‘I Disdain Politics. That's a Fact.’

Spodofora Calls for Unity in ‘One Stafford Township’

Plus: Lake Pavilion Renamed for Mayor; Vernon, AtlantiCare Donate Reusable Bags
Oct 31, 2018

The Manahawkin Lake Park Pavilion shall henceforth be known as the John R. Spodofora Lake Pavilion. It was formally dedicated to Mayor John Spodofora by way of proclamation at the regular council meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 23. The whole council presented the proclamation to the stunned mayor.

“I think for once I’m at a loss for words,” he said, adding the gesture was “a total surprise.”

The honor was given for his leadership of more than 30 years, the last seven as mayor; for his accomplishments as an environmental champion; and for his efforts to restore Manahawkin Lake and preserve the land that is now the park. He has been driven by a desire to enhance the quality of life for all residents and has always advocated for protection of historical treasures; he dreamed of rebuilding the pavilion, and he raised the funds and community support needed to do it at no cost to the taxpayers. “The pavilion stands as a monument to everyone’s efforts to restore our past and make it a part of our future,” Councilman Alan Smith said.

Council President Paul Marchal offered a few words of thanks and praise for Spodofora’s long-term service.

Growing up, Spodofora recalled, the pavilion was where everyone went to hang out, and it is part of the town’s history. He feels blessed to have spent so many years in public office and to have made positive impacts on the town, with the help and support of his colleagues and community.

“You guys have got me shook up,” he said, returning to his seat on the dais.

*   *   *

The council continues to go through zoning ordinances and tweak and update language as needed to improve efficiency. One targets the Bay Avenue streetscape and will make it easier for merchants to do business and for new businesses to come to town. Another provides better consistency of setbacks (a move prompted by the newly constructed Allied building, which is too close to East Bay Avenue, in the mayor’s opinion). The police department has recommended changes and improvements to an ordinance that concerns towing and storage of vehicles. Another improves the consistency of side yard setbacks in the RA4 zone.

Among its resolutions, Stafford passed one opposing the legalization of marijuana within its borders. A water-sewer resolution declared an emergency at the Stafford Avenue water treatment plant due to a lightning strike.

In the mayor’s monthly report, Spodofora announced the water-sewer rate study has concluded the town is not due for a rate increase until 2022. “That’s astounding,” he noted. He gave credit to the town employees whose in-house work keeps the department running well.

He also reminded the public that on Dec. 5 the plastic bag ordinance goes into effect. At the same time, the state is looking at a new, stricter ban that would include plastic straws and other items and slap a 10-cent fee on every paper bag used. If the state’s ban is passed, it would be the strictest in the nation, and it would supersede the town’s ban.

Chris Vernon, owner of the Holiday Inn and the Weddings of Distinction properties, has offered to buy and donate thousands of reusable canvas shopping totes for the residents of Stafford Township. AtlantiCare is also donating thousands of bags. They will be available at the community centers and other public places.

In police news, the department has received a $31,400 grant from the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department to buy two fixed-mounted automated license plate readers and a $6,637 grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, plus another $4,000 from the American Legion post, to buy bulletproof vests.

Councilman Dave Taylor advised residents to check on the website for their leaf collection schedule. Councilman Paul Marchal, on behalf of the Stafford Township Historical Society and Commission, said the historic church on Route 9 will be prepped and painted by the end of the year.

Spodofora said there is no truth to the rumor that the American Legion building at 94 Stafford Ave. is going to be demolished. To the contrary, it will be protected in the updated code, and an architectural engineer is doing some survey work so any needed repairs can be made.

Councilman Ray Fix said the Mill Creek Pavilion should be done in time for next month’s Christmas tree lighting. A new evergreen tree will be delivered and planted “because something happened to the other tree,” he said. Officials in town have speculated that the existing tree was poisoned.

*   *   *

The public comment portion of the meeting got very political, and eventually Township Attorney Christopher J. Connors intervened.

Beach Haven West Civic Association President Dawn Papatheodorou wanted to know if the letter she received from the mayor endorsing Democratic mayoral candidate Joe Mangino was legal and who paid for the mailing.

“It is legal, provided it’s not paid for by public funds,” Connors said. Spodofora said he wrote the letter and that he “paid for most of it,” with help from Mangino’s campaign.

“I don’t remember the mayor of our town endorsing anybody,” Papatheodorou said.

“They may or may not have, Dawn, but it is done on a fairly regular basis,” Connors said.

Then, in what may be hereafter known as the “One Stafford Township” speech, Spodofora took the opportunity (following Jeanine Sciglitano’s second reading of her open letter, which was also published in The SandPaper) to clear the air about some things that have been bothering him. His extemporaneous comments ended with a plea for reason and civility.

“For godsakes, come on,” he said. “Let’s be realistic. This is a wonderful town.” He called for an end to the negativity. “We are doing great because we are one community. This is one Stafford Township. That’s why we’re doing great.”

First, in response to Sciglitano’s suggestion that he and Mangino have had a series of meetings at town hall, Spodofora said Mangino came in to his office once to ask for a bunch of information, which Spodofora provided, and his second visit was to return the materials.

“There has been no strategizing” between the men, Spodofora said. He has offered to lend his expertise to whoever gets elected to help see certain ongoing projects to completion.

Furthermore, he said he took exception to comments about lagoon maintenance in Beach Haven West, given Stafford’s widely recognized record of excellence in stormwater management practices. The siltation issue has been going on for decades, he said. “I’d be here all night if I listed every single project we’ve been working on upstream to try and keep the siltation out of your lagoons.”

He continued, directing his words to Beach Haven West residents and specifically to Sciglitano as the author of the letter: “Insofar as you being a ‘cash cow’ for the town? Simply, once again, not true.” A waterfront home has a higher market value, he said – “that’s just the way property assessments work” – but everyone gets the same services, regardless of their property tax bill. The town’s priority for Beach Haven West has been to repair the deteriorating infrastructure.

“You have a right to disagree, but I have a right to tell you that you are misleading people,” Spodofora told Sciglitano.

Jay Hoover of Howard Drive challenged the mayor’s decision to back the Democratic candidate for mayor, likening the move to “desertion” and arguing labels such as “conservative” and “Republican” are important because they represent policies, values, even the direction of society. A general doesn’t switch sides while the war is still going on. “It confuses people,” he said.

“It’s about the person in the office, not the party,” Spodofora said. He then added, “I hate politics. I disdain politics. That’s a fact.”

Resident Ernest Boerner prefaced his remarks with the assertion that politics should never be discussed at a township meeting. He then gave an impassioned speech about the “me” people, those who are concerned only about themselves, versus the “us” people, those who care about the community as a whole.

When Paul Krier, a council candidate on Greg Myhre’s ticket, stood to continue the politically motivated discourse, Connors said it’s a “fine line” because government and politics are so intertwined. Citizens have the right to ask questions and receive answers, he said, but the operation of government within the township should be the focus, and other subject matter is not appropriate. It’s not about freedom of speech, he said, but rather about decorum.

— Victoria Ford


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