[Updated to include borough attorney memo on charter review timeline.]
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s council informally agreed Wednesday night to have voters decide whether the borough’s form of government should be reviewed for possible overhaul.
The unanimous action by the council, all Democrats, could eventually lead to nonpartisan elections, watering down the party’s long dominance of municipal government.
If approved by voters in a referendum on the November 2 ballot, five commission members chosen by voters at the same time would embark on a review. In addition to leaving the existing form of government in place, they could choose among a dozen or so alternate forms of government available under New Jersey’s Optional Municipal Council Law for recommendation and a subsequent election.
That could also lead to the implementation of nonpartisan elections. But first, the council must formally draft and approve an ordinance to initiate the referendum.
The action came less than one month after Mayor Pasquale Menna and four council members – Kate Triggiano, Hazim Yassin, Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom – called for the creation of a charter study commission to address what they termed the “total dysfunction” created by their own party’s chairman, Councilman Ed Zipprich.
Zipprich and his primary ally on the sharply split council, Michael Ballard, both endorsed the call to hold the referendum, after raising questions about expenses and defending the status quo.
“It’s an exercise in the democratic process that puts it to the public, but I for one would like to know at least what the costs would be to the taxpayers of Red Bank before we pull the trigger on it,” Zipprich said.
“What is the cost to the taxpayers of Red Bank to continue how we’re going?” asked Triggiano. “Do you think it’s going really well right now? Do you think our form of government is really working for people?”
“I do,” said Ballard.
“Since the borough was incorporated in 1908, it has survived,” said Zipprich.
“I don’t think it’s working very well,” said Triggiano. “I think we should be really taking a hard look in the mirror and going, ‘this isn’t working, and there’s reasons why it’s not working.'”
Expenses for the referendum, because it would be part of a general election, would be borne by Monmouth County, said borough Attorney Greg Cannon. The budget for the ad hoc commission would be determined by that group and the council, but would likely be in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, he said.
Here’s a memo Cannon prepared for the council on the road ahead: Red Bank Charter Study Memo 050621
Triggiano and Yassin, seeking second terms, face a June 8 primary challenge by Zipprich-backed newcomers Bruce Maida and Jacqueline Sturdivant. In announcing their endorsement of a charter review April 7, they slammed Zipprich as a “party boss.”
At the same time, Horgan, now in her fifth three-year term, said the existing form of government allows “one person [to] manipulate an antiquated system to the detriment of the town.”
The referendum permits an unlimited number of self-selected candidates to seek commission seats, as long as they acquire the minimum number of required signatures.
Irving Place resident Dan Riordan urged the council to move quickly on the enabling ordinance so candidates can begin gathering signatures in order to qualify for the ballot by the August deadline.
Local Republican Chairman Jonathan Maciel Penney, who is one of his party’s two “placeholder” candidates to unseat Triggiano and Yassin, could not be reached for immediate comment.
But last month, he expressed support for the charter study, and said he would “look forward to working with Democrats on the commission going forward.”
Separately, borough resident Scott Broschart has been spearheading an effort dubbed “Red Bank First” to force a form-of-government change via voter referendum.
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