Point Beach Council member Kristine Tooker says Councilman William Mayer never came to her with a financial offer from the boardwalk and that he should not be saying she "rejected" one.
Mayer says Tooker is wrong, that he did ask her whether she approves of a boardwalk offer of $140,000 that he describes as the boardwalk's "alternative" to ordinances calling for either earlier bar closings or payments to stay open later, as well as the removal of a separate ordinance restricting parking in the boardwalk bars' District 4.
And so goes just one of many disagreements regarding the failed "negotiations" between the town and Jenkinson's Boardwalk and Martell's Tiki Bar.
There is not even agreement that they were "negotiations."
"They were not 'negotiations,' they were only 'discussions,' " insists Councilman Bret Gordon, who had met with Mayer and boardwalk bar owners. He said the talks never evolved into true "negotiations" with both sides going back and forth in a productive way, to come up with a fee and a set of circumstances that would be acceptable to both sides.
Gordon said the discussions fell apart when the boardwalk owners insisted that they would only pay the $140,000 if the council removed, from the April 17 agenda, a separate ordinance restricting overnight parking in District 4, which includes the section of boardwalk where Martell's and Jenkinson's are located and the nearby streets used by patrons for parking.
The breakdown in "discussions" weeks ago has led to the municipality moving forward with two ordinances regarding bar closings on the agenda for the Tuesday night council meeting.
According to the agenda posted on the the municipal website on Friday night, the two ordinances include one that mandates that bars close at midnight. The second is offering bars the option to pay a fee to stay open past midnight (see both ordinances attached as PDFs.)
The state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control confirmed that municipalities have the authority to mandate hours of operation for bars and restaurants with liquor licenses. However, a spokesman for the division did not want to comment on the municipality offering the payment of fees to stay open past mandated hours.
It's expected both ordinances will be adopted on second reading with yes votes from Corbally, Gordon, Tooker and Mayor Vincent Barrella, based on how the first vote went two weeks ago.
The public portion of the meeting at Borough Hall is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Mayer said he asked the mayor and council, individually, if they would accept the offer of $140,000 as "an alternative" to the parking ordinance.
However, Tooker has quite a different memory of her own conversation with Mayer.
She said in a telephone interview that Mayer called her the week after Easter (April 8) to update her on the ongoing "discussions."
"He told me the amount of money the boardwalk owners were offering wasn't enough and there were too many strings attached," Tooker said. "It is not true that there was an offer of $140,000 that we rejected. I was never asked to vote on that or even consider it."
"He never asked me if I would approve it, because he didn't seem in favor of it himself," she said.
"No, that's not what I said, she must have me confused with someone else," Mayer replied, when asked to respond to Tooker's version of events.
"Bret told the boardwalk the money wasn't enough, but that's as high as they were willing to go," Mayer said. "I didn't tell Kris that strings were attached or that it wasn't enough. I thought it was a good deal. The way I understood it, she didn't want the $140,000.
"I told her it was an alternative to bars closings, the parking plan and the special event fees," Mayer said.
The morning after Patch interviewed Mayer, he called Tooker and they talked. That resolved nothing.
"Bill called me, I told him he's lying," Tooker said after their telephone exchange.
On Tuesday morning, after reading that Tooker said "he's lying," Mayer said, "I'm steaming. I am not a liar. I did not lie to Kris Tooker or anyone. If she misunderstood the conversation, that's one thing. But to call me a liar is over the line."
'Sincere offer' of $140K
Mayer said boardwalk owners told him that they have a business model with their current hours and on-street parking not restricted to a schedule.
But, they indicated to him, he said, that "if you change the business model, by changing the parking or the closing, then that number ($140,000) isn't fair. But they agree with the idea of zero tolerance."
As for the ordinance calling for earlier bar closings, or payment to stay open later, Gordon said it was his understanding that if the payment of $140,000 had been made, the town simply would not have needed to consider ordinances calling for earlier bar closings or for payments for bars to stay open later.
"If the payment had been made, I think that bar ordinance would have died and withered on the vine," he said.
Mayer uses different words to describe the nature of the boardwalk offer. He said the offer of $140,000 from boardwalk bar owners was offered as "an alternative" to the town passing measures calling for earlier bar closings and restricted parking in District 4, all of which Mayer voted against.
Mayer said his efforts to continue talking to boardwalk bar owners ended when he, the mayor and other council members received a lawyer's letter telling them not to talk to the owners.
The April 16 letter was from attorney John Livelli (see attached PDF) to the mayor and council directing them to no longer speak to his clients, the owners of Jenkinson's and Martell's, unless the bar and parking ordinances were pulled from the April 17 agenda.
Scott Bassinder, owner and president of Martell's Tiki Bar Inc., and Marilou Halvorsen, Jenkinson's Boardwalk director of marketing, said in separate phone interviews that the offer had no conditions.
Bassinder said the offer was for Martell's to pay $40,000 and for Jenkinson's to pay $100,000. He and Halvorsen said that they had told Gordon and Mayer they were willing to commit to pay that every year.
