MontClairVoyant: Mayorship Navigates an Ocean of Controversy

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Some people don’t like that Mayor Spiller has made Board of Education appointments when he’s also a high-ranking New Jersey Education Association exec. Comment?

Sincerely,
They Look for the Union Label

Being Montclair mayor is a part-time position, so most people holding that office have day jobs. To change that, change our government system to one with a full-time mayorship — which I think involves turning the Municipal Building into a boat.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Um…”mayorship” has nothing to do with ships. But what about conflicts of interest or perceptions of conflicts of interest?

Sincerely,
Strife of Pi

Inevitable under the current system. Heck, Spiller’s mayoral predecessor Robert Jackson had a real-estate/developer background while pushing rampant overbuilding in Montclair. Developers had no reason to mutiny against THAT bounty.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Another ship reference? Anyway, it sounds like you prefer the Spiller situation over the Jackson situation.

Sincerely,
Al Ternatives

Supporting beloved teachers more than not-beloved developers who bring pricey housing and too much gentrification? No contest. The former do a LOT for our children while some of the latter are so rich their favorite board game is Yacht-see.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
I think we’re overdoing the boat stuff. What about Jackson’s predecessor Jerry Fried?

Sincerely,
Throwback Thursday

No significant day-job conflict there, yet he made some BOE picks that became highly controversial when those appointees helped choose a highly controversial superintendent. My two uses of “highly controversial” are high c’s (high seas).

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Stop the maritime shtick or I’ll hurl an unabridged “Moby-Dick” book at you! Was departing BOE member Sergio Gonzalez’s lengthy April 19 slam of Spiller and the Montclair Education Association unabridged, too?

Sincerely,
Union Street Fighting Man

Seemingly so — over 2,000 words! When Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” fishing guy Santiago started reading that statement, he was still “The Young Man and the Sea.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Time flies when you’re not having fun. Is a possible solution an elected BOE, so that Montclair’s mayor is not “Master and Commander” of appointments to that board?

Sincerely,
Michael Row the Vote Ashore

Perhaps, though I worry about rich education “reformers” — most of whom dislike teacher unions and like high-stakes tests and charter schools — pouring money into the campaigns of their favored candidates. That would make Robinson Crusoe not want to be rescued.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Are you one of those Montclair “woke” liberals?

Sincerely,
Alert and Ernie

After reading Herman Wouk’s riveting naval novel “The Caine Mutiny,” maybe more of a “Wouk” liberal.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Will there be legal action(s) against Spiller from people who don’t like the mayorship/NJEA exec combination?

Sincerely,
Court and Tort

Anything’s possible, but I hope there isn’t that “Descent into the Maelstrom.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Your mention of that Edgar Allan Poe story reminds me that Queen’s Freddie Mercury sang “I’m just a Poe boy from a Poe family…”

Sincerely,
Bohemian Lapse-ody

Um…you’re a little off there. Anyway, if many team groupings played softball in Edgemont Pond while wearing scuba gear, would it be “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”?

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Not a credible scenario.

Sincerely,
Ship of Fools

Okay, “20,000 Leagues Under the Pond.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Where can we find the novels you’ve mentioned?

Sincerely,
Page Against the Machine

In Montclair’s library, of course. I hope there’s enough funding to keep the main branch going strong and to reopen the Bellevue Avenue branch closed during “The Odyssey” of COVID. Both branches are a “Treasure Island” of books and services.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Jhumpa Lahiri is scheduled to do a virtual Montclair library talk May 6. Did that renowned author ever write a sea saga?

Sincerely,
Do Not Pass Gogol

None that I’m aware of, though I did enjoy her novels “The Namesake” and “The Lowland” and her Pulitzer-winning story collection “Interpreter of Maladies” — which didn’t interpret BOE-appointment maladies.

 

 

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

 

 

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Dave – Jean Rhys’ 1966 anti-colonial, feminist novel “Wide Sargasso Sea’ comes to mind, though I wouldn’t want to upset the neocons.

  2. I totally agree. If performance measurements are illusive, the alternative is to replace it with choice. A very smart progressive compared it to our electric aggregation program. Let PSEG (MPSD) provide the delivery infrastructure, administration, etc. and the customer chooses the solar/wind/carbon supplier offering (s MPSD magnet, a charter, etc). The dollars are a pass-through.

    The MPSD has capacity limitations now and we face extraordinary capital expenditures, high fixed costs, and fast-rising variable costs – spread across 13 buildings. The market should decide which schools go forward. Perform and survive.

    I would not invest in an organization that can’t or won’t be measured. Maybe I am missing something. What metric do we use to measure the MPSD performance year over year?

    I love those parents with two or more kids. They compare the first child’s experience in a grade, e.g. 7th, to the 7th grade experience of their next child. It comparison always is the same. I listen just for the rationalization that starts with, “but,…”. Never fails. Listen for it.

  3. Another example of a slow/unresponsive high fixed cost monopoly’s performance v. choice: an appointed vs. an elected board.

  4. Thank you, silverleaf! Great mention! The excellent “Wide Sargasso Sea” — which is indeed feminist and anti-colonialist — is of course the prequel to “Jane Eyre.” Ms. Eyre would make a great Montclair mayor except for the minor issues of being fictional, not an American, and now somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 years old. πŸ™‚

  5. Thank you for the comments, Frank. There are indeed some strong arguments for an elected Board of Education in Montclair. But responding to your “the market should decide which schools go forward” comment, I don’t think public education should be strictly market-driven. A school could be run in a near-perfect way and have top-notch teachers but might not “perform” as highly as desired if many of its students and families are dealing with major socioeconomic issues.

