West Orange Township Council Debates Appointments to Open Space and Recreation Committee

Councilman Vic Cirilo (second from right) makes a point during the Nov. 22 West Orange Township Council meeting as, from left, Councilwoman Susan McCartney, Councilman Sal Anderton, and Council President Patty Spango listen. Credits: Steven Maginnis

WEST ORANGE, NJ - Many ordinances and resolutions underwent close scrutiny in the West Orange township council meeting on Nov. 22, and all of them eventually passed, except for two resolutions -  one hiring security officers for the municipal court and another for setting a policy for the use of municipal buildings for non-essential township purposes - which were postponed.  Both were pulled by Councilwoman Susan McCartney.    

The earliest debate in the meeting, involved an issue involved a revised second-reading ordinance that would give Mayor Robert Parisi the ability to appoint two extra members of the Open Space and Recreation Committee (ORSC) in order to keep one or more members from having to leave the committee. The change would specifically increase the number of committee members from seven to nine, maintaining an odd number to avoid tie votes.

Councilman Joe Krakoviak pondered whether this would increase the mayor's influence on the OSRC. Krakoviak noted that the two current appointees likely to have to leave the committee have offered valued service and continue attending the OSRC's meetings as members of the public and contribute. 

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"I am opposed to  this ordinance," Krakoviak said, "because it will have no other effect than more than doubling the mayor's influence on the votes of the open space committee."

Krakoviak she he believes the current makeup of the committee - one appointee from the mayor and each council member, plus a councilman as a seventh vote - was a good balance.

Assistant Township Attorney Kenneth Kayser, however, stressed that the board was strictly advisory, and has no political power. Kayser noted that the township engineer and planner had once been on the committee, but they were eliminated so as to get advice from citizens in addition to the professional advice from the administrators. Citing the desire to keep the members in question on the OSRC, he urged the appointments to the two new seats created by the ordinance to be made "forthwith" once it  was passed.

"It's opinion. This board provides advice," Councilman Victor Cirilo concurred. Regarding influence, he said, " I wouldn't weigh that too much against really losing valuable voices in creating that opinion or that advice."

Cirilo said he thought keeping these members was important in developing sound open space policy, and found the issue of who appointed who irrelevant.

"Whether the mayor appoints them, or whether Mickey Mouse appoints them, if doesn't matter," he said. Krakoviak remained unconvinced ,and the ordinance passed with only his vote against it.

Engineering issues dominated the debates, prompting a heavy reliance on Township Engineer Leonard  Lepore. Two ordinances on first reading amending parking rules on were addressed. One ordinance would codify parking restrictions for snow plowing and removal on Forest Avenue between Eagle Rock Avenue to Woodland Avenue, while another would amend a prohibition of parking on the west side of Valley Road and allow parking between Mitchell Street and Hazel Avenue in order to accommodate more parking for the Luna Stage. 

Krakoviak wanted to know why parking restrictions on Forest Avenue were being added now, instead of five or 10 years ago. Lepore explained that the increased parking on Forest Avenue's west side had become problematic in winter, as many residents there were taking advantage of the ability to park on Forest Avenue overnight. 

"It's not very common in a single-family district to allow overnight parking on the street," Lepore said. "I'm not sure what the origination of that is." He didn't want to penalize anyone but rather make the residents aware of the need to clear the street after a snowstorm.

The council passed the resolution that would allow parking along the west side of Valley Road next to Luna Stage, not just to encourage theatergoers but also to benefit the police substation nearby.     

"I think this is a natural extension of the town's attention and investment in that area," Krakoviak said, adding that he believes the 12 extra spaces created would facilitate parking and bring more business to the area.

Also given a closer look was a resolution authorizing a contract for a new handicapped entrance to the township hall in the building's rear in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. While Lepore admitted that an entrance for the handicapped at the front was less trouble, the fact that most people enter the building from the rear because of the rear entrance's proximity to the parking lot necessitated the project.  The plans call for building it adjacent to the rear entrance at parking lot grade, with a single passageway to a ramp that leads to the elevator. 

While not a complicated project, its cost, at $100,000 - gave Krakoviak and Councilman Sal Anderton, who pulled the resolution for debate - pause. Krakoviak suggested retrofitting an existing entrance, but Lepore said the inconsistent floor grades rendered the idea unfeasible. 

Krakoviak voted against the project, citing discomfort with the cost, but again, he was the lone dissenter. Council President Patty Spango, in voting yes, said, "I'm not in favor of spending $100,000, but I think that we can tighten our belts elsewhere, and I think that handicapped people have right to access of municipal building."   

Councilwoman McCartney pulled a resolution authorizing $20,500 to be spent on security officers for the court. Although Chief Financial Officer John Gross said the bid from Abbry Security was reasonable, McCartney suggested that auxiliary policemen, with their training, could volunteer provide security just as easily. It was tabled when Gross agreed that it could be looked at further. 

She also had questions about a resolution that would require fees of non-essential uses of township buildings, believing it was unclear as to which organizations would incur these fees. Gross explained that it would only cover uses by non-governmental groups who are permitted to use the buildings and it would not allow for-profit groups to them.   

"But the policy does preclude charge for township entities," Councilman Anderton said. "That's how I read it." Gross agreed, but McCartney found the wording too vague to make its intent clear. Kayser suggested delaying the resolution and offered to accept correspondence in clarifying the language and expressed his own misgivings of the guidelines involving non-essential use of private property.  It was postponed until Dec. 19.

In public comment, resident Rosary Morelli of Ralph Road complained about the failure to announce a last-minute rescheduling of the presentation of the plan to redevelop the Edison site.

"People have to know," she said.  "This is a central issue." 

Morelli also produced a report showing that municipal tax abatement program were draining money from schools and costing the taxpayers, and she added that school districts received no share of those payments, having to rely on state aid. Anderton expressed his support for redevlopment programs pursued under tax abatement programs to give builders an incentive to invest in the township. He added that West Orange should spend some of the 95 percent of the money it receives payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) programs (five percent going to Essex County) to help fund the cost of new students entering the school system. Krakoviak lamented the lack of greater communication regarding public meetings on the redevelopment issue.      

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