In The Year Of Our Lord 2013: Year In Review

In The Year Of Our Lord 2013: Year In Reviewthumbnail
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Published: December 30, 2013 @ 7:00 AM EDT

2013.

365 days.

13,287 people.

10 stories.

Here we go.

10. Far Niente

2013 for Mayor Joseph Accardi was the Year of Lots of Good Ideas.

Having United States Congressman Donald Payne Jr. Have a $0 lease in Borough Hall; creating a brochure to bring investment to town; having the United Nations delegations establish residential housing in the Borough to fill vacant houses; a Memorial Day Parade; a Christmas Parade; townwide revaluation; Business of the Month; even have a list of available volunteer positions on his Mayor’s Facebok page.

All these were ideas to help Roselle Park brought up by Mayor Accardi in 2013 but none of them got done. The reasons range from politics (on the part of some councilmembers) to no-follow through or to not being able to create a consensus (both on the part of the mayor).

The hands-off approach of ‘weak mayor-strong council’ has made the Mayor appear aloof and hs become more to sound like an excuse (since that rule applies only during voting at meetings). Every other time, the mayor is the head of the Borough and, as such, has a primary duty to create a consensus and move the Borough forward but very little happened.

Not to say that there were no implementations of plans but even when there was, as in the extended hours of Borough Hall during the summer, the first week was canceled with a mayor, according to him, sitting upstairs in his office not knowing that people downstairs were unaware of his presence in the building. It was as if he was left out of the loop.

He said the buck stops with him but for whatever reason, it never got started most of the time.

9. Pedro Garrido

The search for a new School Superintendent to replace the charismatic yet definitely in-charge and staff friendly Patrick Spagnoletti was a challenge for the Board Of Education. Numerous reports were given of going through the interview process, hiring an outside consultant from the School Board Association (SBA) to assist in the search, scrapping an entire list of candidates, and – finally – the hiring of Pedro Garrido.

Having just started officially in September, it is too soon to give a comprehensive review of his work. There are some who felt that the Board’s choice came out-of-left-field – Mr. Garrido is a Cuban-American and fluent in Spanish – while others felt it was a welcome embrace of the ever changing demographics of this once majority Irish/Italian community.

(Pardon the on-coming run-on)

The times have changed and having someone who speaks Spanish will not magically solve issues that are affecting the challenges of educating a school population where a growing number of students whose households primarily speak a language other than English (be it Spanish Portuguese, Hindi, Albanian, just to name a few) nor should Mr. Garrido be looked on as the Superintendent whose only qualification was that he could speak Spanish since managing and directing the education of children is a comprehensive, all-encompassing endeavor that requires the improvement of all students – regardless of what language they speak, but having the Board recognize that something must be addressed and acknowledged is a giant step in moving in the right direction.

8. Taken For Grant(ed)

Trees were taken down, people complained, but when it came down to it, a meeting held specifically to put things on the record – a tree walk – was empty of any person who wanted to save trees along Grant Avenue. Excuses were given that it was a dog-and-pony show or that it would not have made a difference. Some questions were answered, some were not but trees were taken down to have a comprehensive rebuild of the Grant Avenue road surface as a by-product of the sewer work infrastructure that needed to be done for a dangerously antiquated system that had the road collapsing and sinking.

It all started when one day Xs were sprayed on certain trees along Grant Avenue; that awakened people to what was going on but then there was no adequate communication from the governing body as to when the project would start , what it would entail, and what would happen next. The connected side streets also had work done which involved water being shut off, sidewalks being torn up, and streets being closed. The water company not only did not inform residents but were not communicating with the governing body as to what was happening.

Then the repavement of the streets was supposed to be done by the end of this year but . . . well . . . it just never happened. So the road looks like a patchwork of asphalt bandages and feels like a bombed out roadway.

Next year will see the end of this section but the bitter feeling of not being told before things would happen on everyone’s part remains. One good thing is that the municipality passed an ordinance that will require companies to inform residents of work to be done, before it gets done, or be fined.

7. So, Who, If Anyone, Killed The Cats?

It started with a flier stating that someone was killing cats. Then Alexander Balaban started providing information including a reward for the capture and imprisonment of the killer. Without proof, he implied that a homeowner on Bender Avenue was the person responsible. Updates were given by Alex on things that were going to get done but nothing on what, if anything, was actually done to find out what happened to the cats and how to address population control of cat colonies in town.

