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In Ram's Head closing, Galloway loses wedding venue, fancy date-night spot

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Joshua Conover and Caitlyn Poole had dinner together for the first time at the Ram’s Head Inn in 2015. They ate there once a year, got engaged there in 2017, and went there this past summer to book their wedding and reception for Sept. 14, 2019.

Then they found out Wednesday the Ram’s Head was closing.

“All our centerpieces are done, and they were meant to complement the Ram’s Head where we were getting married,” said Conover, 23, of Galloway. “All our decor was pretty much purchased, and we did it in a fashion to complement the Ram’s Head.”

The Ram’s Head — one of the most historic upscale restaurants in South Jersey — closed indefinitely Wednesday night due to issues with the sprinkler system, according to co-owner Kurt Knowles. He said he did not know when or whether the business would reopen.

A look back at the Ram's Head Inn

Organizations and couples with events planned at the White Horse Pike inn are being informed of the closing and told they’ll need to seek new venues.

Conover and Poole, 20, of Galloway, are scrambling to find a place to hold their ceremony and a reception for 50 people. They are leaving for their already-paid-for honeymoon Sept. 15.

They spent Thursday making calls trying to find a new place. They had already been turned down 10 times by venues that were booked 18 to 24 months in advance, Conover said.

Blue Heron Pines Golf Club, also in Galloway, told them Thursday it had received at least 10 phone calls from people looking to reschedule events originally planned for the Ram’s Head.

Walter and Jennifer Kamienski, of Montville, Morris County, are believed to be the last people to have their dinner come out of the Ram’s Head kitchen. They were there to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary at the same place they celebrated their first.

They had no idea what was happening until they showed up at 8:10 p.m. for their 7:45 p.m. dinner reservation Wednesday.

Walter Kamienski noticed louder conversations and a lot of commotion in front of the hostess. He said their waitress, who had worked there 15 years, told them what was going on from the get-go.

“Sorry, I’m a little frazzled. I’m trying to take your order, but the owners just told us now at 4 p.m. that tonight is our last night, and we’re shutting down,” said Kamienski, recalling what the waitress told him.

During a typical January, the Ram’s Head employed 20 part-time staff and 12 to 15 full-time staff, Knowles said.

Kamienski, who ordered the same beef Wellington dish he had on his first wedding anniversary, said people seemed to be coming in off the street trying to spend money on gift certificates given to them for the Ram’s Head.

People who have gift certificates will be able to redeem them at other restaurants owned by the Knowles family, such as The Manor and the Highlawn Pavilion in West Orange, Essex County.

Mayor Anthony J. Coppola Jr. said Wednesday he was surprised and troubled to hear of the Ram’s Head’s closing.

“The Ram’s Head has been a Galloway landmark for generations,” Coppola said. “We recently designated the entire Route 30 corridor as a redevelopment area in an effort to drive reinvestment in that area. I am confident that we will see some positive growth in the entire zone.”

There has been a restaurant at the site of the Ram’s Head since the 1930s, when it was a roadhouse. Earlier eateries at the same site were Phillip’s Inn, the Black Steer Ranch and the Dutch Barn. Fred and Ethel Noyes — whose names can be found on other Galloway locales such as the Noyes Museum of Art and Fred and Ethel’s Lantern Light Inn — opened the Ram’s Head in 1976.

Melanie Rice, president of Galloway-based Melanie Rice Entertainment, remembers eating at the Ram’s Head during the 1980s because it was one of her parents’ favorite places to dine. Rice has both performed and booked entertainment there.

“It is a landmark, much like the Smithville Inn,” said Rice about another venue established by the Noyeses. “It had that very traditional, ‘This is a place we want to go on special occasions like Thanksgiving or Christmas.’”

'Nothing has changed' between state, Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — New year, same state takeover, even by any other name.

At City Council’s annual reorganization meeting Wednesday, newly reappointed Council President Marty Small Sr. said the state would be assuming full authority under the Municipal Recovery and Stabilization Act of 2016.

“The state has exerted their power for full state takeover at this time,” said Small.

Small made the comments after a council discussion about newly appointed Chief Financial Officer Tobo Aboderin and what her roles and responsibilities would be. Aboderin’s four-year term starts on Jan. 21. She replaces Michael Stinson, who served as the city’s CFO since 2010. The state Department of Community Affairs chose not to renew his contract, which expired Dec. 31. The state has unilateral authority over personnel decisions in the city under the takeover law. Small said he was informed by Rob Long, deputy commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, that the state was moving in this direction.

