The Coastal Star

Manalapan: Proposed turtle ordinance still raising concerns

By Margie Plunkett

Manalapan commissioners welcomed new Town Manager Tom Heck with relief and a rapidly growing to-do list. Heck’s first meeting opened with the mayor’s response to
accusations that he proposed a turtle protection ordinance for personal gain.

Among Heck’s first responsibilities is drafting policy that governs how commissioners initiate ordinances — a policy Commissioner Howard Roder called for at the
April meeting. At the same time, Roder accused Mayor Tom Gerrard of misconduct,
claiming that the mayor acted out of self interest when he proposed a recent
ordinance on turtle lighting.

“People, I did nothing wrong,” said Gerrard at the May 18 meeting, defending himself against the allegations. “I’m acting in my best faith in the interest of the
town. I hope the facts represent that.”

The proposed ordinance would give Manalapan control of regulation of lighting that protects sea turtles, taking it out of Palm Beach County’s hands. Roder
contends the impetus for the ordinance was work on Gerrard’s oceanfront
property, which included lighting and a fire pit. The proposed ordinance has
not been put to a second reading, but passed on first reading with one
dissenting vote, from Commissioner William Bernstein.

The mayor responded to the multiple issues concerning the work on his property that Roder raised, pointing out that the town has never “established a formal
procedure for initiating ordinances” and that the town was absent a manager at
the time he proposed the turtle lighting ordinance.

He also said in his written response that it was while his personal work was under way that he learned of a “new draconian county regulation” that amended
previous turtle protections and asked the town attorney to review whether
Manalapan could opt out of it. The mayor said his property improvements have
obtained all the necessary permits and approvals, awaiting only a final
electrical inspection. Gerrard said he submitted exhibits toTown Hall in his
defense and invited concerned residents to review them.

In the statement sent to commissioners, the mayor said, “I deeply resent having been accused of misconduct for merely recommending the town consider expanding
its home rule authority to include town regulation of coastal lighting. This is
something that I believe is in the best interests of the town.”

After Gerrard’s comments, Bernstein said that while he opposed the turtle protection ordinance, “I thought the way the response to your proposal spun out of control
was most unfortunate and embarrassing.” It suggested a political agenda, he
said, and “created a level of animosity that will be hard to get over. There
are very few people in here with such a pristine record that they could be
throwing stones at people for purported malfeasance.”

Vice Mayor Kelly Gottlieb called for a public apology to the mayor.

Roder, however, said he stood by his facts — there would be no public apology.

Later in the meeting, commissioners voted to have Heck and attorney Trela White draft policy governing how ordinances are initiated. During the meeting,
commissioners discussed the town manager as central to originating ordinances,
with emergency and policy issues possible exceptions to the process.

Heck began work as town manager the week of May 17, a vacancy left when Greg Dunham stepped down late last year. A retired military officer, Heck hails from Reno,
Nev., and has previously worked for El-Dorado County, Calif., as director of
general services; the Interwest Consulting Group in Northern California; city
of Reno as deputy director operations; and University of Southern California as
director of building and grounds. His educational credentials include a masters
of business administration, education specialist degree in human resource
development and a masters in public administration.

Separately, commissioners learned that total contributions for library renovations reached $100,945.

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