Republicans take control of Howell’s government

Republicans take control
of Howell’s government

HOWELL — The new Republican majority on the Township Council wasted no time in asserting its newly acquired power.

Following their swearing-in on New Year’s Day, GOP councilmen Juan Malave, Joseph DiBella and Peter Tobasco joined Republican Councilwoman Cindy Scho-maker in eliminating two past staples of council meetings: the presence of police officers who escorted from the meetings citizens determined by Mayor Timothy J. Konopka to be disruptive, and the three-minute time limit imposed on citizens addressing council members at public meetings.

Konopka, who alone opposed the two measures, said doing so would open the meetings to "filibusters."

Konopka, who is now the only Democrat on the governing body, said the three-minute time limit was a tool used by hundreds of municipalities to control meetings. He also said the police presence was necessary to "preserve decorum."

Disagreeing, DiBella, in his inaugural speech said, "There is no time limit on democracy or free speech. This room will be the people’s room." He went on to say the new council will encourage "spirited and passionate debate."

Konopka said eliminating a method of control at public meetings was a mistake.

"Believe me, there are definitely people in Howell who could easily take up one hour," the mayor said.

Tobasco said he understood the mayor’s concerns. He went on to say he "acknowledges that citizens speak at the discretion of the mayor" and vowed to assist Konopka in preventing filibusters.

DiBella said the new council would work to advance what he called a "culture of decency and diplomacy."

The GOP majority, with only Konopka objecting, also voted to hold a third monthly meeting of the council. The third meeting will be scheduled solely to address citizen concerns and/or complaints.

To this move, Konopka said that "if only as a courtesy," the matter of adding a third meeting to the council’s schedule was something that should have been discussed with him before a vote was taken. He said a workshop discussion of major changes was the "proper way to do these things."

Konopka went down fighting at the reorganization meeting in trying to keep personally chosen appointees such as Tom Sheehan as municipal planner on board, only to hear all his committee appointees vetoed.

The council, with the exception of Schomaker, did vote to reappoint original Konopka appointee Barry Lefkowitz to his position as Howell’s economic development consultant.

A new township attorney was also appointed as Thomas G. Gannon took over the position previously held by Richard Schibell.

Attorney James W. Holzapfel was appointed municipal public defender while attorneys Allen S. Kaplan and David Bookbinder were appointed municipal prosecutor and alternate prosecutor.

Richard Maser was appointed to replace Birdsall Engineering as township engineer.

Finally, Konopka was appointed by the GOP majority as the governing body’s liaison to the local assistance board, which assists displaced, indigent residents. DiBella said the appointment was being made to take advantage of Konopka’s experience. Speaking after the reorganization meeting, Konopka told the Tri-Town News he hoped that any future decisions made by the GOP majority would first be discussed with him.

"The new councilmen need to remember I, too, was elected by the people to the position I hold and that this is a democratic government of five, not a military junta of three," he said. Also speaking after the meeting, Tobasco told the Tri-Town News that he and his fellow Republican council members were looking forward to working with Konopka in a "spirit of cooperation and remembering we all came into this in order to work to better our community."

In his inaugural speech, Tobasco promised to keep an open mind saying, "No party loyalty will misguide me." He then went on to outline an agenda that closely echoed the sentiments expressed by the other new council members. However, Tobasco was the only one to advance the town’s engagement of an interlocal service agreement with Howell’s K-8 Board of Education in order to reduce purchase costs by both parties that are paid with tax dollars. All three new councilmen took turns outlining their personal goals for the offices they now held. Malave, who was joined by family members who had traveled to New Jersey for the ceremonies from Puerto Rico and Ecuador, named three main objectives. He said they were stabilizing taxes, open space preservation and enhancing "much needed recreation."

Speaking of recreation, DiBella promised the township would build a recreation center.

"It will happen on our watch," DiBella said, adding that it will be accomplished through corporate donations and not tax dollars. He went on to say, "Economic development will be the cornerstone of what we do" and promised that Route 9 and Route 33 will be "revitalized with good ratables."

DiBella said he would also be taking a hard look at recouping uncollected taxes owed the township, as well as conducting a comprehensive review of the municipal budget. To that end, the council members approved a hiring freeze that they explained would be for a limited time and allow them to more closely examine the budget before hiring any new personnel. The police department was excepted from the directive.

DiBella also announced the council’s plan to explore the possibility of instituting a garbage pickup that would be included in a property owner’s municipal taxes. He said he was not talking about the township "getting into the garbage business," but was instead suggesting trying to arrange a bulk discount pickup rate with area haulers.

To that end a resolution was passed calling for the formation of a garbage hauling feasibility study committee whose members are to be appointed at a later date. Another committee formed by resolution was a blue ribbon volunteer committee whose mandate, DiBella explained, will be to explore the possibility of township volunteers being able to participate in the state’s pension program. Two other committees were also formed; the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, of which Sharon Carpenter-Migliaccio was made chairwoman. Carpenter-Migliaccio has been active in an organization calling itself Residents Against Irresponsible Development as it fights a developer’s application to build an apartment complex known as The Fountains. Along with that was the formation of a Broadcast Media Advisory Committee that has been organized to press for the fulfillment of Howell’s contracted cable television agreement with Cablevision.