A police internal affairs investigation, Prism and downtown redevelopment, and more than $72,000 in professional service contracts highlighted the February 5, 2013, town council meeting.
The agenda and related materials are here. (Apologies for the late posting, but I was in New York City on business yesterday.)
The mother of Raymar Leckey, a 22-year-old resident killed in Newark December 31, 2012, as well as two of his friends spoke during the public comment period. They objected to Facebook postings allegedly made by two West Orange police officers that were the subject of two Star-Ledger articles and an ongoing West Orange police internal affairs investigation. The three speakers asked the council and administration to take steps to remove the officers from duty. Business Administrator Jack Sayers said the police department had jurisdiction and was conducting the inquiry.
Mr. Sayers said Prism Capital Partners, the designated downtown redeveloper of the Edison Battery Factory, was issued property-maintenance violations this week related to the fence screen on Main Street that has remained in tatters since Hurricane Sandy. He also said that Prism had not yet complied with a request for information the town made last October, but he said he expected a response soon. (This afternoon, the town clerk e-mailed Prism’s 2011 audited financial statement. I’ll review and post on this when I get a chance.) Mr. Sayers also said he didn’t know if Prism had paid its February 1 property taxes.
During consideration of the administration’s request to hire Bashkoff Enterprises for a $12,000 annual contract to handle the town’s social media, including the town’s Facebook page, I pointed out that Perry Bashkoff, one of the two principals in the company, had posted an obscenity on his personal Facebook page. Mr. Bashkoff, who attended the council meeting, didn’t apologize; instead he made a distinction between his professional and personal Facebook activities (although the obscenity was used on his personal Facebook page about an artist he represents professionally). Because I sent an image of the offensive posting to the council and administration ahead of the council meeting, the post was modified to delete the obscenity later in the day.
I also pointed out that the Bashkoff proposal indicated the other partner, chief executive Rick Bashkoff, was a vice president for Howcast Media – but the company’s website did not list him as a vice president, although it did list another vice president. Mr. Bashkoff said that Rick Bashkoff was employed at Howcast and that he didn’t know why that wasn’t on the website.
I voted against the proposed contract (approved 4-1 by the council) on the basis of the obscenity and the fact that the two principals were full-time employed at other jobs -- and potentially not available to post on the town Facebook page in a timely manner. I also pointed out that the town had dismissed its previous social media vendor but was still able to manage posts to the page for more than six months without paying anyone to do so. Given our budget pressures, I feel we should look for anywhere we can save money aside from top priorities.
I also voted against the $15,000 annual contract to Direct Ignition to provide marketing services in a renewal of its contract. Marketing is part of my professional expertise. I believe this contract is not a good use of our money, primarily because the vendor’s principal, while an accomplished art director and videographer, does not have the appropriate marketing experience or expertise that I can discern. The council approved this contract 4-1.
In other action, the council approved:
- $30,380 to Herbst Musciano, Architects, for architectural/engineering services to build the concession stand with restrooms, estimated to cost $350,000, at the high school. The vendor had the lowest-priced of three proposals. The building is planned for the southern end of football field, including a walkway to the baseball field. I opposed this contract because I believe the project is not a priority given our difficult financial situation.
- $15,300 to Keller and Kirkpatrick for engineering and survey services for road and drainage improvements on Mountain Drive and Highwood Road, at an estimated project cost of $600,000. I voted against this contract, because the proposed vendor was not the low bidder.
- A resolution to cancel the town’s interlocal agreement to provide animal control services for Roseland. Roseland has declined to agree to an indemnification of West Orange for the renewal contract, according to the resolution. The contract would provide $10,123 to the town annually.
- A request to the council to authorize applying for and accepting a matching $5,000 matching grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the state’s Office of Emergency Management to enhance the town’s ability to protect against terrorism, natural disasters and other catastrophes. The town contributes another $5,000 in kind (not monetary, but in services).
- A proposed ordinance on first reading to change the location of two handicapped parking spaces on Llewellyn Avenue and Longview Street.
- Requested authorization for the auction of 20 abandoned cars on February 19.
- Holding the 2013 statutory budget hearing on Sunday, March 3, 9 a.m. and, if necessary, Saturday, March 9, 9 a.m. The council will review each item of proposed spending in a lengthy hearing.
During public comment, a resident of Oak Avenue raised concerns about noise from the adjoining Turtle Back Rock recreation area when the county adds soccer and baseball fields. Another resident continued to question the accuracy of legal bills relating to Prism that mention two council members, as well as compliance with property tax currency with Planning Board applications.
I’m a West Orange Township councilman since 2010 and can be reached at email@example.com. A former financial journalist, in my spare time I’m a business communications consultant.