SUMMIT, NJ - In a brisk 71-minute meeting, the Summit Common Council got their first gathering of September in just prior to the Labor Day weekend, meeting virtually on September 1. The meeting featured a mix of reports and resolutions, presentations and public information.
Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan introduced two Finance resolutions, the first certifying the City’s 2019 audit review and the second approving the related 2019 audit corrective plan. Under state law, every municipality must undergo an annual audit, and the governing body must certify that it has been completed and reviewed. This passed on a unanimous roll call vote.
The corrective action plan entailed three minor recommendations; City CFO Tammie Baldwin is working with department heads to implement them. Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman noted that the list of deficiencies is considerably shorter than in previous years, and applauded the staff.
Three Law & Labor resolutions were moved by Bowman. The first renewed nine consumption and three club liquor licenses for the year running from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. Also authorized were extensions of paid sick leave for a Department of Public Works employee through December 24 and a Fire Department employee through September 15.
Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston moved four Safety & Health resolutions. She began with the confirmation of Jonathan Garcia as police sergeant. Garcia fills a slot opened by promotions within the department, and was chosen by the mayor and police chief. Mayor Nora Radest provided a brief biography of Garcia, who grew up in Flemington and graduated from William Paterson University. His career included stints at AT&T and his family’s automotive repair business before he entered the Monmouth County police academy as an alternate route candidate in 2006. In July 2007 he joined the Summit Police force. His roles have included patrol officer, bike officer, radar instructor, firearms instructor, and field training officer. He’s also been officer-in-charge and has received numerous commendations. Garcia is married with two daughters. Radest said during the interview process he showed himself to be “highly empathetic and aware of the importance of the role of police in binding our community together.”
Hairston next moved a resolution authorizing the emergency purchase of a 2020 Ford Utility Police Interceptor for $32,940 to replace the second of two vehicles totaled during a pursuit this spring. The decision to purchase a standard, rather than hybrid, vehicle was based largely on pricing, availability, and the immediate need for a replacement vehicle. The vehicle is in stock. The purchase will be covered by the insurance settlement for the totaled vehicle.
Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu, while understanding the need for quick action on this purchase, made a plea that all departments look at hybrids and electric vehicles for future purchases, saying the City “needs to have a policy in place” and that electric vehicles can often be more cost-effective in the long term.
Hairston's next resolution was to submit a grant application to the Firehouse Subs Foundation for eight sets of fire department turnout gear in the amount of $24,470.56. No match is required for this grant. Evers said the department’s goal is to have two sets of protective turnout gear for each firefighter, as they must be cleaned and decontaminated between each use. Hairston’s final resolution declared a vacancy in the Fire Department as the current office manager, Nancy Fabrizio, is retiring after more than 20 years’ service. The department hopes to fill the position by October 1.
Danny O’Sullivan, Ward 1 Council Member, moved a pair of Community Programs & Parking Services Committee. The first reduces the 2020 fee for the Summit Family Aquatic Center food concession from $21,000 to $7,500. The concessionaire, SA Food Associates, is in the fourth year of a five-year contract, and this summer, the pandemic dramatically reduced both the number of operating days and the size of the crowds at the pool.
O’Sullivan’s other resolution authorized the submission of a grant application to the Union County 2020 Kids Recreation Trust Fund. Being requested is $59,250, with an equal match by the City, to refurbish the basketball courts at Soldiers’ Memorial Field. Work will include new fiberglass backboards, resurfacing the courts, and installing new benches at the heavily used courts. Built in 2006, the courts “have seen better days,” said O’Sullivan. Naidu said his younger son has informed him of the need for improvements there, but asked that work also be done at the Tatlock courts. Bowman, while agreeing with the need for the improvements, was “staggered” by the cost and asked the Department of Community Programs to “take a sharp pencil to the cost.” Summit Department of Community Programs Director Mark Ozoroski explained the $118,500 figure was a quote from a company with a state contract and is being used as a placeholder. He promised to work with City Engineer Aaron Schrager to look at potential alternatives, but pointed out the surface is so deeply cracked it can’t be patched but must be replaced. He added there is funding for both Memorial Field ($75,000) and Tatlock ($50,000) in the capital budget. The work will likely be done next year.
Council Member at-Large Beth Little had a trio of Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. First was for a grant submission to the 2020 Greening Union County program to cover half the cost of planting 250 trees next spring. The City would have to match the $48,000 grant. Little next asked Council to voice its support for a grant application by Morris Habitat for Humanity for a $700,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The grant will help fund an affordable housing project on the former site of the Italian-American Club. Her third resolution approved increasing by $50,000 the amount of Summit’s vegetative waste grinding contract to dispose of storm debris from Tropical Storm Isaias and to give the City some leeway for its needs for the rest of the year.
All resolutions passed.
Morris Avenue Residential Fire
Fire Chief Eric Evers reported that the house fire on Morris Avenue on August 20 displaced two families. While calling the fire “devastating,” he noted that because the houses are so close to one another there, it could have been worse; the fire was contained to the house of origin. He thanked the Springfield and Millburn fire departments and Union County Mutual Aid for their assistance and acknowledged the roles of the Summit police, the Red Cross, and Summit EMS. The Other Fellow First Foundation has already collected some $23,000 to assist the residents. No one was hurt in the fire.
