by Patricia A. Miller
Township Councilwoman Fran Siddons received only token thanks from her council counterparts during her last meeting as the Ward 4 representative. No plaque, no proclamation for her four years of service..
But before she stepped down from the dais for the last time, several Ward 4 supporters made sure she was recognized during the public portion of the Dec. 30 meeting.
They presented her with a plaque for her "outstanding service and keeping her campaign promises from a grateful constituency."
Marguerite Penn, Bernadette Whitmeyer and another resident also presented Siddons with several bouquets of flowers, as the audience applauded.
"We would like to thank you for your dedication," Whitmeyer said. "We thank you for always staying true to your campaign promises."
The Ward 4 representative did not leave quietly. She read a lengthy statement into the record during the council comments section of the meeting.
Siddons wanted to run for another term on the Township Council. But she was stymied by the local Republican Club's nominating committee, which did not endorse her for the seat. The endorsement went to Sophia Gingrich, who was a Berkeley Board of Education member.
Siddons challenged Gingrich in the June primary. She lost, unable to compete against the money provided to Gingrich by the county GOP organization. Since no Democrats filed to run for the four ward seats, Gingrich and the other Republican candidates ran unopposed in November.
Siddons has always contended she was ousted because she voted her conscience and kept her campaign promises. At times, she cast the only no vote on issues, unlike her other Republican counterparts.
"During the last four years, I supported all positive initiatives of both the Varano and Amato administrations that were beneficial to the people," she said in her statement.
"As a member of the Carmen Amato Republican team, I have kept all of my campaign promises, including my promise never to vote for a tax increase," she said. "I am proud that I kept that promise, despite pressure put on me to vote for tax increases."
Siddons said she also had difficulty getting municipal finance information from Township Administrator Christopher Reid and Chief Financial Officer Frederick Ebenau.
"Is this any way to run a township?" she said. "All my questions concerned public information that should have been given to a council member."
The meeting was the last for Siddons and former Township Councilman Kevin Askew. Siddons was elected to a four-year term in 2009. Askew was appointed to fill the vacancy left by.. He won a one-year unexpired term in 2012. He elected not to run for another term.
Siddons also said the newly-resurrected position of deputy police chief should be eliminated.
"Our police chief, Karin DiMichele, did any absolutely fine job without a deputy," she said. "She does not need a deputy to do her job."
Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. and Township Council members in November approved the deputy chief position. Amato and other officials said it was done to honor longtime Capt. Richard Casagrande, who was retiring in early December.
The title came with no monetary or pension benefits, Amato said at the Dec. 30 meeting.
Siddons also suggested the township go out proactively for competitive emergency debris removal bids for future storms. Berkeley signed on with Ashbritt several weeks after Superstorm Sandy and now has a $275,000 bill to pay.
"Other municipalities choose less expensive ways of picking up the Superstorm Sandy debris," Siddons said. "We should make sure that we save money in the future, too."
Berkeley Township officials entered into a shared services agreement between the county and many other towns in mid-November 2012, to move the cleanup along more quickly than the public works department could manage on its own.
Public works employees had been working nearly around the clock, seven days a week, before the agreement.Amato and other council members defended the use of Ashbritt at the Dec. 30 meeting.
"We opted to go with the County of Ocean," Amato said. "We had a great opportunity to get those areas cleaned up. The job that was done was second to none. "
Ocean County put up the initial funds for the debris removal. Berkeley's share of the bill is $275,000, which officials are hoping will be forgiven or reimbursed, Ebenau said.
"At the end of the day, it may not cost us anything," he said.