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The acrimony between departing Mayor Ed McKenna and mayoral candidate John Curley spilled over into the business of the Monmouth County Freeholders last night.

Today’s Asbury Park Press reports that Curley and other Republicans were, um, displeased with the Freeholders’ hiring of law firms.

McKenna’s firm—McKenna, Dupont, Higgins & Stone—was named as a special counsel. The Freeholders also re-appointed, by a 3-2 vote, Malcolm V. Carton as county counsel, re-upping Carton in a post he’s held since 1985.

Carton’s lock on the job had appeared in danger amid rising concern about the size of his bills and his naked fundraising for Republican candidates.

But under new rules adopted by the Freeholders, the county counsel will be prohibited from making any political contributions to candidates for county office, and is now barred from hosting fundraisers for the freeholders, sheriff, county clerk or county surrogate.

The Freeholders also brought in six new law firms, including McKenna’s, with both Democratic and Republican affiliations.

Not good enough, according to Curley and other critics who took a throw-the-bums-out approach.

From the story:

“It is a night of shame for the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders,” Curley said. “The county is not moving to clean itself up. They appoint the same cronies…the same old boys club.”

OK, so that was arguably a broad-brush attack not necessarily aimed solely at McKenna. But it makes for a tidy entry in the back-and-forth between McKenna, who ran on the same ticket as Curley in 2002, and Curley, who later switched parties, from Democratic to Republican.

A week ago, McKenna blamed Curley for the 4-cents-per-$100-assessment increase approved by the borough council.

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The buck for the latest increase in Red Bank property taxes stops at the far right end of the Borough Council dais, where John P. Curley sits, according to Mayor Ed McKenna.

McKenna blamed Curley for the 4-cents-per-$100-assessment increase approved by the council yesterday. In McKenna’s view, Curley failed to exercise proper oversight of former borough chief financial officer Terence Whalen, who quit in June, shortly before the release of an audit that found his department rife with mismanagement that will set the town back $400,000. No fraud was alleged.

According to Larry Higgs’ account in the Asbury Park Press, McKenna accused Curley, the council’s finance committee chairman, for failing to monitor Whalen.

“The taxpayers of this borough should hold you accountable for four cents of the tax increase,” McKenna said.

McKenna said the borough tax rate would be flat if not for the problems in the finance office.

“We have an excellent budget. I wish it was better, but due to negligence in one department, it cost us $400,000,” McKenna said.

Curley said it isn’t his job to monitor full-time employees. That is the job of full-time borough employees, he said.

“I’m not the CFO or the auditor,” he replied.

Other finance committee chairmen met with the CFO during the week and got updates on whether the borough was under or over budget, McKenna said.

“That’s what you should have been doing,” McKenna said. “You knew we had a new CFO and should have been monitoring him on a microscopic basis.”

McKenna’s accusation followed criticism by Curley of the council’s failure to slash the budget across all departments by five percent from last year’s spending, as Curley had proposed.

The new spending plan calls for $16.27 million, with the local portion of property taxes pegged at $8.32 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the average home, assessed at $179,000, that means a bill of $1,489, up $75 from the previous budget.

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Img_4995Former Mayor Ben Nicosia was among the spotlight guests at a cocktail party Tuesday night at the Molly Pitcher Inn, where he and three other former Red Bank mayors — Dan O’Hern, Mike Arnone and Ed McKenna — were honored by Mayor Pasquale Menna.

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Whenever he got the chance, former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna would jet off to Ireland to play golf and maybe have a pint among village locals.

McKenna’s successor, Pasquale Menna, though, takes the idea of global schmoozing to literally another level, preferring to put on a tuxedo and rub elbows with royals and pretenders to thrones, redbankgreen has learned.

Three weeks ago, Menna spent a long weekend in the Italian Alps, where he hobnobbed with Savoy royalty. While there, Menna tells us, he attended “a number of receptions hosted by Prince Emmanuel-Philibert,” heir-apparent to the last King of Italy, Umberto II, who died in 1983, 37 years after the end of the Italian monarchy.

Menna says the 35-year-old prince is “a close friend.”

Last Saturday, Menna was in New York for a banquet given by Crown Prince Nikola II of Montenegro, another would-be king if not for the vagaries of history.

There, hizzoner was among the latest inductees into the Order of Prince Danilo I, a designation bestowed on “prominent champions of the preservation of Montenegrin independence,” according to the order’s website. Past recipients include Queen Victoria and King Edward VII of Great Britain.

By then, Menna had already bagged similar recognition from Italy: admittance to the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, a philanthropic organization for which he’s the New Jersey representative.

“I have a little bit more of a life than Red Bank and the practice of law,” says Menna. “I’m international in scope.”

