WEST ORANGE, NJ — A nine-minute video, featuring 16 area residents urging Mayor Robert Parisi to listen to their advice before putting together the route plan for the new Pleasantdale/Redwood shuttle to the train scheduled to begin this summer, kicked off Tuesday’s West Orange Township Council meeting.
The video, produced by the Shuttle Advocates of Redwood and Pleasantdale (SHARP) group, set the tone for the meeting, as it was also seen as “slanderous” by some council members who were discontent with the way in which the mayor and council were portrayed.
Deena Rubin, a town resident who invited people to participate in the video, said that SHARP has been asking for a meeting with Parisi to give its input on the route before it was put together by Lenny Lepore, municipal engineer, and the Administration.
“Time and time again we were told that the township is working on it, but the mayor would not commit to meeting with us,” said Rubin.
She added that members of SHARP have driven several possible routes to determine what was doable time-wise.
“We are taxpayers who want to be heard. We know that what we have worked on is compelling and has value. We want to be heard, and not be dismissed,” said Rubin, who asked council members to publicly state that they are in favor of SHARP members sitting down with the mayor to collaborate on this route.
The members of the council did not make such a commitment, according to the group.
Some members of the council expressed their displeasure about the way the SHARP video portrayed how the creation of this jitney route put them and the mayor in a bad light when they approved the funding for this new shuttle. According to council members, Council President Joe Krakoviak was the only councilman to be invited to the meeting where people were being interviewed about what they deemed to be the best way to create the new route.
“The mayor is putting together the route,” said Councilman Victor Cirilo. “Once done, he will confer with the committee on the route…I find this video to be slanderous. The mayor has an impeccable record of working with community groups on projects such as this one.”
Stating that he was “in shock” about how the mayor was portrayed in the video, Cirilo added that once the route draft is ready, the mayor will meet with the residents.
Council member Susan McCartney said she was not in favor of showing this video at this meeting. McCartney told SHARP members who were present that she is sorry they feel dismissed, but that she did not feel that the emails that were sent to the administration, including those to Business Administrator John Sayers, reflected that they were not being heard.
“It is the job of the township’s engineers to put together the route,” said McCartney. The plan is not in place yet,” said McCartney.
She added that the time to tweak this plan would come after it is presented by the mayor.
Council member Michelle Casalino also expressed “confusion” as to why the members of SHARP felt dismissed.
“We just passed the budget to fund this route last month, and I’ve been in touch with you,” she said. “The budget goes into place after July.”
Casalino explained that this is not an easy route because Highway 280 traffic back-ups must be taken into account. She said that the township’s traffic engineers can best determine the timing of the route.
Councilman Jerry Guarino expressed disappointment that other members of the council were not invited to the SHARP meeting where the videoing took place.
“We all voted for this new jitney route, and we’re there for you,” he said. “We want your input, but don’t want to throw the dice and see what we got. This is why we start with the traffic engineers, who do these types of things.”
Krakoviak was the only member of the council to argue that the mayor should meet with the SHARP group before the first route plan is presented to the public.
“We have already developed three shuttle routes,” said Sayers. “That’s what we do…We have to lay out a plan. We’ve been working on it, and it should be ready by the end of next week. We do it with the actual bus. You can’t replicate it with a car. It’s not the same. We put the best run together to accommodate the most people.”
He added that there is “always room for adjustments and changes.”
During the public comment part of the meeting, several residents from the Pleasantdale and Redwood sections spoke about this issue.
“It would be extremely valuable for the mayor to hear us about this route,” said Robert Grossberg. “You have every right to reject our input, but I find it is easier to build things up than to change them around later.”
Debra Spivack, who lives on the West Orange border near Verona Park, said that for people like her, it is important to provide parking facilities near a shuttle stop.
“The excitement about the jitney is great,” said Larry Rein, president of the JCC MetroWest. “The sooner it happens the better. It will increase the number of people moving into our community.”
The next council meeting will be held on May 23.