By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Freddie Boynton might as well have laced up his old boxing gloves for this face-off.
The former boxer, who’s taken a role in retirement as a voice of Red Bank’s West Side, didn’t pull any punches when borough and elected officials made a trip to the Celestial Lodge Tuesday afternoon to address a grab bag of concerns from residents. But nearly an hour was dominated by one topic access to Count Basie Fields and Boynton and other residents, on the way to a compromise on extending the park’s hours, used Administrator Stanley Sickels and elected officials as punching bags for criticism.
“Our children are being locked out,” Boynton, a former borough employee, said. “We’re being treated like we’re animals over here.”
The chief complaint from residents is that, in a change from the past, there is limited public access to the park.
When the borough unveiled a huge turf makeover last year, wrought iron gates kept out anybody without a key during off-hours not something most of the 35 or so attendees at the meeting room were used to. But in the past, the gates had always been broken, Sickels said. Since the upgrades, the borough has been able to reinstate the practice of locking the gates, he said, to keep vandalism and littering to a minimum overnight.
Sickels and Council President Art Murphy said it wasn’t uncommon to find empty beer cans and cigarette butts on the fields in the past. Last week, Murphy said he saw somebody hitting golf balls at the fields, which is prohibited. And Sickels said somebody died a few years ago after jumping off the bleachers at the fields.
But Boynton and residents argued that if they’re paying taxes, they should have access to the fields 24/7, and said Red Bank Catholic, which helped pay for the upgrades and pays rent on the fields, may have a hand in shutting people out.
“It seems y’all are finding a lot going on down there. That’s not the reason why,” Boynton said. “The reason is Red Bank Catholic.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna, in what appeared to be an attempt to end the extended discussion, said the council may take action at its meeting tonight to extend the open hours of the fields.
But Boynton wasn’t done. It was on to issue No. 2 of the meeting.
“Stanley,” he said, “we have a problem with the hiring here in Red Bank.”
Boynton contends that his 24-year-old son has applied three times for a job with the borough, but hasn’t gotten so much as a call back. In fact, the application was shredded, he said. Sickels strongly refuted that claim.
“I worked for the borough 29 years. I know how the system works,” Boynton said. “If I was a councilman, he’d be hired today.”
Resident Richard Ashley said his son encountered the same problem as Boynton’s, and said, “there’s a lot of nepotism going on in town.”
That launched Boynton into a tirade against employees including Sickels who hold more than one position within the borough, and Gary Watson, who retired as a Red Bank police officer and got another job on the borough payroll. Those employees are taking away opportunities and sucking money from taxpayers, Boynton said.
“Where’s the taxpayers’ money going? We have people get a pension, it takes the mailman two trucks to get the checks to their house,” Boynton said.
He moved to issue No. 3: police.
When residents probed Chief Steve McCarthy about how to file noise complaints and address traffic concerns on busy streets like Shrewsbury Avenue, McCarthy explained the process the department goes through in each case.
And when Boynton, who at this point in the meeting was far less pugnacious than the opening hour, chimed in on the department’s shortcomings, he prefaced it by saying, “now, not knocking anybody…”
McCarthy knew better.
“You say, ‘not knocking anybody,’ but you said that before, and then you hit the guy (Sickels) pretty hard,” he said, smiling. “I know what’s coming.”