Category Archives: Ryan Fennell

>TRT Chimes In on Monday Night’s Middletown Township Meeting

>In today’s edition of the Diane Gooch owned Two River Times, appears an article written by Ryan Fennell that does a good job at reporting what actually went on durning the Township Committee meeting in Middletown this past Monday night, November 15th.

After being duped by Scharfenberger into believing that he gave up his yearly $4000 stipen as a committee member in January and is now serving as a “volunteer” Mayor after questions arose, when it came to light that Scharfenberger had been appointed to a lucrative position in the Christie administration his last article.
Here Fennell reports, “…The initial controversy developed when a politically conservative local blog revealed shortly after the election that Scharfenberger had been appointed as the director of the Office for Planning Advocacy within the New Jersey Department of State. The office was formerly known as the Office of Smart Growth and fell within the jurisdiction of the Department of Community Affairs.

Scharfenberger was appointed to the position on August 16, and while Scharfenberger claims that his appointment was not kept secret from his constituents or campaign opponents, he also said he did not want to use the news of his appointment to the state position as an advantage for him in the campaign.

“It was made public,” Scharfenberger told The Two River Times™ last week. “It’s just that they (his campaign opponents) didn’t know about it. I’ve been out in front of various groups. It was on the (state) web site.”

No formal announcement was made, Scharfenberger said, because “I didn’t want it to appear as if I was using this position to help my re-election.”

During the Township Committee meeting Monday, Nov. 15, the committee members were asked if they knew about Scharfenberger’s appointment and all but one said that they knew about it….

This is classic Scharfenberger bullshit! If 4 out of the 5 members of theTownship Committee knew about the appointment, why the effort to keep it from the 5th member? It’s obvious that the only functions that Scharfenberger attended and made such an announcement were those that were attended by GOP party loyalists and insiders, otherwise the information of his new job would have become common knowledge around town.
After the meeting was over Fennell questioned Scharfenberger about his statement at the Lincroft Village Green Association’s Candidates Night, where Scharfenberger stated that he had given up his stipend for the year and was acting as a volunteer. It was Middletown resident Don Watson, who initially questioned Scharfenberger over this during public comments, Scharfenberger reaction was to deny he said such a thing and to immediately instruct the Clerk to note for the record that Mr. Watson’s comment was incorrect.
Unfortunately for Mr. Scharfenberger an audio recording of his statement from Candidates Night says otherwise.
When Fennel asked Scharfenberger for and explanation, Fennell reported “…Scharfenberger told The Two River Times™ that he stopped receiving his paychecks in July “more out of concern for the budget.”
More Scharfenberger Bullshit! Did he really think that $153 a week would make a that much of a difference in a budget that was already $5.5M in the hole, can he really say with a straight face that $2,000 would make a difference in a 14% municipal tax increase? I very much doubt it, he gave up his stipend because he knew that he was taking the job within the Christie administration and that the Governor had already reversed his opinion of whether elected official could hold dual offices. According to Christie it is now OK to hold dual offices with in the state as long as those who were elected served to so voluntarily. That is why Scharfenberger gave up his remaining $2000, not out of any concerns over the financial well being of the Township or worries over the budget.
The article goes on to address much of what was brought up that night, much of which is on video and posted here previously on the blog. I recommend reading the article for yourselves this way you can determine if my earlier reporting was inaccurate or biased in anyway.
Scharfenberger is the one that brought this onto himself, all he needed to do was to be honest and show a little integrity when questioned earlier by reporters when asked before the election what his current job position was. Instead he failed/refused to reveal his new position as the Director of Planning Advocacy.

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Filed under candidates night, Gerry Scharfenberger, honesty and integrity, LVGA, Office of Planning Advocacy, Ryan Fennell, Two River Times

TRT:M’Town School Budget Fails…Blah, Blah, Blah

I have to give another well deserved shoutout to Ryan Fennell, the reporter who covers the Middletown beat for the Two River Times. It seems that out of the 3 or 4 reporters that regularly cover the happenings at Middletown Committee meetings he seems to be the only one interested in reporting the whole story, not just the rantings and diatribes of an appointed mayor.