Gordon said, "We talked a bit about it being a recurring payment, but they tied it to the parking ordinance coming off the table and that's when discussions came to a standstill."
"I told them that the parking plan is a pilot program and that if there are problems, we'll re-evaluate it," Gordon said.
Halvorsen said, "We made a hard offer of $140,000. It was a sincere offer. We wanted it used for quality of life, mostly police, with some for garbage and litter control."
She said she did not call it "a donation," as Gordon remembers.
"We hoped for a mechanism" to pay year after year, she said.
When asked if she or Jenkinson's owners imposed any conditions, such as removal of the parking ordinance, on the payment of $140,000, she said, "No, but obviously we did talk about it. It will hurt business significantly and on top of the midnight closing, it will be devastating."
However, she did say, ""We last met on March 31 and they (Gordon and Mayer) were going to go back to see what they could work out. We thought that maybe if the money we were offering were enough for police, we wouldn't need these ordinances."
Like Bassinder, Halvorsen said she never heard back from the councilmen. But, she says, she heard about the new ordinance the Friday or Monday before the April 17 council meeting.
Mayer said he asked most council members if they would accept the $140,000 in exchange for removing the parking ordinance from the agenda.
"I knew I could probably count on Tim and Steve," Mayer said, referring to Council members Tim Lurie and Stephen Reid, who, along with Mayer, voted against the bar and parking ordinances. "But four people rejected the offer."
The "four" he referred to are Tooker, Gordon, Corbally and Barrella.
Gordon said he formed his own opinion that he could not agree to that, based on what he heard when he met with Mayer and boardwalk representatives.
Corbally and Barrella said Mayer talked to them about that type of offer, which was not in writing, and that, like Gordon, they could not agree to the condition of forgoing the parking ordinance.
"We can't have businesses paying us to not pass things," Barrella said. "That's just not the way it works."
No strings or conditional offer?
Bassinder wrote in an email last week, "At the last meeting with Brett and Bill on March 31st, Martells and Jenk's made the $140K offer knowing that Brett was still supporting the parking ordinance and that it was probably going through on its final reading. After that offer was made, as far as I know, there was no response from anyone on council as to accepting or denying it.
"Before the last council meeting on the 17th, we got word of another ordinance pertaining to early bar closings," Bassinder said. "Then we got a copy of the new ordinance, on Friday, April 13th. That's when I knew the offer was rejected.
"Martells and Jenk's were willing to make a yearly payment to the town with no strings attached to help cover costs with policing districts 3 and 4. We've always tried to be good neighbors and a positive influence in the community and will continue to do so," Bassinder wrote.
When told of Bassinder's assertion that the offer was made on March 31 and they never heard back from any town officials, Barrella said, "If they got an offer on March 31, what was Bill doing with it? We tabled the bar closing ordinance at the April 3 meeting so they could continue discussions and they (boardwalk owners and attorneys) were all there."
Mayer, who voted on April 17 against the ordinances calling for earlier bar closings and the parking plan, said in a telephone interview, "The boardwalk owners said they would make the payment based on their current business model, but that if we passed the parking ordinance and the bar ordinance, that would change their business model and it would not be fair for them to pay that money."
When asked why both Mayer and Gordon walked away from discussions believing there would be no payment of $140,000, or any other significant amount, if the parking plan was passed, Bassinder wrote:
"All I can say is the offer was made in light of us knowing Brett was still in favor of the parking ordinance. Obviously, we were clearly not in favor of it, but the offer was still made. Obviously, there would be no payment if there was an early bar closing with a fee to stay open til 2, the town would have more than the 140K from us."
Corbally, also interviewed separately, said, "If there were no conditions, why didn't they just write a check? What were they waiting for? Why don't they write one now?"
The ordinance offers bar owners an option to pay a fee of $60 per person for two hours (midnight to 2 a.m.), based on the maximum occupancy of each bar, compared to the first ordinance, which had different rates.
That would mean Jenkinson's and Martell's would pay a combined total of $186,000, or less if they limit the area they use after midnight, as allowed by the ordinance, Barrella said.
For example, he said, Jenkinson's could decide to only serve alcohol in the front section (closest to the boardwalk) of their pavilion after midnight, which would reduce their maximum occupancy and, therefore, their fee.
Barrella denied rumors that he wanted the boardwalk owners to pay $500,000 per year or anything approaching that.
"I thought $140,000 was a little low, but I felt we were pretty close," he said, noting that the payment of $140,000 is only $46,000 less than the payment of $186,000 that the two businesses would be making to stay open past midnight, as per the new ordinance.
When asked if it might be worth it to attempt further discussions, Bassinder wrote, "I don't know. Its hard for me to understand how anything can be settled when the mayor has such a deep rooted dislike for us."
"That's bul----." Barrella retorted. "I'll sit down and talk to anyone. I do not dislike them. But I dislike people on the boardwalk behaving badly. And I dislike that politicians in the past who let the boardwalk do whatever they wanted."