Friday, October 25, 2013

Robbing Peter to pay Paul - Unintended Consequences of Tax Reform

New Jersey real estate taxes that fund municipalities and county governments are among the highest in the nation.  To try and stop the ever rising tide of tax bills, NJ voters passed a cap that keeps real estate taxes raising above a certain percentage of the previous year's rate. The cap can be manipulated somewhat by using bonds for capital purchases such as building improvements, etc.

Newfield was already in a tight budget situation before the recession because the biggest tax contributor - a corporation called ShieldAlloy - closed.  Along came the recession and the budget got even tighter as more local businesses closed and fewer people were spending money to upgrade their houses.

The Newfield Public Library has been partially supported by funds from the Newfield Borough budget to in the range of $20,000 to $25,000 each year.  Gloucester County funds and fund raising efforts have provided the remainder of the needed operating costs.  The Library is open 6 days a week and holds special events for children of the community as well as computer/internet access for individuals who need it, especially tweens and teenagers doing homework.

Occasionally, donors give a large enough gift that allows the Library to take on a large project to expand its support to the community.  One of these gifts provided sufficient funds to add a meeting space for town organizations such as the Cemetery Board and photography clubs, etc.  So, the Borough made a proposal to the Library Board that would help with the town budget.  In exchange for not providing the customary yearly funds for two years, the Borough would float a bond and pay funds towards the building expansion.  The gift funds would be used for operating costs.  This would help the Borough Budget and rate stay under its expansion cap.  In two years, the town would return to paying its previous obligation towards the Library operating expenses.  As anyone knows who has been managing a household budget, this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The two years are almost up and no surprise, "The Borough is broke."  The suggestion was made that Gloucester County could take over the Library and make it one its branches.  From a Borough Council viewpoint, they thought that would end their financial obligation and problem solved.  From a library patron perspective who has noticed that as Newfield is the farthermost most municipality from the county seat and very, very small to boot, this was not an ideal situation.  Library hours and functions would be controlled by the County and would lose the close connection that the Library Board, and hence the Library, has to the town.

It turns out this "solution" would not dissolve Borough Council's financial obligation to the Library and might even raise the stakes.  So, this solution will not be taken.  It still leaves the town "broke" and the Library Board wondering if any funds will be forthcoming in 2014.    The funds needed are way beyond what can be raised by normal funding raising activities such as coin drops, bake sales, chocolate festivals, and used book sales.

Another solution is to drastically cut the hours the library is open.  Of course, that is a double edged sword since county supplemental support depends upon the number of hours the library is open.   It would also drastically affect the community's children who use the Library for finding information for homework assignments. 

Personally, I think Borough Council needs to revisit budget priorities.  Does the 1.7 square miles that constitute Newfield require the level of police coverage presently provided?  Circumstances have changed since that level was established.  Other services are suffering budget shortfalls that may be of higher value to the community now.  Neighboring towns don't seem to have such a high level of police service as Newfield does.    I believe the Library is more important - of course, that is my bias.

This is not an attack on the police force.  They are all professional and provide the service they are being paid for.  When I have needed them they have been there - the possible gas leak, the snake incident, and EMS calls.  I appreciate all that and I realize that I would receive slower service when the Sheriff's office has to cover if Newfield cuts back police service.  It's just that I am willing to make that trade to provide the same level of library service we have right now.

If you feel like I do, tell a Newfield Borough Council member.  Their names can be found here.  They don't know what we want unless we tell them.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Borough Council and Fire Company working out a compromise

At last night's Borough Council Meeting, the Mayor took a brave step and seized on a comment by the Fire Company's lawyer about a contract to forge a means of compromise.  The next reading of the ordinance was tabled.   The Fire Company is to provide a strawhorse of a contract between the Fire Company and the Borough, which will then become the central theme for negotiations.  Any ordinance would then reflect that contract.  It is not yet finished but the direction is now much improved.  Hopefully, no one will drag their feet and the negotiations will proceed calmly with mutual respect.

There is an on-going investigation into whether a member of Council acted improperly regarding the shutout of the Fire Company prior to the March Council Meeting.  The paper trail lays suspicion but is not definitive.

There was also a forecast of a calendar for the home page of the Borough as well a page of recycling information.  A pdf of the Town Crier Bulletin has already been added.  The intent is to provide an archive of the Town Criers as they are printed.  Hopefully the calendar will show special events as well as recurring events such as trash and recycling pickups and Planning, Council, and Recreation Council meetings.  It will be nice to know ahead when trash or recycle pickups are delayed by holidays as the one-call announcing them often came after I already pulled the cart to the curb.

Since nothing was said about recycling for businesses, I went up to make that suggestion as I had read just before the meeting that Gloucester County requires businesses to recycle.  Two Council members responded at the same time - one to tell me that carts for businesses not recycling were in the works and the other to put me down for not realizing that the county already gives us credit for business recycling that is reported to them.  And, I heard in the background from a Public Works employee that they are intending to deliver some carts to the apartment building.  The Council member who sought to inform me that Newfield already gets credit didn't realize that some of the businesses don't recycle at all because their dumpster service doesn't support it.  So while I was publicly embarrassed because my reason for justifying Newfield picking up business recycling didn't cover all the cases,  the end result is what is important - more recycling.  I'll take that trade off any day.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Suggestion for boosting recycling in Newfield

This one should help out the businesses in town.  Right now, the businesses who pay  a fee for trash pickup were delivered a recycling cart.  They were also told that if they wanted to get rid of cardboard, to call for a special pickup (think liquor store).  Not all the small businesses in town pay a fee for town pickup but rather pay for a dumpster from a private company, consequently their recycling goes into a trash dump. Of course, this is not good for the environment but  I can understand a business point of view of "why should I pay Newfield twice when I already pay real estate taxes?"

My suggestion is that Public Works supply Newfield businesses with up to one free cart of trash pickup in exchange for recycling.  If a business needs more room for trash than what fits in a single cart, then they can pay a small fee per cart for additional trash carts.  If they don't recycle then they pay for trash pickup.

Whether the business is paying directly taxes directly or indirectly through rent shouldn't make a difference.  We need to encourage more business in town and we need to encourage recycling. I can sort of understand the position of forcing the businesses to pay for trash pickup when Newfield was paying someone else to collect trash, but I have a much harder time now. 

Perhaps someone on Borough Council can do a cost/benefit analysis?  There is a least one apartment building in town and recycling from apartments can be a big winner just like it is for households in town.

Monday, October 7, 2013

New recycling cart arrived - so why am I so angry ....

I guess there is something wrong with me.  Perhaps, I expect too much of Newfield having lived in a big city.  Ever since moving back home five years ago I have been rooting (and writing a letter to Borough Council) for better recycling - more frequent pickups and a larger container with a lid. Today, my demands came true.  I now have a larger container; it has a lid; and recycle will be picked up on a weekly basis on Fridays.  Of course, I had provided my own container with a lid for those five years but hey.  So why am I sitting here fuming?

Several issues ago in the Town Crier,  recycling was announced without a timeline.  Mostly, the item talked about how a household would be fined if they didn't turn in their old lidless container at the same time they received the new one.  I saw that as a vague threat and I wasn't the only person.  Real cool way to make sure to increase recycling  !#$!  At the next Borough Council meeting, I asked for a timeline (I knew they couldn't pin down dates) for the process and said that I had found the info already provided vague and anxiety-producing. That is, I alluded the item in the Town Crier was threatening with out calling it a threat so not to offend anyone.  I also asked that they provide written information that updated what we could recycle.  They patronized me and said it would all be explained in the one-call  (reverse 911) system they have in place.

