Category Archives: Tony Mercantante

Swim Club Won’t Be Operated By Township In 2012

Rumors have been circulating for a number of weeks now concerning the future of the Middletown Swim Club.

Some have said that the Swim Club was in the process of being sold to a developer who would be building townhouse on site and another said that the Swim Club was to be leased to a third party that would install an olympic sized swimming pool and an ice rink. No rumor that I am aware of mentioned that the facility would be closed completely for 2012.

Notice however, the small glimmer of hope offered by Township Aministrator Tony Mercantante, who stated in the press release that, “We are, however, looking at options that would allow the club to re-open with a different operator…”, which seem to confirm the one of the rumors listed above.

Below is the announcement posted on the Middletown Township website concerning the closing of the Middletown Swim Club:

The Middletown Swim and Tennis Club will not be operated by the Township in 2012 as program fees have not covered its operating budget in recent years. Accordingly, Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante is recommending that the facility remain closed for the 2012 season, unless another entity can soon be identified to operate the club.

“Unfortunately, rising costs, declining membership, declining revenues, an aging facility, and staff reductions mean that it is no longer economically viable for the Township to continue to operate the facility,” Mercantante said. “The Township has been obligated to cover revenue shortfalls from its regular operating budget,” Mercantante explained, “and it cannot afford to do so any longer.”

“It is unrealistic to expect the Township Committee to ask taxpayers to help support a membership-driven facility, hoping that it will become self-sustaining again,” Mayor Tony Fiore continued.

The Township purchased the 10-acre aquatic facility from a private owner in 1997 for $1.225 million. The facility, located at the corner of Harmony and Old Country Road, has 4 swimming pools, 55 cabanas, 330 bathhouses, five tennis courts, a playground, snack bar and basketball, shuffleboard, bocce and handball courts.

The club, which is funded through membership and program fees, is managed through a utility that allows the facility to operate outside of the municipal budget. Revenues were to cover the purchase, operating costs and improvements. In the early years, the club largely paid for itself as anticipated. Since the national recession began in 2008, membership has declined and revenues are not covering operating and debt costs.

“No decision has been reached as to what to do with the facility in the long-term,” Mercantante said.

He added that the facility’s age is another factor in its fate. The club, which is more than 50 years old, will continue to need repairs and capital upgrades in the years to come. There are not sufficient revenues to support major improvement projects, Mercantante said.

“We realize that if the club does not open it will be a sad day for many families in the Township. We also realize it will be disruptive to some people’s summer plans, but the Township cannot afford to run the club in the red for another season,” Mercantante said. “We are, however, looking at options that would allow the club to re-open with a different operator and we are also looking at options to allow the main pool to be opened so that the award-winning swim team can stay together for another season,” he said.

“During these tough economic times everything must always be on the table. The decision not operate the swim club is one that we take very seriously. However, our obligation to provide core and essential governmental services cannot be compromised,” Mayor Fiore said.

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Filed under Middletown NJ, Middletown Township Committee, press release, Swim Club, Tony Fiore, Tony Mercantante

Heard It In The Hallways….Middletown’s Director of Parks & Rec, Gregg Silva "Forced" Into Retirement, Big Changes coming to Department

