SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Common Council met virtually on June 9, addressing three critical issues – racial injustice, the operating budget, and reopening Summit businesses in pandemic times.

Recently sworn-in Summit Police Department (SPD) Chief Andrew Bartolotti offered an overview of the department’s policies. He hoped this transparency would make everyone as confident as he is that the department is “committed to being an ally for all citizens, especially our black citizens, and a vital safety resource for the entire community.”

Calling the death of George Floyd at the hands of police “tragic,” he said, “as a law enforcement officer and chief of police, I find it equally tragic and deplorable that others sworn to protect and serve stood idly by and did not intervene. They are equally responsible.”

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He contrasted that behavior with his own department’s standards. The SPD follows the guidelines set by the New Jersey Attorney General's policy, stipulating that the degree of force used should be “reasonably necessary” and limiting the use of chokeholds and other deadly force to instances in which there’s an “imminent threat to life.” It also calls on officers to prevent the inappropriate use of such force by their colleagues. New Jersey’s policy, linked at cityofsummit.org/231/Police-Department, is stricter than national standards.

He applauded those who came together in peaceful protests on June 2 and June 4, during which 31 and 29 officers, respectively, enforced traffic safety protocols. Recognizing that marchers would be upset, “I asked them to let their character guide them, as we always do.” He emphasized that “in most protest situations, we don’t take a side. On this one, we are on the same side as the protesters. Black lives matter, and police misconduct to people of color must end.”

Bartolotti went on to provide statistics detailing the department’s use of force from 2016 to the present. There were 29 instances of contact in any form with an “actor.” Of those:

  • 12 were crimes in progress
  • 10 involved emotionally disturbed people
  • Four (4) involved alcohol or controlled substances
  • Two (2) were domestic violence situations
  • One (1) was a fight in progress

Of those involved:

  • 22 were white - two of those were female
  • Four (4) were Hispanic
  • Three (3) were African-American.

In 18 of the incidents, the subject resisted the officer’s control:

  • In 11, the actor threatened or attacked the officer.
  • In 21 of the cases, the least amount of force was used.
  • Six (6) required the next level of force.
  • One (1) necessitated a compliance hold.
  • One (1) was subdued by OC (pepper) spray.
  • 15encounters resulted in arrests.
  • The other 14 actors were sent to hospitals for alcohol or mental health treatment.

There were no deaths, serious bodily injuries, or incidents requiring medical treatment or hospitalization, although one officer did require medical treatment. In the two cases where complaints were made against officers for excessive force, the officers were exonerated after investigation.

In 2019, the SPD made 8,723 traffic stops, which included both residents and non-residents. Of those:

  • 5,405 drivers were white
  • 1,372 were black
  • 1,201 were Hispanic
  • 561 were Asian-American / Pacific Islander
  • 184 were classified as “other.”

Bartolotti said the force has been collecting this data for several years as an “early warning system to identify racial inequality” in motor vehicle stops. The SPD's officers receive training above the minimum mandated by the state in fields including bias-based profiling and dealing with individuals with mental illness. In 2018, the Department mandated body cams for all uniformed personnel to insure “transparency and accountability” in all contacts with citizens; all marked police vehicles are also outfitted with cameras. The Internal Affairs unit has expanded its role to include proactive oversight designed to detect patterns of inappropriate police conduct before it escalates.

Bartolotti pledged a comprehensive review of the Department’s policy and procedures to align his agency with best practices, which he called a “critical step” in establishing expectations for professional, ethical, and accountable policing in the community. He will also pursue certification as an accredited law enforcement agency, a voluntary process incorporating unbiased independent assessment, to validate current policies or mandate change.

He also noted that many residents are unaware that when they call the regional dispatch center, they’re not dealing with a member of the SPD. He’s working with that team on training to ensure that everyone’s utilizing best practices.

Council Member at-Large Beth Little, a former criminal prosecutor with experience working with police forces in several states, said the issue of racial inequality has long been in her thoughts, even before the current events. She said “our Department goes well beyond what most departments do” and thanked the chief for making all residents feel protected and safe.

Noting that Bartolotti has encountered “an unusual amount of adversity” in the short time he’s been chief, Ward 1 Council Member Susan Hairston applauded “his can-do efforts and approach.” She observed the community has “spoken loudly, and we have much confidence in his ability to go the extra mile to evolve the way this country is now evolving.” She alluded to, while growing up in Summit, experiencing “things that I can tell you other members on this Council have not experienced.” She said she looked forward to “working with … Chief Bartolotti to make sure that all citizen’s values are respected, and with my dad having been a police officer, that we remain vigilant about our police officers, as well, being safe.”

