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Oceans of Rhythm Festival returns for 26th year

By Neil Schulman

Long Branch — The 26th Annual Oceans of Rhythm Festival is returning to the city on Saturday, bringing messages of love for nature, traditional African music and dances, house music and more.

Events begin at 2:30 p.m. on the Great Lawn Stage by the oceanfront (or the Broadway Bandshell off Third Avenue in case of rain), features activities from and references to some of the previous 25 Oceans of Rhythm, but each festival brings something new, says Basha Alperi of ZEYBRAH, which puts on the festival with support from the City of Long Branch.

Things start with a call of the drums and procession at 2:30 p.m. The procession has sometimes been held towards the end of the festival, but this time it’s near the beginning, giving people a chance to see what’s going on. Over the years the procession has included stilt walkers representing many traditions — some nations use them as symbols to keep evil spirits away, some more as entertainment — and that’s returning this year. “That’s one of my favorite things,” she said.

It also opens with a “Shellular Chant,” a reference ot some of the early Oceans of Rhythm Festivals, which featured plays telling a mythic history of Long Branch where the sea was contacted with a “shellular phone.” But in this case, it will contain Native American chants blessing the water, sea and sky.

Yakar Roots and Rhythms West African Drum and Dance Company from Senegal once again returns to play, bringing a variety of West African dances with them. The band’s played before, but it’s picked up members since las time, including “some new ones you haven’t heard before,” Alperin says.

One of those is Tenefig Diabate, from National Ballet of Guinea.

Yakar Roots and Rhythms has played spaces such as Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center and the United nations in New York.

“The people we bring from Senagal and Africa are master dancers and drummers,” Aleprin says.

The dancers will also teach dance steps to the crowd. Audience participation, especially for children, is encouraged.

Things then transition to the Long Branch Beach Party, organized by DJ Yum Yum — also known as Lonnie Rawls — now in its 12th year. Alperin said there’s a connection here; house music can trace its roots back to African music.

Alperin said that ZEYBRAH’s worked with DJ Yum Yum before, and “we’re happy to be working with him again.”

There’s an impressive array of DJs and singers here: DJ Jihad Muhammad, a native of Newark, known as “Prince of NJ’s underground dance music scene”; DJ Josh Milan’s, of the famed 80’s and 90’s Motown Records group Blaze, who has worked with many top artists as well as fortifying his own passion for songwriting, transmitting messages of love, passion, peace and positivity; Vocalist, Dawn Tallman, aka “The Queen of Gospel Energy,” has an impressive discography, and has recorded with other well-known music giants; and DJ Scott Smooth has been organizing House Music events for many years in this area.

“A lot of them really reached a wide audience,” Alperin notes. Some have toured internationally.

Alperin says that Oceans of Rhythm is the work of many people, and she’s especially grateful for the support from the city, especially Carl Jennings, Director of the Department of Recreation and Jake Jones, Director of the Office of Community and Economic Development.

“I really want to extend this gratitude,” she said.

 

 

E’town seeks new officers, but agreements not in place

By Coleen Burnett

Eatontown — Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? That was the question at the July 24 Eatontown Borough Council meeting.

The query concerns the hiring of Class III officers to patrol the schools starting in September. No one has been hired yet, and the final shared services agreement between the Board of Education and the Eatontown Police Department (along with input from the borough council) hasn’t been given final approval yet, either. This begs the question — do you hire your personnel first, or do you wait until the final agreement is signed?

Class III officers are retired police officers or state troopers who are allowed to patrol schools while armed. Schools around New Jersey, including in surrounding municipalities, have been hiring them as a result of prominent school shootings.

Borough Administrator Cherron Rountree said action must be taken soon.

“Given the importance of this issue and given the particulars of this position, the hiring process is going to take a long time,” she said. Rountree told the council that she would like to start advertising for the positions, given that the hiring process involves such particulars as a background check, drug test, a physical exam and a psychological evaluation. The entire process could take several months.

Councilwoman Jasmine Story was in favor of signing off on the agreement first. Story, who serves as the police liaison on the governing body, said there are ways to shorten the hiring process once the agreement is in place. “The lawyer in me favors doing the agreement first. That’s just how I feel,” she said.

