SUMMIT, NJ - The debut of a special award recognizing volunteerism in the Hilltop Community kicked off the Summit Common Council's first meeting of 2018 after re-organizing earlier this month. Summit resident Tom O’Rourke is the first recipient of an award established by the Council and Mayor Nora Radest honoring a standout volunteer in the community, aptly named the "Outstanding Volunteer Service Award."
Radest began the ceremonial presentation to O'Rourke by saying that when the decision about creating the award was made the quote 'being male is a matter of birth, being a man is a matter of age, but being a gentleman is a matter of choice' was invoked, "thus it should be no surprise that I want to name Thomas O’Rourke as the first recipient of the outstanding volunteer award."
The mayor outlined O’Rourke’s many contributions to the community including: coaching American Legion baseball for ten years (1982-92), serving on the Summit Joint Fields Committee and the Board of Recreation Committee (1996-2000), Master Plan Committee (2000), driving for the Summit chapter of the American Red Cross (serving as Chapter President in 2001), Summit Board of Education (2003-12), Transfer Station Redevelopment Committee (2005-08), Finance Committee of St. Terersa’s Church, the nomination committee for the Summit High School Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as his work raising funds for scholarships. Radest noted that what was most remarkable was how O’Rourke conducted himself in all his endeavors.
Following rousing applause and a standing ovation, O’Rourke said a few words, beginning with, “as you might imagine I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.” He thanked the Mayor and Council for the award. He noted that he had lived and visited many places in his life since moving to Summit in 1973, and that he could state unequivocally that “Summit is the best of all.” He talked about the services available in Summit, the volunteers who support the community, and expressed his gratitude for all the people who serve the community.
Radest then gave a brief report, touching on a variety of topics, first detailing the new online permit system offered by the Department of Community Services. She also discussed the availability of scholarships for high school juniors and seniors from Summit, offered through the New Jersey League of Municipalities. The Louis Bay. 2nd Future Municipal Leaders Scholarship Competition seeks to advance the virtues of elected and volunteers members of municipal government.
In the City Administrator’s report, Administrator Michael Rogers stated the finance committee was working on the 2018 budgeting process, meeting with department heads, and that the budget is on track to be introduced at the March 20 Council meeting.
Rogers also mentioned the City’s contract with Animal Control Solutions for animal control services. They can be contacted regarding sick wildlife, dead animal pick-up, and bite reporting. The company also sponsors animal adoption events. Additional information can be found on the Summit website or at animalcontrolsolutions.org.
Public presentations began with Summit resident Mike Arlein’s “Hometown Heroes” proposal to publicly recognize veterans and active service personnel living and working in Summit. Stating that, “we want our children to see the faces of our veterans,” Arlein outlined a proposal to install vinyl banners on light and utility poles in downtown areas of Summit that would include names and pictures of veterans and active service personnel. The banners would be on display from Memorial Day through the July 4th holiday.
The program is currently active in Berkeley Heights and New Providence. During the first year 50 banners honoring 100 individuals would be installed. The first 90 would include those who qualified for the recognition with 10 selected for special recognition in consultation with the American Legion.
Arlein noted that private funds would be raised for the project and that the Summit Area Public Foundation had already agreed to set up a charitable fund for the project to receive funds. Eligibility requirements were developed with the input of Henry Bassman, Commander of the Lindsey-Street Post 322 of the American Legion. Arlein also showed the Council a sample banner.
The proposed eligibility if for an individual who lived or worked in Summit at any time in the past or present, and is active duty, retired, or honorably discharged in one of the five branches of the US Armed Forces. Those who served in the Merchant Marines or women Air Force Service Pilots who served in World War II would also be eligible.
Following Arlein’s overview of the initiative Council President David Naidu thanked him for his efforts and noted that the Council recognized the need to move quickly to accommodate the proposed time table. He then invited members of the public to speak prior to any Council questions.
American Legion Commander Bassman read his letter of support to the Mayor and Council for the meeting record. Bassman noted in his letter that he is impressed by the large number of veterans in Summit and that they “go about their daily lives asking for no recognition or special consideration.” He emphasized that these veterans represent every race, ethnicity, economic status, and political persuasion. He stressed that unless they wear a distinctive hat or lapel pin, “they are invisible.”
Bassman then gave an overview of some of Summit’s notable veterans. Cornog Fieldhouse is named in honor of Elwood Cornog, who was a tank gunner in World War II credited with destroying nine German tanks. Summit resident Robert R. Max also served in World War II and recently wrote the book, "The Long March Home: An American Soldier's Life as a Nazi Slave Laborer." He mentioned Frank Goldstein who served in Korea and Bill Rapp who served as a Green Beret in Vietnam. He closed by detailing the exploits of two Summit residents who were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service in World War II.
