New metering technology would use telemetry, replacing the current system, which requires a borough employee to touch a reading device to puck-shaped interface. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s council barely mustered enough votes to introduce an ordinance for a $2.2 million bond to pay for new water meters throughout town Wednesday night.
Or did it?
After a 2-1 vote, with Democrats Kathy Horgan and Ed Zipprich voting yes, Juanita Lewis abstaining and Republican Cindy Burnham casting the no vote, it appeared the governing body had the simple majority that officials had said was necessary to introduce the bond.
But several minutes later, after the council had moved on to other business, borough Attorney Dan O’Hern leaned over and whispered to Mayor Pasquale Menna, who announced that three votes were needed to introduce, and that he was casting the third vote in favor. He declared the measure introduced.
By state law, however, the mayor in a town with the borough form of government only votes in case of a tie, according to the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
After the meeting, redbankgreen asked Menna and O’Hern why a third yes was necessary, and the legal basis for the mayor voting in the absence of a tie.
Menna, who is also a lawyer, said he was wondering the same thing, while O’Hern replied that he would have to research the matter Thursday.
Presumably like all others who had already left the council chambers, Burnham didn’t know until she’d been told by redbankgreen that the outcome of the vote was up in the air.
The timing of the bond introduction is politically sensitive. The borough’s finance committee, controlled by the majority Democrats, is pushing to get a bond authorization through by year-end, which means that the last opportunity for a public hearing is December 17. Without approval by then, the matter dies for the year.
On January 3, a second Republican, Linda Schwabenbauer, is slated to join the council, following her defeat of Lewis in the November election. Both Schwabenbauer and Burnham have been critical of water rates and fees, as well as debt issues.
The urgency surrounding the matter was at the heart of the pushback the administration encountered Wednesday night.
“Couldn’t we bring this up next year?” Burnham asked. “Do we have to do this all in a matter of two weeks?”
Administrator Stanley Sickels replied that the finance committee hoped to get the entire meter project financed, bid out and completed by the end of 2015, and the replacement effort was expected to take nine months.
Bill Meyer, an attorney who owns 12 Monmouth Street downtown, told the council that it was “jumping the gun on this. There are no numbers here. I think we’d be well advised to take a little time and look at this.”
Even Lewis was uneasy with the rush. “There’s more discussion and information that’s needed,” she said before she abstained from the vote.
Burnham pressed her colleagues to first obtain an operational study of the water utility before committing to the meter purchase. She said she knew someone who offered to conduct the study for $5,000, a figure Menna said was laughably low, because “you can’t get an expert to sign his name for $5,000.”
“Is he a forensic accountant?” Menna asked, and when Burnham said, yes, he followed with, “is he licensed?”
Assuming the bond introduction vote is upheld, a hearing on the ordinance would be held December 17. At Meyer’s suggestion, Menna directed Sickels to have supporting documentation from the finance committee discussions with prospective vendors posted on the website by noon on Friday, December 12.
Councilmen Mike DuPont and Art Murphy were absent Wednesday.