Tennis court advocates pack Red Bank council meeting

Staff Writer

RED BANK — Supporters of rebuilding the borough’s red clay tennis courts made their voices heard at the Nov. 9 Borough Council meeting.

With the final verdict for the Marine Park request for proposals (RFP) process pending, residents packed the council chambers in a show of support for the proposal to rebuild the red clay tennis courts.

Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, a vocal supporter of rebuilding the historic courts at the park, urged council members to accept a $500,000 donation from a private citizen to rebuild the courts.

“I really think that these people are here to tell you they’ve been coming to every council meeting and a lot of parks and recreation meetings, [to say that] they want the tennis courts restored,” said Burnham, directing her comments to her fellow council members.

“We have this fabulous gift that Mr. [Jim] Cullen has offered and it’s kind of a no-brainier.”

Three proposals were submitted in April to reinvigorate the area of the deteriorated tennis courts at Marine Park.

One would have the borough accepting Cullen’s half-million-dollar donation to rebuild the courts.

Another, proposed by Jetsun Enterprises entitled Red Bank Harbor, would have a miniature golf course, miniature artificial ice hockey rink, and paddle boat station.

The third, called Red Bank Activity Center would open up the Navesink River to residents.

Council President Kathleen Horgan responded to Burnham’s remarks, stating that the council had to abide by rules agreed upon for the process.

“The question here is understanding the RFP process, and that is what we are dealing with. It’s the legalization of the process, it’s not about who prefers what,” said Horgan.

“We took into consideration public opinion. We had a scoring that had to be fulfilled. Anyone who read the RFP would know that, and Jetsun came out on top, but public opinion was against it.

“According to the law, this is what we have to do. We are just following the law and public opinion.”

Councilman Ed Zipprich concurred with Horgan.

“We followed the rules. We are now rejecting the RFP in accordance with the law and we’ll go from there,” said Zipprich.

During a closed-session July meeting, Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, Zipprich and Horgan scored all three proposals submitted for Marine Park.

The proposals were judged on criteria including inclusive of all residents uniqueness and access to the river.

According to Schwabenbauer, Jetsun Enterprises scored the highest by a wide margin.

“I’m just going to say this because this is my opinion, and in my opinion that RFP was written for Jetsun because nobody could have done what they did,” said Burnham as supporters applauded.

The flaw in the process, according to Schwabenbauer, is that public opinion was not part of the criteria the proposals were judged on.

“That was what the preponderance of commentary that we received in the 83 letters, 12 e-mails, and dozens of phone calls,” said Schwabenbauer, who was asked by Burnham during the council meeting about the public outcry against the Jetsun proposal.

According to Schwabenbauer, it is unlikely that there will be another RFP process.

Burnham also spoke to what she perceived as the lack of transparency surrounding the process.

“I just want this thing to be transparent. It’s been kind of foggy; people don’t know what’s going on. Things are in the newspaper, and everybody is like, ‘What, what’s going on?’ ”

Schwabenbauer responded, “I think 83 people knew the process well enough to send us a letter. I think a lot of people called us and sent us e-mails and understood that what we were trying to do was get as much input from the public as we could, and we’re listening to them.”

Horgan also responded to Burnham’s claim of the lack of transparency regarding the process.

“We’ve been very open about this process, and I do take umbrage with the comment that we might have been doing things foggily,” Horgan said. “We have not.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting Donald Pepe, representing the Red Bank Clay Tennis Courts Association, a nonprofit formed to oversee the courts, addressed the council.

“We wait anxiously for the adoption of the resolution to do away with all of the proposals. However, I still don’t know, and I think one of the burning questions for my group is, what does that mean for the tennis courts,” asked Pepe.

“I do believe that the city already has a process in place where they are obligated to maintain, when funds are available, the recreation facilities. I don’t know why you can’t work a public/private partnership. The money is there to fix these courts.”

According to Pepe, there would be no need for an RFP process or a vote by the borough council to undertake the project.

“The recreation committee could simply work with the group that has been maintaining them for 25 years that is in place to provide the money to fix the courts,” said Pepe, who offered to speak with the council privately to further discuss the matter.

Mayor Pasquale Menna thanked him for addressing the council.

According to Menna, the council is slated to vote on a final decision to scrap the RFP process at the Nov 23 borough council meeting.

“I have said since time immemorial, that the council would take no ambush action on this. It’s too important a decision to make,” Menna said.

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