A Time for Self-Reflection

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA., communities across the nation have held candlelight vigils to voice their rejection of racism, bigotry and violence.

As we move forward it is a time for both self-reflection and change.

This message was conveyed in Michael Jackson’s short video “Man in the Mirror.”

The video tells a story through powerful images of oppression, homelessness, hunger, and other ills of the world, as well as events and leaders of the 20th century whose work is reflective of the song’s message to “make that change.”

In his 1988 memoir Moonwalk Michael Jackson wrote that, “I love that song. ..Start with yourself. Don’t be looking at all the other things. Start with you. That’s the truth.”

The song’s lyrics speak volumes.

Take a moment to read the song’s lyrics and also watch the video. Then reflect on how you can make your community, our nation and, perhaps, even the world a better place.

It’s up to each of us to stand up and make a difference!

Carpe Diem!

Reaction to Charlottesville

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, as Monday night’s Council meeting began Councilwoman Cordonnier asked for a moment of silence in memory of Ms. Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville on Saturday. However, Councilwoman Cordonnier, in her comments, did not mention white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism, or terrorism in association with what had occurred.

During the during public comments section of the meeting the following statement, echoing the words of U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, was read into the record:

“This weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia were disturbing and frightening. They showed, without a doubt, that the cancers of White Supremacy and anti-Semitism are alive and growing in the United States.

The toxic beliefs of the KKK and neo-Nazi aligned protestors in Charlottesville, fueled by hate, bigotry, and racism directly echo those of the Nazis that millions of Americans fought so gallantly against in World War II.

History shows us that we cannot wait to speak out, the time is now. We must stand strong against this kind of hateful ideology and the violent actions we witnessed this weekend. Unchecked, this movement will only grow to be even more dangerous.

In matters as important as this, silence equals consent; and I will not be silent.”

In conclusion, the speaker requested that the Council issue a statement to the effect that Little Falls, as an ethnically diverse community, stands opposed to hate groups and domestic terrorists and is appalled by the events in Charlottesville.

There was NO response to this request from any elected official other than from Council President Sgobba who merely thanked the speaker for his comments.

Responding to bigotry and violence is a non-partisan issue and elected officials of both political parties at all levels and from around the country have issued statements.

The hateful rhetoric and violence are antithetical to the ideals and values upon which this nation was established. Therefore, it is incumbent upon our Little Falls elected officials to immediately issue a statement.

It’s been built. Now will they come?

It was back on January 10, 2015 when The Gadfly posted a blog titled “If they build it, will they come?

The blog detailed a redevelopment application which was presented to the Little Falls Planning Board by KV Realty on Thursday, January 8, 2015.

The application was for a mixed use residential project along the north side of Main Street from Paterson Avenue to Maple Street in accordance with the township’s 2013 Master Plan Reexamination Report’s recommendations and with Transit Village guidelines.

To summarize, the original KV Realty redevelopment application called for 100% retail space along Main Street on the building’s first floor and 42 “luxury” condo units, including 30 one bedroom units and 12 two bedroom units, on the three floors above.

Potential buyers of the “luxury” condo units, referred to as ”Walking Wallets” (WaWa’s) by a KV Realty team member, would be “empty nesters” and “new millennials” (people born from the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s.)

KV Realty subsequently presented modifications before the Little Falls Planning Board, which had requested by them, on February 4, April 2, and on May 7.

At the May 7th Planning Board meeting Mr. John Veteri, attorney for KV Realty, stated that the proposed Main Street structure would now include a restaurant and various retail uses, with units reduced to 34. Mr. Dave Fontina, Engineer/Planner for the applicant, noted that the plans were also revised to reduce the building’s height from 4 stories to 3 stories, eliminating the need for a building height variance and KV Realty also created more parking spaces.

Following this presentation the Planning Board approved the application.

Two years later the building, located at 44 Main Street, is ready for occupancy with stores for lease and “luxury” apartments that will be leased, not sold as originally proposed.

According to the building’s web site, 1 bedroom apartments will lease from $1,950 – $2,375; and 2 bedroom apartments will lease from $2,655 – $2,975.

