Jul 28, 2014
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PORTASH: The Final Straw

Two decades ago, a ring of Manchester officials - led by Joe Portash - looted more than $10 million from the township's treasury.

PORTASH: The Final Straw PORTASH: The Final Straw

The next installment of a series on Joseph Portash, who helped fashion the township as a seasonal alternative for retirees who thought Florida was too far, and too hot for them to treat as a year-round home.

In the early 1990s, however, he became the central figure in a scandal that transformed his image from a reformer and innovator to that of a large-scale petty thief and burglar.

Every Thursday, we'll look back at the stories that told the tale of what happened, and how Manchester survived one of the worst corruption scandals in the state' history.

We'll also look at how Portash rose to prominence as an Ocean County freeholder and Manchester mayor, and then as an administrator who ushered in the cash cow known as "adult communities."

This installment looks at what was the first step toward change. The ongoing concern about the rising tax rate in the community led to a petition drive to change the government. On Jan. 9, 1990, the majority voted for change, putting Portash and his government's future in jeopardy.



PUBLICATION: Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ)

SECTION: NEWS DATE: January 9, 1990



Manchester Township voters are going to the polls today to decide whether to change from a partisan to a nonpartisan form of government.

Voters will be asked whether they want to scrap the present committee form of government with members elected during the general election in November and replace it with a form of government in which a mayor and a council are elected in May.

Abe Beacken, vice president of Stop Tax Oppression Promptly (STOP), said a clean sweep of elected officials and the form of government is needed to end what he called "rampant nepotism" and cronyism.

Beacken said the movement toward changing the present system began last June when the township committee met to pass a salary ordinance. A jeering crowd prevented the township committee from conducting business because all who wanted to attend the meeting could not enter the room where it was being held.

Manchester Township officials rescheduled the meeting a week later at the high school. At that time, the salary ordinance was scrapped.

Beacken said the proposed salaries were "overgenerous" and "far in excess of what is being paid" in other parts of Ocean County.

An investigation by those concerned about the rising tax rate in the community, which contains the highest concentration of senior citizens in the state, led to a petition drive to change the government. Beacken said about 6,000 signatures were garnered.

Sentiment about a need for a change led to the first two Democrats being elected to the township committee in 27 years. Beacken said the Democrats showed they would support the present system by voting with the three Republicans for the re-appointment of Business Administrator Joseph Portash, who has come under criticism by STOP for the way the township is run.

Mayor Ralph J. Rizzolo said he and the township committee have remained neutral on the charter change. Under the present form of government, the committee elects one of its members to serve as mayor. Under the proposed form of government, the mayor would be elected directly along with five council members.

There would also be procedures to recall the mayor and for initiatives and referendums proposed by the public. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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