WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Township Council met for the final meeting of its current term on June 26. Councilman Sal Anderton, defeated in his bid for re-election in May, was front and center over three resolutions regarding legal fee caps, arguing about the need for greater communication between the administration and the council over how much money is spent on legal defenses in lawsuits and over the progress of such litigation, although all of them eventually passed with Anderton abstaining.
With this meeting of the 2010-12 term being its last, no first-reading ordinances were entertained, and there was only one ordinance on second reading.
Anderton pulled from the consent agenda the three legal cap resolutions, which would lift spending on outside attorneys defending the township in two labor-related cases and special counsel regarding a suit from the West Essex Highlands condominium complex over the 2010 re-examination of the township’s master plan. Anderton, the only lawyer on the council, asked if it was wise to allow money to be spent on counsel without limits and without regular oversight from the council, which appropriates money for the administration to spend.
“It’s one hook that the council has to, absent a better communication, force you to come in once in awhile and explain,” Anderton said in reference to the need for the administration to confer with the council on legal cases.
Both Assistant Township Attorney Kenneth Kayser and Mayor Robert Parisi argued against the caps.
“It’s extremely difficult to budget litigation,” Kayser said. “Surprises come up all the time. You don’t know if you’re adversary’s going to be particularly tough to deal with or easy to deal with, you don’t know how many witness there are going to be, and so forth.”
Ultimately, Anderton abstained from the final vote on the three resolutions, which were passed 4-0.
The lone second-reading ordinance was in fact a 278-page revision of the land use regulations in West Orange, laden with detail and causing some members of the public to find the revisions confusing. Attorney Paul Grygiel explained that, as the individual brought in the simplify the master plan, additions were underlined and deletions were struck through, and that the overall intent was to clean up the language and bring in it line with newer ordinances and state land use laws, particularly those that rendered earlier language redundant or irrelevant.
Councilwoman Susan McCartney spoke for the interests of the West Orange Historic Preservation, with whom she has met regarding the land use issue. She said the commission sought the addition of a provision to be added to the ordinance that would allow applications involving historic sites cited in a 1992 report that are submitted to the Planning Board or the Board of Adjustment to also be submitted to the commission for review. The objective, McCartney explained, was to allow sites potentially designated as historic be reviewed in order to preserve and retain their historical significance.
Commission member Gerald Gurland, who had earlier spoken in the public comment forum on the need for such language, returned to the podium when Grygiel expressed reservations about adding it at the last minute.
“Starting in January 2012, we petitioned the planning office for recommended changes,” Gurland said. “We did it again in March and we did it again on June 6. And not one person [from the] Township of West Orange ever responded to our concerns, our questions and our recommendations. And to come now and say it’s too late is a matter of rubbish!”
Council President Patty Spango sought to allay Gurland’s concerns, saying that amending an ordinance on second reading was inappropriate because chances would not be properly advertised in advance. The land use policy, she said, could easily be revised and amended after passage in future meetings, when the council would have time to give adequate notice of such pending matters. The land use ordinance passed unanimously after the council brought it to a vote.
In the public comment section, Christine Bosco complained about the buses serving the Turtle Back Zoo and Codey Arena on Northfield Avenue using the parking facilities at Essex House nearby. She said that the buses were constantly idling while parked at the Essex House and polluting the air. Essex County representative Anthony Puglisi, at the meeting to report on county events, expressed regret for the situation, explaining that the county worked with the owners of Essex House to allow buses to park there.
With 500,000 people having visited Cody and Turtle Back in a two-year period, Essex County arranged to have the buses drop of passengers there and park in Essex House to allow more on-site parking at Codey and Turtle Back for private cars. Puglisi said that buses at Essex House were not supposed to idle.
“I’ll see what we can do to increase monitoring,” he said.
A pre-meeting held before the start of the regular meeting, the council elected Councilman Vic Cirilo as its new president for the first year of the coming 2012-14 council term and commended Spango on her year-long service in that position. The meeting ended with Mayor Parisi commending Councilman Anderton for his four years of service, noting that his departure means that West Orange will be without a lawyer on the council for the first time since 1977 and that the township has benefited from his legal expertise. Calling him a feisty legislator, Parisi applauded him for his dedication to the council and the township.
“You will be missed,” Parisi said.