Montclair Interim Town Manager Michael Lapolla (FILE PHOTO/MARIA MONICA FERNANDEZ)

Montclair heard from its new interim town manager Michael Lapolla at Tuesday’s council meeting. Lapolla gave his first report after a month on the job, and discussed issues residents have had regarding fulfillment of OPRA requests as well as more details on the cyber attack and its impact on the township.

Lapolla, who was appointed to the position at an August 1 special meeting and was to start on August 14, stepped in the position on August 7, following an emergency meeting, due to the death of interim town manager and former longtime manager Joseph Hartnett.

Lapolla said on Tuesday that Montclair would automate OPRA requests by implementing the Next Request system, used by other municipalities and school boards around the state. The new system, which goes live in early October, will allow residents to file a request and track it as it goes through the system and as responses are developed by different departments.

“This is long overdue,” said Lapolla, adding that when implemented, the new system will route OPRA requests to the appropriate department and the request can be tracked in real time as it goes through system, similar to a building permit.

“You can see exactly where a request is being held up and it will take the burden off of the clerk’s office and add a level of transparency that will be welcomed in Montclair,” Lapolla added. According to Lapolla, 99.9 percent of the time the information being requested by OPRA is not information in the clerk’s office but in the Township’s various departments.

Lapolla said Montclair had received over 1,000 OPRA requests so far this year. The township clerk, Angelese Bermúdez Nieves, who is up for tenure and has been the subject of criticism by residents regarding her office’s handling of OPRA requests, confirmed that in 2022, there were over 2000 OPRA requests.

“What the council may not be aware of is that department heads were deputized as custodians of records back in 2019,” said interim attorney Paul Burr, stating that under the old system, an OPRA request comes into the clerk’s office and then gets directed to the department that holds that record, such as Planning or Police.

“As of late, there has been a high volume of OPRA requests; some are personnel records or litigation matters or things that require legal review. We may get a request that turns out tens of thousands of emails and each has to got through a legal review,” said Burr, adding that review often requires an extension.

“We had one request that involved 5400 pages, so it is extraordinarily time consuming,” added Lapolla.

Lapolla also gave an overview and update on the ransomware attack the town experienced this summer, expanding on the details shared by Harnett at the end of July.

Lapolla stated the attack occurred on June 1 when “a bad actor obtained unauthorized access” to the system. The Township immediately contacted law enforcement, FBI, Homeland Security and its insurance carrier, Lapolla said. A team of experts ultimately made the decision to pay the $450K ransom.

“While this was occurring, virtually the entire system was down and departments could not reach information,” said Lapolla. “It didn’t bring the government to a halt, but it made execution of government and delivery of services very difficult. After the payment was made by July 10, we were able to get our information back.

Lapolla said the town continued to work with experts to bring data back online and ensure it was safe; that review is still ongoing, but expected to be over by the end of September. Lapolla also said the town’s insurer was expected to wire reimbursement of the $450K ransom back to the town Wednesday.

“As of now, there has been no indication of any breach of personal data for the public or employees,” said Lapolla. “I wanted to say that I don’t think any government can be prepared for this. In reviewing how it was handled, it was done efficiently and amazingly. This is not something anyone is prepared for.”

Lapolla did not explain why the town wasn’t prepared or why what has been done to secure the township’s system was not in place prior to the attack. Harnett, in his initial reporting of the attack, said: “To guard against future incidents, the township has installed the most sophisticated dual authentication system available to its own system and it is currently up and running.”

Two former mayors – Robert Jackson and Ed Remsen – had words of praise and gratitude for Katya Wowk Thursday at a retirement party at Montclair’s Municipal Building. Wowk (seated, center) retired after serving as Montclair’s Communications Director for 19 years.

Lapolla also announced that the town’s communication director Kayta Wowk had retired, effective Friday. He said that the township would add two additional employees to address IT issues. A new position, for a communications specialist, has been posted.

Ordinance on Gas Leaf Blower Ban Amended

The council also voted 3-2 to approve an amended gas leaf blower ban ordinance to correct errors in the ordinance and comply with state laws in terms of penalties, as well as remove a limitation on equipment.

“The only substantive change is the town had sought to limit no more than two leaf blowers of any kind unless the property was greater than an acre. We are removing that because it was a barrier to some people,” said Third Ward Councilor Lori Price Abrams. ” It opens up the use of additional equipment as long as it’s compliant It doesn’t doesn’t change anything with the law we passed; these are minor refinements.”

Mayor Sean Spiller, Councilor Price Abrams, and Councilor Robin Schlager voted to amend the ordinance; Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock and Councilor David Cummings voted against it. Councilor Peter Yacobellis and Councilor Bob Russo were absent.

Liz George is the publisher of Montclair Local.

