Reorg. appointments stir controversy

BY DAN HOWLEY
Staff Writer

 Councilman Dennis Connelly Councilman Dennis Connelly Council votes party lines on boro engineer, attorney

EATONTOWN — The Borough Council voted to appoint both a new borough attorney and new engineering firm to represent the municipality in 2011.

The council acted on Jan. 2 during the annual municipal reorganization meeting.

Both appointments requiredMayor Gerald Tarantolo to cast a tie-breaking vote, after the council, which is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, deadlocked 3-3, with Republicans voting against the appointments.

As a result, attorney Gene Anthony will replace Andrew Bayer as borough attorney, while T&MAssociates will replace Birdsall Engineering as the borough’s engineering firm.

The appointments were suggested to the council by Tarantolo.

Both Anthony, a former Democratic councilman, and T&Mpreviously served as borough attorney and borough engineer, respectively, prior to Bayer and Birdsall’s appointments to the positions during 2009’s reorganization meeting.

 Mayor Gerald Tarantolo Mayor Gerald Tarantolo It was at that time that council Democrats lost control of the dais to borough Republicans.

That year, Anthony did not submit an application to be reappointed as the attorney. Birdsall was chosen because the firmoffered a lower fee and it is located in the borough, council members said at the time.

In November’s elections, the Democrats regained control of the council, winning two seats, bringing the political balance to its current three-to-three configuration. Tarantolo, a Democrat, votes in cases of a deadlock.

Prior to voting on the appointments, Councilman Dennis Connelly questioned Tarantolo’s decision to replace Bayer, who Connelly said offered a lower price thanAnthony, and Birdsall, which offered the same price as T&M.

Connelly specifically questioned the manner in which Anthony, who also serves as Shrewsbury Township’s attorney, handled an interlocal services agreement between Eatontown and the township.

The agreement saw Shrewsbury pay Eatontown to provide the township with fire, first aid and court services. The borough also collected a portion of Shrewsbury court fees.

However, the agreement, Connelly said, was brought to an end in 2009 when Shrewsbury sought to pull its court services out of Eatontown and instead only receive fire and first aid from the borough, thus eliminating the sole revenue-generating service of the three for the borough.

At that point, the council chose to end the agreement.

“The mayor of Shrewsbury Township and Mr. Gene Anthony then made a failed attempt in the media to make Eatontown out to be the bad guys after the residents of Shrewsbury Township were left without fire and first aid services in place,” Connelly said. C onnelly also questioned whether appointing Anthony would violate the borough’s pay-to-play ordinance.

According to Connelly, Anthony made an in-kind contribution of $299 in the form of a fundraiser to Tarantolo’s 2010 campaign.

Under the borough’s pay-to-play ordinance, individuals and companies can make a $300 contribution to borough politicians and still be legally eligible for appointment.

“How did the mayor’s campaign value the fundraiser at $299 … $1 under the payto play limitation?” Connelly asked.

Connelly further pressed the issue, stating that Anthony’s mother, Meda Anthony, contributed $1,300 to Tarantolo’s campaign.

“When taken together, Mr. Anthony, through his mother, actually made a donation in the total amount of $1,599.”

Tarantolo countered Connelly’s claims, stating that all of the donations made to his campaign were properly reported to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).

“I think Gene Anthony, as our borough attorney, has done an outstanding job in the past and he will continue to do an outstanding job in the future,” Tarantolo said.

“He understands local government, and I appointed him because I am putting back together the team that was very successful in a lot of the good things that have happened in Eatontown over the last 12 years.

“I supported GeneAnthony. [Connelly] claims that we misstated [Anthony’s] contribution to my campaign. That’s totally false,” Tarantolo said.

“We reported everything to

ELEC in accordance with the law and the pay-to-play law,” he said. “It’s all on record, and I challenge [Connelly] that if he is unsatisfied with that, that he should take legal action.

“I feel confident that our reporting of the campaign contributions was totally accurate, and I stand by that,” Tarantolo said. “If he knows otherwise, then he better define it and take whatever legal action he feels is necessary to make his point.”

In addition to Anthony, Connelly criticized the suggested appointment of T&Mas borough engineer.

As borough engineer, T&M was involved in the development of a plan for the controversial former Husky Brook Park plan.

As a result of errors made in designing the park project, the borough sued T&M, eventually settling on an agreement that had the borough pay for services rendered and the firm reimbursing the municipality some $100,000.

According to Tarantolo, the appointment of T&Mwas made because of the firm’s history with the borough.

“T&Mhas served the borough of Eatontown for 43 years,” he said. “They understand every aspect, every nook and cranny of the town.

They have been instrumental in a lot of excellent top-notch engineering for the town during that period of time. They were, I think, unjustly treated with the situation that resulted from the Husky Brook Park,” Tarantolo said.

“There is really more to it than the public was aware of. I was very deeply involved in the whole process, and the way T&M was treated I thought was improper and unfair.

“I am bringing them back to do the engineering function because I feel that 43 years of service is a benefit to the borough and one incident doesn’t make, in my opinion, the justification for relieving them of their responsibility to the borough,” he said.F or his part, Tarantolo said the controversy over the appointments was political.

“A lot of this is politically motivated. I understand that,” he said. “I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the political ramifications of what we are involved with. But it was my decision to recommend them to council for appointment as the borough engineer.”

Contact Daniel Howley at dhowley@gmnews.com.