ATTITUDE: Part 3 of A Tale of Two Boroughs

I have to hand it to John Schneider.

Both John and I are writers, both are talkers, and both love Highlands. We both have authored several books on the Bayshore, and both know a lot of people. Neither one of us is shy. And; we are both thinkers.

Given all those similarities, I was still surprised last week when, separate from each other, not talking to each other, we both came up with very similar conclusions.

I don’t know his thinking other than what he had on one of his pages. I don’t know how many council meetings he attends or hears later, nor how well he knows any of the people involved. But my conclusion, very similar to John’s, is the topic of this third issue on the differences between Highlands and Atlantic Highlands.

John said If a town has a local government not being run very well, members of the (Facebook) group related to the town are far more restless and agitated than other towns. “

That’s very close to what I have been pointing out on this issue.

For instance: I ask a question of Highlands government, be it the Mayor, Council or Administration. My response is absolutely nothing, nada, zero, zilch.

They ignore me.

I try a second time. That generates a one-word response to my question as to whether the unanswered email was received or not. Not even a polite one-word response or acknowledgement. Simply “received.”

I’m left with a feeling of being disrespected, that I’m not worthy of a response.

Isn’t that enough to make someone restless and agitated?

I ask the exact same or similar question in Atlantic Highlands … I have the response within an hour, or a reason why I don’t have the answer to my question.

I honestly don’t know what would happen if I had to ask the questions a second time in Atlantic Highlands … It’s never happened because I’ve never had to ask a second time.

What I do know is that dealing with Atlantic Highlands leaves me neither restless nor agitated.

I ask how many OPRAs have been filed for information in Atlantic Highlands, I get my answer. A town where I have never had to file a single OPRA to get answers to questions.

I request the same information in Highlands … Still waiting.

My own common sense tells me there’s a heck of a lot more OPRAS filed in Highlands, and it isn’t because people are more curious. It’s because the current elected officials in Highlands simply do not want to talk to you or tell you anything in Highlands.

The sideline expense, of course, is Highlands also sends their OPRA requests to an attorney. Just for fun, or grief, check out the attorney costs in any monthly payment of bills.

While you’re delving into the monthly bills, check out the number of different attorneys who are making money from advising the Highlands government.

Doesn’t that make you restless and agitated? And suspicious?

The woman I mentioned in a previous article who asked and asked for a police report on her own complaint? She finally got an answer after three tries. Of course, it had information redacted, even though it is a complaint she herself filed about an alleged act on herself.

She is the reported victim, and it took her three tries to get just a little bit of what she requested. And then the record showed the report wasn’t filed by the cop with whom she met.

Doesn’t that make you restless and agitated? And suspicious and worried?

Months ago, several citizens expressed real fear and concern over beryllium found in dirt and sand a property owner had dumped on the Borough Right of Way. There is no question that he dumped it, because the court found he dumped it on borough land. Property Highlands taxpayers pay for; but not as a dumping ground, especially for things the state finds dangerous enough to record and seek out. The owner wasn’t particularly fazed. He only had to pay a small fine in municipal court for it. Piece of cake.

Doesn’t that make you restless and agitated? And suspicious and worried and exasperated?

Then there was lots of ridicule of the concerned citizen. That little bit of beryllium? That won’t hurt anything. Why are you making such a big deal of it? Even the mayor at a public meeting said, “this is ridiculous.”

Ridiculous to worry about cancer causing elements found in the ground where you walk, being blown into the air you breath and inhale? Ridiculous the mayor said?

The Atlantic Highlands Mayor would have sympathized, asked questions, called on the administrator to investigate further. The Atlantic Highlands council would have looked for more action.

The Highlands mayor? She said it was “ridiculous”, and no one else on council said a word.

Well, apparently the state thought it was a big deal. Because they were the ones who identified it, they were the ones who thought it important enough to mention, they were the ones who said it had to be removed. Oh yeah, they were the ones who said it was a danger.

The powers that be in Highlands didn’t get concerned at all. Not one iota.

Doesn’t that make you feel restless and agitated? And suspicious and worried and exasperated and fearful?

Then another citizen asked who is paying the thousands of dollars for the 2000+ page engineers report that had to be done because that businessman dumped his beryllium containing soil on borough land and paid a small fine for doing it.

That’s not important to the governing body either.

That citizen has not gotten an answer yet.

Doesn’t that make you feel restless and agitated and suspicious and worried and exasperated and fearful and apprehensive?

The list goes on and on because I don’t think there’s any end to the adjectives that can describe how people feel when, like John says it’s a town that has “a local government not being run very well.”

Let’s consider the non-vocal signals.

The three-minute limits on talking at public meetings in Highlands.

Atlantic Highlands doesn’t limit its speakers at all. Not in time. Not in the number of times a citizen gets up and talks.

In Highlands, it depends on who you are how closely the clock is watched or how much the Mayor likes the things you’re saying.

That’s an easy thing to check. Some three-minute speakers are advised their time is up before the clock ticks three minutes.

Others speak far beyond the three minutes.