So now that the retail space and apartments are available, will the WaWa’s come?

Waiting days for Council minutes

Waiting for the posting of Council minutes on the town’s web site is analogous to Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot

Case in point, on July 24 the Council approved the minutes from the workshop meeting of July 10, and the regular meeting of June 26, and it has taken until August 2 (8 business days) for both sets of minutes to be posted on the town’s web site.

In light of the demise of local news coverage in the Herald News and by the Passaic Valley Today it is essential that our elected officials fill that information gap by keeping residents informed in a timely manner.

With respect to the recording and availability of Council minutes, the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act requires public bodies to keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of all its meetings and it further stipulates that these minutes are to be promptly made available to the public.

While there is no definition for the prompt availability of Council meeting minutes – waiting over a week for the posting of approved Council minutes seems to be excessive!

Furthermore, the actual date on which the minutes were posted on the town’s web site is obscured. Note below that the date column for each set of minutes is the same as the Council’s meeting date. When in reality both sets of minutes were posted on August 2.

Township Council – Meeting Minutes

Minutes from July 10, 2017 Workshop Meeting – posted date 7/10/2017

Minutes from June 26, 2017 Regular Meeting – posted date 6/26/2017

Moving forward, our elected officials should demonstrate their commitment to transparency and open government by 1) using the date column to indicate the actual date on which the minutes are posted and 2) by keeping the residents of Little Falls informed in a timely manner.

Highlights from the July 24th Town Council Meeting

Press coverage of town news continues to decline as witnessed by the slow demise of the Passaic Valley Today and the diminished local news coverage in the Herald News.

The key point, with respect to the loss of media coverage, is that our elected officials should have an obligation to keep the public informed. This can be accomplished by posting information on the town’s web site and by reinstituting the posting and airing of video recordings of Council meetings on cable TV . The latter has not been done since May 9, 2016. In addition, the township should consider live-streaming Council meetings as many other communities do.

Therefore, in an effort to fill the news media gap and keep the public informed this blog will highlight some of the issues discussed at the July 24th Little Falls Town Council meeting.

I. American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance:

Mayor Damiano announced that the Council’s Transportation Committee will address the issue of the township’s ADA compliance.

ADA compliance was brought to the Council’s attention at its July 10th meetings when a Little Falls resident raised concerns about accessibility for people with disabilities to events and facilities. The resident cited issues at the annual July 4th Street Fair on Main Street and with the Alliance for a Better Community’s summer concerts in Memorial Park, as well as access to the second floor of the Little Falls’ Public Library.

ADA concerns raised during the July 24th Council meeting included:

– The status of the installation of a ramp at Inwood Park that would allow people with disabilities to have barrier free access to the Park’s baseball field and playground.

– Whether there should be a handicap parking space at the Great Notch Firehouse since this location is used for community events and is an election day voting site.

– Whether there should be a designated handicap parking space at the former Great Notch train station which still serves as a NJ Transit bus stop.

– Whether there should be a designated handicap parking space in front of the Civic Center which has a ramp to facilitate entry.

Residents who have ADA concerns should contact the Transportation Committee chair Councilperson Maria Cordonnier.

II. Town Council Committees:

In response to a public comment about whether the public can attend meetings of Council Committees, i.e. the IT Committee, the Wildlife Committee, the Transportation Committee, etc., it was stated that the public can attend these meetings, but only as a non-participant observer.

When questioned about posting all committee meeting dates and committee meeting minutes on the town’s web site the town’s attorney replied that this is not required.

Moving forward, in the interest of transparency and open government,
the public should have access to this information via postings on the town’s web site.

III. Restaurant Ratings:

In response to a public comment regarding the availability of health department inspection reports for Little Falls restaurants, since the reports are no longer posted on the town’s web site, the Council suggested that individuals seeking current restaurant reports/ratings should contact the Town Clerk Cynthia Kraus at 973-256-0170.

IV. Citizen Involvement:

The schedule of upcoming Council meetings is posted on the township’s web site calendar.

At each Council meeting the public has two opportunities to comment with respect to the meeting’s agenda items and with concerns in general.