Then, right after the BOE elections, all updates, information, and talk just stopped. Oh, almost forgot to mention, Alex was a candidate for the BOE. Now, did the two have any connection? That Alex was using this to drum up his name and then get on the BOE? Nothing can be said for sure but there have been no public updates from Alex Balaban regarding anything associated with cats.  If that was the case, then the using of a serious issue and – in Alex’s words, a serious crime – for his own self betterment is manipulative and offensive. Alex was asked for information but never responded to those requests.

6. No (Fire & Payne)

For the first time in as far back as people can remember, council publicly voted down a resolution by a vote of 4-2 for a request to purchase a truck for use by the Roselle Park Fire Department in September. Fire Chief Joseph Signorello took the vote as a sign of disrespect. Members of council took the lead up to the vote as a questionable choice of priorities since during budget workshops the Fire Chief was given a certain amount for his budget and left the decision whether to purchase life-saving equipment or vehicles first to the Fire Chief.  After everything was said and done, the fire chief submitted a request for life-saving equipment and then re-submitted the request for a fire truck which was approved.

The fire chief had stated that the life-saving equipment were ‘off-the-shelf’ items and could quickly be ordered and delivered while a vehicle specifically made to tailor a fire department takes longer. But the requisitions for both could have been put in at the same time or in reverse order where the equipment is delivered then the vehicle. Beyond the hoopla of tempers that stewed and words exchanged, the question of what was a priority was brought up by the governing body and – however uncomfortable or unpopular the vote to temporarily deny a request – showed the significance and duties of a council which is to make sure that the best interest of the residents of Roselle Park is in their decision-making.

On the flip side, the vote that was never taken to deny a request to have United States Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. have a $0 lease for use of Borough Hall shows what happens when politics takes precedent over governance. The vote for the $0 lease mainly would have gone down party lines with Torres, Miranda, and Yakubov – all Republicans – in the ‘no’ and both Democrats Storey and Hokanson, along with Republican Casais in favor of the $0 lease. Having a 3-3 tie, the vote would have come down to the mayor, who originally brought up the idea to the governing body. The word from Mayor Accardi was that having a divided vote would have been uncomfortable for Congressman Payne but the Congressman would have been serving and assisting all Roselle Park residents, not the members of council.

Perhaps a lesson from the first ‘no’ with the fire truck should have been in the governing body’s mind since having a Congressman who was on the Sub-Committee for Small Businesses as well at Transportation would have been a benefit for all residents, regardless of what letter was in parentheses after their names.

 4. Uneasy Fit

This was an excellent example of how bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy (and as a political tool) not only creates a problem but makes things worse when it tries to address it. A Certificate Of Occupancy (C.O.) was given to Fitness With Jeannie last year but then this year things came to a head. It started with the Borough claiming that the C.O. was given under false pretense by the owner of the business months after providing it. Add to that the fact the the owner of the property at 293 East Clay Avenue has been in a long-standing feud with the property owner next door at 301 East Clay venue. Add to that the fact that the owner of that property is the mother of the Borough’s former Mayor Joseph DeIorio. Add to that a petition that was started by a sitting member of the Municipal Land Use Board (MLUB) – the very Board which is supposed to handle applications for new businesses in town (along with other duties). Add to that summonses and several postponements of court dates. Add to that the resignation of a Code Construction Official and the hiring of a new one who immediately began proceedings to revoke the C.O. of Easy Fitness With Jeannie and effectively close it down. Add to that the hiring and immediate resignation of the Zoning Officer who was the person who was told by the new Code Construciton Official to go through to apply for a hearing before the MLUB. Add to that letters and documents that could not be produced through OPRA requests which were essential to a timeline of events where the Borough claimed it did its best to resolve the matter with correspondences. Add to that the former Roselle Park Mayor approaching the governing body during the public comment portion of a meeting to provide a one-sided version of events that omits key elements in the issue. Put that all together and what came out was the closing of a business in town for the first time through a Revocation of C.O. for as long as memory serves, in a time when the municipality  espouses to want to welcome businesses and investment into the Borough.

A hearing before the MLUB is scheduled for the very first meeting of that Board in 2014 and it might end this particular instance but the issue of having a bureaucracy that is out of touch not only with the residency but itself has yet to be addressed.

