltrane. All day long. Sometimes at volumes that Helen thought unnecessarily high. But Gatta couldn’t help himself. This is a man who, at 69 years old, still becomes visibly pumped when he hears a great horn riff and sprinkles his speech with references to “top-shelf cats.”

“The bottom line is, without my mother and the music—the music —I couldn’t have done it,” says Gatta. “I just did it for myself, to tell the truth. Because if you’re going to put music in a store, it wouldn’t be real jazz.”

On Sunday, Feb. 18, Gatta will be honored by The Source, an outreach program for students at Red Bank Regional High School.

Why Johnny Jazz? Not because he’s got anything to do with The Source, exactly. But simply for doing what he’s done, which has been to help preserve an art form by infecting his customers, including generations of kids, with his sense of devotion.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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We’d heard it called “Mrs. Watt’s house” before. But “building dickey?” That one was new.

Last week’s ‘Where‘ generated not only a record number of responses—all of them substantially correct—but some amusing takes on a structure meant to suggest something other than what it really is.

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CURLEY: TEAR DOWN THOSE FINES!

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Today’s Asbury Park Press has a story about what may prove to be the first test of the Democratic majority’s professed willingness to “work with” Councilman John Curley: parking fines.

Curley, one of two Republicans on the six-member council, wants them slashed from $38 per violation to $25. The council Dems are saying, whoa, not so fast.

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ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS PILOT DIED IN CRASH

The pilot killed in the crash of a single-engine plane in Wayne on Monday night was from Atlantic Highlands.

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Andrew Coppolo, 55, owned an engineering firm in Orange and flew frequently on business and as a volunteer, ferrying cancer patients to chemotherapy treatments at his own expense. He had more than 30 years flying experience, including a long stint as a helicopter pilot in the New Jersey National Guard, according to reports.

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