SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Board of Trustees unanimously passed ten out of eleven resolutions on a consent agenda, which included resolutions such as the appointment of a probationary patrol officer for the police department, an authorization of a donation of used municipal property to the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University, and a contract to purchase fire equipment from Continental Fire and Safety for the amount of $14,787.26. But questions at the October 14 meeting from a resident regarding the resolution approving the planned merger of the fire department with that of Maplewood warranted it to be pulled and voted on separately; it also passed.
Resident Alyssa Aronson wanted more details about the merger: Village President Sheena Collum obliged. Collum said the resolution was a necessary step to take to make it move forward. One of the items is the necessity to grant Maplewood firefighters waivers to honor the promotions and ranks that they have received if and when the two departments are merged. She said that this was because Maplewood has a non-civil-service fire department and South Orange has a civil-service department.
“While this is separate from many transitional items that the working group and the management group are still working on,” President Collum said, “it is necessary for our two administrators . . . to continue working with the appropriate authorities at the state level to ensure that these waivers are in place.” She added that South Orange has no control over the guarantee that the Civil Service Commission will authorize the waivers, and she said that the lack of a guarantee would be a “deal-breaker” for the merger for both sides. She made it clear that the passage of this resolution did not mean a completed merger, which she hopes will still take place on New Year’s Day, 2020.
Among other details to be worked out is Maplewood’s desire to continue its in-house emergency medical technician (EMT) services, even though South Orange does not wish to pursue such a plan. Trustee Donna Coallier said she was aware that the resolution would have the combined fire department continue to answer Maplewood’s EMT calls with a cost-sharing structure. She noted that EMT calls represent more than 50 percent of Maplewood’s call volume, and the calls are handled by firefighters who are also certified as EMT responders; as such they make higher salaries EMT responders who are not firefighters.
“So this, to me, is an opportunity where we can both improve public safety, or fire safety, specifically, and potentially reduce costs,” Trustee Coallier said, “and so it would be my desire that this aspect of the agreement be studied further, such that other alternatives could be evaluated to burdening the group fire department with those EMT calls.” She said that the resolution was only meant to set up a structure for the merger which would allow a look at “all potential options” to carry the merger forward. The trustees then passed it unanimously, 6-0.
Aronson also wanted to know why the merger wasn’t being put to a referendum, but President Collum said that such a referendum would have to be non-binding, with language that would only confuse the voters. Village Counsel Steve Rother added that it would be too problematic from a legal perspective.
The trustees also welcomed Girl Scouts Troop 20923, who gave a presentation on a new initiative to amend the Girl Scout Law and Promise. Troop leader Jamie Barnes explained that her girls want to change the wording that asks Girl Scouts to “try” and “do our best” to accomplish a task, and instead have girls promise to say that they unequivocally “will” do so. The Scouts argued that the Law and Promise pledge does not encourage girls to be more assertive and take responsibility and that this is detrimental to developing confidence and assertiveness in girls. Boys, they said, are more prone to answer questions and take the initiative more quickly than girls, and the purpose of their campaign – signified by the hashtag legend “#IWill – is to inspire girls to be similarly assertive.
“That’s probably the best presentation we’ve ever seen in this arts center,” said President Collum, referring to the location of the meeting at the South Orange Performing Arts Center. Barnes and her troop co-leader Catherine D'Orazio are encouraging residents to sign a petition on Change.org, which D'Orazio started, to further the troop’s cause. The petition is at https://www.change.org/p/girl-scouts-of-usa-iwill-change-the-girl-scout-promise-and-law.
Reaction to the Girl Scouts’ overall presentation was overwhelmingly positive. Trustee Karen Hartshorn Hilton, a former Girl Scouts troop leader herself, praised the troop for their courage and grace, and she said that her own involvement in the Girl Scouts inspired her to run for office. Trustee Bob Zuckerman said he was so inspired that he pledged to buy cookies from the troop when their cookie sales drive returns in the spring. “I like Thin Mints,” he said.
President Collum updated the board on the master plan charettes taking place between October 21 and 24, saying “that all hands on deck” were needed to get input for a preliminary draft of a final master plan. She also announced that the village is sponsoring a clothing drive for victims of domestic violence to obtain appropriate clothes for jobs for which to support themselves and their families. Residents can drop off donations the South Orange Police Department at 101 South Orange Avenue, or, the South Orange Municipal Offices at 76 South Orange Avenue, Suite 302 between October 10 and October 25.
The board also announced that residents can rake leaves into the streets between October 21 and December 4 for pick-up by the village, and Trustee Walter Clarke warned resident to keep twigs and branches out of the leaf piles so that Department of Public Works (DPW) equipment isn’t damaged in collecting the piles. “You’re only creating problems for yourself tax-wise when you require us to buy new DPW equipment,” he said.
1 - the South Orange Board of Trustees
2 - Girl Scouts leader Jamie Barnes, with her troop, Troop 20923, talking about their #IWill initiative
3 - the South Orange Board of Trustees with Girl Scouts Troop 20923