Monthly Archives: October 2011

NEW: Video for Sept. 26, 2011 SLH Council Meeting Now Available for Viewing

The video recording of the September 26, 2011 SLH Borough Council Meeting is now available on YouTube. Visit the heightsonline YouTube channel, or click the video link below to view.

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SLH Budget Review

On May 10th, heightsonline reported that the SLH 2011 budget passed, yet residents are still looking for information.

To recap, the budget, crafted primarly by the Council’s Finance Committee Chair, Patricia Cindea, contained a ZERO tax increase. The Council majority agreed to use money in the surplus fund, meaning surpluses created by overtaxation. Council President Butch Maccanico, Councilwomen Cindea and Sara King, and Councilman Richard Diver all voted to adopt the budget.

The Council Democrats, Councilmen John Brennan and Thomas Vorbach, voted against the zero-tax increase budget.

The SLH Democrats are now saying that the borough is broke, but a look at the budget reveals that even without raising taxes, the Council majority adopted a budget that covers all expenses.

You can view and download a copy of the 2011_Adopted_Budget here

You can view and download a copy of the zero-tax increase 2010 budget 2010_Adopted_Budget here

OPRA Request Finds Borough Attorney’s Advice to Mayor on Environmental Commission Lawsuit

Information gathered using an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request netted some interesting documents pertaining to the lawsuit of Environmental Chairperson Kathleen Crippen against the Borough of SLH and Mayor Enright.

Under a signed stipulation settlement, the Borough was to properly notice and advertise the Environmental Commission meetings beginning on September 19. However, the Borough failed to comply with the settlement and missed the date. The plantiff and her attorney then gave the Borough a second chance, working out a schedule of possible meeting dates. The Borough again failed to properly notice these and a second suit was filed.

Just prior to the second suit being filed, an OPRA request was filed for information pertaining to the issue. In the documents received from the Borough was a letter from Borough Attorney John T. Lane, Jr., to Mayor H. Frances Enright. The letter is in response to an e-mail from the Mayor which, interestingly, the Borough failed to provide as part of its fulfillment of the request. However, in reading the letter, one gets a sense of what the questions were the Mayor wanted answers to.

Lane explains at length that the Mayor was not being sued personally, but in her capacity as Mayor and, in that capacity, was entitled to representation only as the Mayor. He then notes that the Mayor makes a materially false statement, and WAS present during an executive session when the lawsuit was discussed by Council.

This no doubt refers to the mayor’s repeated contention that she knew nothing about the suit and that the borough attorney never discussed it with her. This contention is completely untrue, as meeting minutes of the closed session meeting indicate that the mayor was, indeed, present.

Lane then goes on to explain that the Borough form of government is known as the “weak Mayor” form. “The mayor has limited power,” he explains, “and the Council is vested with all powers not specifically granted to the Mayor.”

Lane goes on to note that the Mayor’s willfulness to give “written direction to the Borough Clerk to ignore a signed and filed Stipulation of Settlement” subjected the Mayor and Clerk both to an Order to Enforce Settlement, in addition to the legal fees of the plantiff.

A full copy of the letter in Microsoft Word is available by clicking the link here: john_lane_letter_to_mayor

Who Couldn’t Agree to Buy New Equipment? Or, To Bond or Not to Bond

In a campaign mailer, the SLH Democratic candidates claim: “The current council can’t agree to purchase the proper equipment.” It is clear from this clip who wanted to purchase the equipment and who did not.

On Monday, July 25, 2011, the Council held a hearing to discuss the purchase of new equipment via a bond. The two Council Democrats, John P. Brennan, Jr. and Thomas Vorbach, argued that the equipment purchase should be bought outright. To do this, however, taxes would need to be raised.

The other side of the argument was to bond for the equipment, a sound financial practice that other municipalities use instead of inflicting a tax increase on residents. This was supported by the 4 Republicans on Council.

At the end of an over-45-minute debate, the Council voted 4 to 2 to purchase the equipment via bond, a decision that aroused much ire from the Democrats.

The clip below, excerpted from the full meeting recording of July 25, 2011, covers the complete debate. Some insight:

  • Due to the space constraints, it is difficult to get a full shot of the Council dais. Off camera, you hear the voices of Councilman Thomas Vorbach, former CFO Colleen Lapp, and Borough Attorney John Lane.
  • Councilman Vorbach learns the difference between a front end loader and a back hoe. Or does he?
  • Councilman Brennan refers to bond attorney Kerri Morgan as the Republican’s “hand picked attorney.” The Republicans supported Morgan’s appointment to the post in January 2011.
  • Count how many times the Mayor cuts off Council members from speaking. Heightsonline may run a contest on this in the future!