  6. Not worries Dave. The electricity aggregation folks had a similar concern so they made it an Opt-Out program instead of a market-driven Opt-In one. So, the default choice for all children would be the Montclair Public School District. We have some other tricks uo our sleeve (e.g. transportation) if we want to play a little hardball.

  7. Thanks for the reply, Frank. I’m not totally sure what you’re suggesting. In your scenario, the default choice would be Montclair public schools — and the alternative choices would be…what? Private schools? (Which Montclair already has, but they can be pricey and kind of elitist.) A charter school? (I oppose charters for many reasons — including their use of public money without public oversight; money taken away from true public schools. Also, charters cherry-pick students, oust students they don’t want, etc.) I feel Montclair public schools, whatever their faults, offer the best “real world” education for Montclair students.

  8. I think you are conflating socialization with instruction. MPSD has had notable success for 3-4 decades in the socialization realm. I would imagine today’s diversity is far greater than the 1970s-1990s. The instruction, the one constant, has wandered the desert.

    Don’t listen to me. Ask the MPSD alumni that have graduated college. Especially the ones that matriculated from elementary thru MHS. Of course, I could be wrong. I’m old and my MPSD experience was from another, totally distant time.

  9. Frank, “socialization” and attending schools with a diverse student body are important elements of education in addition to instruction — but I think Montclair’s system does instruction well, too. Many Montclair students get into “top” colleges and do well in their careers. Anecdotally, I feel my two daughters have gotten/are getting great educations, and their Montclair friends, teammates, etc., have gotten/are also getting great educations — from what I’ve gathered talking with and listening to them. (Most did/are doing the whole Montclair elementary, middle school, MHS thing.) I realize Montclair’s school system hasn’t served every student as well as possible, but I’m not sure if any town’s system is perfect when you look at the overall picture. For instance, a wealthy town’s lavishly funded schools with small classes and all the bells and whistles might be stiflingly homogenous when it comes to economic and racial diversity.

  10. Dave,

    Per you observations above on developers, I’m watching the Planning Board discuss the Orange Road Parking Deck, once again, and they are getting bogged down in stupid stuff with an absolute lack of free thinking.

    And I’m ok with tactical thinking members. I just wish they had problem-solving skills. I think that is a skill the PB should have.

    Now, the whole issue is valet service levels because Councilor Schlager and others had to wait an ungodly amount of time to get her car. So, it is a customer service issue. And who knows customer service best? Maybe, just maybe, …a customer. (can it really be that simple?).

    So, it is between the parking deck operator and the customers. How to solve? This is a very, very uniquely unique problem only to Montclair, NJ. Also, it is triple unique it has never been seen here before. Montclair icebreaking new ground. OK, I’m babbling.

    Dear PB, make the applicant agree to and post a Valet Customer List of Rights. It is called setting an expectation level. Just amazing. I stole the idea from someone else. The PB should feel free to steal it, too. Or, just bang on for weeks at end. Either works for me.

    PS: the solar panels on the parking deck will be absolutely amazing and pay for Montclair Center’s electrical cost an 25 years. πŸ™‚

  11. Frank, your comment was a nice seriocomic read. Nothing like politicians experiencing personal inconvenience for them to get more concerned about something. But of course developers will still get most of what they want most of the time in Montclair, as has been said ad nauseam. It can be counted on that there will be long waits on occasion and other problems with the Orange Road parking deck. The “Valet Customer List of Rights” you mentioned is a good idea, but would it mean much or be enforced? Unlikely.

  12. That’s the great thing…the customer enforces it. The Township is out of it. Also remember government does not adhere to the adage, “the customer is always right”. It would make little sense for the muni folks to get involved in customer service, much less sticking our noses in a union-owned, private business. We could get sued.

    We could have forced the California Teachers Pension System to prominently post their service levels. We can set them, but make them post them. Councilor Russo knows this.

    Now, for example, it might state it could take up to 90 minutes to get your car back. And regardless of how long, the patron is not entitled to any renumeration.
    The V&B tenants will learn fast.
    It is not really a destination for retail.
    The hotel customers, by definition, are largely out-of-towners.

    If a repeat customer really wants a convenient hotel room or a bar with panoramic view, then they have to accept the posted parking service levels. Now Councilor Schlager is now a well informed consumer and if she parks there again, then it is on her.

  13. But, Frank, how could customers enforce a “Valet Customer List of Rights” if the township and/or the deck developer doesn’t? Of course, customers could “vote” with their feet (wheels) and park somewhere else if they’re willing to walk some more.

  14. You’re right. No Customer List of Rights. Just post the hours, the parking rates, the “we’re not responsible for the contents of your vehicle”, the “we will tow your vehicle, at your expense for blah, blah”…and just add “we’re not responsible for retrieving you vehicle in a reasonable amount of time”. Abstinence also works for me.

    PS: I really loved the recorded votes of the Board. 5 abstentions and 1 recusal.
    I get the why they had to. We’re all agreed – blame the 2008-2012 Fried Council.

  15. Ha! πŸ˜‚ Love the addition of “we’re not responsible for retrieving your vehicle in a reasonable amount of time.” πŸ™‚

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