Categorized | Hurricane Sandy, News

South Amboy Mayor, City Council on Hot Seat Following Hurricane Sandy

By Jennifer Lilonsky—

SOUTH AMBOY — Disappointed and troubled residents want to know where Mayor Fred Henry and City Council members were after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on South Amboy but received little explanation at the special council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

Mayor Fred Henry and Council President Joe Connors. *Photo by Jennifer Lilonsky

The only council member that residents actually saw while coping with the aftermath of the storm was Councilwoman Christine Noble who most thanked at some point during the meeting.

But for residents like Nancy McLaughlin, and many others in attendance who only saw one City Council member while South Amboy was without power and some residents without homes, the response was unacceptable.

“I’d like to commend the police, the fire department and the first aid. They did a marvelous job during this disaster,” McLaughlin said to the council. “But where were you guys?”

Councilman Michael Gross jumped in to respond before the Council President and said that he was working with the county as a member of the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management before and after the storm.

And when McLaughlin asked whether his priority is the county or South Amboy, Gross said that his obligation was to everyone and claimed to be working ‘around-the-clock’ for both the county and the city.

Mayor Henry said that McLaughlin’s question was unfair.

“Nancy, do you really think we weren’t doing anything? Come on.” Henry said. “If anybody was around here they would know that I was up at the first aid building everyday and at the senior center almost everyday.”

No other council members commented on where they were and what they were doing after the storm.

But resident Barbara Pasternak was more concerned with the lack of communication following the storm after she looked at the city’s website only to find notices about the Halloween parade being canceled and the senior citizen party suspended.

“We were essentially stranded,” Pasternak said. “I think there was a big lack of communication on the part of the government here. Not just where you were but you didn’t say anything. You left people hanging and this is what happens.”

Connors agreed with her assessment while the mayor blamed the problem on not being able to get in contact with the person who maintains the city’s website and claiming his computer crashed.

The mayor also blamed the storm.

“This is a once in 500 year storm. We know that there was a problem. I admitted that there was a problem with those things,” Henry said. “There are definitely things we need to look at.”

But the city council has not had a meeting since the storm hit the city to discuss what went wrong and how they were going to improve, according to Connors.

Resident and first responder Tom Kross is alarmed that there is only one generator for the whole city.

“I spent many hours in the firehouse that had no electricity, no generator, we were having heat from a stove,” Kross said. “In this day in age when you have first responders that are working out of prehistoric times there is absolutely no need for it.”

Ken Feeley addresses the Council

Connors did not let Kross finish the rest of his statement and cut him off mid-sentence because the timer rang.

The audience immediately responded to Connors’ behavior with disdain, gasping in shock.

Kross’s father later addressed the council regarding this issue suggesting that time limits for residents to speak be waived in situations like these.

“These people have concerns. Legitimate concerns and they can’t speak their mind,” Kross said. “Think about that please.”

And to make matters even worse, Connors tried to adjourn the meeting about 30 minutes into it while residents clearly had their hands raised throughout the room waiting to address the council. Connors tried three times to close the meeting, each time raising his voice over the sounds from the audience who were in disbelief.

It was only after the emotional response from residents that Connors kept the meeting open, letting people finish their statements.

“They want to be here. Let’s go,” Connors said.

Resident Ken Feeley expressed strong feelings about what happened during and after the storm and received applause from the audience after saying that he did not see First Ward Councilman Donald Applegate for nine days following the storm.

Feeley went on to criticize the behavior of the city government, excluding Councilwoman Noble.

“What I just saw, especially from you Mr. Connors, raising your voice over these people,” Feeley said. “Go home tonight and I’m serious. I want you all to really think about that because the only people we were able to rely on were the police department, our fire department and our EMS.”

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