Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson Talks Storm, Superintendent Selection, Frelinghuysen Seat and More

Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson invited local press Friday afternoon to an open Q & A session. While the topic front of mind was the aftermath of Wednesday’s snowstorm, Jackson was also eager to share his thoughts on education, particularly the challenge to find Montclair’s next schools superintendent.

Superintendent Search

“I don’t believe we can hire a first-time superintendent. It has to be someone who has done it before,” says Jackson, adding that Montclair has already lived through having a superintendent who hasn’t done the job before, referring to Penny MacCormack.

“I would be very concerned and would not be in favor of hiring a first timer. Montclair is not a place for learning on the job,” says Jackson, adding that the Board of Education shouldn’t feel silly if they have to go back to the drawing board.

Candidates for superintendent: Dr. Kendra Johnson, Rachel Goldberg, Dr. Ross Kasun

Of the three final candidates Montclair Board of Education is considering, only one, Dr. Ross Kasun, superintendent, Freehold Public Schools, has held the job of superintendent at another district. That surprised Jackson, that the finalists weren’t all experienced superintendents. He said he liked what he heard from Kasun while watching the forum, but said the decision was not his to make.

“We’ve had great interim superintendents in Bolandi and Pinsak, because they both are experienced,” says Jackson. “If we can’t find the right person, we should do it [get another interim superintendent] again.”

Montclair is neither a suburban or urban district, says Jackson, but a superintendent would experience the demands of both and needs to be comfortable with both in order to take Montclair to what he calls “universal excellence,” a term he prefers to the achievement gap.

Jackson did says he was concerned as a parent about the BOE making the right decision. Jackson will have to make his own decision — whether to appoint two new board members or retain existing members Eve Robinson and Laura Hertzog — in just a few months.


Overall, Jackson was pleased with Montclair’s response to Winter Storm Quinn, and said while there were close to 2000 homes without power as a result of the powerful Nor’easter he expected that number to go down to between 600-700 by Friday evening as a result of PSE&G working in the area. During the storm, the Cedar Avenue firehouse lost power, but that has since been restored.

Jackson said the long list of closed streets, due to more than 100 trees that fell during the storm, had dropped down to 12 from almost 100, with only a few streets closed at press time remaining.

“Our trees and the vast canopy they create is a blessing and curse,” says Jackson. “I love it, but in an event like this when we were inordinately hit, those large majestic trees wreak havoc.” (In regards to the trees, Jackson said Montclair should implement a pruning program.)

Valley and Grove were two streets that initially were not well plowed. Jackson says because they are roads maintained by the county and not the township, they took a little longer to get plowed. After he spoke to the county executive, those streets improved by midday on Thursday.

Certain streets, like part of South Mountain, had to be plowed later because of trees that blocked the road, preventing plowing.

As far as concerns regarding a possible storm next week, Jackson says the township is in great shape in terms of materials, adding that very little salt was used for the last storm, and more plowing was implemented instead to get streets back to blacktop.

“We have an adequate provision for storms in the budget, a healthy trust of money, about a half million or more in our snow trust, so we are in great shape financially to handle this,” says Jackson.

Workers were on the streets from 3 a.m. Wednesday until 3 p.m. Thursday to get streets plowed and cleared.

Pedestrian Safety

Jackson shared that when he participated at Glenfield School’s annual African American Career Day, he was surprised to learn that what students were most concerned about in town was crossing the street safely.

“It was amazing to me how much concern there was and how many questions the students asked about areas in town where they didn’t feel safe crossing the street.”

Jackson says Lt. Egnezzo is looking at more ways to slow or calm traffic in different locations. Jackson did not have any new information on the pedestrian fatality involving a Decamp bus, but said he heard the matter was still under investigation.

As part of the $9.5 million dollar federal grant, Bloomfield Avenue will get a traffic light at Midland Avenue along with new signals on Bloomfield Avenue from the Montclair Art Museum down to the Glen Ridge border. There would also be a reconfiguration of Five Corners — the intersection of Church Street & Bloomfield and Fullerton Aves. Jackson also said there will be a new lighting pattern or other traffic safety improvement as part of the new Seymour Street Arts District development.

Who Will Replace Frelinghuysen?

When it came to who might fill the seat vacated by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who announced he would be retiring and therefore not seeking re-election, Jackson was diplomatic.

