In February 2018, Mayor Brindle unilaterally cancelled a well-conceived, fully designed and paid-for improvement plan for Tamaques Park, which would have resulted in additional parking and a new, lighted turf field for our children to play on beginning last year. To make matters worse, in 2020 Mayor Brindle has over-promised and under-delivered on her own plan.

At a Town Council meeting in March 2018, Mayor Brindle stated that the Tamaques Park renovation would only be a “six to twelve month delay from the prior plan timing … you can hold me accountable for this.”  Let’s do that. Will we have a new field, fieldhouse, and parking at Tamaques Park — or anywhere in Town — this year? No.

Members of the Mayor’s administration also misrepresented the Tamaques Park timetable.  In a March 2018 Facebook post, Councilman David Contract commented that, “Under the new approach, the Master Plan for Parks will occur from Spring/Summer 2018 to Spring/Summer 2019, with work beginning as early as Fall 2019 with a Fall 2020 completion date.” In reality, no work has begun, and shovels will not be in the ground anytime soon.

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In November 2018, when it became apparent that the delay in any field improvements would stretch well beyond the Mayor’s time-frame, she was questioned at a Town Council meeting about the delay and her decision to cancel the prior plan without a vote. Mayor Brindle replied: “I am happy to own this one.” Yes, she owns it; and she is the only one happy about it.

Where are we now, in March 2020, after more than two years and paying a new six-figure parks consultant fee? Right back where we started, with no work having been done and the lead recommendation for Tamaques Park in the Mayor’s Parks Master Plan simply to “update” the existing plan that the Mayor discarded.  The “new” plan repackages the same recommendations in the initial one: both recommend a field house, additional and upgraded parking and restrooms, new basketball courts, renovated fields, improved paths and trails, and outdoor exercise opportunities. Gone is the lighted turf field and concessions, however, and the new Master Plan makes clear that none of its improvements are guaranteed.

Not only is the Mayor’s Parks Master Plan a very distant proposition, it is extremely expensive — for Tamaques Park alone costing over $1 million more than the prior plan. The Mayor’s entire parks plan would cost Westfield taxpayers $42 million over ten years, in addition to the costs that parents will continue to pay to neighboring towns during that period for field rentals, and in time and fuel to drive to those locations. With our budget surplus steadily being depleted, volatile stock markets, and a recession in the air, fiscal austerity would be prudent.

To compound the damage done by delay and extra costs, the Mayor’s plan is patently flawed.  The Parks Master Plan includes fields controlled solely by the Westfield Board of Education, not the Town or the Westfield Recreation Commission. But nobody told the school district, and unlike the Mayor they are making no promises they can’t keep.

MORE: Letter: Parks and Exasperation — What Might Have Been

Board of Education member Peggy Oster, commenting on the Mayor’s plan at a January 2020 Town Council meeting, warned:  “You’re presenting as if these fields are something that you can use, but you haven’t come to the Board of Education yet saying what your plan is for the property.”  Ms. Oster also noted the plans in the works to bring full day kindergarten to Westfield schools, something that may necessitate the use of that land for another purpose. “Will there be a need to build a school in the future?” Ms. Oster asked.  “Those are things that the [Board of Education, not the Mayor] will have to decide.”

Ms. Oster was not alone in her criticism of the Mayor’s plan.  At the same public meeting, school board member Brendan Galligan noted the steady enrollment of district schools along with the possibility of full-day kindergarten, something that may require the district to build on its existing fields.  “It seems like the Board of Education has been kept in the dark during the development of the comprehensive plan that includes acquiring large portions of our land,” Galligan said.  “Collaboration and partnerships require working together from the very beginning.  Waiting until after the council approves this plan puts us in a very awkward position.”

You can read Ms. Oster’s and Mr. Galligan’s comments for yourself at https://www.tapinto.net/towns/westfield/sections/sports/articles/westfield-recreation-commission-kicks-extensive-plan-for-field-space-to-council and https://www.tapinto.net/towns/westfield/articles/public-sounds-off-as-consultant-walks-westfield-through-parks-plan.

Tamaques Park has been in limbo since February 2018, when the Town’s exemplary improvement plan was shelved by Mayor Brindle. The promises made since then by the Mayor and Councilman Contract have proven as empty as the storefronts downtown. The Parks Master Plan has landed with an expensive thud, and waiting for it has needlessly delayed the improvements that already would and should have been completed. Our kids and our residents deserve better. If you agree, contact the mayor at mayorbrindle@westfieldnj.gov.

JoAnn Neylan, Chairwoman Westfield Town Republican Committee

westfieldgop.com