September 4, 2013 at 6:47 AM
LIVINGSTON, NJ – The Livingston Town Council was accused by one residents and another former resident of interfering with the private purchase of land on Industrial Parkway in Livingston and then lying about it to the public at the Sep. 3 town council conference meeting. The council was also asked by residents for more transparency and clarity in their public memos.
Resident Dave Conklin and former resident John Wolkstein accused the township of interfering with a property acquisition in which their company was investing. “We would like to express our extreme disappointment with the township of Livingston, and specifically the mayor and the town manager in their aggressive pursuit of a land purchase on Industrial Parkway for a DPW (Department of Public Works) site,” Wolkstein said.
According to Wolkstein, his company had planned to create a recreational sports complex and turf at the site on Industrial Parkway in Livingston, and had entered into some of the final stages of acquiring the land.
“We had a contract on hand, contrary to what’s been told to you,” Wolkstein said, “we agreed on a deposit and a purchase price of $1.6 million for the land … We were finalizing some smaller items when suddenly the landowner stopped communicating.“
Wolkstein said that his company had spent thousands of dollars doing its due diligence at the landowner’s request, and completing environmental, traffic, and other studies required for purchasing. “Little did we know,” said Wolkstein, “that the township of Livingston would be the ones interfering and actually preventing us from realizing this $5 million investment in recreational sports in Livingston … we were shocked to learn that they learned about our completed due diligence to actually compete against us.”
Mayor Rudy Fernandez and Town Manager Michele Meade, according to Wolkstein, had then held a private meeting with Wolkstein and others in which they stressed to “tell no one about this meeting.”
“They wanted us to stand down because they couldn’t find any other land options to buy,” Wolkstein said. “We learned later that the mayor had told certain town council members we were not ready to complete this project … this is unequivocally untrue.”
Wolkstein’s testimony last night directly contradicted the public statement given by the land’s owner, Roy Pascal, at the Aug. 19 town council meeting, where Pascal stated that there was no prior signed paperwork on the property.
“I was faced with making a business decision, so I did. I told the other potential purchaser that we were going in a different direction.”
Pascal also said to the council during that prior meeting that “I’m on board with this (and) with you until you decide you don’t want to do it or you do want to do it--whatever it is.”
While standing before the council on Aug. 19, Pascal did not mention who the prior potential buyer was.
Mayor Fernandez responded to Wolkstein’s accusations by saying, “We have a difference of opinion on what was said,” and that he was “not going to get into that at this time.”
Resident Bernard Searle was concerned over the fact that “once again the township refuses to put down any information on closed [session]” in the official agenda items. Searle said that even older agenda items from closed are not later disclosed, and on the official agenda “it never gets listed.”
Councilwoman Deborah Shapiro replied by saying that the minutes are taken down by the town clerk and made public eventually. Resident Larry Kohn said that Shapiro was indeed correct, however “the most recent minutes posted on the website are from February” seemingly making the transparency problem actually a “timing issue.”
Township Engineer Richard Calbi attended the conference meeting to discuss with the council the needs and desires of the new DPW site that may be acquired on Industrial Parkway. He also discussed the history of issues with the current DPW site.
Deputy Mayor Michael Rieber suggested bringing in the architect of the project as well as DPW Superintendent Mike Anello into the public discussion about what is needed and what the cost would be for such a project. The council agreed, and will continue the discussion on the future of the DPW site.
In other news, the Livingston Community Players may be putting on another show in November: "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Phyllis Meranus, President of the organization, attended the conference meeting, trying to get permission to put on the show. The council expressed no objections.