Next Town Crier talked about recycling - vague terms again but no timeline or dates.  Again, I brought up the information issue at the following Borough Council meeting and was again patronized.  The information issue is important because I am sure the rules have changed over five years.  When I first began recycling in Seattle, no plastic was allowed and glass had to be separated from paper and metal.  Paper that was contaminated with grease or meat was a no-no. Think pizza boxes.  I love pizza.  Anyway, here, my sister informed me, we could recycle plastics with a 1 or 2 numeral on the bottom of the container but like glass, the containers had to be free of food.  In Delaware, where my daughter lives, they don't have that rule anymore.  So, what are the rules here?  A new schedule and a new container is the perfect time to update everyone's knowledge and by-the-by encourage more recycling.

Today, I stormed out of the house as the Public Works employees dropped off the new cart in the middle of my soggy lawn (not the driveway) and then had to yell when they paid no attention to my waving.  (1) Did they need my old container?  (2) When would recycling happen?  (3) Where was my info on what is recyclable?  The answers, prefaced by - why was I yelling when I had been told in one-call - (1) later, (2) Fridays, and (3) oh, it was all in the last Town Crier (not!).  Along the way, he implied I should be happy they were dropping off the container when, after all, it was raining.   Oh sugar, you won't melt - trust me.  I lived in Seattle for 24 years where rain is a way of life.  He advised me to call Borough Hall when I said I had no warning and get on the one-call system.

So, I called the Town Clerk.  I told her they just dropped off the cart without my getting any warning.  She asked what she could do and I said put me on the one-call system that I seemed to be dropped from ( I used to get calls) and to complain to the Council member that had promised me I would get printed recycling information ahead of the cart for me.  She said she would send an email. I know she will follow through on the email as I did get the one-call about the recycling about 45 minutes after I hung up with her.

Then I got a phone call from the Council Member who does the one-call calls to ask if it had come through.  I was able to say "yes".  I told her I used to get calls and hadn't for awhile.  She admitted that she had had other complaints about people being dropped off.  So then I remarked on how the written material that I was assured I would get had not arrived.  I tried to explain how this information is important if they want to get the level of recycling to increase.  Her response was the typical how wonderful the Borough Council is - saving money because (1) Newfield is no longer paying another municipality to do the recycling, (2) the cart is bigger, (3) recycling pickup will happen once a week, and with my prompting (4) the cart has a lid.  The fact that money was spent to buy the truck and the containers seemed to go out of her head - along with the fact that at current rates it will take 10 years to recoup those costs from the cash Newfield will get for the recycling material.    To be fair, amortization of cost may not be a concept with which she is familiar.

I tried really hard to get her to understand we need a refresher on the rules.  Seattle used to have a big sticker on the inside of the recycling cart and a frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) page on its web site.  Periodically households also received updates in the mail with no other topics but recycling to dilute the message. She is the Council member responsible for Communications, so telling her is entirely appropriate.  Actually, I was begging and pleading but I'm not sure she understood my frustration or urgency. 

As far as I'm concerned, the Borough Council had a perfect opportunity to make this fun by involving families in some sort of special event while increasing recycling rates.  They blew it.  Instead one of the strongest supporters of recycling is sitting here aggravated and disappointed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Two more events in Fire Company/Borough Council dispute

Here's a "letter to the editor" from Linda Graumann, a Newfield Borough resident. Essentially it is another plea for mediation, however, it specifically details a proposal for how that mediation should be conducted.  Worthy idea.

Also, there was a "stay" in the on-going legal suits/countersuits as reported here. The Fire Company filed an appeal in NJ Superior Court that would invalidate the earlier court's decision that the firing of Bill Mason by the Borough Council was legal.  Until this appeal is decided upon, the subsequent suit by Borough Council against the Fire Company will not be heard.  This should mean that the ultimatum given by the Fire Company is no longer needed and they will stay.  I hope the Fire Company members will see it that way.

Just to be safe, continue to let the Fire Company know you want them to stay.  Here's one way to do that.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The authority of Newfield Borough is invested in the residents of voting age

The real authority of Newfield Borough is invested in its residents of voting age.  Sign a recall petition or not, its your choice.  You can also use your own authority to tell the Fire Company you respect them and ask for their respect back by their choosing not to follow through on the ultimatum.  Send email to ""; send a note or letter to PO Box 610 Newfield, NJ 08344; or drop one off at 18 Catawba Ave. Newfield,NJ 08344.

Sample text:

I/We respect all you do for us as firemen and emergency responders and all the hours you have freely given of your time to be firemen.  Please ignore the actions of the Newfield Borough Council and Mayor.  In this instance, we are speaking for ourselves.  We need you and appreciate you.  Please show the feelings are mutual by staying.

Letter from Borough Council and Mayor to all Newfield Residents - Legal?

Letter from Mayor and Borough Council to Newfield Residents

This explains what action they took and their position relative to the Fire Company ultimatum.  They remain as ideologically fixed in their position as the Tea Party Congressmen who have shut down the federal government over a piece of legislation that was already passed by Congress.

Most interesting is the final paragraph which asks that residents do not sign a recall petition.  This has been done on official stationary and mailed out using Borough funds to pay for the letters and the postage.   The letter does say  "Postage paid by Mayor and Council" and I am interpreting that to mean Borough funds not private funds of the members of the Council and the Mayor.

I wonder if that is even legal for them to use Borough funds to put out a message urging the residents either way on a recall petition.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

School yard brawl, diplomatic posturing, battle of wills, or dangerous game of chicken?

I am not quite sure what to say about this quote of Borough Solicitor Eastlack in the September 14th article by Phil Davis in the South Jersey Times: "If the fire company admits that the borough had the authority and that Mr. Mason is no longer the chief, then there’s no more lawsuit."  I am thinking the key phrase is "admits ... authority" but let us examine some other data first.
  1. Mr Mason is not fire chief as he declined the position after being re-elected to that office by the fire company.  He admitted this fact at the Borough Council meeting September 13th aloud to everyone present or on the phone.
  2. Mr Mason is an exempt fireman and as such has tenure as a fireman (paid or not) under NJ state laws (see 40A:14-62) without a fair and impartial hearing. As paraphrased by the NJ State Firemen's Association : 
    The tenure act applied to “any fireman of any volunteer fire department who was holding a position or office under government of this State, or the government of any county, city, town, township or other municipality,” and “whose term of office is not fixed by law.” Generally this meant appointed without any termination date or for an unspecified duration. In such situation there could be no termination, change of position, demotion, or reduction in pay without cause. This normally required a complaint, list of charges, hearing and findings of fact and a determination identifying the basis of the cause. Currently most of these cases follow the procedures established by the Civil Service Commission and/or the Public Employees Relations Commission (‘PERC’). (#22)
  3. Borough Council removed Mr Mason from the fire company for cause without a fair and impartial hearing.  They gave him 30 days to respond with a check mark whether he wanted a hearing or not and when he didn't, they went ahead and removed him.  They have to hold a fair and impartial hearing whether he agrees to it or not.  Since they are the ones with the charges of misconduct, the Borough Council can not itself hold the hearing as it would certainly not be impartial.  So if the offer was for a hearing where the Borough Council presided, it was a disingenuous offer at best.
  4. The fire company did re-affirm that Mr. Mason is a member of the fire company.  They are loyal to a fault; they knew Mr Mason's removal did not happen as a result of a fair and impartial hearing; they need his considerable expertise in fire and rescue operations.
  5. The fire company did issue an ultimatum to Borough Council on their website, which reads
    "September 12,2013 The Newfield Fire Company No. 1 has Made the following statement to the Mayor and Council.We as the members of the Newfield Fire Company request Mayor and Council within 30 Days to reinstate William Mason as a member and chief of the Newfield Fire Company and immediately cease all litigation against the  Company.If you fail to grant this request be advised that 30 days from this date we will resign as the firefighting authority for the Borough.We urge you to search for alternative fire fighting protection for the Borough of Newfield in the event that you do not meet these conditions within the next 30 days."
  6. A copy of the lawsuit is available here.   Its statement of particulars is in dispute, which is why there are civil law suits in the first place.
Both Mr Mason and the fire company have admitted publicly (and privately to the Borough Council if my insider information is correct) that Mr Mason is not fire chief.  The second part of Mr Eastlack's conditions for dropping the lawsuit has been met.