3. Cheers

Roselle Park Midget Cheerleaders (1st Place).

Roselle Park Junior Pee Wee Cheerleaders(2nd Place).

Roselle Park Junior Midget Cheerleaders (3rd Place).

Forget the politics to be played with this accomplishment from candidates and elected officials, let us just take a moment to understand the achievement of a group of often-overlooked athletes who went all the way to the top of their game. These are the people who cheer, shout, clap, jump, twirl, spin, no matter the weather to spirit a crowd in support of a team and sometimes even rally a team to a victory. As the embodiment of good parents who support their children and help them can do anything, is it any surprise that cheerleading is not given much attention? They have the can-do attitude that make people get up and go.

So to the young women who gave it their all, we offer our own RAH-RAH-RAH and yell out CONGRATULATIONS!

Well deserved.

2. The Great Pumpkin Carver Mystery

So every once in a while someone comes along to restore the faith we all have in one another. Some time before Halloween someone was, technically, vandalzing pumpkins, but not in the smash them on the ground kind of vandalism or ruin a carving, but one where someone came along and quietly carved out some pumpkins that were left on people’s doors or stoops.

Awesome!

No one complained and people were genuinely touched/pleased by the touch of anonymous gift giving. Sure it is a little crazy and even a bit creepy but then a lot of things are if you think about them carefully. Think about it . . . a guy breaking & entering your home in the middle of the night to leave you presents . . . a fairy trading your teeth for money all while you sleep . . . people cheering for a character running around fighting crime dressed as a flying rat . . . and so on.

No harm done, smiles were on people’s faces, and every morning some even went to their front door to see if they were visited and given a present. Imagine that, hope, however little, quietly showed itself in this day & age and that piece of small-town Americana came back. No trick, just a treat. Happy Halloween indeed.

1. Derek Czernikowski

This September, many students in the Roselle Park Middle School (RPMS) may have not been looking forward to the start of school but one of the things that they – along with their parents & guardians – did get to enjoy was the fact that sports and other extra curricular activities were brought back into the school after being absent for almost half a decade. It was, in large part, due to a man they probably never heard of, let alone would know how to pronounce his last name; Derek Czernikowski.

It had been a long struggle to get Middle School sports and activities back in Roselle Park for Derek along with other parents. Every year for the past four years, Mr. Czernikowski attended the budget presentations annually given by the Board to ask about returning sports back into the middle school. Every year he was told that funds were not available. Regardless of the reality of budgetary constraints and choices made by the BOE, Derek persisted and at the May 7th Board Of Education (BOE) meeting, all that persistence paid off when the Board announced that Middle School sports and activities will be put back into the curriculum.

Derek is a father of three children (ages 14, 12, and 10). He feels that such activities have tremendous value to children and that it allows them a true introduction to competitive sporting as opposed to recreation, and exposes them to activities that they may not have realized they had a flair towards. An education for Derek, to be sure, is important but having a well-rounded experience in school goes a long way to creating a well-adjusted adult. Derek was not alone since he was approached by many other parents that felt likewise. He was just the one who kept going to the meetings, giving a face to an issue – Looking to find a solution, not a problem.

It should be noted that, of course, Derek was not alone and numerous members of the BOE – most notably Loren Harms – advocated for the return of sports and other activities to the Middle School. Their assistance along with others was invaluable in making things happen. Their part in this should not be overlooked nor marginalized but Derek was just a parent wanting better for his children and the other children in his community. He did not fight city hall, he did not point fingers, he did not become confrontational, but most importantly, he did not give up. He knew it would take a long time but he also knew that he had to keep at it without losing his cool or his focus. It was not about him. It was not about ‘them’. It was about the children.

In speaking with Derek, he stated about the return of sports, “I’m extremely happy with hearing of the Board’s reinstatement of the athletics and activities at the Middle School. It shows to me as a parent and resident that our Board has listened to the residents and does have the best interests of our children at heart and mind, both in and outside the classroom. I go further in hoping that this reinstatement lasts, and does not come to the same sorry fate as we have seen years ago. It is up to us to make sure that future board members remember the importance that these programs have and that it always remains a part of the budget.”

So, in the year of 2013, the story – the person – of the year was just a guy who just wanted something better for his children and always kept them in mind and never gave up.

By the way, Derek, thank you.