As of this moment this is all rumor, but about two hours ago I received a tip concerning the Middletown’s Director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs, Gregg Silva. I haven’t been able to get official confirmation from anyone but from a few that I have spoken to, it seems legit.
Silva as you all may remember, was placed on administrative leave last month by his bosses at Town Hall for stepping over the line by approving a private memorial for Daniel Piano on the grounds of Croydon Hall without the prior approval from the Township.
I’ve been told that as of January 1st, Gregg Silva has officially retired. Furthermore, I have been told that township officials have been in meetings most of the day reorganizing the now employeeless Department of Parks and Recreation.
The person who passed along this information has stated that Silva’s old duties for Parks and Rec. will be split up, the maintenance side will fall as a subdivision under DPW, while the Croydon Hall Senior Center, the Tonya Keller Bayshore Rec Center and Middletown Cultural Arts Center will be combined and administrated by Janet Adams who currently is in charge of the Tonya Keller Bayshore Center.
Individual Township sponsored recreational events will be planned on an event by event basis. Steve Eisenstein, who was brought in this year to run the Daddy/Daughter Dance and the holiday train ride, worked in the parks department a few years ago and will continue to help plan and coordinate events.
All of this should be in place and in effect by the end of the month I’m told.
I am currently waiting for a return phone call from Middletown Township Administrator Tony Mercantante for confirmation. When I called his office a couple of hours ago, I was told that he was in a meeting and could talk. The secretary that answered my call said that she would have him call me back.
Update – Steve Eisenstein’s name was misspelled as Einstein and Adams is the maiden name of Janet Della, Director of the Tonya Keller Rec. Center

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Filed under administrative leave, Croydon Hall, Gregg Silva, Middletown Cultural Arts Center, Middletown NJ, Middletown Parks and Recreation, Tony Mercantante, Tonya Keller Center

APP: Middletown places Parks and Recreation director on administrative leave

Only a few hours after last night’s Middletown Township Committee meeting was over, Kevin Penton of the Asbury Park Press posted online his story about Middletown’s Park and Recreation Director Gregg Silva being placed on administrative leave.

In my earlier blog post on the subject, Penton was one of the journalist that I eluded in the post, that had tried to contact Township Administrator Tony Mercantante for a comment about Silva last week.
After last night’s Township Committee meeting, I noticed that Kevin Penton had approached Mr. Mercantante and was speaking to him for a prolonged time. When Penton exited Town Hall, I nodded to him and asked if he had heard anything new concerning Gregg Silva. He started to say that he had sent Mercantante an email last Thursday but he hadn’t checked to see if he received a response or not. He was about to say more but a gentleman interrupted him and started asking him about Middletown’s Shadow Lake, so we never finished our conversation.
It is apparent however from the article, Penton spoke to both Mercantante and soon to be ex-mayor Tony Fiore (who refused to comment), about Gregg Silva. Unfortunately, as expected, Mercantante didn’t say much to Penton other than confirm that Silva was placed on administrative leave:

Gregg Silva is still a township employee and is receiving pay while an investigation proceeds, said Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante, who declined to specify the details of the inquiry.

“At this point, he is not in his office,” said Mercantante, referring to Silva. “We’ve agreed for him not to come in until we look at a few issues.”

Mercantante declined to specify when Silva was placed on administrative leave, saying it occurred within the last 30 days. A date for the leave to expire has not been set, he added.

You can read what Kevin Penton wrote …Here, but remember where you read the details about Silva’s administrative leave first.

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Filed under administrative leave, Asbury Park Press, Gregg Silva, kevin penton, Middletown Parks and Recreation, Tony Fiore, Tony Mercantante

Perfect Timing As Latest Robo-Call Counters RedBankGreen Fluff Piece On Bamm Hollow Development

Earlier today I was surfing my favorite website and found a fluff piece on concerning some old news about the redevelopment of the Bamm Hollow Country Club in Lincroft. I was going to post about it but I got dragged away until now, which as circumstances will have it was a good thing, because an hour or so later after reading how Township “OFFICIALS TOUT BAMM HOLLOW OPEN SPACE“, the telephone rang.

On the other end of the phone was another robo-call issued by the group calling themselves “Concerned Citizens of Middletown”. It stated how the addition of 500 homes in and around Lincroft is will be eroding the quality of life of residents in Middletown.

I copied the message off of my answering machine and have it posted below, along with a transcript for anyone interested in hearing it.

It must have been a slow news day for Dustin Racioppi and the RedBankGreen, as I said the story is old and is reporting on what was said in May when the court case was settled.

