NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – The comments and accusations made at the Feb. 12 meeting have created turmoil among the New Providence community at large. Many residents have taken to social media so as to vent their frustration and disappointment regarding the council’s decision to “squeeze” Mayor Al Morgan out of the committee meetings which he has been attending on a regular basis.
At the Feb. 26 meeting Morgan called on each side to “show respect” for each other. This is the way it has always been in New Providence and this is the way it is going to be, Morgan said. During the public comments session residents had a chance to ask questions and provide feedback regarding the ongoing discussion.
At the Feb. 12 meeting, the council approved a resolution to have up to three council members attend committee meetings. In the past, Morgan had the opportunity to attend those meeting as an ex-officio member along with up to two council members. The so called Sunshine Law prohibits more than three members of the governing body to be in attendance at a committee meeting, therefore the new resolution effectively “squeezed” the mayor out.
However, at the Feb. 26 meeting, Morgan announced that the governing body will be “revisiting the bylaws” and working to resolve this issue in a cordial manner.
Nonetheless, Morgan said he was taken aback and hurt by some words uttered against himself and his wife at the previous meeting. He noted that he has been in office for over 15 year and has “never had a problem with anybody.” Morgan read the following written statement:
“Unwarranted accusations were made at our last council meeting. I have looked into them and would like to make a brief statement.
For the record, there are no formal complaints, no charges or filed charges against me, against any member of my family, nor against the office of the Mayor. There are no lawsuits and there are no litigations.
The banner referenced was confirmed to have been authorized by then Director of Community Activities herself, not my wife. In fact, every single event, activity, or involvement that any of my family members have worked on in our community, have been because we were specifically asked, and invited to do so.
What was done to our community, to our way of governance, to my family, and to me, was wrong and not in the best interest of our community. I serve at the pleasure of our community, and will continue to serve our community to the absolute best of my ability and in the best interest of our community.”
Morgan’s statement was applauded by residents, many of whom came to the meeting to show support for the mayor. In fact, the meeting was so packed that some of the residents were forced to stay outside the meeting room due to lack of available seats.
“I had to get this off my chest. Now, let’s put this behind us,” Morgan said. This is New Providence where we “work together” with each other to make this the best community there is, he added. We bring organizations and people together and “that is why this community is so successful.” “This is what we do, it is not about fighting – we’ve got to come together as a community and do what is best for our residents. I will strive to do that, and I am sure the council will also," Morgan concluded.
Sunil Abrol, Head of the Diversity Committee, offered a prayer for America as “we need it for many reasons.” He referred to some ill feelings and heated discussion expressed at the last council meeting that has had “a ripple effect” on the community. He noted that some committee members are feeling an increased level of anxiety and it may affect the committee’s ability to recruit more volunteers.
Morgan noted that committees do not have to worry about anything. We are working on the issue and “do treasure” volunteerism. We are looking to make things easier for volunteers, not harder, Morgan said.
Councilman Robert Robinson explained that it might be difficult to see friends disagree. He noted that the council doesn’t “want to block the mayor” from the Diversity Committee, although, based on the last meeting, that seemed to be the case. Many people had asked Robinson about what really happened during the past few weeks. “It is like when parents fight,” you want to know what “the truth” is, he said. “Our job is to lead,” and as a member of the council I want to apologize for any hurt feelings. Good things could come out of this, he said.
“I understand that there can be differences of opinions,” and I appreciate the work the council does, Abrol said.
Borough resident Keith Doll encouraged people to come to the meetings or to watch meeting videos at home. However, he noted that at times when residents voice their opinions they are being intimidated or met with “push back” when their opinion differs from that of the council. “Healthy back and forth is not calling someone a schmuck or a moron,” he said. It is the person’s right to participate in what is going on in the community. “It needs to be a two-way street,” he said. Another resident, Peggy McHugh Hagen expressed a similar sentiment.
Borough resident Tara Murphy said “it was torture” to watch the last meeting video. “I look to you guys for direction,” you are the leaders! She said and whispered her suggestion that if council members do have a disagreement on an issue or with one another, they should keep it behind closed doors.
Councilman Michael Gennaro disagreed and noted that the public should know about any disagreement the council members have and all issues should be discussed openly in a public meeting. “I think it is wonderful to see this many people at the meetings,” he stated. “People have too much trust in government. -- We work for you and you need to question everything we do -- because it makes us better -- the more you get involved, the more questions you ask, the more interaction you have with this council at public meetings on TV, holds this council to a higher level, it holds the mayor to a higher level of behavior. We get complacent easily when people don't show up to meetings. We think nobody cares -- worse yet, maybe we can do things that we might not want to get out to the public," said Gennaro. "To me, being an elected official means honesty, integrity and telling the truth. It means, if you have issues, the best thing you should do is air them in public. -- You should know as much about what is going on in the town as we do."
Gennaro continued to state, "I don't have a problem with any of the statements that were made at last meeting." He asked Borough Administrator Doug Marvin if he heard anything that was inaccurate at the last meeting, and Marvin answered "no."
Gennaro asked Marvin to explain the banner incident involving Christine Morgan after a resident asked for clarification. Marvin walked through his recollection of the banners that were ordered by Mrs. Morgan and said the paper trail did not show that proper protocol was followed. Former Director of Community Activities Tzu-Lin Toner also attended the meeting and recounted the banner purchase situation which started the controversy. Toner noted that she had indeed authorized the purchase of the banner. Christine Morgan ordered the banner, but no one had explained to her the proper purchase protocol, according Toner. Also there was a miscommunication between Toner and the borough administration regarding which budget should cover the banner’s cost. She said, "if you want to blame anyone, you can blame me for not explaining the purchase order process, but then I thought it was coming from your office."