An annual meeting of township government that is normally ceremonial in nature turned controversial Sunday, as township council members formally called upon Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis to put off signing two contracts that would move forward the Traders Cove Marina redevelopment project.
Minutes after four new council members, all Democrats, were sworn into office, Council President John Ducey asked for a motion to request that Acropolis, a Republican, refrain from signing the Traders Cove contracts, which were by the former council.
Councilwoman Susan Lydecker made the motion, and it passed unanimously, including votes in the affirmative from Councilmen Domenick Brando and Dan Toth, both Republicans.
The contracts, worth $3.6 million, include the final steps in turning the former marina into a public park as well as the construction of a spray park that township officials hope will generate revenue. Ducey said he was upset that the contracts were approved on the final day of the former council's tenure at a meeting that took place at 10 a.m., when some residents may not have been able to attend and express their views on the plan.
Business Administrator Scott Pezarras said the mayor – who was not present at the meeting – had not yet sign the contracts, and township Purchasing Agent Richard MacDonald confirmed the contracts had not been formally drawn up.
"If the contracts are not signed, they are not binding contracts," said Ducey.
The next meeting of the township council will be held Tuesday night, but conceivably, the contracts could be drawn up and signed before that time. That possibility prompted some in the audience to call on the council to formally rescind the vote of the previous council, but township attorney Jean Cipriani said that decision would come with some risks.
"If you rescind, there may be a basis for challenge, because it was a sealed bid process," Ciprinai said, cautioning council members that under state law, certain bidders' rights vest after a public vote.
"Rather than going the whole route of rescinding and opening up the township to lawsuits, it would be better if the mayor just didn't sign them," said Ducey.
Last week, township officials said funding for the two contracts had been set aside in 2010 under that year's capital budget. Pezarras has said that construction at the site must be started soon or it will remain a "dirt pile" for another year, as environmental regulations surrounding winter flounder migrations force a tight construction schedule. The park, assuming the latest contracts were executed, was set to be open in mid-summer 2012.
Cipriani said she would provide a memorandum to council members on their options on Monday. Ducey said the council would take up the issue again at the Tuesday meeting.