RiverCenter Executive Director Laura Kirkpatrick speaks at a council session in March as Business Administrator Ziad Shehady and Councilman Michael Ballard listen. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
See UPDATE below
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna ripped a proposed overhaul of the bylaws of downtown promotion agency RiverCenter Wednesday night.
With two council members joining his critique, Menna said several of the changes would reduce council and public oversight of the agency, which he called “repugnant.”
A semi-autonomous body chartered under state law to manage the town’s special improvement district, RiverCenter needs council authorization, via an ordinance amendment, to amend its bylaws, executive director Laura Kirkpatrick told the council during its workshop session conducted via Zoom Wednesday night.
The changes include a reduction in the size of the agency’s executive board, from 30 members to 26. Of the four seats to be eliminated, one is reserved for the borough council liaison to the agency, and another is for a borough resident appointed by the council.
The document also calls for the imposition of term limits for board members, who would become ineligible for seats after three successive three-year terms.
On November 18, the agency’s executive committee voted to approve the bylaw changes, the first in 30 years, and forward them to the council, according to a cover letter sent by Kirkpatrick to the administration.
Though he praised “90 percent” of the proposal, Menna was sharply critical of some of the changes.
“You have the ability to take away the business and landowner members, but instead, what you’re doing is you’re removing the nexus of the mayor and council,” Menna said.
“That’s a reduction of 50 percent of the body that created the entity, and I cannot accept that and I will fight that to the end,” he said.
“I strongly believe that RiverCenter is a fruitful organization, and works well, as demonstrated today, because of the inherent nexus and relationship the center has with the mayor and council through our representatives,” he said.
Menna also said he would “strenuously oppose” a provision that would allow the executive committee to elect its own members, rather than to have the general membership of RiverCenter, which comprises owners of businesses and commercial properties in the district, vote on them.
Another provision in the proposal would require that the council’s designees for seats be “mutually accepted by RiverCenter and the governing body.” Menna called the demand “absolutely repugnant.”
“That gives you a veto to whomever you may not like from the council or citizen member. I don’t think that’s right. It doesn’t send a good message,” Menna said.
Councilman Hazim Yassin said he agreed with Menna “100 percent. Looking to reduce the council’s voice – I have a big problem with this.”
He said he found it “a little strange” that of the current 30 seats, two of the four targeted for elimination directly or indirectly represent the residents of town. “I’m interested to know the reasoning behind this.”
But his “biggest sticking point,” Yassin said, was the provision allowing the executive committee to appoint its own members.
“Imagine the mayor and council decides who’s the mayor and on the council,” he said. “It’s kind of ridiculous to me.”
Yassin asked Councilman Ed Zipprich, who serves as the governing body liaison to RiverCenter, to explain the rationale for the changes.
Zipprich replied that he and former mayor Ed McKenna, who also sits on the RiverCenter board, “had similar concerns to what’s being discussed right now.”
“Well, did you vote for it?” Menna asked. Zipprich did not respond, and did not immediately respond to a redbankgreen request for clarification Thursday morning.
UPDATE: Zipprich replied, via email, “Yes, that is correct. We voted for them as amended.”
Councilman Erik Yngstrom also pushed back on the proposed change to give RiverCenter approval authority over the resident representative.
“I think we’ve picked very good residents in the past to sit on your board, and I don’t think we should need the approval of the board of directors,” he said. “It should be solely a council decision.”
Kirkpatrick said she would take the comments back to the board and “hopefully come back to you with some changes and something that is more suitable for the board as well as council.”
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