A Little Campaign Fact-Finding

Campaign season is well upon us, and with it, the usual barrage of smoke and mirrors to sway the taxpayer’s opinion with misdirection, half-truths, and outright lies. In the interest of providing a fuller picture, heightsonline decodes the statements made in a recent mailing from the Spring Lake Heights Democratic candidates:

1.) SLH DEM STATEMENT: Spring Lake Heights usually has over $4,000,000 in its various bank accounts but can’t pay its bills because it does not have the qualified personnel. The recently hired Borough Clerk has quit, the Chief Financial Officer has quit. The Borough office is understaffed and in turmoil.

Let’s take that statement and break it down into smaller chunks:

SLH DEM STATEMENT: Spring Lake Heights usually has over $4,000,000 in its various bank accounts but can’t pay its bills because it does not have the qualified personnel.

FACT: While there has been turn-over in the Borough Hall office, the Borough is not going bankrupt. The Borough is paying its bills. A certified municipal CFO is needed to legally carry out financial issues. The Borough Council named a temporary CFO and has retained a consultant with the necessary certification so that all financial matters will be attended to while a job search is conducted for a new CFO. Additionally, this gives the Council time to evaluate whether or not a full-time or a part-time CFO is required.

SLH DEM STATEMENT: The recently hired Borough Clerk has quit:

FACT: Richard Kachmar, the former Borough Administrator of Plumsted Township who was also a certified municipal clerk, was hired for $53,000 a year as borough clerk. Kachmar subsequently was offered the position of Borough Administrator in Sea Bright at the annual salary of $65,000. The council Democrats then supported the appointment of the deputy clerk, who is not certified, into the position of Acting Borough Clerk and then attempted to give her an almost $15,000 a year raise in the 2011 Salary & Wage Ordinance. Interesting that this salary increase was NOT opposed by Councilman Tom Vorbach, who in 2010 circulated his “Let’s Those Who Pay Have a Say” anti-salary & wage increase petitions to break signed contracts with existing Borough employees.

SLH DEM STATEMENT: The Chief Financial Officer has quit:

FACT: Colleen Lapp, a certified municipal chief financial officer, was paid $70,000 by SLH. She had not received a raise from SLH during the past 4 years. She was offered the position of CFO by the City of Red Bank where she is paid $93,000 annually with a five week vacation.

At no time was the CFO position left vacant without a plan. Initially, Ms. Lapp agreed to stay on part time so that the Borough could fulfill its obligation to have a certified CFO. When she could not stay on due to her new work load, she recommended using the firm the Borough has now contracted with. Contractor and temp firms providing CFO services are working all over the state, but Mayor Enright felt it necessary to involve the Borough Attorney and to contact the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton in an apparent effort to derail the Council’s appointment of the temporary CFO and the certified contractor.

SLH DEM STATEMENT: The Borough office is understaffed and in turmoil:

FACT: All positions are currently filled, either by Borough employees or contractors. To expand the staff, the Borough Council would need to create new positions, something that taxpayers have soundly criticized doing in the past. If any employee is complaining of “turmoil” in the office, it has not been brought to the attention of the Council.

2.) SLH DEM STATEMENT: During the snow storm in December 2010 Spring Lake Heights did not have the equipment to deal with the problems. The current council can’t agree to purchase the proper equipment. They have waited until September 2011 to get the funding in place to begin the purchasing process with could take another four months.

Again, let’s break that down:

SLH DEM STATEMENT: The current council can’t agree to purchase the proper equipment.

FACT: The current council on September 26, 2011 voted to approve the bonding issue for new equipment, something the Democrats had been adamantly opposed to all during the 2011 year. Department heads have been requesting this new equipment for years but have not been able to get a consensus vote from previous councils. See for yourself: Please view the YouTube videos of the July 25, 2011 Council meeting to determine who REALLY tried to block the bonding for new equipment, preferring instead to have the taxpayers pay for it in a lump sum. It was not the Republican majority who couldn’t agree.

3.) SLH DEM STATEMENT: The recreation committee, which consists of only two people – current council members Maccanico and Diver, gave pay raises to the 2011 part-time recreation employees who now make more than our hard working crossing guards.

And, broken down:

SLH DEM STATEMENT: The recreation committee, which consists of only two people – current council members Maccanico and Diver

FACT: The Recreation Committee is a Council committee, and all council committees have two members to avoid any conflict with the Open Public Meetings Act. Any resident who would like to volunteer to support the committee is more than welcome to do so.

