Area NAACP president William Poku addressing Councilmembers John Jackson, Michael Ballard and Ed Zippich during the special session. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)


hot topicControversy over an ordinance restricting short-term residential rentals such as Airbnbs in Red Bank continued at a special hearing Friday morning on whether to override Mayor Billy Portman‘s veto of the law.

Airbnb operator Amanda Doremus after commenting on the council’s action Friday. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Just seven weeks into his term, Portman announced the rarely used mayoral veto late February 23. The move followed a council meeting that ran for three and a half hours without any hint of his intention, though he had tipped off the publisher of the triCity News.

The veto nullified, at least temporarily, an ordinance championed by Councilmember Michael Ballard that “effectively” banned short-term rentals, Portman said in a press release.

Ballard, along with fellow councilmembers John Jackson , Jacqueline Sturdivant, Angela Mirandi and Ed Zipprich, “ignored the simple and widely acceptable solution – to require that short term rentals are owner-occupied,” Portman said in announcing the veto.

Ballard responded this week that the veto had “blindsided” most of the council, and constituted “the opposite” of Portman’s 2022 campaign pledges of “transparency, civility and common-sense council interactions.” Ballard also called for the special session.

A dozen residents attended the 10 a.m. session in-person, and a comparable number tuned in via Zoom, according to Administrator Darren McConnell.

Comments were offered in support of both the veto and the move to override it, with questions about the need for an emergency session prominent over the 75-minute meeting.

Branch Avenue Hecht said holding the meeting on a Friday morning was “an unconscionable stunt… creating chaos of the kind repudiated by voters” in the November referendum.

Zipprich appeared to turn blame for the situation back on Hecht, who he said had “volunteered to be considered” for a council vacancy last year, and “could have made a bit of difference had it gone your way.”

“I’m not sure I understand the thrust of your remarks,” Hecht replied.

William Poku, president of the NAACP of Greater Red Bank, said Portman’s veto message “raises a genuine issue of material fact necessitating a re-examination of the ordinance,” and added the council should respond with deliberation, rather than the “hammer” of a veto.

“Give the community more chance to look at” the short-term rental issue, he said.

Nancy Facey Blackwood asked what “emergency” prompted the meeting, given that the council is scheduled to hold a regular session Wednesday night.

Ballard said the session was needed to address “ambiguity” over whether the ordinance is or is not in effect.

“I know it’s only three days, but there’s still ambiguity out there,” he said.

Garfield Place homeowner and Airbnb operator Amanda Doremus said she had to take time off from her job in Jersey City to attend the session.

She suggested that, because Portman’s veto was properly executed, the majority was motivated by “hurt feelings.”

“There’s no ambiguity here,” Doremus said. “It’s a veto. Everyone knows what a veto is. Let’s go back to the drawing board. Let’s have a conversation. No one’s talked to me. I’m banned.”

Mary Ellen Mess, of Hudson Avenue, said she couldn’t “help but be moved by” Doremus’s remarks, but remained supportive of the ordinance.

The ordinance “probably needs to be more finely tuned,” she said, “but I would like to see it enacted primarily to stem the tide of incursion into our town by investors.”

At 11 a.m., shortly before the vote, Mirandi signed off from the Zoom link.

“It’s disappointing that Mirandi had a business meeting” scheduled at that hour, Zipprich said later.

Mirandi’s absence, and a ‘no’ vote by Councilmember Kate Triggiano, yielded four votes to override, the minimum required for the measure to succeed.

Afterward, Portman said he agrees short-term rentals “need some regulation,” and repeated his call to enable owner-occupants to offer the service.

“It solves 95 percent of the issues,” he said.

“We can amend any ordinance of the borough,” said Ballard.

A measure to introduce a three-percent transient accommodation tax to apply to short-term rentals was tabled without much discussion.

With the entire governing body up for grabs in the May 9 special election, Portman is running to retain his seat on a slate that includes Triggiano and Facey Blackwood. Ballard, Sturdivant and Jackson are on a separate ticket, aiming to keep their council spots.

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