Join the Conversation


  1. Aside from being disingenuous, the take on the hack by Lapolla is literally frightening.

    The hack occurred on June 1, with ransom paid on June 30. As of TODAY, the systems are NOT fully restored! This is simply mind-boggling. Ask anyone you know in tech, if this is usual. Lapolla is uniniated or is it now the Foul Five?

    Double authentication? Almost three years behind the times!

    How did Montclair get in this awful place in three years? Inept Mayor, Council and management.

    Our Town is a laughingstock.

  2. I recently requested a copy of a birth certificate and was told that Vital Statistics doesn’t have access to their files due to the cyber attack. As Tom above said, attack happened in early June. It’s mid-September, for Christ’s sake! Why isn’t the head of the IT Department rolling?

    For how long is Montclair going to be saddled with Stafford’s indolent protegés like the IT guy and the Clerk? So Stafford is gone but now it looks like Sean took those two underperformers under his wings. When does it stop? I agree with John Moon and Elke Padberg who chimed in under Dave Astor’s column: Why is Sean Spiller rewarding mediocrity instead of seeking excellence? Birds of a feather perhaps? Or is it that it’s convenient for Sean to have those two employees who bend over backwards to help him suppress information? Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

    Lapolla’s “first report” is nothing but spin. It’s a manifestation of arrogance and lack of respect for residents. Mr. Lapolla: Please, do not insult our intelligence.

  3. Another draft: “Did you guys notice that for the first time ever someone from the audience spoke in defense of Clerk? However, my impression is that he wasn’t disputing that there are serious problems with Clerk, he only questioned the format of residents complaints.

    I see his point but, on the other hand, I can relate to residents’ frustration as well. When gentle voicing of concerns continues to be met with Teflon or dismissive reaction, people eventually get mad.

    Another issue is that the time is running and this underperforming Clerk will do anything and everything to get tenure – then she is virtually untouchable. I can foresee another midnight resolution saddling us with this individual for decades to come. This Council should wake up and do at least this one thing right. Quit pumping OUR money into this overstaffed office and simply get us a good, honest Municipal Clerk. What’s so hard about it?

    Also, if Lapolla and Burr are maintaining that OPRA is now departments’ burden and, according to Burr, now every OPRA requires legal review (absurd notion), why do we need that extra employee that was given to Clerk months ago? Spiller declared this hiring was done to take care of OPRAs. Okay, you geniuses, you can’t have it both ways: shift responsibility on departments AND hire more staff for muni-clerk. Hey Sean, I have an idea for a great campaign slogan for you. “Regression in Action: Favoritism and Waste.”

  4. @Ira K,

    R-19-022 was your work. Three questions:

    1. Where in NJSA 47:1A-1 is the part about the governing body deputizing department heads as Deputy Custodians of Records in a municipal government?

    2. Do Deputy Custodians of Records have any of the powers & training to execute OPRA decisions or are they ‘file, retrieve & forward’ actions?

    3. How does having the Law Dept excluded from the list of Deputy Custodians of Records impact OPRA of their files? And the (tenured) clerk’s oversight over fulfillment of OPRA request of same?

  5. I ended up on some email distribution list concerning muni-matters. Apparently, someone filed an OPRA for Clerk’s compensation and, lo and behold, it was fulfilled.

    Curiously, for the last 3 years the Clerk has been receiving a stipend of $12K/year for being… the Manager’s assistant. Huh? What does that mean? She doesn’t have time/desire to perform her statutory duties all these years but she has the time to be Manager’s secretary to get more money out of us? That just doesn’t make any sense! Or I should say, it makes perfect sense in the bizarro world of 205. Mr. Lapolla, may I suggest you explain this absurd situation?

    Gentlemen from GSG: “Where are we on the permanent manager search? Residents of this town need a manager who comes to work every day and who will be driven by what is best for the town, not what is best for our autocratic Mayor and his handpicked sycophants.”

  6. Congratulations to Katya Wowk on her retirement! She is a class act and consummate professional. Big loss for the town.

    This was not mentioned in the article, but one of the items voted on yesterday was the Clary Anderson arena contract. I would like to applaud David Cummings for raising the issue. I understand that there was only one bidder, the current operator (who has ran the facility into the ground). What I do not understand why we are not exploring other options. As Cummings said, the original deal was that the operator makes a sizable profit on our facility in exchange for certain contractual obligations. The biggest expense in operation of the arena is electric (upwards of $100K)/year. The original contract clearly stated that this cost was to be born by the operator. At some point the operator weaseled out of that obligation and passed that cost onto taxpayer. So now we are de facto subsidizing this guy. This is corporate welfare if I ever seen one. Our schools are falling apart but we are giving the arena guy over $100K year after year, presumably because he is connected to Spiller (avid hockey player).

