SUMMIT, NJ - With the start of a New Year and the Common Council annual Reorganization Meeting less than two weeks away, the final Summit Common Council meeting on December 17 was, fittingly full of resolutions and auld lang syne.
The meeting began on a somber note, as Council president David Naidu -- himself sitting for the last time in that capacity,-- opened the session with a moment of silence for Detective Joseph Seals, killed in the line of duty in the recent Jersey City shootings.
As outgoing Council President, Naidu reflected on the past two years. He acknowledged that the time has been bittersweet, bookended by the passing of his mother and fellow Council member Matt Gould, but that the “friendship and congeniality” of the Council made it easier. His watchword for all that has been accomplished was “together,” which encompasses City staff, Mayor Nora Radest, Administrator Michael Rogers, City Clerk Rosemary Licatese, and his fellow Council members.
Among the accomplishments he highlighted were a 0% tax increase in 2018 and a 1% increase in 2019, and a nearly $50 million increase in ratables. The City has maintained its AAA bond rating and created an Economic Development Committee.
He pointed to community programs recognizing the City’s diversity, and to projects addressing safety and infrastructure concerns.\
The new Development Regulation Ordinance incudes design and sustainability standards. A new $6.5 million community center opened and an agreement was reached to construct a Free Market building. Restrictions were passed on single-use plastics, and a thousand trees will be planted over the next four years in honor of Gould.
Naidu also acknowledged Ward 1 Council Member Mike McTernan, who is set to leave Council after serving for six years, including two as Council President. Noting that the decision-making process for the master plan occurred during McTernan’s presidency, he characterized McTernan’s approach as “inclusive of others” and aimed at avoiding “a cookie-cutter plan.” That decision resulted in public input about what people wanted to see in the city, ultimately informing the final development plans.
Returning to the idea of “together,” Naidu concluded that “together doesn’t mean that we always agree, but that we understand good can only happen in a community when those who are in leadership accept the idea that we’re all in this to make things better.”
Others on the dais added their valedictory thoughts about McTernan. Radest thanked him for a warm welcome when she was elected. She called him a “consummate gentleman” in the way he shares his thoughts and opinions, and that in spite of disagreements, he’s “challenged me to think harder.”
Council Member at-Large Beth Little never worked on a committee with McTernan, but always appreciated hearing his point of view. “We don’t always agree, but I always appreciate hearing another point of view, and it forces you … to think through the issues more. I hope you’ll continue to advise us.”
Ward 2 Council Member Marjorie Fox, who served on two committees with McTernan, said she learned a lot from him. She acknowledged “we can disagree bitterly on one issue, then turn around and work together as a team on another issue and do what really benefits the community.”
Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan recalled that “when you join the Council, they literally hand you this giant binder full of things and a lot of it is basically an explanation that you can’t do a lot of the stuff that you wanted to do. But … nobody was more helpful to me in figuring things out than Mike. You’ve been a tremendous resource.”
Although she’s only shared the dais with McTernan for a short time, Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston thanked him for his assistance with her computer.
City Administrator Michael Rogers noted that McTernan was the last member of the Council who hired him, thanking him for “taking a chance on a kid from Morristown.”
McTernan got the final word.
He extended his thanks to the City staff, applauding the professionalism of everyone “from the City administrator all the way down to the cop on the beat or the person who’s picking up our trash.” He thanked the department heads present and past, as well as past and present colleagues on Council. Concerning the latter, he said “everyone who has sat up here has done it for the right reasons. They truly love our community, and they have its best interest at heart.”
Laughter erupted when he continued, “I was a little concerned when everyone kept saying they disagreed with me -- but even when we have disagreed on what those best interests may be, I have always appreciated how civil and respectful those discussions are.”
He also thanked the volunteers he’s worked with, calling them “one of the things that make Summit great.” He called getting to meet so many people in town a fringe benefit of being on Council. Finally, he thanked his family, especially his wife, Julie, saying he couldn’t have done it without her support.
The audience responded with a standing ovation.
Moving on to a short business agenda, Vartan moved a single Safety & Health resolution, to award the 2020-21 animal control services contract to Animal Control Solutions of Flemington. The $4,000 /month fee is all-inclusive.
In Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman’s absence, Little presented three Law & Labor resolutions. The first authorized the execution of a contract with the Policemen’s Benevolent Association. This had been under negotiation for much of 2019. It includes a 2.25% salary increase over the four-year duration of the contract. A second resolution called for the establishment of a study commission to review the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”). A dramatic increase in request over the past several years has strained City resources – this year, it resulted in some 200 hours of administrative time. Little noted she agrees with the act’s intent but said the execution needs improving. McTernan called the request “long overdue.” A third resolution authorized paid sick leave for a DCS employee.