So what does the first part mean?  What does it mean for the fire company to admit "that the borough had the authority"?  Who is the borough in that phrase?  That sounds like a teacher trying to discipline the parties in a school yard brawl when, in fact, you are one of the parties to the school yard brawl.

Diplomacy is often a game of rhetoric and posturing with a hidden agenda since failure of diplomacy is often war.  Is this posturing? Or rhetoric? For what end?  To humiliate the members of the fire company for loyalty to a man the Borough Council allegedly despises and the fire company evaluates quite differently than the Borough Council does?  To make the Borough Council members feel justified in their actions?

What is the hidden agenda?  I feel its aim is to run Bill Mason out of town, an appalling idea on so many levels.  I think the generation before mine fought a war because a government decided to "run out of town" people they didn't like.  Of course, that government went way beyond merely running out of town.  We say and I hope we mean it that the USA is a 'free' country.  To me, the word 'free' extends to letting me decide where I want to and can afford to live.  Even criminals who have served their time can do that.  I don't have to like my neighbors but also I don't get to harass them to get them to move, nor do my governments.  We had that struggle in the 50's and 60's - it was called the Civil Rights Movement.

In a battle of wills, the first one to 'blink' loses and the battle is over.  Bill Mason 'blinked' when he refused to accept the position of fire chief.   Although 'control' is a strong theme of this mess, it isn't just a battle of wills because it would already be over.

Lest you think this is merely one sided, now I want to blast the fire company.  I understand your feelings and I sympathize with your concern that what is to prevent the Borough Council from deciding they don't like any member and removing that person or persons in the future.  As a homeowner I see your ultimatum as a dangerous game of chicken that you are playing with lives and property you have sworn to protect.   In the game of chicken portrayed in movies with two cars, the only lives and property at stake are those who have chosen to be in the game.  Pure and simple it's the modern version of a duel of honor.  It's stupid and potentially fatal.  Down through the centuries, males of the species seem to be particularly fond of this concept and females and children suffer the consequences.  Every minute a house fire burns it doubles in size so making me feel better than we have mutual aid with Malaga and Forest Grove doesn't cut it.  Particularly when I know that just the other week you went as mutual aid to house fire (along with other companies) in Franklin Township where the house burned to the ground anyway.  It makes the possibility all too real.    Please, please find another way.  Ultimatum threats not carried out may be bad parenting or appear  as 'weak' actions but ultimatums retracted in the interest of preventing harm to unintended parties are 'strong', honorable actions.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Democracy in action -- loud, boisterous, and heartwarming

There was a regular monthly Newfield Borough Council meeting held last night.  It was loud and boisterous but the language stayed fairly tame.  The policemen there to keep order did not have to eject anyone.  Nothing was really settled about the fire company's fate, however.  But I felt so much better about my fellow citizens then I ever have before.  New and old faces turned out to tell the Council they were to fix the problem they had created - get the situation with the fire company back the way it was.

The blame for the failure to communicate was placed squarely at the feet of the Council.  People want the situation to go back to where it used to be:  The Borough Council runs the Borough services and the Fire Company runs the fire/rescue services and both respect each other and leave each other alone.

Unfortunately, the fire company issued an ultimatum that if the situation is not fixed in 30 days, they would quit.  I hope cool heads will prevail and that will not occur.  The impetus has to come from the Borough Council.  They were reeling last night and I sincerely hope sensible action happens quickly today.  I don't hold out hope, however, since they did the first reading of new ordinance about the fire company that according to the solicitor addresses the issues brought up by the court.  I have to say according to the solicitor because he sat there and stated he was not finished writing it.  How they could have a first reading of an ordinance without it even existing in written form is beyond me!?!  How can a Council member, in good conscience, vote yes on an ordinance they have not even had the opportunity to read?  I would have trust issues with the solicitor, if nothing else, at this point.

Different people tried to pin down who had placed the call to take the fire company out of the 911 response rotation on the evening of April 11 before they even held the vote whether to lock out the fire company or not.  No one owned up to it.

It also became clear to the audience, at least, that the Borough Council agrees how they are going to vote before the meetings.  I don't know if that is illegal as one of the audience members suggested, but it sure goes against the spirit of a participatory democracy.  The meetings are open for public comment so the Council can hear what people think and feel before they enact an ordinance.  Sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made but this issue is not about slavery and neither the Mayor or any Council member is Lincoln.

My heart was really warmed by two people.  One was Loretta Williams.  She comes to every meeting and, of the times I have attended, I have seen various Council members try to intimidate her out of speaking her piece.  They interrupt before she is finished or talk to her as if she is a child.  This time when they interrupted she fought back politely.  She said that according to Robert's Rules of Order that she had the floor and wasn't finished.  She got to finish. Go Loretta.  The other person I can not identify by name.  At the town hall meeting he had volunteered to run as a write-in candidate and listened almost for two hours last night before he spoke.  He referenced the Declaration of Independence, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it" and Edmund Burke's "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."  He announced his write-in candidacy, too.

I was over at the wikipedia page for Edmund Burke and didn't realize how many profound and succinct things he said or wrote.  I am going back there.

The Council did announce a permit for recycling and trash collection had been obtained and when it would start.  When someone asked if and how recycling would be enforced, it turns out there is a camera mounted in the truck to watch as trash carts are dumped inside.  If there are any recyclables seen as a trash cart is dumped, they will place a sticker on the trash cart.  Enough of those stickers and your trash will not be picked up.  I was so upset because instead of encouraging people to recycle they are threatening again.  All they did was insure that people who find it too hard to recycle will purchase heavy black trash bags that don't reveal what is inside.  Heck, even I will get some in case I have a pizza box that has too much grease and pepperoni/sausage debris that it is not really recyclable just looks like it.

I went up to ask if they were going to send out material on recycling ahead of time (usually it appears in the Town Crier pamphlet which appears in my mail after the event).  I was told it would be on the web site.  This prompted me to remind that the the old out of date web site ( comes up just as often as the new one (  The response was that they had to keep the old domain name for email reasons.; I told them to have the old redirect to the new and it was a simple change.  Lo and behold, someone was listening because as of now, that redirection has been implemented.  Once in a while someone listens to me.  Amazing.

The other item that was passed also flabbergasted me.  It was a resolution to allow a company to install fiber optic cable in the rights-of-way.  Mostly, I was flabbergasted because they have not even negotiated terms yet.  I was assured that the fiber optic would run on the utility poles already in place around town.  Fiber optic is often buried.  Assume often makes an ass out of "u" and me.  I drew their attention to this matter because some of the cemetery land is now a bird sanctuary (later to be burial lots) and has utility rights of way.  I know this because the gas company called me before they laid new flexible pipe and when they heard it was a cemetery chose a different route.  Like Loretta Williams, I had to assert my rights to the floor to even finish my concern.

