Eatontown Mayor Calls For Resignation Of Council President and Municipal Judge
By Eatontown Mayor Dennis J. Connelly
A backroom deal by the newly elected Eatontown Borough Council President Anthony Talerico and 3 of his followers will cost the taxpayers dearly. One of the first deeds of Eatontown Borough Council President was to install his high school friend and local attorney, Eugene Melody III, as the Eatontown Municipal Court judge for a 3-year term. Melody, a general law practitioner, has never held a judgeship, never been a prosecutor, nor has he served as a public defender. At the very least, either of the latter two positions is critical in understanding the workings of a municipal court and would be the logical foundation for qualifications as a municipal court judge. Not so, in Talerico’s mind. Eugene Melody is his go to guy for patronage positions. Melody was appointed as Special Council in 2013 and was pushed for judgeship by Talerico in 2014 before he rescinded his application after realizing he was not getting the appointment.
When the Republican majority lost control of the Eatontown Borough Council, Talerico quickly realigned with the Democrats to become Borough Council President and set his agenda. Knowing that Talerico would hold a 4-2 majority, I appealed to each council member to put aside any partisanship regarding the appointment of our next municipal court judge. I believed in reappointing our current judge to maintain continuity and efficiency in our court and was advised from the Tinton Falls Mayor that he felt it was essential for continuation of our Shared Service Agreement. Having the full support of Councilmembers Mark Regan and Donna Mazzella-Diedrichsen, I appealed to the other members in private and publicly at our 1/1/17 reorganization meeting. Each council member knew their action would result in significant consequences prior to voting. Talerico and associates proceeded to appoint their friend without communicating with our Tinton Falls partners, our own police department staff members or having the expertise in law to hire a lawyer to create a new judge. This act effectively caused Tinton Falls Council to reevaluate and discontinue the Shared Service Court Agreement.
Before 2013, the operating expenses of running our own court were spiraling out of control. Eatontown then contracted with Tinton Falls in a shared services municipal court agreement. This move relieved our town with immediate financial and other benefits. I, along with the Republican majority Borough Council, entered this efficient and economical, shared municipal court agreement with Tinton Falls. That agreement allowed us to eliminate our municipal court staff and utilize the professional and courteous staff of the Tinton Falls court, as well as hold our court proceedings in their secure and beautiful new court facility. For the privilege of operating at Tinton Falls’ facility, Eatontown paid an annual fee of $150,000 per year – half of what our court used to cost.
Prior to the 2017 appointment of the aforementioned Eugene Melody III, Eatontown utilized the same judge as Tinton Falls – Judge Susan Schroeder-Clark. Judge Schroeder-Clark was hired separately by each Borough. By utilizing the same judge, the busy staff at Tinton Falls court clerk’s office had the good fortune to work with a highly experienced and efficient judge. Judge Schroeder-Clark knows how to manage a courtroom along with supervising the court staff. Judge Schroeder-Clark moved the cases through the process in a fair, but efficient manner – which was good for all. By appointing Melody, council members Talerico, East, May & Baginsky collectively slammed the brakes on a fluid and efficient court system. Melody’s inexperience and unfamiliarity with municipal court proceedings has slowed the pace of the court, overburdened the court staff, and added to our police officers’ overtime cost. As a result, Tinton Falls served notice in January that it would be terminating our shared court agreement effective 6/30/17. Since their notice, Eatontown’s exploration in replacing the court is discovering the expenses to be quite overwhelming. Hundreds of thousands of additional tax-dollars will be spent this year and for the years to come to make up for this one intentional abuse of power. The Tinton Falls agreement worked well but was tossed aside to enhance one friend’s resume.
It is a shame Council President Talerico and his 3 allies have put a friend over the taxpayers of Eatontown. I believe Judge Melody III and Council President Talerico should both resign. Maybe this will allow us to repair our relationship with Tinton Falls and save our taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.