Middletown, as Township Attorney Brian Nelson (how come Township Administrator Tony Mercantante or Assistant Administrator James Van Nest didn’t talk to RBG about this?) would like everyone to believe, did not win big.
Bam Hollow was originally zoned for 50 homes. The original proposal was to increase it to 200 homes. The Plannig Board said no and Bamm Hollow sued for 1,200. The Township setteld for 190. So who actually won big time here?
Brian Nelson and friends were not going to win the lawsuit, which is why they settled. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting it, so it is apparent who won big time. The lawyers hired by the Township to fight a losing battle. the open space would have been there

(Concerned Citizens Robo-Call #6: Eroding the Quality Of Life)

Have you heard the quality of life in Middletown, according to Money Magazine, has dropped 39% during the past four years?

Poor planning and dense re-zoning by Middletown politicians led to approval for over 500 new homes in Lincroft and Bamm Hollow.

Increased density will further erode our declining quality of life, and compete with homeowner’s unable to sell their homes in this dismal economy.

It’s time to clean house and throw-out incumbent politicians.

(Paid for by Concerned Citizens of Middletown)

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Filed under Bamm Hollow Country Club, Brian Nelson, Concerned Citizens of Middletown, Dustin Racioppi, open space,, Redevelopment Lincroft, Robo-calls, Tony Mercantante

Crime Scene Middletown: MiddletownMike Banned From Receiving Township Press Releases

Last week, just after the 4th of July holiday weekend, I was expecting to recieve the latest press release from Middletown Police Detective Lieutenant Steve Dollinger, reporting the recent activities of the Middletown Police. I had noticed that updates for the holiday weekend activities had already been posted on the websites,Middletown Patch and Atlantic Highlands Herald and I was wondering why, after 8 months of receiving the MTPD press releases, I didn’t receive the July 5th press release.

I sent an inquiring email to Detective Dollinger that afternoon wondering if I had been somehow overlooked when he had sent the current press release to those on his distribution list. Usually when I have sent an inquiry to the detective I received a prompt response, this time however was different. I never received a response from Detective Dollinger, instead the following day, Wednesday, I received the following email from Middletown Public Information Officer Cindy Herrschaft with no other explanation:

Dear Mr. Morris,

The township has revised the policy regarding the distribution of press releases. Please feel free to check the township website for information updates.

When I received this response coming from Ms. Herrschaft, I was puzzled. I have been receiving press releases for 8 months without any issue and wanted to know why I was now being excluded. I immediately responded by requesting that a copy of both the old policy regarding press releases and the new policy be sent to me so that I could review it. I also stated that no such policy was posted on the Township website for such review. Needless to say, I am still waiting for her response.

After waiting for an answer for almost 24 hours I decided to send an email to Township Administrator Tony Mercantante Thursday afternoon:

Mr. Mercantante,

For the past 8 months I have been receiving MTPD press releases from Detective Dollinger for posting on my Middletown Mike blog. These press releases have been very well received by the readers of the blog and are often the most read feature of the day when posted.

So you can imagine my dismay when I did not receive a press release from this past weekend and subsequent releases issued this week from Detective Dollinger, but found updates on other blogs or websites.

When I sent an inquiry to Detective Dollinger, I did not receive the usual quick response from him that I am accustomed to when I have a question, instead I received an email (below) from Cindy Herrschaft saying that the policy regarding the distribution of press releases had been revised and basically stating that I would not be receiving press releases for the Township anymore for posting.

I responded to Ms. Herrschaft, asking her if she could forward me a copy of the previous press release policy and that of the revised policy, so that I can understand why it seems that I am being singled out from receive township press releases from the MTPD or administration. So far I haven’t heard from her and that disturbs me.

If at all possible I would appreciate if you could look into this matter for me and provide me with the simple documents that I requested without having to file an OPRA request.

It would be great if this was just a misunderstanding and my name was taken off Detective Dollinger’s contact list by mistake and therefore you could authorize Detective Dollinger to once again include me in his updates.

I appreciate your help in this matter

Again nearly 24 hours pasted without a response, I figured that they were trying to come up with a plausible explanation as why I wasn’t to receive press releases any longer because it was becoming evident to me that no such policy documents exsisted.