At Monday night’s Committee meeting when the discussion got around to the defeated school budget, he didn’t simply rely on two previously released press releases and a personal letter issued by mayor Scharfenberger over the last 10 days that were written to chastise Middletown teachers and their union into accepting a wage freeze like others have recently done. He actually reported what was said by another member of the Committee that doesn’t happen to sit in the majority, fanning the flames of residents displeasure by attempting to turn this years defeated school budget into a political campaign issue.

Of course he reported what the mayor and deputy-mayor had to say about the teachers, their union, the potential wage freeze and the effect it would have on the Township and school system if enacted, but their comments really just amounted to a rehash of the earlier press releases and letter.

Blah, blah,blah…wage freeze…blah,blah, blah…layoffs…blah, blah, blah…union…blah, blah,blah…pay freezes….blah blah,blah…voter anger at teachers….

Instead of ending his article there, with a one sided, biased, anti-teacher/union spin designed to make the members of the teachers union look bad and glorify the righteousness of the mayor’s attempt to play hardball, he adds the following passage that included the level headed and practical comments by Committeeman Sean Byrnes, who feels that there are more important long term issues that need to be addressed, that would have a much more significant impact to taxpayers if addressed now instead of squabbling over a temporary wage freeze for teachers:

“…Committeeman Sean Byrnes said that he is in favor of the teacher’s union accepting a wage freeze for the coming year, however, does not believe that a wage freeze will solve the problems of the long term.

“Even if we secure a wage freeze, I haven’t seen a recognition that the budgets problems facing the Board of Education and the town are long term and call for significant structural changes to our budgets and to our organizations in town,” Byrnes said. “A wage freeze will help in 2010. It will not solve the budget problems that we have.”
Byrnes said that he is proposing the formation of a budget review advisory committee that would consist of the Township Committee, the Board of Education, and the Library.
The advisory committee would specifically look for ways to consolidate, share services, and approach the town’s obligations from a “one town” perspective.
“I would prefer that we not approach or discuss things with the MTEA in a political manner,” Byrnes said. “I think it makes sense for the Township Committee, with the assistance of the Board of Education members, to have some discussions with the MTEA. But my preference would be that we not have that exchange through press releases. It doesn’t encourage a resolution to do that.”…


Being a parent with two kids that attend school in Middletown and who have learning disabilities, it angers me that Governor Christie lied to voters throughout this state while on the campaign trail, telling them that he supported and valued the state education system only to turn his back on it once elected by slashing over $800M worth of state aid to local school boards and declaring war on the teachers and their union.
It’s unfortunate that Middletown’s ruling party, lead by mayor Scharfenberger and his cronies, have decided to follow in Christie’s footsteps by demonizing teachers instead of looking for long term, common sense solutions on how to deal with rising property tax rates.
Level headiness with a keen eye towards the future is what is needed by elected officials in the state, as well as here in Middletown.
Instead of politicising the school board and the school budget for short term gains and political advantages, Scharfenberger and Co. should listen to Sean Brynes for once. He is the lone voice on the committee with practical budget experience and common sense enough to make proper decisions in regards to restructuring how government operates in Middletown.
He has very valid ideas that should be listened to, not ignored and then taken, like so many are by the mayor and his republican friends.

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Filed under budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Scharfenberger, Middletown, Middletown Board of Education, MTEA, Ryan Fennell, school budgets, Sean F. Byrnes, Two River Times

Middletown Township Still ‘Crunching The Numbers’ As Budget Gap Widens

Excellent article written by Ryan Fennell of the TRT, the kid reports it straight with no spin and consistantly reports on important aspects of the Township Committee meetings without having to resort to press releases issued after the meetings are over.

