Concerns about a new group home in the Fourth Ward of Montclair and the pending purchases of new police radios added some sparks to an otherwise perfunctory end-of-year meeting of the Montclair Township Council on December 30, in which the council’s business was restricted to considering twenty-three final resolutions for 2013. All of them passed unanimously.
Fourth Ward resident Patty Grunther of Irving Street brought up the possibility of a new group home on her street joining one already in existence. She reported that 45 Irving Street is being sold and a mental health group is interested in turning the 1907 house into transitional housing for at-risk young women. Grunther, an active voice in the opposition to the proposed well house at Carey’s Woods, said that she and her neighbors support the idea of such a home but noted that another group home already exists at 21 Irving Street, 170 yards away, and in proximity to two more at Orange Road.
She said that it was too crowded in the area for another group home. “We feel that this is a really serious issue of too high a density of this non-traditional single-family housing in a neighborhood,” she told the council. “If there’s no local zoning ordinance with some kind of, if not restrictions, at least setting some kind of ceiling on this, what is to stop another one?” She said that another group home would “challenge” the character of the neighborhood, and that it was also a detriment as a whole to the Fourth Ward, which she and, later, resident Audrey Hawley iterated has borne the brunt of such group homes in Montclair.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville sought to provide a little more information about the issue, explaining that she had spoken with Planning Director Janice Talley earlier about it and learned that it would not be a group home providing treatment but instead be transitional housing for no more than five women aging out of the foster care system. Based on New Jersey law, Dr. Baskerville said, the five women can move in if they’re considered a family; otherwise, they need a variance to move in.
The Planning Board will defer to the opinion of its attorney, Michael Sullivan, to determine the women’s status. Dr. Baskerville added that the council should heed Grunther’s suggestion of limiting group homes and work with state legislators to come up with reasonable limits in accordance with state law.
Jeffrey Jacobson spoke on behalf of the Capital Finance Committee with regards to police radios. He said that the committee looked at a report issued by the consultant recommending what sort of police radio to buy and concurred with most of what the consultant had recommended in its own report to the council on December 16, after discussions with Township Manager Marc Dashield and the police. Motorola, which was recommended, offered pricing proposal with a discount to the township through December 31, and the committee had recommended that the township reach out to Motorola to extend the discount, as it was apparent that Montclair wouldn’t be able to get all of its “financial ducks” in a row by the end of the year.
Jacobson also said that he spoke to Police Chief David Sabagh earlier in the day and found that the chief knew nothing of any such outreach to Motorola. Rather, he noted, Dashield had ordered a lieutenant to order $100,000 worth of radios – half from Motorola, the other half from a company named Tate – which he feared would require unnecessary testing of police radios when it made more sense to buy from one company rather than two.
“The idea of another test purchase of some equipment of that we might not end up using may not be the best financial decision for the township,” Jacobson said. He was confident that the discount with Motorola can be extended. “They want our money,” he said.
Dashield explained that his office is purchasing some of the hand-held equipment now to use it out on the streets and use it as a test while the township waits for the financing to become available for the rest of it. He said that this same equipment will be used once the system is in place. “What we’re doing is trying to get a head start, because we know when the financing and the time of the financing will occur . . . we will able to get the system as quick as possible,” Dashield said.
Jacobson protested that it was not entirely clear that both the Motorola and Tate equipment would be compatible with the dispatch system when Mayor Robert Jackson cut in. He found it inappropriate that Jacobson was acting as an intermediary between Sabagh and Dashield when both men – “both of whom speak English,” said the mayor – and that he was aware of the dispute between the recommendation of the consultant (which Mayor Jackson said he understood was the Tate radios) and the recommendation of the township (Motorola). “I understand that by doing this, we’re going to get radios on the street much quicker than we would if we were waiting for the whole system,” Mayor Jackson said, “and if both systems work with the ultimate system that we get , the bigger system . . . that it isn’t a waste.” In that case, he concluded, further testing made sense.
The mayor also advised Jacobson that he could have communicated the finance committee’s issues with members of the council through other means instead of through public comment . A humbled Jacobson replied, “I understand your position, sir.”
Among the resolutions passed were resolutions authorizing a temporary budget for 2014 at 26.25 percent of the 2013 budget, transferring fund to the snow removal trust fund, and various appointments, including the re-appointment of Ira Karasick as Township Attorney and the appointment of Karasick’s assistant Joe Angelo as Township Prosecutor. Dr. Baskerville lamented that the township chose to “roll over” a current employee and a non-resident into the position without hiring a Montclair resident for the job vacated by Judge Kenneth Strait, but she voted for the appointment because she was confident in Angelo’s abilities. Peter Russo – no relation to Deputy Mayor Robert Russo – was appointed the township’s public defender.