By JOHN T. WARD
A controversial set of bylaws that were rushed into adoption will get a review by Red Bank’s council later this month, members of its majority bloc said last week.
During the January 11 session, the council added three resolutions that had not been listed on the agenda: one to authorize a negotiated separation agreement with public utilities Director Cliff Keen; one to replace him with a consultant, former department head Gary Watson Sr., for 90 days at $16,500 per month; and one appointing volunteer firefighters.
In response to questioning by Branch Avenue resident Stephen Hecht, Ballard acknowledged that Rule 1 of the bylaws had thus already been violated.
It requires, in part, that the agenda “shall be presented for review to the Council President at least 72 hours prior to the meeting,” and may not be made public without the president’s approval.
“What happened?” Hecht asked.
“My question as well,” Ballard replied.
Borough Attorney Dan Antonelli said terms of the separation agreement with Keen had been “literally finalized” just hours before the meeting. But New Jersey governing bodies are not required by law to post agendas in advance, he said, suggesting that, even with three resolutions added late, Red Bank should be commended for doing so at all.
Hecht asked if that was “an explanation or an excuse. You either stick with the bylaws, or you don’t.”
The bylaws are “so restrictive,” Hecht said, that “none of you are going to be able to adhere to” them.
“The bylaws don’t restrict council from adding to the agenda or removing from the agenda,” Antonelli responded. “But there’s a process in place to, again, try to eliminate some confusion in the public about an agenda that may not be accurate at the time it goes out. That doesn’t mean it can never be amended.”
Only agendas for special meetings must be made public in advance, he said.
Hecht suggested that if any resolution could be added or removed at the last minute, that the terms of the bylaws are moot.
“I agree that we did a horrible job, this time out, of sticking to the bylaws,” Ballard said. “We agree there.”
Hecht suggested that rule 12 of the bylaws also had been broken. It requires, in part, that “All resolutions must be endorsed by a Committee chair after a majority vote by said Committee or said resolutions must have 3 council members as co-sponsors to be considered at a regular meeting.”
Ballard said that after hearing “comments” about the bylaws following the reorganization meeting, Rule 12 “is also going to be looked at,” he said.
Councilmember Kate Triggiano, as the sole non-bloc member of the all-Democratic council, had blasted the rule as “censorship.” She said the majority could use it to kill any resolution she wanted to advance from even getting to public discussion.
Ballard said Councilmember John Jackson “wanted to discuss some of those issues” last week. But with two members – Triggiano and Angela Mirandi – absent, and member Ed Zipprich participating via Zoom, Ballard said he suggested deferring the discussion until “all the council” is present, “so anyone who has any amendments that they wish to offer can be heard.”
“They’re a work in progress, like I said at the reorg,” Ballard added. “These are guidelines that can be amended at any time, and apparently there’s a will to do so.”
“There’s a will in the public,” said Hecht. “Are you saying there’s a will on the council?”
“Absolutely,” said Ballard.
Jackson said that after hearing public “discussion” about the document, he, Ballard and Mirandi had agreed the council should revisit it “so we can optimize it.”
He later said the bylaws “weren’t meant to stifle any one person. They’re actually intended to promote collaboration and dialogue.”
The plan is to put it on the January 25 agenda, Jackson said.
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