SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- After months of impassioned debate, the Scotch Plains Council officially, and somewhat quietly, voted to repeal the ordinance passed on March 17 that abolished the Recreation Commission.
The original vote went along party lines with four Democrats (Kevin Glover, Colleen Gialanella, Rose Checchio and John Del Sordi) voting to end the volunteer commission's power and change the reporting structure for Recreation Director Ray Poerio, who would have reported directly to Business Administrator Al Mirabella. Llewellyn Jones, the sole Republican on the Council, was the lone dissenting vote.
Opponents, including the leaders of the local soccer, baseball, PAL football and lacrosse leagues, quickly mobilized and circulated a petition that forced the Council to either rescind the March 17 ordinance or put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.
Having gathered enough signatures, the petitioners put the Council in a position to either repeal the ordinance or to hold a special election in July that would have cost taxpayers $45,000 to conduct.
The issue saw both supporters and opponents of the ordinance to abolish the Recreation Commission question the truthfulness of the other side.
"I'm thoroughly convinced that there was misinformation used to elicit those signatures," Mayor Kevin Glover said at the April 28 Council meeting.
“The accusations made publicly by the Mayor and others that misinformation was spread by the sports organizations during the petition process were untrue and disappointing," said Chris De Maria, President of the Scotch Plains Fanwood Soccer Association in an interview with TAPintoSPF.
"At this point, this is all about this Council avoiding an embarrassing defeat in a public referendum, and they know it," said Neil Kaufman, President of Scotch Plains-Fanwood Baseball League. "So while I commend the Council for voluntarily admitting their gross error in passing this ordinance in the first place, I hope they and the Township Manager learned that publicly attacking the citizen petitioners with name-calling and vitriolic accusations is not the best way to go about building trust in the community.
"My personal gratitude goes out to all of the great people who, contrary to majority Council members' opinion of them, fully understood the issue and threw their overwhelming support behind the petition," Kaufman added.
"When you have goals and want to make changes, you have to articulate your vision and hold information sessions with the public. We didn't do this, and it resulted in mistrust," said Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella. "There are some folks whose passion against the current governing body is so strong that we can never win them over."
"However, we could have potentially won some people over. We didn't do enough. We have to work better as a group and find more informal ways to talk with the public. By the time someone comes to a meeting, the emotions are boiled over. It's too late," Gialanella added. "It was a communication failure. Our job is to speak to people outside of the core folks who attend (Council) meetings."
“Now that the issue has reached a conclusion, at least for the time being, it is time for all of us to refocus our efforts and attention on working together. To that end, the leaderships of the sports organizations will be meeting with Al Mirabella to do just that," DeMaria added.
"We put a lot of effort into this, but it became divisive," Gialanella said. "We have to focus on things that really need to happen in Scotch Plains, such as the revitalization of downtown."