Clinton Township Mayor Brian Mullay is back at it, conducting private, undisclosed, highly questionable meetings with ExxonMobil about land development plans that belong at the planning board.
“Let’s put on a show!”
A stunning off-the-cuff announcement by the mayor at last night’s council meeting seemed to take the rest of the council by surprise. The mayor said he’s agreed to Exxon’s request to let the company make a major land development pitch to the community.
The matter was not on the public meeting agenda. The mayor did not disclose any details of Exxon’s plans. He just carried Exxon’s water to the council.
Exxon has been talking to Mullay about its development plans for about 100 acres of its 800-acre property. So Mullay is sponsoring a special council meeting at a school auditorium, where the company can pitch and market its development plans outside the protective auspices of the planning board.
Mullay posted on Facebook today that Exxon “would like to make a presentation to the community in order to receive feedback on the future of [about 100 acres of] the property surrounding their existing facility.”
Mayor Mullay compromises himself
The private land-use meetings the mayor has had with Exxon are so inappropriate that, if Exxon were to actually submit a development application to the planning board, Mullay would have to recuse himself from the matter because his prior discussions with the applicant would be deemed prejudicial. He could thereby relinquish any responsibility for the outcome.
This is not the first time the mayor has revealed his naivete and management inexperience — and it’s not the first time Exxon has embarrassed him by casting him as its errand boy. Mullay also met privately with Exxon in 2022, when Exxon wanted to build what would have been the third largest warehouse complex in North America, in excess of 4 million square feet. The mayor apparently didn’t know township zoning specifically prohibits warehouses on ExxonMobil’s property — while he met with Exxon from February through October 2022. That was the first time the mayor agreed to let Exxon address the public off-site in a big auditorium. Mullay didn’t find out about the warehouse prohibition until he was contacted by the New Jersey Highlands Council, which warned a warehouse would never be approved.
Amidst an enormous public furor last October, Mullay quickly withdrew his invitation to Exxon. Everyone assumed this embarrassing episode was over. But Exxon was not done with the mayor. He has admitted the back-room meetings continued.
Switlyk asks the most important question
Upon the mayor’s “announcement” at last night’s council meeting, Councilwoman Amy Switlyk asked the most important question: When would the council receive an information package prior to the big meeting?
Mullay responded that no such information would be provided. He told Switlyk that she could ask her questions at the meeting. But, asked Switlyk, how can Exxon not disclose to the council in advance what the plans are? How could she and the rest of the council ask intelligent questions without a preview of the presentation? The mayor had no answer.
The mayor has scheduled this dog-and-pony show for September 27 at 7:00 p.m. at the Clinton Township Middle School Auditorium. The problem is that this is another attempt by Exxon to subvert the development application process. The proper venue for such a presentation is the planning board — where the public would have the benefit of a formal process that’s designed to protect the public’s interests.
Sucker for another sham “public input meeting”
Anyone that has ever attended Hunterdon County “public input” meetings about the county’s plans for growth and development knows how this political sleight of hand works. The Commissioners promote these casual gatherings ostensibly as an opportunity for county officials to learn what the public wants. The meetings are so informal that any resulting “public input” can be used by the Commissioners as cover for whatever they’re planning. “The public had a chance to provide their valuable input, which we’ve taken into consideration.” And guess what? That input — which no one can verify — always supports what the county wants to do anyway. “This is what the public wants!”
The mayor posted on Facebook today:
“ExxonMobil will be present at the next meeting of the Mayor and Council to discuss some of their thoughts on potential options for the property and to hear comments from the public to help them determine next steps.”
ExMayor.com will award a gallon of used Exxon motor oil to any Clinton Township resident who believes their “comments” will in any way “help” one of the biggest, most powerful fossil-fuel companies “determine next steps” for its development plans.
There’s a place for this: the planning board
The proper venue for Exxon’s development pitch is the Clinton Township Planning Board, where the board and its professionals know better than Mayor Mullay what’s prohibited and what’s not. The purpose of the planning board is to apply Clinton Township’s land-use regulations in a fair, objective way to protect the township from opportunistic marketing presentations.
Exxon wants to circumvent the planning and zoning board process in the hope it can cut a deal by being able to point to “public input” in support of its highly questionable development plans. (Remember the 4 million square foot warehouse?)
The public should absolutely turn out en masse to express its comments — under the protective cover of the planning board. A “presentation to the community” by a corporate heavy hitter like Exxon will not be a casual, friendly, honest event. You can bet Exxon will orchestrate every second, every word, every picture of its presentation to get what it wants. Nothing it says will be legally binding.
Mayor Mullay: You work for Clinton Township, remember?
Mayor Mullay should shake off the naive, gaga mantle of “It’s always good to hear what they have to say!” — and instruct Exxon to take its “presentation” to the zoning and planning boards, which offer the township the safeguards necessary to keep the community out of harm’s way.
Mayor Mullay has once again embarrassed himself and reveals he’s not qualified to lead or manage Clinton Township. He’s a shoe-in, unopposed candidate for another term as mayor — and the community needs to look long and hard at how easy it is for special interests to manipulate his use of his powers. (The mayor’s poor judgment and inability to act first on behalf of the township was on display during the Route 629 debacle last year.)
Three things reveal that Exxon is disingenuous and attempting to manipulate the township:
- After its warehouse debacle, it continued to conduct back-room meetings with the mayor. Will it get its way this time?
- Exxon has not already provided a detailed copy of its presentation to the council. What are they hiding?
- More important, Exxon is once again cultivating the mayor to avoid the proper venue — the planning board. Why is that?
No more surprises: Follow the rules
Maybe Mullay knows what Exxon is going to spring on the public if it gets to put on its “show.” He’s not saying. Maybe the mayor is content with a surprise presentation. The council should not be.
Everyone should heed — and echo to the mayor — Councilwoman Amy Switlyk’s request: Give us a complete, written preview of the Exxon presentation before any meeting. It’s what Exxon would be required to do at the planning board.
Everyone should want to attend a public meeting about such a huge development proposal, but it should be in the venue that offers the community the most protections — the planning board — not on a stage for a dog and pony show where there are no guardrails.