Councilman Al Baginsky felt the same way. “I would want to get the agreement done and then hire somebody and show the agreement,” he said. But he also acknowledged that humans live in a less than perfect world.

Rountree took partial blame for getting to this point. “I did not realize the extensive process it was going to take to get qualified candidates,” she said.

Councilwoman Tonya Rivera said the hirings and the approval of the agreement go hand in hand.

“The clearer we are, the kinder we are — to ourselves, to whoever we hire… I think this program depends on how well the shared services agreement is developed and how the shared services agreement reads helps to guide the process we are looking for.”

In the end, the council gave its blessings to begin advertising for the positions. It is unclear when the governing body will sign off on the shared services agreement, but it is expected to happen sometime in the near future.

Brighton Ave. building work; applying for grants

By Neil Schulman

Long Branch — The city is giving permission for a project on Brighton Avenue to place pilings and support under the city-owned sidewalk.

At the July 23 City Council meeting, council passed a resolution granting 131 Brighton Avenue LLC the right to shore up their foundation with a wall located in the Brighton Avenue right-of-way. In return, the developer of the property, the former West End post office, agrees to indemnify and hold the city harmless for any work done.

The site plans for the new building go right to the sidewalk, so structural work under it is required to keep the building sound.

Long Branch Planning Director Nick Graviano said that the work is underground, and will not be visible from the street. But he said it was a “necessary structural element.”

City Attorney Louis Rainone said that officials wanted to make sure that the developers had permission so it could maintain a claim on the right-of-way. “There’s a concept in the law called adverse possession,” he said.

An example, he said, is if a neighbor builds a fence that’s actually on your property. If this goes on long enough and you don’t challenge it, you lose the land the fence is on. However, if you had given him permission to build the fence there, you maintain the rights.

Graviano said that in the future they’ll be asking any future potential plans that abut the sidewalk to step back a bit.

“As people come in and speak to me about potential projects, I definitely tell them there is a desire to walk the buildings back,” he said.

The space between the two could be used as a streetscape, or for tables for outdoor cafés, he suggested.

 

City seeks grants

The city is applying for three grants from the NJ Department of Transportation, two in the Transit Village area.

City Admnistrator George Jackson said that the first is for $730,000 of work on the sidealks and roadway on Third Avenue, between Morris Avnue and Lowden Court. The second is $537,000 for similar work along Lowden Court.

Both of these areas are in the transit village area. The goal of the state’s transit village designations is to create pedestrian friendly areas to encourage commuting.

Both of these grants are considered fairly competitive, and the city is not sure they’ll receive them on the first application.

Neither of them requires any match from the city.

The final grant is seeking road improvements, seeking to mill and pave Woodgate Avenue from Park Avenue to the Overlook Avenue bridge. That is for roughly $729,000.

 

 

Bookkeeper charged with $673k theft from business

A 30-year employee of an Eatontown-based manufacturing business has been accused for stealing over $600,000 from her employer over a two-year period, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

Michelle Pulignano, 51, of Middletown, has been charged with second degree theft following a three-month investigation. If convicted of the offense, Pulignano faces up to 10 years in a New Jersey state prison.

The charges stem from a joint investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and Eatontown Police Department sparked by a referral from the owner of an Eatontown-based manufacturing business on May 1, 2017, regarding a suspected employee theft.

Prosecutors say the investigation revealed that between April 1, 2017 and April 17, 2019, Pulignano, who was employed as a bookkeeper at an Eatontown-based manufacturing business for the past 30 years, awarded herself unauthorized salary increases and personal bonuses in the amount of $223,846.00. In addition, during the same time period, she wrote checks to herself in the amount of $450,000 from the company’s payroll account without authorization. The investigation determined she used the funds for her own personal benefit.

Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.

 

Equality bill to fix wage gap becomes law

Ocean Township — On Thursday, July 25, New Jersey came one step closer to ending the gender wage gap after new employee protections introduced by Assemblywoman Joann Downey and Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling were signed into law.

The bill had been part of their campaign platform.

Downey and Houghtaling are the prime sponsors of bill A-1094, an ambitious workplace reform that would remove questions of salary history from the job application process entirely. Too often, a salary offer from a new employer can be determined by an applicant’s prior salary, rather than their experience or skills.