Summit Elks Veterans Committee Chair Lou DeSocio also spoke in favor of the Hometown Heroes project noting that other efforts to recognize Summit veterans, including a Purple Heart monument on the Green, had failed. Allison Lees, who works for Lois Scheider Realtor and whose husband is a veteran, spoke passionately in favor of the project.
Council President Naidu acknowledged the Summit Area Public Foundation, specifically Frank Macioce, for their work on the project. He then invited questions from the Council.
Councilman Gould asked City Administrator Rogers how much work it would be for City workers to install the banners. Rogers replied that most of the work would be in installing brackets for the banners, which would be a one-time installation, but that he could not speak to the exact number of hours. City Engineer Aaron Schrager thought that his staff could complete the installation in a day’s work.
Gould followed up by asking how the problem of too few or too many applicants would be addressed. Arlein responded that he did not think that getting applicants would be problematic citing the success of the project in Berkeley Heights and New Providence. He proposed that if their were a large number of applicants a system of rotating the banners could be enacted.
Councilwoman Beth Little asked where the banners would be stored and who would be responsible for them. Arlein replied that he had not thought of that, but would be willing to store them himself if the City were unable to do so.
Councilman Mike McTernan stated that he had admired the banners in New Providence and that he was glad that the program was being proposed in Summit. He asked about the banner brackets – what they would look like without the banners and their durability.
Arlein responded that the arms of the brackets could be removed when the banners were not in place and that the stationary part of the bracket could be painted to match existing poles. The brackets themselves are made of metal and should be durable for 10 to 20 years.
McTernan then revisited the question of having too large a number of applicants to accommodate. He noted that this could be an emotional issue for families and asked about the vetting process would happen.
Arlein replied that they would not be passing judgment on applicants. Commander Bassman outlined various ways that individuals can prove veteran status. Gould followed up by asking if the American Legion was going to be administering the application process to which Arlein replied that they would assist him with validation of service records.
Councilwoman Mary Odgen questioned the decision to recognized people who work in Summit only, noting that for example, it would not be reasonable to recognize someone who briefly worked downtown. Arlein replied that this decision was based on the high probability that those serving in Summit’s Police Department, Fire Department, and First Aid Squad were those most likely to have also served in the armed forces and that it had not be an issue for other communities.
Mayor Radest asked for additional information about the validation process and who would follow up. Arlein volunteered that he would be the person undertaking this, but that he would be happy to work with Henry Bassman to review any questionable applications. He noted that they had already discussed problematic applications.
Naidu thanked the Council for their thoughtful questions. He did recognize that not every contingency could be accounted for, but that other communities had successfully instituted the project. He emphasized the importance of getting the project off the ground, saying he is confident that the project would be embraced by residents and that, “this is the type of project that brings a community together.”
The second presentation was given by City Engineer Aaron Schraeger on storm water management. The presentation was part of required training by the state. He outlined the many ways in which storm water run-off is mitigated. This includes, but is not limited to: bans of feeding wildlife, dumpster covers, street cleaning, catch basins, proper disposal of run off rubbish, street cleaning, and inspection and cleaning of catch basins on a yearly cycle. He noted that Summit’s storm water reaches three New Jersey watersheds including the lower Raritan River, the Rahway River, and the Passaic River. Incredibly, one inch of rain produces 51 million gallons in run-off, the equivalent of 1,500 freight train cars.
There were no public comments or proposed ordinances, however, Council President Naidu reviewed a change of protocol during reorganization. The new process will be that ordinances and resolutions are introduced, Council will have the opportunity to comment, the public will be able to comment, and then the Council can comment again prior to the vote.
Of the resolutions proposed and passed at the meeting, Resolution 5476 engendered the most discussion. This resolution, which passed, authorized an agreement with Burgis Associates to oversee the creation of the Development Regulations Ordinance (DRO). The DRO will create a cohesive land-use ordinance.
McTernan asked how the process for including Master Plan recommendations and the objectives identified in it would be handled in the DRO. Bill Anderson, Chair of the Planning board addressed this question. He responded that the Board’s plan has 30 objectives, nine of which have been identified as priorities. McTernan expanded upon his question, requesting more detail on which objectives would be included. Planning Board Vice Chair James Jay Brinkerhoff noted that it was important that the Master Plan not “sit on a shelf” and that the DRO represents a step-by-step process to implement the plan.
Prior to closing the meeting, Naidu referenced Martin Luther King, Jr. Day which has been a day of service in Summit for 20 years. Naidu said it is, “a day of considering the challenge he posed to this nation with regard to honoring its ideals.”