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.