Point Beach Council voted narrowly against a non-binding referendum on whether bars should close at midnight instead of the current 2 a.m. closing time.
After much discussion from local business owners, residents, the mayor and council members, the council voted three to two against placing the non-binding referendum on the November general election ballot.
Council members Sean Hennessy, Tim Lurie and Frank Rizzo voted against it and Council members Kristine Tooker and Michael Corbally voted for it.
Rizzo, who has had health problems for the past several months, attended via telecommuting. Councilman Jeff Dyer was absent.
Corbally said he was proposing it as a way to cut down on the drinking and crime that has made this summer the worst one in many years.
Police have been saying that it's been the most problem-plagued summer in the past 17 years.
Later in the meeting, Police Chief Kevin O'Hara said that on the weekends between July 25 and Aug. 1, there were 94 violations of municipal ordinances and 18 criminal arrests of adults.
Corbally, who had asked that the measure be included on the agenda, said that if council voted against the placement of the referendum on the November ballot, it would lose its chance.
That's because, according to state law, the deadline to vote to place a referendum on the November ballot is Aug. 19. The council does not have a meeting until after that.
"I'd like to see what people have to say," Corbally said. "It doesn't mean we're going to do this."
Hennessy said it is not fair to local business owners to meet with them on July 19 to start working out solutions to the recent spike in criminal mischief and disorderly conduct and then propose shutting the bars two hours earlier only two weeks after that meeting.
That meeting was held between Hennessy, Corbally, Mayor Vincent Barrella and numerous business owners and representatives, following a public comment portion where residents voiced their concerns about recent incidents.
Hennessy also said he objected to the placement on the agenda without some council discussion.
"I didn't find out about this until Friday," he said.
Barrella only votes if there is a tie in the Borough Council form of government. So he did not get a vote.
However, he had said during the meeting that he had mixed feelings about the referendum because he favored a police department recommendation to make the bars' "last call" earlier, but leave the bars open until 2 a.m.
"If last call was 30 or 45 minutes earlier, that would be progress," he said. "Keep the place open, serve food, let these kids sober up."
O'Hara said later in an interview that there is no mandate for all bars to have last call at a certain time. He said they have discretion, but that many have last call around 1:15 or 1:30 a.m.
Resident Stephen Reid had said early in the meeting that he opposes earlier bar closings.
Reid, a Republican, and Lurie, a Democrat, are running against Barrella in November. Barrella is a registered Republican running as an Independent.
Attorneys of Jenkinson's and Martell's and the owner of Frankie's Bar and Grill and other local businesses spoke against the referendum.
However, some residents, including Dave Cavagnaro and Ben Dispoto, spoke in favor of it to get a sense of how residents would feel about earlier closings.
Frank Kinneavy, owner of Frankie's Bar and Grill in Point Beach and Rod's in Sea Girt, spoke against the referendum. He said when Sea Girt began the midnight closings there in 1984, his revenues went down about 35 percent.
Barrella said, "But Rod's is still there."
"But it wasn't easy," Kinneavy said.
Kinneavy said he would not mind if there was state-mandated closing for all bars and restaurants, but that having earlier closing times in some towns and not others presents a danger of people in bars closing at midnight getting into their cars and driving to another town where closings are later.
Resident Ann Lightburn said, "I don't think this should be on the ballot because it raises the expectation that this council will make the closings earlier.
"The residents will think this is something you are going to do," she said. "I think it would be very devastating for the businesses. If you can't solve the problem by next year, close the bars early, but I don't think the referendum should be done now. I would work with these bar owners, slap them hard if you have to when their licenses are up."
Barrella said, "But how do we continue on this way? There needs to be some significant changes made. What is your suggestion? How do we deal with our obligation to our residents and taxpayers?"
Lightburn said, "Clearly, you have a plan from the police, you have a lot of residents interested in seeing the results. Have police work when most needed. It's a cost issue to get that enforcement. That may be an issue to have those businesses pay for that.
"If you want to survey the public, you can do an informal survey on the (municipal) website, not just about midnight closings, but other questions too," she said.
Barrella said, "And my concern is that there's an expectation that these discussions are going to produce something. If three months go by and it's all forgotten and no one does anything, that's not acceptable."
Lightburn said "No, it's not acceptable."
Regarding the July 19, closed meeting with business owners, Barrella said the meeting was brief and resulted in agreement that a few different committees would be established to try to resolve the current problems.
"We now have focus groups to look at each of the industry segments," Barrella said. "Each of the committees dealing with bars and hotels and realtors have two residents on there.
"There are borough employees involved as well. I intend to sit in on as many of those meetings as I can. I'm sure Councilmen Hennessy and Corbally would like to sit in too.
"We cannot have another summer like 2011," he said. "We need to have answers during the winter months to do ordinances or whatever we have to do."