David Naidu, Ward 1 Council Member, thanked Bartolotti for speaking at the first march with “a statement of the values of this community.” He asked that as the Department moves forward, the chief make another presentation in the future to show the progress taking place.

2020 Municipal Budget

Moving on to the pandemic-delayed budget amended at the previous Council meeting, Ward 2 Council Member Greg Vartan opened the hearing by thanking everyone involved in its creation, calling Administrator Michael Rogers and CFO Tammy Baldwin “MVPs.” He termed the budget committee’s efforts “intelligent, measured, creative, and balanced in their approach.” The amendments reflect adjustments made to revenue and appropriations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Council had no comments beyond what has been discussed on May 26.

Eileen Kelly, Woodland Avenue, asked how actual results are tracking against this budget now that the year is almost half over. Vartan replied that spending is below the same time this year, and a little under budget. Rogers added that reimbursement from the CARES Act and FEMA is being sought for some expenditures. The City continues to make necessary adjustments to minimize expenses. While revenue is somewhat lower, it is in line with the revised budget, and Ward 2 Council Member Stephen Bowman offered a bit of good news that cell tower revenue is up 132% YTD.

During public comments, Alison Chieffo, Laurel Avenue, asked the reason for the cancellation of the Fourth of July fireworks. Council President Marjorie Fox responded that the Office of Emergency Management had determined there was no way to accommodate the social distancing guidelines that would be in effect. Even with the limit on outdoor gatherings expected to rise to 500 on July 3, the fireworks attract far more people than that. She added that many neighboring communities have also canceled their celebrations. Fire Chief Eric Evers noted that the abbreviated amount of planning time was a factor as well. Planning is under way for virtual ways to mark Independence Day.

Kelly asked how the City is communicating COVID-related information to minority-owned businesses. She has been working with a particular business which seemed to have fallen through the cracks. Hairston replied that the communications department and Chief Communications Officer Amy Cairns have done “an amazing job” of staying on top of COVID-related updates, working with Summit Downtown, Inc. (SDI) and the Chamber of Commerce, and being “relentless in reaching out, making sure all small businesses have been encouraged to reach out for help.”

Mayor Nora Radest said SDI has even extended its focus beyond the downtown businesses who pay to support that organization, to work with all businesses in the city and alert them of the Sustain Summit Fund and other resources.

Naidu acknowledged that there will always be limitations to any means of communication, but that business owners should also make efforts to be involved. He praised Kelly for stepping in to assist this business owner. Little reminded residents of the ability to visit the City website to sign up for notifications, while Radest added that the website can automatically be translated into more than 30 languages.

Kelly also asked if the City uses cameras to deter car theft. Fox suggested the best deterrent would be for residents to lock their cars, as every recent stolen vehicle was unlocked with its keys inside. Bartolotti said Summit has purchased a license plate reading system that was to have gone live just as the pandemic began; the vendor’s own travel restrictions pushed that implementation to this month. 'Red light Cameras' are no longer used in New Jersey.

Naidu, who grew up in New York City where the idea of not locking your car or door was unthinkable, said that if residents didn’t care about the tragedy of a police officer being injured in the apprehension of a stolen vehicle, perhaps they could consider the financial impact in terms of their tax dollars being used to pay for medical bills and sick leave for the injured officer.

Steven Spurr, Woodlawn Avenue, asked if there were plans for a June 14 Flag Day celebration. There are none, and the council couldn’t remember the city every having done so in the past.

Vartan introduced a Finance ordinance to be heard at the June 23 Council meeting. It would authorize issuing $2,375,000 in bonds to finance Summit’s share of the flood mitigation project for the Joint Meeting of Union and Essex Counties. The money will be borrowed from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank, and FEMA has promised to reimburse municipalities 90% of the expense. This federal project, to be accomplished in 10 phases, will cost close to $100 million, but is critical to protect the wastewater treatment plant. The introduction passed in a unanimous roll call vote.

Vartan also introduced a pair of Finance resolutions, the first of which officially adopted the amended 2020 municipal operating budget, 2020 sewer utility operating budget, and 2020 parking utility operating budget. It passed on a unanimous roll call vote. The second, a routine bookkeeping measure, canceled outstanding checks.

