By JOHN T. WARD
Nearly three years after they briefly moved to the fore, calls to reform Red Bank’s government and electoral process have yet to yield noticeable results.
Last October, Mayor Pasquale Menna told redbankgreen he favored the creation of a charter study commission to review the town’s 113-year-old borough form of government.
“There should be a serious review of what is an archaic form of government,” one adopted in 1908, when Red Bank was a small village, Menna said at the time.
But there’s been no public discussion of possible reform since then at council sessions.
More recently, in its February 18 edition, the Asbury Park-based triCity News reported that Menna planned to “use his power as mayor to put an item on the council agenda in March to start the mechanism that could implement non-partisan election reform.”
In other words, kick off a discussion about whether the council should create a five-member charter study commission, and if so, who should be on it.
But three council sessions were held in March without any mention of such a measure.
So where does it stand?
“I have no control over the narrative of the TCN and its use of words,” Menna said via email Monday, in response to a set of redbankgreen questions.
“I did say I would bring up the discussion to the council, even though I have raised it in the past,” he continued. “Obviously not in March, but I will advise when a discussion will be listed. Will not be at Wednesday workshop.”
Even if it makes it onto the council’s agenda, however, a push for a charter study would likely face partisan headwinds.
Menna and fellow Democrats hold all seven seats on the governing body. But none of the six council members have indicated a willingness to support a reform effort with action, and none responded to questions about their positions on a charter study or nonpartisan elections sent to them Monday.
Alternately, residents can force a charter change, and two lame-duck Republican council members, Mark Taylor and Mike Whelan, launched an effort along that route in 2018, dubbing it “Red Bank First.” But it fizzled as their terms expired later that year.
Borough resident Scott Broschart, who worked with Taylor and Whelan on Red Bank First, revived the effort last summer, after both Republican candidates for council dropped out of the 2020 race, clearing the way for incumbents Ed Zipprich and Michael Ballard to win new terms.
The aim of the drive is to force a special election referendum on a single question:
“Shall the Mayor-Council Plan of the Optional Municipal Council Law, with seven council members all to be elected at large for staggered terms at elections held in May, with the Mayor elected directly by the voters, be adopted by Red Bank?”
If passed, the measure would:
• Replace the current borough form of government with a so-called “strong mayor” model, in which the mayor effectively manages daily operations of the municipality, and the council is expanded to seven members. The borough would still have a business administrator, and the mayor’s decisions could be overridden by a vote of six council members.
• Trigger a nonpartisan election, to recur each May unless a new council changes the election date. And instead of grouping slates of candidates by party, ballots would show all candidates’ names in a single row or column, rather than separated by party affiliation, which advocates contend would open up elections to more non-aligned candidates.
Broschart, who was working alone on the project last fall, needs some 1,400 signatures to trigger the referendum. He did not immediately know the total gathered when reached Tuesday night; this post will be updated when the number is available.
In recent days, the Red Bank First website (redbankfirst.com) has shown both a blank screen and malware. Broschart said he was having server issues that he expected to resolve.
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