On Thursday, DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said nothing had changed in terms of the relationship between the state and the city.

“The state has always been in charge under the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act,” said Ryan. “The council president was just reminding people that the state is the ultimate decision maker and administrator of day-to-day functions in the city. The state continues to exercise its full MSRA powers, as it has all along.”

Maisha Moore, chief of staff for Mayor Frank Gilliam Jr., echoed the state’s statement and said everything in City Hall was “business as usual.”

At-Large Councilman Jeffree Fauntleroy II also said the announcement by Small was not reflective of a new relationship between the state and the city.

“Nothing has changed,” he said Thursday. “(The state) is not doing anything more than they were in 2017 and 2018, and they’re not doing anything less.”

When MSRA was first enacted under the Republican administration of former Gov. Chris Christie, the relationship between the state and the city was strained due to local officials not wanting to give up sovereignty to Trenton. Under Gov. Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, the Democratic administration employed a more collaborative relationship with city officials.

Fauntleroy said despite the change in how the dynamic is presented, “the partnership (under Murphy) is still the takeover.”

Small said Thursday his understanding of the role the state has in Atlantic City is “cut and dry to the letter of the law. We are under a state takeover under MSRA.”

However, he added the Murphy administration made a commitment to return city government to local control.

Van Drew begins congressional career by refusing to back Nancy Pelosi for House speaker

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, kept his promise to vote “no” on Nancy Pelosi for speaker on his first day in Congress, but she was elected by a vote of 220-192.

Van Drew, who also vowed not to follow his party blindly, took his promise literally.

Most of his peers stood up and either said “Nancy Pelosi” or “Kevin McCarthy” for the Republican nominee. A few Democrats either gave a different name or said “Present.”

Van Drew simply said “No,” eliciting some confused laughter from the floor and the gallery. Afterward the clerk stated “Van Drew is present,” which seemed to indicate his vote was changed to “present” to meet the rules of the House.

Van Drew said via text message from the floor that he voted no, and it was recorded as such, but under the rules “they can change it” to “present.”

But Pelosi, the first woman to be speaker of the House, had more than enough votes to win the role for the second time, and she received a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans when her election was final.

Then she swore in all members of the House of Representatives at one time, including Van Drew.

Van Drew explained his vote and why he doesn’t think Pelosi will hold it against him or his district.

“It is not a personal affront,” said Van Drew. “I sat down with her early on and explained why, and the nature of the district.”

The district, which covers all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties and parts of Gloucester, Camden and Burlington counties, is fairly evenly split between the parties, with a large independent group. It voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.

It also went from voting for a moderate Republican in Frank LoBiondo, who kept the seat for 24 years until deciding to retire, to moderate Van Drew.

Van Drew said he would prefer a speaker who can work in a more bipartisan manner and has new and fresh ideas, not someone who will bring back “the same animosities and lack of cooperation on both sides.”

He has said he wants more focus on issues such as Atlantic Ocean drilling, veterans care and Social Security, rather than involve the House in bitter partisan fighting.

Van Drew was one of 16 House members to sign a letter opposing Pelosi as speaker in November. But some have since changed their minds.

Atlantic County Young Republicans Chairman Brian Fitzherbert said Van Drew had broken his promise by voting the way he did.

“By stating he was voting for ‘no,’ his vote was actually recorded as merely being present, which helped hand Nancy Pelosi the speakership once again,” Fitzherbert said in a news release. “If he was a man of his word, he would have supported a real person against Pelosi to block her.”

But in the end, no other Democrat had emerged as wanting to take on Pelosi.

Van Drew spent Thursday morning getting his congressional pin, license plate and ID card, and greeting well wishers in his new office in the Cannon Office Building.

Van Drew Legislative Director Javier Gamboa led him from his new office on the third floor of the Cannon building through a labyrinth of basement hallways and tunnels to the House Speaker’s Office, where he picked up the accouterments of his office.

“This is my pass,” Van Drew said of the pin he put on his lapel. It and his ID card and license plate give him free access to just about everywhere on the Hill without having to go through endless rounds of security checks.

Van Drew was visible on the floor of the Chamber, carrying his grandchild and accompanied by his daughter as he spoke for a few moments to Pelosi at the start of the session.

Even after the session was gaveled in at noon, the prayer and flag salute done, the more than 400 members kept on meeting and greeting each other for more than a half hour.