    Mr. Lapolla: I do not buy your lame argument that because there was only one bidder, we have no choice but to continue with this shady and greedy operator who is taking advantage of the township (apparently with Mayor Spiller’s blessing). Have you bothered to visit the facility and appreciate the deplorable state it’s in? Oh, I forgot – you are here only 3 days a week so you don’t have time for that. Did you find time to perhaps explore other options for the ice arena? I’m skeptical you did but, by all means, why don’t you tell us at the next meeting? Off the top off my head, we could try the following:

    (1) Ask the County if it would be open to take over the arena. They are doing a fantastic job operating Cody Arena. Gorgeous facility, well-maintained and efficiently operated.

    (2) Check with other municipalities who have ice rinks to see if anyone would be open to Shared Services Agreement.

    (3) Consider the possibility of Township running the arena. Why not at the very least do a cost analysis?

    (4) Reach out to US Ice Rink Association (a non-profit serving individuals and facilities in the ice rink industry).

  7. My goodness, the excuses. If we were not being sued by Ms. Rao, if we had settled with her, the township interim attorney would not be making excuses about legal review, or pointing out one request entailed 5,400 pages. These people live in another universe. I wonder if they ever hear their own spin.

  8. I echo Abby Harris’s sentiment about Ms. Wowk being a class act. Glad to see some familiar faces from the past, like Mayor Jackson, Mayor Remsen, Linda Wanat, Pat Brechka, Sue Portuese, Gray Russel, Sandy Sorkin. It’s touching they all came out to celebrate Ms. Wowk’s retirement. It’s wonderful that employees, former and present, still cultivate some solidarity despite instability and glaring problems out town hall has been plagued with these last 3 years.

  9. Re: Clary Anderson Arena

    Councilor Cummings pointed out that our arena’s utility operating costs are $140,000 year. This equals the annual cost to light our 90 miles of streets. It is more than the our annual, FEMA calculated cost to provide fire services to Glen Ridge.

    Skating rinks are energy hogs. They are like in window air conditioners – they have their efficiency limits. Of course, we could be the first in the world to build a Living Building Challenge 4.0 Certified version.

  10. Frank,
    Clary Anderson maybe outdated but is an awesome part of Montclair and a historical remnant of what the Montclair community used to be. You bring the place up a lot. Did you get cut from your PeeWee team?

  11. I didn’t bring it up here. It was brought up on a matter during the Council mtg…which was the forum & reason for this article.

    The funny part is the rink is in the 4th Ward and the 4th Ward Councilor objected to the operating contract (3rd year in a row). As one can see, the 4th Ward has neither use for historic preservation or skating rinks. The part I don’t understand is the ward representative preference policy was ignored by the rest of the Council. Especially Councilor Hurlock! The 2 At-Large representatives were absent, leaving Councilor Cummings as sole speaker on the ward facility. [Note, the practice is for the Mayor to remain neutral when the policy is invoked.]

    The fundamental difference of this public recreational facility vs all of our others is that it is fee-based. It was originally and it now leased for profit. But, we also throw in free parking.

  12. Based on what Joe Hartnett said in one of earlier articles, IT director Tony Fan was at least 3 years behind with implementing BASIC cyber protections. And now he… gets accolades from Manager Lapolla. Clearly, either poor Mr. Lapolla is not competent with IT or he didn’t have any competent IT people to run this scheme by.

    Ice arena thing is a straight scandal. Can we please get AG on this? I want to see the operator’s books. Those are supposed to be available by OPRA but, as you imagine, mine went nowhere.

    Clerk is screwing OPRA and OPMA and she gets tenure + 2 extra employees. Clearly, Mr. Lapolla and this Council have no idea what a real Municipal Clerk is supposed to be.

    Mr. Lapolla, it seems to me that your skillset is better suited for Union or Hudson County. Aren’t there any openings for you there at 12 days per month for $10K? I mean, you offer so much. I’d imagine any County and any municipality would be lining up to hire you at this rate.

  13. Frank! I missed you. One of the glaring missing features on the new Barista/Montclair Local is the ‘most recent comments’ section.

    Do you have a citation for that ‘140k is more than the FEMA calculated cost for Glen Ridge’ reference you threw in?

    I’ve got the monthly reports from Montclair -> Glen Ridge on Fire Activity, and yes, it would suggest that there are quite a few quiet days over here.

