2008-07-30 / Opinion

Speak up at right time

If an elected public official has concerns about an ordinance that a governing body is about to adopt, she should bring those concerns to the attention of her fellow officials at the time of the vote and not one week later in a newspaper story.

On July 16, the Manalapan Township Committee held a public hearing and a vote on an ordinance to spend $1.4 million to buy a 25- acre piece of property on Route 522. The property is owned by the Providence Corporation and referred to as the Tillis parcel. The land is just west of the Manalapan Recreation Center.

When she spoke about the ordinance that night, Manalapan Republican Deputy Mayor Susan Cohen said she was abstaining from the vote because she is a real estate agent and did not want anyone to be able to say that she might in some way profit if homes were ever built on the Tillis property.

The only way homes could have been built on that property was for the Township Committee to kill the land deal and eventually lose a court case involving the property owner and a rezoning issue.

During the July 16 public meeting, Cohen never mentioned her concerns about any alleged connection between former Middlesex County Democratic power broker John Lynch and the Providence Corporation and the Manalapan Democratic Party. She made no claims that Lynch was "wheeling" money into Manalapan Democratic campaigns in order to influence elections or to seek favors in return for the cash.

So imagine our surprise to see a daily newspaper article dated July 23 in which Cohen was quoted making the allegations about Lynch and his use of political contributions to have a say in Manalapan politics. The election she was talking about was in 2003.

That July 23 newspaper article failed to state that Cohen had not expressed those concerns about Lynch when the ordinance providing for the purchase of the Tillis property was introduced in June (she voted in favor of introducing the ordinance) or during the public hearing on the night the committee voted on the ordinance, July 16.

In an article published on July 23 about the July 16 Manalapan Township Committee meeting, the News Transcript accurately reflected what Cohen said in an open public meeting, when her only stated concern about the Tillis land purchase was whether homes could be built on the property and whether she, as a real estate agent, could in any way be accused of profiting from the deal.

If her concerns regarding Lynch et al. were really Cohen's concerns, then why didn't she bring that up when she had the attention of the rest of the committee before the vote was taken to purchase the Tillis property?

It seems as if Cohen was handed a script to follow after the July 16 committee meeting and then spoon fed that story - juicy as it was with alleged political misdeeds - to a daily newspaper, which lapped it up and ran it a week later as news.

It's just too bad that Cohen never raised those allegations when her voice may have meant something — before the Township Committee voted on the $1.4 million deal to buy the Tillis property. If it is a matter as serious as she claimed in a daily newspaper article a week after the fact, then she failed her constituents by keeping it to herself on July 16.

Given the known facts of the matter, it appears that Cohen was more committed to carrying the water of her political cronies than she was to serving the interests of the voters who elected her.

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