My feelings are mixed.  Nothing was really settled and we are still barreling down the path to having no fire company.  More people, who are not directly related to the fire company, participated.  They made their wishes clearly known and it wasn't for the Borough Council to keep on its merry way trying to control the fire company and fire chief as it was jeopardizing the safety of the town.  I learned more about their issues with the ex-fire chief (they are suing him) and even one of the council members backed him up as a specific charge was based on incorrect information.  People were brave and spoke their minds.  I hope someone with wisdom and gravitas fixes this soon.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Spontaneous acts of kindness today as tribute to 9-11-2001

In this morning's paper I scanned an article about people performing public service or random acts of kindness today as a tribute to all those who lives were lost or irreparably harmed on 9-11-2001 by the terrorist events.  I like that some people have planned what they will do and others are waiting for the moment to strike them.  I think I will be one of those.   Hope you join in.  Honoring the fallen by doing something positive is food for the soul.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Beware of using a hammer when the target is not a nail

The emotional state is so high on all sides of this feud that is tearing apart Newfield.  It is impossible to determine what is fact and what is remembered incorrectly or even the context that may make a fact not look so damaging or harmful.  I have heard so many versions of events - all told in a highly emotional state -all conflict or have a different ignition point for the feud, so I do not know what to believe.  Mostly, I just want it to end with the way it used to be.  I don't know if that is possible now.

One thing is clear to me.  When the Borough Council tried to "solve" what they perceived as their problem with one individual on the fire company by writing and enacting a law with the help of their solicitor, the unintended consequence was to insult, anger, and hurt the other members of the fire company.  Thus, the feud snowballed.

Why were the members of the fire company so hit hard emotionally by the law? The ordinance "took over" what are normally responsibilities of a volunteer organization to create its own by-laws, to designate and name officers, and to decide who is a member or who isn't.  It wasn't like this was a fledging organization that needed guidance even though guidance in this manner isn't appropriate anyway.  The fire company has had by-laws and membership rules since 1908.

Did the Council members carefully read over the text of the new ordinance before they pledged their vote or did they listen to a summary that seemed to give them the ability to solve their "problem"?  I don't know.  Furthermore, I have no idea who actually wrote the ordinance.  Was it a Council member? Was it the town solicitor?  Was it a "freshly minted" lawyer in the solicitor's office who had little experience in researching what should or should not go into a local ordinance because it is already covered by state or federal laws?  I don't know.

What I do know is that they used a hammer (an ordinance) to fix what is a communications problem rather than a nail (speed limit on town streets).  I do not believe they had exhausted every communications avenue open to them nor had the fire company.  Individuals on both sides took it upon themselves to respond emotionally and evoke emotional responses in others.  Reason and logic flew out the window.  Everyone is trying to "control their turf" to the detriment of the town.

Sometimes the emotions run so high that people express the belief  that the best solution is to run a specific person out of town.  I am somewhat guilty in that respect because I was so angry after the events of the April Council meeting when the fire company was almost locked out.  That is not the way to end the feud either as it will leave a bad taste in townspeople's mouths for years to come.

The truth of the matter is phrased so succinctly in the Cool Hand Luke movie:  "What we've got here is (a) failure to communicate."  Court-ordered, court-controlled mediation would be best as has been suggested in the past and keeps coming up.  Also, it is essential that an ordinance be written and enacted  that restores the relationship between Borough Council and volunteer Newfield Fire Company No 1 to what it was before the 2010 ordinance changes began. 

This second part would let the townspeople know that the Borough Council is not trying to run the fire company and it would also let the firemen, who volunteer many hours of their time throughout the year, know they are respected and so is their organization.

What is the chicken and what is the egg?  Some one has to make the step - loudly and publicly. Some one has to be brave.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Open Letter to Borough of Newfield Council & Mayor

227 Church Street
Newfield, NJ 08344
September 5, 2013

Borough of Newfield Council & Mayor
18 Catawba Avenue

P.O. Box 856

Newfield, NJ 08344

Dear Sirs & Madam:

At the last regularly scheduled Council Meeting held August 8, 2013, a new ordinance was introduced.  Since the text of the ordinance was not available, a member of the audience asked what was the subject and content of the new ordinance.  We were told to the best of my recollection that it was mostly cosmetic changes and that election of officers was to revert to the volunteer fire company rather than be selected by Borough Council.  Subsequently, I have found that the cosmetic changes are more than that by reading the public notice printed in the South Jersey Times on August 14, 2013.

At the next Council Meeting on September 12, 2013 I expect you will vote to enact this ordinance, as that is the customary procedure.  Since I object to some of its wording, I feel I have a duty and responsibility as a voter and a taxpayer to make clear my objections prior to its enactment, while you still have time to re-write it or withdraw it.

For clarity reasons, I will quote each section and then provide my comments.

Just to be certain I understand, 2013-8 amends 2013-7 which was its self an amendment of ordinance 2011-15.

This establishes what authority you are exercising in making this ordinance.
Chapter 25. Fire Company 25 .1. Establishment. There is, and has been established, within the Borough of Newfield a fire company, known as the Newfield Fire Company No. 1 (hereinafter "NFC") was which was created and established is hereby continued to be recognized by the Borough of Newfield. No other fire-fighting organization is to be formed within the Borough without consent of the Borough Council. NFC must comply with all the requirements of this Chapter and any rules or regulations promulgated hereunder.

As this starts, it contains what I expect and hoped for: recognition of the volunteer Newfield Fire Company No. 1 (NFC) as the fire-fighting organization for the Borough of Newfield.  This provides the necessary legal authorizations for them for liability and insurance purposes.   It also provides a fire-fighting capability that as a taxpayer and voter I need at lowest cost – through a volunteer/unpaid organization.
I believe the next sentence about forming other fire-fighting organizations is both unnecessary and unwise.  It is unnecessary because even if a group designated itself a fire-fighting organization, it would not have authority to fight fires in the Borough.  It is unwise because it restricts future actions that technological innovation or other state or national events may make obsolete.
The last sentence about NFC adhering to requirements and rules is also unnecessary.  NFC must obey NJ and national regulations and is subject to the authority of the Gloucester County Fire Marshal.    The members’ conduct is also subject to their own by-laws.  Those regulations are more than sufficient to ensure that the volunteer fire fighters are qualified and able to perform their duties.  Furthermore, the authority of the Gloucester County Fire Marshal applies expertise in fire and other hazard response that current or future Council members do not and probably will not have unless a Newfield resident becomes the Fire Marshal.
25.2. Line Officers. The line officers of the NFC shall consist of a Chief, Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Captain, Lieutenants, and Fire Police Captain as shall be elected by the NFC and submitted to the Borough Governing Body to ensure that they are properly credentialed and qualified to serve as firefighters as provided by law and regulation.
I assume you lifted the names of the line officers from the current by-laws.  Enacting into law is unnecessary as these names may change as state and federal guidelines and regulations change. If the by-laws are changed and the fire chief becomes the Grand Poobah, why should any one care?  What I as a citizen and you as the Governing Board should care about is that it is at all times clear in the bylaws who is in charge and the chain of command at the scene of a fire (or other hazardous event). This is needed because of NJ statue

40A:14-54.1. Authority at scene of fire of fire official in charge of supervision or direction of operations
The chief or other superior officer of any municipal paid or part-paid fire department or volunteer fire company, or a State fire warden, who is charged with the duty of supervising or directing operations at the scene of any fire shall be the sole authority within fire lines established by said fire chief or other superior fire officer, or State fire warden, at the scene of such fire with respect to all firefighting operations relating to the protection of lives and property endangered by such fire, and within said fire lines such authority shall supersede that of any municipal police authority. The authority hereby invested in the chief or other superior officer, or State fire warden, shall terminate at such time as he shall declare the fire out. Nothing in this act shall affect the powers possessed by the Governor under the various emergency acts nor the powers possessed by any State agency to protect the public health, welfare and safety.

