WEST ORANGE, NJ - Mayor Rob Parisi held the first in a series of open public meetings Thursday evening at Washington Elementary School. Approximately 50 residents turned out to discuss issues of concern in the area. Most of the attendees were from the Lourdes, Heights and Tory Corner areas surrounding Washington School.
In addition to the mayor, several administrators, police, and town council members were in attendance: Town Administrator Jack Sayers, Chief of Police James Abbot, Captain Mike Corcoran, Captain John Buoye; Council President Sue McCartney, Councilmen Jerry Guarino, Joe Krakoviak, and Vic Cirilo; and Board of Education candidate Sandra Mordecai.
The issue of crime came up, and the mayor expressed his concern over the recent homicide in the area, as well as an uptick in robberies, but also noted that the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and the WOPD solved the homicide; that a cat burglar was caught last week suspected in a string of robberies; and that two armed robberies had turned out to be false, after WOPD investigations.
He also expressed his satisfaction with the newly installed surveillance cameras around town, noting that surveillance footage had determined one of the reported armed robberies to be false. The surveillance cameras are set up at dispatch and can be accessed by patrol cars as well. More cameras will be installed with funding provided by forfeiture funds, a sum of money from seizures of criminal activity proceeds as established by the Justice Department.
Three recent graduates of the Police Academy have just started with the WOPD and two more are entering the Academy.
Chief Abbott reminded residents that the Ride Along program was still in force. The program allows residents to go out with officers on patrol. He acknowledged the resident's desire for more targeted patrols, describing the increased police presence after the Chestnut Street homicide. However, he noted that level of patrol cannot be sustained. The cost to the taxpayer and police burnout remained factors. "We do what we need to do when we need to do it" he concluded.
Residents may not be aware of a police presence. In addition to patrol cars, bike and foot patrols, several plain clothes detectives and officers in unmarked vehicles patrol the township.
New roads, sidewalks and curbs have been approved for Whittlesey Avenue as well as additional streetlights in the Cherry Street/Ashwood Terrace area. Residents applauded when they heard that.
Residents asked about redevelopment of the Prism property. The mayor said that the approvals and financing were in place and that work would begin before the end of the year. "It is a $100 million project that will be good for the downtown area," he said. In addition, the mayor responded to resident's desire for a food market downtown by saying that the town has told the owners of the property housing the CVS store on Main Street that they wanted to see a market there as area construction moved forward, That property was the former home of A&P supermarket.
Several residents expressed frustration over the lack of their neighbor's property upkeep. Jack Sayers will follow up on those concerns.
One resident questioned why there was no Jazz Fest at OSPAC this year. The mayor readily replied by describing the course of events that led up to the disappointing news. The town owns the OSPAC property and maintains it. The prior directors of OSPAC ran the yearly Jazz Fest, which would have been held this weekend. The new directors, NJAI, were not in charge of the Jazz Fest, and the former directors chose not to move forward with it about a month ago. It was felt that there would not be enough time to organize it within a month.
Dave Stryker, a West Orange resident and jazz musician, has agreed to work with NJAI next year to to ensure the Jazz Fest will be held.
Several residents in the audience thanked the mayor for the township's responses to their concerns in the past and applause for the administration and police broke out throughout the evening. Several residents said they were pleased with the meeting and asked the mayor to continue them.
The next Public Meeting will be held on Thursday, Oct. 10 at Pleasantdale School. Subsequent meetings will be held on Thursday, Oct. 24 at Gregory School and Thursday, Nov.14 at Liberty Middle School. All meetings will have a 7 p.m. start time.