SUMMIT, NJ - The Hilltop City community raised it voice, and the Summit Common Council listened.
Responding to significant feedback from residents opposing a proposal which would have changed the regulations of the Summit Aquatic Center to allow for corporate memberships -- similar to those in effect at the municipal golf course -- the Council unanimously voted down the ordinance at its second June meeting.
The program would have established a corporate membership similar to that at the golf course, wherein any Summit-based corporation could purchase an annual corporate membership for the City's swimming facility for $1,500, enabling its employees admission to the aquatic center by showing a corporate identification card and paying a guest fee.
A group of city residents, using the hashtag ‘summitCOMMUNITYstrong’, began and circulated an online petition, produced a video supporting their cause, and urged their fellow residents to get involved by attending the June 20 Council session -- all in an effort to defeat the proposed program.
At the June 7 meeting during which the ordinance was introduced Ward I Councilman David Naidu cast the lone vote against hearing the measure, saying that allowing corporate sponsorships would interfere with the intended family and community culture of the swimming facility. The remaining Council members, without endorsing the concept, voted in favor of holding a hearing on the proposed ordinance.
At the June 20 session, Councilwoman Mary Ogden introduced the ordinance for adoption in place of general services chairman Patrick Hurley, who was not at the meeting. Ogden, however, quickly said she would not be supporting adoption of the measure because the input she had received from the community since the ordinance introduction convinced her that it was not an appropriate action for the council to take.
She, however, praised Department of Community Programs director Judith Leblein-Josephs for doing what the Council expected City department heads to do -- taking the initiative as a steward of City funds to find more creative ways to help fund City services.
Ward I Councilman Robert Rubino agreed, noting the success of corporate memberships at the City golf course and the decreases in the numbers of pool memberships over the last several years.
Rubino added, however, that introduction of the ordinance had given the community an opportunity for citywide public input on the issue and the Council had come to realize more fully the unique “Hilltopper feeling” surrounding the aquatic center. He quoted Sally Wright of 26 Mountain Avenue, one of the leaders of the anti-corporate membership group, who said voting for the ordinance was “voting for something that is not for families.”
The Ward I councilman added he had decided against the ordinance because the aquatic center was “a city asset too precious to toy with.”
Ward II councilman Steven Bowman said he had come to realize that there was a big difference between regulating tee times at the golf course and allowing corporate memberships in the aquatic center. He added allowing corporate memberships at the pool also potentially could cause a parking problem at the swimming facility.
Naidu, at the June 20 session, said the pool was an extension of his neighborhood and those involved in each neighborhood. He added the discussion on the ordinance demonstrated that democracy functioned best when the public was engaged, and, in this instance, protected a valuable asset. Naidu also added that the community programs staff deserved the credit for developing the aquatic center into such a quality city facility that it engendered the type of support shown in the discussions against the ordinance.
Mayor Nora Radest said she was grateful that Summit had a Council that demonstrated it could act after hearing about the wishes of its people.
Council president Michael McTernan said he was proud of the business culture that encouraged City department heads to act creatively when dealing with City finances. He added that it was necessary for the ordinance to be formally introduced and given a full and open airing in public. Although the council president said Summit residents should realize that employees who work in Summit businesses and support the business districts are “part of the fabric” of the Summit community, he also understood that the aquatic center was a special place for Hilltop City families.
McTernan added that, while the $10,000 the expanded membership would have brought in was good for city finances, he felt the income was not worth interfering with the family culture of the pool.
The open public discussion on the issue, Rubino added, demonstrated again the transparency of the City constitution, which has an ordinance posted on the City website for five days after its introduction and requires a 10-day waiting period during which the public can comment before an ordinance is finalized.
In keeping with the parks and recreation theme at the beginning of the meeting, Radest also presented Brian Hadley, a second-year intern in the community programs department, with a proclamation making July Parks and Recreation Month in the City and recognizing the many health and other benefits provided by Summit’s parks and recreation areas. The mayor noted Hadley is majoring in parks management at Clemson University.
On another matter at the meeting, the governing body adopted a resolution approving a professional services agreement allotting $95,000 to LeMay Erickson Willcox Architects to conduct a study of the feasibility of a new fire headquarters in the city.
Both Naidu and McTernan said the feasibility study should not stand alone, but should be considered in coordination with the Topology study of the “West Broad Street Corridor” in conjunction with the revised master plan.
Naidu added consideration should be given to the current fire headquarters site and its possible redevelopment along with the City’s vision for and location of the new fire headquarters.
The Council also adopted four parking ordinances:
- Calling for five-hour meters along Elm Street to allow permit parking only from 5 to 11 a.m., Monday through Friday, and hourly parking after 11 a.m. and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.
- Increasing the non-resident rate for parking in the Broad Street East Lot from $10 to $12 per day.
- Increasing the fee for parking five-plus hours in the DeForest Avenue Shopper Lots from $30 to $50.
- Changing meters on Summit Avenue from Parmley Place to Whittredge Road to bagged meters to be used for pre-paid employee parking.
Governing body members also adopted bond ordinances for:
- $3.1 million for new and additional computer equipment for the fire department, hardware for use by the public library and upgrades of software and other equipment for use by the City clerk’s office and the telephone and security systems in City Hall, along with other equipment.
- $400,000 for various parking utility improvements.
- $375,000 for sewer utility improvements.
The Council also passed a resolution calling on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the area’s 21st District legislators to urge New York City-based employers to allow their employees commuting from New Jersey more flexibility in telecommuting while the Penn Station track improvement work is done from July 10 to September 1.
McTernan said, however, that he believed the commuters on the Morris and Essex Line of New Jersey Transit are being asked to bear an unfairly large share of the inconvenience in alternative transportation plans because passengers on the line, which serves Summit, are being rerouted to Hoboken Terminal. He said in the future he hoped passengers on the state’s other lines would share more fully in the inconveniences caused by rail improvements.
Relating to the commuting changes during the track work Beth Little, Democratic At-Large Council candidate, told the council members she and her Democratic running mates, Matthew Gould and Marjorie Fox, had surveyed commuters at the Summit train station on the situation. They found, Little said, that, of 94 respondents, 80 percent favored having private bus lines run charter buses through Summit, 40 percent favored utilizing car pooling and a smaller percentage favored urging employers to allow more telecommuting.
In response to Little, City business administrator Michael Rogers said several private bus lines had approached governing bodies along the Morris and Essex Line about having one trip per day of their buses make stops in the affected communities. He said Summit officials would relay any information they receive on this to City residents.
Likewise, Radest and Rogers announced the City would post detailed information on alternative transportation arrangements they receive on the City website and update it regularly.
A number of other ideas about contacting New York City employers about telecommuting flexibility during the track repairs included having the city write to employers directly, having employees carry notes from their council endorsing more telecommuting flexibility and having governing bodies of the affected communities post open letters to New York City newspapers urging the flexibility.
On another matter, the mayor announced her appointment of Peggy Wong to serve out the year remaining in the board of education term of Debbie Chang, who is leaving the board because her family is moving to Dallas. Details of the background of Wong, who is a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry with degrees from Harvard and MIT, were previously reported in TAPinto Summit when the appointment was announced by Board of Education president Richard Hanley.
Radest also pointed out that Wong had been active in many STEM programs at the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School.