VILLAS — Charges of political maneuvering surfaced at a Wed., Feb. 22 Lower Township Council when a resolution authored by Deputy Mayor Kevin Lare excluded Mayor Michael Beck on a special committee as a liaisons to the county Board of Freeholders on the subject of economic development at the county airport.
Lare’s resolution called for the committee to consist of himself, Township Manager Michael Voll and Ward Two Councilman Walt Craig.
“I just feel that it’s such a significant issue and such a major decision and has so many implications that I think we should have a discussion on it but then move the resolution for at least one more meeting,” said Beck.
He asked how Lare’s resolution was created.
Lare said he was approached by Freeholder Will Morey, liaison to the county airport, to have members of Township Council and the Township Manager meet with freeholders who have been meeting with the Delaware River Bay and River Authority, which operates the airport.
Lare said a meeting was scheduled for next week and the township was asked to attend. He said the board served only in an advisory capacity.
“I think it’s an opportunity here, there’s acute renewed interest among the freeholder board…” said Lare.
Beck questioned why Morey contacted Lare and not the Township Manager.
Councilman Glenn Douglass asked why the councilperson for Ward One, Tom Conrad, in which the airport is located, was not asked to serve on the special committee. Lare said he thought the airport also encompassed parts of wards one, two and three.
Beck said the airport was located in Ward One.
During public comment, resident Joe Winters questioned Craig serving on the committee since he serves as the Ward Two councilman. He asked why Beck was not included on the committee.
Craig replied he had knowledge of the airport and professional experience.
Resident Frank Saracco commented Lare was employed by the county and two of the “freeholders are his bosses.” He called it a conflict of interest.
Saracco said Lare and Craig were running for reelection in November and their placement on the committee was “politics, politics, politics.”
Resident Bob Webber said it “boggled his mind” that the mayor was not included on the committee.
Beck said if a committee went outside the township, “It should be the deputy and the mayor.”
“I think it speaks for itself,” he said “I think it’s a shame.”
Beck said when he formed a committee to examine the township’s Public Safety Building, he included Lare and did not seek a “friendly” councilman as an alternative. He said he could not think of any good reason the mayor and deputy mayor should not be on the airport liaison committee.
Beck said the issue about a conflict of interest of Lare with the freeholders needs to be addressed. He said he was between “a rock and a hard place” because it would be difficult for him to vote against economic development but he would vote against the politicization of that issue.
“I would humbly ask our council do it the right way and put the mayor and deputy mayor on that board and let them represent the township, let them go up there and twist the arms that need to be twisted and start the thing moving in the right direction,” said Beck.
Douglass asked that council “meet in the middle” and authorize the mayor and deputy mayor to the first meeting of the airport committee and bring the issue back to council in a future work session.
Craig said he was willing to cede is name off the resolution for the insertion of Ward One Councilman Conrad, the mayor or someone else.
Lare said Beck was politicizing the issue by complaining about Craig serving on the committee.
Beck asked Lare if Morey expressly asked he serve on the airport committee with Craig.
“That’s between the freeholder and I,” replied Lare.
A vote for a motion to remove Craig from the committee and replace him with the mayor tied in a 2-2 vote with Craig abstaining. Beck and Douglass voted “yes” with Lare and Conrad voting “no.”
Conrad concurred with Douglass to send Beck and Lare to the first committee meeting and revisit the issue at a work session. Council approved that motion unanimously.