Presentation by The Summit Foundation
There was a presentation by Julie Keenan, president of The Summit Foundation, whose motto is “We’re here for good.” The tax-exempt public charity was founded in 1972 as The Summit Area Public Foundation to promote philanthropy and provide funding for the local nonprofits. It currently consists of 21 diverse local volunteer board members and has no paid staff. All its assets are invested and put back into the community as a “long-term, consistent, and stable source of funds” for nonprofits. The Foundation has invested more than $9 million in the community over the past ten years through scholarships, grants, and donor-advised distributions.
Its assets as the beginning of this year were $18 million, chiefly in endowed funds managed for the long term. Grants are made from two of those funds, foundation-directed grants and scholarships, with a goal of distributing 4% of its assets annually. Since 2010, $6.2 million has gone to local groups in fields including health, civics and community, senior services, college scholarships, persons with disabilities, arts and culture, and educational programs.
Foundation-directed grants are distributed twice a year, typically to 35 to 40 organizations; the grants total about $600,000. This year, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Foundation decided to make additional funds available right away to some agencies hit particularly hard. A total of $100,000 went to The Connection, SAGE Eldercare, the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad, Summit Area YMCA, Bridges Outreach and the Summit Public Schools. This past June, the regular grant cycle kicked in, and $309,000 was distributed. A scholarship fund gives $50,000 to about 30 students a year.
The Summit Foundation also serves as a “pass-through,” essentially acting as a charitable bank for non-profits. By providing 501(c)(3) status for emerging nonprofits, it allows those entities to raise funds for their initiatives. The Foundation also provides audit and bookkeeping services for them.
Donor-advised funds are those in which donors determine the recipients, timing, and amounts. The Summit Foundation pools those moneys for better investment returns for everyone.
Beyond these initiatives, the Foundation is also a collaborator, providing leadership and seed money for new organizations, and serving as “thought partners” with other groups, initiating dialogue around local issues.
Keenan described her organization as “responsive to local needs,” citing its reactions to the pandemic. A small grant to the Summit Public Schools enabled the District to provide WI-Fi hot spots to families without adequate internet service for online education. To support local businesses, the Foundation launched the 'Sustain Summit Fund' with a $50,000 challenge grant that ultimately raised $350,000 from local residents. That, in turn, attracted an anonymous $350,000 donation with the request that recipients “pay it forward” by donating back to the Foundation when they could. The Foundation was also involved in creating 'JumpStart Summit' as a perpetual source of support for the community.
Those who would like to get involved with The Summit Foundation can do so in a number of ways, said Keenan. They can share its story with others, and partner with the Foundation by bringing emerging leaders, issues, and non-profits to its attention. Fiscal support is always needed, including long-term planning.
Naidu attributed the quick implementation of the 'Hometown Heroes' street banner program to assistance from The Summit Foundation. He also noted the Foundation’s impact on the Summit Conservancy’s Free Market building, providing essential funding at the beginning and end of the project.
Little, observing that sometimes people take Summit “for granted,” said that unlike so many more visible organizations, The Summit Foundation is an “unsung hero … [that does] so much good in the community.”
Hairston cited her 24 years in philanthropy and called the Foundation unique, remarkable, and a champion of non-profits that is exemplary” even as foundations are coming under more scrutiny.
During the public comment forum, Eileen Kelly, Woodlawn Avenue, asked if it is known when JCP&L’s representative will report to the Council on the company’s storm response. Radest replied that the utility hasn’t yet completed its internal review, but would attend a meeting after that. She added the City’s ad hoc committee on power issues would be present to ask questions and offer suggestions.
Public Information / Updates
Radest, in her Mayor’s Report, encouraged residents to sign up for emergency notifications in order to receive timely updates from the City. Users can sign up for both general and emergency notifications on the City website. SwiftReach is the telephone system used during emergencies to send telephone messages; residents should program the SwiftReach number 908-608-8051 in their mobile phone contacts so the calls aren’t flagged as spam.
City Administrator Michael Rogers reported that City Hall will be closed for Labor Day on Monday, September 7. Normal operating hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, will resume on September 8.
Summit received a Municipal Innovation Award from the Municipal Innovation Summit for its Free Market program, established in 2008. Until the new Free Market building can open, there’s a Virtual Summit Free Market Facebook page where yard-sale-quality items can be given away. The Municipal Innovation Summit is a non-profit organization that educates municipal government officials on cutting-edge and innovative best practices in municipal government.
Council President Marjorie Fox reminded viewers that people who’ve been exposed to a COVID-19 carrier maybe called by a contact tracer with “lifesaving information” and stressed the importance of answering the phone and cooperating with the contact tracer. All information ins confidential.
Outdoor dining has been extended through November 30, and indoor dining can resume, by executive order, on September 4 at 25% of a restaurant’s capacity. Fox reported receiving complaints of maskless individuals on the sidewalks waiting for tables or chatting with diners. She reiterated the rule that everyone must be masked unless seated at a table, and asked for compliance. She added the \City has seen two new coronavirus cases in the past two days, and while their exact ages aren’t known, she did know they weren’t older residents, noting it’s often younger people downtown who aren’t following mask rules.
The Council will next meet on September 22.