STATEMENT: … gave pay raises to the 2011 part-time recreation employees…

FACT: An outright lie concerning Recreation. Recreation salaries had been reduced and a miscalculation occurred. The so-called “raises” were adjustments of .25 cents made to bring 3 salaries in compliance with the Salary & Wage Ordinance. Otherwise, the taxpayers would have had to eat the cost of passing an updated ordinance. Additionally, the Democrats’ literature neglects to mention that one of the 3 employees then left and was replaced with a new employee in a lower starting wage category, $4.00 per hour less than the more-experienced previous employee.

Since 2010, recreation employees are paid from the Recreation Trust Fund. The Recreation Trust Fund is self-sufficient and does not cost the taxpayers anything. It is funded through the fees paid for participation in Recreation programs. As opposed to the crossing guards, who do not produce revenue but who are paid out of the police budget.

Also, after the Borough Auditor discovered discrepancies in how recreation employees were being paid, all employees were switched to a “per hour” pay amount, rather than a flat salary. This actually lowered the overall amount that many individuals were being paid in past years.

Recreation staff work approximately 6 weeks out of the year, between 3 and 5 days a week, from 8:30 AM until Noon.

STATEMENT: … who now make more than our hard working crossing guards

FACT: First of all, this implies that the crossing guards work hard and the recreation staff does not, which is patently false. As for the “hard working crossing guards,” who are paid $13.30 per hour, at the September 12, 2011 meeting, a resolution appointing a new crossing guard was tabled when it was discovered that the job would be given to Democratic candidate Hugh Meehan. Hiring a partisan political candidate into any government job paid by the taxpayers is a direct violation of the federal Hatch Act (see the YouTube video of the Sept. 12 meeting).

4.) SLH DEM STATEMENT: The current council is attempting to dissolve the Spring Lake Heights fire district. While dissolving the fire district their actions of refusing to pay the fire district the legally obligated monies raised by taxation and trying to engage the over-extended volunteer fire companies from surrounding municipalities could result in the bankruptcy of the Spring Lake Heights Volunteer Fire Company that has served our town for over fifty years.

The majority on the current council has stripped the Mayor’s authority to manage the town effectually. In a recent editorial of the Coast Star newspaper has described the current council as “… incapable of working together to efficiently run the town.”

And, the break-down:

SLH DEM STATEMENT: The majority on the current council has stripped the Mayor’s authority

FACT: In the Borough form of government, the authority to manage the town rests with the Council, not the Mayor. That is why the borough form is also called the “weak mayor” form of government. The Council, in attempting to do their statutory job, has been blindsided by the machinations of the Mayor, who apparently believes herself to have far more power than she does (see the heightsonline page, “Civics 101,” for the statutes listing the duties of the mayor and the duties of the Council in the Borough form of government).

SLH DEM STATEMENT: a recent editorial of the Coast Star newspaper…

FACT: The Coast Star editorial cited here also said that the SLH Fire District is a “seriously broken machine” and stated that all of the current fire commissioners (including Democratic Council candidate Hugh Meehan) should resign immediately and that the new commissioners should “vow complete transparency and openness.” The editorial points out that “Transparency is also sometimes a problem … where fire district commissioners blatantly ignored repeated requests from the governing body for detailed information on how, exactly, the taxpayers’ money was being spent.”

Judge Lawson to SLH Mayor: “Compliance or Jail”

After an almost 10-month legal battle over the SLH Environmental Commission, Mayor H. Francis Enright and the Borough of Spring Lake Heights were told by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Lawson to comply with a signed settlement or risk going to jail.

The Mayor sought to void her January 2010 3-year appointment of Kathleen Crippen as chairperson to the SLH Environmental Commission. Crippen broke from the SLH Democratic organization, of which the Mayor is chairperson of, in order to run as an independent Council candidate in November 2010. In January 2011, the Mayor sent Crippen a letter stating that her appointment to the Commission was over.

Although the Borough Council had voted on a settlement in June confirming Crippen’s appointment, the paperwork was delayed and the Environmental Commission meetings not noticed in accordance with the Sunshine Laws. The lack of notification triggered a second suit which resulted in the Friday, October 21 decision.

At the hearing, which the mayor did not attend, Borough Attorney John T. Lane, Jr. was told by Judge Lawson to “go back to your mayor and tell her that she must comply with the settlement or she will go to jail.”

Court documents of the two suits will be posted on heightsonline in the upcoming days.

SLH Council Videos Online at YouTube

Heightsonline is back after a brief hiatus. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your readership. Also, we’d like to remind you to please visit the heightsonline YouTube channel where you can view recordings of all the 2011 SLH Borough Council Meetings.

Find out who REALLY said what, who voted against which, and who actually held up the voting on the bond issue to buy new equipment. Don’t be led astray — if you can’t make it to a Council meeting, make sure you stay on top of current issues in your community by watching the Council videos.

You can find our YouTube channel at:
http://www.youtube.com/user/heightsonline