Little Falls residents are urged to attend Council meetings to express their concerns and to witness their government in action.

Peckman River Bridge County Meeting – More Questions Than Answers

As a follow up to a previous blog – “A Bridge Over the Peckman River – Is it Coming?
The Gadfly attended the Passaic County Department of Planing & Economic Development’s Public Open House on Tuesday, July 11th in the Little Falls Civic Center.

The purpose of the Open House was “to discuss the proposed Peckman River Bridge Crossing that is planned along the path of the Morris Canal Greenway in Little Falls” and to obtain public “input into the project.”

Contrary to the Passaic County’s stated intentions, the Open House was little more than a “dog and pony show.” Since the project has already been designed and $700,000 has been obtained from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority to cover the cost of construction there was little or no opportunity for input from the public.

The Open House presentation consisted of several easel displays highlighting various aspects of the proposed project. A Department of Planning & Economic Development staff member was stationed at each easel to explain the display and to answer questions.

The Open House would have been more effective if there had been one general presentation for everyone in attendance. This should have been followed with an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions and to make suggestions for project modifications.

The most significant concern is that there is no public record of the questions and answers; or of any concerns raised by attendees.

In short, the Open House was an elaborately staged event designed to merely demonstration that the Passaic County Department of Planning & Economic Development had informed the public and obtained the public’s input about the Peckman Bridge Project. One might recall a similar scenario when the Department of Planning & Economic Development held an Open House regarding the Browertown Road Project.

It is time for government officials to provide ample opportunity for meaningful public input as projects are being developed and before they are finalized. The voice of the public must be heard and taken seriously!

In the meantime, The Gadfly is waiting for a written response from the Department of Planning & Economic Development to the following five questions concerning the Peckman Bridge Crossing Project which were submitted via an email on June 29th:

1) How safe will the entrance/exit to the proposed pedestrian/bicycle bridge be in light of the vehicular traffic on Cedar Grove Road?

2) While it is commendable that the proposed pedestrian/bicycle bridge will provide a connection between two existing off-road segments of the Morris Canal Greenway – why is there no connection to the Browertown Road Project which will include sidewalks and a bicycle lane that will run parallel to the Morris Canal Greenway?

3) Is the proposed pedestrian/bicycle bridge in a potential flood zone?

4) Were the “Flood-inundation maps for the Peckman River -2014: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016“ consulted?

5) Does the proposed pedestrian/bicycle bridge need to obtain Army Corps of Engineers’ review and approval?

Making Little Falls a Barrier Free Community

During the July 10th Town Council’s workshop meeting a Little Falls resident raised concerns about accessibility for people with disabilities to events and facilities within the township.  The resident cited issues at the annual July 4th Street Fair on Main Street and with the Alliance for a Better Community’s summer concerts in Memorial Park, as well as access to the second floor of the Little Falls’ Public Library.
In the past, The Gadfly has raised questions about the installation of a ramp at Inwood Park that would allow people with disabilities to have barrier free access to the Park’s baseball field and playground.
 
These concerns are significant since the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA),  signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, was designed to enable people with disabilities to participate fully in their communities and to ensure that everyone – with reasonable accommodations – has the same access to public places and to benefit from their town’s services, programs, and activities.
 
According to ADA guidelines, a town must provide notice to the public about its ADA obligations and about accessible facilities and services in the town. The notice must inform the public about the ADA’s nondiscrimination requirements. It may also describe how the public can contact specific town officials about problems with accessibility. 
 
It is essential that Little Falls address the needs of people with disabilities.  
 
Therefore, the Town should immediately establish a People with Disabilities Committee.  This Committee would recommend programs, policies, and procedures that would benefit individuals with disabilities. Members should include people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities and representatives from organizations that serve the disabled.
The Committee’s first order of business should be to:
1) conduct a self evaluation – under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act – of all town services, programs, and activities to identify any physical barriers or policies, practices, or procedures that may limit or exclude participation by people with disabilities; and
 
2) based upon the self evaluation’s findings the Town should develop a corrective action plan, using the “ADA Guide for Small Towns,” that will enable people with disabilities to participate fully in our community.