CHATHAM TOWNSHIP – Republicans now control 60 percent of the seats on the township committee – three of five – but that doesn’t mean they got 60 percent of the vote.
A resident – clearly dismayed that the GOP won control of municipal government here last fall – made that point soon after Republican dominance was realized at Thursday’s reorganization meeting. For the record, Republican Mark Lois won the deciding seat on the committee by a mere 25 votes.
The resident’s point was legitimate, but it was also irrelevant.
A win is a win no matter the margin. As any sports fan knows, winning a basketball game by 40 points means the same – record wise – as winning it by one point.
So even with that skimpy victory, Republicans now run the show. And in Morris County political circles, this is big news. Republicans traditionally dominated both Chathams (township and borough) but Democrats recently turned things around. Now, the GOP has regained control of the township by a 3-2 margin and the mayor is Ashley Felice, a woman county Republicans see as a rising star.
“This should not be a contentious meeting,” Felice said soon after getting the gavel. Reorganization meetings are often celebratory affairs.
Not this one.
Outgoing Democratic Mayor Stacey Ewald, who remains on the committee, quickly criticized the new majority for not reappointing “dedicated, hardworking volunteers” to town advisory boards and more specifically, for its plans to name Peter King township attorney.
She argued that the committee failed to solicit proposals for the job and that King is vice-chair of the Morris County Republican Committee, which contributed to Lois’ campaign.
The opposition of Ewald and other Democrats is understandable, but the reality of politics is that appointments are made by the majority.
Furthermore, in virtually every town in New Jersey, the position of municipal attorney goes to a political ally. With that understanding, King’s appointment made sense. Nonetheless, he was named for only 30 days, pending further review.
One procedural change that drew criticism Thursday night – and likely will continue to do so in the months ahead – was limiting public comment at meetings to one session as opposed to two.
“We don’t want meetings going to 11:30 or midnight,” Felice explained.
Curtailing public involvement is always a risky strategy and periodic long meetings go with the job.
Things got chippy quite quickly at the lone public comment period, which unfolded both in township hall and over Zoom. So much so that Felice cut off one speaker who was ranting at the new majority over the airwaves. Another would-be speaker approached the podium a second time, but was not allowed to address the committee again.
And then the meeting ended. It wasn’t even 9 p.m.