To the Editor:

As those who joined know, the Chatham Township Committee zoom “meeting” that was held this past Thursday night was nothing short of painful. We, the residents, who were told in advance by Mayor Kelly that this was our opportunity to be heard, were forced to sit in front of our computer screens for five hours as the Mayor selectively chose which of us were allowed to speak and when, as well as if and when those he allowed a turn should be muted or refused a second turn.

Even worse, residents—many of whom at this point know more about these matters than half of the Committee—were forced to listen to Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness repeatedly twist our comments and the facts without the ability to so much as make a “huff” to express disagreement or to otherwise communicate with our fellow residents during or after the meeting to correct the blatant falsehoods that the Committee seems insistent on spewing.

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When we expressed to Mayor Kelly that he might consider being more lenient about his (inconsistently applied) time limits and/or “ordering” rules given the inequities posed by his chosen forum, he (after muting the caller) simply stated that “rules are rules” and that the rules here are the same as for in-person meetings, once again completely disregarding our valid frustrations and refusing to acknowledge that, unlike with in-person meetings, he has denied us our right to assemble. How convenient for Mayor Kelly, who has now managed to infuriate residents all over town, to be able to prevent us from “calling him out” or assembling to protest his unpopular agenda and illogical rationales. For a person who is not prone to exaggeration, I must admit that I found myself muttering “King Kelly” to my husband throughout the meeting on multiple occasions.

In fact, the arrogance with which the Committee members presented themselves on Thursday night on pretty much all things was shocking, even to those of us who already know the significant shortcomings of this Committee. Instead of acknowledging that we residents are also intelligent and have a breadth of experiences in some areas that the Committee is lacking, and therefore using the opportunity to speak to us as a potential learning opportunity, the Committee and their advisors, insisted on repeatedly insulting our intelligence by wasting our allocated five (or, if you are Mark Hamilton, make that four) minutes to repeat the same defensive messages that we have heard them repeat over and over again now for months (if I have to hear Mayor Kelly tell us to google another town with a completely different set of facts than ours one more time . . . ).  

While giving lip service to our opportunity to be heard, Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness made clear that nothing we say will at all shift their course of action or thinking and that their entire approach to these “meetings” that they have planned “for us” will be to defend themselves politically. When asked, for example, if they are continuing to look for alternatives to the completely unsuitable River Road affordable housing site in light of the fact that distressed commercial property owners may now be looking for opportunities to sell due to difficult economic conditions, Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness (who I remind you were prepared to condemn an elderly woman’s home just two short months ago) somehow confusingly (though politically) misconstrued the question to falsely suggest that it was prodding them to take advantage of small businesses.

It is still unclear to me how a suggestion to consider offering to purchase commercial property for affordable housing in a sensible location is so objectionable to a Committee that is planning to purchase residential properties for such purpose in less ideal locations all over town. When similarly informed that it struck River Road residents as “tone deaf” to hear a Committee member who has not said one word about the placement of a 62-unit affordable housing structure in Carmela Sagendorf’s backyard suddenly speak up for the first time in months to ensure that a power-line pole proposed to be placed in her yard be moved out of her sight and off of her property, Mayor Kelly, in a display that ironically proved the point about just how “tone deaf” this Committee really is, somehow insinuated that the comparison was not-on-point.

For a Committee that has proven completely inept and unwilling to put any hard thinking or legwork into solving our Township’s most challenging problems, Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness have clearly put a lot of time and effort into coming up with new and creative ways to avoid the legitimate questions and concerns of the residents that elected them.  Has this Committee forgotten that their duty is to represent us and not to proceed ahead with their own agenda at all costs? If Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness focused a quarter of the effort that they directed towards arguing with residents into coming up with an actual appropriate solution for the fulfillment of our affordable housing obligations I have to assume we might actually come out in a pretty decent place . . . .

As I reflected yesterday on the last six months of our attempting to talk sense into a Committee that seems to refuse to even contemplate listening, one thing became certain in my mind and was more clear on Thursday night than ever: Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness need to go. Listening to the two of them repeatedly and arrogantly spin facts into scare tactics and talk down to us has proven just how little they care about actually taking our concerns into consideration (have they even done any research into the substantive concerns that we have been raising for months now because, if so, they haven’t bothered to tell us).

Without the two of them on the Committee, I have to assume that the others, like Stacey Ewald and Celeste Fondaco, who at least seem to have a conscious and an interest in “doing the right thing” (though perhaps not yet the tenacity to stand up to their more senior counterparts), might stand a fighting chance to see the errors of the current Committee’s ways and re-think the entire approach to government that Mayor Kelly and Deputy Mayor Ness are barreling forward with. While more than anyone, I had hoped that we, as reasonable, rational people, could work with the people we elected, it is increasingly apparent that the only way to solve the problems that they have now created is to remove them. Thankfully, that time will come for Mayor Kelly at the Republican primary this July.  For Deputy Mayor Ness the time won’t come soon enough. 

Needless to say, the Ferritos fully and enthusiastically support Ashley Felice and Mark Hamilton for Chatham Township Committee in the upcoming July primary and November election.

Jacquelyn Ferrito

Chatham Township