‘Not a political stunt’ – O’port bringing back OEM staff

By Neil Schulman

Oceanport — The borough’s staff of the Office of Emergency Management, which quit at the end of 2019, has been asked to return.

At the Feb. 20 Borough Council meeting, Councilman Bryan Keeshan, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said that they have asked Mauro “Buzz” Baldanza to come back as the Director of OEM, along his staff, which included Chris Baggot, 1st Assistant Director; Wes Sherman, 2nd Assistant Director; and Police Chief Michael Kelly, 3rd Assistant Director.

“We probably have the most qualified OEM staff,” Keeshan said.

In October, Baldanza, his subordinates and 20 volunteers announced they were leaving at the end of the year. They said that the governing body at the time had not purchased them needed equipment and not met with them to discuss issues in more than a year, and they had lost confidence in the Oceanport council at the time.

Three of the six council members are new this year though.

Mayor Jay Coffey said that he could have reappointed Baldanza earlier, and would have been happy to, but felt a procedure should be followed. Instead, having now received the recommendation he’ll make the appointment official

“It’s my appointment, but I wasn’t going to sit here and dictate,” Coffey said. “I depend on the committee to go out there and investigate, and I think they came back with what we already knew. Buzz and his crew are the best thing out there.”

When Baldanza announced he’d step down in October, some people dismissed it as a political gambit to support Coffey, and said that Baldanza was sore because he hadn’t been given a new truck.

Coffey said that it wasn’t a gambit, and it wasn’t about a vehicle.

“That was not a political stunt,” the mayor said. “Twenty people stepped down with him.”

The problem, Coffey believes, was that volunteers weren’t being treated properly by the former governing body.

“For a long time there, that group and other groups weren’t appreciated,” he said.

Oceanport can’t guarantee that the OEM and similar departments will get everything they request. “This isn’t going to be an Oprah thing,” he said, referring to the episode of her show where Oprah Winfrey gave out free cars to everyone in the audience.

But they do need to be treated respectfully, he said.

“I don’t want to hear anyone say this was a political stunt and it was over a car,” Coffey said. “These are the people operating behind the scenes, running into places where we would be running away.”