So as not to be ignored,on Friday I sent yet an other email to the Township, this time to Assistant Administrator James Van Nest:

Mr. Van Nest,

As Assistant Township Administrator I am hoping that you could provide me with an answer to my inquiry below.

It has been two days since I respond to Ms. Herrschaft email notifying me that I have been taken off the contact list and will no longer be receiving Township press releases and almost 1 full day since sending an email inquiry to Mr. Mercantante about it, with no response in return.

I understand that it is the summer and people my have taken off a few days (hence no response from Mr. Mercantante) but I would like to know the true reason why I have been singled out by no longer being a recipient of direct notification of press releases.

In her email Ms. Herrschaft stated that the policy for distributing press releases has been changed. I would like to see in writing what the old policy was and how it differs from the new policy seeing how no such policy is listed on the Township website and that press releases are not always posted there in a timely manner.

Ultimately I would like to be restored to the notification list if possible. If you could be so kind to follow-up on this matter and respond back I would be greatly appreciative.

Thank you for your help in this matter.

They say that the third time is the charm and I suppose in this instance that old adage rang true because a short time afterwards Tony Mercantante finally responded to my emails with the following explanation:

Mr. Morris,

The policy for distributing Press Releases consists of essentially lists that have evolved over time. In order to keep distribution to a manageable magnitude it has been decided that automatic distribution of press releases will be limited to the following:

stablished new organizations and media outlets, whether they be print, online or on air organizations.

Community organizations and homeowners associations that have requested to receive information.

Other governmental agencies and officials.

We are currently reviewing the lists to make sure that all who are on it fall into the categories mentioned above. Blog sites are not included. If you ever become aware of a blog receiving such information automatically, please report it and we will look into it right away. You or anyone else has always the right to request specific information and/or pull it from the web site when it is posted, which is usually within a day.

Tony Mercantante
Township Administrator

That to me was an interesting reply. I responded by stating that I was in disagreement with his response and that it made it clear that there was no written policy in place that specifically dealt with this issue. I pointed out that my blog serves the community as a source of local news and opinion to those that read it and that I believe the township was being arbitrary in it’s decision to exclude my blog from directly receiving press releases. At which point Mr. Mercantante replied that all blog would be excluded, not just mine.
I asked him how does the Township differentiate between what is a News site and what isn’t and what is constitutes a community group? By definition Blogs and other Social Media outlets are virtually the same and almost impossible to differentiate. Websites such as Middletown Patch, and MiddletownMike are just as much social media outlets as they are news outlets. Any website that allows reader comments to be published in response o columns posted are considered social media.
Thus it doesn’t make much sense not to include Blogs or Social Media in the Township’s policy, it only makes sense that public information should be disseminated in all possible manners and not excluded for arbitrary assumptions as to what constitutes a news outlet.

Out of further curiosity, I asked Tony Mercantante if Art Gallagher’s blog MoreMonmouthMusings, was considered a legitimate news outlet, seeing how often I have seen Middletown press releases on his site well before being posted on the Township’s website.

His responded by stating “...we specifically discussed Mr. Gallagher’s site and concluded it was a blog and will not be getting automatic distribution of press releases.”
At this point in our email exchanges I ended my inquiry but stated that I will be on the look out for evidence to the contrary.
Regardless of Mercantane’s explanation and assurances that no other blogs will be included in automatic press release notifications, I can help but think that this petty behavior on the Township’s part is in retaliation to negative posts I have published concerning members of the Township Committee. It would not be the first time that the Township Administration tried their hand at childish retaliation against a website.
I was reminded by Carol Schwebel that when Allan Dean, the publisher of the Atlantic Highland Herald, was attempting to help her fight the new Middletown website requirement that users must first register name, address and other personal information before hand to get information, the Administration stopped sending him information as well.
It’s just all par for the course I suppose. Why make the system more transparent when you live for it to be opaque? Saying that the reason for such a decision has to do with manageability of lists doesn’t cut it, a distribution list is not that hard to manage.
So while the crime of me being officially banned from directly receiving press releases from the Township has been committed, it wont prevent me from lifting press releases from other websites, be it directly off of Middletown web page or others. I wont allow them to intimidate me it such a way. I’ll just start posting all the press releases I notice, not just those from the MTDP.
I’ll show ’em 🙂

