SUMMIT, NJ - After powering through their first meeting of the month in just 66 minutes, the Summit Common Council finished a fast February by completing the second meeting of the month in an almost-as-quick 69 minutes. In addition to conducting normal City business, the meeting -- in recognition of February as 'Black History Month' -- featured presentations by members of the Summit’s Fountain Baptist Church.
Portia Hood-Marshall introduced the audience to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History Month.” Born in 1875 in Virginia, this son of former slaves earned a BA from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University. In 1926, Woodson proposed and launched the annual February observance of 'Negro History Week' which became 'Black History Month' in 1976. A historian and author, Woodson founded what today is the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, whose mission is to “promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about black life, history, and culture to the global community.”
Marshall noted that black history is more than just reciting the accomplishments of a few notable African-Americans, but that it is inseparable from American history. She suggested everyone visit the African-American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, DC. Marshall mentioned how she wished her grandfather -- a sharecropper who read at a third-grade level, raised seven children and sent them all to college, and paid a $2 poll tax -- had lived to see the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. “In closing … black history should not only be celebrated just in one month, and just by African-Americans, but should be a part of everyday knowledge, celebrated by everyone.”
Following her speech, a sextet of singers performed a stirring A capella rendition of the spiritual “Oh Freedom.”
Miles Blackley, a student at Lawton C. Johnson Middle School, spoke about Violet Johnson, “a woman of vision, faith, and service.” Born in North Carolina in 1870, in 1897 Johnson moved from Brooklyn to Summit with the family for whom she was a domestic servant. Within a year, she helped found Fountain Baptist Church. She remained a driving force in the church and her community for the remainder of her life, widely acknowledged as a role model. Her “indomitable spirit and organizational abilities” manifested themselves in many areas. He called her a “community builder and advocate for fair treatment,” opening her home to young women seeking domestic positions. In the midst of the Great Depression, Violet lent her great organizational skills to help organize the Glenwood Neighborhood Club and its youth version, The Glenwood Betterment Club, to instill community pride and defend decent housing for Summit’s black residents. A supporter of women’s rights, she later became a recognized force in the Republican Party of North Central New Jersey. Called “one of the most honored women in New Jersey,” she was indeed a role model. In the 1930s a young women’s club dedicated to community service, The Violet Johnson Progressive Club, stated it was “trying to live up to its name and to the standards of Miss Violet Johnson.”
Moving on to town business, Ward 1 Council Member Danny Sullivan introduced a Community Programs and Parking Services ordinance to amend the fee structure for Municipal Golf Course and Family Aquatic Center memberships. Proposed are a non-resident senior pool membership category and changes in fees for corporate and business golf memberships. Approved by a unanimous roll call vote (with the exception of Ward 1 Council Member David Naidu, who was absent), this ordinance will be heard, discussed, and voted on at the March 10 Council meeting.
Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman moved a Law & Labor resolution appointing Billy Gram and Adam Uanis as police offers. They replace two retired officers. The pair will be sworn in at a future Council meeting.
Susan Hairston, Ward 1 Council Member, moved a Safety & Health resolution to appoint three new volunteer firefighters, Matthew Carbone and Andrew Oristanio, both Summit residents, and Adam Foti. Also authorized was applying for a Distracted Driving Statewide Crackdown grant from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. The grant, if successful, will allow the Summit Police Department to communicate with the public about what Hairston called “this very dangerous habit” and deploy patrol officers focused solely on distracted driving without having to respond to other routine calls.
Police Chief Robert Weck and Mayor Nora Radest both stressed that the police force is always concerned with this unsafe behavior, but that the grant would provide financial assistance to devote extra attention to the problem.
Five Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions were moved by Council Member at Large Beth Little. Arbor Day 2020 festivities were authorized. The event will be held at the high school on April 24, and will celebrate Summit’s 24 years as a Tree City USA. Nine trees will be planted on the grounds, and students from Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary will also participate. Also voted on was a two-year contract with Giordano Company Inc. for the processing and marketing of fiber, cardboard, and dual-stream recycling materials at the Municipal Transfer Station. Acknowledging the changing international recyclable materials market, Summit negotiated a floor price which protects the City in case there is an extreme downturn. The contract is not to exceed $140,000, which Little characterized as the “worst-case scenario.”
A bid for $465,191.05, to be entirely covered by a grant, was awarded to Midwest Construction LLC for the Pine Grove Avenue section II improvement project. This will include milling and paving, drainage, curbing, and installation of a new sidewalk. Council President Marjorie Fox pointed out this would be the first walk to be installed entirely at the City’s expense under the recently adopted Sidewalk Master Plan. Radest remarked that the sidewalk would greatly improve pedestrian safety on the hilly street. Paul Cascais, director - Department of Community Services, said some work would take place in the summer so as not to affect school schedules. A resolution approved applying for a grant from the Union County 2020 Infrastructure and Municipal Aid program for work to be done this year on Huntley Road improvements, including paving, curbs, and drainage. Finally, Sheila Srere was appointed to the Mayor's Arts Committee.
O’Sullivan had two Community Programs & Parking Services resolutions. One authorized a professional services agreement for $43,000 with Boswell Engineering for the Broad Street garage rehabilitation project. Rita McNany, parking service manager, explained that Boswell will determine what repairs are needed, provide cost projections, prepare bid specs, and then oversee and inspect work done by the subcontractor chosen to perform the repairs. O’Sullivan’s other resolution authorized accepting a $10,000 grant from the Summit Area Public Foundation to underwrite diversity and inclusion projects and events.
Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan moved four Finance resolutions. The first transferred operating budget funds from accounts with a surplus to those with a deficit; this passed on a unanimous roll call vote. Another authorized the City’s special tax appeal attorney to file corrective appeals, counter petitions and counter claims, and stipulations of settlement as necessary with the Union County Tax Board and the New Jersey Tax Court without requiring council to vote on each individual request. A one-year contract extension with Millennium Strategies LLC for grant-writing services, not to exceed $42,000, was approved. Millennium will soon meet with department heads and relevant boards and commissions that the firm will assist by identifying grant opportunities, writing applications, and compiling supporting material. Also authorized was the submission of a grant application to the Union County 2020 Infrastructure and Municipal Aid program for the City Hall records management improvement project. The project’s total cost is $26,000; the grant would cover $13,000.
All resolutions passed.
The Summit High School Football Program received a mayoral proclamation commemorating its status as “the winningest football program in Union County in the past decade” between 2010 and 2019. As detailed in TAPinto Summit on January 1, the program achieved an 89-20 record and an .817 win percentage over the decade.