By JOHN T. WARD
Ziad Shehady resigned as the executive director of the Red Bank Redevelopment Agency Tuesday, saying the position had become a “lightning rod” for criticism and source of distraction from his primary job as borough business administrator.
Shehady announced his resignation early on in the agency’s monthly meeting, conducted via Zoom. He said he would remain in the post, for which he is not paid, until the agency can bring in a successor.
Agency member Wilson Beebe asked Shehady if he was resigning “from the redevelopment commission solely, or from the town.” Shehady responded, “at this time, just from the agency.”
On Wednesday, Shehady told redbankgreen that he is remaining as business administrator.
In a letter of resignation Shehady sent to Mayor Pasquale Menna and other officials Friday, Shehady alluded to but did not specify a storm of controversy over the borough Senior Center and its impact on the redevelopment agency’s ongoing review of all municipal properties for possible changes.
From the letter:
I accepted this position to help the Redevelopment Agency begin operating quickly, as well as to make it smoother and less expensive for municipal operations by wearing both hats. My obligations as the Borough Administrator are being made more complicated than necessary and increasingly time consuming, and my role as the Executive Director of the Agency is becoming a lightning rod for those with political agendas and ambitions which is causing further distraction.
Forming the agency and starting it on its mission has “been a challenge but it’s definitely been something that’s been for the good of the borough, and I’m happy to have been a part of that,” Shehady said at the meeting.
Menna said he was “distressed” about the resignation, and praised Shehady for spearheading work done by the agency toward its twin objectives: evaluating municipal facilities for long-term future use, and identifying privately owned sites that may be candidates for redevelopment.
Progress on those fronts “could not have been possibly done under any circumstance and in any scenario without the constant attention, the professionalism and the focus of Mr. Shehady,” Menna said.
Shehady’s announcement took agency Chairman David Huber and other members by surprise.
“It’s a bit of shock to me,” Huber said, adding that he appreciated Shehady’s professionalism and offer to help provide a transition to a successor. Huber himself has stated that he will step down as chairman by the end of this year.
Councilwoman Kathy Horgan, a liaison to the agency, told Shehady, “you’re really professional and you get the job done.”
The agency was created in 2019, after a highly critical review of government operations found a lack of planning and excessive political interference in decisionmaking.
Ken DeRoberts, a consultant whose firm, Government Strategy Group, wrote the report, now serves as an executive consultant coordinating its interplay of planners, architects, financial advisors and other professionals.
In recent months, residents concerned about the future of the Senior Center on Shrewsbury Avenue have hammered the agency and council with demands that it be removed from the scope of the agency’s review.
The facility has been closed for the past two years following a burst fire sprinkler. In addition, for the past 11 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has prohibited a resumption of senior gatherings.
Critics say the Senior Center should readied for immediate reopening once pandemic restrictions are lifted and senior citizens can assemble safely. Indeed, over nearly 90 minutes, nearly a dozen residents pressed that message during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting.
In addition, critics have complained that Shehady has too much power, and that the all-Democratic council defers too readily to his recommendations.
Shehady, 36, has been business administrator since 2018, when he was hired by the council to succeed Stanley Sickels. He was previously the business administrator for Springfield Township, in Union County, where he had served as an elected committeeman and was twice appointed to one-year terms as mayor, the first when he was just 25 years old.
Also Wednesday, the agency authorized DMR Architecture to create a series of concept plans for borough facilities, including the Senior Center. Here are the underlying proposals:
DeRoberts said the agency “should be in position to share everything with the mayor and council for a recommendation by sometime this spring.”
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