Gerard Scharfenberger returned last month to a familiar place: the Middletown mayor’s office. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Gerard Scharfenberger has what you’d call an open door policy even if the name on the door isn’t his.
After a year taking a seat on the Middletown Township Committee, Scharfenberger is back in a familiar place, as mayor. And while the sign on the door still shows the name of his successor/predecessor, Pamela Brightbill, anybody with the time and inclination can find Scharfenberger just as they could before, including Saturdays.
In fact, it was Scharfenberger who, during his first go-round as mayor in 2007, instituted Saturday open office hours, and by extension, threw at least a little more weight onto the shoulders of the mayor, who is not elected but appointed by the elected committee members.
But it was a much-needed move, he said, which is why he doesn’t mind giving up his Saturday mornings twice a month to show up to work.
“I would get calls from people,” he told redbankgreen at his most recent session, explaining that the flood of inquiries, complaints and suggestion prompted the idea to hold weekend office hours. “I thought it would be good for people.”
With 59.3 square miles of area within its borders, Middletown is one of the largest townships in the state. Scharfenberger said that makes it’s tough for some residents to show up for Township Committee meetings. Since instituting the office hours, he says he’s had a chance to do a couple things: clear up misconceptions about government and meet new people. As an example of the former, he says he sometimes gets complaints about issues that are the purview of the Board of Education, which has no connection to the township government.
If he can, he’ll solve a problem or two. But the big idea, he said, is to accomplish what many politicians promise.
“This is all part of transparency. That’s important,” he said. “I actually like meeting the people and hearing the things that you really don’t hear at Township Committee meetings.”
It varies what people are going to step into his office to say. Scharfenberger said he’s heard a range of topics, from national debt to complaints about a neighbor putting up a fence.
“Everything under the sun,” he said. “Sometimes we can help.”
There’s rarely a shortage of people waiting to see him. At the session redbankgreen showed up for, there was about a half dozen people standing in the hallway waiting patiently to be seen. Some had been there before. For others it was their first time.
It’s almost a guarantee that every other weekend, Scharfenberger or whomever has the job won’t be able to kick their feet up on the desk for a couple hours.
“It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life,” said Scharfenberger, who earned a Ph.D in archaeology and is a professor at Monmouth University. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”
Questions, comments, concerns? You can visit the mayor from 10a to noon on the first and third Saturday of every month.