L.1981, c. 435, s. 1, eff. Jan. 9, 1982.
I also think Borough Council has neither the skills to judge the qualifications or credentials of an individual fire fighter nor the authority to approve the officers of any volunteer organization.  I know the Superior Court ruling granted you the power to rule on a fireman’s credentials but why you would want that responsibility is what I don’t understand unless it is a personal one. It is my opinion that reflecting personal issues into a law makes a law not good, not fair, but poor.  Basically the Superior Court Judge said it was not in Council’s purview to appoint a fire chief, to run the fire company or determine firefighting protocol.  I would replace this section with paragraph endorsing NJ 40A:14-54.1

25.3. Approval of Department bylaws. The bylaws of the NFC shall be submitted for the approval of Borough Council. Any amendments thereto will not become effective unless and until formally approved by Council. Approval of the bylaws and such amendments shall not be unreasonably withheld.
I believe the judge already ruled that you could not approve the by-laws.  Asking that a copy be provided and kept up-to-date is reasonable.  So, please re-title and re-write this section to ask for a copy to be given to the Town Clerk for guardianship purposes.
25.4 Reports to Council. It shall be the responsibility of the Chief of the NFC to make all reports to Borough Council as hereafter required by this Chapter.
I believe the NFC by-laws, NJ State, and Federal regulations and guidelines spell out the duties and responsibilities of a fire chief.  Since the Gloucester County Fire Marshal has responsibility to make reports on a state level and because the NFC falls under the authority of Gloucester County Fire Marshal, any data needed would be requested by that office.  Whether the Fire Chief or some other officer of the NFC provides that data or some other entity (911 organization perhaps?), those are the proper channels.   
I recommend you remove this section as unnecessary and redundant to state regulations.
25.5 Ownership of quarters. The Borough of Newfield shall retain ownership and control over quarters entrusted to the NFC.
 At one time, the land where the current Borough Hall/Fire Station/Senior Center is now situated was under the control of the Newfield Board of Education and belonged to the Borough.  When Edgarton Memorial School was opened, use of the building that had housed the school was given to the NFC and they were permitted to build an attached garage for housing fire equipment.  Council meetings were held there and public and private functions such as Kiwanis and wedding receptions used the old school building.
Eventually, that building was replaced and updated to the current configuration.  I am sure that the land belongs to the Borough.  Whether the land and/or buildings are under the authority and control of the Borough Council or the Newfield School Board is an open question.
I think it would be wise to remove the clause about control.  Ownership should be all that is necessary to ensure that the building and its contents are covered by the Borough’s insurance.
25.6 Expenses. Borough Council shall supply to the NFC funding at its discretion, based upon the needs of NFC, and taking into account funds raised by this volunteer organization.
This paragraph is unnecessary unless you are counting under the needs of the NFC the funds for maintaining equipment owned by the Borough.  In which case, the proceeds raised by the NFC nor donations given to the NFC should not be used for maintaining Borough owned equipment.  That is a responsibility properly provided through tax monies.  You have the authority to give the NFC money to defray expenses such as training courses, training materials, damage to clothing, etc as a budget item as you, Borough Council, so chose.  It’s a requirement for the Police Department since that is a Borough paid organization, not voluntary, as is the NFC.  This is already under your discretion and does not need to be spelled out.
25.7 Purchasing and title of equipment. The Borough of Newfield shall retain title to all equipment purchased with funds supplied by Borough Council for the purpose of purchasing such equipment. However, nothing shall preclude the NFC from purchasing its own fire equipment or other personal property and retaining title thereof; provided, however, that if the Borough shall have a financial responsibility toward the purchase, operation or maintenance of such items, prior formal approval of Borough Council for such purchase shall be required.
So as it has been in the past, so it will be going forward.  I might add just after the last Borough Council the phrase “in its role as budget authority” to make it clear that you are only approving the total expenditure as within budget constraints, not vetting each bell and whistle.  When you order a new piece of equipment for the Police Department, you rely and trust that they will make the best choice within budget constraints or, if there is a feature they feel is necessary but exceeds the budget, they will make a case for that feature.
25.8 Duties of Fire Chief. A. The Chief shall be in full command and complete control at all fires and during the period of all alarms and shall be held accountable for his/her actions to the Council and shall make written and verbal reports as the Council may require. All other line officers shall be accountable to the Chief except when any officers are acting as Chief in his absence. B. The Chief shall formulate rules and regulations to govern the operation of the NFC, such rules and regulations being subject to review and approval by the Borough Council, and shall be responsible to the Borough Council for the morale and general efficiency of the NFC. C. The Chief or line officer designated by him/her shall, at least once a month, conduct suitable drills or instructions in the operation of fire-fighting apparatus and equipment, first aid and rescue work, salvage, a study of buildings presenting unusual fire problems, water supply and other matters generally considered essential to good firemanship and safety of life and property from fire. D. The Chief or any line officer designated by him/her is hereby required to report to the Borough Council any suspected crime of arson and shall render all possible assistance to the Borough Council and the Chief of Police/Officer in Charge in investigating the cause, origin, and circumstances of all fires of questionable origin. E. The Chief shall cause to be kept complete records of all fires, apparatus and minor equipment, personnel and other information about the work of the Fire Company. F. The Chief shall report monthly to the Borough Public Safety Chair the number and types of fires during the month, the number and purpose of all other runs made, the number of members and man hours involved in responding to each fire or other run, and the estimated los involved in all building fires. G. The Chief shall make a complete annual report to the Borough Council, such report to include information as specified in Subsection F of this Section, together with comparative date for previous years and recommendations for improving the effectiveness of th

As I stated before, NFC by-laws, NJ State, and Federal regulations and guidelines spell out the duties and responsibilities of a fire chief. Furthermore, some of the duties you are assigning the fire chief already belong to the Gloucester County Fire Marshal (arson determination and investigation, reports).  If Newfield were a fire district and NFC was its volunteer fire company, NJ would require certain data including that of a financial nature to be published on a website as part of the NJ State effort on transparency of government.  The guidelines for that data follow federal and state regulations with respect to privacy and security.
I recommend you remove this section as unnecessary to, redundant to, and possibly in conflict with federal and state regulations.


Margaret J Davis

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Town Hall Meeting

The Borough Council and the volunteer Newfield Fire Company are still at loggerheads.  One couple in town has arranged for the Vineland Moose Hall to be used for an open Town Hall meeting.  Along with the help of a few volunteers, they handed out flyers announcing the meeting to every household.

Since I never met a meeting that couldn't use some organization ahead of time to make it more effective, I volunteered to put together a set of meeting rules.  In snowballed into more than that as you can see from the included photos below.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Yes, there will be a chicken bbq on Newfield Day

In that land of yesteryear of the 1950's, the Newfield Fire Company, being all volunteer with no support from local tax dollars,  needed to raise money for equipment.  A new idea was being tried out - this is before Perdue and other corporations became a huge poultry industry - and that was to grill chicken halves over a open pit of charcoal on a hot summer Sunday.  Local farmers would donate or sell at cost to the Fire Company fresh ears of corn, ripe tomatoes and rolls.   The Fire Company's Women's Auxiliary would help out by holding a bake sale and Kiwanis would arrange for games like coin tosses and pony rides.

