MONTCLAIR, NJ - The Montclair Township Council had a virtual meeting on November 16, and the light agenda and the dearth of public comment made it a quick meeting.  What public comment there was continued to concern the rent-control ordinance, still in limbo due to court challenges and efforts to put it to a referendum by the Montclair Property Owners Association (MPOA).  The ordinance was passed by the previous township council under Mayor Robert Jackson on April 7 of this year.

Several members of the Tenants Organization of Montclair, including public-comment regular Ahava Felicidad, continued to express their support for the ordinance and their gratitude toward the township for continuing to fight for it.  Resident and Tenants Organization of Montclair member Louisa Hackett, however, expressed dismay over the judge in the ongoing case over the ordinance for allowing the MPOA greater leeway in getting signatures for the petitions necessary for the referendum.  Hackett bristled in particular over the actions of Judge Jeffrey Beacham (who was not mentioned by name) for giving the MPOA extra time to correct, or “cure,” signatures on their petitions in the wake of a national election that has been deemed the most safe and secure election in U.S. history after it was held following all of the rules in the middle of a pandemic.  She asked the council what residents could do while awaiting a settlement in the court case.

Mayor Sean Spiller said that it was important for advocates of rent control to “spread the message” as to why Montclair needs rent control and encouraged them to keep doing so, saying that information is power.  Township Attorney Ira Karasick concurred with Mayor Spiller and expressed his own frustration with the court extending the case, saying that the court has made the situation “difficult, to say the least.”

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“If it does go to election,” Karasick said of the ordinance, “and that’s not clear at all at this point because we’re involved in litigation, then there’s a lot you can do and any supporters of rent control can do, because there would be a vote.”  He added that the public would be informed on any updates regarding the case as they come out.

As with most previous meetings since the Eleventh Montclair Township Council first convened in July, Mayor Spiller and his councilors stuck mainly to housecleaning duties, enacting two pending ordinances and also passing resolutions mostly under a consent agenda.   They unanimously passed a pending ordinance amending the existing ordinance governing procedures for historic-structure demolition applications that require review from the Historic Preservation Commission and the Township Historic Preservation Officer. The new amendment now requires a $350 escrow deposit for a demolition application review and a $200 fee for a total demolition application.  Also, the council passed a pending ordinance authorizing the purchase of the Park Street property adjacent to the Montclair Municipal Building for additional parking at a price not to exceed $1.35 million.  Resolutions passed under the consent agenda – again, unanimously – include the awarding of a contract for improvements to Trinity Place and Myrtle Place, a contract extension for snowplowing services, a contract awarded to the Paterson-based Billy Contracting & Restoration for Americans with Disabilities Act-mandated improvements to the Fire Department headquarters at Pine Street, and resolutions ratifying emergency expenditures for roadway repairs due to water main breaks.  The affected streets are Watchung Avenue between Upper Mountain Avenue and North Mountain Avenue and South Park Street between Church Street and The Crescent.

Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, who normally produces the bill list at the end of each set of resolutions, had a couple of questions about that very list.  She inquired about the item regarding expenditures for tree removal in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, which affected New Jersey in early August.  She specifically wanted to know if more items related to the storm were forthcoming. Township Manager Tim Stafford said he did not know, but he added that any future Isaias-related invoices will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for as many reimbursements as the township can get.  She also asked about a $5,000 item for a firm called O’Connor-Davies; Manager Stafford explained that that is the township’s auditor.  Councilor Schlager also asked about another $5,000 invoice for the Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti law firm.  Manager Stafford explained that the firm represented various litigation items, including one involving the property behind the Police Department, which the manager said was likely the invoice that Councilor Schlager was referencing. The bill list was passed with Councilor Schlager joining the mayor and the other five councilors in a unanimous vote. 

Mayor Spiller closed the public portion of the meeting before the council went into executive session by saying that he was heartened by new businesses opening in Montclair in the middle of the pandemic and gaining support from the residents.  Lamenting the COVID-19 numbers going in the wrong direction, he was still optimistic that the new COVID task force in town would make use of the “great resources” available in town and thanked the members of the task force for agreeing to serve.  The mayor said he was glad that the annual holiday-parking incentives are still on for 2020, despite diminished parking revenues, as a way of encouraging local shopping, and he urged residents to continue to give to those less fortunate.   The township has provided matching funds for Toni’s Kitchen, and the mayor asked residents to contribute whatever they could to that mission.

“If there’s ever a town that did a lot on that front, we’re the town,” Mayor Spiller said.