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Filed under banned, blogs, Crime Scene Middletown, Detective Lieutenant Stephen Dollinger, Middletown Police, MiddletownMike, press release, public information officer, social media, Tony Mercantante

>The Independent: Mid’town methadone clinic has neighbors up in arms Twp. attorney: Facility is permitted use in business zone

>I was a little surprised to see that the Independent has chimed in already on the methadone clinic in Middletown. Usually due to the nature of it’s weekly publication it lags behind a week or so of the currentness cycle.

I wont bore you with the analysis, the article is a straight forward rendition of the events of Monday night’s Middletown Township Committee meeting so I’ll just post a few quotes below from it and let you guys be the judge by leaving comments if you wish:

Middletown residents packed town hall on June 20 and demanded that the township revoke the certificate of occupancy (CO) of a methadone clinic, which has been legally operating near Apple Farm Road for several months.

The clinic, Middletown Medical, located on Route 35, which, according to its website, counsels opiate addicts and dispenses methadone to wean them off their dependence, has residents fearing for the integrity of their neighborhood.

“The location of the clinic jeopardizes our safety, the safety of our homes and most importantly, the safety of those who actively walk, run, drive or play in our neighborhood,” resident Diane Mullaney said at the Township Committee meeting.

Mullaney said that the clinic is near a school bus stop, senior center and the neighborhood’s only entrance and exit road. “Ultimately, the township neglected to keep the best interest of our neighborhood in their decision,” she said….

“The [state’s] municipal land use law … was amended a decade ago to specifically designate methadone clinics as business uses, allowing municipalities to only ban them from residential zones,” Township Attorney Brian Nelson advised.

Because the clinic is located on Route 35 in a business district, this law stifles any legal recourse from the township, Nelson said.

“Neither the mayor nor the governing body members were particularly pleased with this answer,” Nelson said.

“If you’re asking for us to pull the CO, which is what it sounds like you’re asking, we can’t legally do it,” Mayor Anthony Fiore said to residents.

“If you’re asking to put the township at risk for amajor lawsuit to do so, I don’t think that’s our fiduciary responsibility when we’re told by legal counsel that we won’t win.”…

“Nobody other than the zoning officer and code officials receive notice of these CO’s.”

Mercantante said that similar transfers happen every day.

“No member of this committee, including myself, had any knowledge that this facility was a methadone clinic,” Fiore said….

“I don’t want this business in Middletown, and I don’t think anyone else wants this business in Middletown. However, Route 35 is a state highway and it is a state business zone,” Fiore said.

“None of the committee is happy about this; in a best-case scenario, it’s terrible,” said Committeeman Steven Massell….

“We can control everything with respect to making sure that they are operating in a legal fashion and that they’re not going to cause those quality-of-life issues that you mention,” Fiore said.

“That’s our job. That’s our priority as a township committee, and we will do that.”…

Fiore said that the township also relies on the vigilance of neighborhood residents to help police.

“This is a huge township. You’re the eyes and ears, and if you see something there, we need to know about it,” he said.


Filed under Brian Nelson, heroin, methadone clinic, Middletown Clinic, Middletown NJ, opiate addiction, the Independent, Tony Fiore, Tony Mercantante, Township Committee, treatment center

>Clarification on Main Library Parking Lot Engineering; Main Library Parking Facts

>I received the following from Middletown Library Director Susan O’Neal, who after reading comments about the Library left on this blog, felt it necessary to clarify a few points about the the Main library’s parking lot expansion project.

For several years, I have been informing the library Board of Trustees that the growth in library usage was creating a shortage of parking. My observations were that a shortage could pop up almost any day and time, and I recommended a parking capacity and usage study to be put into the Board’s capital projects plan. By last fall, it was at the top of the list of things that we needed to do. As with all of our capital projects, the library intended to use its reserves, not to ask the Township for funding.

