Welcome Home, Werner!

Asbury Park historian Werner Baumgartner emerged from the Freehold courthouse jail Friday, hours after municipal Judge Mark Apostolou granted him a conditional release from the county prison (Monmouth County Correctional Institution). He had been sentenced to serve 45 days for failing to comply with court ordered repairs to his home.

Werner must now report to the judge every Friday and allow inspectors into his home to monitor the progress he's making in complying with a court order to correct code violations on the exterior and interior of his own home. If Werner fails to comply this time, he faces six months in the county jail.

Meanwhile, several residents have asked to hear the 911 tape that initially led to city officials gaining access to Werner's home. Police Chief Mark Kinmon told me several times that I could listen to the tape whenever I wanted to. However, after numerous phone calls to make arrangements with the detective overseeing the tape, I still had no date to hear to it. More recently, Rita Marano asked the detective if she could listen to it and was told she'd need a court order, because the tape is part of an ongoing investigation. The tape supposedly said there was a dead body in the home at that address. How long does it take to find a dead body in a house?

These conflicting statements regarding the status of this taped 911 call should be cleared up right away. From what we've learned from people who have heard this tape, it is impossible to decipher anything from it. If that is the case, and APPD acted on a written description from Howell police, which indicated Werner's home address, once APPD did listen to the tape it had the responsibility to make this fact widely known. By not doing so the department, needlessly, left Werner's reputation open to speculation all these months. Let's hear that tape!

A.P. Historian Jailed

How a garbled 911 call led to jail for one "city historian in exile" -- Werner Baumgartner was carted off to the Monmouth County Correctional Center yesterday (Aug. 31) for failure to make repairs on his home. Municipal Judge Mark Apostolou sentenced Baumgartner to serve 45 days in jail. Due to the holiday weekend, lawyers say there's little that can be done to appeal the sentence until the courts open on Tuesday.

Baumgartner, a watchdog and constant critic of the city's boards and consultants, attracted the occasional fines for violations on his property on Fifth Avenue. But the summonses billowed out of control after city officials gained access to his residence following a 911 call that police in Howell interpreted to be naming Baumgartner's home address. The caller, according to Howell, said they'd find a dead body there.

However, those who have heard the actual tape say it is largely unintelligible and would probably not have been acted on had the Howell police not sent a written interpretation. The Asbury Park officials acted on the written interpretation before listening to the tape, due to the seriousness of the charge.

Ironically, Baumgartner was removed as city historian, an unpaid position, as the city began planning its massive beachfront renewal by former city manager Terrance Weldon, who later pleaded guilty to three counts of extorting over $60,000 from developers doing business with Ocean Twp., where he was also mayor. The plea took place nearly five years ago, yet Weldon has yet to serve a day in jail. He was finally sentenced to 58 months on Aug. 27. However, the judge has allowed Weldon to put off reporting to prison until January 2008.

Update - Sunday, Sept. 2, 2007 - Just got another call from Werner.

He was taken out of the holding area Saturday at 11 a.m. placed into Pod A-1 in the Monmouth County Correctional Institute, Freehold, where he is confined 22 hours a day in a two-man cell with three people in it. He gets two hours out of the cell, one at a time, but the hours are chosen randomly.

One cellmate must sleep on the concrete floor. Werner alternates between the floor and sleeping with a toilet in his face. Werner slept on a concrete floor in the holding area, prior to being processed, which included an injection for tuberculosis. There was no choice - the nurse said, "you have to take it," says Werner. She was reluctant to tell him what it was for.

The move to the pod means Werner has to wait, possibly a week, for his own PIN number to make the only calls he's allowed to make - collect. For now he must borrow another inmate's PIN to call out. And the calls cannot be made to cell phones.

Werner says he obtained the refinancing necessary to comply with the repairs the city wants him to make on his house. He showed this documentation to municipal court Judge Apostolou along with the contract with 3C&G, a Middletown contractor, for the first phase of the repairs. He planned to select other contractors for subsequent work as things progressed. Ironically, the first payment on the refi was due yesterday. If he can't get payments made during his 45-day incarceration he may go into default on the loan.

Why is Judge Apostolou being so severe? Residents of A.P. know a few property owners that have owed far more in code violation fines. A lawyer who works regularly in Asbury Park municipal court tells me he's frequently frustrated at how Apostolou "lets junkies out of jail all the time. And, this is over a porch!" But, this same lawyer says that the court saw that Werner had yet to start the work, which it saw as "inexcusable."

Werner explains that it took a long time to secure financing because he has no income other than his rents and a $35,000 lien, he knew nothing about, surfaced in the process. The court wanted him to pay the lien and contest it later. But Werner didn't have the money to pay it and held that it was illegitimate.

Was Werner singled out last Friday? Hardly, a source close to the court says the judge sent lots and lots of people to jail Friday. Was he having a bad day?

If the jail is overcrowded it may work to Werner's advantage.

When he does get out, Werner better check out that 911 call that started all of this. Certainly his reputation was damaged by the false accusation that a body was in his basement. There should've been an official apology, since the department should've listened to the tape -- and when it did listen after the home was inspected, it should've taken a very public step in undoing the damage to Werner's privacy and reputation. What excuse can there be for not doing that?

For now Werner must beg for a pencil, since inmates aren't allowed to have money on them; yet they must buy everything, including something as minor as a pencil.

Nagging questions remain. The judge only had before him the fines and the prolonged timeframe with which to pass judgment. However the officials who have made a cottage industry out of pursuing Werner - one property owner in a city of blighted properties - know if their motives are objective -- or not. Is the law being applied equally here?

Everyone in this city - regardless of how they feel about Werner Baumgartner, must ask their officials: was the incarceration of Werner Baumgartner an equal carriage of justice? Or an attempt to silence any public critiques of the city and its developers?


Item: Werner's last post on the Asbury Park Yahoo e-mail group prior to being sent to jail. I include this so that people can see an example of the type of criticism he levels on the city.

Re: It's all about Land Use

Fri Aug 31, 2007 2:45 am (PST)

Finally, An observation regarding the most significant issue in Asbury Park, Thank you Hinge.

Economics - all this discussion about condo prices, interest rates, unit sales, etc, misses the point entirely.

Asbury Park is on a single track economy instead of a diversified path that can weather economic variations. In this situation it will never reach its full potential.

Just as a mixed portfolio of investments is desirable, a mix of Land Use is also of great benefit. Building on the character and unique identity of an area produces benefits faster then trying to 'remodel'. This is particularly true in a City with great assets like Asbury Park.

A contemporary case in point - Miami Beach - Everyone seems to rave about its success - to the point of trying to emulate Miami Beach here in Asbury Park with 'North Beach' and Miami meets SoHo marketing etc.

Unfortunately this is flawed logic. Miami did not succeed by copying someplace else, it used a process that built on its own identity - Preservation. A core area was designated a Historic District that resulted in the restoration on many hotels what would have otherwise been demolished.

The District was so successful that a spill-over effect was noticed to properties outside the district. As a result, the District was enlarged to allow more properties to take advantage of the tax incentives for rehabilitation.

Miami Beach restored itself, it did not raze everything in sight and start over. That is the key to its success, a unique identity and restoration of that identity.

The flaw in Asbury Park is the lack of understanding that its the PROCESS that generates the success, not copying the identity, buildings or, esthetics. The process is identifying valuable asserts - preserving and restoring them.

Very difficult now that the primary permitted Land Uses have changed to residential on the beachfront.