Government

Caldwell's Dec. 4 Council Meeting Filled with Serious Discussion, Heated Exchanges

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Alec Mittiga and Mauro Bacolo of Crew Engineers .jpg Credits: Krysta Venturella
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Caldwell water system map  Credits: Krysta Venturella
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Water main project cost diagram Credits: Krysta Venturella
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CALDWELL, NJ -  On Nov. 16, a water main with a 30-inch crack caused water to collect on the Caldwell College campus. Spurred by that event, the Brookside water main interconnect proposal was a hot topic at the Tuesday, Dec. 4, Caldwell Town Council meeting.

William Frint, a Consultant to the Borough of Caldwell,  discovered that the 12-inch water main that runs through the college campus had a substantial crack, caused by a large rock found on the steel pipe. Steel pipes are also known to expand and contract over time, which is the likely cause of deterioration to this particular pipe.  Additionally, Frint noted that, although  the pipe in question was constructed in 1960,  pipes made during that period were not made as well as those in the 1930s.

Frint and his team temporarily repaired the pipe with the use of a pressurized clamp, without shutting off the water supply that serves 80 percent of the town, but he noted that the pipe is still leaking slowly. To permanently fix the leak, he said a substantial repair is necessary to get to full water service.

Project Engineer Alec Mittiga of Crew Engineers Inc. in Butler presented  a hydraulic study of the borough’s water system, and through the use of computer simulations,  he determined that 12-inch pipes were the best option for the borough.   He also analyzed the use of multiple pipe sizes to replace the four- and six-inch pipes currently in place. Mittiga found that the current 6-inch water main supplies water flow for average town demands;  however, it has marginal abilities to supply for summer demands. The proposal also included a backup water feed into the system, which will prove important during summer months.

Mayor Ann Dassing said the current 4-inch pipes used in some areas are calcified and asked if the proposed pipes will have the same result. Mittiga responded that the design of the new pipes prevents calcification.

Frint proposed that the Borough could fix the leak by replacing the 6-inch pipe with a 12-inch valve.   He suggested that a work-crew should perform the undertaking throughout the night of Wednesday, Dec. 19;  this is a day after Caldwell College goes into Winter Session. The entire job would be complete in six to seven hours, during which time the water main would be shut off,  and the water supply for the Borough would be served by the two secondary connections that typically service 20 percent of the Borough.  Frint also said that the water supply during this shut-off period would be ample enough for low-flow needs and fire extinguishing purposes throughout the night.

Councilman Richard Hauser then commented that if the work were done on that date, people could “sleep through the night, wake up, and not even know it happened.”

Frint’s cost for the proposed emergency project would be under $30,000 total, which would include the services provided by Carner Brothers Environmental Excavating company of Roseland.  Frint noted that he is still waiting on the final costs of the piping.

During their presentation,
Frint and Mattiga detailed a four to five year bid history of jobs of this scope, and Mittiga noted that pipe prices have gone up significantly. From 2010 to the present, the costs of pipes alone went up about 40 percent;  now the average bid price per linear foot of pipe is just over $200, according to the presentation slides.  In May 2012, the average bid cost per linear foot was just below $150.  Vice President at Crew Engineers, Mauro Bacolo,  cited the significant increase was due to the economy uplift and increased costs for materials.  Frint noted that labor and production are the primary construction costs, while materials costs are secondary.

In addition to the water main fix at Caldwell College, the entire water main replacement project would be expected to encompass Brookside Avenue, Knollwood Terrace, Cedars Road, Overlook Road, and Gould Streets.

Councilman Thomas O’Donnell questioned if the proposed Brookside Avenue plan is worth a “hundred something thousand dollars?” Frint replied, “If there were a fire we would lose the entire town, we can’t put a price on that.”

Borough Attorney Gregory Mascara questioned if there would be any potential to shift the cost responsibility to Caldwell College? Frint agreed to obtain the original agreement with the college for Attorney Mascara to review.

Ordinance News
Also that evening, Caldwell unanimously passed an ordinance which will now allow Borough Department Heads to hire their own staff members. Prior to this ordinance, the governing body had to vote to approve all hires.  The Council will still have to vote on hiring Department Heads.

Next, an ordinance amendment brought on by Councilman John Kelly was voted down. It concerned the issue of whether Borough Employees had the right to use Borough Property for their own personal use, specifically Borough Email accounts.  The proposed ordinance would have made it inappropriate for Borough Employees to use Borough Emails for personal use, especially in a campaign situation.

Vote:
* Councilmen
Richard Hauser, John Kelly, and Frank Rogers voted yes
* Councilmen
John Coyle, Peter Murray, and Thomas O’Donnell voted no
*
Mayor Ann Dassing voted no to break the tie

The discussion around this ordinance spurred some intense criticism from
Councilman O’Donnell. O’Donnell said that the ordinance amendment brought on by Councilman John Kelley was “a hatchet job” and described dealing with agenda items such as these as “garbage.”

