By JOHN T. WARD
The resignation of Red Bank’s business administrator after only three years last week was the result of scheming by political enemies, Mayor Pasquale Menna contends.
Now, a prevailing atmosphere of “dysfunction” will “absolutely” make it harder to fill the town’s top unelected position, he told redbankgreen.
With the pending departure of Ziad Shehady as borough business administrator May 6, the all-Democratic but bitterly divided council faces the challenge of launching a replacement hunt in the heat of a contested primary election.
Up for second terms are Kate Triggiano and Hazim Yassin, who have the backing of council colleagues Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom as well Menna, a group that refers to itself as the council majority.
In the June 8 election, they’re up against political newcomers Bruce Maida and Jacqueline Sturdivant, who have the support of the local party, led by Councilman Ed Zipprich.
Menna called Shehady, who was hired in April, 2018, “the right person for the right time,” adding that he was “sorry to see him leave.”
As to the availability of municipal administrators qualified to replace Shehady, Menna said he has no sense of the market, “because I hadn’t planned on looking so soon.”
But he contends that a toxic atmosphere may repel good candidates from seeking the position.
In an interview Friday, Menna said Shehady’s resignation “was not entirely unexpected, based on the absolute dysfunction of the past year. Some people have schemed to make this day come. They know who they are.”
He said the borough government “has lost an incredible cadre of people, beginning with” former Chief Financial Officer Eugenia Poulos, who was abruptly fired at a special council meeting called on New Year’s Eve in 2018 solely for the purpose of deciding her fate. She was hours away from attaining position tenure.
Councilman Michael Ballard, Zipprich’s staunchest ally on the governing body, chaired the finance committee that recommended Poulos’ firing, and told redbankgreen at the time that her replacement was “part of our overall review of the borough.”
Shehady’s removal also “was part of the plan,” Menna said.
He did not name those he believed responsible. But in an April 7 press release, Menna and the council majority cited “the total dysfunction created on the Red Bank Borough Council by their own local chairman.”
Zipprich and Ballard did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked if politics played a role in his departure or if he thinks Red Bank’s political atmosphere is unhealthy, Shehady said, “I’m still an employee of the Borough until May 6,” followed by a wink emoji.
Meantime, Maida and Sturdivant agree that “dysfunction” prevails at 90 Monmouth Street. But they blame it on their first-term opponents.
Maida and Sturdivant linked the departures of “11 senior borough employees” to Triggiano and Yassin, who they said “aided and abetted the toxic work environment at Borough Hall, causing such a tsunami of departures.”
“Essentially, they’ve sat by and let Z dismantle our municipal government,” Maida and Sturdivant said in a statement. “It’s been a completely unnecessary and harmful brain drain conducted by people who have lived for less years than many of these employees served our town.”
Maida sent redbankgreen a list of the 11. Among them was Poulos, though she was fired a day before Triggiano and Ballard were sworn into office.
Asked to address the discrepancy, Maida responded: “I did not realize Eugenia left before they were sworn in, but no worries, we also had a police department member resign, I can’t think of his name off the top of my head but once I remember, I’ll add it to the list.”
By council consensus, police Chief Darren McConnell will step in to manage the borough’s day-to-day operations if a new or interim administrator is not available when Shehady leaves, Menna said.
In the meantime, the council majority last week called for a charter study to review the borough form of government, which could also yield a switch to nonpartisan elections. But a measure calling for the creation of a review commission will not be ready for the council’s semimonthly meeting Wednesday night, Menna said.
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