Point Beach Mayor Vincent Barrella says he will ask Gov. Chris Christie to send state troopers to patrol the boardwalk after midnight because the state is allowing bars to serve alcohol past that time.
Barrella says he'll ask the Borough Council to support a request he'll make for state troopers to police "the center of the boardwalk from midnight to 2 or 3 a.m." since the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has temporarily blocked the town from enforcing an ordinance for bars to stop serving alcohol by midnight.
"I'll write to the governor, in light of the state interference, to send in 18 state troopers a night, so I can pull our officers off the boardwalk and put them into residential neighborhoods," Barrella said.
Since the state won't allow the town to do what's needed to help improve quality of life for residents, "it should fall upon the state to pay for this," Barrella said.
He said if the state won't send troopers, "the town will not put public safety at risk, obviously."
Since towns are allowed to regulate bars' hours of operation, Barrella says he is questioning
ABC has acknowledged that municipalities are allowed to regulate the hours that bars can serve alcohol.
However, in a decision released last Friday night, ABC Director Michael Halfacre temporarily blocked the town from doing that by granting "a stay" to a local ordinance that would have compelled bars to stop serving alcohol by midnight instead of the current 2 a.m. cut-off, starting this past Sunday night.
Halfacre, in his five-page decision released at about 7:15 p.m. Friday, notes that the town had considered a second ordinance for the bars to "pay a surcharge to remain open until 2 a.m."
"Although the second ordinance was ultimately not passed by the governing body, the substantial factual history dating back at least a year, including various public comments made by elected officials, combined with the surcharge ordinance in its various iterations, gives rise to a legitimate inquiry into the motivations behind an otherwise valid exercise of municipal authority," Halfacre wrote.
Barrella says he doesn't understand Halfacre's legal reasoning. For example, he says, the very case that Halfacre later cites in his decision, A&P v. Mayor and Council of Point Pleasant Beach, 1987, says that the "motivations of the governing body are irrelevant to the validity of the ordinance, absent a showing of fraud, personal interest or corruption," according to a copy of the A&P decision.
"Does the director think that the Point Pleasant Beach governing body acted in bad faith?" Barrella asked at a meeting with reporters on Thursday.
"I'll ask for an emergency hearing to appeal this," Barrella said. "But, on a practical basis, I don't think this will be decided by the end of the summer. So what he's effectively done is mandate 2 a.m. bar closings for the summer."
Validity of bar ordinance still to be decided
Last Friday's decision was the first of two expected from ABC. Jenkinson's and Martell's appealed the local ordinance, adopted on May 15, that would have compelled bars to stop serving alcohol by midnight.
The two boardwalk companies asked the state ABC to grant a stay, which it has now done, and to invalidate the ordinance, which is yet to be decided.
The wording of Halfacre's decision granting the stay seems to suggests that he agrees with the legal argument used by boardwalk attorneys.
That argument is that because the town had come close to adopting a second ordinance offering bars the option to pay a fee to stay open past midnight, the first ordinance, for the midnight cut-off, is tainted and should be invalidated.
The question of whether the state should invalidate the ordinance will be the subject of a hearing before an administrative law judge and then go back to Halfacre, who can approve it or reject it, said Zach Hosseini, an ABC spokesperson.
A town appeal of the stay would go before the state Appellate Division, Hosseini said.
The Parker House has a "more onerous" arrangement that what Point Beach asked of its boardwalk businesses, says mayor
Barrella questioned how ABC can put the brakes on Point Beach's effort to curtail alcohol sales, especially when The Parker House has an arrangement in Sea Girt that is "more onerous."
The Parker House, 8-12 Beacon Blvd., Sea Girt, pays the town $60,000 per year for police coverage, beyond the basic cost of the license itself, to be permitted to renew its seasonal liquor license to serve alcohol until 11:30 p.m. outside on its porch, according to the resolution. Barrella said the bar must stop serving alcohol inside by midnight.
The Sea Girt resolution says that The Parker House, which is in a single-famiy, residential zone, had been required to comply with conditions on its license starting in 1980. Those conditions had been lifted and then imposed again "because some of the abuses had recurred," the resolution says.
The conditions include the 11:30 p.m. cut-off for alcohol "service and consumption" on the porch and a payment schedule for the $60,000 for police costs, the resolution says.
Hosseini said the Sea Girt arrangement was agreed to by the Parker House owners and the town and the ABC merely approved it. It's not as though ABC conjured up the terms to be imposed on Parker House and mandated them as a condition of license renewal, he said.
"In Point Pleasant Beach, it's a different situation, because there is no agreement between the owners and the town," Hosseini said. "We were not asked to approve an agreement.
"We were asked to do two things: rule on whether to grant a stay and on whether the ordinance should be invalidated," Hosseini said. "So far, we've only ruled on the first question.
"The town will have the opportunity to present all of their legal arguments before an administrative law judge and, if they appeal the stay, before the Appellate Division, should they agree to hear the case," Hosseini said.
Is politics afoot?