When a female job seeker is forced to disclose her salary history in the course of applying for work, that number will likely be lower than a male counterpart’s, pushing the employer to offer a lower wage.

“The gender wage gap can drag down anyone’s earnings, even if their employer doesn’t mean to discriminate at all,” said Downey (D-Freehold). “A single underpaying job can set a worker back permanently, draining thousands or even millions of dollars from potential paychecks in other positions. Nobody should be paid less than they’re worth, and as the mother of two young girls, I want to make sure that they’re paid for the value of their work – and not a cent less. With this new law, we’re one step closer to making sure that if you work hard in New Jersey, you’ve earned a fair paycheck.”

With this new law, the two lawmakers hope to continue helping working families by fighting back against unfairness in the workplace. According to recent studies, women working full time, year-round, earn on average $10,800 less per year than a man. In the aggregate, women are paid less than 80 cents for every dollar a man makes, a disparity that can add up to nearly half a million dollars over the course of a career.

“By retirement, wage discrimination can cost a woman hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Houghtaling (D-Neptune). “This gap may be wide enough that she may never reach the same rung on the salary ladder as her male equal. That’s a lifetime of unfairness and harm done to her family, her children, and even retirement income like Social Security or a pension.”

“Equal pay is vital for hardworking families in New Jersey, many of which increasingly rely on women’s earnings to make ends meet,” said Downey. “When women bring home a larger paycheck, it can help families across our state pay for everyday expenses like groceries, rent, and childcare. With this new law, we can put an end to a generations-long cycle of pay inequity, and help every person get the salary they deserve.”

Notably, the law includes a powerful enforcement measure, imposing hefty fines under the Law Against Discrimination up to $50,000 for violations of its provisions. Any employer who violates the bill’s provisions would be liable for a civil penalty up to $1,000 for the first violation, $5,000 for the second, and $10,000 for each subsequent violation. However, if the applicant is a member of a protected class defined by the Equal Pay Law – including women – an employer would also be liable to fines up to $10,000 for the first violation, $25,000 for the second violation, and $50,000 for each subsequent violation.

 

 

 

Friends of Jackson Woods on mission to make park shine

Long Branch — Kathy Buchan of Friends of Jackson Woods recently released an update on what has been happening at the park lately. New structures and plantings are planned.

Volunteers help out at Jackson Woods Park.

“It has been a little over a month since our June cleanup and the heat has slowed us down a bit outside, but behind the scenes things are happening. Meetings have taken place with the Monmouth County Conservation Foundation, Senator Vin Gopal, the Dodge Foundation, Gold Coast Garden Center and others all interested in helping to create a park like no other,” she said.

The Friends of Jackson Woods now have a mission statement: “The Friends of Jackson Woods are local volunteers committed to the revitalization of the 13 acres of wetlands known as Jackson Woods in the North End of Long Branch, New Jersey. Our mission is to transform this land into a unique, innovative, and sustainable urban park. By working collaboratively in a public-private partnership with the local government, businesses and non-profit organizations we hope to preserve the parks unique ecosystem and the habitat it provides for local wildlife. We want to create for residents and visitors a serene and aesthetically pleasing area for passive recreation, environmental education, promotion of the arts and the preservation of Long Branch’s rich history.”

The Friends are looking for help with their mission. They are currently seeking donations for daffodils for the fall cleanup and planting, and plan to place them at all the entranes to the park..

They could also use some volunteers to stop by the Tom Booth Garden and the sensory garden on the Avenel entrance to the park and pull a few weeds. The Friends have cleaned an area for the butterfly garden and the butterfly houses are in place thanks to Public Works Director Stan Dziuba.

In addition, Buchan says they are looking for local artists “to create unique one of a kind benches to be placed throughout the park.”

They also have someone building a bug house for the park to house ladybugs and other insects. Bug houses, sometimes called insect hotels, are often used to attract bugs which fertilize gardens or protect areas from pests. The Friends ask people to start saving wine corks, broken flower pots, birch logs, bamboo pieces, and pine cones to be placed in the finished product.

The Friends also now have a way collect funds for projects. The Monmouth Conservation Foundation has offered to help the Friends of Jackson Woods acquire tax deductible donations. Donations can be sent to: Monmouth Conservation Foundation, PO Box 4150, Middletown, NJ 07748

Friends of Jackson Woods are building a bug house for ladybugs.


