Tempers Flare at Westfield Town Council Meeting When Conversations from Facebook Spill into Discussion

Emily Root questions the council about their views on climate change in response to a Facebook post by Councilman Arena. Credits: Jackie Lieberman

WESTFIELD, NJ — Discussion between the public and the Westfield Town Council became heated during Tuesday night’s meeting after resident and controversial blogger Greg Kasko questioned a comment made by Councilman Mark LoGrippo on Facebook.

LoGrippo, a Republican, had apparently made and deleted a comment in a thread about Democratic candidates for council on the Westfield, NJ Facebook group in response to a comment Kasko had made. (The Westfield, NJ Facebook group is run by TAPinto Westfield Owner and Editor Jackie Lieberman.)

“He reminded me that, a longtime resident of Westfield, I should be familiar with what happened in Plainfield and alluded to that when the governing body went from Republican to Democrat, stating, ‘You saw what happened to Plainfield,’” Kasko said.

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He called LoGrippo’s comment “inflammatory” and said it “reeked of racial bias.”

LoGrippo’s comment no longer appears and, later in the thread, in response to Kasko’s question if he had deleted his comment, LoGrippo wrote, “Yes, did not live in the area so not familiar with the history of Plainfield.”

“Mr. Kasko, shame on you for bringing race to this council meeting,” Councilman Frank Arena responded when Kasko’s allotted 10 minutes to speak were up.

“So, a couple of years ago at council Greg Kasko came here trying to get traction with the council, for a long time,” Arena told the audience. “He didn’t get traction with any of his issues. So he went to the board of ed for a couple of years — didn’t get any traction there. He’s back here now trying to stir up things.”

The two shouted over each other, with Arena calling Kasko “self-serving” and Kasko, who was not allowed to come back to the microphone to respond, saying, “Totally unfair.”

Mayor Andy Skibitsky’s campaign manager, Alicia Barker, spoke next.

“Both my husband and I think that party has no place in local politics,” Barker said. “We think that it’s completely inappropriate to bring national politics into Westfield and, with regards to Mr. Kasko’s comment, I think trying to bring race into Westfield because there’s a national concern about it is disgraceful.”

Resident Emily Root came to the microphone next, and again a question came from something written on Facebook.

“Mr. Arena, I saw that you posted something questioning climate change on your Facebook page, and your Facebook page is public,” Root said. “I just was curious if you all felt that way …”

She also praised the town’s Earth Day cleanup event.

“I don’t understand what climate change has to do with what I do for the town of Westfield,” Councilman Sam Della Fera said. “Would you like my position on abortion? … We can discuss national health care, as well.”

Acting Mayor JoAnn Neylan responded that the town had gone “above and beyond anything that’s required on a state level” when it came to environmental issues.

“The mayor has done what he has done for the best interest of Westfield, always, and he will continue to do so, not because it’s politically correct,” Neylan said. “And what one council person says or does not say should never be attributed to someone else.”

Resident Sally Cohen-Alameno spoke next.

“What some of us are finding disheartening is being dismissed and our issues being reducted —there is nothing wrong, as you said, with a healthy political climate and having new voices in town,” Cohen-Alameno said. “And I wish that there was no such thing as Facebook. I think it’s ridiculous how people hide behind their keyboard and say things that they wouldn’t say to each other’s faces.

“I don’t understand why the idea that people are running against the current administration is a problem,” she continued. “We’re talking about local issues. We’re not talking about national issues. And to dismiss our concerns as being upset about a national election is basically saying that we don’t have a voice and that we don’t have a right to question or ask. And that’s why there’s this climate right now, I think.”

Resident Pamela Brug also spoke about the issue of race.

“I think the comment saying that race should not be brought into the conversation in Westfield is kind of a comment that kind of negates that there are many people of color — there are many more people of color than one would suppose,” Brug, who is African-American, said. “Race does affect us in daily life, every day in this town, whether it’s my kids driving our luxury car and being followed to the house, whether it’s myself being followed to the house. Whether it’s walking in stores and you’re followed like you’re a criminal, okay?

“Whether it’s people saying, when my kids were younger, ‘Oh, their kids, their children are too rough,’” she continued. “It is a problem in Westfield, but it’s never been addressed in Westfield, maybe, but it is a problem for those of us who live here, on daily basis.”

Mayor Andy Skibitsky was absent from the meeting.

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