TOMS RIVER – The last public meeting before the primary election got heated as Council members sparred over the town’s development issues.
The Republican Club has endorsed former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato for the June 4 primary. He is being challenged by Councilman Maurice Hill and Councilman Daniel Rodrick. The winner will face off against Democrat Jonathan Petro in November. Current Mayor Thomas Kelaher is not running for re-election.
Arguments broke out regarding Rodrick’s campaign materials. He has asserted that the township has been looking toward allowing development on the former Ciba-Geigy site, and has invited local developer Jack Morris to meet with the owners.
Using his own estimations, Rodrick had said that 6,400 homes could be built on the property if it’s rezoned as mixed use. This estimation came from his math, as there is no set development plan for the property.
When Rodrick first made these claims, Mayor Thomas Kelaher issued a statement that there is not – and never has been – a plan to develop the Ciba property for any purpose. The land is currently zoned for industrial use, and federal and state environmental laws would prevent such development.
Kelaher’s statement to the press said that he would confront Rodrick at the council meeting and demand he identify the source of his information. Kelaher instead decided not to, and didn’t mention it at all, staying out of the squabble.
Rodrick was prepared anyway, bringing a large printout to display it at the front of the room. It showed some of the interactions he’s had with town officials that show that there might not be a plan currently, but the township has put a developer in contact with Ciba’s owners, and that the land would be included in redevelopment.
“I’ve yet to see anything that proves I’m wrong,” he said. “It’s what people care most about and I’m the only one talking about it.”
Hill, who had been a member of the Planning Board, said that there was never a discussion of redeveloping this land.
Councilwoman Laurie Huryk asked for a resolution to call for Rodrick’s apology, and if he doesn’t apologize, to leave the room.
The council voted for this, albeit grudgingly, as some council members clearly didn’t want to get involved in the fight. Township Attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons said that the motion calling for his apology is enough of a statement, but they can’t make him leave.
This is not just a mayoral election but a council one. On the ballot are three council spots. Currently, these council spots are filled by Hill, Brian Kubiel, and George Wittmann, Jr.
Hill’s team is Matt Lotano, a principal in the commercial Lotano Development Corporation; Josh Kopp, a veteran and director of Kopp Electric Company; and former Councilman Kevin Geoghegan, a retired Toms River Police Officer and member of EMS and fire departments.
Rodrick’s team is Ken Londregin, a vice principal in Old Bridge Township, engineer George Lobman, and attorney Justin Lamb.
Also seeking the Republican nomination for council is Heather Barone.
“As a Reagan Republican, I have watched the traditional republican party in Toms River deteriorate under the watchful eye of (former) Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore and for that reason I am running independent of and without seeking their endorsement.”
She is a former elementary school teacher who is one of the principal owners of her family’s financial planning firm. She works for abused and neglected foster children as president of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Ocean County.
“As a member of the Toms River Planning Board I have learned first hand of the debilitating effects that development can have on our environment, schools and infrastructure. I scrutinize each application to ensure that it strictly conforms with current zoning requirements and that it contributes to better, healthier Toms River. On more than one occasion I have been the lone voice of dissent on a governing body that otherwise has been a rubber stamp for development. I believe in a smaller, less intrusive governing body that puts the wants, needs and desires of residents first, always,” she said.
There is no primary competition on the left side of the aisle.
The Democrats are running attorney Jonathan Z. Petro for mayor, and the following for council: Board of Education member and former principal Michele Williams, attorney Karin K. Sage, and teacher Drew Boyle.
“I’ve always been proud to call Toms River home, but I know this township has the potential to once again be a beacon for folks and families to put down their roots,” Petro said. “We can do more, not just on escalating taxes and development missteps, but on improving the quality of life and increasing community engagement. I’m running to make the improvements that haven’t been made, to develop the ideas that have stagnated on the shelf, and to make this town a better place for all of us.”
Democrats won three of four seats on the township council in 2017. However, one of the winners was Rodrick. He had been a Republican, switched to Democrat at some point, and switched back after winning because he was angry with the way Democrat leaders in Trenton were treating Toms River.