Old Bridge council debates appointments, meeting violations

Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Contention among Old Bridge Township Council members, who all sit on the same Republican party line except for one member, has spilled over into 2017.

The newest issue began with council nominations for the Recreation Advisory Board at a meeting on Jan. 3. The board studies, investigates, develops and organizes programs in conjunction with the director of Parks and Recreation.

There were three council member openings for a one-year term on the board ending Dec. 31. Ward 1 Councilman Joseph Mollis was nominated for one of the open slots and was voted on the board. Then, Councilwoman-at-Large Debbie Walker was nominated and voted down 5 to 4. Then, Ward 2 Councilwoman Mary Sohor was nominated and voted down 5 to 4.

Subsequent nominations for Council President Brian Cahill and Council Vice President Alan Rosencranz were approved with six “yes” votes and three “no” votes.

A vote for Rosencranz for a council opening for the one-year term to the Redevelopment Agency was approved with the same vote — six “yes” votes and three “no” votes.

In her council comments, Walker expressed her frustration on the votes.

“Last year on Jan. 1 all the appointments to boards from the council came from this side,” she said, waving her hand where Cahill, Rosencranz, Mollis and fellow Council Members Richard Greene and Lucille Panos sit. “Once again this year, they received numerous appointments and the girls down here were voted ‘no.’”

Walker said she found it disturbing and upsetting that “this trend is continuing.”

The council tabled minutes of the Oct. 24, 2016, meeting that showcased the hostility between council members.

At that meeting in October, Councilwoman-at-Large Anita Greenberg-Belli had addressed the council and administration on potential violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.

She alleged that a “secret meeting” took place at Panos’ home before the Jan. 1, 2016, meeting and that an email was sent out to all council members.

“When I came on [the dais], what the legal department stressed most was ethics, and this is not the right thing to do,” she said. “I have concerns about it.”

Panos interjected and said there was no secret meeting at her house.

“If you thought something was going on you should have brought [ethics] charges up,” she said to Greenberg-Belli.

Panos said she held a holiday party that fell between Christmas and New Year’s and had invited several members of the council that did not include Greenberg-Belli.

Township Attorney Mark Roselli said he did not necessarily know all the details of what was said.

“Discussions in respect to utilizing email, I have advised not to do it,” he said. “The extent of an email sent out to all members does not necessarily constitute a violation.”

Roselli said the question is if there were discussions dealing with the conduct of township business.

“Remember, it is not so much a quorum present, the issue becomes whether or not the township business is being conducted and that’s what you really have to look at, but I have counseled time and time again about the use of emails,” he said.

Roselli said if there was a thought of a violation, any council member has the right to bring it to the attention of the attorney firm. He said they would not prosecute the matter — it would be handled by the county prosecutor.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.