Bloomfield Council Finalizes Lion Gate Vote, Acting Police Chief Claims Councilman Harassed Him

BY  |  Tuesday, Feb 11, 2014 4:50pm  |  COMMENTS (4)

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The Bloomfield council voted 6-0 on Monday evening to pass an ordinance on second reading authorizing the Township to acquire the property at 1 and 8 Lion Gate Drive, once owned by the Scientific Glass Company. Councilman Carlos Bernard was absent.

The ordinance states that the property may be acquired either by negotiating a sale of the property, obtaining it through the use of eminent domain, or as a gift from the developer. In addition, the Township will be authorized to take “all actions necessary to initiate and complete the acquisition of the property, including but not limited to obtaining any studies, surveys, tests, soundings, borings, appraisals, title searches and title reports, as reasonably necessary to determine the value, boundary, ownership, interests or environmental condition regarding said property.”

The Lion Gate property, which adjoins 5.7 acres already purchased by the Township, is currently owned by a developer that had intended to build 104 townhouses on the site, a plan that had been previously approved by the Planning Board.

Former Mayor McCarthy had objected to attempts by members of the previous council to acquire the property for public use, saying that he anticipated a costly lawsuit. He had vetoed measures to acquire the property or forestall the development that had been passed by the council in 2013.

Prior to Monday night’s vote, Mayor Venezia announced that the Township has been in active negotiations with the developer, who he said wants to work with the Township rather than go through an eminent domain battle. Venezia said the negotiations to acquire the property are looking “very promising,” and that the developer had actually approached the Township about coming to an agreement.

Several members of the public spoke in support of acquiring the property, including Leo Sceurman, who had previously expressed objections to the plan. He said he still questioned how much it might cost, and how the Township would pay for it. Venezia responded that although he couldn’t yet name a cost, he said that they expect to get back 65-70% of the money spent on the property through grants and other funding sources.

A representative from NY/NJ Baykeeper also spoke, saying they are proud to be part of Bloomfield’s open space efforts and are “looking forward to supporting… acquisition of this property.” A grant from the organization helped fund the acquisition of the adjoining property in 2012. That property had originally been slated for use as a Butterfly Park, but the plan was tabled late last year until the new administration took office, so that if and when the Scientific Glass site was acquired, a plan could be made for the whole parcel rather than just the 5.7-acre site.

Several members of the council spoke about the ordinance, beginning with Councilman Nick Joanow, who had been fighting to preserve the property as open space since well before becoming a councilman. He said “What has been impossible to do in 13 years, this mayor and council has done in 3 months.”

Allegations of Interference in Police Department

During the public comment period, Acting Police Chief James Behre spoke about political interference with the Police Department, saying that he is working in a “hostile, harassing work environment.” He alleged that Councilman Carlos Bernard had been asking his department to favor the promotions of Hispanic officers and said that Bernard had indicated these actions would help “solidify” his position as Chief. He also said that Bernard had asked the police to “fix” a parking ticket.

Behre described the toll these incidents were taking on him personally, and demanded that the Council involve the Attorney General in the case. He ended by saying emphatically, “No one owns the Chief position; it’s not for sale.”

Immediately after the meeting, Mayor Venezia said he had not been aware of these concerns until Monday night’s meeting, and that he would request the Township Administrator, who is a former police chief, to investigate. He said he will also talk to Councilman Bernard about the allegations.

More from The Star Ledger on this story.

Public Support for the Engineering Department

The Municipal Clerk read parts of three letters she had received written in support of the Township keeping the in-house Engineering Department. At the January 27 conference meeting, the council had voted to explore outsourcing the Engineering Department to a consulting firm.

During public comment, several people also spoke in support of the Engineering Department, including Township Engineer Paul Lasek’s wife Deborah, who said she knows personally how dedicated Lasek is to the Township, citing a vacation they cancelled because he felt he needed to be in Bloomfield to deal with the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Assistant Municipal Engineer Steve Coppola urged the council to think carefully about what the Township would lose by outsourcing the department, pointing out that “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Proclamations

The council issued five proclamations at the beginning of the meeting.

They first honored the Bloomfield Middle School Forensics Team (Sophie Bell, Anjolie Spence and Johnna Rosenberger) and their faculty adviser, Lauren Barton , for winning First Place in the Essex County Forensics Tournament.

They also presented a proclamation to the parents of Grammy winner Todd Edwards, who grew up in Bloomfield and graduated from Bloomfield High School in 1990.

The other proclamations designated:

  • February as Black History Month
  • January 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day
  • February 7 the 10th Annual National Wear Red Day for Women (to fight heart disease).

Other Business

The council voted to approve the award of a number of professional service contracts and appointments to various boards and commissions, which had been discussed in a brief conference meeting that was held from 6 to 7 p.m. prior to the regular meeting.

The next council meeting will be a conference meeting to be held on Tuesday, February 18, 2014, in the 2nd floor conference room in the Law Enforcement Building. Monday, February 17 is the President’s Day holiday.

4 Comments

  1. POSTED BY pat gilleran  |  February 11, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

    So the police report tampering (attempted ticket fixing and promises of a permanent job if done) by a Town Council member and the mayor assigns the township admin (who serves at the whim of the town council) to “investigate” the allegations that the acting Police Chief had to make in front of the cameras at a town council meeting to be taken seriously.

    Just give the admin a shovel Mr mayor and instruct him to bury the allegations.

    The attorney General needs to investigate- not the guy who is worried about his job!

  2. POSTED BY mimimichalski  |  February 11, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    The Star Ledger article indicates Mayor Venezia did not comment, saying it is now a “legal matter,” so there may be more happening now than what was said last night immediately after the meeting.

  3. POSTED BY kbanda  |  February 11, 2014 @ 11:10 pm

    It never seems to end in this town.

  4. POSTED BY raeven  |  February 13, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

    So news that the police chief has been placed on “medical leave” after voicing these complaints is now much bigger news. You’ve made front page reddit, Bloomfield.

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