Montclair town council has started its meeting today to a packed house at 205 Claremont for a special meeting to discuss the 2010 budget, which could raise taxes by 5.6 percent, as well as the appointment of a new town attorney.
The $70,430,948 budget was struck down after heated debate at Monday’s meeting in a 4-3 vote. Voting in favor of the budget were Mayor Fried and Councilors Lewis and Weller-Demming, while Councilors Africk, Murnick, Baskerville and Deputy Mayor Terry voted against.
4:13 pm Kathryn Weller made a motion to hire Karasick, which was seconded by Nick Lewis. Mayor Fried has asked “any discussion?”
4:15 pm Cary asks what provision is for public comment. Fried says it will be at end of the meeting. Cary says what about before vote? Audience applauds. Fried says we use “Roberts Rules of Orders.” People boo.
4:18 pm Cary “You still haven’t answered my question. My comment is, what is the provision for public comment? I have 50 emails from people who want to speak.”
Fried defers to assistant attorney, Joseph Angelo, who reads from public meetings act, and says:
“Legally don’t have to do it before vote, but I would implore the council to be consistent as how you’ve done it in past.
Do we have to make a motion to allow public comment?
We have a motion on the table.
I’m in favor of Mr. Africk. They’re here for a reason
Terry: “We talk about transparency. This is about a transparent as a piece of coal.”
Fried: We’ve had confidential discussions before reason we don’t have public comment. Those comments are not germaine to our deliberation
Baskerville: Introduces an amendment to the motion allowing public comment
the vote: africk -yes
fried – no
lewis -yes (after thinking a long time)
murnick – yes
terry – yes
weller – no
4:31: Impassioned speech by Don Zieff, reading from Fried’s initial speech on being sworn in, promising to listen to the public. Beseeching him to listen in this case.
4:36: Murnick: “Change sometimes is good, but change at this point…”
“Alan Trembulak is doing a great job as an attorney. He does what he’s told to do.”
“We haven’t done enough due diligence. This is not a time to speculate, in which to train somebody knew. We have a planning board attorney, and Ira’s doing a great job there.”
4:39: Cary: “I’ve found Alan to be an excellent person to work with. I’m entirely satisfied with the work that he’s done. Alan is also a-political. He doesn’t come here with a political view [applause]. He does the work.”
“If we decide to make a change, we owe it to you to go through the process of talking to candidates. “I was asked to look at documents that were sent to me last night from June 2009”
“We sat with all the candidates for judge. We thoroughly vetted them. We put them through the ringer. With the attorney — if we replace, we need to go carefully.”
“Baskerville’s suggestion that we re-set the salary scales and consider part time is an excellent suggestion.”
“We’re in a new world.”
Nick Lewis: “One of those most difficult decisions, probably the most miserable week of my 2 1/2 years. Could you guys at least stop it. You guys should at least be vaguely polite [Lewis says to audience – who had made an “Awwww” sound]. You’re just making yourselves look petty.”
[of Kurasick] He was our alternate candidate last time. Nothing has changed.”
Weller: “While I certainly appreciate all of you coming here to share your opinions with us, ultimately this is a decision that we have to make.”
4:45: Baskerville: Says she has a good working relationship with Trembulak. “When you’re dealing with a body and a group of people who have to work together, situations sometimes, when you’re not directly involved, you can’t determine if something is broke”
“This is a difficult situation. There are things that are broke and a lot of them have nothing to do with the last manager or the present attorney.”
“I don’t think there’s anything broke, but there’s enough of council, things they’re not feeling comfortable with. We have to figure out how the seven of us can get the fit.”
Terry: “This is another sad day in the township of Montclair. Where are the rewards for good work? But over the last couple of months or so, I don’t see that from my council. They almost feel like experience means nothing, nothing at all.”
Responds to someone in audience, and says, we need “Institutional knowledge”
“Citizens of Montclair, wake up. WAKE UP!” “You’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you.”
Terry: “We worked him under some very tough adverse circumstances. Why in the middle of a serious budget situation would you change the township attorney. I just don’t get it.”
Just now, Mayor Fried’s mic wasn’t working.
Cary says “That’s a message.” Audience laughs
Fried: “We each sincerely look to represent all of the residents of Montclair. Personnel decisions, they’re the most important decisions. We have a responsibility to be ethical and legal. We are elected by the people. That’s the way democracy works. The important thing is that we move on and we progress and the majority makes the decision.”
Cary — MOTION TO TABLE (failed)
Motion carries to appoint Karasick. Votes:
africk – no
fried – yes
murnick – no
terry – no
weller – yes
Resident says: “That’s an embarrassment and a shame.”
Online commenter react to Baskerville, who appears to be the swing vote.
Africk and Murnick want public comment on attorney; they were joined by Lewis, Baskerville. Mayor Fried and Weller were against, but it passed. Six people spoke, five were in favor of keeping Trembulak. Sentiment was “It it’s not fixed, don’t break it.”
Dashield: “2010 is not a budget to be proud of.”
Dashield listed some cuts made, renegotiating contracts, unions. “It’s a multi-year process to lower debt and budget increase that has already started.”
Councilors are giving suggestions on proposals for 2010 on cuts and revenue enhancement on the big white board.
Things are getting tense between Murnick and Fried. Murnick says he was only given the chance to give one idea and when he went to comment on one of Cary’s ideas, Fried told him to wait his turn. Cary asked Murnick for a number amount, Murnick said, “I was told not to speak because we were all happy about the 10 percent increase.”
Ideas on white board are:
Label street project with a $350k revenue enhancement
Sewer connection fee $1 million revenue enhancement
Sell Clary Anderson arena (Cary didn’t have a $$ figure, said “we could ask Trembulak” as as a joke)
Review parking authority would be a $200k cut
Additional layoffs: no $ figure provided
Terry: Says he took offense to the mayor saying he called those he voted no on budget irresponsible and will not be playing any bulletin board games right now.
Dashield: Says $1 million from sewer would need approval from the state and he doesn’t recommend because it will leave a hole in 2011 budget and just be delaying the inevitable.
Selling Anderson arena would need state approval and need a signed contract of sale before that can be in budget — will be a long time — not in time for 2010
Additional layoffs would not be very effective right now with only two months left in some salaries something to come back to for 2011.
UPDATE: We’re breaking from live blogging and will post a meeting recap when it’s over.
Reporting from Kristie Cattafi and Deb Galant