WEST ORANGE, NJ — Moments before a vote was to be taken to remove Jerry Eben as a trustee of the Downtown West Orange Alliance (DWOA) on Wednesday, Eben tendered his resignation from the board.
Calling the board’s action to remove him “unfair” because he did not know the charges against him, Eben told the board he would resign due to what he viewed as his inability to prepare a proper defense.
When Eben queried DWOA Chairman John McElroy about the charges, McElroy told Eben that “it is not practical for the board to have a discussion on this matter.”
“People are well aware of problems with Jerry and his combative nature,” he said. “We don’t wish to have a discussion about this at this meeting.”
When asked to defend himself at the meeting, Eben read from a letter he sent the board on Dec. 13. His major objection to the board’s actions, according to the letter, was that he was being removed without cause, which he deemed invalid and “a clear violation of the law.”
He added that the board’s action to remove him makes the mayor’s appointment power null and void, and said that he should be allowed to prepare a defense of the legal charges.
“I still want to know what the charges are, and I would like to hear them from the board,” said Eben, who in addition to being a longtime trustee of the alliance has volunteered on various township boards during his more than 40 years as a resident of West Orange.
Eben is also the past president of the New Jersey Society of Architects and a former national board trustee of the American Institute of Architects.
At Wednesday’s meeting, new DWOA board member Louis Dorf said he was never notified that there was a motion to try to remove Eben from the board.
“We are coming in here with an assumption that he will be removed from the board, which is outrageous,” he said. “I have heard there has been unpleasant exchanges and rancor between Jerry and people in the administration. There should be an opportunity for discussion. The way this is being handled is not appropriate.”
In his letter of resignation, Eben said that he leaves with a heavy heart, and that the removal of the board’s only architect and planner is “unconscionable.” He decried the board’s longtime lack of zoning enforcement and property-maintenance enforcement.
In addition, he bemoaned the lack of vision amongst the township’s leadership to “make downtown all it can be.”
“Design excellence is what draws people downtown,” he said.
This theme picked up from what Eben said the night before at the West Orange Township Council meeting, where he called for an “attractive environment of spaces” downtown. In addition, he called for a long-term plan that would include improving traffic flow and meeting parking requirements that are needed to make the township’s downtown flourish.
Council members Michele Casalino and Joe Krakokoviak stated at the time that they hoped Eben could work out his issues with the alliance leadership.
“Jerry has contributed to our township for four decades,” said Krakoviak, stating that he is shocked and concerned about this issue. “He is one of the top professionals in his field. I know he speaks his mind and, as someone who does the same thing, I know this can challenge people…It is unprecedented that the Alliance or any other board would kick someone off. We should be welcoming volunteers. I hope this dismissal doesn’t take place.”
Eben’s resignation at the alliance meeting made the removal vote a moot point.
When asked after the meeting if the alliance would like to make any further statement about this issue, McElroy said he would not comment further about it. Eben was also unavailable for additional comment.
During the meeting, McElroy was reelected as the chairman and Ysabel Strowe was elected as one of the board’s elected trustees. The board has six elected trustees and six appointed trustees.
In addition, the board elected Kevin Kruse as vice chair, David Drill as treasurer and Mike Brick as secretary. It also approved the following team leaders: John McElroy for the Organization Team, Kevin Kruse for the Economic Revitalization Team, Mike Brick for the Marketing & Promotions Team and Ron Raymond for the Design Team.
In her closing remarks, DWOA Executive Director Megan Brill said one of the major successes this year was bringing greater awareness of the downtown eateries during West Orange Restaurant Week. She said that the online publicity generated for this week generated 13,000 impressions.