  14. Wow, we have a new interim town manager, and a new OPRA policy to go along with his arrival, outstanding. But will it aid and result in answers to those OPRA requests. Probably not. At the recent council meeting, Councilwoman Abrams stated that the township is in compliance with applicable OPRA laws, and LaPolla agreed. Problem is, that statement is false. Montclair is NOT in compliance with OPRA law, which requires a 7 day turnaround, with the necessary request for time extensions. I have been waiting nine, (9) months for replies to my OPRA requests. So too, are more than a dozen residents also waiting for the answers to their OPRA requests. So it appears that Abrams and Lapolla, are less than, shall we say, transparent, in their responses to the public. Both are aware, that Montclair is not in compliance with OPRA law, both were advised last week, that we’re still waiting for many OPRA requested docs. Two such requests, Morgan report and the investigation completed by the O’Toole Scrivo law firm into a discrimination complaint by black firefighters, are two of the more than a dozen OPRA requests still outstanding. And every OPRA request does not require attorney review. One solution to reduce OPRA requests is to put more information on its web site, since those documents are already in digital form. And please, stop hiding behind, we get too many OPRA requests. I promise not to insult their intelligence if they stop insulting the intelligences of Montclair’s citizens.

  15. Flipside, I’m with you. I’m all for the town keeping Clary Anderson arena and figuring out how to (1) repair it, and (2) keep it well-maintained. Clearly, the current operator is not the solution as he allowed the facility to deteriorate into the present decrepit state.

    Frank, I hope you were being sarcastic when you said that “the 4th Ward has neither use for historic preservation or skating rinks”. This is simply not accurate. Further, some could construe it as racist.

    What do you mean when you say that “The fundamental difference of this public recreational facility vs all of our others is that it is fee-based.” Huh? What about the pools? Did I imagine paying a family-fee every summer for the last 10 years?

    Anyway, let’s not conflate issues here. Why is a for-profit entity making significant money on the back of Montclair taxpayers? If I decide tomorrow I don’t want to pay my electric anymore, will the town also up the tab the tab for me too?

    The issue raised by Councilor Cummings was not what is the cost of the electric for the ice rink but rather who bears that cost. According to David Cummings and Abby Harris above, this considerable cost used to be a contractural obligation of the arena operator. And then it somehow got shifted onto the taxpayer.

    Why and when did this happen? I can think of myriad ways Montclair taxpayers can spend $100K/year instead of subsidizing some private for-profit operator. We are being fleeced.

    Is this operator really connected to Sean Spiller? If so, I think we have a problem.

  16. Darnell,
    The current rink operator actually does a great job maintaining what is there. Unfortunately, in the past the town in its infinite wisdom messed up and lost a sizable private donation that would have done extensive renovation to the rink. (The town didn’t get stupid yesterday. There is a history) Rinks in general are not very profitable so I doubt the current operator is making a killing. When the town ran the rink the place was a mess and the ice was terrible. I hope that doesn’t happen again.

  17. Mr. Lapolla says: “we were able to get our information back”. Who is “we”? I and others in my department still don’t have access to files. I know of at least 4 other departments who are in the same boat. We don’t understand why the Manager is misrepresenting things in the press. Why not just tell the truth? Covering up misdeeds is often worse than misdeeds themselves.

    We’re still laughing at his assertion that the hack was handled “efficiently and amazingly”. Jesus, if this guy thinks this was “efficient and amazing”, I don’t want to know what went on in Union County and at Turnpike Authority during his tenure. I’ve been with the Township for well over a decade. I and many others at 205 wonder why is it that lately the Township seems to be attracting and hiring so many incompetent and dishonest people.

  18. Thanks Frank – I do remember that article, and must have forgotten the number cited from the lengthy debates that followed.

    I’ve been meaning to quantity/categorize the data I have, but life keeps getting in the way.

  19. Correction 1: My street lighting cost figure was wrong. Street lighting expenses for 2022 was $515,000 actual ($425,000 budgeted). 2023 is budgeted at $490,000. I mistakenly pulled the figure from 2023 Temp Budget, which is about a quarter of a full year’s budget.

    Correction 2: Yes, I forgot about our 3 municipal pool fees. I will note that Some have perceived an equity issue with 2 of our 3 pools being in the 4th Ward.

    Our apologies. Myself & I have finished our hindsight review. Going forward, Myself & I will check all of Me’s work.

  20. anonymous employee 205,
    “why is it that lately the Township seems to be attracting and hiring so many incompetent and dishonest people.” That is an excellent question. Perhaps, incompetent and dishonest people is the order of the day. Montclair has tons of really smart people; people who know when they are being conned, lied to, and silenced.
    Our CFO (chief financial officer), tried to tell the council, (twice) “hey, you don’t qualify for health benefits,” and her reward for her effords, was to strip her of some of her responsibilities. Kicking her out of her own financial meetings, yet expecting her to sign off on town finances discussed at those meetings where she was excluded. Then subjecting her to intimitation and harrassment.

