BLOOMFIELD, NJ – The debate between Oakeside Cultural Center's Board of Directors and the Mayor and Township Council regarding the formation of a new Bloomfield Cultural Preservation Utility continued at Monday’s Regular Council meeting.
On the meeting docket was an Ordinance to be introduced on First Reading creating the Bloomfield Cultural Preservation Utility.
Prior to the vote to approve the Utility, Bloomfield Municipal Clerk Louise Palagano read correspondence from several Oakeside volunteers, and a letter signed by all Oakeside Board of Trustees expressing their disappointment with the council’s decision to form the new Utility.
The formation of the Utility was unanimously approved, and the purpose and intent of the governing body was explained.
“There has been a lot of confusion about this, as I’ve seen and heard some comments by the public – we are not demolishing Oakeside or re-purposing it,” stated Township Administrator Matthew Watkins. “The first time we talked to the Board at Oakeside, we told them our intention was to carry on and expand their operation, but the liability that exists with something that is owned by the township and controlled by a third-party entity where there is no oversight by us is problematic.”
Watkins continued, “until (the township) got involved, there was no insurance on the facility, which was alarming to (the council), as that liability falls on the township. If something had happened there, and if fact something did, the cost of that litigation, or repair, or compensation, falls upon the township and not the organization. In addition to that, there were things that were done where an apartment was made and leased out to other people, and that is clearly not something within the law or our lease arrangement that was made years ago.”
Watkins explained, “the only way to approach this in the decision that we made was to form a Utility that stands on its own, and that is identifiable under the direct authority under township. That’s where we are putting this and nothing more. The way this is laid out, this is transparent, as we hold our meetings publicly. There is no intent to change what is going on, and we told the board and their directors this. It’s unfortunate the way things are today with social media, as there’s a lot of comments (about this) with no basis of fact.”
Bloomfield artist and photographer Mark Szep, whose works are displayed at Oakeside, posted on the township’s Facebook page in real-time during the meeting, stating, “the town was supposed to appoint a council liaison, which they failed to do for years. Plus, three members of Oakeside's Board were to be members of the former Cultural Commission. The town dissolved the commission without notice to Oakeside. If the town had appointed a council liaison, they would know exactly what happened at Oakeside's board meetings.”
Councilwoman Jenny Mundell weighted in, stating, “we will be moving forward with transparency (regarding) everything we do with Oakeside.”
All other proposed Ordinances on First Reading, and all Consent Resolutions, were approved at Monday’s meeting.
There were no other public comments at the meeting.
Monday’s proceedings were held via video conference, and live-streamed on the township’s Facebook page, YouTube Page, and WBMA-TV.
Bloomfield Council holds a Conference Meeting on Monday, February 8, 7:00 pm, followed by a Regular Meeting on Monday, February 22, 7:00 pm. Both meetings will be live-streamed to the community.