FLEMINGTON, NJ - The close of the Flemington council meeting this week became contentious as Councilman Michael Harris called out Mayor Betsy Driver on a controversial issue.
As the vote to pay the borough’s bills began, Harris questioned an invoice for $4,338.30 from Straight Edge Stripping LLC for the “emergency” restriping of Main Street in order to eliminate the blue line that was painted there in 2016 as a tribute to the borough’s police department.
Harris said, “Unlike the photo in the Mayor’s tweet, a private company’s road crew and truck was called in just as you would see for large highway projects.”
He said it cost the taxpayers triple – or over $2,800 more – than what it should have cost for the project.
Harris tried unsuccessfully to get answers from the mayor.
“I was interrupted repeatedly last evening while challenging the Main Street restriping cost,” he said in a separate interview.
The mayor has maintained throughout the controversy – even when other council members voiced concerns about not being part of the decision – that she had the authority to order the restriping without council approval.
At the time, Councilman Chris Runion said he learned about the removal of the blue line on Facebook.
“I’m a little disappointed and frustrated that the decision to remove the blue line didn’t come to the council for a vote,” he said. “This was a particularly controversial move that has upset the community and it reflects on all of us. By not coming to us, you denied us the voice we were elected to provide and indirectly denied our residents of that voice.”
When it happened, Councilwoman Kim Tilly acknowledged that the mayor’s move was divisive. She explained that she heard from more people over that weekend than she ever has before.
“And every one of them wants me to choose a side,” she said. “I either need to support our local police department or support the Black Lives Matter movement. Well guess what, that’s not going to happen. Somehow, we have to come together as a community and find a way to support our Flemington Police Department and the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Driver was able to authorize the restriping to be done without getting two price quotes because, as Harris explained, under state statute a Qualified Purchasing Agent may authorize purchases up to $6,000 without two price quotes. However, he said, it is his interpretation that it should require an emergency and follow the procedures established in a borough’s purchasing manual.
But Flemington, Harris noted, does not have a purchasing manual, nor was the town’s Qualified Purchasing Agent consulted.
“Our DPW manager informed me that he was directed by the mayor at 4:30 p.m. on June 5 to have the restriping done by the following morning,” he said, “with no time for two quotes, without notice to our Qualified Purchasing Agent and certainly without an emergency to warrant the taxpayer expense.”
The mayor continually stated that the restriping did not require an emergency situation to “get rid of an illegal blue line,” but she did not dispute that there was an extra cost based on the urgency of the work. She said Harris’ understanding of municipal budgeting was “woefully inadequate” and used Roberts Rules of Order to shut down the discussion.
Harris cast the only dissenting vote for the Straight Edge Stripping bill.