Westfield Resident Jim Baker Criticizes Council's Potential Decision to Eliminate Westfield Crossing Guards

Resident Jim Baker, second to left, argues with members of the Westfield Town Council during a Town Council Special Meeting on Tuesday

WESTFIELD, NJ - Recently, the Town Council of Westfield held two public meetings, occurring back-to-back in the Municipal Building—a Town Council Special Meeting and a Town Council Conference Meeting. Resident Jim Baker was the only person who took the opportunity to speak during either of the sessions' public comment sections. During the opening Town Council Special Meeting, Baker argued with the council about the potential decision to eliminate a portion of Westfield's crossing guards to reduce expenses in the town's Municipal Budget.

In response to his question about whether such a measure was still planned, Councilwoman Jo Ann Neylan said that the council is still discussing the idea. "The budget hasn't been formally introduced. We don't know what the actual numbers are," Neylan said. "So, we have a certain [budgetary] number we have to arrive at and once we know that, we can determine how many crossing guards [to eliminate]."

Afterwards, Baker said that safety should take priority over meeting an amount of money determined by a budget. Neylan insisted that that any decision to cut posts would be made with the safety of children in mind and with careful investigation. "We're certainly not making willy-nilly decisions," she said. "There's a lot of thought that goes into it and there's a rationale for how we arrive at those decisions."

The crossing guard issue was discussed for approximately ten minutes with Baker continuing to disagree with members of the Council.  Near the midpoint of this discussion, Councilman James Foerst said, "I don't think anyone has any question on where you stand on this, Mr. Baker." Baker responded by saying, "Let's go on record that Jim Foerst is in favor of cutting crossing guards. You know where I stand. You must stand on the opposite end." Foerst addressed Baker's comment by saying, "I stand on the issue of fiscal responsibility."

After the crossing guard discussion ended, the Council approved a resolution that would authorize Westfield's tax collector to prepare and issue estimated tax bills. It then adjourned the first meeting, the Town Council Conference Meeting commencing immediately afterwards.

During the second meeting, different resolutions from the Finance Policy Committee and the Code Review & Town Property Committee were discussed. These included a modification to the Council Meeting Schedule. Concerning the changes, Town Administrator Jim Gildea said these would involve formalizing a public meeting on June 22, cancelling sessions on July 6 and July 27, and having two meetings on July 20 in place of the cancelled two. The resolutions will be part of the agenda for the upcoming Town Council Regular Meeting.

Foerst then presented the Code Review & Town Property Committee Report. Foerst first spoke of Councilman David Haas's idea of naming a park after Dr. Virginia Apgar. Apgar, according to a biography on a U.S. National Library of Medicine website, www.profiles.nlm.nih.gov, was born in Westfield and, by 1952, created a method for evaluating the health of newborns that became standard practice. However, the matter of which park should be renamed was not yet decided upon.

Foerst also spoke about quickening the process of installing temporary handicap ramps on the property of people who require them to enter and exit their homes. According to Foerst, the committee recommended the implementation of an application process for residents to install such ramps, as opposed to having them attend a scheduled Board of Adjustment meeting to seek necessary permission. Foerst said, "If people need a handicap ramp, we don't want to hold up their home return or get them home and keep them house bound while we're waiting for calendar days to tick off."

The next Town Council Regular Meeting will take place on June 15 at 8 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Municipal Building in Westfield.

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