Editor's Note: The author, Rebecca Greene, is a member of the Fair Lawn EDC. Article updated 7:02pm, Feb. 7 to reflect Deputy Mayor Josh Reinitz's proper title.
FAIR LAWN, NJ - Members of the borough's Economic Development Corporation (EDC) became incensed Wednesday morning when they learned the Borough Council is likely to pull $30,000 of funding this year and divert it to a planner.
The funding amount is the same amount paid to the EDC's executive director, Maggie Peters.
Mayor Kurt Peluso announced the decision at the group's monthly meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 5. The EDC is a sovereign and separate group from the borough council. The borough budgeted $30,000 for the EDC in the 2019 budget. Those funds are not scheduled in the 2020 municipal budget, which is slated for a public hearing and passage in March.
"We're not defunding, we're reallocating," Peluso told the group, which drew sarcastic laughter. "The EDC will continue to have the same role. This is not a knock on anyone."
Several EDC members asked the mayor how and why the decision came about, especially after the EDC had hired an executive director 14 months prior and relied on the funds to pay her.
Peluso said approximately six months ago, he had met Isaac Kremer, executive director of Downtown Metuchen and a certified planner, and was impressed with Kremer's resume.
"He will bring us to Super Bowl status," Peluso said. The borough is currently in negotiations with Kremer. No changes can occur before the Council passes the 2020 budget, which likely will occur in April.
According to the Downtown Metuchen website, "Kremer is a nationally recognized expert in the Main Street Approach® to commercial district revitalization...He has nearly two decades of experience working with Main Street and historic preservation organizations in Michigan, New York, Texas, Kentucky, and now New Jersey.
"Kremer secured over $2 million in grants and has leveraged over $150 million of investment. His work has been highlighted in numerous national conferences and publications by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design, The Conservation Fund, International Downtown Association, National Main Street Center, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the US Environmental Protection Agency."
Several members, who have been on the EDC since its inception, were perplexed and visibly angry about how the change in direction had occurred.
EDC trustee Joe Tedeschi said he thought the borough was working with the EDC. "We worked very hard on a job description and finding the right person to be our executive director. It's not something we took lightly," Tedeschi said.
"You sat down at our meetings knowing what was going on," Trustee Betty Baliman said. "I am disappointed."
"We had the feeling that something that would have benefited the town as a whole would not have been brought forward," Peluso said, explaining why the EDC was not informed earlier about bringing Kremer on board.
Steven Weinstein, the chairman of the EDC, said he had previously asked Deputy Mayor of Community Affairs, Gail Rottenstrich, whether the EDC and the Borough Council were "acting as partners or parallel?"
"It seems we're acting parallel, or even going like this," Weinstein said, pointing his index fingers in a V-shape.
Peluso said the borough had the opportunity to bring someone on board who they considered an all-star. "This is a person we have a lot of confidence in," he said. "This person goes above and beyond what we have now. He has a pool of connections."
The current EDC director, Maggie Peters, works part-time and has an office in Fair Lawn Borough Hall.
According to her job description, in general, she is charged with developing relationships with borough businesses, both current and potential; performing all administrative functions, and acting as a point person to plug-in businesses where they would be suitable in underutilized business districts. She seeks grants, as well.
Peluso said Kremer would do that and more for less money.
As Executive Director of Discover Downtown Middlesboro, according to the Downtown Metuchen website, "from 2012-2016, Kremer attracted $1,025,250 and mobilized hundreds of volunteers to build trails, encourage entrepreneurship, and bring incremental change about through ... Better Block projects."
"We were not asked, we were told this will happen," trustee Abigail Katznelson said. "One person is powerless to do anything without proper zoning."
Trustee Lou Weiss told Peluso, "You disrespected this body."
"It's not what you did, it's how you did it," Baliman said to Peluso.
Weinstein asked the borough for $19,700, the amount the EDC spent on consultants and the recent study that provided development guidelines to the borough.
Deputy Mayor Josh Reinitz, also in attendance at the meeting, asked Weinstein to email him the amount and an explanation of why the EDC should receive the funds.