WEST ORANGE, NJ – The public comment portion of the West Orange Town Council meeting got heated Tuesday night to the point where the meeting was paused.
Each town council member responded strongly to resident’s concerns and comments following lengthy public comment.
Residents spoke out against the council, administration and town attorney Richard Trenk during public comment. Many of the comments were in support of Jake Freivald and his use of an Internet domain name “westorange.info.” Claims of government bullying were the theme of many comments, which led to individual accusations and personal attacks. Freivald also got up and commented about the administration, questioning their ability to lead.
Trenk’s career as town attorney was called into question by West Orange resident John Schmidt. After mentioning a handful of incidents involving Trenk in recent years, Schmidt was very clear and straightforward with his message: “It’s time for Richard Trenk to hit the road.”
West Orange resident Mark Meyerowitz reminded those in attendance that the name “West Orange” belongs to the citizens of the town, and called it a "dictatorship." In response to the cease and desist letter sent to Freivald, Meyerowitz said that the letter was designed to silence anyone who criticized the administration.
Amidst the name-calling and finger-pointing, West Orange resident Hannah Nehrbauer sought a resolution to the ongoing issue regarding Freivald and the letter he received from the town. Nehrbauer suggested a public apology to salvage the town’s name which has been dragged through the mud in recent weeks. “This needs to end, and never happen again,” Nehrbauer said.
Public Information Officer Jessica Glicker said that she received many phone calls from residents that were confused by Freivald’s website due to its resemblance to various other town related websites. She also said that Freivald’s actions were counteractive to the Public Relations Commission and its goal to spread a positive message about the town. Glicker also said she had spoken to Mayor Parisi about concerns regarding Freivald's site.
West Orange resident and TAP Editor Cynthia Cumming publicly announced her resignation from the Public Relations Commission, citing personal attacks and harsh comments by anonymous posters on former Public Relations Commissioner Jake Freivald’s website. "I will not participate in the politicized circus created by Mr. Freivald and refuse to let Mr. Freivald take the good work of the PRC and overshadow it with his attack on me," Cumming said.
The council then responded to public comment.
“I am literally sickened by what has taken place at this council meeting,” Councilman Krakoviak said on the verge of tears. “I would consider it to be one of the worst council meetings I have participated in, or watched, in the past five or six years.”
Councilman Cirilo responded to Freivald’s comments by acknowledging that the legitimate concern is the usage of “westorange.info” to mislead the public. Cirilo supported his claims with his own research, which found that the Facebook page, Twitter handle and YouTube page for the township of West Orange is “WestOrangeInfo”.
Councilman Guarino spoke directly to Cumming and said, “I respect the work that you do, and I believe that you are doing not only yourself, but the residents and township of West Orange a disservice by resigning.” Cumming’s work for The Alternative Press of West Orange also received praise from Councilwoman McCartney.
The council seemed to agree with Nehrbauer, and believed that this mess has been plaguing the town’s reputation and needs to be resolved peacefully and immediately. “The town is better off if the council does not see itself as a supporter of the administration, but as a separate entity with independent thoughts,” Krakoviak said.
After a short break from the meeting, the council concluded the public comment session and continued with the agenda. The council unanimously voted to pass a resolution awarding a contract to Gabel Associates, Inc. for energy aggregation consultant services. Another unanimous vote passed a resolution revising the Harvard Press Redevelopment Plan to allow rental units as opposed to for-sale units only.
The next Town Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, July 16.