Some citizens who don’t live in town are not allowed to speak at all, their mikes shut off in virtual sessions, a direct and very blatant violation of both state and federal laws. While others are allowed to drone on.

A classic example in Highlands was a few months ago when some guys from Eatontown wanted to, and got every opportunity to, praise the benefits of being on top of the cannabis issue and the need to get it a shop approved here … regardless of whether the state was telling the towns of the laws it would eventually pass. Not that that’s happened yet either, but again, that’s another story…

Atlantic Highlands doesn’t do that.

Sure, their government leaders disagree. But they do it politely, almost always, they do it with research and thought behind it, and they do it in front of the people at a meeting before deciding on an issue.

They even let the folks talk on and on, and on, sometimes ad nauseum. But somehow you get the feeling that while the governing body isn’t particularly interested in what you have to say and don’t want to hear the long version of it, they also realize it is a citizen’s right, and they see it as their obligation, to not only listen to everything you say but even give the appearance they’re vitally interested in it.

Being heard is a tenet of our Democracy, it makes the people feel good, it makes people fell that they are part of the process, especially when they disagree.

You don’t see that feeling of restlessness, agitation, frustration and contempt coming out of an Atlantic Highlands meeting, only in Highlands.

Atlantic Highlands has lots of people call to ask questions, on everything from how come there’s trash on the ground in the recycling yard…a rarity at best…to what’s that new building going up on First Avenue and do they have all the permits they need?

But these questions get answered by polite, soft spoken, and very well-informed elected officials or employees. Almost immediately, or with an explanation, apology for a delay, and a promise to get back with all the information. Then it gets better!

The Atlantic Highlands folks even really do get back with the information. Again, no restlessness or agitation, no constant chatter and frustration on Facebook.

Atlantic Highlands people don’t always agree, nor do they like decisions that are made; but still, they feel good about things… And they teach themselves to accept and understand a little more about what goes into running a government. It makes them realize that even if they don’t agree with the decisions, or individuals, they know they’ve been heard.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. This isn’t something limited to this Mayor and Council in either town. This is something that’s in John’s theory that “If a town has a local government not being run very well, members of the group related to the town are far more restless and agitated than other towns. “ this has been the reality for far too long

Back in the days when my kids were in high school at Mater Dei, I was shocked to see how they finally found out that they were ‘different’ because they lived in Highlands.

They had been in Pop Warner, been Pop Warner cheerleaders, were in scouts, and they never knew any difference between themselves and the Atlantic Highlands kids they met through those activities.

They took the same bus to Mater Dei with the Atlantic Highlands kids, and they all got along, shared notes, complained about the same teachers. But in school, they knew and were felt to feel they were different.

The New Monmouth and other Middletown kids didn’t include them in stuff…they were the clamdiggers, a lower class, just like Keansburg who were considered the Burgers and were kept on the outside of the loop just like the Highlands kids. The Burgers and the Clamdiggers were ‘kinda different, you understand.” And the Middletown and New Monmouth kids snickered and laughed at them.

When guys like Dick Schwartz and Ray Ramerez were running for office in Highlands in the 1980s and 90s, they were criticized and mocked, not because of what they knew or didn’t know about running a town, not because of what they wanted or didn’t want to do to improve the town, not because they were of a particular political party. They were mocked because they were “outsiders, newcomers, carpet baggers, and bennies … The new guys on the block.

Summers, when Highlands overflowed with visitors staying in their broad array of cottages and unheated summer bungalows all over town, the ‘locals’ mocked the Bennies, wanted them to go home, wanted them to know they were different from the Hartsgroves, the Parkers, the Cottrells, the Johnsons, the families who had been here for generations, who forged the town and brought their next generation up here … but they sure didn’t like the bennies.

Well, today, the Bennies are here … and they’re doing the same thing… They aren’t bennies now, but they don’t want to hear from the folks who forged the town, who have been here for generations, who raised their kids here, who kept the town running during tough times.

The no-longer bennies, those folks from northern New Jersey and New York want to be in control and want to keep letting the locals know that sure they love this town, sure they love everything about it. But oh, yeah, sure, now that we moved here because we love everything about it, we want to change it. We want to let you profit from our experience and our knowledge of the towns where we lived and didn’t like as much as Highlands. Yeah, we moved to your town because we love it. But now that we’re here, we want to change it.

Atlantic Highlands doesn’t generally think that way… and never did. There are newcomers and old-timers on the governing body, there are people who share opinions and don’t turn up their noses at those they don’t know or understand.

They’re simply folks that moved to a town, like it, and want to be a part of keeping it the town they love, but still accepting that changes have to be made, changes have to be accepted. Some of them certainly want to make changes, and they’re working towards it. But they do it in a quieter, more subtle, more respectful and courteous way... and the people don’t feel restless and agitated. That’s because they just want the whole town to get involved in making these changes. And they listen to the people before they make these changes.

So, John Schneider, I think your perception is dead on. I think you read people well, and I think it really all does come down to how people and their beloved hometown are treated on an everyday basis.

“If a town has a local government not being run very well, members of the group related to the town are far more restless and agitated than other towns. “


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