SUMMIT, NJ - The coronavirus (COVID-19) -- and the associated worldwide pandemic that is at the forefront of everyone's minds in Summit and around the globe -- led the agenda at the Summit Common Council's first meeting in March. Megan Avallone, director of the Westfield Regional Health Department, assured citizens that the health department and the City of Summit are prepared to deal with the disease. She pointed to experience gained during previous outbreaks like the H1N1 flu. Importantly, she provided guidance on how to best avoid contamination, and advised everyone to “stay calm.”

The virus can be spread through the air via coughs or sneezes, by touching contaminated surfaces, and by close contact with those with the disease. People should:

  • Practice good respiratory hygiene, including covering coughs and sneezes with their arm or a tissue – not their hands. Avallone demonstrated what she called the "Dracula cough” into the crook of her arm.
  • Wash their hands frequently and correctly for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching one’s face
  • Stay home if sick, and keeping ill children home. “If you’re on the fence about staying home,” Avallone recommends staying home. In particular, vulnerable older residents should consider staying home to avoid the risk of infection.
  • Practice “social distancing,” keeping several feet apart and avoiding touching.

Avallone said the CDC does not recommend the routine use of masks by the general public.

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The CDC website lists travel restrictions, including that travelers retuning from China, Italy, South Korea, or Iran are being put under a mandatory two-week quarantine out of “an overabundance of caution.” Those who have been to an affected area and feel sick should seek medical care right away – but be honest with their healthcare provider about their travel and symptoms. People suspecting they are infected should call their medical provider rather than just showing up at the office. Of course, 911 calls should be restricted to actual life-threatening emergencies. Similarly, if one’s own doctor can manage any symptoms, it’s preferable to seek help there than at an emergency room.

Avallone noted that it is still flu season, and many of the diseases’ symptoms are the same. In fact, she added, while the exact trajectory of the coronavirus isn’t known, it’s likely that there will be a decline in warmer weather, and increased cases in the fall.

Factual information is available at cdc.gov/coronavirus/, nj.gov/health/topics/ncov.shtml, and westfieldnj.gov/coronavirus. New Jersey also has a multilingual 24/7 call center at 1-800-222-1222 for general questions (not medical advice).\

Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi added a public service messae that at-risk voters are advised to vote by mail in the upcoming primary election. The can download an application form at unioncounyvotes.com or call 908-527-4996 to receive an application by mail. 

Radest last week moderated a discussion with city officials and first responders on Summit’s preparations for a potential public health emergency. Additionally, the city website is being updated daily with information from the Westfield Regional Health Department, NJ Health Department, and the CDC.

Ceremonial Activity

Moving to a different sort of emergency preparedness, Radest proclaimed March 2020 as 'American Red Cross Month', noting the organization was founded more than 139 years ago to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies. She referred to the approximately 62,000 disasters large and small nationwide each year. The Red Cross New Jersey Region (RCNJR) assisted at 821 disasters in the state last year, locally. The RCNJR’s home fire campaign has helped install more than 41,000 smoke alarms since 2014. It annually responds to more than 7,233 emergency military calls and collects more than 94,700 units of blood. She applauded the Red Cross for sheltering, feeding, and providing emotional support for disaster victims and collecting 40% of the nation’s blood supply and urged citizens to support “this noble humanitarian mission.”

Mabel Ramirez, the new executive director of the American Red Cross New Jersey Region, accepted the proclamation and urged everyone to continue to donate their time, talent, blood, and financial support. She noted that a volunteer helps a family every eight minutes, and in New Jersey, volunteers make up 92% of the Red Cross’s work force.

Two presentations acknowledged March as 'Women’s History Month', and 2020 as the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage. Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi provided a concise history of New Jersey women’s “March to Victory.” In colonial times until 1807, women in possession of 50 pounds, as well as free blacks, could vote in New Jersey. She noted how three 19th century movements – abolition, temperance, and suffrage – were intertwined and embraced by what she called “angry women.” Among the Garden State women who were active in the suffrage movement was Mary Philbrook, who was denied the right to become an attorney in the 1890s. This denial pushed her into activism. Alice Paul, a Quaker, observed the methods used by British suffragists while she was studying in England, and returned home to organize marches, picket lines, and hunger strikes. Five thousand women marched in Washington the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, and in 1917, she organized 1,000 “silent sentinels” dressed in white picketing the White House. Wilson relented the following year. Rev. Florence Spearing Randolph was the executive director of the New Jersey Suffrage Association and an ordained minister who was pastor of the Wallace Chapel AME Zion Church in Summit.

More recently, Rajoppi pointed out that last year, for the first time, the majority of the Union County Freeholders were women, and nine towns had female mayors (this year there are 10). Finally, she reminded listeners of Hannah Caldwell, depicted on the Union County seal. Her death at the hands of the British or Hessians during the Revolution galvanized Continental Army troops.

Summit High School junior Diana Burrows added her own perspective, noting that women fought valiantly for their rights and for the causes in which they believed, masking an impact even without the right to vote. Since 1920, the country is becoming a more equal and fair place for women “but we do still have a lot of work to do. The US as a whole lacks women in government,” pointing out that only 26 of 100 US senators are female, and 101 of 435 representatives. She called Summit an exception, citing the many women in leadership roles in local government, including the Mayor, Council President, three other Council Members, and City department heads. She called the example such women a “positive influence on me” and added that present-day women must “act as our ancestors did – spread the message of equality. Stand up for what you believe in. Fight sexism. Don’t let anyone say you can’t do something because you’re a woman, because being a woman in our best strength.”