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Which is to say that the Red Bank borough’s official website is finally catching up to reality.

Eight weeks after he was sworn in, Pasquale Menna’s name is now listed on the site in the place where Ed McKenna’s name still stood as recently as Monday afternoon. Michael DuPont is listed as a councilman. And there’s a calendar for the year 2007.

OK, so the calendar doesn’t yet list council meetings scheduled for coming months. But borough officials, and particularly the Demoratic majority, say they’re working on putting more data on the site in an effort to meet a campaign promise for more “transparent” government.

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In the second of three excerpts from our interviews with Pasquale Menna and John Curley, the mayoral candidates size each other up.

And, as always, the shadow of Mayor Ed McKenna looms.

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Another Red Bank Council meeting, another ugly blow-up. And last night’s was a Richter-scale doozie.


As usual, the main event was Mayor Ed McKenna v. Councilman John Curley, but two other council members and a borough resident got into the finger-pointing and shouting.

Through it all, Curley’s opponent in the race to succeed McKenna, Council President Pasquale Menna, stayed on the sidelines before restoring an air of calm to the proceedings.

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 John Ekdahl, right, with former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna at the groundbreaking last September for an addition to the Count Basie Center for the Arts, where they serve on an advisory board.  (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)


After 14 years at the helm of Rumson’s municipal government, John Ekdahl retired as mayor last week.

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Bon Jovi house2Bon Jovi’s Middletown home, above, as seen in 2008. Below, Bon Jovi and his wife, Dorothea, with Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna and former mayor Ed McKenna in 2011. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

bon-jovi-mayorsPop star Bon Jovi is planning to host a fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to a report by

The report doesn’t give the location of the event, but notes that the pop star and his wife, Dorothea, live in Monmouth County.

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bon-jovi-dorotheaJon Bon Jovi gives his wife, Dorothea Bongiovi, an attagirl as she prepares a table at the opening of the JBJ Soul Kitchen Wednesday afternoon. The yard outside the restaurant, below, features a vegetable and herb garden. (Click to enlarge)


soul-kitchenWith a heavy rain irrigating the vegetable garden behind him and cameras streaming the event live, pop star Jon Bon Jovi inaugurated a pay-what-you-can-or-work-it-off restaurant on Monmouth Street in Red Bank Wednesday afternoon.

Dubbed the JBJ Soul Kitchen, the eatery is “not a soup kitchen,” Bon Jovi told a tent packed with press and local officials. “We hope to empower individuals who just need a hand up, and enable some who just need to lend a hand.”

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51-monmouthTwo property owners want the former borough hall returned to Red Bank as a public asset. (Click to enlarge)

As anticipated by Mayor Pasquale Menna, a lawsuit has been filed challenging Red Bank’s settlement of litigation earlier this year over the former borough hall and police station at 51 Monmouth Street.

The suit, filed by Maple Cove activist Cindy Burnham of Fair Haven and lawyer Bill Meyer of Tinton Falls, claims that both the original sale of the building to a nonprofit children’s organization in 2000 and the settlement of litigation over that deal earlier this year were “illegal and improper.”

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dupontRed Bank Councilman Mike DuPont at a council meeting last month. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


While Councilman Mike DuPont’s appointment as attorney for another town was the unmentioned reason behind his request last Monday that Red Bank change its bimonthtly meeting schedule, up in Sayreville, the appointment was an occasion for political theater.

In a dramatic council meeting in the Middlesex County town that same night, DuPont’s appointment prompted the mayor and two Republican council members to storm out because, according to local paper The Suburban, they wanted a different law firm representing the governing body and argued that the appointment circumvented the mayor’s authority.

That left the remaining four on the council to vote on whether to hire DuPont, who is a partner on Broad Street with former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna in the McKenna, DuPont, Higgins and Stone firm. Which they did, handing.

Can you say awkward?

“Yes it was,” DuPont told redbankgreen.

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dupont-010111Councilman Mike DuPont at Red Bank’s government reorganization meeting on January 1. (Click to enlarge)

Red Bank’s borough council is mulling a change in its bimonthly meeting schedule to accommodate a recurring conflict on Councilman Mike DuPont’s calendar.

The problem? He has to be at another council meeting, in another town, at the same time.

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A promotional video for the KaBOOM fireworks show. Below, Tim Hogan, new chairman of KaBoom’s executive committee. (Click to enlarge photo)

hogan-2Coming off two years of financial challenges and crowd-control issues, the 2011 edition of the giant annual fireworks extravaganza known as KaBoomFest will feature a renewed focus on family entertainment and security, organizers say.

While some aspects of the event, including whether to repeat last year’s expansion from one to three days, remain undecided, KaBoom is on track to raise more money from corporate sponsors this year and is paying more attention to the importance of security, said Tim Hogan, president of Riverview Medical Center and chairman of KaBoom’s executive committee.