“Rodney is a good, honorable fellow who has been good to Montclair in terms of responsiveness. I met Mikie [Sherill] and if she is elected she would be a very energetic representative for us,” says Jackson, adding that it’s great that she is from Montclair.

There’s also Bill Hurlock, Montclair’s First Ward councilor who could run against Mikie.

“Bill would be another good advocate for Montclair. He is smart as a whip. They are both very smart, young, talented,” says Jackson, adding that he would have to see where Sherill and Hurlock stood on the issues before making his own judgement.

If Hurlock did run, he would not have to resign his councilor seat to do so, said Jackson. If he won, Jackson was not sure whether a special election might have to be held to fill his seat.

“It would be interesting to have two Montclair people vying for the same seat, but it’s a sprawling district and some think of it as a Morris County seat, so you could have Abraham Lincoln living in Montclair and people might not vote for him because they want someone from Morris.”

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  1. I’m somewhat surprised that this story has been up all day an no one has commented on the fact that the Mayor has effectively “knee-capped” the seated Board members on the process they have worked so hard on to find on and replace our series of interim Superintendents. If they choose a candidate other than one that has superintendent experience and cross him, they will most certainly not be renewed to their position, like others who have not done his bidding. Is this how the process is supposed to work, and is it fair? No, it is not. The Mayor, who works for Essex County, has overstepped his authority and he should apologize. He should also recuse himself from this process going forward.

  2. I totally agree. He should not be voicing his opinion, considering that he’s the one who hires and lets go of BOE members. The whole system of the Mayor choosing the BOE needs to go.

  3. Implicit in your arguments is that the Mayor is not representing the voters who elected him, and then reelected him. The same voters who would elect a BoE. See where this goes?

    More interesting would be if the candidate with superintendent experience declines the job offer. And what if we picked one of the “lesser” candidates…and the the Governor abolished the superintendent salary cap July 1? Maybe the Mayor knows more than he is lettin on?

  4. I must be missing something. The Mayor has unfettered authority to appoint Board of Education members for any reason or no reason. He also is a citizen of Montclair who is free to express his opinion about the superintendent search, publicly or privately. Why is it inappropriate for him to say he doesn’t want to see us hire a first-time superintendent? If Board members think he will not reappoint them if they vote contrary to his wishes, so what? Why must the Mayor sit silent in such an important issue?

  5. On a high note, since he has all the power, all the blame can go right to him if anything goes wrong!

  6. Why even have a Board then Jeff? If the Mayor doesn’t trust his own decisions (Board appointees) such that he needs to question their authority publicly, why not just run the whole thing himself? How will he deal with the Achievement Gap? I’d like to see HIS plan.

  7. Montclair’s cultural zeitgeist — that neither the Mayor nor Councilors comment on education matters – has really not served us well. Although the Mayor appoints all members of the BOE and the Council has a majority vote over the yearly school budget at our Board of School Estimate, other than tax and fiscal issues, there’s an unwritten rule here that elected officials generally keep their “hands off” of education. That they should somehow avoid ‘politicizing’ the process.

    And yet, every few years, different parent groups seem to engage in an internecine political warfare with our Mayor appointed school board. Some of those same parents then complain that the political leadership does not take enough action to help the township and lead. Over the last 15 years there’s been the Penny McCormack-PAARC blow up, stealth computer monitoring investigations to follow, new school build budget debacles before this, hiding the achievement gap for years with on-going BOE hidden budget deficits and of course, multiple school field renovation incompetency’s etc. etc.. To the point where even more residents today likely believe that moving to an elected school board is the only way to really change Montclair’s sometimes uneven education game.

    Yet, when a duly elected town-wide public official weighs in on an issue with an opinion, some who actually want an elected school board — are again now complaining. All the Mayor has done is to express a position on probably the most important hiring and education policy decision we’ll be making. So what?

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want an elected and thus more politicized BOE process with more debate and more open controversies, more action from an elected leadership – one needs to accept that elected officials will have opinions and are then going to express them. Either way, until there’s an elected school board, it’s time we reconsider this underlying “hands off” POV. That the Mayor and Councilors not get involved in education policy matters. It really hasn’t worked.

    Education is inherently political. It should be treated with reality as such. So perhaps the Mayor’s comments are a sign of coming and needed change?

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