O’Donnell then went off topic to explain that he is running for a seat on the council again next year and how he will “Smash (Kelley) every time he gets out of line.” He continued to say that he voted no for the ordinance because he uses the town email to campaign.

Tax Overpayment Awarded
Curtis Geib, David Tango and Wells Fargo Real Estate were each approved for refunds of tax overpayments.  A refund of sale certificate was awarded to US Bank Cust for Phoenix Funding.

Donate to Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots donations for disadvantaged children can be brought to the Caldwell Police Department, located at 1 Provost Square. All toys must be unwrapped in in their original packaging.

Free Three-Hour Parking in December
During the month of December, the Borough has placed bags over parking meters to allow for up to three hour of free parking. This is not for 24-hour parking, as the stores need customer turnover.

Library Repairs on the Horizon
Mayor Dassing noted that she and an engineer took an outside tour of the Caldwell Public Library.  The library is in need of a ramp for the side of the building, as well as improvements to the sidewalk and front porch. The Mayor is looking into options to get all of these projects done at the same time.

Old Business Demonstrates Council Contention
Councilman O'Donnell asked a question on behalf of a resident to Councilman Kelley regarding the completion of projects which Kelley had promised during his campaign. “One month ago, I had a resident ask me what has Councilman Kelley done to secure funding for the Oval? He has done nothing.”

Kelley did not respond to this comment, but instead said “Councilman O'Donnell, you can ask all the questions you want, but you won't speak to me outside the council meeting, I have no desire to answer your questions.”

O’Donnell responded, “Why would I speak to you outside this room?”

Kelley answered, “We are well aware of your views. I have no desire to get down to your level.”

O'Donnell again asked Kelley directly, “Are you going to fulfill your promise to secure funding for the oval? It's a simple yes or no. You campaigned on it. You spent time attacking people.”

There was no response from
Councilman Kelley.

Over this past week,
The Alternative Press reached out to Councilman Kelley and Councilman O’Donnell regarding this heated exchange.  

A copy of
Kelley’s campaign brochure was obtained which does in fact reference funding for the Oval.  The reference reads as follows:
OVAL’S LONG TERM FUNDING
The window of opportunity to secure long term funding agreements with Caldwell College and Calandra’s has been greatly compromised due to the indecisiveness and poor management by the present Caldwell council. With the potential loss of revenue from these two funding sources the governing body will need to look to the taxpayers to fill this budget gap. We will work for you to secure the long term funding for the Oval so you, the taxpayer don’t have to fund this project for the next 10 years.

The TAP questioned Kelley about if he had made headway with securing any long-term funding for the Oval.   The Councilman responded: “At the time of our campaign, the previous council had not yet secured an agreement with Caldwell College and West Caldwell regarding the Oval.  Following the election of 2011, Rich Hauser was instrumental in securing such an agreement.”

Calandras was part of the initial discussions and as the Borough Attorney indicated during the December 4th meeting,  when Councilman O’Donnell asked the question, Calandras was not part of that final agreement,” continued Kelley.  “Once Frank and I joined the council,  due to the agreement which was already secured, it was not as critical for additional funding to be pursued.”

“I was part of the Finance Committee and the funding was adequate;  it was not a concern during budget preparations.  I was unaware that there were funding gaps relative to the Oval until
Councilman O’Donnell raised the question during our last couple of meetings. This concerns me now because we have been without a CFO since July.  Unless Councilman O’Donnell is aware of details regarding the town finances that has not been shared with the rest of the council, then I think he is perhaps mistaken.”

During these past two weeks,
Councilman O’Donnell was contacted by the TAP and asked specific questions in regards to this conversation as well as his other council statements that night.  As of yet, TAP has not received any response.

New Business Provokes Allegations of Nepotism and Calls for Resignation
Councilman O’Donnell then described that not only had Councilman Kelley run a campaign on funding the Oval, he had also campaigned against nepotism.  He then asked Kelley why had any of Kelley’s family members been given town jobs.

Councilman O’Donnell stated, “New business please. The subject of nepotism, another issue that Councilman Kelley ran on. I quote, 'It is nepotism in any form, what we really want for a council person?' Mr. Kelley went next door, five months into office, and requested that a family member be given a position. Can you explain that?”

Kelley responded, “I don't know what you are talking about. You'll have to clarify.”

Councilman O'Donnell then said he will look into it further and will ask Councilman Kelley to resign if these charges of nepotism prove true.

“I'm going to look further into it with the assistance of the Borough Attorney," answered O'Donnell.  “My impression is that, as an employee of the Borough, to employ a member of your family. And if that is the case I am going to call for you to resign.”

Kelley countered, “You don't have the facts Councilman O'Donnell,” while O'Donnell quickly answered, “We will get the facts.”

