‘This one got away from us’: Pandemic revives old tensions between Morristown residents and bar owners

'THIS ONE JUST GOT AWAY FROM US,' said Councilman Robert Iannaccone, speaking via Zoom, June 23, 2020. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin
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Morristown’s council got a virtual earful Tuesday from neighbors of the Woman’s Club, scene of a loud outdoor beer garden that police shut down on Friday night over concerns about social distancing protocols being flouted.

“There must be a violation here. There should be an appropriate sanction of some sort,” said Community Place resident Richard Herburger.

He questioned how the Tashmoo Restaurant & Bar got approvals to operate in the club’s parking lot, why the DeHart Street bar was allowed to exceed its normal indoor capacity, and why no advanced notice was given to neighbors.

Tashmoo’s outdoor permit was rescinded by town officials on Saturday. The episode stirred tensions, dormant for the last few years, between residents seeking peace and quiet and bars that have discharged tipsy patrons into neighborhoods at closing time.

The sound of 100 outdoor patrons conversing on Friday could be heard a block away, almost certainly violating the town’s noise ordinance, Herburger said.

Photos shared on social media of beer garden behind the Woman’s Club of Morristown, June 19, 2020.

Even with her windows closed and the air conditioning running, Cyndee Geoffroy said, the music outside her Community Place townhouse on Friday was so loud “I knew every word of every song.”

Special state permits designed to help bars rebound from the March lockdown could lead to more trouble, Geoffroy said, if bar owners are allowed to extend outdoor operations far beyond their premises.

Homeowners want local businesses to succeed, she insisted. But at the same time, “we really want our property rights and values not to be compromised.”

Councilman Robert Iannaccone offered an apology.

“This one, quite frankly, just got away from us and we’re all not happy about it,” said Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the downtown.

Councilman Michael Elms said he, too, was outraged by social media postings of the densely packed, largely mask-less gathering.

“You know, a month ago, over Memorial Day weekend, we also we also have pictures from Missouri from this Lake of the Ozarks party. And you know, I would think that something like that would not happen here. But obviously it did,” Elms said.

In response to the weekend issues, Iannaccone said, the town has clarified its rules:

No music at these temporary outdoor venues. Outdoor capacity is limited to an establishment’s normal indoor capacity. If Tashmoo returns to the council to seek reinstatement of its permit, the public will be notified in advance. And alcohol only may be served to patrons who are seated, by waitstaff wearing masks.

Morristown Administrator Jillian Barrick has issued more than 40 sidewalk permits to help businesses rebound from the pandemic; only one establishment has posed problems, she said via Zoom, June 23, 2020. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Of more than 40 establishments issued sidewalk permits so far, Tashmoo is the only one “egregiously out of line,” said town Administrator Jillian Barrick.

After fielding noise complaints about Tashmoo on Thursday, she said, she worked with the bar owner all day Friday to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety strictures.

“Despite my best efforts and the amount of time that was spent with the owner, the owner did not comply,” Barrick said.

Owner Billy Walsh has not responded to Morristown Green’s requests for comment.

Weekend social media postings of tightly packed crowds at Shore bars bothered Gov. Phil Murphy , who warned on Monday to expect crackdowns if outdoor venues do not follow social distancing protocols.

“This stuff is out of bounds,” Murphy told reporters. “Too many viral videos for my taste.”

Likewise, Mayor Tim Dougherty promised the Tashmoo treatment for any local tavern that ignores the governor’s executive orders.

“This town will shut you down,” he said during Tuesday’s Zoom session. Town hall remains closed to the public.

‘THIS TOWN WILL SHUT YOU DOWN’ if you ignore the governor’s executive orders, Mayor Tim Dougherty said bia Zoom, June 23, 2020. Screenshot by Kevin Coughlin

Although Morristown has seen few new cases of the coronavirus in recent weeks, everyone should continue wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining six feet of distance, Dougherty said.

“Let me be clear, we are not out of the woods on COVID-19,” he said. “It is not over. It is spiking all over this country.”

Dougherty praised Barrick for “doing the work of 20 people” to help Morristown businesses launch outdoor operations. Council members echoed their support.

In other business, officials outlined…

KEY DATES

  • June 24: Virtual meeting at 6:30 pm for public discussion about plans for long overdue Speedwell Avenue park bordering the Modera apartments parking lot. Check town website for login details.
  • June 25: Virtual meeting of planning board at 7 pm to formally approve the M Station office redevelopment.
  • June 27: Morristown’s Burnham and Cauldwell pools reopen. The town still is hiring lifeguards and health monitors.
  • July 2: Indoor dining at restaurants resumes, at 25 percent of normal seating capacity, with safety protocols.
  • July 2: Playgrounds reopen. Guidelines from the state are pending.
  • July 6: Full-day summer camp opens at the Cauldwell playground, half-day sessions at Elliott Street.

Also, after years on the drawing board, work finally has started to transform a barren plaza into a park at Headquarters Plaza, according to the mayor.

SALARIES AND BUDGETS

By a 6-0 vote (Council President Stefan Armington was absent), the governing body approved the $1.26 million budget of the Morristown Partnership, the organization that promotes downtown businesses and sponsors the Morristown Farmers Market and the fall and Christmas festivals on the Green.

About half that amount is raised via fees assessed from businesses within the downtown “Special Improvement District,” noted Iannaccone, council liaison to the Partnership. Events and grants cover much of the remainder.

