TWO HOURS, AND THIS TIME THEY MEAN IT

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The signs announcing a two-hour parking limit along Maple Avenue have been there so long that they’re faded.

But it seems nobody in borough hall can explain why there was no ordinance putting legal teeth behind the signs. Apparently, there was a widespread belief that such a law existed.

Nor can officials say if anyone was ever wrongly cited for overtime parking, and if not, why not, considering the above assumption.

“By some quirk, they were never legally adopted,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said of the signs at the March 26 borough council meeting. He said he didn’t know when the signs went up, but that they predated his tenure on the council, which began 18 years ago.

Well, whatever the explanation, the free ride on standing still, so to speak, is about to end.

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SALARIES OK’D, INCLUDING WATSON’S

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Public Works Director Gary Watson’s $10,000 pay raise was greenlighted by the borough council last night over ‘no’ votes by the two Republicans on the governing body, John Curley and newcomer Grace Cangemi.

The increase was part of a slate of 3.5-percent pay raises approved for non-unionized borough employees, from Planning Board secretary, whose pay rises to $2,153, to $104,008 for a construction/fire official.

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PRESS: TIFFANY ‘NICE,’ BUT…

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Its ad-sales staff is probably still wetting itself with glee, but the editorial board of the Asbury Park Press today offers faint praise for the news last month that Tiffany & Company plans to open a store in downtown Red Bank.

In an editorial today about a tentative plan by Red Bank RiverCenter to install Smart Card dispensers (which the editorial writers favor) appears this somewhat incongruous paragraph:

The new Tiffany & Co. store may be a nice draw for Red Bank, but officials should make sure too many upscale shops don’t drive out old favorites. Prown’s, the variety store that had everything, is as missed today as much as it was when it closed four years ago.

Never mind that the paragraph is a non sequitur (it’s not made clear what Tiffany has to do with Smart Card machines). There’s a radical notion woven into the warm-and-fuzzies expressed n those two sentences.

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CHEWING ON SMART CARDS

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Red Bank RiverCenter officials are mulling the purchase of vending machines that dispense debit cards usable in borough parking meters, according to a story in today’s Asbury Park Press.

The so-called smart cards are available for sale at borough hall in $20 increments. But two years after the cards were introduced, there are still no machines selling them, and many shoppers and merchants aren’t familiar with them.

From the story:

The card is like a Metro Card — used aboard New York subways and buses — for parking meters. When inserted into a parking meter, a light on the meter flashes with each 25 cents deducted from the card. Shoppers who return early can reinsert the card in the meter to be credited for time they haven’t used.

Because the technology enables users to get refunds for unused meter time, a motorist with enough credit on the card can overbuy time on arrival and avoid a $38 parking ticket more assuredly than someone paying in advance with coins.

The vending machine is one of several potential uses for $75,000 earmarked for parking improvements in RiverCenter’s proposed 2007 budget of of $604,000. That’s up from the present $434,000, and reflects the recent expansion to part of the West Side of the Special Improvement District that RiverCenter oversees, director Tricia Rumola told redbankgreen recently.

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CANGEMI, MENNA’S GAVEL MAKE DEBUTS

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Republican Grace Cangemi’s first two hours as Red Bank’s newest council member Monday night were marked largely by the air of civility that has dominated the governing body’s meetings this year.

“I have a great deal of respect for Mayor [Pasquale] Menna, and I look forward to being part of his administration,” Cangemi said in her opening remarks as she filled the seat left vacant by the January resignation of Kaye Ernst.

“I think we’ve made the right decision, and I think you’ll be a credit to the residents of Red Bank,” Menna replied, as a packed council hearing room looked on.

Later, though, came the first, brief burst of verbal fireworks since Menna took the gavel from his predecessor as mayor, Ed McKenna. And he had to use it, too — not that it did any good.

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HUB SCOOP IN HARRASSMENT CASE

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The Hub has breaking news today on the settlement by Red Bank of its role in a sexual harrasment lawsuit brought by a female employee who claimed to have been stalked and inappropriately touched by former Parking Director Neil Burnip.

The settlement, according to the report, involves the payment of an unspecified sum by the borough to the plaintiff. Burnip, however, is not a party to the settlement, which was approved by the council in closed session Monday night.

The deal puts to rest the employee’s claims that “Borough Administrator Stanley J. Sickels and the borough of Red Bank, jointly, individually and severally, knew of Neil Burnip’s prior incidents involving other female employees and/or other female visitors and were negligent in their hiring, training and supervising of” him.

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DRAFT BUDGET: AVERAGE TAX BILL UP $97

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It’s only a draft document, one that even councilman and finance committee chairman Michael DuPont said he had not seen beforehand. But a preliminary Red Bank budget unveiled at a first-ever presentation of its kind Monday night calls for a municipal tax increase this year of 6.5 percent.

Bottom line: for the owner of a home valued at $404,981 — the new average, according to the recently completely reassessment — that would mean a tax jump of $97 for the year, to $1,595, before factoring in school and county taxes.

