Teaneck Council meeting: Road repaving, ethics, impact study and more

The Tuesday Teaneck Council meeting May 21, 2019, began with honoring Police Officer Michael Spann who shortly will be deployed for military service. (“Be safe.”) Next it honored Carol Otis with the 2019 Matthew Feldman Award for volunteer community service. (See foto above, her in the middle.) Mr. Feldman served as Teaneck Councilman, Mayor, State Senator, President of the NJ Senate, and Chairman of the Democratic Committee of Bergen County. Carol Otis was hailed as a “Woman of exceptional character and remarkable determination. Teaneck would not be what it is today without her.”

Among the most important actions during a Council meeting are those on which members  actually vote. They include ordinances – there were none this meeting – and resolutions – there were 10 this time. All resolutions passed (except minutes) in a vote block with almost no discussion. They included: 

  • Roadway Resurfacing Program awarded to American Asphalt and Milling Services LLC, the apparent lowest bid, with a total bid of $1,833,907.76. No mention of streets to be repaved except for Penn Avenue and Catalpa Avenue. No mention as to whether the company made any contributions to elected officials. Township Manager Dean Kazinci said there is a plan to notify residents when specific roads are to be resurfaced.
  •  Authorizing a contract with Hanrahan Pack, LLC as Special Counsel to represent Teaneck in connection with a a case filed by Elie C. Jones. against Police Officer Careccio. Jones alleged Careccio with Disorderly Conduct, Harassment, and Driving while Intoxicated. Lawsuits can be expensive and in this case the lawyer fees are $200.00 per hour for all attorneys. The contract was based on merit and ability not through a “fair and open process.” The Special Counsel company attests it has not made a contribution that is reportable to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. This case dates back to 2017 or earlier.
  • Supporting the State House Commission Pre-application to the NJDEP Green Acres Program for the Proposed Diversion of 0.9425 Acres of Windsor Park and Milton Votee Park as part of the PSE&G New Milford 69KV Upgrade. The diversion includes providing aerial easement and removal of trees in parts of the parks. (Addendum 3: Created Day of Council Meeting)

There has been ongoing concern over the effectiveness of Millennium Strategies, hired to seek grant opportunities and write the proposals. Such grants are important. For example, in State FY 2019 Teaneck received $217,000 for the Elizabeth Avenue Rehabilitation Project. Councilman Dunleavy is working to provide more specific direction to Millennium Strategies.

The Teaneck Ethics Board members unanimously requested the Council to terminate their board and turn over responsibility to the State Local Finance Board. Their primary reason: “Local ethics boards should not investigate complaints about conflicts of interest that might involve the same township officials who appointed them or fellow colleagues/co-workers.”

While the Council has its bully pulpit and enacts resolutions and ordinances, it is the residents, equally important, who can speak out on issues that most concern them. And in Teaneck they speak out forcefully during Good & Welfare (G&W). Here are some of their comments:

  • Howard Rose encouraged the effort to create a unified Teaneck calendar of events. 
  • Debbie Eliahu urged changes to the G&W procedures including allowing speakers up 5 minutes and using sign-sheet to gage how many speaker there would be. “G&W matters to us and we want to be heard,” she said. Later Concilmen Kaplan and Donleavy liked the idea for a sign-in sheet.
  • Tanya Turner reiterated a desire for G&W reform. She also asked for a status report on the township’s impact study. Later the Township manager indicated they were seeking funding for the study, it would be for the northern area, it would include engineering and traffic impacts, and take four to six weeks to complete. Ms Turner also made the point that zoning/variances should be based on a comprehensive study and not just conducted on single-spot locations. (The study mentioned here is neither comprehensive nor independent as residents demanded.) Later Councilwoman Rice suggested that the township seek interim solutions to the Northeast traffic problems.
  • Alan Rubenstein complained about the “unilateral and unlawful actions” taken by Holy Name Hospital in installing four gravel parking lots in this residential neighborhood without authorization from the Township. (see foto of one below.) He was heartened that the zoning officer issued summons to the hospital for these “illegal actions” and that there will be a hearing soon in Municipal Court. He repeated that residents in this area have been seeking a meeting with the hospital, but have been rebuffed so far. Councilwoman Rice was concerned with “non-paying tax entities removing properties from the tax rolls.” She urged an amiable solution to the problem. 
  • Cheryl Hall noted that the Lung Association gives Teaneck and Bergen County an “F on air quality. She knew four people with asthma, including her mother,  who have died as a result. “I encourage the council to speak out about pollution and climate change.” She also sought an update on traffic impact in the northeast. She cited 100 State Street as an example where there needs to better relations between the Council and the community. She was appointed to the Community Advisory Board.
  • Alan Sohn, referring to the above lawsuit, stated that Council was doing little to solve the festering problem of litigation and ignoring other matters such as the water damage in Council chambers (and elsewhere in the building), the dangerous working conditions in the dilapidated Teaneck Road DPW facility, and the lack of hygienic bathrooms in the northern end of Votee Park. “Too often we create shiny new items (the Field House) while ignoring what we already have.” Later Councilman Pruitt mentioned he asked sports players whether we need two kitchen and got no answer. He asked, “So why do we need two kitchens in the Field House?” 
  • Chuck Powers informed the public that there is now a draft OPEN SPACE & RECREATION PLAN update available on Teaneck’s website here. It’s important because it will serve as the plan for many years. There will be a presentation soon to the Council and then it will be sent to the Planning Board for review.
  • Tom Abbott pointed out that one of the prime responsibilities of the Ethics Board is to assure that township officials file timely financial disclosures. The board, he said, ignores this. He indicated he has submitted complaints but received no answer from the board. You can read the disclosures of our officials, learn their most recent disclosure year, and their financials, including real estate holdings, here. Councilwoman Rice said it is important that residents have an opportunity to speak when it’s an employee issue, but if it involves elected officials it should be handled by the State Local Board. Councilman Kaplan indicated that the township should hold back on decisions regarding the Ethics Board because there is a bill pending in the Legislature that would terminate municipal and county ethics boards and transfer authority to the State Local Finance Board. Note: the bill has been pending for two years and there is no certainty that it will be enacted.  

There will be a SENIOR FORUM today at 2pm at Rodda Center. (Pass on the word to neighbors who may not be aware of it.) 

The hospital gravel parking lot impinging on a residential neighborhood

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