Government

Scotch Plains Council Votes to Disband Recreation Commission in 4-1 Majority

d4e1342106373c315392_Neil_Kaufman_looks_on_as_Rich_Duthie_reads_his_statement_01.JPG
Neil Kaufman, president of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Baseball League, looks on as fellow board member Rich Duthie reads a statement in favor of keeping the Recreation Commission. Credits: John Mooney
a747a83ee19ea2a0bf10_Glover_talks.JPG
Mayor Kevin Glover explains his rationale for disbanding the Scotch Plains Recreation Commission. Credits: John Mooney
1cf75623e50938ff931e_DeMaria__president_of_the_Scotch_Plains_Fanwood_Soccer_Association_01.JPG
Chris DeMaria, president of the Scotch Plains Fanwood Soccer Association Credits: John Mooney
008a35fa25399a74fb31_Mike_Kloepfer__president_of_Scotch_Plains_Fanwood_Lacrosse_Club_01.JPG
Mike Kloepfer, president of Scotch Plains Fanwood Lacrosse Club, voiced his skepticism over disbanding the Recreation Commission. Credits: John Mooney
ac4d76ac9b5a7e57f667_Glover_calms_crowd.JPG
Mayor Kevin Glover tries to calm the opposition. Deputy Mayor Colleen Gialanella is on the right. Credits: John Mooney
10833430e96c3da5ee37_Llewellyn_Jones_expressed_concerns_01.JPG
Llewellyn Jones voted against disbanding the Scotch Plains Recreation Commission. Credits: John Mooney
a63f870b9f8683f16f74_John_Del_Sordi.JPG
John Del Sordi voted in favor of disbanding the Scotch Plains Recreation Commission. Credits: John Mooney
88aacb5fdd8926cf2c53_Rose_Checchio.JPG
Rose Checchio voted in favor of disbanding the Scotch Plains Recreation Commission. Credits: John Mooney
0916bb9cc4868b3b738e_Pictures_of_Rec._Dept._work_01.JPG
Examples of Rec Dept. work Credits: John Mooney
a8bf34df7e5f4ad23b31_Memorial_Field_improvement_01.JPG
Photographs of Memorial Field improvements, including a ceremony that involved Township Manager Al Mirabella and Mayor Kevin Glover. Credits: John Mooney
21855c152b8e97cbaee9_Republican_chair_Alexander_Smith_says_disbanding_the_Recreation_Commission_is_political_01.JPG
Alexander Smith, local Republican party leader Credits: John Mooney
e92f5d7fd545296d34dd_Rec_Dept_flier.jpg
d4e1342106373c315392_Neil_Kaufman_looks_on_as_Rich_Duthie_reads_his_statement_01.JPG

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Members of the Scotch Plains Township Council heard public comments from representatives of the local baseball, soccer and lacrosse leagues, who all spoke in support of keeping the all-volunteer Recreation Commission before voting 4-1 along party lines to disband it.

The move, supported by Mayor Kevin Glover and council members Colleen Gialanella, John Del Sordi and Rose Checchio, means that Recreation Director Ray Poerio will no longer report to the independent commission, but rather will answer to Township Manager Al Mirabella. Llewellyn Jones, the lone Republican on the Council, was the only "no" vote.

"Our organization wasn't consulted, and I don't think the volunteer organizations should be left out," said Neil Kaufman, president of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Baseball League, who spoke first among the large turnout of sports league volunteers. "We think this should be looked into a bit more before making such a big change. The commission has been in place dating back to World War II."

Sign Up for E-News

"This seems to be moving very fast," Mike Kloepfer, president of Scotch Plains Fanwood Lacrosse Club. "I know there is more power with a commission than a committee. I need to know why Scotch Plains should be different from Westfield and Cranford." (Editor's note: Cranford does not have a commission structure. Locally, Westfield and Fanwood do.)

"Lacrosse did not exist eight years ago. We worked with Recreation and got everything we asked for," Kloepfer added. "There's not a lot of belief that only reporting structure will change. There's a lot that will change."

"We stand in line with baseball and lacrosse. It may not be as clear cut as we are being told," said Chris DeMaria, president of the Scotch Plains Fanwood Soccer Association. "This has worked very well for the kids. Think about the groups who came out tonight. They are all aligned."

Mayor Glover faced the heat and continued his insistence that "the only change is that the recreation director would now report to our municipal manager, just as all the other departments do.

"This is no different from the fire department, police department or the town CFO, who all report to the town manager," Glover said. "We hope that the commission members, who are all appointed by the town manager, will continue to serve as committee members. Their service is valued."

"It's not over, the fight had just begun," said Rich Duthie, who has been outspoken in his opposition against abolishing the Recreation Commission. "We have a voice we have resolve and there are options to defeat their decision at second reading."

"The council chose to ignore the 430 people who signed petitions in the past three days. The mayor and other council people dismissed it, but we have a plan and are 100 percent motivated to defeat their political agenda, which will permanently damage our recreation services in town," Duthie added.