DuPont says he wants to get that $97 down to zero by the time the proposed spending plan is introduced at Monday night’s council session.

Among the line items he thinks need serious reconsideration is a proposal to hire three additional code enforcement workers — a plan that DuPont’s fellow Democrats have made a centerpiece of their strategy to address overcrowding and other safety issues in the rental housing market, particularly on the West Side.

“The budget may not allow for three full-timers,” DuPont said. “We might have to look at that to see if it should be one full-timer and a clerk.”

Mayor Pasquale Menna was not present, nor were other council members.

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CURLEY TRIES REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY

Jammed up by a Democratic majority at odds with his demand for a reduction in the $38 overtime parking fine, Councilman John Curley last night offered a compromise plan, and then agreed to wait and see about its feasibilty.

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Curley asked the council to consider a six-month ramping up of meter enforcement at the present fine rate to include the hours between 4p and 8p six days a week — hours, apparently, when the meter patrol is off-duty, despite signs all over town suggesting otherwise.

“If nothing else, I’m sure it will give us additional revenues,” said Curley.

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PRESS BACKS CURLEY ON FINES

The Asbury Park Press is backing Councilman John Curley’s push for a reduction in overtime parking fines in Red Bank from $38 to $25, a move some of the Democratic majority says will blow a $188,000 hole in the borough budget.

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The headline on today’s Press editorial on the issue: “Stop gouging on fines.”

From the piece:

Councilman Michael R. DuPont said the town would need a tax increase to compensate for the projected $188,000 loss in revenue. That’s unacceptable. Councilman John Curley, who suggested reducing the fine, has come up with some sensible ideas for closing the gap, including enforcing meter hours into the evening. The posted hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but enforcement officers work only until 4 p.m. That makes no sense.

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A LITTLE SUPER SHRINKAGE

In the ever-chipper language of public relations, this year’s “Shopper Bowl Shuffle,” a downtown sales push in conjunction with the Super Bowl, is “bigger and better,” says a press release from RiverCenter.

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The “better” remains open to interpretation, but in fact, Shopper Bowl II is shaping up as somewhat smaller than last year’s version. And the falloff in participation among downtown businesses illustrates the challenges that organizers face in corralling large numbers of merchants for themed, collective efforts.

RiverCenter, the nonprofit administrator of the downtown Special Improvement District, lists 41 stores, restaurants and salons that plan to be open and offering discounts of 20 percent or more this weekend. A year ago, there were 53. And only 38 of this year’s participating stores are expect to be open both days of the two-day event, down from an estimated 48 last year.

Nineteen businesses that were on last year’s list aren’t on this year’s, a drop partly attributable to store closings and relocations. Furnishings retailer Vizzini & Company, for example, moved from Monmouth Street to the Galleria, which is outside the district. Old Monmouth Candies, on Broad Street for the past two years, recently retrenched to its original Freehold location. The Paper Rose, a card store on Broad, is closing for renovations.

But it’s not only a matter of the steady churn of retail faces that accounts for the decline. A dozen businesses that held sales last year and still operate in the district didn’t re-up, even though nearly all of them plan to be open Saturday anyway. They are: Agostino Antiques, Coco Pari, Mustillo’s, Primas Home & Cafe, Surray Luggage, Maxwell & Sophie, Drummer’s Alley, Readie’s Fine Foods, Seldin’s Jewelry, Cigars Plus, Grieco’s Bakery and Quicksilver Handcrafted Jewelry.

What gives?

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CURLEY: TEAR DOWN THOSE FINES!

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Today’s Asbury Park Press has a story about what may prove to be the first test of the Democratic majority’s professed willingness to “work with” Councilman John Curley: parking fines.

Curley, one of two Republicans on the six-member council, wants them slashed from $38 per violation to $25. The council Dems are saying, whoa, not so fast.

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ON GOLF, GOVERNANCE AND ‘MEATBALLS’

Now winding down a 16-year stint as Mayor of Red Bank, Edward J. McKenna is scheduled to be feted by borough employees at a party scheduled for 5p Monday, Dec. 18, at the Two River Theater.

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The event is open to the public. Tickets are $10 each. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Here’s something else to nosh on. redbankgreen sat down recently with McKenna in a conference room of his law firm, McKenna, DuPont, Higgins & Stone, for a look-back and look-forward interview. And he was as sentimental and pungent as ever.

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IT HELPS IF THE LANDLORD’S AN ‘UNCLE’

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Ten questions for John and Rachel Decker, owners of Graman’s Vacuum & Appliance Parts Co. on Monmouth Street, at the corner of West Street. They live in Tinton Falls.

How long have you owned this business, and who had it before you?
John: We’ve been here for four years. I bought it from Gene Graman—“Uncle Gene,” though he’s no blood relation whatsoever. When I was growing up in River Plaza, Gene was the older guy in the neighborhood who never got married and had all the toys and all the fun: boats, motorcycles, Jet skis, snowmobiles, wave runners. My parents knew him before I was even born.

