A Tale of Two Boroughs

This is the start of a multi-part series. It’s going to irritate a lot of people, but it will also help others bring back some happy memories and bits of nostalgia. It will make some folks call me names and spiel a bunch of adjectives, none of which really look or sound like me; but to folks who don’t know me personally, or the Bayshore, it will be provocative enough to have them give me their opinions, mostly negative.

That’s ok. I welcome it. I’ve been a journalist too long to be bothered by that. I’ve never written a story either to curry favor, or gain a friendship. Nor have I ever written a story to win an award, though many of my stories have. By the same token, I have never shirked from a story because it might offend someone, or because the truth might hurt someone.

From the reactions of some people, I already know the emotions some stories raise, the anger some people express, and yes, the retaliatory messages and means some stoop to because they’re that angry at the printed word. I can’t count the number of times my life has been threatened, worse, when I was younger, the lives of my children have been threatened. I can remember one time when a disguised voice on the telephone called and told me to watch my kids because I’d be seeing them chopped up and floating down the Shrewsbury River one day. When Ma Bell completed the investigation, it was a local cop who had made the call. My kids were always fine because cowards only make phone calls with disguised voices.

I don’t like having to write some of the news I include in my stories ... that’s journalism. You have to tell the whole story, you have to research both sides, you have to tell it like it is. I especially love it when I write a political story, and members of one party will call and complain it’s too one-sided, I didn’t tell their side fairly. Then members of the other party write to complain the story was too biased, I didn’t tell their side fairly. That’s the sign of real honest journalism.

At The Courier in the 1960s through the 1980s, we would get calls that we only told stories about the ‘bad’ kids, or the kids who were in trouble. So we took to measuring inches and counting headlines. It turned out, every week consistently, that the ‘good kid stories’ always outweighed and outnumbered the bad kid stories. It’s just that more people read the bad kid stories, maybe because we all thrive on sensationalism.

So here in this series are the newest reasons for those who hate me to stir up more anger, for those who don’t like to hear the truth to close their ears and quit reading what they don’t believe or don’t want to learn. And for those who think I don’t like Highlands, or Atlantic Highlands, you obviously cannot read at all. You form opinions without knowing me, without knowing the facts, without any inkling of the history of what makes these towns so different from everywhere else. You’ve certainly got the right to form opinions and I admire you for that. I just ask you do it with common sense, a bit of knowledge of what you’re talking about, and a mind open enough to think that yep, there just might be an awful lot of truth in what makes you so darn mad!

So settle down, and either read and have an opinion or get an education, write me to know your thoughts, and maybe, just maybe, get a bit more involved in your community not only knowing what’s going on but also in having your opinion be heard.

They’re both waterfront towns, one on Sandy Hook Bay with a Marina, the other on the Shrewsbury River with a Museum, those magnificent towers silently standing guard high above Sandy Hook, that has made history over several centuries. They’re close to the same size, Highlands with 5097 residents slightly larger than its neighbor’s 4705 residents, according to the 2020 census figures. The tax rates in each town are markedly different; Atlantic Highlands residents pay $1.988, while Highlands residents pay about another 50 cents more per $100 assessed valuation. Their costs for education add large amounts to both boroughs’ tax rates.

They’ve been competitive since they each became incorporated, Atlantic Highlands first in 1887, Highlands 13 years later. One was known more for its tough, hardworking clamming industry and life long skills as watermen, the other as a summer resort with mansion size ‘‘cottages’ for New York businessmen and their families to enjoy during the summer. The Highlands kids had their choice of attending Leonardo High School or Atlantic Highlands High School before Henry Hudson Regional was built to accommodate all high school students from both towns. And there were debates, arguments, and naysayers who violently opposed the regional site being in Highlands. There are still some folks in Atlantic Highlands who hate seeing the school on the top of the Highlands hill.

They’re both run by governing bodies, Highlands with a Mayor who has a vote along with her four councilmembers, Atlantic Highlands with a Mayor who does not have a vote, and six councilmembers.

But through it all, the folks who live in both towns like each other, party together, work and play together, enjoy the fine restaurants and other facilities in both towns, and profit from the tourism industry.

One of the big differences between the two towns, at least in 2021, is the shocking manner in which the administration of each of the two towns reacts to questions from the public. In short, if you live or want information in Atlantic Highlands, an outstanding office staff, capable and experienced borough attorney and administrator who doesn’t leave the office at the end of the day until he’s responded to every phone call and e-mail, is right there to help, offer suggestions, and in many cases provide you with more information than you thought possible.

In Highlands, it may take days, weeks, months, or forever, to get a response. But that’s only to acknowledge your request. If you want some actual information on things about who was consulted before a resolution was passed, or how many attorneys were paid to work on a particular issue, it’s necessary to file an OPRA, that Open Public Meetings Act law that only came about because of towns like Highlands who are so reluctant to give up information the public really has a right to know!

Coming Next Monday, Part 2: Communication, Effective Communication & No Communication