WARETOWN, NJ – Like many other communities, Ocean Township held its reorganization meeting on the first day of the new year. The committee of three unanimously chose Ken Baulderstone as mayor, and Lydia Dodd as deputy mayor. In November, voters elected Dr. Ben LoParo to a second three-year term in local government. Serving as the mayor in 2019, LoParo returns to the governing body as a committeeman.
Prior to swearing in the officials, students from Southern Regional High School Junior ROTC’s program provided some pomp and circumstance to the occasion. All rose for their formal posting of the colors and flag salute.
Township Clerk Diane Ambrosio administered the oaths of office to all three members of the committee. The next item on the agenda concerned appointment of the Township Attorney.
Gregory P. McGucken of Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin, Ulaky, Koutsouris & Connors has represented the municipality for more than twenty years. LoParo spoke out against the proposal to replace McGucken with Christopher Dasti, a solo practitioner. Prior to opening his own law office, Dasti worked with McGucken at the firm led by his father.
“Doing the best for everyone in Waretown is the most important thing for me,” LoParo emphasized. “I think that throwing away a 20+ year relationship with an extremely competent attorney who has done nothing but the best for our town is a huge mistake.”
According to LoParo, McGuckin provided legal advice on a number of Township projects from their inception. In furthering his opposition, the now committeeman said, “It’s not personal. It’s business. I just think that performance is more important than politics. Greg’s performance has been stellar for us.”
Neither Baulderstone nor Dodd offered commentary on LoParo’s objections prior to voting on the resolution. The resolution appointing Christopher Dasti as Township Attorney passed 2-1 with affirmative votes from both the mayor and deputy mayor.
During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, Shawn Denning, Jr. expressed his concerns. He prefaced his comments by stating that he was speaking on his own behalf, rather than as a representative of the local Board of Education.
“It seems kind of silly to me to change our litigator when that litigator has demonstrated sound judgment and represented us well,” said Denning. “When the Town Center was going through, he (referring to McGucken), took a rezoning issue all the way to the Supreme Court and won for us.”
“Also, with being a one-party town, it looks shady to me,” Denning continued. “I’m curious as to the “why” behind the change.”
Dodd was visibly offended by Denning’s comment. However, Denning persisted by pointing out that other communities have had problems and needed to change counsel because their attorneys weren’t up to speed.
“I did a lot of the work for Waretown when I was with Greg,” shared Dasti. “As far as the Supreme Court case you just referenced, I’m the one who wrote all the briefs and filed the appeal.”
Dasti said that he is well-versed with the needs of the town. “I don’t think you are going to see any unnecessary time and expense during the transition,” Dasti assured.
According to Baulderstone, the change came about as a result of responses submitted in the conjunction with the RFP (request for proposal) process. “The chosen attorney represented significant savings to the Township,” the mayor said.
LoParo disputed the validity of Baulderstone’s comments. “That’s not true,” he insisted. “The playing field was leveled. Any talk about cost savings is not appropriate.”
As far as the appointment of other professionals within Ocean Township, LoParo opposed naming Morgan Engineering as a special project engineer. The company’s principal owner is Frank Sadeghi, who Frank B. Holman III narrowly defeated as chair of the Ocean County Republican Party.
“He has no experience with this town and currently has no contracts with any municipalities,” said LoParo. “Again, it’s performance over politics.”
No discussion ensued regarding LoParo’s objections and the resolution passed with affirmative votes from Baulderstone and Dodd.
An item was removed from the Consent Agenda pursuant to LoParo’s request. He disagreed with an appointment to the Board of Adjustments. According to the committeeman, the individual has a matter that will go before the Board in 2020. Once again, the mayor and deputy mayor voted in favor of the resolution.
All three committee members delivered their own brand of personal messages to start the new year. They expressed gratitude to all municipal employees and professionals who work for the Township.
Mayor Baulderstone had a special message for local residents, saying, “I want to assure all citizens that the Township Committee will continue striving to do all we can to represent you and to make this town an even better place to live while keeping taxes as low as we can.”