The speaker vote happened first, before the swearing-in of new members, a House staffer explained, because there must be a speaker to do the swearing-in.

Another freshman congressperson from New Jersey, Mikie Sherrill, D-11th, also did not vote for Pelosi. She was one of those voting for a handful of other Congress members, none of whom apparently wanted the job.

danielle van drew / provided//  

Newly sworn-in U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, brought his grandson on the House floor Thursday as the 116th Congress took its seats Jan. 3, 2019.

Edward Lea / Staff Photo 

A co-owner of the Ram’s Head Inn in Galloway is unsure when or whether the White Horse Pike restaurant will reopen after sprinkler problems forced it to shut indefinitely.

press archives  

TWOPARTY — League of Women voters forum on the health of two-party system in Cape May County. Get pix of two speakers and a crowd shot to go with reporter story. WEDNESDAY 11/18/98 Here , Jeff Van Drew makes a point.

Edward Lea / Staff Photographer/  

Council President Marty Small speak during a Press conference about 2019 Atlantic City budget Wednesday Nov 28, 2018. Press of Atlantic City / Edward Lea Staff Photographer

Troopers describe finding Commercial Township woman murdered

BRIDGETON — Tara O’Shea-Watson’s body was found less than a week before Christmas 2016 with stab wounds all over her throat, chest and stomach, investigators testified Thursday.

Her body was covered in a blanket decorated with the two princesses from Disney’s “Frozen” on one side and flowers on the other near two Christmas trees, witnesses for the state said during the first day of the trial of O’Shea-Watson’s alleged killer, Jeremiah Monell.

“Tara wasn’t just dead,” Assistant Prosecutor Charles Wettstein told the jury during his opening statement. “She had been brutally and mercilessly murdered.”

Monell, 33, of Cedarville, is charged in the Dec. 19, 2016, murder of O’Shea-Watson, 35, in her home in the Laurel Lake section of Commercial Township. Prosecutors allege Monell stabbed O’Shea-Watson to death in front of the estranged couple’s 12-year-old son before evading police for two weeks.

Monell, who also is charged with weapons offenses, stared forward, unflinching and stoic during opening statements and witness testimony. His clean-shaven face was pale against his white dress shirt and black suit jacket.

O’Shea-Watson’s family members, who were seated in the gallery, declined to comment as they left the courtroom at the end of the day.

JoEllyn Jones, one of Monell’s two attorneys, asked the jury to listen intently and analyze everything that’s said during the trial and to determine whether it makes sense, proclaiming her client’s innocence.

“You’re going to be left with more questions than answers,” she said. “All the pieces won’t neatly fit in a puzzle and give you the picture that the government just painted for you.”

State Police Sgt. John Dehart, Detective Sgt. Eric Crain and Detective Michael Hughes, who responded to the scene the day of the murder, were the first three witnesses called to the stand Thursday afternoon.

Dehart said that when he arrived, he saw a body covered by the blanket and the Christmas trees nearby. After surveying the scene, another trooper pulled back the blanket.

“I saw a white female that had a cut to her neck and multiple puncture wounds that appeared to be on her torso,” he said. “I also observed a small portion of blood underneath the body.”

Crain and Hughes described a similar scene.

During cross examination, Monell’s other attorney, Nathan Perry, asked Crain about Monell’s condition after he was arrested Jan. 2, 2017. Crain said Monell was handcuffed to the bench in the station “with his head hanging low and remaining silent.”

During Hughes’ testimony, Wettstein pulled out a sealed evidence bag that contained the blood-stained blanket. Hughes opened the bag and held it up for the jury to see.

Before the jury was brought into the courtroom for opening statements, the defense argued Crain’s expert testimony on fingerprint identification and analysis should not be included in the trial.

Crain testified he collected prints from a bloody knife from O’Shea-Watson’s home, which he said was found with another bloody knife behind the kitchen stove.

He explained that an Automated Fingerprint Identification System lab found 40 points of comparison to Monell’s prints. Crain then made his own comparison before another detective verified his results.

Perry called the results “unreliable,” with eight other possible hits, even though Monell was the top ranked.

Superior Court Judge Cristen D’Arrigo decided Crain’s testimony was admissible, denying the defense’s motion.

While Crain was excused from the stand Thursday afternoon, he may be called back as an expert witness.

After the first day of trial, Monell was returned to the Cumberland County jail. His trial is slated to continue with more testimony from Hughes at 9 a.m. Tuesday.