Good afternoon, everyone
Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and constituents. This has been a difficult year for the Jewish community and I just want you to know that my support for you will never waver. From the awful rhetoric nationally to the antisemitic vandalism locally, I know that we must work harder now than we’ve had to in a long time to ensure truth, facts, and history aren’t questioned and that hateful behavior is addressed swiftly and fiercely. I’ve got your back.
I also want to say an early Merry Christmas and a Happy Kwanzaa to those who celebrate each of those. I’ll be taking some time off to host family and then travel and be with more family. But I look forward to connecting in the new year to talk about the agenda for this Council’s last full year in office. Think you might want to serve one day? Let’s talk.
We have a Council Meeting tomorrow, so here are a few updates on those. I also have something to say regarding the Township healthcare issue that you may have or will read about. You can find that at the end.
Lackawanna Plaza Update
Tomorrow night we’ll be re-taking a procedural vote on Lackawanna Plaza because the link to the Plan provided on the December 6 Council agenda was to a previous version of the Plan (dated October 19, 2022). The version of the Plan that was posted on the Township website and made available to the public was dated October 24, 2022.
I want to say thank you to the Planning Board for continuing to review the plan, to the Historic Preservation Commission, and to all of you who have written me. My plan is to take the following five elements into strong consideration both in terms of considering possible changes to our redevelopment plan and/or taking a final vote some time in the spring:
- Planning Board Report
- Historic Preservation Report
- Comprehensive Traffic Study Results
- Public Comments entered into the official record
- Comments from all of you through the four Town Halls I’ve been part of, emails and all other means including future public comment opportunities
Mayor Spiller, Councilor Schlager and I from our position as members of the Economic Development Committee of the Council, plan to recommend to our colleagues an expanded traffic study inclusive of more intersections suggested by myself as a resident of Grove St. by Claremont and those of Councilor Cummings as fourth ward Councilor. We anticipate being able to vote on awarding a contract tomorrow night. I specifically sought inclusion of all intersections that perimeter Lackawanna Plaza as well as Elm St. & Union, Grove & Claremont as well as N. Willow & Glenridge, and Forest & Glenridge, because of the new traffic patterns in that area. Additional intersections will be completed too. Depending on the vendor we select, the study would conclude sometime from mid February to mid-March. Thank you to James Cotter for speaking up on this and extracting this important commitment from us.
Abandoned Vacant Property
We’ll be voting to modernize and clean up our laws around vacant and abandoned property. I think the town does a very good job ensuring we tackle these rare instances, swiftly. Our changes include things like:
- Cleaning up & modernizing definitions
- Expanding the criteria for what qualifies a property to be formally considered vacant
- Fees and insurance requirements
- Additional foreclosure requirements
Pushing Back on the Puppy Mill Industry
A couple of months ago, Councilor Robin Schlager and I introduced a bill to ban the sale of any puppies or kittens originating from pet mills nationally. These facilities are notoriously inhumane and I’ve been determined to have Montclair pass a law that can be a model for all other municipalities. Tomorrow night we’ll take the final vote to enact this, coming just four days after New York State passed a full state-wide ban. Calling our State Legislators… let’s get this done statewide, please.
2023 Contract Renewals
Much of our year-end activity is focused on entering into new or renewing existing contracts for the Township for 2023 across a host of services. Those who would like to read about these items in more detail can review our agenda packet by clicking here.
Some examples of the new agreements or renewals we’ll be acting on:
- Switching our liability insurance from the Garden State Joint Insurance Fund to the New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund in effort to save us from a 7.2% rate hike with the former
- Awarding a contract to Edge Business Alliance, LLC for Parking Utility financial services
- Awarding a contract to a TBD vendor (reviewing this today) for a traffic study related to Lackawanna Plaza
- Authorizing the Township to purchase services from vendors approved by the State and County Cooperative Pricing Councils such as the North Jersey Wastewater Cooperative Pricing System
- Awarding a contract to William J. Guarini for plumbing services
- Awarding a contract to Cameron Animal Hospital for Township veterinary services
- Increasing our not-to-exceed amounts for Eric M. Bernstein & Associates for Tax Counsel services and Hendricks Appraisal for Tax Court Appraisal Services as well as for Difrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin… for additional Tax Counsel services
- Renewing our contract with CDW Government, LLC for our Voice-Over IP Telephone System
- Awarding a contract to McManimon, Scotland & Baumann LLC for Township Bond Counsel
- Awarding a contract to PKF O’Connor Davies, LLP for our annual internal audit
- Confirm and ratify a contract with O’Toole Scrivo LLC for the independent employment practices investigation in connection with the 2021 firefighter promotion examination
A word about Township-provided healthcare
This summer I was frustrated to learn from our law department that in their opinion (which I also recently learned was the opposite of the previous Town attorney’s long-standing opinion), the state health insurance that the Township offered to me and my colleagues shouldn’t have been offered to us. I know now that this was prompted by our CFO Ms. Rao’s complaint filed against the town. I also have learned that the issue dates back multiple to 2011, on and off, depending on the year and whether the Township was providing healthcare through the state plan or a private plan to the Mayor and Council.
Like most employees starting a job somewhere, when I was elected in 2020, Human Resources put a packet in front of me and asked me to select my benefits by filling out various forms. I never thought to ask if I qualified for the benefits or stipends in lieu of benefits, or not. They were presented to me in a proforma manner. When I learned about the legacy of this issue and the differing points of view by different Town Attorneys, I sought another opinion through our external labor counsel. On September 28th, we received guidance back from external labor counsel that in their view, the Mayor and Council Members shouldn’t be receiving healthcare through the state plan.
The situation is complicated for me because I met key criteria for receiving state health insurance, including that the Township has been my primary employer; I don’t have another employer offering me health insurance; and I generally have worked full time hours for the Town (though not as a fixed schedule). I also just didn’t know this was a thing until this summer.
Ultimately I decided it would just be best if I sought coverage elsewhere. I explored getting onto my partner’s benefits and I also looked into rejoining the World Trade Center Health Program for rescue workers that I had previously participated in. These scenarios would have meant changing providers one or more times in a short period of time, which I couldn’t responsibly do given the sustained care that I’m under for multiple health issues. Ultimately in November I purchased insurance on my own through the Affordable Care Act State Exchange open enrollment, to take effect on January 1st, which allows me to continue my treatment with my existing providers without interruption.
I’m quite frustrated by this situation. Public service should be affordable for anyone willing to serve and it’s not. I knew that when I got into this. But losing healthcare makes it even more challenging. The premium costs will now eat up the the tiny salary of $105 that I make per week being a Council Member. I’m also very disappointed for how this situation has been handled. If the law says we aren’t entitled to health insurance, then it shouldn’t have been offered in the first place.
I wanted you to hear this from me and to have my explanation. Thanks for reading.
Happy Holidays, everyone.