By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
He didn’t share any secret recipes or crack too many jokes, and didn’t even loosen his bright pink tie. But Mayor Pasquale Menna got about as informal as he was going to Saturday.
For Menna, the opening meetup in what’s billed as a series of weekend chats was a chance to let his hair down in the metaphorical sense, at least an opportunity he took to pat the borough’s employees on the back, recommend a shred job to the state constitution and ponder his daily reading habits.
In a shift from what he’s used to at council meetings, where residents are often there to put a complaint on the record, Menna, standing before a crowd of about ten people, opened the meeting taking a compliment for the borough’s public works employees, who one resident said went above and beyond their duties when they came out on a weekend to probe a sewer issue.
“Hearing that makes me feel good,” he said, pointing out that those workers, who recently reached a deal for two-percent raises, are some of the borough’s hardest working for little compensation. “Two-percent of $25,000 is not a lot of money. They do put in a lot of hours, and a lot of them are long-time employees.”
The meeting, at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, moved on at a pace set by the residents, one of whom asked him to stop by a housewarming party.
When asked about the borough’s plans for more shared services, Menna touted Red Bank as a leader in the area, but took a swipe at state legislators for dithering on an update to the state constitution.
Red Bank has numerous shared service agreements with surrounding towns, he said, and the latest push from Governor Chris Christie and top state officials for towns to consolidate services isn’t anything new to Red Bank.
“They’re singing a song we’ve been humming for 15 years,” he said.
And the state wouldn’t be in this position looking to curb spending through sharing services if there weren’t so many municipalities to begin with. The state constitution, last updated in 1947 before the turnpike and parkway were built, needs a serious revision to reflect today’s issues, Menna said. Home-rule governing set by the constitution which says municipalities may conduct affairs without outside influence doesn’t fit the state’s needs anymore, and puts pressure on local governments trying to adhere to budget restrictions. Updating the constitution to unburden municipalities and taxpayers is needed, not more shared services, he said.
“Home rule is an anomaly and I don’t think it really exists,” Menna said. “At the end of the day, shared services is not going to be the answer.”
For example, millions could be saved if the state moved to a regional court system, rather than funneling tax dollars into local municipalities to pay for court administrators, judges and public defenders, he said.
“Every other logical legislature in this country’s done that,” he said.
It’s an issue that’s talked about a lot, he said, but never acted on just like the borough’s library being folded into the Monmouth County library system, an idea one woman asked Menna if he saw it as a possibility.
In short, not really, but it got Menna thinking. What does the future hold for books and newspapers, anyway? And that got him into a personal reflection of his own.
Every day he reads the New York Times’s physical newspaper, but isn’t sure why when he can easily pull it up on his computer of cell phone. Maybe one day he’ll save some trees, he said, and make the shift.
“Times are changing,” Menna said. “You have to look at all issues.”
The next set of meetings are set for this Saturday at the corner park on Drs. James Parker Boulevard and Shrewsbury Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; followed by a 1 p.m. meeting at the senior center.