“We want to make sure that it’s safe and want to make sure that it’s family-friendly,” Hogan said.

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courtyards-2James Hulsizer with a depiction of the planned Courtyards at Monmouth. Below, an architect’s rendering from last summer. (Click to enlarge)

courtyards-at-monmouthRed Bank zoners held the first of what is expected to be a series of hearings on the details of a proposed 57-unit housing development on a neglected stretch of Monmouth Street Thursday night.

GS Realty, the unit of Amboy Bank that owns the site, is seeking a long list of variances, from building heights and setbacks from the street, in order to clear the way for the so-called Courtyards at Monmouth project.

Last July, byt a 5-2 vote, the zoning board granted a use variance for what members called “a very dense project” in a new train station zone formed to attract high-density housing and retailing, though the plan calls for no stores. At the time, those in favor cited a desire to jump-start construction on the 1.24-acre property, which is also bounded by West and Oakland streets.

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bill-meyerThe Red Bank council took heat over the deal from lawyer Bill Meyer. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


Red Bank’s litigation with the Community YMCA is near an end, but Mayor Pasquale thinks borough officials may not be finished making trips to Superior Court in Freehold.

After a three-hour meeting that included nearly two hours of grilling by local watchdogs, the council passed a resolution approving a settlement that allows the nonprofit to sell the former borough police state at 51 Monmouth Street to its neighbor, St. James RC Church/Red Bank Catholic High School. The settlement puts to rest the second of two suits that had pitted the Y against the borough.

But comments from the public suggest Red Bank may be in for more legal work.

“I think there’s going to be a challenge to our action,” Menna told redbankgreen afterward.

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umbrellaSpectators, like these in Riverside Gardens Park at the 2010 show, would have to pay a ‘nominal’ entry fee to watch the fireworks, a study suggests. (Click to enlarge)


Red Bank’s KaBoom fireworks may no longer be free — and as freewheeling — as they’ve been in recent years.

The ad hoc Kaboom! Task Force, formed in September to conduct a top-to-bottom examination of the annual event delivered its final report to the borough council Wednesday night.

The diagnosis: change is needed.

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Yeah, this one has to be among the blurriest photos redbankgreen has ever published. But it’s the best shot we got as Gov. Jon Corzine headed back to his awaiting motorcade from the Buena Place home of former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna, right, following a fundraiser McKenna hosted for Corzine’s re-election effort Tuesday night.


RbtrainstnThe planning board advanced the idea of a high-density transit village to be built near the Red Bank rail station. Below, homeowner Neil Spencer reviews a zone map with engineer Catherine Britell while his wife, Wendy, addresses the board. (Click to enlarge)

Suggested changes to Red Bank’s master plan won unanimous approval for the second time in two months last night, but not before comments and questions from the citizenry forced a rethinking of some details and a fuller explanation of others.


In a do-over of a sparsely attended public hearing held December 15, planning board members sought to convey the message that new, apparently high density limits would in fact result in fewer residences being built than might be allowed if present regulations were unchanged.

The board also stuck to the essentials of the plan’s most controversial element: a new zone surrounding the borough’s train station to encourage the creation of a high-density transit village of stores and residences.

Up to 35 units per acre could be built in structures up to 50 feet tall if the borough council heeds the recommendation, which backers argued is consistent with the goals of New Jersey’s so-called Smart Growth plan.

“It really does foster those smart growth principles in an environmentally sensitive way,” said borough engineer Christine Ballard, of T&M Associates. “If we don’t start getting in line with state ideals, then we won’t get the state support we need.”

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Here’s a recap of Monday night’s Red Bank Borough Council meeting. (Follow along with the agenda, if you like.)

• Mayor Pasquale Menna accepted a $162,975 dividend payment to the borough from the Central Jersey Health Insurance Fund, the shared-services operation comprised of 20 Monmouth and Ocean county towns and authorities.


The dividend has more than doubled from the $79,000 of just two years ago, and represents improved claims experience, Menna said. It is also the equivalent of a six-percent return on the borough’s annual health insurance premium, he said.

• Menna also accepted a $5,000 donation to the borough in lieu of taxes from the nonprofit Monmouth Boat Club.

• The council gave final and unanimous approval to two ordinances.

One will result in the creation of a four-way stop at the intersection of Bridge Avenue and Chestnut Street.

The other, a planning amendment, permits the use of professional offices by physical, speech and other licensed therapists and real estate brokerages with five or fewer employees. Previously, the list of authorized uses was limited to doctors and dentists, architects, musicians and ministers, among others.

