As the struggle over the sign ordinance in Chester Borough stalled with an adjournment of the first trial date for Charles Wasser, owner of Once Upon a Table, the debate continued at the meeting of the mayor and council as members of the council took issue with the recent public actions of Mayor Robert Davis.
When Wasser’s struggle with the borough and what he believed was an infringement of his first amendment rights first was reported on Patch, Davis promised a response letter from the council detailing their belief that the governing body supports the business community of Chester.
Davis later said that letter would not be coming, as it was decided by the council not to have the debate in the media. That all changed last week when Davis sent the letter described to the Observer Tribune and to the Daily Record (but not Patch).
At the same time, Davis went on record in the article in the Tribune, describing concern that Chester could become a “red light district” and that business owners should “know the rules” and “have business plan”.
Council member Janet Hoven said that the mayor’s wording, alluding to a Main Street filled with sex-oriented businesses, was inappropriate. Hoven also said the wording was harsh and expressed concern the mayor’s comments would be taken as representative of the council as a whole rather than just the mayor.
Council member Jennifer Cooper Napolitano agreed with Hoven that it was important the mayor only speak for himself.
“I hope that when the Mayor speaks to the press, through any venue, it is understood that unless he is passing on something which has been expressly approved/authorized by the Borough Council, he is voicing his own opinions and points of view as a citizen who also happens to be the mayor,” Cooper Napolitano said. “He is not speaking on behalf of the Borough Council/Council people.”
Davis said that he had a first amendment right to say what he wanted, and whether he was the mayor or “Joe Schmoe” he could express his thoughts. Davis also said that he went to the media because they’ve been “put down by the papers and the Patch” and it was “time to turn that around.”
Davis said that “the public’s response to my statements has been positive.”
Public response on the topic and the mayor's thoughts can be found in the poll and several comments on the Mendham-Chester Patch site and a response letter to the editor published in the Observer-Tribune.
First amendment issues aside, Cooper Napolitano voiced her support of keeping the debate out of the media.
“I do believe that it is more professional and appropriate to address issues through the proper channels and mechanisms that have been developed to address them rather then through a third party,” Cooper Napolitano said.
This story contains reporting by Erika Mann.