The council also introduced a salary ordinance that keeps stipends for the mayor and council members at last year’s rates: $26,962 for the mayor; $11,017 for the council president; and $10,017 for the other six council members.

Another ordinance set salaries for management and non-union employees. It’s up for a final vote on July 14, 2020. Below are the ranges, by position. You also can find them here, starting on packet page 7.

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22 COMMENTS

  1. One bar owner/operator’s irresponsible decision to not follow the rules is not reflective of the entire Morristown bar sector and therefore the entire sector should not be unfairly punished.

    Only those that blatantly disregarded the rules should bear the fines, punishment and scrutiny of the Town.

  2. Thanks Rosary – I’m well aware of the difference, but you entirely missed my point. Is what you’re saying that you have a threshold for when you might protect yourself and others from viruses? If so, what is it? Only specific spread rates or death rates will require you to do so? Like 1.4% for the flu you will not insist on hampering businesses and wearing a mask, but 3.8% you will for corona-viruses?

    And even though hundreds of thousands have died from the flu spreading by oral means in just the last few years you’re telling me that doesn’t warrant a mask for everyone? Is the assumption fair here to say you don’t care about the flu victims then? (Since this is what you and others assume of me for corona virus)

  3. lol @ Margret – don’t make the argument position emotional. I wear my mask indoors as well, just like you. You and others don’t want to answer the question of how much freedom you’re willing to trade for safety by your government “superiors” is my point. What would you say to having the government come around welding apartment building doors shut like in China? How about them walking around and beating people with sticks for being in public like in India? Is it ok if it can possibly save a life??

    Or why are you willing to not wear a mask during each and every prior and future flu season if it can just possibly save a susceptible person? You only care now about corona-viruses??

    I’m sure you will scoff at these points and try your best to disparage them because you don’t know my last name – an excellent argument.

    And @ Virginia – I don’t speak for all business owners on what exactly?

  4. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  5. Looks like Connor gave us a clue to his identity when he mentioned being a small business owner. He asked how far someone should be required to go to protect the lives and safety of their friends and families and others. I for one, gladly wear my mask, even though I don’t like it and am grateful to be able to go out and mainin social distances because it’s my opportunity to take this sm. I gladly take the steps required to preserve lives in my community. This is not about me or Conner but about possibly saving his life and many others. worth the sacrifice. Perhaps Connor can tell us, which lives he feels are worth sacrificing?

  6. James, I’m not against common sense precautions. I asked you a question you did not want to answer to see how far you would be willing to go for safety from the government.

    When they crush every small business like mine, force you into your house, and cause 40% unemployment, leading to civil unrest throughout the country, that seems like a bigger problem to me than the virus.

  7. JT, you completely missed the point. If numbers are still increasing, what do you think will happen if situations like the one at Tashmoo are allowed to happen?

  8. Oh please. Social distancing and wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of a virus with no vaccine is not taking away your freedoms. Stop pretending you’re a victim.

  9. “Jumped” from 575 on 6/19 to 580 on 6/22 (< 1%). Number of cases also "jumped" from 580 on 6/22 to 581 on 6/25. Given the 2 week incubation period, this "jump" has nothing to do with Tashmoo. Did I miss where we were guaranteed that there would be no new cases as we progress through the phased reopening?

  10. Hey James – will you answer my question? “at what point is the cost of safety too detrimental to freedom?”

  11. Hey Connor, did you see in the news today that COVID numbers in Morristown and Morris Township have jumped this week? That’s what happens when you have attitudes such as yours, put your guard down, and think all of this is over.

  12. @ Rosary – lol. I’m sorry you cant understand my point. Milton Friedman brought up the same point about the Ford Pinto safety issue. Have a listen, maybe it will help. Summary – at what point is the cost of safety too detrimental to freedom was my question. His had to do with price, but same logic is used.

    FACT: “Between October 1, 2019 and April 4, 2020, there have been 39 million – 56 million flu illnesses, 410,000 – 740,000 hospitalizations, and 24,000 – 62,000 deaths from flu, of which 169 are pediatric, according to the CDC.”

  13. Cyndee Geoffroy, if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em! You should have headed over to the beer garden and tipped a few.

  14. Connor:
    Aside from the fact that your comment is unintelligible, I also note that when there’s no full identity, there’s no credibility.

  15. It should have never happened. Those who cannot socially distance and wear masks should come down to Morristown Medical Center and ask about the suffering and unnecessary deaths. Is 120000 dead americans not enough to wake people up?! We don’t allow drunk driving because of its deadly risk to others, this is same thing. Heartless and selfish. Sadly Jersey will likely have more deaths, more lockdowns and economic harm linked to reckless businesses and personal behavior such as this.

  16. O no, people having fun and having a drink at their own free will! We can’t have that – shut it down!

    Gotta love the outrage folks and those continuously caving to them. Can the people that were there not for themselves decide what risk they’re willing to take? We need other people to complain and pressure government into forcing their own opinion on others through the use of force?

  17. What you don’t write how the board don’t answer everyone’s questions or address everyone’s comments ?
    3 rd time I have made valid questions and comments and No one has addressed them ! Why not write about something important ? Okay Tashmoo Had a outside party … and ? What cause they made too much noise ?
    Why don’t you write about the public disturbance, that goes on daily in the 2 Nd ward and how our 2nd ward councilwoman is doing nothing like the council women before her .

    Thought the news was suppose to report ALL news , just not news that they want ..

    I didn’t know this was a liberal media news outlet

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