Other local fire companies were doing the same thing and families loved it.  The food was good and the price was reasonable.  The firemen joked over the fire pits as they learned what to spray on the chicken halves to season them and keep them moist (mixture of water, cider vinegar, salt, and pepper) and how often to turn the improvised-out-of-chicken-wire baskets to cook the chicken evenly without burning it.  It was truly a sweltering job but the camaderie and teamwork were rewarding.  Their faces would be black and greasy with smoke smeared with sweat, my father's among them.

The bbqs were a success -- money was raised, families had fun, the town met as a community.  Over the years the bbqs got bigger as a parade was added along with more community activities.  Now the one idea has become Newfield Day.   The Public Library sells peach related desserts; the Business Alliance holds a Chinese Auction; the local dance studio has a recital; local marching bands participate.  It's summertime Americana at its best.  Any midwesterner would feel at home even though this is New Jersey.

The Fire Company debated whether to pull out from Newfield Day this year as they feel so beleaguered by the actions and ordinances of the Town Council.  The vote was last night; I held my breath.  I just couldn't imagine no chicken bbq again (last year's was cancelled due to damage from derecho).  The company chose family, kids, and community.  I am relieved and proud.  They took the high road.  Well done.

My son wrote and delivered a funny and touching eulogy for my Mom

The day went smoothly.  Downpours were threatened from mid-morning onward but held off until late evening.  It seemed my cousin would not make it in time to read the 23rd psalm but she did.  The computer with the slideshow of old photos did not fall over or hit any electrical glitches.  No one fainted from the heat but a chair did fall over.  Everyone of the more than 200 people who needed a seat found one - the firemen stood in the back in case they needed to answer a call and the fire truck was stationed outside too, just in case.  The flower arrangements were gorgeous and looked like my mother had been whispering in the ear of the florist as to what exact blooms to choose.  My grand nephew did not trip on the easel holding the large photo of my mom as he walked by it to light the candles on the altar table with an open flame at the end of long brass candle snuffer/lighter.  We had plenty of micro cupcakes (I do not exaggerate when I call them that) and cookies and punch and cups and napkins.  Songs my mother sang at Malaga Camp Meeting soared through the sanctuary.   The attendees were smiling with touches of sadness as they spoke the traditional "I am sorry for your loss" as they reflected on the loss for themselves, the church, the public library or Newfield itself.  It was good to hear the gasps and laughter as my son spoke these words.  All in all it was the perfect tribute to my mother.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mom - Betty Jane Davis, 85, Elementary School Librarian

Betty Jane Davis was born in Port Norris, NJ to Verna and Archie C. Shull in 1927.   She lived in Newfield with her beloved husband of 63 years, Richard F.Davis, who predeceased her in 2009.   Betty Jane is survived by a sister - Mary Ann Knudsen, 2 daughters - Maggie Davis and Arlene Schulgen, 6 grandchildren - Richard E. Moncrief, Brent Simmons,Melissa Hayman, Richard T Neeley, Jake Moncrief and Sarah Knopf, and many nephews, nieces, and great grandchildren.  She has taken into her heart many other sisters, brothers, daughters, and sons who will miss her loving attention.

Growing up in the Great Depression provided her with many stories of moving and living in Bridgeton where she went to elementary school and part of high school and then onto Malaga Camp.  She graduated from Vineland High School in 1945 and remained friends with high school buddies from both schools throughout her life.

She met the love of her life, Dick Davis, at a birthday party July 12, 1943.  He was tall and handsome and she was "almost" 5 foot 2 with eyes of blue.  Neither had eyes for any other from that day on and they were married in May of 1946.

Settling into a house on Church Street in Newfield in 1950 with her husband and 2 daughters, Betty Jane supported many town organizations and endeavors including the United Methodist Church, Edgarton Memorial School PTA,  Newfield Swim Club, Rose Hill Cemetery, and the Newfield Library.   Although an "adopted daughter" of Newfield, Betty Jane and Dick were a team working to keep Newfield a great small town to live in.

With one of their daughters in high school and the other almost there, Betty Jane, her husband and daughters moved into the large house behind the squab farm and there, along with Betty and Bruce Candler, ran a restaurant and catering business called White Dove Farm. 

When her daughters were grown and had children of their own, Betty Jane fulfilled a life-long dream by attending Glassboro State College to earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in library education.  While she was getting these college degrees, Betty was establishing a vibrant elementary school library at Rosenhayn, adding computer literacy classes in the late '70's.  It's not unusual for one of her daughters to encounter a former Rosenhayn student who attributes part of their success to Mrs Davis's encouragement of them.

Retirement from the school library in Rosenhayn brought a move to a smaller house, travel, and a stronger devotion to the Newfield Public Library.  Along with Hazel Moore, she was a driving force in getting a new library built in the Newfield Grove as well as forming a partnership with the Gloucester County Library System.  Prior to this, the library was open for several hours one night a week and now it is a true resource for the town of Newfield, open 6 days a week with special activities for children and free-to-use computer resources.  Betty Jane remained an active member of the Library Board until June of this year, when she and Hazel Moore were honored for all their endeavors over the years.

A memorial service will be held at 2pm on Sunday July 28th in  the Newfield United Methodist Church, Columbia And Elmo Ave, Newfield, NJ 08344.  Internment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, her family asks donations in her memory be sent to the Newfield United Methodist Church or the Newfield Public Library.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Someone I am proud of ...

Look beyond the ponytail to the stage.  You can not really see him, but that is Dougie Johnson, a junior at Delsea Regional High School, getting a People's Choice Award at his school.  It should really be called a teachers' choice award as teachers nominate students for the award.  In Doug Johnson case, it was an award by the Drama Teacher for all the work he did in making sure the school play actually made it on to the stage.  Not only did he work hard and provide a quiet behind-the-scenes competence, but he is sweet and kind.

I agree wholeheartedly with his teacher as I see the same qualities when he is here at my house doing handyman and gardening duties.  He has grown into a fine young man from the gawky pre-teenager I met four years when he came over to help me move boxes of books.

Dougie is not family but he makes my heart swell with pride anyway.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Town Council not only alienating Volunteer Fire Company

The next group they managed to upset is the Newfield Business Alliance (NBA) , which is a volunteer group of the business owners in town.  Typically, the NBA has two fund raisers per year.  A Beef'n'Beer event in the late winter/spring and a chinese auction at the annual Newfield Day festivities.   Funds raised are given to a worthy organization or defray event costs such as the Newfield Library or the local National Night Out.

This year, the Council sponsored/funded/managed Newfield Recreation Commission wanted the money to go to defraying the cost of this year's Newfield Day, so they asked to take responsibility for the Beef'n'Beer event.  Carrying out that task did not go well for the Recreation Commission and the event was cancelled one week before it was to be held.

