By Tim O’Meilia
Ten years ago, a gang of four Point Manalapan residents made a federal case out of voting districts in Manalapan, where oceanside residents had half the U.S. census-tallied residents but twice the number of seats on the Town Commission as those on the point.
Now, Town Commissioner Donald Brennan says that the resulting court-approved redistricting and reapportioning of the Town Commission has flip-flopped the power structure and left A1A residents with 70 percent of the tax bill but far less of the voting power.
“The judge was astute. She said be careful what you’re doing because it may have the opposite effect,” Brennan said during an Oct. 23 workshop meeting on possible town charter amendments.
The judge approved the revised voting district system overwhelmingly OK’d by Manalapan voters in 2002 that exists today — eliminating single-member districts but requiring two seats for ocean residents, two for the point and two more and the mayor for anyone, but all seven voted on by everyone.
Brennan, an oceanside resident, wants the commission to consider modifying that system because oceanfront voters feel powerless.
He proposed the at-large election of two ocean commissioners, two from the point and alternating the mayor between an ocean and point resident every four or six years, with term limits for all.
“It gives both a perception of fair representation and de-escalates who’s paying for what and creates a commission that’s more manageable,” he said.
Brennan believes the seven-member commission is unwieldy and would be more effective with five commissioners. “We have the smallest population of any town around and the biggest commission,” he said.
Other commissioners quickly challenged his contention that ocean residents weren’t being represented adequately or their concerns being addressed.
A former mayor was an oceanside resident (Thomas Gerrard) and one of the recent at-large positions was held by another (Peter Evans), even though point voters outnumber those on the beach, Mayor Basil Diamond noted.
Brennan and beach resident Dennis Hammond said oceanfront security was at the root of the complaint.
Commissioners David Cheifetz and Bill Quigley challenged that claim, saying that the commission approved a weekend beach patrol beginning this month and a weekend marine patrol starting next summer.
“When people on A1A said they’ve had a problem, we’ve tried to solve the problem,” Cheifetz said.
The commission took no action on Brennan’s proposal, and he asked commissioners to consider it for the future.
On other proposals considered during the charter workshop, the commission also declined to act on Diamond’s proposal to allow the mayor to be counted toward a quorum when four commissioners aren’t present and to vote in that instance.
As an alternative, he suggested that the commission consider allowing the mayor to vote in all instances. Now, the mayor votes only in the event of a tie. No action was taken.
Unless the commission acts before Feb. 8, the only charter question on the ballot in March will be on term limits. Voters will decide whether to limit commissioners to two consecutive two-year terms or a commissioner and mayor in combination for three terms in a row.
In other business, commissioners voted unanimously to seek proposals to handle the town’s police dispatch services. The town spends more than $200,000 annually for three full-time and four part-time dispatchers to handle emergency and non-emergency calls. Police deal with only about 50 calls to 911 each month.
After experimenting with a 3 p.m. start of Town Commission meetings for one month, the commission decided to revert to a 9:30 a.m. time for its monthly meeting. October’s meeting ran four hours, until 7 p.m.