Please make sure you enclose a brief note indicating that the funds are earmarked for Jackson Woods Development, or indicate that in the notes section of your check.

Online donations will be available thru a dedicated portal soon. “Jackson Woods is a labor of love, sweat equity, and joy. It will be a park like no other with the help of each and everyone of us,” said Buchan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swastikas drawn in city park

Long Branch — Police are investigating a case of vandalism where swastikas were drawn in a Long Branch park.

According to the Long Branch Police Department on July 20, around 7:30 p.m., an officer was dispatched to the West End Park for a report of vandalism. The officer then received information that a concerned citizen notified the police department regarding swastikas that had been drawn in several locations throughout the park.

An investigation revealed that six swastikas were drawn, three on a vinyl fence, and three on park equipment. They were approximately two to three inches tall and written in what appeared to be permanent marker.

A Forensic Detective was called to the scene to conduct further investigation. The scene was processed, and the Long Branch Department of Public Works responded, removing all traces of the vandalism.

Mayor John Pallone stated, “I am very upset to find out about the recent vandalism at the West End Park. When first hearing about this incident, I immediately went to the scene and was deeply disturbed by the hateful markings displayed in our park. This antisemitism and racial prejudice have no place in our society or in the City of Long Branch. We will not stand for this.”

The Monmouth County Prosecutors Office has been notified, and the investigation is being conducted following bias incident protocols.

“Patrol Checks have been increased in the area. At this point in the investigation there is nothing to indicate that this is anything more than a random act of vandalism, but we encourage the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity immediately,” said Long Branch Police Det. Capt. Frank Rizzuto.

 

Summer food drive requests donations for hungry children

Ocean Township — More than one in 10 New Jersey households don’t have reliable access to food, leaving thousands of children hungry every day.

To combat this, Senator Vin Gopal is joining Assembly Members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey to host a Food Drive benefiting the Backpack Crew, a program providing healthy meals and snacks to students in the greater Red Bank area.

Donors are invited to bring non-perishable food items to the 11th Legislative District office at 802 West Park Avenue, Suite 221, during normal business hours from now until August 31. Suggested donations include granola bars, mac and cheese, soup, fun-sized cereal boxes, small plastic jars of peanut butter, crackers, spaghetti and sauce (no glass jars), instant oatmeal packets, and small cans of fruit.

“The Backpack Crew program shows the power of volunteers to combat hunger and help families feed their kids healthy, nutritious meals,” said Gopal (D-Long Branch). “We’re grateful to join its members in serving the hungry families in our communities, and we encourage all of our neighbors to donate and give a child the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow.”

The Backpack Crew is a ministry of the United Methodist Church of Red Bank dedicated to providing children in Red Bank, Middletown and the surrounding area with food on weekends, when they may not have healthy food available. Founded in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to help struggling families get back on their feet, the Backpack Crew program distributes food-filled backpacks to local school nurses, which are then anonymously given out to students to take home on Fridays. Students then return the backpacks on Mondays to be picked up and refilled by Backpack Crew volunteers.

“We want to help every child reach their potential, whether it’s in school, sports or other activities,”said Downey (D-Freehold), who oversees legislation on programs for needy families as Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee and who recently joined state leaders for a roundtable discussing means of combating hunger in New Jersey communities. “The first step in doing so is giving them the food and nutrition they need to fuel their bodies and sharpen their minds. The Backpack Crew is doing great work to help these kids and families, and we’re grateful to everyone who is able to donate to this excellent cause.”

“Many of us take a healthy meal or snack for granted, but that’s not true for the 21,000 children in Monmouth County who don’t have enough to eat,” said Houghtaling (D-Neptune), who worked alongside Downey to develop a legislative package to reduce hunger and food waste as Chair of the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources committee, citing data from Fulfill, the food bank serving central New Jersey. “No child should have to go hungry in New Jersey, and through your generosity, we can continue the fight against hunger in our communities.”

For additional information, residents can call the District 11 Legislative Office at (732) 695-3371. More information about the Backpack Crew is also available on their website at BackpackCrew.com.

 

 

 

Tito Puente Jr. at Long Branch Portuguese Club tonight

Great concert at the Portuguese Club in Long Branch starting at seven pm.