    Then there are those emails. The judge in the CFO lawsuit has demanded, Montclair to produce those emails. Oh wait, someone, mysteriously hacked the town’s server, and now the town conveniently can’t retreive those emails, even though Rao’s attorney had asked for them more than six months prior to the hacking.

    And then there is the firefighter’s lawsuit; the former town clerk’s lawsuit,
    The midnight vote to hire an interim manager, and voting for the largest development project, knowing some council members would not be present, and promising to wait, until they were.
    Sorry, you always get the kind of government you vote for, however challenged, incompetent or dishonest.

  21. Frank, Interesting that the ice rental rate is set by the town. Since the hourly rental rate is about 200 bucks less than what other rinks charge I have to assume that the rink manager is not get rich off the town. Whoever gets the contract is basically a town worker without the benefit of being a town employee.

  22. flipside,
    Aside from the 15-yr contract with the good people of Glen Ridge, since when do we care if a contractor that bids is making money?

    And did you look up & read §234-10. Here is the link

    Note the various public skates & ancillary fees.
    Do they still rent out space for parties, etc?

    Also not we used to contract an operator for the vendor machines. I can’t seem to find a current contract award. Maybe we forgot to bid it out again.

    But, to your point of being $200 less per hour to rent ice time in other towns, do you wonder why we charge non-residents only $50/hr more than residents? Where does MKA Hockey call home?

    This facility’s maximum potential should be $1MM (over just 8 months). We are lead to believe they are pulling in half that amount.

  23. No, flipside. The arena operator does NOT do “a great job maintaining what’s there”. I know because my older kid dragged me out there recently and I was disgusted. What “is there”, actually to maintain at this point? This place is still standing only because it doesn’t know which way to collapse. That aside, it’s dirty and gross. Just so you know, I actually enjoy skating enough to have my own skates, but Clary Anderson is a… dump.

    I don’t know anything about the missed donation you mentioned. Was it more than $120K? I’m told this is how much it now costs the town to pay electric for the arena PER YEAR. This was supposed to be paid by the operator (per original and subsequent contract) but, for some reason, the township (i.e. you, me, Frank, and all others) is now absorbing this cost. I renew my sarcastic question: can the township pay my utilities too?

    Further, I don’t see how you, flipside, can have an opinion on the arena operator’s revenue without actual numbers and relevant documentation. The original contract and the subsequent one say that the operator is to have an annual audit of its books conducted and provide the township with the report. To my knowledge, the operator has NEVER complied with this contractual requirement. Have you filed an OPRA for it, flipside? I did. Audit reports do not exist. Why?

    Mayor Spiller: Do you perhaps have an answer? You were clearly in favor of this vendor getting the contract despite glaring issues described above. Why? Election time is coming. This question and many others will have to be answered. I recall a number of more serious ones that were discussed by Mika Rasmussen of Rebovich Institute of New Jersey a while back in Gothamist. None of these issues are aging well, imho.

  24. Frank:

    Your 4W “obsession” is increasingly negative and troubling. Pool equity? Really!

    The pools are equitably dispersed geographically: south (Nishuane), central (Essex), and North (Mountainside). the political/Ward designation is irrelevant.

  25. Darnell, I have been skating at the Clary since the 70’s. No roof and no real locker rooms. Still love playing there. In the late 70’s a bunch of Montclairians got together and raised money to put a roof on the place. Community spirit!! As for the conditions. The roof needs repair and insolation. The rubber mats have been there for decades. Is it a dump? Compared to Montclair State and Codey and most modern rinks…I guess for someone “new” the sport I can see your point. In years past pretty much every rink was a dump. When I played in college and semi-pro the rinks I played made Clary look like a palace. I am jaded and old so Clary reminds me of the rinks of my youth when hockey wasn’t for pampered rich kids. Basically, I am saying the ice is good t and for a hockey player the place is a haven. No one old school really cares how the rink looks. As for the operator…I have no idea if he makes money or not but I do know no one ever got rich owning a rink. A college teammate of mine ran one of biggest most used rinks in the country and it was always a struggle. There are very few single sheet rinks left because it is more cost effective to run two sheets. The fact the the town limits the operator to charging 200 bucks below market doesn’t help make the place more profitable. Keep in mind that MHS gets ice time I believe for free. The varsity skates nearly every day and there are JV and a girls team as well. If their ice time is free I would guess that would pretty close to the utility costs.
    My dream is that some wealthy members of the community raise money privately to renovate the place. One last thing…the private donation that was lost was reported to be 2 million dollars. That was at least 15 years ago when money went a lot further.
    Part of me wouldn’t change a thing about the place but for the rest of town I understand a facelift would make the place more popular.
    PS I have played in some of the most beautiful rinks in the country but always felt more at home in the Clary dump. The only thing that compares is some of the dumps in Eastern Europe. Loved playing there too.

