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RED BANK: ADMINISTRATOR SEARCH ON PAUSE

red-bank-dawn-shields-darren-mcconnell-national-night-out-080321-500x394-1482014Chief Darren McConnell at National Night Out in August. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_02-220x137-6360205One of two Red Bank council members who last week called the search for a new borough administrator “stalled” said he learned only this weekend that his colleagues had halted the search weeks earlier.

Meanwhile, two others on the all-Democratic council, as well as Mayor Pasquale Menna, said they’re happy with the job police Chief Darren McConnell is doing as interim administrator, and feel no pressure to replace him.

red-bank-ed-zipprich-michael-ballard-091121-500x313-6607476Councilmen Ed Zipprich, left, and Michael Ballard at the borough’s September 11, 2001 observance in Riverside Gardens Park Saturday. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Last week, councilmen Michael Ballard and Ed Zipprich told redbankgreen they’d heard nothing for almost two months about the effort to fill the top unelected post, last held by Ziad Shehady, who resigned in May.

Four candidates recommended by the executive search firm Canning Group, which had been hired for $15,000 to solicit résumés and suggest candidates, were interviewed by council members before the process abruptly stopped in early July, Ballard said. He’d been unable to get any updates since then, he said.

“I have not been included in any discussions concerning the BA search,” Ballard said, and his “multiple requests to move the search forward have not been successful.”

“The Administrator search has stalled for reasons completely unknown to me,” he said.

But on August 23, Canning Group managing member Sean Canning informed applicants by email that the borough “has decided, after several rounds, to not pursue the process further. They are satisfied with the current management structure.”

redbankgreen obtained the email from borough resident Tom Wieczerzak, who said he applied for the job.

Ballard told redbankgreen Monday that the last communication he had about the search was a July 27 email from McConnell telling him that Menna was “working on providing a few possible dates” for another interview round.

From a Ballard statement:

There were four highly qualified, experienced, candidates interviewed by both the Canning Group and some Councilmembers.  However the full Council never conducted second round interviews or debated the merits of any of the candidates. While I have privately stated my appreciation for the job Chief McConnell has done as the Interim BA, the issue of suspending the search for a new BA and keeping Police Chief McConnell on as Interim BA indefinitely was apparently discussed and decided by only a select group of Councilmembers, out of both my view and the public’s view.

If the search was halted, “I believe a public vote should have also been taken to notify taxpayers that the $15,000 spent would not garner results, and the search would be abandoned,” Ballard said.

He told redbankgreen Saturday he was concerned about “secret meetings” among his council colleagues, but did not elaborate.

For more than a year, Ballard and Zipprich have battled with the council majority of Kathy Horgan, Hazim Yassin, Erik Yngstrom and Kate Triggiano on a range of issues, from the work of the Redevelopment Agency to repair of the shuttered Senior Center and more.

Zipprich did not respond to a request for comment emailed to him Monday.

Horgan said Saturday that no information had been withheld from Ballard and Zipprich.

“We always have open lines of communication, and everybody can take advantage of that,” Horgan said. She said she had received the Canning email, and “everybody on the council receives any communication like that. I don’t know if they missed it – I don’t know.”

Like Menna, Horgan said the none of the candidates interviewed were “the right fit” for the job.

Meantime, McConnell, who had worked closely with Shehady during Shehady’s three years at borough hall, “knows his stuff, is very good working with people” and has valuable “institutional memory” based on 30 years in the police department, where he’s worked since he was 19 years old, Horgan said.

“He knows Red Bank,” she said. And with Captain Mike Frazee managing the police department on a daily basis, “we have two top guys” in place, she said.

Councilwoman Kate Triggiano agreed that none of the Canning candidates provided the right fit.

“That, coupled with the fact that we have the luxury of having somebody in the position right now who is beyond competent and doing a stellar job, as the mayor said,” took the pressure off the search, she said.

“You need a combination of institutional knowledge and a want to learn to be leading in that role in a town like ours,” Triggiano said. “That’s not going to be an easy thing to find, especially in the current situation.”

For his part, McConnell told redbankgreen that though he did not apply for the administrator’s job, “I like it a lot, it’s going well,” and believes the borough is benefitting, both financially and operationally.

Since the first few weeks, “things have been going smoothly,” he said. “I’ve been here a long time, I’m really familiar with the borough operations outside of the police department, so we really haven’t run into any problems so far.”

Given all that, why not lock in McConnell as the administrator? McConnell said that’s a decision for the council to make, and he hasn’t suggested it.

“I try to stay in my lane,” he said.

Asked about giving McConnell the job on a permanent basis, Horgan said, “I don’t think we’ve gotten that far. I think we need to go with the status quo for now.”

Meanwhile, another key position at 90 Monmouth Street is about to become vacant. Chief Financial Officer Peter O’Reilly announced his resignation two weeks ago, effective September 30.  He has not publicly commented on his decision to leave.

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