WAYNE, NJ – The Wayne Township Council usually meets twice per month, but since the pandemic, the council has been meeting only once per month. This month’s meeting was on June 17 and was held virtually via Zoom.
The President of the Council, Joe Scuralli has been on a medical leave following emergency coronary artery bypass graft surgery in February. This was his first meeting back. “I’m very happy to be back,” he said. “Luckily I avoided any kind of heart damage. I’m actually in better shape than I was before.” He then thanked everyone who covered for him while he was gone.
The council meeting began with a commendation to members of Wayne Township’s administration for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Third Ward Councilman Franco Mazzei read off the commendation that honored Mayor Chris Vergano, Business Administrator Neal Bellet, Director of Wayne’s Office of Emergency Management, Captain Dan Daly, Director of Wayne’s Health Department, MaryAnn Orapello, Chief of Police, Jack McNiff, Chief of the Wayne Memorial First Aid Squad Stuart Steinberg and Fire Commissioner Bob Minnarick.
“Wayne set an example for the rest of the country on how to lead during a crisis,” said Fifth Ward Councilwoman Fran Ritter.
Councilman-at-large David Varano added: “You’ve kept us informed. You’ve kept us safe, and you really kept the town humming along almost as if nothing was going on. Thank you and know that we all appreciate you very much.”
Councilman-at-large, Joseph Schweighardt, who blended in so well with his virtual background that he looked like he was being portrayed by the invisible man, also praised the administration and added: “There are two groups who also need to be recognized, that we don’t comment much upon,” he said. “And, that’s the parents and the teachers of our school children. Thank you for making the best out of a difficult situation.”
Next was the Council Comments portion. Both Sixth Ward Councilman, Jonathan Ettman and Ritter praised the organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest and those who participated.
“That protest was really the embodiment of our freedom and a display of our most important constitutional right,” said Ettman. “It was set out in a meaningful and peaceful manner. We demonstrated to the surrounding towns and the rest of the country the type of people we have here in Wayne.”
“The organizers of this march were products of the Wayne school system,” said Ritter. “You really put us on the map to show what really matters in this country, and to stand up against injustice, against racism and against inequality.”
“I would also like to congratulate Councilman Mazzei and Mrs. Mazzei on their new addition to their family,” said Scuralli. “Congratulations, and that is probably the best news we will hear this evening.” Mazzei’s son Philip James Mazzei was born on June 5.
The Council Consent Agenda and Ordinances
The Council Consent Agenda was passed unanimously. Following this, the resolutions up for adoption were discussed and were also passed unanimously.
Next up on the agenda was the municipal budget, which would normally have been voted on and (likely) passed months earlier. Once again, Vergano asked the council to ‘carry’ the vote to the next meeting. “We’re still waiting for some additional guidelines, or any guidelines, from the State of New Jersey,” he said. “Right now, we are in a position where I think we should just wait another month.” The vote to carry the decision on the budget was passed unanimously.
Mayor Vergano gave an update on COVID-19 numbers in Wayne, reading off the stats of each date for the past two weeks, He then summarized: “The total number of individuals who have tested positive in Wayne are 1,406,” he said. “And, we have reported 176 deaths, so far.”
“The County’s COVID testing site at William Paterson University will end this Saturday,” Vergano announced. “I just want to thank all of the volunteers, and a lot of them are from Wayne.”
The summer concert series will start next week on June 24 and will happen every Wednesday evening through August 12. “They are all free and all we ask is that you bring some food for the WIN Food Pantry.”
The Administation Agenda was passed unanimously with one notable exception. Second Ward Councilman Al Sadowski objected to the tax appeal for 65 Willowbrook Blvd, Wayne. According to Sadowski, the appeal was to lower the taxes because the building was not kept up. “I have a problem of reducing people’s taxes for not keeping up with their property,” he said. “A resident would be fined for something like that.”
During the Public Comments portion of the meeting, Wayne Board of Education President Cathy Kazan raised her virtual hand and was recognized. She welcomed Scuralli back with kind words and then commented on the recently canceled township-sponsored graduations. “Mayor Vergano and I have already had discussions privately, and I share his disappointment,” she said. “Because we all want the same things. We want our students to be honored and to have a great day, and hopefully we will get that done in July.”
Vergano responded: “Thank you to Cahty Kazan for your comments. I know, you and I both want the same thing. For those people who are giving the Board of Education a hard time, their hands are totally tied. They anticipate having a graduation on July 30. The time for people bashing the Board of Education for not having a graduation should stop now. We should all work together to make this a very good event.”
Vergano talked about his attempt to hold township-sponsored graduations and the Governor’s successful efforts to stop the events. “I think it’s time to move on and all get together.”
Ettman then spoke about the vitriol that has been spewed on Facebook over the subject of the graduations. “The level of these arguments and how low they sink, is just so sad,” he said. “I would ask that people have a little empathy and try to be a little more open to listening to the other side instead of just attacking each other like school children.”
“If we’re really going to change things in this world, then we need to have open and honest conversations and differences of opinions and be able to work through that,” said Councilwoman-at-large Jill Sasso. “But condemning entire races of people, classes of people and professions is wrong.”
“We do stand behind all our first responders in particular our police department,” Sasso continued. “There are certainly bad eggs, but I think it’s unfair to condemn entire professions of people. So, I ask that people maybe have a little more empathy and to think before you say things.”
Ritter spoke again about the Black Live Matter protest bringing up the disparaging comments made on Facebook and addressing a common question. Why were the protests allowed but the graduation ceremony not allowed? “One is a first amendment protected right and the other is a social gathering that doesn’t have the same legal protection under the law,” she said.
“The divisiveness over the last few days should not pierce the unity that you brought, Mayor, to this Township during this crisis,” Ritter said. “The two role models that have led this community during crisis, is you, Mayor over the last few months and through the crisis of racism are our student organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest.”
Vergano talked about his recent meeting with the student organizers of the BLM protest. “We had an amazing conversation,” he said. “I thought it worked out very positive. They are all articulate, bright students. We had a very productive meeting, and we had an open dialog which is the cornerstone of our government.”