His shop was in Red Bank for 47 years, and in this location since 1964. He was previously closer to Broad on Monmouth Street. And surprisingly, there was a parking problem then, too.

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POSTAGE DUE ON THE WEST SIDE

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A year after the shutdown of the Westboro Post Office on Shrewsbury Avenue because of mold contamination, officials have set an estimated reopening date.

A postal service spokesman, George Flood, tells redbankgreen that the substation is expected to re-open by early March.

That would be a relief not only to West Siders, but to residents and business owners beyond Red Bank’s borders, in Fairview, River Plaza, northern Tinton Falls and elsewhere. Many were upset when the station was closed, and clamored for its quick reopening.

“The consensus is that the demand is there,” says Mayor-elect Pat Menna. “It was never a money-losing proposition for the post office.”

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GO WEST, YOUNG MENNA!

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Two weeks after his election, and six weeks before he’s to be sworn in, Mayor-elect Pat Menna moved to put his stamp on Red Bank Monday night, introducing a plan to expand the special-assessment business district known as RiverCenter to the West Side.

Casting the move in terms of rising competition with nearby towns for shopping and entertainment dollars, Menna and RiverCenter executives said the plan, if approved by the Borough Council, would push the western edge of the Special Improvement District west along Monmouth to Bridge Avenue.

On Bridge, the district would reach south to Chestnut Street and north to the Navesink River. Also included would be the Oyster Point and Molly Pitcher hotels, and the new Hovnanian headquarters.

Excluded entirely is Shrewsbury Avenue.

Given what he termed the “positive” reception to the idea, Menna says he hopes to have an ordinance introduced, passed an enacted before he takes office on Jan. 1.

“The only time to move is the present,” he told redbankgreen this morning.

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CHIN UP, LOVE! THERE MUST BE A SPACE!

Red Bank officials past and present would be well advised to scope out the excruciatingly limited parking options in downtown Freehold, because they could be spending a lot of time in the county seat, thanks to former Red Bank parking director Neil Burnip.

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This week’s Hub reports that Burnip, perhaps the thinnest-skinned Brit ever to leave that scepter’d isle, has followed through on his threat to file suit against the borough. He’s seeking $11.5 million in damages and compensation for what he says was discrimination based on his nationality.

In addition to prosecuting his lawsuit—he’s acting as his own attorney at the moment—Burnip may have to defend himself against allegations of sexual assault and harassment raised by a Red Bank employee. The woman’s attorney recently put the borough on notice of a coming $5 million lawsuit that will allege Burnip stalked, improperly touched and otherwise harassed her between May and August of this year.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels is also expected to be named a defendant in that suit for his alleged failure to properly supervise Burnip.

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PACKIN’ THEM IN

A dozen new metered parking spaces were created along West Front Street this week, the result of efforts by retailers who complained about inadequate parking near their businesses and decided to do something about it, according to Tricia Rumola, Executive Director of RiverCenter.

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For all the talk about underutilized parking lots east of Broad Street, shoppers on the west side, like those everywhere, want to park nearest their destinations, says Rumola.

“Customers are all about convenience, and you can’t change that mindset,” Rumola says, “and RiverCenter is all about customer service.”

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SAME OLD ‘WAR STORIES’ ON PARKING

Today’s Asbury Park Press samples some of the familiar complaints about parking in downtown Red Bank, an issue in which the challenge of finding a space near one’s destination or staying one coin ahead of the meter reader counts as a “war story.”

A Shrewsbury man criticizes having to pay for parking, and says merchants should pick up the tab. A woman from Ocean says the difficulty in finding a space “pushes you away from going there on a Saturday night for dining.”

The idea for a parking garage on the site of the 274-space White Street municipal lot is resurrected, to no one’s surprise. But there’s no mention of the recurring counter-argument that the municipal lots east of Broad Street are woefully underutilized.

Press reporter Larry Higgs devotes several paragraphs to a multi-use Princeton Borough garage built by a private developer, in which the borough collects rent on the underlying land.

But that’s as close as the story gets to the issue of who should pay for a Red Bank garage, which through several attempts to get one built has been the major sticking point. The story makes no mention of the taxpayer opposition to a plan for a White Street garage in 2001, when the cost was estimated at $8.4 million. Nor does it fully explain what happened in July 2005, when the council hoped to quietly authorize bonding for 570-car garage, whose cost had risen to $11.8 million. Angry residents packed the council chambers and spilled into the hallways of borough hall. The bonding ordinance was tabled when garage proponent Mayor Ed McKenna announced that he had heard from several private developers who might be interested in partnering with the town on the project.

“These are some very exciting possibilities,” McKenna said at the time, according to an account in The Hub.

Higgs now tells us that “those plans never materialized.”

Residents keep hearing that there’s a pressing need for the White Street garage, and that it’ll be so popular that it will pay for itself. So where is the private-sector money ready to capitalize on this demand?

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