SUMMIT, NJ—Progress is being made toward the opening of the combined emergency services dispatch center in New Providence, which will serve Summit, New Providence and Millburn, and the center is being outfitted with equipment that will enable it to easily transition into future requirements of the “Digital Age.”  That was the assessment made by Scott Ruf, director of the center, who was introduced at Tuesday evening’s common council meeting.

In introducing Ruf, council public safety chairman Patrick Hurley noted the Long Island native came to the area after serving in a similar position in Lawrence, KS. and his career also includes working in Washington and New York States.  Ruf has more than 25 years of experience in the field.

Hurley noted one of the chief challenges for the new director will be getting the “inter-operability” of the combined emergency call center in line with the requirements of the three current community members of the facility.

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Ruf said he has been evaluating dispatchers and working with a training officer, along with establishing a sound working relationship with first responders from the three municipalities. He said he expects to be making staff selections next week.

Because of different operational setups in each of the three communities, the director said, there will be some administrative changes needed to help the new operation to gel. 

Summit Common Council President Robert Rubino said the combined shared services facility will bring about cost savings, and result in the same or better level of service for each of the communities.

Ruf added that residents should expect that the responsiveness of their local emergency services will be seamless compared to their current services once the facility is in full operation.

On another emergency services-related matter, the council, at the suggestion of First Ward Councilman Albert Dill, Jr., added the City fire chief, or his designee, to the steering committee for the Summit Highline, for which the council is advocating development along the abandoned railroad right-of-way between Briant Park and the central business district.

The Summit Highline would become a natural viewing and walking area,  similar to the Highline in New York City.

Dill said on Tuesday that, due to questions of accessibility should it become necessary to remove someone from the Summit Highline during an emergency, the steering committee should include members with knowledge of emergency extraction procedures who could provide input from the first aid squad or related agencies.

Therefore, the Highline steering committee now will include the mayor, the council president, a member of common council, a planning board member, the city engineer, the city administrator, the police chief or his designee, the fire chief or his designee,  and two members of the community.

Since the New Jersey Department of Transportation owns the land on which the Highline will be located, the council on Tuesday was required to approve an agreement granting the city six months of temporary access to the site.

On another matter, the governing body amended the membership of the city’s recycling advisory committee to delete a reference to the now-defunct Summit Recycling, Inc. and replace the member from that organization with a citizen-at-large.

Continuing with the council t-file review to periodically measure the success of governing body-approved initiatives, city communications specialist Amy Cairns reported on her work in the position since it was created last year.

Cairns noted she had created a protocol for media outreach and distribution of community-wide information, including releases to Tap Into Summit, developed style guides and templates for reaching out with emergency information to community and religious groups, and developed a stronger social media presence for the City.

She also said that the city website in the last year had more than 20,000 visitors, the city Facebook page has 520 posts (about 1.4 per day), the Summit Twitter feed had 468 tweets and 708 followers.  In addition, she is continuing to provide weekly media updates and long-form articles to The Independent Press.

The communications specialist also has developed flyers for a number of city services, and provides a “Friday note” to keep the community abreast of city communications efforts.

On the emergency front, she has developed templates for all anticipated emergency situations, and has received notification input from the office of emergency management and the police and fire departments.  She also has compiled a list of key communicators from throughout the city and has participated in office of emergency management drills.

Cairns, additionally, has conducted extensive testing of the city’s new emergency notification system, and handled publicity and community outreach to easy resident applications for the emergency notification system.

Through the use of Google Analytics, she has been able to analyze traffic on the city website and determine what drives users to the site.  Ongoing projects include community notification of council goals and budgetary milestones, and circulation of information from city departments about city programs and events.

On another matter, Dill, Chair of the General Services Committee, reported parking kiosks at a number of city lots have been replaced by newer digital models.  Public works chairwoman Sandra Lizza noted that the new systems enable the city to replace four different types of kiosks with one.

Dill also exhibited a sample of a sign indicating parking areas around the city.  He said 16 of the signs will be attached at various areas of the central business district.  Lizza said the new signs would be particularly helpful in directing those wishing to park in the DeForest Avenue lots.  Dill also said the city’s parking agency would need council guidance shortly so it can decide on location of a new city parking garage.

In another official action, the governing body named council finance chairman Michael McTernan and Lizza to the board of school estimate for a one-year term beginning on December 17.

The council also adopted an ordinance limiting in-kind or monetary donations by professionals doing business with the city to $300 for a primary election, and $300 for a general election, to a candidate or holder of a City elective office -- or City or Union County political action committee -- either one year before or after the start of negotiations or submittal of a bid for city business.

McTernan said because the new ordinance will be more strict than state law, it brings the City closer to 100 percent compliance with the state checklist for good government best practices to ensure that Summit receives all state aid that it is owed.

On another matter, residents continued to press the council to remove voting polling places from City schools because, they contend, the presence of the polls in schools presents a personal safety risk to students.

Wendy Barber of 6 Watchung Place said although voting itself is not dangerous, allowing the public access to schools on election days without the normal daily access restrictions imposed on all school visitors endangers children attending the schools.

Barber said on election day she and her husband were able to follow directional signs throughout Brayton School without being challenged, as they were on every ordinary school day. She said this could give access to those who posed a danger to students in the schools, which are more often the target of predators than other public buildings.

She said the Summit Public Library already has been approved as a polling place, and use of this -- or other municipal facilities -- could be accomplished with little increase in costs, other than the expense to station police officers at polling places.

Resident Amy Murray urged the council to honor the requests of the PTO council, school principals, Superintendent of Schools Nathan Parker, and Board of Education President Celia Colbert in removing polling places from city schools.