Ordinances and Resolutions

Ward 1 Council Member Danny Sullivan moved a Community Programs & Parking Services ordinance to amend the fee structure for Municipal Golf Course and Family Aquatic Center memberships. Added was a new $160 non-resident senior pool membership category, which O’Sullivan described as a fair price point that isn’t less than a Summit resident would pay. This addresses feedback from former residents who still enjoy returning to Summit to spend time with friends.

At the golf course, Summit corporations currently pay $1,500 for a membership and employees were required to purchase individual memberships and pay greens fees to play. This ordinance removes the requirement for individual memberships. Additionally, Summit business owners and employees who don’t live in Summit will now be able to purchase a resident municipal golf course membership for $50 for adults and $40 for seniors 62 and older. Greens fees will still apply and proof of business ownership must be presented.

Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan added that at either facility, they don’t expect “a deluge” of additional people. David Naidu, Ward 1 Council Member, pointed out that capital costs and operating costs are borne by residents, and if capacity becomes an issue, Council should be prepared to revisit the issue. Mark Ozoroski, director of community programs, did not anticipate dramatic changes in usage, either.

The ordinance was adopted by a unanimous roll call vote.

Vartan introduced an ordinance to authorize the City to increase its final budget appropriations by the statutorily permitted 3.5 % and to allow the City to bank any unused amounts for the next two years. This “cost of living cap adjustment” ordinance isn’t an expenditure of funds and doesn’t affect the tax levy.

He emphasized the proposed budget increase is “significantly below the cap,” but this bill is being introduced as a contingency tool to allow an increase in the event of an unforeseen emergency. The introduction being approved unanimously, this ordinance will be discussed and voted on at the March 24 Council meeting.

Stephen Bowman, Ward 2 Council Member, had a single Law & Labor resolution on the agenda, to appoint Carlos Villalobos of Summit as a probationary firefighter effective March 23, filling a vacancy caused by retirement. Villalobos is a five-year volunteer firefighter, and will be attending the 10-week Fire Academy in Morristown beginning in April.

Bowman added three resolutions from the floor, authorizing paid sick leave for a Department of Public Works (DPW) employee through March 19, extending paid injury leave for a DPW employee through April 24, and declaring vacancies in the police department. With Summit Police Chief Robert Weck retiring as of June 1, there will be the need to hire his replacement and allow for movement within the department. Radest vowed the Department will be led by “another outstanding chief.” Weck reassured listeners that the department would be seeking to “promote, not hire.” Reverend Denison Harrield of Wallace Chapel AME Zion Church added his appreciation for Weck’s leadership in community policing.

Vartan bundled three Finance resolutions authorizing annual license agreements for sidewalk dining and alcohol sales by Piattino: A Neighborhood Bistro, The Office Tavern Grill, and Winberie’s. Also moved was a resolution authorizing the Summit Free Public Library to apply for a New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act grant for $100,000 to purchase and install a generator to allow the Library to operate in the event of a power outage.

Beth Little, Council Member at-large, introduced several Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions. She bundled a pair authorizing agreements with Union County for improvements at the Morris Avenue and Orchard Street intersection and for the installation of a rapid flashing pedestrian beacon on the intersection of Union Place and Summit Avenue. The change in the phasing of the traffic signal at Morris and Orchard is expected to ease traffic on Bryant Parkway.

A bid was awarded to National Water Main Cleaning Company of Kearny for 2020 sanitary sewer cleaning and TV inspection for $50,396.13 as part of the system’s ongoing maintenance. A resolution rejected bids and authorized new advertisement for the Huntley Road area improvement project. Twelve bids had been received, all higher than the City’s cost estimates. Two change orders authorized an additional $1,248.96 for the 2019 sanitary sewer cleaning and inspection project due to additional square footage involved, and authorized a decrease of $6,645.92 for the DPW roof replacement project.

All resolutions passed.

Other Business

Also briefly discussed was Director of Community Services Paul Cascais’s 2020 affordable housing annual status report. Little noted there had been a meeting of the Affordable Housing Committee and updates were shared. The report, which has been forwarded to the Fair Share Housing Center, is available on the City website.

Harrield applauded the progress made in this area and the City’s willingness to think outside the box.

In her Mayor’s report Radest noted that residents should receive a census letter between March 12 and 20 telling them to go online and complete the census questionnaire. Radest’s goal is 100% participation, ensuring a proper allocation of federal funds. More information is available at census.gov.

City Administrator Michael Rogers announced he’ll be presenting the city’s 2020 budget at the March 24 council meeting.

Curbing and drainage work on New Providence Avenue has been completed, but there will still be intermittent closures as PSE&G upgrades the gas main before final paving is done. Similar work will also take place throughout Summit through the summer. Work will be done weekdays between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. with the possibility of some Saturday work.

Leaves will be picked up April 6 through 24 on regular household trash collection days. Leaves should be free of yard debris and placed in paper bags, not raked into the street.

Fox’s Council president report laid out some topics that will be ramping up over the next few months, including the “lean budget that continues to provide all the services that our residents count on.” Following its introduction on March 24, the budget will be discussed and voted on at the April 28 Council meeting.

In December, the Council conditionally designated L&M and Toll Brothers as the developer for the Broad Street West redevelopment. The next step is negotiating an agreement detailing the specifics on what the developer will pay for city-owned property and construction timetables. Once the City receives a proposal from the developer, it will seek further public input. Fox called this “an opportunity for thoughtful redevelopment in an underutilized part of our downtown which will preserve the city’s character and create more parking and amenities that Summit residents would like to see at no cost to the taxpayer and with the future benefit of increased municipal tax revenues.” She also said bids for the proposed new firehouse will be solicited later this year.

On April 14, Council will discuss sustainability, the Earth Day clean-up, the Free Market building, and single-use plastics restrictions and other initiatives.