After obtaining Councilman Kelley’s campaign literature, TAP ascertained that Kelley did have a statement regarding “HIRING PRACTICES:”
The hiring of vendors and employees with “zero conflict of interest” should be mandated by our ordinances and the Council should act within the spirit as well as within the letter of the law when implementing any ordinance. Perhaps the Council’s hiring of the Mayor’s brother this past winter to remove snow in the borough as well as hiring a Republican councilman who stepped down to take a job reactivated just for him were within the letter of the law, but is nepotism/cronyism in any form what we really want from our Councilpersons? An immediate and thorough review of the hiring practices needs to be conducted.

In response to the TAP’s questions regarding this literature and the council meeting discussion, Councilman Kelley responded in full:  “Hiring practices by the previous council was a campaign issue which I ran on.  The quote as you can see from the material:  “is nepotism/cronyism in any form what we really want from our Councilpersons?”  The two examples referenced in the material are the best examples I can provide regarding this practice.”

Councilman Kelley continued: “These are the facts as it relates to my daughter working for the Community Center.  The young lady who is in charge of the camp program is a friend of our family and has known my daughter since she was 6 years old.  My daughter’s earliest memory of this woman is when she carried her around on the 4th of July at this person’s grandmother’s house while watching fireworks.  At the time, my daughter was in kindergarten and this young lady was in eighth grade.”  

“My wife exercises at the
Caldwell Community Center and bumped into this same young woman last spring.  My wife mentioned to her that my daughter wanted to work for her in the summer camp program.  After exchanging several phone calls, my daughter was instructed to appear at the orientation and complete the application.”

The TAP then questioned Kelley whether his daughter had mentioned during her full community center interview, that Councilman Kelley was her father, or did the Councilman at any time speak to anyone at the center regarding this position. The TAP also asked if the Council voted on this position, and if so how had Kelley voted.

Kelley responded in full:  “This position was not one in which the Caldwell council voted on.  My daughter never spoke about who or what role her dad held as councilman of Caldwell.”

Councilman Kelley went on to explain that perhaps his family should reconsider his daughter’s summer employment at the Community Center Camp:  “With the events that have played out over the last couple of months,  I shared with my daughter the fact that it did not look like she would be able to work there next summer.  Needless to say, she was very upset.  She loved working with the young children.  She also surprised my wife and I with how responsible and enthusiastic she was with the job.  I understand and recognize that the appearance and perception of my daughter working there, although she is only sixteen and a summer hourly employee, was not one that demonstrated the “zero conflict of interest” which I campaigned on.  I apologize to those I offended for the mistake in allowing my daughter to work at the Community Center last summer.  She will not be working there again.”

The TAP held the publication of this article waiting for a response from Councilman O’Donnell.  We specifically asked him if he was able to ascertain any further information as far as Councilman Kelley's role in obtaining a job for his family member.  We also asked the Councilman if he was aware of there being any other member of the governing body whose family members were ever employed by the Borough of Caldwell.  We did not receive a response as of now.

Following this conversation regarding nepotism,
Councilman Kelley began to state that he was happy that O’Donnell would be running for re-election:  “We are glad you are running for election next year, it will be a welcome...,” but his statement was interrupted by applause from a citizen in the crowd and Councilman O’Donnell asked the name of the person who applauded.

At that point, there was indiscernible mumbling. The resident then spoke louder and provided his name as Edward Durkin, Councilman Elect.

O'Donnell, addressing the person who had clapped in the audience, "Your name?"
Edward Durkin, “Excuse me?”
O'Donnell repeated, “Your name.”
Durkin stated, “You're mumbling, I can't hear you.”
O'Donnell, for the third time, “Your name.”
Council elect Durkin,” responded Durkin.

After saying his name, Councilman Elect Durkin, awkwardly stood and approached the podium which is reserved for the public portion of the meeting.  However, Durkin had not been addressed at all by the Mayor, nor had he been asked to speak.

Durkin, speaking while walking towards the podium, “You are talking to me as a resident now. Talk to the person to your left. He's going to smash... “

At this point,
Mayor Dassing spoke directly to the Councilman Elect saying:  “We are not in open court.”  Durkin responded, “You are talking to me?”

Mayor Dassing admonished, “Please sit down. I am just saying in general, we have a code of decorum that we like to maintain. We are not going to have circus antics.”

To which Councilman Kelley added, “You let that lapse with Councilman O'Donnell,”  and the Mayor replied, “No, I beg to differ.”

Citizen Thanks Police and Fire Departments for Post-Hurricane Response
Ending the meeting on a happy note, Caldwell resident Bob Christiansen shared a positive story that came out of the post-Hurricane Sandy power outage. While he was without power for six days, he slept on his living room floor and used his stove to keep warm. One night, late in the evening, a live wire across the street lit up his room and “scared him to death,” but soon thereafter, the Caldwell Police and Fire Departments were outside waiting for public service to arrive. He thanked the departments, adding “[They] did a heck of a job.”

The next meeting of the Caldwell Council will be tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 7pm.

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