Council gridlocked with party-line votes

GOP, Dems battle over appointments, meeting rules


Staff Writer

The South River Borough Council’s first meeting as a body split evenly among Republicans and Democrats turned contentious Monday as its members voted on the year’s appointments.

Joining the council for the first time was Republican John Trzeciak, who was sworn in along with Democrat Anthony Razzano at the start of the reorganization meeting, which was held at the South River Middle School.

Democrats had enjoyed a majority on the council for the past 12 years, but Republicans have gained a seat in each of the past two elections, making the council split with three members of each body. However, Mayor Robert Szegeti, a Democrat, is able to break tied votes.

And Szegeti had to do just that on Monday, swinging the votes in his party’s favor after the council voted along party lines on several issues.

Some appointments that require a majority of the council’s consent were left undecided, including votes on the council’s standing committees, which were postponed to the Jan. 22 meeting.

MICHAEL ACKER Top: Anthony Razzano, flanked by wife Linda, is sworn in by Judge Glenn Berman Monday. Above: John Trzeciak takes his oath while wife Amelia looks on. MICHAEL ACKER Top: Anthony Razzano, flanked by wife Linda, is sworn in by Judge Glenn Berman Monday. Above: John Trzeciak takes his oath while wife Amelia looks on. Before any votes were taken at the New Year’s Day meeting, members of both parties expressed their desire to work in a bipartisan manner this year. Szegeti, in his annual address, said that his administration is

committed to putting together a bipartisan plan for downtown redevelopment that will garner the support of the community as a whole.

Democrat David Sliker was re-elected to serve as council president for the year after the council voted in a 3-3 tie on nominations for both Sliker and Republican Councilman John Krenzel to serve as president. Szegeti broke the tie in Sliker’s favor.

The parties also voted along party lines in a tied vote on the adoption of the rules of the council. Republican Councilman Ray Eppinger made a motion to extend the amount of time that each member of the public has to speak during the public portion of meetings from five to 10 minutes. Szegeti broke the tie by defeating the motion. The Democrats then adopted the rules as they were, with the five-minute limit in place.

Eppinger raised concerns about the Democrats’ votes regarding the council subcommittees, which each include three council members focused on specific areas of borough government.

“We do have a divided council here,” Eppinger said. “This does not reflect the reality of the governing body. I would have thought if [the Democrats] wanted to start a bipartisan effort, [they] would have made the committees a little more equitable.”

Eppinger said he provided suggestions to Szegeti in December that would give the Democrats 10 out of the 18 committee seats, while each party would have a majority on half of the six committees.

Szegeti, who wanted to instead give Republicans one seat on each committee, said he was concerned with the lack of meetings called by Krenzel and Eppinger for the committees they sat on last year. He added that Trzeciak would be on three committees, and that Republicans and Democrats would have an equal number of appointments as liaisons to the various boards and groups in the borough.

When the committee vote ended in a tie, Eppinger said that Szegeti could not break it due to a state statute that requires a majority of the council to approve appointments. The council will likely debate the appointments again at the Jan. 22 regular meeting.

Eppinger also called for the council to hold meetings every two weeks, rather than every three weeks as was designated by Szegeti in the 2007 meeting schedule.

“My concern is that we have eight months where there is one regular meeting,” Eppinger said.

Democrat Joanne Dembinski defended Szegeti’s proposal, saying that the schedule gives the council adequate time to complete its business.

The schedule was approved in a vote of 4-2, with Krenzel voting with the Democrats.

“I am not happy with it, but I am going to go along with it,” Krenzel said.

The council voted along party lines on the reappointment of David Stahl as municipal prosecutor, with the Republicans opposing the appointment. Stahl, an attorney, is a Democratic councilman in East Brunswick. Szegeti was not permitted to break the tie on Stahl’s appointment, and the matter was held over.

Eppinger said he was disappointed that Republican Michael Trenga, who lost by one vote to Razzano in the November election, was not chosen for any appointments.

“He worked hard, he ran a great campaign, [he] lost by one vote and he does not show up anywhere [on the list of appointees].”

Szegeti expressed disappointment with the Republicans’ opposition to the appointment of Ted McInerney to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. Szegeti broke the tie vote in McInerney’s favor.

“I don’t know why his name should be removed from the position,” Szegeti said, adding that he does not understand why the Republicans oppose such appointments.

Eppinger told Szegeti that the Republicans will “be a force to be reckoned with” this year.

“We are not voting against volunteers,” Eppinger said, adding that he believes the Republicans are being excluded from the process.

“For all intents and purposes, you ignored us and you have ignored us long enough,” Eppinger said.

The council was also split along party lines on the appointment of the ad hoc Citizens Budget Review Committee. This will also be on the agenda Jan. 22.

Former Democratic Councilwoman Linda Ejk, who received a plaque for her service Monday, said that the Republicans should conceive and execute their own projects and be less critical of the Democrats.

“I would like to challenge Mr. Eppinger and Mr. Krenzel to take on at least one project this year,” said Ejk, who resigned from the council last September.

Sliker said before the close of the meeting that it is a shame the committee appointments were being held over, because the groups won’t be able to get to work until the matter is resolved.

Eppinger said the underlying problem is a lack of equal representation on the council’s standing committees.

“We propose an equal distribution of assignments, which reflect the split on the council,” Eppinger said. “The mayor’s proposal does not.”

Szegeti told the Sentinel that Eppinger held no meetings of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, of which he was a member last year. He added that Krenzel held a meeting of the Environmental Services and Utilities Committee, but did not invite the director of public works.

“If you can’t handle one committee, how can you expect to be in charge of additional committees,” Szegeti asked.

Eppinger told the Sentinel that as chairman of the Economic Development and Planning Committee he had requested that the borough’s redevelopment plan be referred to his committee, but the request was not granted.

“The council voted against that,” Eppinger said, adding “I don’t believe in holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting.”

Szegeti said the council will appoint a new business administrator at the Jan. 8 special meeting, and noted that the council has two candidates for the position at present. Borough Police Chief Wesley Bomba has been serving as acting administrator since Joseph Kunz resigned.

The council is also expected to discuss other unfilled appointments at the Jan. 8 meeting, Szegeti said.