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Cultural2Bill Meyer says the borough shouldn’t negotiate over the former borough hall until it’s investigated the sale to Kids Bridge eight years ago. Below right: a copy of a business entity status report he says raises questions about the deal. (Click to enlarge)

Borough officials remained mum this week on the status of negotiations begun earlier this year over the former borough hall at 51 Monmouth Street, which the Community YMCA is trying to sell for $2.55 million.

But local attorney and gadfly Bill Meyer is calling on the mayor and council to suspend the negotiations and embark on a comprehensive investigation into the one-dollar deal that led to the the Y taking possesion of the now 116-year-old structure, which is home to the organization’s Children’s Cultural Center.


Among the elements of the transaction he wants probed, Meyer tells redbankgreen, is whether then-Mayor Ed McKenna had a conflict of interest in the transaction. At this week’s bimonthly council meeting, Meyer gave out copies of a nonprofit corporation status report from the New Jersey Secretary of State’s office showing that McKenna was the vice president of the Children’s Cultural Center at the time three ordinances enabling the transaction were passed by the council.

Pressed on whether he was accusing McKenna of a conflict, Meyer replied, “I’ not saying anything about that. But I will say this: I don’t like the appearance of it.”

McKenna, in response, called Meyer a politically motivated “destructive individual” who hadn’t done his homework. The records will show, McKenna says, that he recused himself from discussions about the sale because of his widely known ties to the buyer.

“There was never any secret that I helped found the Children’s Cultural Center,” he told us. “That was on the front pages of the newspapers. All he had to have done was two minutes worth of research and he would have found that out.”

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Anderson_brosThe former Anderson storage building, seen in a file photo, where Mertrovation has approvals to build 23 condos and two stores.

A pair of large-scale, long-stalled development projects near the Red Bank train station cleared legal hurdles yesterday when a state Appellate Division panel ruled that no conflicts of interest had tainted approvals by the borough zoning board, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

Both cases pitted Bill Meyer, a downtown property owner and gadfly, against developer Metrovation or its principals and the zoning board.

One decision centered on plans for a mixed retail/brew pub/art studio/condo project called MW West Side Lofts on the southeast corner of West Front Street and Bridge Avenue. The project, owned by principals of Metrovation but not the firm itself, would surround the present location of Danny’s Steakhouse.

The other involves the former Anderson Brothers Moving and Storage building at the northwest corner of Bridge Avenue an Monmouth Street, where Metrovation hopes to create 23 condos and two street-level stores.

From the Press, by reporter Larry Higgs:

In both projects, Meyer challenged the potential conflict of interest of two board members at public meetings and then challenged their participation in lawsuits. Judges upheld the participation of both members, which prompted the appeals and have kept both projects on hold.

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Img_4630Councilman John Curley embraces Mayor Pasquale Menna after tonight’s council session.

With four months left to his term, firebrand Republican John Curley announced his resignation from the Red Bank Council tonight, creating the possibility that a party-chosen successor could get much needed facetime before voters in advance of November’s election, in which both GOP seats are at stake.

With his announcement that he was moving to the Shadow Lake development in Middletown, Curley stunned Mayor Pasquale Menna and all but one of his council colleagues: fellow Republican Grace Cangemi, who herself gained a foothold on the council following the resignation of Kaye Ernst early in 2007.

She alone among elected officials had been tipped off, Curley said later.

Curley is running for Monmouth County Freeholder along with incumbent Lillian Burry, and is not seeking re-election to the council. Cangemi, now in what would have been the last year of Ernst’s three-year term, is up for re-election, running with Leighton Avenue resident John Tyler. They’ll square off this fall against Democrats Ed Zipprich and Juanita Lewis.

Curley said council politics hadn’t entered into his decision, which he informed borough GOP chairman Jack Minton about Sunday night.

Reading from a resignation letter he said he had sent to Monmouth County Clerk M. Claire French, Curley said he was resigning effective 5p Tuesday in part because he could not simultaneously run for county freeholder and effectively serve the residents of Red Bank.

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Basie_facadeImg_0470The facade of the small building next door to the theater was the last piece to go; now there’s just a hole in the ground. (Facade photo courtesy of Wendy Spencer)

A small, ivy-swaddled office building that stood next door to the Count Basie Theatre was demolished last week. In its place will rise… well, nobody knows yet, apparently.

Near-term, the lot at 95 Monmouth Street will be used as a staging area for construction equipment and materials during a planned four-month interior renovation of the theater, scheduled to begin June 30. After that, the lot is likely to remain empty for at least the next three years.

Basie CEO Numa Saisselin tells redbankgreen that’s how long the theater has to decide if it wants, and can afford, to acquire the lot from a group of angels who bought it simply to keep anyone other than the Basie owning it.

According to Saisselin, “four or five” members of the board of the Count Basie Foundation got together and bought the site for $2.1 million.

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