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Kapenstein resigns, council sets May 11 deadline for residents to apply to fill seat

By Dan Miller, danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 5/1/18

Middletown Borough Council during its May 1 meeting voted 5-0 to accept with regret the resignation of Councilor Ben Kapenstein.

 

Kapenstein in a resignation letter submitted on May 1 …

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Kapenstein resigns, council sets May 11 deadline for residents to apply to fill seat

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Middletown Borough Council during its May 1 meeting voted 5-0 to accept with regret the resignation of Councilor Ben Kapenstein.

Kapenstein in a resignation letter submitted on May 1 said that his reason for stepping down is tied to he and his family planning to move from their current residence in the borough during the summer of 2018.

“While we are looking for homes in the borough and hope to remain as residents, if there is even the slightest chance that we will move elsewhere, I do not think it is proper for me to be sitting on council making decisions that affect the town,” Kapenstein said in the letter.

“In addition, I’ve dedicated a lot of time in the last four and a half years to the Borough and have long been promising my young family that I will find more time to spend with them,” Kapenstein continued in his letter. “While I am excited to make that promise a reality, it is bittersweet to leave the Council. I am confident, however, in the abilities of my fellow Council members, the Mayor, and the Administration to continue working hard for the residents of Middletown.”

Council set May 11 as the deadline for borough residents to apply to the borough to fill Kapenstein’s seat. Council plans to interview the candidates and appoint someone to fill the seat during council’s May 16 meeting.

Kapenstein was re-elected to a two-year term in 2017, so whoever fills the seat will serve until the end of 2019. The person could chose to run for election to a full term in 2019.

Kapenstein in a separate text message to the Press & Journal said that his resignation has “nothing at all to do” with council and the borough’s current challenges related to the 50-year lease of Middletown’s water and sewer systems to Middletown Water Joint Venture LLC, which includes Suez, the private company that operates the water and sewer systems under the lease.

Kapenstein, a financial analyst first elected to council in 2013, as a councilor in 2014 was chosen by then-Council President Chris McNamara to chair a council committee that was created to explore the feasibility of leasing the water and sewer systems.

Kapenstein publicly advocated leasing the systems, and in September 2014 council approved the 50-year lease along with the borough’s former water authority. The authority was dissolved as a result of the lease.

Council on April 16 sued the joint venture and Suez to block Suez from imposing an 11.5 percent surcharge on Middletown water and sewer bills that the joint venture says is to make up for a water sales shortfall during the first three years of the lease, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

Council in the lawsuit is also trying to “reform” the formula in the lease that goes into determining if a water sales shortfall exists and by how much, contending that the formula provides a financial windfall to Suez and the joint venture, at the expense of borough residents and businesses.

The lawsuit is in U.S. Middle District Court and a hearing to consider the borough’s motion for an injunction to block the surcharge has been scheduled for Wednesday, May 9.

Kapenstein’s resignation is the second on council within less than the last two months. Diana McGlone resigned from council in March over what she referred to as “the continual targeting and harassment” of her by borough officials and “associates.” 

Council in April chose Angela Lloyd to fill McGlone’s seat from among five borough residents who had applied.

While attention of late has been focused on Kapenstein’s role in the now-controversial lease, council in accepting his resignation focused on the role Kapenstein played in bringing stability to the borough after he was elected president of council in January 2016.

McNamara in November 2015 had been defeated in his bid for re-election, and key members of the borough’s management staff who were associated with McNamara’s tenure abruptly left the borough at the end of 2015. A new council with a new majority elected Kapenstein as their new leader.

“When he took over as council president we had an empty house here, absolutely no administration whatsoever. I don’t think you could be handed a worse deal of cards than we as a team and Ben had as a council president,” said Mayor James H. Curry III, who was elected to his first term in 2013 at the same time Kapenstein was first elected to council.

“He ushered us through some very difficult times and he always did it with a voice of reason. He has many qualities that make him a good councilor, but I think the most important is that he always had the town’s best interest at heart.”

Kapenstein served as council president from January 2016 until March 2017, when he stepped down due to personal reasons related to his job and family.

He was replaced as president by Damon Suglia, who said that Kapenstein had been “a great asset to our town and a great teammate to work with here on council. He did a lot for us and brought a lot of knowledge to the table.”