Summit Council Honors Chris Cotter on His 39 Years of Service; City CFO Departing for Westfield Post

Common Council President Robert Rubino, left, and Mayor Ellen Dickson flank outgoing Christopher Cotter, who is retiring from his role as city administrator, capping a nearly four decades-long tenure of service to the city. Credits: City of Summit Photo Services

SUMMIT, NJ—Christopher J. Cotter, set to retire after nearly four decades of service to the City of Summit, was honored at the Tuesday's Common Council meeting, receiving myriad plaudits and having June 23 proclaimed “Christopher J. Cotter Appreciation Day” in the Hilltop City by Mayor Ellen Dickson, as the outgoing City Administrator attended his final meeting of the governing body.

Dickson, noting that Cotter was born and raised in Summit, where he has spent his entire life, thanked him for all he has done for the city, including the many central business district improvement projects he helped initiate, and his service with the Summit Fire Department.

Cotter joined the Summit Fire Department as an alarm room attendant while still a teenager in June 1976. He served with the department from 1975 to 2003, becoming chief in 1994, and serving as emergency management director and community services director for the city before taking the reins of the administration department 10 years ago.

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In addition to his many other accomplishment Dickson, in honoring Cotter, particularly cited his leadership in coordinating emergency services during Superstorm Sandy, Hurricance Irene, and the October Snowstorm.

She also praised him for being a major driving force behind implementation of a joint meeting for emergency dispatch services to include Summit, New Providence, and Millburn.

Council president Robert Rubino noted that one of Cotter’s most memorable qualities was his ability to apply “Cotter’s Golden Rule" -- everyone he dealt with, even if they were difficult, was treated with respect.

Second Ward Councilman Richard Madden, the senior member of the governing body, thanked Cotter for the many services he had performed for the city and himself during Madden’s six years on the council.

Similar sentiments were expressed by relative council newcomers Michael McTernan and Sandra  Lizza, and Councilmen Albert Dill, Jr., Patrick Hurley and Gregory Drummond.

During his remarks, Cotter introduced his wife Karen, thanked former Mayor Jordan Glatt and the many former council members and present, and former city department heads who were at the meeting.

He said that for 28 years he had the good fortune to have one of the greatest jobs ever by serving in the fire department.

He then was called for service in new roles in emergency management, as community services director, and then as city administrator.

Cotter praised the many city employees with whom he served over the years, saying their dedication “made the city go,” and listing a number of accomplishments achieved with the help of city department heads, including “turning a number of decrepit athletic fields” into the fine surfaces they are today, and the founding of the community programs department under director Judith Josephs.

He also noted the founding of the joint dispatch service, the merger of the recreation department with the department of public works to increase efficiency, and the maintaining of Summit’s effective tax rate to the lowest in Union County and one of the lowest in the state while increasing real estate values throughout the city.

Tuesday’s council meeting was around the 400th session he had attended over the years, the administrator said.

Cotter praised the elected officials with whom he had served over the years as “volunteering their service with only one goal in mind -- to make Summit a better place to live.”

He concluded by saying that Summit was based on the principle that good government should be founded on a belief in civility at all levels.

In another action related to departure of a city official, the council approved creation of  a vacancy in the post of chief financial officer and city treasurer. Scott Olsen will be leaving that post to take a similar position in Westfield.

McTernan, who, as council finance chairman, worked very closely with Olsen over the last few years, praised him for his professionalism and the great help he had been in city financial matters.

On another matter, community services director Beth Kinney reported that the “unprecedented flash flooding” that hit the city on June 15 overwhelmed several sections of the city sewer system.

Noting some sections of Summit saw four inches of rain in an hour, she said the rainfall that hit the city met the definition of a 100-year storm -- one that that statistically has a one percent chance of occurring in any given in a given location. It also met the definition for Union County, which is more than 8.7 inches falling within a 24-hour period.

Although several inlets in Summit were damaged and experienced washouts, and a number of homes had basement flooding, city workers handled the emergency well.

