By JOHN T. WARD
A half-dozen residents weighed in Tuesday night on Red Bank’s form of government and how people get elected to it.
Among the commenters at a Zoom session of the Charter Study Commission were several who like the idea that council members can make things happen at the department level.
Created by a more than 2-to-1 voter margin last November, the commission has been reviewing the municipal government’s “borough” form with an eye toward recommending change.
With that could come nonpartisan elections, making it easier for candidates not affiliated with either major party to compete with the so-called “county line” candidates on ballots
Tuesday night’s session concluded phase one of the commission’s work: looking at past and current experience with the borough form for its pluses and minuses.
Among the comments:
• Dan Riordan, Irving Place: Urged the commission to recommend a “special charter” form of government, which he said the council can’t “monkey with” in the way that it now can and does.
Referring to earlier testimony about purported “interference” by council members in day-to-day borough operation, Riordan also said “it’s terrible that anyone on council member can go right around the majority of the council and do what they want.”
He also proposed nonpartisan elections and term limits.
• Phil Blackwood, Chestnut Street: Said it’s “nuts” that New Jersey’s election system allows small number of party members to “pick our candidates for us, and so when you walk into the poll at primary time, there are no choices. It’s like, you know, ‘here are your candidates. You can vote for them or not vote for them.
“Anybody who’s not connected has just about zero chance of getting elected,” he said.
• John Jackson, East Bergen Place, a Democratic council candidate and party committeeman who ran without success for the commission: Said the borough form of government “is functioning well for a town of our size.
“It basically comes down to, when people do their jobs well, then stuff gets done,” he said.
• John Gosden, Harrison Avenue, also an unsuccessful candidate for the commission: “This is the most democratic thing I’ve ever seen in Red Bank,” he said about the commission’s work.
He also said that as an unaffiliated voter, he should not be “forced to join a party to participate in a primary.” Allowing nonpartisan elections “would be a very good thing, because I want to be represented from square one. I don’t want somebody else picking my candidates.”
• Mary Ellen Mess, Hudson Avenue: “It worries me to have more power given to the business administrator,” she said. “There are a lot of things that don’t get done and there are some big gaps for which no one is held accountable, whether it’s a $400,000 over-expenditure in a department budget or its millions of dollars of underbilling of water usage by the hospital.”
• Aimee Humphreys, West Lake Road, who also came up short in her quest for a commission seat: “One of the biggest problems we have is as a small town is a lack of participation, lack of information and involvement in these matters until there’s a problem, and then everybody’s hands are waving at everything they think has gone wrong.”
She added: “I don’t think the form of government, or the style of government, or when the elections are held or any of those things are going to make all that much difference. I think it’s the people that step up and do what has to be done to be a part of their local government.”
The next phase of the commission’s work begins April 6, with a session featuring a return appearance by Edward Sasdelli of the state Department of Community Affairs on the various municipal forms available under under New Jersey law.
Sasdelli addressed the commission January 18.
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