The "Town Crier", which is quarterly pamphlet published by the Recreation Commission, has a headlined column NEWFIELD BUSINESS ALLIANCE.  The first sentence of that column reads, "The Newfield Business Alliance has decided to forego it's [sic] annual Beef & Beer Fundraiser this year."  Technically, that is true.  But if you have the information sent to me by a member of the NBA,
"If you saw the Town Crier, it appeared as though the Business Alliance cancelled our Beef and Beer.  That was not the case.  We opted to allow the Rec. Commission do one to help defray Newfield Day Costs, however, like I said before there was some controversy about them actually raising money for this.  And as things go, the planning was not as good as it should have been.  They have limited members and you need to sell lots of tickets before hand.
 To rub salt in the wound, the next column headline reads 2013 NEWFIELD DAY.  The column goes on to give the planned date, that the event will be great because 2012's was cancelled due to the derecho storm,  and then says:
"The Newfield Recreation Commission is proud to give back to the residents. ...  We appreciate all the donations we receive, as they go right back into the community."
I bet there would have been even more donations if they had left the NBA alone to do their fundraiser. Duh.   Just another case of Council members believing they can do better than the volunteers because now they are elected officials? It's as if they believe that gives them special powers?  I certainly see they have a "control" problem.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Another Council Meeting Thursday Apr 11

There was a regular Newfield Borough Council meeting on Thursday, April 11th.  Contrary to the website, regular meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month, at least for 2013.  Budgetary and other ordinances and resolutions were passed.  Most of them were clearly identified by title and short description on the agenda provided to the public.  Some were done by the "kitchen gambit" but I don't believe any of those related to the fire company.

During one of the times when the floor was open for comment, one resident asked why the fire company ordinance had been "tabled".  The response was that there is on-going mediation.  And, it was clear from the report given by the Public Safety Chairman that data the Council had requested on fire calls was being provided.  In fact, that report stated that the trucks would be at the fire company's fund raiser Comedy Night so they could respond more quickly.  Sounds like cooperation to me.

One ordinance that was passed was for purchase of a 'trash' truck for picking up trash and recycling.  The ordinance also provided for purchase of new trash bins and recycle bins with lids.  They are switching from a business model where they pay a nearby township (Franklin) to pick up trash once a week and recycles twice a month to a model where trash and recycle pickup is once a week.  Needless to say, historical recycling rates are poor.  This new model should help.  The trash truck to be purchased is a demo model so the town is saving about $30,000 off the cost of a new one.  Franklin Township had offered to sell us one of their old trucks for about $6000, knowing it has problems backing up.  Whoop di doo, so helpful our neighbors.  The only sad part is that from the figures quoted on cost and savings, it will take about ten years to amortize the tax dollars laid out.

I took advantage of a open floor to read a letter (see below) about developing a disaster plan for the town.  One had been developed before but not implemented because of lack of buy-in.  Not surprising since the plan was put together without input from town organizations or residents.  Even big cities canvas neighborhood groups for ideas and volunteers when devising disaster response plans.

The good news is that the Council has hired someone as the "Office of Emergency Management" and he has asked for my assistance, which I am glad to provide.  He may not know it yet, but I will also change some of his opinions on how such plans are developed and implemented.  When you start out with "stone soup", too many cooks do not spoil the broth as much as invited to help in a reasonable manner they turn out a robust, hearty stew [Sorry for the metaphor; mixed as it is.]

I remember the 1950's in this town, when it wasn't usual to see for more than year a big thermometer with a red line inching up as the town organizations including the churches, businesses, PTA, Kiwanis, et al,  raised money for a new fire truck or to supplement the cost of addition of a gym/lunchroom/auditorium to the school.  Good government guides and coordinates before it provides.  Good government is inclusive before it is dictatorial.

Dear Sirs and Madam:

This is a letter to suggest that the Council pursue funding from the State of New Jersey for preparing a disaster plan for Newfield that coordinates the use of Borough and volunteer resources and organizations.  I spoke with Harold Spence, assistant to Stephen Sweeney of the Third Legislative District and he indicated such a request would have to come from the Mayor or a Council Member.

The derecho that hit Newfield in the early morning hours of June 30, 2012 exposed how unprepared Newfield and its residents are for responding to a disaster that knocks out power, whether it is another fiendish storm, hurricane, or blizzard.  The town and its volunteer organizations responded with many helpful activities but the efforts were disjoint and sometimes ineffective. 

One egregious problem was the lack of coordination and prioritization with and for Atlantic City Electric as they restored power.  The school building, which could have provided respite from the heat, was one of the last buildings to get power, and instead, residents had to trek to Malaga to a Red Cross Center set up there.  

Worse, Atlantic City Electric left Newfield late Wednesday July 6th believing Newfield was fully restored when; in fact, many Rosemont Avenue residences were still without power.  I know because I called them Thursday morning to inform them the power was still out for my elderly mother and her neighbors and they explained this.

So, I suggest you canvas residents to compile a list of those items that worked and those that didn’t and put together a coordinated plan that builds on the activities that were successful and improves or adds new activities to address the problems.  The plan might also uncover items to be purchased such as portable or fixed generators and perhaps one of the volunteer organizations such as the Business Alliance could be in charge of raising funds.  In other words, addressing the problems doesn’t necessarily have to come out of tax dollars.

I want to stress that all of the burden of planning and response should not be on town employees or officials but include volunteers from town organizations such as the churches, businesses, and volunteer organizations.  I would like very much to see Newfield prepared for that next terrible physical event. I don’t think I am alone.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Same old gambit, new "kitchen"

One assignment I had in college was to attend a local government meeting and make a report on the proceedings.  At that time, Newfield Council meetings met in the old fire hall, which did double duty as a place for town events like Kiwanis, weddings, birthdays etc since it included a kitchen.  The meeting I chose to observe was sparsely attended including one member of the press.  I stood out, of course, being about 19 years old and was queried by the Mayor as to why I was there.  I explained and since there was no reason I couldn't be there, they went ahead with the meeting.

However, I observed a curious behavior.  Whenever there it was time to have a serious discussion, one of the members would suggest a smoke/rest room break and the Mayor and Council would all file into the kitchen, making sure the door and pass through areas were closed off.  I could hear muffled voices and often the break lasted way past 10 minutes.

At the conclusion of the break, the Mayor and Council would re-take their seats and call the meeting back to order.  Then, someone would make a motion whose meaning was clear to them but obscure to the spectators.  For instance, a motion would be made to "amend ordinance xyz in the manner previously discussed".  A vote would be held and lo and behold, the motion would pass.

I called this so not transparent method of governance, the "kitchen manuever".  I don't know if they did it all the time or just because some young woman was attending their meeting and they didn't want her to report substantively on what they did.

I thought this kitchen gambit was long gone since the old fire hall was replaced by a combined municipal offices, senior center, fire station, and police station.  It turns out I was wrong.  It just takes on a new character when there is no longer a need for a kitchen.

Thursday, March 28th, the Council held a special meeting.  Word got out that the purpose of the meeting was to "table" the controversial ordinance regarding the fire company.  I hoped that was true so I attended along with a few other spectators, since the meeting was held at 4:30pm when many residents are still at work.

When I arrived, I found a copy of the agenda.  It listed that they intended to vote on tabling the ordinance, giving its number and name, and that they would be voting on an increase to the budget.  There was no mention of what the budget increase was for.  The meeting was opened for remarks by the public, and, silly me, I didn't ask what the budget increase was for as I thought I would hear as they discussed and voted on it. 

By the way, all public comment occurs before they transact business never during business as you see on old TV shows.  In other words, the Mayor/Council setup is not a town meeting form of government.

Now, you can guess what happened, the Council had already invoked the kitchen gambit via phones, cell phones, or email, and all that happened was a motion to increase the budget was made.  Someone on Council said what I quote approximately "You all know this is a safety issue", which was answered affirmatively by all.  Then, the motion passed.  I have no idea what they voted on.  It could have been related to the fire company ordinance or something completely different.  I have no idea, nor did any of the spectators around me.

