SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Mayor Richard Huber had little time to settle in to his mayoral seat at the January 9th, 2018 Township Committee meeting, experiencing a trial-by-fire as several residents spoke with bitterness about the impact of the “No Dogs Allowed in Public Buildings” ordinance, which passed on second reading at the last Township Committee Meeting of 2017.
The “No Dogs” ordinance caused a number of subsequent unintended consequences in the town for residents who own pets. A rabies clinic normally held in the town for the convenience of residents, which was scheduled for January 6th, could not be held on account of the prohibition. In addition, lost dogs which had previously been delivered to the police department in a process to try to identify the owner could no longer be accepted by the police department, with delivery to a pet shelter in Newark as the only available option.
The first ordinance of the year introduced by the Committee at the January 9th meeting, 2018-1, will repeal the previously referenced ordinance (which was numbered 2017-18), an implicit acknowledgement by the Committee that 2017-18 was ill-advised, but residents nevertheless used the opportunity of the introduction of 2018-1 to criticize the Township Committee at the first opportunity for public comment in the meeting.
“I am highly distressed with the actions of the Township Committee, that had no thought in mind, that pushed something through without the thought of the residents in this town” noted resident Gale Donner, a dog owner who was affected by the consequences of the ordinance, referring to her dogs as “my furry babies.” She accused the Township Committee members who voted for 2017-18 of misplaced priorities.
“We have basements that are being rented out, and costing each and every taxpayer in this town more money for public education [that] you’re not going after. We have people remodeling without permits on a daily basis, and breaking the law, you’re not going after [them]. You have people that haven’t shoveled and do not shovel, and I don’t see anybody going after them,” she asserted, suggesting that those issues should have taken precedence over the question of dogs in public buildings.
Residents Le Roy Lewis and Donnie Maya, both owners of service dogs, also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, echoing Ms. Donner’s sentiments, and adding some reflections of their own.
“This just annoyed the dickens out of me, because you wasted my money as a taxpayer,” reported Mr. Lewis, alluding to the attorney’s fees that were incurred to draft the No Dogs ordinance.
Ms. Maya commented on what she perceived as the indifference of the Township Committee members to the residents who were dog owners. “What was done to us was a total blindside, and a backstabbing move by three people on this board, and it’s inexcusable, and there was no reason for it.”
On the motion to introduce 2018-1, Mayor Huber expressed his regrets to the public present at the meeting. “We do admit when we do things wrong. We’re not perfect, nobody’s perfect,” Huber said. “But we do make mistakes.” noting that he would contact the health department regarding the rabies clinic and post updated information on the website when it was available.
“I originally voted no against this, I was adamantly against it, from the very beginning,” said Committee Member Maria Vasallo. ”I understand the underlying issues, regarding this ordinance, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know why it was done,” she added. “If we’re going to play politics, this is the wrong way to do it,” alluding to events and occurrences not immediately evident based on the proceedings at hand.
Committee Member Stampoulos also commented prior to the vote on 2018-1. “We already had a dog ordinance in effect, this was just an ‘amendment of.’ If you go outside of Chisholm [Community Center] there is a sign that says ‘no dogs allowed’ in the parking, in the playground, so I don’t understand why dogs would be allowed inside of Chisholm. If you go to the schools, there's a sign that says ‘no dogs allowed’ also in there.”
“For the record, service dogs are excluded from the prohibition,” she continued, “so there should have been a rabies clinic for the service dogs, in fact there were emails that were sent, and the health inspector and doctor so stated. We had suggested the First Aid Department building because they are privately owned, and the doctor stated that it was not only acceptable, but appropriate. So, I’m not sure why it got delayed, cancelled, it shouldn’t have. It should have been moved and the service dogs are protected by this law.”
The roll call was then called for a vote on 2018-1. It passed, with Committee Member Vassallo the sole “No” vote.
In other Township business before the Committee:
- James Ellmer was sworn in as a Probationary Firefighter with the Springfield Fire Department;
- The Committee established the rates for Community Pool membership in 2018, with a basic family membership increasing to $349, up from $342 last year;
- The Mayor swore in officers of the Springfield First Aid Squad for 2018; and
- The Mayor appointed Township Administrator Ziad Shehady to the Union County Solid Waste Advisory Board for a one-year term, ending December 31, 2018.
The Mayor also announced that the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Vigil for Peace would take place on Monday, January 15 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Committee Meeting room, and on behalf of the Township, extended condolences to the family of retired Springfield Police Captain Vernon Pederson, who passed away on January 3, 2018.
The next Township Committee Meeting will take place on January 23, 2017 at 7 p.m.