The Red Bank City Commission, following a tumultuous two-hour session before a packed crowd on Tuesday night, will have a revote on a 10-month exit contract for City Manager Tim Thornbury.
Many in the crowd, including several former city officials, urged Mr. Thornbury to stay.
Many also blamed new Mayor Hollie Berry and Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton for running him off. Some others said Mr. Thornbury had resigned and should depart without the pay package.
The mayor and vice mayor, who had voted April 26 against the Thornbury pay proposal, said the action at that session was invalid because the commission did not properly have legal representation. City Attorney Arnie Stulce had recused himself and brought in attorney Harry Cash. Mr. Thornbury had his attorney, Sam Elliott, with him. Mayor Berry said a special meeting was needed to formally hire a fill-in attorney. That will be on Friday at 4:15 p.m. at City Hall. Then another meeting on the issue will be next Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Mr. Thornbury, a 35-year Red Bank employee who has been city manager for 30 months, said Tuesday night that "two members of the commission have made my working conditions intolerable."
But he said, "I have not resigned. I will come back to work until we get this resolved."
Mr. Thornbury said he believed his offer to the commission to continue working on current projects for the next 10 months with his full pay in place was "a win/win solution. It's fair to me and it's fair to the city."
Vice Mayor Dalton said she had received "countless emails and texts" since the recent meeting and said it was "still confusion surrounding the terms of his separation." She said no action had been taken by anyone on the commission to terminate him, and she called him "a wonderful asset."
She said the appropriate action, since the letter said he was resigning, was for him to be paid "a negotiated hourly rate for a short amount of time." She said that is what happened when Ruthie Rohen left her longtime recorder job, then came back to help.
Vice Mayor Dalton said at the April 26 meeting "the city had no legal representation." She said there are "multiple questions and concerns" remaining.
Of the upcoming meetings, she said, "I hope to see everybody there."
Commissioner Ruth Jeno, who earlier voted along with Ed LeCompte and Pete Phillips to approve the Thornbury terms, said, "Our city is desperately in need of prayer. Our employees are in turmoil."
She said she had received "overwhelming support" since the recent meeting. She called Mr. Thornbury "a loyal and dedicated employee who has been under attack." She said the mayor and vice mayor had repeatedly gone around him - consulting with other city managers and having discussions with employees while leaving him out of the loop. She said they had gotten involved themselves in the issue about what to do with the old school property on Dayton Boulevard - contacting the National Park Service and interested developers.
Commissioner Jeno said the mayor and vice mayor had promised city employees a pay increase. She said they were "tearing our city apart."
She said Mr. Thornbury was being paid $109,000 - the same as the prior city manager - and was continuing to do his public works and building inspector jobs.
Commissioner Phillips said the majority of the board was behind Mr. Thornbury, but said the mayor and vice mayor "have gone behind his back." He said the city manager is the commission's only employee, and he is hired to make all the decisions about running the city.
He said the result had been "to drag Mr. Thornbury's career through the mud."
Commissioner Phillips said under the current circumstances he did not see how anyone else could come in and be successful in the job.
He said Mr. Thornbury had saved the city over $300,000 in his 30 months as city manager by continuing to do the public works and building inspector jobs.
A number of citizens came to the podium to express their feelings.
One speaker said if commissioners "were going around the city manager that should be grounds for their dismissal. They should be held accountable."
Another said, "This is stressing me out. This could happen to the next city manager and the next, and this city will be devastated."
Former school board member Kathy Lennon said Commissioner Jeno "had made some very strong accusations. I didn't think that was very fair to do that." She said those involved should get together and work things out.
Commissioner Jeno interjected, "The best thing to happen to the city would be for Mr. Thornbury to rescind his resignation. I have begged him to stay. It just breaks my heart that he's leaving. He's a wonderful person."
John Lennon, a teacher, said it was "not weird for the mayor and vice mayor to be out seeking advice." Of Mr. Thornbury, he said, "If the man wants to retire, he retires."
Jeff Cannon told the commission, "You can't offer a handout to people who retire."
One citizen said, "We have an election, then all of a sudden the rookies are running the place."
A businessman who said he has been considering a large office investment in Red Bank said, "I have nothing but fear after this meeting." He said it was unlikely the firm would make the investment under the current political climate.
Former Mayor John Roberts said he had been out of office since 2018, but "since all this came up my phone has been ringing off the hook." He told the commissioners, "We do not need to come to a standstill." He said he would urge Mr. Thornbury to reconsider leaving. He said, "We ought to name something after him."
Tyler Howell, a former commissioner, said Mr. Thornbury "has an impressive range of major accomplishments."
Businessman Greg Jones said the actions of some commissioners were "inappropriate, unprofessional and really embarrassing to me as a citizen."
A woman said, "If we lose Tim Thornbury, we're up a creek without a toothpick."