Editor's Notebook: Dec. 20 Council Meeting
By Rebecca K. Abma
For a meeting with a very light agenda, the final municipal council meeting of 2012 was packed with roughly 30 parents and more than an hour public commentary. Approximately one dozen residents brought their concerns and frustrations before the mayor and council. The main talking points were the failed school referendum, school safety, communication problems in the borough, and a perception that the borough council and the board of education have an adversarial relationship.
Here's a brief rundown of the issues. More formal information will follow once I have time to digest two-plus hours of recording and 27-steno-pages of chicken scrawl.
School Safety: In light of the recent school massacre in Newtown, CT, parents are concerned about the safety of students in borough schools, especially due to the lockdown at the high school at the end of September. Detective John Gibbons, speaking on behalf of Police Chief Michael Marra, reported that police maintain a greater presence at all three schools by performing random security checks.
A Community Problem: Residents aired frustrations about an apparent divide between borough and school officials. Borough officials maintained that they care about the conditions of the schools, although they expressed concerns with the way the district allocates funds. The borough budgets for upcoming expenses and maintenance by ear marking funds and working on a pay as you go basis. The schools referendum included items, such as a roof, that the council collectively feels should have been funded through the regular budget, and not be put to bond.
Communication Issues: Parents addressed concerns of poor communication between the borough and the school district, between police and parents during the lockdown emergency in September and the poorly updated borough website. Additionally, Borough Administrator and Clerk Adeline Hanna stated that she first learned of the schools referendum in the newspaper, and as the one in charge of elections, she felt she should have been notified by the schools in advance of it becoming public knowledge. Council President Nancy Peet assured parents that as council liaison to the Board of Education, she is in regular communication with the school officials and vows to work collaboratively with the district to find solutions to the schools deteriorating conditions. A closed meeting will be held Dec. 27 between two members of the municipal governing body and two school officials.
As for the borough website, which has barely been updated over the last six months, officials said the webmaster has all the files and assured the town all files will be posted by Friday morning. (Of course, if that actually happens the world may really end.) A new webmaster will be starting Jan. 1, 2013. No word on whether the current webmaster was paid for the work he failed to do.