  26. Kudos, Darnell Jones. You not only submitted an OPRA request on this new issue, but your OPRA request was fulfilled! Gee, what dept @ 205 is that responsive and forthcoming?

    The fact of the matter is Montclairions are just reckless with money. Absolutely reckless. We certainly know how to ask for more. We don’t have one clue how to use it well. The PILOT parents are are only the most recent examples. Ask them how they are doing with the capital funds we bonded and are working for us now. I could go down the list of NGO’s who we have had to bail out. The library? That one cost us a pretty penny. The South Park do-over bid fiasco? Another 6-figure loss.

    We worked very hard to achieve our malfeasance. Like that financial firm’s tag line, “We earned it!” If you are in it for the entertainment, then pay the monthly bill and enjoy the show. If you want change, move.

  27. Wilhelm,

    Finally, someone gets it. Took a little time, but good for you. Yes, the 4th Ward is a political construct. And yes, the 4th Ward is the most diverse. And if anyone had bothered to validate my statement by something else besides race, they actually might learn a thing or two about our town.

  28. “Keep in mind that MHS gets ice time I believe for free. The varsity skates nearly every day and there are JV and a girls team as well. If their ice time is free I would guess that would pretty close to the utility costs. -flipside

    Well now, that is a problem. Department heads or the Manager deciding to give a free ride to people…where the Council is pretty clear about charging people & orgs. And we were so smart to have divested the Council and municipal government from the school district. So, do we have some hockey booster club deciding who pays and who doesn’t? And are we giving all schools the same deal? Or just those we favor?

  29. Flipside, your friend must be a true altruist to take the losses and still run the arena(s).  But us the taxpayers of Montclair are already stretched too thin. A wealthy donor tried donating $2M and the town didn’t take the donation?  Makes me wonder what the full story is! What I would suggest is for town to take in ALL revenues and expenditures and pay a fee to the operator.  If the operator is truly an altruist, as you are suggesting, he would go for it.

    Frank, charging MHS is same as charging the residents of Montclair.  I agree with Flipside on increasing fees for out-of-town users as well as fees for private schools in town.  Make it $1,000 for what I care as long as the taxpayers are not sent the bill.

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say: “Department heads or the Manager deciding to give a free ride to people…where the Council is pretty clear about charging people & orgs.” I do not recall ever council disclosing to the public that we, the taxpayers of Montclair, are subsidizing the ice arena operator. Also Frank, someone should survey how many of the 4th Ward residents skate versus those from other wards.

  30. You and your questions, Darnell. Well, you are right though. I like skating too but Clary Anderson is not my go-to ice rink. Dumpy condition aside, they don’t accept walk-ins. As in you can’t just show up, pay for public session and skate – you have to register and pay online. That’s total bullshit. Floyd Hall and Cody Arena don’t do that. Also, I believe there’s a law that says that it is illegal to refuse to accept cash for goods/services. N.J. Stat. paragraph 56:8-2.33. Am I wrong?

    Flipside, why are you surprised that arena fees are set by the township? There’s an ordinance that regulates this. At some point in 2021 (Covid times), the operator doubled the fee for public skate sessions and made the skates rental part of the fee. Huh? If I have my own skates, why would I be charged a mandatory fee for skate rental? Anyway, some resident complained and very quickly the operator reverted to complying with the ordinance.

    Interesting thing that I noticed is that the original contract and the next one said that arena is to provide 33 hours/month in public skate time. Right now operator now offers 16.5 hours/month – exactly half of what it used to be! In addition, all of those hours are in the middle of the day, when people are at school/work.

    I’m pretty sure this (along with illegal refusal to accept cash) is an attempt to discourage the public from using the facility because renting it out for hockey practice/games is more profitable. If this dude is freeloading on the taxpayers to the tune of over $100K/year, at least he offer the public more skate time and within hours when people can actually come. With the current schedule, it seems like his target population is retirees and kids who cut school.

  31. Frank, Your are clearly anti-hockey and presumably all sports. Too bad. The lessons and camaraderie that are developed in athletics are unquantifiable and from my experience priceless. The work ethic I developed on fields and ice benefitted me in my career and personal life. From my understanding the taxpayers fund the bulk of all athletics in the MPS, not just hockey. There are booster clubs to subsidize certain sports. Not only did I benefit greatly from athletics but my children did as well. (D1 scholarship for one kid, yahoo) I like you Frank, but you should try to give the bitter old man shtick a rest. Go down to the fields and watch the dedication and the joy student athletes get by using their God given talents. From my observation the coaches I have seen exhibit the best teaching skills MPS have to offer. My opinion is the best money spent in Montclair is spent on athletics and all various clubs for non-athletes. As Paul Simon said, “When I think back about all the crap I learned in High School……

  32. flipside,

    You are who you are. You must have missed my post today about MHS Head Coach Jermain Johnson telling the media that his 16 yr old running back lost the game for his teammates and coaches 3 minutes into the 2nd half of their game. That kind of teaching? That kind of leadership? I get the benefits of winning. I am sure that running back knows he let down his teammates. He will learn the media spotlight cuts both ways. When your up and when you have been thrown in front of the school bus before the school bell rings on Monday.

