TOMS RIVER – A Township Council meeting, where a number of controversial topics were going to be heard, ended abruptly when a member of the public asked an inappropriate question completely off-topic.
The council had a number of important issues to vote on during the January 31 meeting, but one garnered a great deal of public interest. The areas of town on the other side of the Seaside bridge have been asking for ambulance coverage for some time. Mayor Daniel Rodrick’s solution was to hire eight EMS workers to ensure that there is an ambulance dedicated to that area 24/7, 365 days a year. The controversial part was that he was planning on paying for these extra staff by not refilling the positions of two retiring police captains.
Rodrick cited that two salaries could make a total of about $700,000, which would be put toward staffing the ambulances and saving lives. Critics of his plan took issue with his characterization of these captain positions as unnecessary.
The decision was scheduled for the January 31 meeting. There were so many people interested in attending the meeting to comment on it, that Council President Craig Coleman announced that the meeting would be held on Zoom and streamed live on the town’s YouTube channel. Some people watched outside Town Hall on a large screen.
The meeting started a few minutes late, and opened with the council members arguing with each other. They were fighting over how to even run the meeting.
Councilman James Quinlisk made accusations against Rodrick and Councilwoman Lynn O’Toole of being ineligible to be at the meeting due to Local Finance Law, which governs the paperwork involved in elected officials documenting campaign finances. He never explained his concerns.
As officials talked over each other, Rodrick asked that people maintain decorum and only speak when called upon. He asked the IT person to mute anyone who isn’t speaking. There was a question about how to tell if someone has to speak if they are muted.
At one point, Quinlisk held up a sign saying “I am being muted.”
Councilman George Lobman came in late for the meeting and had some technical difficulties getting on.
The council went through the routine matter of accepting the minutes of the previous meeting, but there was much fighting over this, too.
Every time there’s a ordinance that will be finalized, there is an opportunity for the public to comment on it. The very first ordinance up for vote was about changing administrative departments. A member of the public was allowed to speak. He said something extremely offensive and then the meeting shut down. The length of the meeting was about 37 minutes.
There were approximately 500 people watching the YouTube video when the meeting stopped, but 2,000 more watched it after it ended.
Mayor Rodrick spoke to the Asbury Park Press shortly after the meeting. The township Public Information Officer Phil Stilton sent Jersey Shore Online the following statement that was quoted in the press article: “I’m very disappointed that the computer tech did not enforce decorum. It’s outrageous that the clerk ended the meeting without the approval of the council, and without an official vote.”
He then added, “the majority of the town is behind us,” he insisted. He said, “We chose this forum to make sure everybody had an opportunity to speak, and honestly to keep it more about Toms River, so that we didn’t have police officers from all over the state descending on Toms River. We won’t be held hostage by special interest groups and unions.”
It is unclear when these controversial topics will be discussed again. There used to be two council meetings a month. Rodrick and his running mates changed it to only one meeting a month. The next one is currently scheduled for 7 p.m. on February 28.
However, the governing body is able to schedule special meetings at any time as long as they are able to publish the public notice in time.
Jersey Shore Online also sent an email to Stilton after the meeting ended, who responded that he had not yet heard any details about a rescheduled session as of yet.
As soon as we get more information, we will update this story.