By Ryan Fennell
The Two River Times

MIDDLETOWN – While no specifics have been released regarding the 2010 budget, the Middletown Township Committee intimated on Monday night that layoffs were imminent in order to bridge the estimated $4 million shortfall in revenue.

The Middletown Township Committee entered this year facing an approximate $4 million shortfall, which Committeeman Sean Byrnes now estimates to be closer to $6 million, in revenue for the 2010 budget. Since that time the Committee has hired a new CFO and consistently pledged to the township’s residents that it was “looking at everything.”

“We are now almost three weeks into April and we know as a Committee that we have a significant shortfall in revenue this year,” Byrnes said. “The news is only getting worse and as of right now I don’t think we’ve really executed on any plans. Our ability to see any kind of savings is hampered by the fact that time is passing.”

Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said that he has been in contact with Governor Chris Christie’s chief of staff and has been assured that legislation is being crafted that would ease the situation for the township.

“He assured me that the ‘mayor’s toolbox’, so to speak, that will allow us to absorb some of these cuts is still in the process of being formulated. We’re hoping this will provide some relief and extensive policy out of Trenton that will allow us to get back on track.” Middletown resident Jim Grenafege was not satisfied with the explanation and challenged the committee to offer concrete solutions or information regarding the budget. “Its just week after week there is nothing concrete happening,” Grenafege said.

He asked that the committee provide numbers associated with proposals that have been offered by the committee that could potential cut the budget.

“We have a relatively new CFO and he’s still crunching the numbers,” Scharfenberger said. “We can’t quantify anything that’s been proposed when I don’t have the numbers to quantify it against. These are sound proposals. There’s no sense speculating.”

Grenafege charged that the committee was speculating with the proposals. “They’re speculation with no numbers associated with it. It’s disingenuous to make these proposals without saying and here’s what we expect to save.”

Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante said that there are concrete things happening regarding the budget. “We’ve discussed a lot of options for saving money. A lot of them are painful. A lot of them are painful to individual people. It wouldn’t be fair to speculate publicly about some of the things happening.” Resident Jeff Blumengold asked why the committee hasn’t at least started cutting the “low hanging fruit.”

Scharfenberger noted that Middletown operates on a workforce of approximately 340 employees which costs the township $872 per person, a low figure for a municipality it’s size.

“There’s not a lot of low hanging fruit,” Scharfenberger said.

Scharfenberger also pointed out that the Township experienced 15 retirements since January and could see as many as 20 by year’s end. Scharfenberger said that these retirements have affected the budget and eliminated areas to cut.

“We had no idea that was going to happen,” Scharfenberger said of the retirements. However, the Committee had expected and even encouraged its employees to retire in May 2009.

On May 18, 2009 the Committee unanimously adopted an ordinance entitled “Early Retirement Incentive for Eligible Township Employees.”

The ordinance encourages employees eligible to retire under the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) with the offer of health benefits upon retirement after 15 years of service with the township, lowered from 20 years of service.

According to the ordinance any employee who is eligible to retire who has 15 years of service shall have the entire cost of health benefits assumed by the Township of Middletown upon retirement. The ordinance has a “sunset provision” that sets December 31, 2010 as the expiration date.

“The process is the problem,” Byrnes said. “There is no process in place to get ahead of the things we’re talking about. We knew it was going to be bad. It’s very, very frustrating. I can’t fathom how we haven’t planned out for the problems we’re facing.”

“Now we will lay off people and those numbers are probably going to be bigger than they needed because we’re starting later than we should have,” Byrnes added.

“The silver lining in all the bad news we’ve been confronting is that people are starting to engage,” Byrnes said. “People seem to be paying more attention to what’s going on. That’s a good thing. Part of the problem of what we’re in now is people didn’t pay attention and that is the key to getting out of the very dire situation we find ourselves in.”

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Filed under budget cuts, Budget Shortfall, Gov. Chris Christie, Jim Grenafege, Mayor Scharfenberger, Middletown, Ryan Fennell, Sean F. Byrnes, Two River Times