A little under two months ago, a workshop discussion topic at the September 21st Mayor & Council meeting ended with council re-voting and – ultimately – approving Ordinance 2501 (which requires grease traps for businesses) with a majority vote.
Fifth Ward Councilman Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley put Ordinance 2501 on the agenda after it was voted down by a 5-1 vote without any discussion before being defeated at the September 7th municipal meeting. He wanted to publicly ask his fellow councilmembers why they voted ‘no’ without any discussion on the proposed law that would require restaurants to maintain grease traps. The councilman commented, “We need this ordinance. As the mayor has said, it’s costing us money when we have to go out there and dig this out, and it’s damaging other people’s property.”
“We should have held it off,” said Fourth Ward Councilman Michael Connelly.
Third Ward Councilman William Fahoury stated, “For me, personally, it did go quick and it was a mistake that I voted no and I apologize to everyone out there . . . So I plan on trying to rectify that mistake tonight by, at least, putting in a motion to reconsider Ordinance 2501.”
Borough Attorney Richard Huxford clarified that under Robert’s Rules of Order, such a motion could be held but that it would be two motions; one to reconsider and another to vote on the ordinance again.
Councilman Fahoury continued, “I feel that the five of us who voted no, we made a grave mistake and this is the first step to rectify our mistake and as adults, it’s hard to admit your mistakes but for the public well-being, I feel that this may rectify this. It’s necessary.”
Councilman Shipley remarked that he wanted to encourage more conversation and that perhaps the ordinance should have been tabled instead of defeating it.
Mayor Carl Hokanson added to the conversation, “We had five months. Five months! Not one person on this council came into my office or called me up. Not one business owner.”
Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey addressed the mayor, saying, “You had five months to call us and ask us what we thought too.”Mayor Hokanson responded, “I put it out. There it is.”
Mayor Hokanson responded, “I put it out. There it is.”
“Well, if that’s what you consider sufficient, that’s what you consider sufficient,” stated the councilwoman.
“Well, that is what I do consider sufficient,” answered the mayor.
“Obviously,” said Councilwoman Storey.
First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola stated that he did reach out to Councilman Shipley before September 7th and left a message to talk about the grease trap issue.
“I called you back,” stated Councilman Shipley.
“Not about this issue though.”
“If you called me about something, it’s up to you to tell me. I don’t know what you want to talk to me about,” retorted Councilman Shipley.
Councilman Meola continued, “The businesses, they’re hurting, and they said to me don’t – at the very least – don’t pass any new laws or do anything else that could hurt us until maybe the economy gets a little better because we’re just holding on.”
Councilman Shipley said, “Why didn’t you bring that up at the meeting? Because nobody knows that except for you. Why didn’t you say something? We can discuss it and maybe allay some fears or whatever. Telling me now, it’s too late now.”
Councilman Meola went on to speak of the lack of communication between councilmembers on a range of issues, including the grease traps ordinance. Councilman Shipley stated that Councilman Meola should have talked about any concerns he had during the discussion portion of the vote on the ordinance instead of remaining silent before defeating it.
“I want to make the best decision possible,” stated Councilman Shipley, “and maybe what you brought up about the business, maybe somebody else would have something that would completely discount that and it would go the other way but the bottom line is what happened was a complete surprise and I just think it was ill-informed and an opportunity was missed.”
Councilman Meola remarked that business owners do not like speaking at meetings because of they are busy running a business and that the attitude sometimes from the dais is unwelcoming to the public. He remarked, “They’re business people, they get up early and they’re in their businesses at night when we’re already in bed.”
“But that has nothing to do with what I’m saying,” said Councilman Shipley, “What’ I’m saying is that it’s up to you to speak up and share that.”
“I can only talk about the businesses that I spoke to, that’s it,” replied Councilman Meola.
Councilman Shipley retorted, “Well, we didn’t know about them because you didn’t say anything so you actually misrepresented them because you didn’t speak up on their behalf so nobody knew.”
“Did you go out and speak to any business?”, asked Councilwoman-At-Large Charlene Storey.
“No,” responded Councilman Shipley, “And I received no calls. It’s not about him speaking. he said somebody called him.”
“I went out to seek them,” interjected Councilman Meola, “It started off, one or two then I was walking down Westfield Avenue and I just said let me walk in here and let me find out for myself. Some of these [wee] not in my ward.”
“All I’m saying is next time share it,” said Councilman Shipley, “That would have been nice to know.”
At that point, the mayor moved the meeting and a motion was made to reconsider the ordinance. Only Councilman Meola voted no for that motion. Councilman William Fahoury made a motion to adopt 2501 as-is.
Meola “I feel it’s not right at this time. Perhaps . . . ”
Councilman Michael Connelly asked, “Can I ask you how many businesses gave you that complaint?”
“Myself? Four,” replied Councilman Meola.
“I went to all these businesses,” continued Councilman Connelly, “There was one person that complained about it then when I went back there, he was within the ordinance.”
“That’s now,” said Councilman Meola, “Next year it could be amended. It could be changed twisted, and then it won’t be.”
Councilman Shipley commented, “The thing is [grease traps] . . . they’re causing major problems for the town and other residents. As they say, the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. If we’re just talking about a few people that don’t have these, they need to get them then. We’re not talking about a score of businesses that don’t have them. Most of the people are in compliance.”
Councilman Connelly inquired, “Can I ask how many other municipalities have the same ordinance? How ours [is] so much [more] lenient.”
“I didn’t look at other municipalities. I live here,” retorted Councilman Meola. He later concluded, “We serve this community; no other and if they don’t want it, I’m going to say no.”
The vote was taken and passed with a 4-2 vote to approve 2501. Councilman Meola voted ‘no’.”Since clearly my votes not going to matter I’m going to abstain.”
Councilwoman Storey stated, “Since, clearly, my vote’s not going to matter, I’m going to abstain.”
After the vote, Nicola Cristofalo of Costa’s Restaurant was reached for a comment. He attended the September 7th meeting where the ordinance was originally voted down. Mr. Cristofalo stated he was disappointed in the re-vote stating that his major concern in the ordinance gave authority to the code enforcement officer in addition to the health inspector. He was concerned that someone who had no training in inspecting a trap could have the authority to fine or even close a business. Additionally, he stated that he was not sure if the grease in the sewer system was coming only from restaurants. Another thing that bothered Mr. Cristofalo was that he would have to pay a company to certify that the traps were cleaned even if bio-chemicals were used to clean them – an additional cost of up to $2,400 a year.
When asked if this ordinance did alleviate the issue with grease in the sewer system, Mr. Cristofalo stated, “If it helps Roselle Park, then I will not bother paying.”