BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Bridgewater Township won’t be getting a grant regarding the creative arts in town. 

The township council deadlocked on a vote on a grant resolution. According to the council agenda, the measure would have potentially created a storytelling trail around the perimeter of the Bridgewater branch of the Somerset County Library, and would have also strategically placed painted “Hearts of Bridgewater” heart-shaped sculptures at the Regional Center. The grant itself, for $15,000, would have been supplied by the 2018 Regional Center Partnership Challenge Grant Program.

Council vice-president Matthew Moench had to recuse himself from discussion and voting on the resolution, as his wife, Stephanie, is chair of the Bridgewater’s Creative Arts Committee. Stephanie Moench addressed the council during the public portion of the meeting, before the resolution itself was discussed.

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“We’re carefully considering every aspect of the grant with the Regional Center,” she told the council. 

She added that the “Hearts of Bridgewater” project would involve the installation of a dozen heart sculptures throughout the Regional Center. 

Moench also said she had spoken with township administrator James Naples, regarding a collaboration. She recalled how Mayor Dan Hayes had said earlier that Bridgewater led the state “in economic growth," and said she would like to see it lead in compassion/love as well.

Councilman Filipe Pedroso praised Moench for taking charge of what he said had been a “dead” committee, and added that she had put a lot of work into it. Naples confirmed publicly that he had met with Moench to discuss the initiative that was supported by the Creative Arts Committee.

Pedroso later said he had reviewed the resolution, and again thanked Moench for her efforts. He also said he was leaning toward a proposal submitted by the committee, which he believed fulfilled the purpose more objectively, and also encouraged tourism of Bridgewater.

Concerning the potential display of artists’ works in public outdoors, Pedroso said that artists are traditionally very protective of their work, and that there needs to be adequate protection from the elements.

Pedroso moved to approve the resolution as submitted by the Creative Arts Committee — but Naples countered that that resolution was not the one listed on the agenda. 

Councilman Howard Norgalis said he had seen the resolution that included the library, and explained he was “unenthusiastic” about the walkway.  He also said he was concerned about safety, that the resolution was shovel-ready and that he would support an entire substitution with just the Hearts of Bridgewater project.

Deputy township attorney Chris Corsini said the council would then have to amend the current resolution, while Naples said the administration would not accept a new resolution. 

Pedroso made a motion to amend the resolution for a full $15,000 just for the Hearts of Bridgewater. He also argued with Naples on several occasions during the meeting, citing that Naples interrupting him was becoming a pattern, while Naples said he was trying to give the council the correct information.

“I can’t begin to tell you my level of disappointment in the council tonight,” said council president Christine Henderson Rose. “The animosity from both sides is of grave concern to me.”

She said she would like to see a compromise on the resolution, and added that the council does not have the authority to override the administration on resolutions.

“We’re stuck in this battle, administration versus council, and I’m getting tired of it,” said Rose. “We’re supposed to be on the same ship.”

The final vote was 2-2, with only Pedroso and Norgalis voting in favor, and so the resolution did not carry.

Concerning the original resolution, Norgalis reiterated that he had not liked the library project component. 

Rose said she had absolutely loved the Hearts project, and felt it could have been expanded in many ways, until the votes were cast.

“It’s short-sighted,” she said.

Pedroso pointed out that Rose had voted against the measure, while she responded that she in fact did care about the Creative Arts Committee.

“I think they would like to have the project, period,” Pedroso said.

Rose said the town administration would not support the project, and that the council could not make implementations on its own, and also could not force the administration do something. She also added that the council seemed to be “loving conflict.”

Pedroso said the administration couldn’t simply ignore a resolution, while Naples added that there was no veto of a resolution.

Councilman Allen Kurdyla, who also voted against the measure, recommended that the committee embrace two projects instead—one around the library, and the other with the aforementioned heart sculptures. He also spoke of how the council had voted down the Parks Board the previous month regarding new signage, and said he hadn’t supported the art grants resolution because one part was being tossed out. 

Kurdyla said he didn’t know how the project would move forward, but added he “didn’t like the direction (the council was) heading.”