Livingston Town Council Discusses Formation of Diversity Committee

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Township manager Michele Meade, Mayor Rudy Fernandez (center) and township Clerk Glenn Turtletaub at the Livingston Town Council conference meeting on May 9
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LIVINGSTON, NJ - Community outreach and community celebrations dominated much of the agenda of the Livingston Township Council's May 9 conference meeting. 

The meeting opened with a visit from many members of Livingston's Asian population to speak to the council about creating an Asian Community Outreach Committee to focus on getting Livingston residents of Asian descent more involved in the community.

Councilwoman Deborah Shapiro had proposed the creation of such a committee at the April 4 conference meeting.

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"While the township appreciates the contributions the Asian community made," Shapiro wrote on her own blog on April 8, "it recognizes the need for a regular presence of the Asian community in township affairs."

At the May 9 conference meeting, Shapiro expressed enthusiasm for the committee and deferred to Livingston resident Yan Li to help make the case.  Ms. Li stressed the need for such a committee to encourage Asian-Americans in Livingston to attend more Board of Education meetings to provide more input on school matters and volunteer for other committees working on township events.

Ms. Li insisted that such a committee would not encourage separation of Asian-Americans from the rest of the township's residents.
"It's not to separate people, it's to bring them together," she said.

Ms. Li also suggested the committee could succeed by working itself out of a job.  If it worked to assimilate residents of Chinese and Indian descent into the mainstream, there would no longer be a need for one.

Mayor Rudy Fernandez entertained the idea that non-Asians might want to join the committee to be part of the effort to bring more people together.  He suggested that it would better if Livingston "had a diversity committee" that would provide an outreach to all groups in the township, without regard to one ethnicity. 

Ms. Li liked the idea and said she would developm a mission statement for the committee to present to the council.  She did not set a specific date for such a statement.

Attention then turned to plans for displaying the outdoor Christmas decorations donated to the township by the Camuso family.  Steve Camuso, whose grandfather Ernest put up an elaborate Christmas displays every year at his Burnet Hill Road home every year, donated the decorations to the township after Ernest Camuso died in September 2010.  Deputy Mayor Stephen Santola reported to the council on the progress of the project.  Plans tentatively call for the Camuso displays to be situated near the gazebo by Robert H. Harp Drive - commonly called "the Oval" - for its easy access and nearby parking with the possibility of including special attractions such as sleigh rides.

Santola said that the display, which was not erected by the township for the 2010 holiday season, would generate a great deal of economic activity.  Former Mayor Ellie Cohen, who now leads the committee in charge of the effort to present the Camuso family display, told the council that she expects to continue the Camusos' tradition of collecting donations for the St. Barnabas burn foundation.

She noted the irony of the early departure of the residents who had come to discuss the proposed Asian Community Outreach Committee.
"I'm sorry all of those people left," she said, "because we're going to need a lot of volunteers."

New business for the council included a concern over how to regulate the removal of trees from front lawns, and the fees involved for removing larger trees.   The Livingston Township Council has been struggling to formulate a clear position on the requirements for removing front-yard trees in an effort to preserve the aesthetics of the township's neighborhoods.  

The council plans to discuss the issue with two representatives of the township planning board in greater detail at their May 23 conference meeting.  

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