Fox had 10 Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. The most significant was the authorization of a conditional designation and escrow agreement with Broad Street West Managers I LLC, comprising L&M Development Partners and Toll Brothers, as the developers for the Broad Street West project. Chosen from a pool of 13 developers, BSWM I offered a proposal that most closely meets the city’s goals of “working with the downtown and creating a neighborhood.” The next step will be negotiating a redevelopment agreement between the parties with details.
Little said she was excited to move forward, calling the project “highly beneficial to the city.”
McTernan said it was “really great to get to this stage and to be as excited as we are.” He characterized BSWM I as “the best team for our project … we want to have not a good project for Summit, but a great project.”
Naidu explained next steps, including negotiating a development agreement, presenting the proposed development to the public, and gathering the public’s feedback.
Fox moved a resolution authorizing a grant application by the Environmental Commission to the 'Sustainable Jersey: Roots to Rivers' program. The requested $1,200 would pay for 100 trees and shrubs to be planted in three locations along the Passaic River. Also authorized was an application to NJ Transit on behalf of Summit Public Art to place a mural on the railroad abutment on Springfield Avenue. A new sidewalk has increased foot traffic in that area, which will be beautified by the mural. Fox bundled three change orders for roadway improvement projects. The cancellation of the stamped cobblestone project downtown and cost savings on other projects saved $213,791.
There was a resolution to rebid a contract for the disposal of commingled recyclables from the Transfer Station. The initial RFP received no proposals. The current contract expires at year-end, and the city will arrange for emergency pricing with its current contractor until new contract is awarded. With fewer markets for recyclables, Fox reminded listeners not to think, “oh, I can recycle this,” but rather not to consume disposables in the first place.
She moved a resolution to seek permission from Union County to install a solar-powered flashing pedestrian crosswalk beacon at the corner of Union Place and Summit Avenue using funds from the Safe Street to Transit grant. Similarly, there was a resolution requesting permission from the county to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Morris Avenue & Orchard Street. The intention is to improve traffic flow, thereby reducing the amount of traffic using Briant Parkway as a cut-through. Vartan, representing the Safety Committee, said the police and engineering departments had held a public session in July to discuss the problems of traffic speed and volume, and this is a first step towards a solution.
Another Capital Projects resolution amended the Shade Tree Advisory Committee membership, removing the Summit Area Development Corporation, which has not sent a representative to meetings in recent years. Radest interjected that the SADC has been very generous in providing trees on the Green and other assistance, and that their contributions are greatly appreciated. Naidu added that SADC is becoming a 501(c)(3) foundation.
Little had a number of Finance resolutions, the first of which authorized annual salaries for City employees. Two resolutions passed unanimously by roll call vote. One authorized the transfer of appropriations in the City’s operating budget, moving money from accounts with surpluses to those with shortfalls. The other authorized the December transfer of appropriations to pay bills that require payment before the end of the year. A number of contracts for 2020 were authorized for:
Legal services for the city solicitor and for labor counsel, in amounts not to exceed $200,000 and $40,000 respectively, provided by Matthew Giacobbe of Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri & Jacobs;
Legal services for tax appeal counsel, not to exceed $140,000, to Martin Allen of Difrancesco Bateman Kunzman Davis Lehrer Flaum PC;
Risk management consultant services with Acrisure, LLC, at thje same rate as last year’s – 6% of the premium cost paid by the Joint Insurance Fund. Acrisure was hired in 2018 and provide “a much higher level of service” than the previous provider, said Little.
Also moved was a resolution to extend the shared service agreement with the Borough of Madison for 2020 information technology services, not to exceed $95,880, a 2% increase over the previous contract.
All resolutions passed.
Other Business, Notifications
Radest offered a brief Mayor’s Report. She reminded everyone that the Summit Police Department’s 'Drive Sober or Get pulled Over' campaign runs until January 1, with roving patrols to stop impaired drivers.
With the recent icy weather as a backdrop, Radest asked residents to stay off the roads if possible during winter storms. When shoveling, don’t push snow into the road, and treat sidewalks and remove snow within 24 hours of the storm’s end. If possible, people should also clear around fire hydrants and open a path for crews to access garbage cans. Downed wires should be reported to JCP&L by calling 1-888-LIGHTSS.
The Council will next meet on Thursday, January 2, 2020. At this organization meeting, new council member Danny O’Sullivan will be sworn into office and a new council president will be elected. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m., preceded by a reception at 7 p.m.