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Anger Builds As Toms River Council Meeting Set for Afternoon on Ash Wednesday (And Valentine’s Day)

Downtown Toms River, March 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

Downtown Toms River, March 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

After a disastrous start to a meeting held remotely in which an ordinance cutting supervisory police positions in favor of hiring more EMTs was never addressed, the date and time of the next meeting where the issue is likely to be discussed is already causing outrage online, as an effort to recall the ordinance gains steam.

The ordinance, which has already been introduced with the support of a new council majority that took office in January, would remove two captains positions and hire eight Community Service Officers, or EMTs, to the department. The council had been scheduled to hold a mandatory public hearing and second vote on the ordinance last week, but interest in the meeting led officials to hold it virtually instead of in-person at the municipal complex. Neither the council nor mayor reached out to the school district regarding the use of a larger facility, as has been the practice in Toms River previously during contentious hearings and meetings. The Zoom meeting quickly reached its capacity, and those watching on a YouTube feed missed the first 15 minutes due to a technical glitch. The meeting ended abruptly after an unknown participant broke into a bizarre, anti-Semitic rant that could be heard by more than 1,500 people watching between the two platforms.

Public anger over the lack of an opportunity to hold the meeting in person boiled over to the point where a public protest was held outside town hall the night before the meeting. After a week, the anger looks to increase as the announcement of the next meeting is turning heads. Township officials announced via a legal notice published Wednesday, Feb. 7 that the meeting will resume Feb. 14 at 2 p.m., before most participants return home from work, making the meeting inaccessible for many who wish to attend in-person. Feb. 14 is also Ash Wednesday this year, when many Catholics will attend church services, and is also Valentine’s Day.

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Those opposed to the restructuring ordinance have dual concerns: a lack of opportunity for public participation by some, but too much interest for the meeting to be held in the regular council chambers.

“When an overflow crowd shows up, and it will, will council forge forward and deny the public’s right to be represented?” a post on a fast-growing Facebook page opposed to the ordinance stated.

Meanwhile, a campaign to recall the ordinance – not the mayor or any council members themselves – is picking up steam. Several signing events have been held at local businesses and civic group meetings this week, with more to come. Under Toms River’s type and form of government, residents can effectively overrule the council’s second reading of an ordinance by obtaining, under formal circumstances, a petition that includes signatures representing 15 percent of the voter base in the previous election cycle. For the purposes of a petition being circulated now, that equates to a little over 3,000 signatures, however the organizer of the recall effort, local businessman Phil Brilliant, has set a goal of 5,000 signatures.

The recall committee also consists of residents Dana Tormollan, Jeff Kettig, William Morsch and Joanne Gethard.

Those who sign the petition must be Toms River residents who are registered to vote. Two local businesses, the Riv’s Toms River Hub bar and restaurant, and Farro’s Tees, are both hosting petitions during their normal business hours daily. Another local business, the Spirit’s liquor store on Route 37 in the ShopRite plaza, is hosting a signing event Sunday, Feb. 11 from 12 noon to 2 p.m. Petitions will also be available at the clubhouse of The Fairways subdivision, 3600 Cypress Point Drive, Feb. 10 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. The community already hosted one signing event earlier this week.

If successful, the recall petition would effectively serve as a “no” vote regardless of how a majority of council members vote at their meeting. State law requires the ordinance recall petition to be completed within 20 days of the passage of the ordinance it is intended to address.


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