Veto Override Fails In Brick Restructuring Vote
Councilman forced to abstain after legal opinion
An attempt to veto Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis' veto of a controversial ordinance that sought to restructure Brick's municipal government failed Tuesday night.
A pair of ordinances that made up the restructuring both passed in 4-3 votes last month, but a supermajority of five votes was required for the override resolution to be passed by the township council.
Though one of the three council members who voted against the ordinances last month – Councilman Bob Moore – switched sides and voted in favor of the override, Councilman Dan Toth was forced to abstain after Acropolis delivered a lengthy legal opinion from a conflict attorney advising Toth against voting on the measure.
The lack of Toth's vote meant a supermajority of council members voting in favor of the override was not achieved.
The ordinances have proven controversial, with opposing views on whether they would save money or cost money. Council President John Ducey said the restructuring was "simple math," eliminating several positions and adding fewer new ones, which would save $418,000. But administration officials said when factoring in bumping rights and employee benefits, the move could have cost $130,000.
But the biggest surprise of Tuesday night's vote was Toth's abstention, which came after the entire council, plus the mayor and township attorney, held a closed-door executive session meeting after Acropolis revealed a legal opinion rendered by Toms River attorney Robert C. Shea.
Shea, a conflict attorney for Brick, rendered the opinion that Toth should not vote on the matter because of allegations by the mayor that he lobbied the township building department to expedite permits for businesses in town – Joe Canal's and Tenali Wines – that eventually became his clients.
The six page opinion, of which Brick Patch obtained a copy, contends Toth may have violated state ethics laws and the matter should be referred to the state Local Finance Board as well as the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. The document also states Toth should "recuse himself with regard to any issues relative to the land use department, the building department or certainly any issues involving the employment of [name redacted], or for that matter, any of the employees of the building department and/or the land use department."
The redacted name in the document is presumably that of building department head and deputy township administrator Juan Bellu, whose job would have been eliminated in the restructuring process.
Toth, after returning from the executive session, said he decided to abstain from the override vote "based on an opinion that was drafted today by a local attorney."
He also said his abstention went beyond the potential conflict issue.
"Some things aren't worth the fight," said Toth. "I just don't think it's worth putting the township through any financial problems."
Earlier in the meeting, township attorney Jean Cipriani said future disputes over the restructuring could have been decided by an Ocean County Superior Court judge.
Moore did not explain his reasoning behind switching sides during the meeting.
The failure of the override vote visibly angered Councilman Jim Fozman, who expressed his displeasure with the outcome.
"People are arguing about cutting and saving money," he said. "It's ridiculous."
Ducey, who spearheaded the override effort, was also upset with the outcome.
"We're up here trying to save money," he said. "He's over there trying to spend money," he said, referring to Acropolis.
"We'll look at other ways to save money and we'll come up with other ideas," Ducey said.
Toth said near the end of the meeting that Shea's legal opinion accused him of "everything except kidnapping the Lindbergh baby," and that he has helped "hundreds" of constituents navigate the red tape of municipal government.
"No matter what the mayor says, I will always be here to help any constituent," said Toth.
With the override resolution failing, the restructuring issue is effectively dead.