    I actually like playing hockey up until bantam level. My mediocrity caught up to me. I love Olympic hockey. The NHL product is not great. The Rangers play in a bandbox that forces us to focus on goaltending. Much of the rest is just not a great product.
    I enjoyed no-checking adult league play, but I played against those “living in the past” club players from Summit and quit hockey for good. I had to make a living and those guys demonstrated all the worst of North American hockey. So yes, I don’t think highly of hockey players. And I think rightly so. But, it has nothing to do with managing the sport facility and giving out free ice time to subsidize a privileged sport.

  33. I agree with you on the value of athletics. However, the issue at hand is is that the $120K/year is NOT being spent on athletics but rather to line pockets of an unscrupulous arena operator. He was supposed to pay the electric and he weaseled out of it. Take that money and spend it on athletics and I won’t say a word.

  34. Abby and Pat, I don’t know the full deal with arena and I have no way of knowing. I do know from a friend who ran a very big facility in another state that it was not a big money making venture. I deduced since the town sets the ice rental not the market there must be limited ability to make money. I play there now and then and have no problem with the place. There are a few private rinks that do ok but many are owned by very wealthy investors as a hobby and a write off. Ice World in Totowa was such a case. As soon as the owner’s kid was off to college and didn’t use the rink they shut the place down. For all we know the contract with the town may cover all the costs of the rink and then some. It is amazing to me that people have watched the schools physically deteriorate and didn’t care but now are worried about a rink. A facility people are just guessing about the details and vilifying people and I know NOTHING about. Nice town! Let’s see who we can take down next. Let’s change the name to Salem.

  35. Flipside, I am concerned about dilapidated school buildings as well, but this was not an item that was voted on at the last Council meeting. Ice arena contract was. I also want to remind you that town’s budget and schools’ budget are separate. That said, if you take that $120K/year and give it to schools, I won’t say a word. Want to fund athletics with it? Go ahead. Give it to a for-profit and less than transparent operator – I have a problem with that.

    Yes, fees for public sessions are sent by ordinance (as required) and make the arena accessible from the money angle. Guess how the operator worked around that? He reduced public access from the required 33 hours/month to 16.5 hours/month, exactly 50%. He also eliminated all weekend sessions. all weekday sessions are in the middle of the day when only retirees and kids cutting class can come. The reason the operator is doing that because it is far more profitable to rent the ice for games. But that was not the original intent. When the arena was given for private operation back in 2009, there was a language in there about making sure that Clary remains amply accessible to the public. Well, I’m a member of the public and I NEVER get to use the facility because of the clever timing of public sessions. To put a fine point on it, I work 9-5 so lack of evening session and elimination of weekend sessions eliminates me as a customer. It eliminates my grandkids as well – their school doesn’t end until 2:45pm. There’s no public session that lasts past 2:30pm.

    I notice that you continue to sidestep the thorny topic of required yearly audits of the arena operations. Why don’t you ask your friend if his books were clean and whether he provided them as required. Perhaps this is why his profit margins were so modest. We’ve never seen an audit report of the Clary operator’s books – in violation of the contract.

  36. Pat, Why do you assume the operator is my friend? I am judging by my long term use of the place though in recent years and advanced age my time there is very limited. I do know when when the Arena was run by the town the place and the ice conditions were horrible. When it first went out to bid a national ice rink management company took over. The place became very unfriendly though the ice was excellent. The lasted 1 year and could leave fast enough because there was no money in it. Since then I don’t know who has been running the rink. The may have been many different operators, I have no clue. I do know for a building the town has neglected for years it seem ok to me. I am biased because I like old time rinks. I am sure someone knows if the utility bill is recouped in the contract or not. I don’t have any idea and seems like no else does either. I does seem like since the rates are set below market that though hockey and skating are expensive sports it must be the most economically accessible rink in the area including county owned facilities. I am sorry the ice times don’t align with your schedule but I am sure you could rent the ice yourself any time that is available. I must add that I love the fact that Montclair has a rink so I am biased. Though I didn’t grow up in Montclair I did play there in HS. The rink and the town’s rich hockey history was a big motivating factor for me moving here to raise my family in the 1980’s. I apologize for being over protective of a place I love.

