Council tempers flare over Eagle Theatre funding
HAMMONTON - The Hammonton Town Council monthly meeting turned from routine to contentious in the waning minutes on Sept. 26 at Town Hall.
The meeting ended with arguments between councilmen, as well as Jim Donio of the Eagle Theatre. Mayor Steve DiDonato abruptly ended the meeting with tempers still flaring.
Donio used the final public portion of the meeting to express his disappointment that no one from the theater was given notice that the council was going to vote to rescind funding for the theater during the July meeting — only a month after the council had unanimously approved the funding.
“Never, even at its worse, was I personally, along with many others in the community, more offended with the way in which this process was handled by several members of town council here back in July without them having the courtesy or respect to pick up the phone or send an email or reach out to say, ‘Hey, we are going to be discussing this in July,’” said Donio during the meeting.
Republicans Mickey Pullia, Steve Furgione and Michael Torrissi seemed to be the focus of Donio’s questioning and comments. Donio questioned if they read June’s agenda or not when they originally voted on the funding in June. He also said that council members “attacked” the organization in July.
Furgione and Torrissi admitted to being on a conference call the Friday before the June meeting, but Furgione said that funding was never discussed.
“For starters, you are way out of bounds,” Furgione said to Donio. “The item was not listed on the bill list. It was on the backup documents to the bill list. We can get very technical. My point was the lack of transparency. If it was such a good thing, you should have been here in June and made a presentation so we could decide.”
Pullia said that the theater never submitted a full budget, which is required by the town. Donio said the theater was compliant. Torrissi also said he was for the theater but rescinded his June vote to ensure that the funding is voted on separately year after year.
Donio said he was one of 50 representatives in attendance for the June meeting and was never asked to make a presentation.
“It was purposely hidden because the mayor knew it wasn’t going to pass,” Furgione said. “That’s how this went.”
“I don’t know how one councilman can say it’s true and another on the same call say it’s not true,” Hammonton Deputy Mayor Tom Gribbin said.
The biggest blowup of the discussion came between Furgione and DiDonato. Furgione and other members of council said they asked the town to hold the funding after the June meeting, but the mayor sent the check to the theater.
DiDonato didn’t appreciate Furgione’s metaphor of liking the mayor to a bank robber using dynamite to blow open a safe and steal the check.
“Do you realize the (expletive) you are spreading,” DiDonato said. “I had enough of this meeting. I’ve had enough of it then and I’ve had enough of it now. You guys just want to lie, lie, lie. This is the end of it.”
During the meeting, Town Council approved on first reading an ordinance that would approve 13 affordable housing units. The plan is to add 84 units to the 52 already located on 12th Street. Out of the 84 units, 13 will be affordable housing dispersed throughout the project.
“It worries me how this kind of housing can affect Hammonton,” resident Dennis Foster said.
“It’s an inescapable obligation placed on us by the state,” said Gribbin of affordable housing. “Whether or not we want to control our own destiny so to speak and put many around town and have control over that or we are putting 120 units in one housing complex. I don’t think that is something this council wants to do either.”
In other business, council approved a screen replacement on Well 4 for $4,940. An excess of sand is getting caught near the filter causing screens to be replaced roughly once a week. Council did say that the sand was not getting into the water system.
Town Council also:
• Approved payment of $504,665.21 to Mathis Constriction for its work on Valley Avenue Utility Replacement project.
• Awarded contract to TKT Construction, which bid $684,900, for the Pleasant Mills Road 3 Bay Garage Replacement project. Council also agreed to see if the town can do some of the engineering on the project to lower the cost.
• Approved ordinance to purchase police radios.
• Approved the lease between the town, the Board of Education and the Hammonton Hawks.
• Agreed to write to the franchisee as well as the corporate office of Dunkin’ Donuts about having traffic backed up onto the White Horse Pike.
The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Oct. 24.