Half a dozen of Little’s Capital Projects & Community Services resolutions dealt with getting Summit’s business community back on its feet as New Jersey begins to reopen. They reflect input from businesses throughout the City, measures being taken by other communities, and countless meetings between elected officials, City staff, SDI, and others since mid-April:

  • The first authorized the continuation of the parklet program, currently in place in front of Tito’s and Batavia Café to accommodate outdoor dining.
  • A second resolution expanded the parklet program to additional locations throughout Summit upon application to the City. Council will consider and vote on the applications, taking into consideration any impact on neighboring businesses.
  • Also moved was a resolution to temporarily expand outdoor dining, allowing any eatery to apply for an outdoor license for this year, using private property, their sidewalks, and sidewalks of adjacent businesses with the consent of those businesses and property owners. Those holding liquor licenses may also apply for outdoor liquor sales.
  • Also authorized was the public use of the Bank Street lot. The City will close the lot and provide seating and tables for take-out meals.
  • Beyond dining, Little moved resolutions authorizing retailers throughout Summit to use sidewalks to display and sell merchandise as long as foot traffic isn’t impeded, and authorizing the temporary use of public parks and fields by local exercise and fitness businesses when they’re allowed to resume operations. Those businesses would have to schedule field time through the Department of Community Programs.

Cheiffo asked how much time restaurants were given to plan for reopening. Fox said businesses and restaurants cannot open till June 15, and that the City has been in ongoing conversations with its business owners; some applications for outdoor dining have already been received. Little reminded her that nothing could be firmed up until the governor provided his guidelines. Radest added that everything is evolving, and promised the City will be “flexible and nimble” to address issues that arise to support reopenings.

Chieffo’s follow-up question was why sidewalk sales were only being considered now; it was because Executive Order 110 did not permit sidewalks sales for non-essential businesses previously, and no municipality may make rules that contradict executive orders.

Little bundled five New Jersey Department of Transportation grant application resolutions. The City will apply for a grant to extend the sidewalk on River Road near the bus stop; a Bikeway grant to extend the sidewalk network tp provide access to Phase I of the Park Line; a Municipal Aid grant for Park Avenue improvements; a Municipal Aid grant for improvements to Briant Parkway; and a Transit Village Program grant for improvements to the south quadrant of the Village Green including lighting, landscaping, and sidewalks. Also voted on was a resolution awarding a bid to S&L Contractors for the Huntley Road area improvement project for $516,510. This will include curbs, milling and paving, drainage, and ADA ramps. The project is already funded, but the city is waiting to hear if it will receive additional funds from a Union County infrastructure grant. The work is expected to start in six to eight weeks.

Ward 1 Council Member Danny O’Sullivan’s Community Programs & Parking Services resolution rejected a bid and authorized negotiations for 2020-21 athletic field maintenance. Two bids from the sole bidder, TruGreen, were rejected this year because of document errors. State law permits the City to now pursue a negotiated agreement, which Summit will do with TruGreen, a vendor that the City has used previously.

Bowman’s two Law & Labor resolutions authorized an accrued time payout to a retiring Police Department employee and extended paid sick leave for a DCDS employee.

All resolutions passed.

Other Business

Commenting on the Black Lives Matter marches held earlier in the month, Radest said that on June 2 she was “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with other elected officials, members of the faith community, and our police department.” She applauded the residents exercising their first amendment rights and raising their voices in protest, and thanked the police who assured a safe route for marchers. “This is potentially a time when our country may take a different direction, and that is my hope and my prayer.”

Naidu reiterated the plea of the final speaker at the June 2 protest march, saying that what people must do to follow up is vote. With the primary moved to July, every registered Republican or Democrat will be receiving a mail-in ballot. Others will get an application to register with a party. He said, “It’s critical for everyone to exercise their right to vote. … If you want government to be responsive, participate.”

The voter registration deadline is June 16. Applications are available online and in the City Hall lobby. City Clerk Rosemary Licatese reminded viewers that in-person voting will be available at the Washington School and Summit High School for Ward 1 and the two Community Center gyms for Ward 2.

On June 22, all city workers will return to their offices full-time, and on July 6, those offices will once again be open to the public, with face masks and social distancing rules in effect.

Noting that Governor Phil Murphy had just ended the stay-at-home order and issued expanded outdoor gathering guidelines. City Administrator Michael Rogers said, consequently, a decision on the Family Aquatic Center opening would come soon.