BRADLEY BEACH – A volunteer bumped from the borough’s tree committeebecause of her Facebook postings said she believes her removal violated her First Amendment rights.
Bradley Beach resident Jane DeNoble said she hopes Mayor Larry Fox reconsiders his decision not to reappoint her to the Shade Tree Commission, a volunteer board that oversees replanting healthy trees throughout town.
“I just want to plant trees,” she said.
Fox said in an interview with the Asbury Park Press that the issue was not the opinions DeNoble espoused in her social media posts, but that she had been posting inaccurate information at times. Fox said he had addressed his concerns about her social media posts with her before she was appointed to the board and had offered to meet with her privately about the appointment after he returned from vacation.
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“That’s her right to have an opinion. When you are representing the borough, you have to temper and think about what you’re doing. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request,” he said.
Now Shade Tree Commission and council members — who described DeNoble as an “incredible asset” and “invaluable” to the board — say they hope the mayor fulfills their request to reappoint DeNoble.
DeNoble said she assumed it was an oversight that her name was not among the appointments to volunteer boards at Bradley Beach’s reorganization meeting.
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But she said she later learned in an email from Fox, who has the sole purview as mayor to name people to volunteer boards, that her social media posts were what killed her reappointment.
“I firmly believe in the rights of people to exercise their First Amendment
rights. However, when one becomes a representative of the borough, which
volunteers become when they serve on a borough board or commission, those
rights are tempered by being in the position of a borough representative.
This is exactly what we discussed previously was not to occur going forward,” Fox wrote in an email sent to DeNoble that she provided to the Press.
DeNoble and her boyfriend are administrators of the “Preserving Bradley Beach New Jersey” Facebook group. She said she began years ago posting the dates and times of the borough’s meetings as well as agenda items after hearing from neighbors and others in town that they weren’t aware of decisions the borough were making about key issues.
“We do it to keep people in the loop. We did it as a courtesy. I don’t know what could have been that bad,” she said.
DeNoble said she does at times post her opinion about issues — she is a proponent of open space, opposed an effort to allow hotels and motels in the borough and disagreed with a proposal to buy a movie theater — but also couches those comments by encouraging residents to share their own thoughts with the borough council.
“Regardless, it doesn’t matter how many posts he doesn’t like, I still have the right to free speech,” she said.
Fox said DeNoble’s posts were at times divisive, but said his concern was the accuracy. He said DeNoble posted on social media that the borough’s reorganization meeting was on the wrong day, which resulted in confusion among residents.
He also took issue with DeNoble’s concerns about a business’ request to put a sandwich board sign in the borough’s park. Fox said DeNoble was “trying to inflame people that this was a problem.”
Fox said he also heard concerns that DeNoble “had a habit of trying to direct people in the borough as volunteer,” including the borough’s department of public works.
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DeNoble disputed Fox’s issues. She said she simply copies and pastes meeting dates and times from the borough’s website and did not intend to misinform residents.
“If I put something that is a mistake, then that’s a mistake,” she said. “I’ve seen spelling errors. Does that get us in trouble too?”
DeNoble said she has not had an issue with borough’s public works department. The Shade Tree Commission chairman, who has also called for DeNoble to be reappointed, communicates with public works on behalf of the commission, she said.
DeNoble said that while she doesn’t believe business signs should be placed in parks, she was also concerned doing so would jeopardize Bradley Beach’s ability to receive future Green Acre grants, state funding to preserve open space. She said she reached out to New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to get an answer.
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Councilman Al Gubatosi, who has served as a liaison to the Shade Tree Commission, defended DeNoble and said she should be reappointed. He said her concern over the Green Acres grants “was a good question.”
Gubatosi said the borough’s website also initially had the wrong date for the reorganization meeting.
But he said those are no reason for any volunteer to be removed from a board and called doing so “unAmerican.”
“This could just as easily happen to any volunteer. I don’t think this is a case of her yelling fire in a crowded movie theater,” he said. “It’s a typical public banter you would expect if you are engaged in public activity.”
Councilman John Weber, who is also liaison to the Shade Tree Commission, said DeNoble should be reappointed to the commission despite whatever differences exist between her and the mayor.
“If someone wants to volunteer for a town and their fellow volunteers like them and think they are doing a good job, that should be enough to put someone on a volunteer board,” Weber said.
“To me, that’s not a reason to keep someone off a board or commission.”
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Susanne Cervenka covers Monmouth County government and property tax issues, winning several state and regional awards for her work. She’s covered local government for 15 years, with stops in Ohio and Florida before arriving in New Jersey in 2013. Contact her at @scervenka; 732-643-4229; firstname.lastname@example.org.