SEA BRIGHT MAYOR LASHES OUT AT COUNCIL
By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Sea Bright Mayor Maria Fernandes has had it with the borough council, and she’s not mincing words about it.
The mayor, a Democrat, frustrated by years of what she says is council wheel-spinning, intransigence and, in some cases, conflicts of interest, is calling out her counterparts on the council. All but one of them.
“The chickens are coming home to roost,” Fernandes told redbankgreen. “I am fed up with this council. This council is the worst council I’ve ever been on.”
But one of her targets, Councilman Read Murphy, a Republican who routinely spars with Fernandes at council meetings, dismisses her lashing out as politicking.
Fernandes, who has served on the council since 1997 and has spent the last three years as mayor, says residents “need to know” that Murphy and Councilman James LoBiondo, also a Republican who owns Surfrider Beach Club, are “throwing their weight around” and “meddling in police affairs.” She claims that in an effort to hire a team of special officers for the summer, LoBiondo is angling to get a club member a job as one of the specials.
LoBiondo did not respond to a request for comment.
But Murphy, who Fernandes said is “in direct conflict” with public safety matters, offered his own sharp criticism.
A former fire chief whose son, Chad, is Sea Bright’s deputy chief, Murphy said he has no say in police, fire and first aid matters. Earlier this year, he was advised by borough attorney Joe Oxley to step down from the public safety committee to avoid any potential conflict of interest. He did, and now heads the finance committee.
“I can’t vote. I can’t be in on any discussions,” Murphy said. “She’s just trying to stir political stuff. That’s what this woman’s all about. It’s all politics.”
He said people often ask him advice on things related to public safety, and “knowing more about this town than anybody,” he gives it.
“How can you influence decisions?” Murphy said. “I’m not the Grand Poobah of Sea Bright.”
Fernandes says her criticism has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with years of frustration coming to a head.
“I’m putting my foot down now, and I’m putting it down firmly. They are unworkable,” she said. “This is not campaigning. We’ve just got to square this away.”
In a broadside Fernandez initiated with a call to redbankgreen, the mayor criticized the council for waffling on issues, not spending enough time on projects and failing to agree on just about anything of significance in town. Only councilwoman Dina Long, a fellow Democrat, was spared.
“For two years we’ve done nothing because they all micromanage,” Fernandes said. “This is a paralyzed council.”
She said council president William Keeler, while a nice man and a gentleman, “can’t make a decision.”
“As council president, I’ve asked him to get email. He refuses to get email,” she said. “This is the 21st century. He makes himself unavailable.”
As for Brian Kelly, who heads the borough’s smart growth committee, Fernandes said he hasn’t put in the time it takes make progress on projects.
“He’s too busy,” she said. “He’s been talking about smart growth for years.”
Same for Peggy Bills, she said.
“I like them, but they don’t have the time,” Fernandes said. “If you don’t have the time, don’t run for council. Just don’t run for council.”
Bills and Kelly, Republicans, are up for re-election this year against challengers Marc Leckstein and Margaret Fisher. Neither Bills nor Kelly could be reach for comment on this story.