By JOHN T. WARD
Five months after three proposals were submitted, the Red Bank council has yet to receive a recommendation on the future of the hurricane-damaged Marine Park clay tennis courts, and may not get one before election day.
That has Republican Councilwoman Cindy Burnham — who redbankgreen has learned was chastised behind closed doors by her colleagues for saying too much about the issue — ramping up her complaints that there’s something “fishy” going on.
At Wednesday night’s semimonthly council meeting, Mayor Pasquale Menna and borough Attorney Dan O’Hern cautioned Burnham, as they have in the past, about discussing in public a matter that could be a subject of contractual negotiation or even litigation.
Burnham pressed ahead, though, saying she wanted to limit her questions to matters of law. Isn’t there a time limit in which the council has to act on the Marine Park request for proposals, or RFP, she asked? And where is the promised recommendation from the three-person committee headed by Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, she added.
Schwabenbauer replied that she needed to “reconvene the committee” of herself and council members Kathy Horgan and Ed Zipprich to address outstanding issues. But that meeting will not take place, she said, before a new Parks and Rec department director is hired to replace Memone Crystian, who resigned in May and whose post is now filled on an acting basis by Tamila Bumback. Interviews are underway, and should be completed in about four weeks, Schwabenbauer said.
O’Hern said that, technically, the state Local Public Contracts Law does require action within 60 days. But the Marine Park situation, he said, was not as simple as one in which the town was buying a piece of equipment or putting work out to bid.
“This is a little more complicated,” O’Hern said, adding that the time could be extended upon agreement by bidders. Asked if the the three bidders had agreed, O’Hern said, “I don’t think we’ve received any objections.”
On Thursday, Burnham took to Facebook to complain. Here’s her post:
It turns out that the “possible litigation” that prompted the closed-door council meeting held after the September 9 council session was held in part was to warn Burnham that her public comments on the matter could trigger a suit.
Earlier this week, Menna told redbankgreen that the borough had received a request for a blank tort claim notice form from one of the three Marine Park candidates, though he declined to say which one. A tort claim notice is required under state law before a lawsuit can be filed against a municipality.
That request, in part, prompted the executive session, he said. And while declining to offer details, Menna said the session “didn’t focus on Councilwoman Burnham,” but that “there is a concern about people going outside scope” of the deliberative process.
During the meeting, according to a source who asked not to be named, Burnham “was warned repeatedly to stop her posts on social media” about the RFPs.
Afterward, Burnham told redbankgreen that she wanted to disclose the contents of the meeting, but was meeting with her own attorney over the issue of whether she could speak freely.
Menna said he “can’t say what exchanges took place or the tenor” of the dialogue.
Previously, Republican party chairman Sean DiSomma had complained that Democratic Councilman Mike DuPont “leaked” information from the ongoing bid-review process to the media. DuPont denied the claim.
Three groups are angling to take control of the courts site, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy nearly three years ago and has remained unusable since. They are:
• Jetsun Enterprises, which has proposed leasing the site from the borough and creating a privately-owned, $3.5 million multiuse facility offering miniature golf, a miniature artificial-ice rink and rentals of canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.
• Marine Park Activity Center, which calls for building a conventional boathouse with a catering facility at the site.
• And Jim Cullen, of Locust, who has said he would donate $500,000 to restore and upgrade the courts and provide a budget for maintenance.