Councilwoman Colleen Gialanella, who described herself as a big advocate for recreation and inclusive programs, told the council that she would like to see the department continue to grow and support the youth sports leagues.

"We will have direction and a Recreation Department that will operate under control of our township manager," Gialanella said. "I have concerns with the way the department has been run. There has not been filing of paperwork for allied associations. We have not had copies of taxes and 501(c)3 renewals. Last year, we had a widely reported incident of alleged mismanagement of funds. It is time we tightened the reigns. "

"Whether you use them or not these facilities are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Our fees are not increasing. I am not going to play games at the expense of our children," Gialanella continued. "I hope the leagues will find the change satisfactory. Mr. Mirabella has been a supporter of Recreation. He is the last person you should not have concerns about."

Councilman Llewellyn Jones encouraged Scotch Plains residents to read the entire ordinance, noting that contracts made by the Commission could now be voided and that Recreation has $250,000 in its coffers.

"This ordinance changes how Recreation is governed. There is a little text about reporting structure and a lot about other things," Councilman Jones said. "I don't think anything is broke. Why swing an axe at something that is not a big issue?"

"I will oppose this tonight. The commission has been in existence a long time and working well. It set the bar pretty high to make such a significant change," Jones added.

Although careful not to criticize Mirabella directly, Jones said the primary reason given by the mayor is changing the reporting structure but it is really about control.

"All CEOs like more control, it's understandable," Jones explained. "My question is why do we need to go down this road -- just to change one person's reporting structure? I can't think of any problems that disbanding the Recreation Commission would solve, but there is substantial risk. It removes checks and balances."

"It would be very easy for a politician to say, 'Support me politically, and I'll support you.' I am not saying that this is what will happen, but it opens up the door to political motives in making decisions regarding Recreation. This change will be in effect for a long time."

Councilman John Del Sordi, a long-time soccer and baseball coach in Scotch Plains, outlined his thoughts in his typical, plainspoken style.

"I've been a volunteer for years. I didn't know the difference between a Commission and a committee until I got elected," Councilman Del Sordi said. "All department heads have a boss. We are looking to streamline communications. It makes sense. All departments report to the Manager."

"We are not disbanding programs or getting rid of fields. In fact, I'd like to have more programs for kids and seniors," Del Sordi added.

During the meeting and afterward, Mayor Glover insisted the fierce resistance was itself politically motivated.

"The voices in opposition included the Republican chairman (Alexander Smith) and Llewellyn Jones. You're trying to tell me the opposition isn't politically driven? There are plenty of people who have told me that they are happy we are making this change."

TAP Into Another Town's News:

Sign Up for E-News

Scotch Plains/Fanwood

Westfield Family Continues ‘Summer of Kindness’ with Infant Clothing Drive

July 12, 2018

WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield mom and teacher Sara Liptack is continuing her family’s “Summer of Kindess” with an infant clothing for Furniture Assist, an organization in Springfield that helps formerly homeless people, veterans, the elderly, fire victims, refugees and people fleeing domestic violence.

“I said, ‘What’s the one thing you really ...

It's Not What You Are Eating, It's What's Eating You

EMOTIONAL EATING: FEEDING YOUR FEELINGS

Emotional eating can be described as episodes of binge-eating, grazing and/or eating when not hungry to soothe feelings. Emotional eaters have a pattern of eating to cope with stress, emotional conflicts and problems of daily life.

Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger. Instead of physical symptoms initiating the eating, ...

Let's Talk About Suicide

In our world today, it seems our children, no matter the town, state, education, family unit, socioeconomic background, ethnicity or religion are grappling with complex, confounding and complicated issues not even fit for a middle-aged adult. Sadly, one of these issues is suicide. With mental health gaining more attention, the stigma appears to be dissipating but when a mental health ...

What Is Your Bottom Line?

This week's Parshah (Torah reading) is the Parshah of Pinchas the Zealot: the courageous young priest who stood up against idolatry and immorality and, in the end, saved Israel from a devastating plague.

While Pinchas' radical response made him a hero worthy of having a Torah section named after him, we wouldn't necessarily suggest to our children ...

Declaration of Independence – What is it?

July 4, 2018

Dear Editor:

The definition of a free country is where the government does not control what people say or do for political reasons and where people can express their opinions without punishment. The transition from a totalitarian state to a free country will be long and slow.

In a 2017 report Freedom House said that of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45%) were rated Free, 59 (30%) ...

When to Dial 911: Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Tip of the Month

July 10, 2018

There are many times you should call 911. If you or someone around you is in true medical distress, such as experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pains, bleeding, possible stroke, or any other serious health issues, then 911 should be called as soon as possible. If there are wires down, fire, a crime in progress, or other dangerous conditions to people or property, call 911 ...

Volunteers Help “Spruce” Up Deserted Village

July 15, 2018

A group of student volunteers from the Mitzvah Mania youth community service program visited the Deserted Village of Feltville last month, but not to search for ghosts. They were there to plant spruce trees and pine trees as part of a Union County Adopt-a-Park project.

“Our Adopt-a-Park volunteers play a big role in our County parks, and the Mitzvah Mania students worked hard to plant ...