Fortunately, the Council also passed a motion to table the fire department ordinance.  I will remain vigilant about going to meetings - special or regular - because they could bring the ordinance back for a final vote at any time, especially if they believe the public no longer cares.  I guess I am almost as naive as that 19 year old student I was in the 60's.  Sigh.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Aah, the joys, oops, downers of living in a small town

Most of the time, living in a town as small as Newfield is a joy.  Sometimes, however, it is not.  One of those times is playing out right now and it concerns how the Mayor and Council Members interact with the volunteer organizations that provide services that benefit the residents without a large tax burden.

Newfield's 1.7 square miles and less than 2000 persons are nestled in the southeasternmost corner of Gloucester County in New Jersey.  People having been living in the area and considering it a town since the mid-1800's, as it was a depot for the railroad where local farmers and manufacturers of items such as baskets brought their goods to be shipped.  I don't know when it reached sufficient size to get a federal post office of its own but by 1908 it was large enough for a volunteer fire company to be formed.

Unincorporated population centers in a NJ county were often assigned to the nearest township.  For Newfield that was Franklin Township, which still exists today.  By 1924, the residents of Newfield were very unhappy with the services being provided them through Franklin Township in exchange for local real estate taxes so they petitioned to become a NJ Borough with an elected mayor and six member council, and the state government granted that request.

The residents of Newfield, which had its own bank, school, fire company, grocery stores, carnegie library, etc, felt least government was best.  I smile and think of them as Libertarians long before such a movement existed.  This was, of course, a bargain the town was making with itself to provide public services with minimal taxes through promotion of volunteerism.

This attitude and tradition has worked well.  The School Board, the Ambulance Corps, the Cemetery Board, the Library Board, and the fire company are all staffed with unpaid volunteers.  For the essential services of EMS and fire-fighting, these unpaid volunteers also undergo many hours of training to remain certified.  In consequence, those essential service organizations are backups for other EMS and fire-fighting services in surrounding towns.

Some of the volunteer organizations use Borough-owned resources - the Library building, the fire trucks - and may also get tax payer funding.  However, all of these organizations also raise operating expenses through donations and fund raising events such as chicken bbqs and chocolate festivals.  Businesses such as Newfield National Bank and Bondy Oil permit their employees to respond immediately to emergency calls, which is another valuable form of donation since the number of able-bodied persons in town on work days is very small.

This tradition had had its ups and downs and certainly the path from 1924 to today was rarely smooth.  Personal feelings and widely divergent opinions always provided bumps in the road.  Compromises were reached, however, behind the scenes through long into the night discussions, sometimes over cards and beers, sometimes not.  Some of the "heads" were cooler than others and talked and eased ruffled egos.   Everyone, in the end, wanted to do what was best for the town, and they did, even if that meant they had to give up their favorite idea or find a different way to make it happen that didn't involve taxpayers.  The Newfield Swim Club, which has provided a members-only outdoor swimming pool since the 1950's polio scares, is but one example.

But, as our congress critters seem to also believe, compromise has become a dirty word.  Also, I feel the end goal of doing what is best for the town has been forgotten.  Interpersonal feelings and desire for control have pushed up a huge bump in the road between the volunteer fire company and the town council/mayor.

What started out as an useful ordinance for the Council to pass - an ordinance to recognize the volunteer fire company as providing the essential fire fighting service for the Borough of Newfield - got perverted along the way with extra clauses that state the Mayor and Council gets to choose the company's (unpaid) fire chief and, oh, by the way, please provide monthly reports of fire calls.  So, from 1924 to December of 2011, it was quite alright for the company to choose its own chief, but not now.  For Mayor and Council to pick the police chief makes sense since the Police Department is a paid position.  But for a volunteer organization to cede its right to choose its own head - especially a fire company where on a fire call, the chief has to have to confidence of each fireman - is ludicrous.  Besides, at least here in NJ, even volunteer fire chiefs undergo extra training.

Now, let's chat about the monthly reports.  The fire company makes yearly and monthly reports about more than fire calls to the appropriate state and county agencies as required by state law.  These include information about who drives the fire trucks, do they have the valid CDLs, what training courses have the members taken, what certifications have been achieved and when, timing and results for testing of equipments, etc.  Everything necessary, in other words.  (Other volunteer organizations in town do the same as law requires.)  The fire company has  put up a web site and lo and behold, it lists the fire call activity.  So, if the Council requires a monthly report of activity and results, all they have to do is 'click' and if they don't know how, or don't have internet access, the Newfield Library staff can assist them. 

The ordinance requests they also report the number of runs other than to a fire.  As you will see from the fire company web site, they do other emergency services for the town such as assisting the EMTs, pumping water out of flooded basements etc.  They also take the fire trucks to parades, funerals to honor former volunteers, and other town activities such as the local "Night Out". 

Unfortunately, one of the firemen who opened a local restaurant and named it in honor of the fire company, took the fire truck and photographed it in front of his restaurant, which is at most two blocks from where the fire trucks are garaged.  He further made the mistake of putting the photograph in the local daily paper.  Some people in town were incensed that he used town equipment to promote his restaurant.  Please note before you judge, this was not a continuing advertisement but a one time deal to say the restaurant was open.  Did he use poor judgement? Yes.  Is he proud of the fire company? Yes.  Did this little jaunt jeopardize any person or property? No.  Are fire trucks routinely run out to ensure they are in working order? Yes. 

It always amused me to see the fire truck idling at the local grocery store in my Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle while the firemen shopped for the firehouse kitchen.  Was this an endorsement of that grocery store? No.  Did this influence me to shop at that particular grocery store? No.  Did they need to run the fire truck out to test it? Yes. 

It was reported in two local papers by the town lawyer that repeated attempts to get the report were ignored and that other information "required" was not provided by the fire company.  I contacted the lawyer myself to find out what information was requested.  I asked for a copy of the requests and if that was not legally available to me, would he please reply with what types of information was being requested.  The lawyer never responded but at the open town meeting last Thursday again said the monthly report was not provided nor were the driving records for the fire truck operators.  The driving records were to be provided for insurance purposes.  [A snide aside: The web site for the fire company is kept current while the web site for the Borough is not as you will  notice it lists information for 2010.]

I can see an insurance company asking for the names and license ids for the drivers of the fire trucks so they can run whatever further information they want and is legal for them to obtain.  But asking for copies of driving records, particularly when the state has okay'ed the drivers sounds beyond the scope of what an insurance company would ask.

Further, on this issue of not responding to request for information that the lawyer went into a great length at the town meeting, it turns out the majority of the requests were sent by a Council member from his business email account and ended up caught by a spam filter and never seen by the intended recipient.  Is it unreasonable to call when you don't get an answer and make sure the email got there if it so important?  I would but I'm not the Council member.

These are all bumps in the road that in the past would have been smoothed out by personal communication and discussion.  Instead, the Mayor and Council had a town meeting where they amended the fire department ordinance to stand up an Advisory Board to help them establish a different fire company.  At the open forum before this vote,  town residents gave from the heart personal testimony about the effectiveness and caring acts of the current Fire Company.  It was clear that the residents didn't want a different one.  The Mayor and Council voted it in anyway.  Further, a Council member motioned that the current fire company be "locked out" from that moment on, with coverage to come from surrounding towns, which would have put the response time from less than 5 minutes to more likely 25 minutes.   At first, that motion passed!  One brave Council member asked for a recount and it was ultimately defeated.  Whew!

All I can think about is that this mess marks the passing of the two important groups - those responsible for the original Borough bargain of lower taxes thru volunteerism and the Great Generation that Ever Was.  Political/social decision making has passed into the hands of the baby boomers and we are not prioritizing the welfare of the town, state, nation, world above our own petty egos.  This is not the legacy past generations wanted us to embrace.