In the Summer of 2010 I was authorized by the Board to send out RFP’s, Requests for Proposal, to engineering firms for an assessment of a number of parking lot matters. They included:

a study of parking lot use and capacity,
addition of more handicapped parking stalls,
safety of pedestrian crossing the lot,
the possibility of a drop off lane near the entry,
short term parking,
widening the parking stalls, and the
possibility of adding a drive up pick-up window.

Multiple proposals were received, and two firms were selected to be interviewed by the full Board. These firms represented the two lowest proposals in terms of cost. They were DW Smith and Maser Consulting. DW Smith had been the engineer who designed and carried out the water remediation project at the back corner of Main in 2009. Mayor Scharfenberger was present for the DW Smith presentation, but had to leave before the Maser presentation. The contract was awarded to Maser Consulting, in the approximate amount of $29,000. [I’m writing this from home so I only remember the approximate amount]

Maser conducted a comprehensive traffic and use study in AUgust and September 2010; I met with them several times to discuss library needs, etc. and they made and revised plans for a few months. In January, 2011, three proposals were reviewed by the Board at their meeting. Frankly, this presentation did not go well. The Maser team followed Mr. Settembrino’s layout of his four point plan for library finance, which had everyone on the board stunned. The main problem, though, was that additional parking in 2 of the 3 proposals would cover additional land with pavement and would generate storm management and environmental approvals that skyrocketed the costs. I asked Maser for a 4th plan that would avoid these issues and costs and get the maximum parking out of it that we could.

The 4th plan was reviewed by me, Tony Mercantante, Ted Maloney and one of the Maser engineers. Tony mentioned that including this project in the Town’s 2012 Capital Improvements Projects might get the library better pricing. This is the germination of the inclusion of this project in the Transfer of Library reserves to the Township settlement. At this time it was obvious that refinement of the last design, specifications for bidding, and the permissions and tests needed would require additional engineering work. Maser asked if they should prepare a proposal for these next steps, and I said yes.

The proposal came in on May 13, several days before the library board meeting. We were all informed by Committeeman Settembrino that all further engineering work on on the library parking lot would be conducted by the Township Engineer of record, that is T&M. The Board briefly discussed this at their meeting.

The next engineering work to be done will build on the Maser study, not duplicate it, as some have asserted incorrectly.

The Middletown Library will be expected to use the services of T&M if the project is in the Township’s CIP list for next year [and presuming T&M is the Township engineer in 2012]

The Library will be expected to pay all hard [construction] and soft [design, project supervision, permits, testing] that the Township engineer dictates is required.

And ultimately, maybe this is all moot. The library faces a huge cut in its operating budget next year, unless the TC is willing to provide more than the minimum funding level, and thus support the library at close to the 2011 level. A close analysis of our fiscal position is forthcoming. It is my personal belief as the Administrator of the Library, that the library should not undertake debt financing for this project, but rather maintain it’s prior practice of saving until enough cash reserves are available, and then proceeding. This will be the Library Trustees’ decision. I believe the problem of not enough parking will continue to grow, as library business is on a significant upswing. It is unclear to me whether the TC will provide permission for the library to proceed with any capital improvement project in the future unless it is totally under their control, except, of course, for the payment.

Lastly, I hope that in the length and detail of this explanation, it is not lost on the reader that the library’s plans included addressing numerous safety issues, not just additional parking. We DO need more handicapped parking, we DO need to eliminate the double parking in the lot for pickups and dropoffs, we DO need to add more safety measures for pedestrians who have to cross a traffic lane to enter the building!!

We have nearly 2,000 visitors per day at the library. Their safety is of keen importance to us.

Susan O’Neal, Library Director


Filed under Board of Trustees, Library Facts, Maser engineering, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, parking lot expansion, Susan O'Neal, T and M Engineering, Ted Maloney, Tony Mercantante