Barrella said he questions whether political connections had anything to do with Halfacre's decision to grant the stay.
"In light of his allegations of bad faith, did Halfacre use his position as ABC Director to improperly assist those who profit from late-night drinking and/or aid in the election of the pro-late-night drinking candidates Reid and Cortes?" Barrella asked, referring to Republican council candidates Stephen Reid, who was appointed to council late last year, and Andy Cortes.
"Has the director abused his office?" Barrella asked. "I believe it's a fair question."
When asked, "What's the answer?" Barrella replied, "I'm not making any accusations. I'm just laying out the facts and the connections and people can decide for themselves. In some towns, you have to connect the dots. In Point Pleasant Beach, the dots connect themselves."
Hosseini said he would not respond to questions about political motivations.
Barrella cited the following as examples of political connections between local and state Republicans and boardwalk businesses that, when viewed as a whole, make him question whether they had any connection to the stay being granted:
- In 2009, David Bassinder, owner of Martell's, hosted a $500 or $1,000-a-plate fundraiser dinner for then-gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, who appointed Halfacre as ABC Director earlier this year.
- Longtime Jenkinson's attorney Ed McGlynn was on that organizing committee.
- Reid, before he was a councilman but while he was president of the local GOP club, invited Halfacre to an April 28, 2011, local GOP club meeting. At the time, Halfacre was Fair Haven mayor and had not yet been appointed director. Also, Barrella said, Reid had been a paid consultant for Jenkinson's regarding its development of a bar and restaurant on the north end.
Reid said that he invited Halfacre to the local Republican organization meeting because he felt he was an example of a Republican mayor who had done a great job in his town by cutting taxes for three years in a row.
"It sounds like Barrella is making allegations against me, and against Mike Halfacre, that sound a little slanderous," Reid said. "My next phone call will be to my lawyer. I never had a relationship with Mike Halfacre. He cut taxes as mayor, that's all I knew of the man. No one had a hand in this decision for the stay. It's made up.
"The mayor better keep his mouth shut," said Reid, clearly agitated. "The only thing I want to hear from the mayor is 'I'm sorry, Stephen Reid.' "
As for working for Jenkinson's, Reid said he did minimal "grass roots lobbying" work for Jenkinson's a few years ago, that it has not colored his political positions or votes on any boardwalk matters and that it has nothing to do with a decision made by a state official last week.
- Barrella said that Councilman Tim Lurie, while he is a registered Democrat, has consistently been opposed to the earlier bar closing and had also done work for Jenkinson's regarding that same north end project.
When this has come up previously, Lurie has said he did a minor amount of consulting work for Jenkinson's, testifying about historical photographs of past use of the north end of the boardwalk. He has said that was a few years ago and has had no bearing on any of his votes regarding matters involving the boardwalk and that any accusations to the contrary are false and unfair.
- The boardwalk business owners have strong ties to the Ocean County Republican organization, chaired by George Gilmore, who has ties to Gov. Christie and is also borough attorney for Seaside Heights.
Seaside, Barrella noted, has, for years, had a parking plan on its county roads, as well as its municipal roads, that is far more onerous than the new Point Beach District 4 parking plan. And yet, he said, the county will not allow Point Beach to implement that parking plan on its county roads.
Ocean County Administrator Carl Block has said Seaside will have to stop its program involving residents leasing spaces in front of their houses, prohibiting anyone else from parking there. The Point Beach plan restricts parking only from midnight until 6 a.m.
- A lawsuit to block the parking plan was filed by John Jackson, current Republican Party President in Point Beach, but the brief was written and filed by Ron Gasiorowski, who also represents Jenkinson's and Martell's in their own lawsuit against the parking plan, as well as other matters.
"Negotiations" become "extortion"
Barrella notes that the boardwalk businesses had voluntarily entered into negotiations to discuss the possibility of paying fees for police costs to help avert midnight bar closings.
That offer was ultimately rejected by a narrow majority of councilmembers who said the businesses would not agree to the town imposing any mechanism, such as a restriction on their liquor licenses, that would enable the town to enforce payment of the fees every year
In a May letter, Gasiorowski, attorney for the two boardwalk businesses, wrote that if the council passed the second ordinance giving bars option to pay fees to serve later than midnight, that his clients would pay those fees.
So, Barrella says, how can the boardwalk businesses then accuse the town of "extortion" and, ultimately, the director say the council was "acting in bad faith" by discussing fees when the boardwalk businesses were part of those discussions on and off for months and went so far as to offer an amount to be paid and also said if an ordinance was passed mandating fees be paid to stay open until 2 a.m. they would pay the fees?
Barrella also questioned whether Halfacre is interjecting some political considerations into "what should be a legal argument."
When asked to explain that, Barrella said that in his decision, Halfacre says the town can address the late night problems through additional police, restrictions on the liquor licenses, or "violations to the appellants seeking suspensions of their licenses."
Barrella said by "political," he means the director is suggesting other ways for the town to address the problems officials feel are emanating from bar patrons, but that the director should not be suggesting those because those are local decisions for local officials.