By Margie Plunkett
A newly elected commissioner claims Manalapan’s mayor was personally motivated to generate a turtle lighting ordinance and has called for a vote to charge the mayor with misconduct.
During the April 27 meeting, Commissioner Howard Roder voiced his concerns about the town’s process for initiating ordinances, noting Mayor Tom Gerrard instructed the town attorney, without the commission’s consent, to draft the turtle lighting ordinance, which would have placed the issue under town control.
Roder read his contentions from a document he distributed to Gerrard and fellow commissioners only moments before.
An aghast Gerrard defended his actions on the ordinance and during work on his beachfront property, when he said a state inspector first suggested Manalapan could opt out of county turtle lighting regulations. Gerrard noted “facts” in the document were not correct and reserved his full response pending further review of the claims.
“I have had no opportunity to review this at present,” Gerrard said. “Several of these things are incorrect. If I’m going to be censured or called, I certainly feel I should be given the opportunity to respond to this and clarify myths.”
The action underscored the changing character of the Manalapan Commission, which has been increasingly contentious since March when Roder and Louis DeStefano were elected to fill seats held by Peter Blum and Tom Thornton.
In response to Roder’s concerns about Manalapan’s process for initiating ordinances, the commission discussed establishing policy for instructing the town attorney to draw ordinances. Attorney Trela White protested that changing the process could mean a lengthy wait in adopting laws that sometimes need to be implemented quickly.
The panel ultimately postponed further discussion until the next meeting, after Commissioner Kelly Gottlieb commented: “Here we are fighting about something we’ve never had a problem with.”
The turtle lighting ordinance — which suggested lowering the test for the height at which light can be seen from the beach from 6 feet to 3 feet — was scheduled for a second reading vote at the April meeting, but was tabled until May 18 after the county Department of Environmental Resources Management raised concerns that “the proposed ordinance will weaken sea turtle protection and result in greater impacts from coastal lighting.”
ERM said the proposed ordinance does not include a building permit review process, includes language that is open-ended and may be difficult to enforce. Further, it said jurisdiction is not clearly defined and it allows for bulb types and wattages that will likely impact sea turtles.
Separately, commissioners approved hiring landscape consultant Roy Rogers for $5,000 to produce a gallery of homes, a book of plantings and utility maps that would aid in planting in swales while still protecting the town’s utility infrastructure.
Commissioners also voted to resubmit their initial offer to town manager candidate Thomas Heck of Reno, Nev., in response to his counteroffer. Commissioner William Bernstein initially negotiated a handshake deal including an annual salary of $123,000, but commissioners back-pedaled at an early April meeting, re-offering $100,000. Heck countered with a proposal that was even higher than the first, including a salary of $127,000. Commission gave him a week to respond, and if he accepts, he would start May 17.