As your Councilman at Large, one of my most important responsibilities is to keep all Summit residents abreast of issues that impact their lives in our city. Unfortunately the issue that I am writing about today does not shed a positive light on the Summit political process, and reflects my deep concerns about recent actions by five of my Common Council colleagues.
The June 21st official Council agenda properly listed an item that was referenced to as a Discussion, Action or Referral (DAR), which deals with the possibility of changing over to paid parking in the three DeForest Avenue parking lots and the ground floor of the Springfield Avenue parking garage. (A very similar discussion and subsequent bond ordinance vote was introduced earlier this year and defeated). On Tuesday evening, we heard a proposal from Rita McNany, the City’s Parking Service Supervisor. The Council committee, General Services, which oversees parking and other matters is chaired by Councilman Michael Vernotico, and includes Councilwoman Nuris Portuondo and staff member Rita McNany. The Committee convenes before each Council meeting to discuss and potentially debate items which will appear on the next Council agenda, and such a meeting was held on Tuesday, June 21st. It is my understanding that at no time was an ordinance to create paid parking presented to Chairman Vernotico, or even discussed as pending.
It wasn’t until one half hour before the June 21st Council meeting, that Mayor Glatt, Council Vernotico and I were handed a prepared ordinance which, if approved, would create paid parking in these four lots where parking is now free.
When Council President David Bomgaars was questioned by Councilman Vernotico about the proposed ordinance, and why we would be voting on an ordinance that did not appear on the official agenda, and that would cost the taxpayers $800,000 to implement, and that would end free parking as it presently exists, he blatantly misstated the facts, claiming that we had all received it several days earlier. That, quite honestly, is simply not the case.
Five Council members, Mr.Bomgaars, Mrs. Dickson, Mr. Getzendanner, Mr. Madden and Ms.Portuondo voted in support of the ordinance with Councilwoman Portuondo introducing the ordinance via telephone! How could she introduce an ordinance that she wasn’t even in Council chambers to SEE? When did she and the other four who voted to support the ordinance SEE and REVIEW it? Where is the respect for protocol, process and transparency? I have a real issue with how this went down and so should the citizens of Summit who deserve better.
Unfortunately, there is even more as we consider the actions of these elected officials. Councilwoman Dickson, who has for years publicly stated that the city is nearly broke and we cannot afford even one more policeman, fireman or school improvement, votes to release $800,000 taxpayer dollars in an expedited manner? Why? Councilman Getzendanner, who has opined in every parking debate over the past eight years that the city of Summit should seek an outside vendor and privatize all of the city’s parking, suddenly performs an about face and fully supports the $800,000 taxpayer money for paid city-operated parking. Why the reversal? Let me suggest a possible explanation.
There is a movement in town to construct a seven level parking garage with 788 spaces in the Post Office lot, across the street from our fire station. It so happens that a significant Summit commercial property owner has been having serious talks with a parking garage vendor and private developer. He has invited Council members to view the plans and meet with the vendor and developer privately. Mr. Getzendanner has acknowledged that this plan has caused him to reconsider his opposition to the paid parking ordinance, and thus the plan now enjoys his support. For the record, Mayor Glatt, Councilman Vernotico and I have refused invitations to participate in these meetings. I view them as a potential violation of the Sunshine Law; and I believe any such plan should first be vetted by the Planning Board – not the Council – as has traditionally been the case for at least the past 25 years.
In my opinion, paid parking and the $800,000 price tag that comes with it is not needed in Summit. What is needed is for Parking Services to enforce the existing ordinances and ticket the chronic abusers who park illegally in our downtown. A recent parking study, conducted by Desmond Associates, concluded that at least eighty employees of the downtown are parking in spaces reserved for downtown shoppers. These abusers park there day in and day out. The very disturbing point is that only TEN tickets are written a day in our downtown and some of those tickets go to shoppers! Employees are truly gaming the system and the Parking Utility Agency is allowing it to happen. As I mentioned at the June 21st Council meeting, the agency should receive a failing grade for their ineptness. We do not need an $800,000 mousetrap; we need better enforcement immediately from our Parking Utility staff. This in turn, will free up the much needed spots for our downtown shoppers.
If you are as concerned and troubled by the actions of the aforementioned five Council members, please attend the July 12th Common Council meeting and let them know that this is not the way we do business in the greatest small city in America.