She noted that, for the first time in recent memory, Springfield Avenue was flooded from the city hall parking lot to Maple Street.

The sanitary sewer system held up well, she noted, although there was some minor flooding at the River Road pumping station.

Kinney noted that the city’s drainage assessment report has provided guidelines through which it can track drainage problems and evaluate them and make corrections based on the impact of rainfall amounts. This has caused capital improvements to be made in many areas over the years, she noted.

The community services director added that city engineer Aaron Schrager would give an update on the drainage assessment report at the council’s July 28 session.

She did say that, especially during large storms, debris can be washed into inlets, stopping the flow through the inlets. She urged residents to locate inlets -- usually at curbs on local streets -- and keep them clear of debris.

A resident of Glendale Road said during the meeting, however, that the same street, which houses only six residences, has flooded twice in the last four years and is subject to a large amount of runoff coming down Prospect Hill.

He said no storm sewers are located on the street.

Kinney said she had received the resident’s complaint, and Schrager would add it to his list of problem areas to be addressed.

On another matter, the council awarded a $1,410,315 contract to Cifelli & Sons Contracting of Nutley for downtown roads and beautification projects.

Lizza noted that Summit Downtown, Inc. would pay about $153,375 for many of the decorative aspects of the project, which will include drainage and infrastructure improvements as well as upgraded pedestrian safety and signage.

Some of the decorative work, and construction of a conduit to possibly house expanded IT connectivity in the business district, possibly will be delayed for change orders in the future because of cost concerns, she added.

Lizza also said a portion of Summit’s cost for the project will be paid by a $115,000 grant from Union County.

McTernan pointed out, however, that the county grant only represents about seven percent of total grants awarded for such projects across the county, while Summit residents pay about 11 percent of Union County property taxes.

He said this was another example of the county freeholders showing favoritism toward other parts of the county.

On another matter, the council heard a plea for more staffing in the city health department from health officer Megan Avallone and registrar of vital statistics Gayle Mauro.

They reported that, in 2011, the city decided to promote Mauro to her current position from deputy registrar and to replace her former full-time position with two part-time registrars.

Due to the department’s heavy workload -- processing about 7,000 records per year, many of them from Overlook Medical Center -- the department sometimes operates with the equivalent of only 1.5 staff members available and is open many extra hours.

Mauro also said employees complain they are often being paid for two to three days of work when they often are on call up to five days.

The health officials also said the processing of 1,200 dog licenses and 270 cat licenses each year, along with notifying pet owners of deadlines and citing violators of those deadlines, adds to the workload.

They asked the council to consider restoring the deputy registrar position to full time status.

Hurley, under whose general services committee the health department falls, said the council would explore the situation further once it receives a formal request from the department.

On another matter, Hurley expressed his condolences to the family and lacrosse community on the sudden death of assistant coach Kyle Kirst last week at age 47.

Hurley said Kirst had coached his son in the Summit Futures program, and had given him the confidence he needed to go forward in lacrosse and helped many Summit youngsters enter football programs.

Kirst, who coached in Summit for 10 years, was well known around the Middle Atlantic States and around the United States, he said, adding that one of the athletes he coached -- Summit High School Alum Jules Godino -- would be the captain of the Navy Lacrosse Team next year.

McTernan said his son also had played for Kirst, and the coach’s influence “made him a better man.”

On another matter, Kinney and Police Chief Robert Weck told Democratic First Ward council candidate David Naidu they expected work to begin on the replacement of the Morris Avenue New Jersey Transit bridge this summer, but they had not yet received word on proposed plans to rerout traffic around the construction.

Kinney said she expected a contractor to be appointed soon, and the city would have a more clear idea of traffic rerouting requirements after a pre-construction meeting with the contractor.

Weck added notices about rerouting would be widely disseminated throughout the city as soon as his department became aware of the plans, and the traffic patterns could be “tweaked” to meet changing situations as the project proceeded.

Kinney said the project is expected to take about two years to complete.

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