By Tim O’Meilia
Manalapan Mayor Tom Gerrard, who served on the Town Commission for more than six years, resigned suddenly July 28.
“Pressing family issues require that I spend extended amounts of time away from the town and the state,” he wrote in a five-sentence resignation letter delivered to Town Hall.
Gerrard said his resignation had nothing to do with recent criticism from a town commissioner and others that he acted out of self-interest in proposing a new law on turtle lighting that is less restrictive than Palm Beach County’s.
Gerrard left for Big Sky, Mont., where other members of his family live and where he has a home. He anticipated spending most of the rest of the year there.
“Obviously I can’t be effective when I’m not there,” he said before he departed.
Gerrard was present for the July 27 Town Commission meeting, which was cancelled for lack of a quorum. He gave no hint of his intention to resign then.
“I enjoyed my time on the commission,” he said. “It was a good experience for me and the net result is that we’ve come a long way during that time.”
He was appointed mayor in October 2008 after William Benjamin resigned and was elected to a full two-year term in March 2009. He was a member of the town’s Architectural Commission when he was similarly appointed to the Town Commission in February 2004. He won full terms in 2005 and 2007. He never faced opposition in his three runs for office.
Gerrard, 63, moved to Manalapan in the mid-1990s after retiring from the telecommunications industry.
“He was an absolutely fabulous mayor. He did an excellent job,” said six-year Commissioner Kelly Gottlieb.
“We were without a town manager for several months and he stepped in, not acting as a town manager, but helping the staff along and making things happen,” she said. “We’re going to miss him.”
Commissioner Louis DeStefano also praised Gerrard. ”I am sorry he’s got personal issues. He was very good for our town, very conscientious,” he said.
Commissioner Howard Roder, who was critical of Gerrard’s proposal to replace the county’s turtle protection ordinance with the town’s own, could not be reached for comment.
Gerrard wanted the town to opt out of the county ordinance that prohibited lighting visible from the beach. The town’s regulation would say that lighting couldn’t be visible at a height of three feet, among other things. He described the county’s rules as “draconian.”
Roder accused Gerrard of acting out of self-interest. Gerrard was in the process of installing lighting and a fire pit on his property.
In response, Gerrard said that his construction permits conformed to the current county regulations, that he resented being accused of misconduct and that he was acting only in the town’s interest.
The commission postponed action on the turtle protection ordinance until year’s end.
Roder also challenged the mayor’s authority to ask the town attorney to draft ordinances. The commission is composing a written procedure for drafting ordinances.
By charter, the commission has 45 days to appoint a replacement for the mayor. In the past, the commission has appointed one of its own to the mayoral post. If that happens, commissioners would have another 45 days to appoint a new commissioner.
After discussion at the commission’s August 4 meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Evans suggested town residents submit nominations for both mayor and commissioner to the Town Hall in advance of their next scheduled meeting on August 17.
With mandated budget hearings scheduled for September, the commission discussed the urgency to fill the positions to assure a quorum at those hearings.
“We have a new town manager and I’m sure the commissioners will carry on well without me,” Gerrard added. He said he hoped to be back in Manalapan by the December holidays.