An Emotional Town Council Meeting as Westfield Fire Department, High School Parking Lot and Traffic Safety Discussed
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 • 12:34pm
WESTFIELD, NJ - Discussions at the May 22 Westfield town council meeting were punctuated by tears, shouts, applause and insults as a number of emotionally charged issues were discussed, including the house fire that destroyed the Barchester Way home of Marjorie Leffler and her two young sons on Saturday, May 19.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, several firefighters expressed concern that the shrinking fire department is no longer capable of fighting fires as effectively as it did years ago. Arguments broke out when residents began to speak.
While one resident thanked the council for keeping in mind its fiscal responsibility, another responded with anger that the council has let the number of firefighters diminish in recent years, calling the town’s use of mutual aid for non-catastrophic fires an abuse of the mutual aid law.
At one point, an argument broke out between Neylan, who defended the council’s decisions, Councilman Frank Arena, who suggested that the resident had his own agenda, and Councilman David Haas (the council’s sole Democrat), who responded that he thought it was completely inappropriate for anyone at the dias “to make assumptions about anyone’s motives,” as Neylan previously accused him of doing at a past meeting.
When Mayor Andy Skibitsky argued that the council values transparency and that the finance committee’s decisions are open to the public, Hass responded, “But the actual debate is not open to the public.”
Neylan responded, “Oh, excuse me. Do we actually debate? We don’t just go in lock-step?”
In other business, a special ordinance was passed to authorize the improvement of North Euclid Avenue from East Broad Street to Mountain Avenue at a cost of up to $165,000.
The council also passed a resolution to approve a collaborative effort with the Board of Education to address High School traffic safety concerns. The council and board of education have been working together over the past several months to develop plans to alleviate safety and parking concerns around the school that have plagued the neighborhood for years.
At a town conference meeting earlier that evening, David Gibson and his wife Kim Gibson expressed concern regarding these plans.
“We believe this is going to improve the entire neighborhood,” responded Councilman Keith Loughlin, who spearheaded this most recent effort to improve the situation.
Town Administrator Jim Gildea noted that, though plans are in the works to pave over a grassy area across from the couple’s house, landscaping would improve the aesthetics.
“I think you’re going to be very pleased,” said Neylan.
At the town council meeting later, Councilman James Foerst praised those who had a part in creating the current plan. “It’s a really great first step,” he said.
During the council conference meeting as well as the town council meeting, residents also expressed concern about traffic lights they had heard may be installed by Union County—one at Rahway and Lambertsvillle Road and one at West Broad street and Scotch Plains Avenue. Community outreach meetings regarding these lights will be held in the future.
Emotions ran high once again when Greg Kasko, Adina Enculescu and Maria Carluccio spoke to the council regarding the HAWK light and crosswalk on Central Avenue. The three regularly attend Westfield town council meetings, arguing again and again against the system, which sits in front of Enculescu’s home. They have complained that the configuration is confusing and dangerous, that Enculescu’s driveway now appears to be a road on which to turn and that the signal devalues Enculescu’s property.
Kasko complained that the mayor is quick to defend some people’s rights to speak on any subject before the council, but that when others ask to end the discussion over the HAWK light the mayor says nothing.
While Kasko gave arguments that he had previously brought before the council, Skibitsky told him, “You do have a right to speak, but I think you need some new material.”
“I’m not here to put on a show for you,” answered Kasko.
“I think you are,” replied the mayor.
Carluccio’s speech to the council later that evening became a shouting match with the mayor. “You say so many things that are not true,” he replied to her arguments.
“You keep attacking my character,” said Carluccio. As the two continued to argue, she yelled, “You just called me a liar!”
“Screaming doesn’t help,” answered Skibitsky.
Kasko began arguing from the audience. Moments later, councilman Mark LoGrippo answered something Carluccio had said to him with, “You do not talk to me about my wife and kids in a message,” referring to a voicemail message that he said Carluccio had left him.
Carluccio replied that she had no idea what he was talking about. “I’ve always been very respectful of you,” said a clearly emotional LoGrippo.
Enculescu then came before the council, asking if the members had had time to review the data she had given them weeks earlier. “This time is for public comment,” said the mayor.
“I saw that in other cases the members of the council answered,” replied Enculescu, who then continued to speak when no one answered.
Enculescu accused LoGrippo of lying by saying that he saw cars stop at the HAWK light when he activated it with her, and she accused the mayor of calling residents and asking them to come to a meeting to praise the council’s decision not to move the light to the corner.
“You say things that simply aren’t true,” responded the mayor.
Meanwhile, Carluccio could be heard arguing with other members of the audience.
At the beginning of the meeting, a presentation was given by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church regarding its annual Greek festival, which will be held May 31 to June 3. “It’s a wonderful experience. I encourage everyone to go,” said Skibitsky. For information, coupons and discounts, visit www.njgreekfest.com.