  37. “Let’s see who we can take down next. Let’s change the name to Salem.” – filpside

    Modalities deployed in Salem were too draconian, but the government of this town has accumulated so much scum that humane purging is indeed needed. I do not understand why you are crying over some private arena operator who, from what I read, is less then honest with the taxpayers and less than transparent.

    As far who was “taken down” by residents’ outrage, let’s see. Tim Stafford and who else? No one else that I can remember. Big, huge loss, right? Do you feel sorry for him too? “Poor thing Stafford” aside, Spiller keeps marching on with that nonsensical smirk on his face. Yacobellis dug up his own grave. Clerk is getting heat because she is not acting as independent public official but as Spiller’s puppet.

    Going back to the Arena, someone above suggested doing a Shared Services with the County. Excellent idea, imho. I don’t think the Town has the ability or know-how to take over operation. Seems logical to me to reach out to those who have a proven track record of running an ice rink well rather than running it into the ground.

  38. Flipside, you misunderstood. I was referring to that college teammate of yours you referred to a few times saying that his profit from running an ice rink was modest. My posit was that perhaps your friend was more honest than the current operator of Clary. This was meant as a tentative complement for your friend.

    No need to apologize for being nostalgic. It’s endearing in its own way. That said, I think one can be sentimental and pragmatic at the same time. Handing over $120K/year in taxpayer money to this guy is simply bad business.

    Business side of things aside, I hope the new crew that will take over in 2024 will throw this guy out. I hope that whoever replaces him will bring back public skating sessions on weekend so I and many other working residents can partake in recreational enjoyment of the facility as well rather the access being limited to ‘serious’ hockey players.

  39. Give it to the school district (and a very specific ground lease). It is a perpetual revenue source. It can be bartered with other districts for their facilities (chess rooms @ MKA? 🙂 ) They teach pre-schoolers, they can teach skating. They can use cheap student labor to augment workforce (skate guards, cleaning, cashiers). The capital costs come out of the taxpayer’s wallets either way. They can convert to pickle ball courts off-season.

  40. I agree with all the points made by those above who are troubled by the Arena operator’s mismanagement of the facility and glaring issues with financial transparency.

    However, I’m also troubled by how the Council went about giving this guy new contract. Proposed contract was not attached to the resolution so residents are not even permitted to see the terms. How can this be? Moreover, this was swiftly conducted in one meeting rather than having been listed for discussion and then for adoption. It’s not illegal to do it this way (I think) but it’s slimy and disrespectful of residents. But what else is new with this Council?

    I am gravely disappointed in Interim Manager Lapolla for not exploring other options with regard to the ice rink; seems like he walks the line of least resistance. First fire promotions and now this awful business decision. I expect better of Town Manager, even from an interim part-time one. I sincerely hope that Government Strategy Group will start producing some viable candidates. I want someone full time, someone who is responsive, and – most importantly – someone who has the ability to discern what’s good for the town, not just the ability to please current transactional, overreaching and self-centered Mayor. I think that last ‘professional’ skill works best for Union County. It just so happens that’s where Mr. Lapolla hails. Must be a coincidence.

  41. Thomas, The rink is town property. The town blew a 2 million dollar donation to renovate. The town ran the rink for years and it was awful. I don’t know anything about the bidding process and who runs the place the now I just know it is functioning. I doubt a private operator would do capital improvements without a very long term lease. Is that available? A large national rink management company ran the rink for 1 year and couldn’t leave fast enough. The rink is opened and functioning and the only people complaining are the people that know nothing about the rink, it’s history, and the benefit it does for the people that use it now and like me, in the past. There is so much speculation and all of it seems unfounded. Of all the problems and waste in this town I can’t believe people suddenly care the rink and it may all be much ado about nothing. I would invite everyone to attend the MHS vs MKA Mayors Trophy hockey game to see what the “dump” means to this town.

  42. Flipside, why don’t you get some Cleenex and try to focus. Then, please address 2 issues:

    1) Lack of annual audit reports; and
    2) Arena operator shifting the cost of electric (significant sum) onto the taxpayers.

    We do appreciate your nostalgia and some of us like ice skating. This is simply a bad business decision. And, yes, we do have enough information to know we’re getting screwed.

    Someone said above, I think more than once: this is not about closing the arena. It’s about curbing waste and abuse. I, for one, I want the arena to be operated by someone honest and transparent.

  43. I am so happy that there are so many concerned citizens that know the rink is a gold mine. I can’t wait for someone to step and take over the contract and turn the place into palace and make a fortune for themselves and do the the town a solid. Have it folks!! I don’t have any info if the current manager is making money or not but it seems everyone else knows. So go for it!! You can even get to drive the Zamboni!!

  44. Geronimo,

    You should go back beyond the circumstances of the Cali offer. Go back to he beginning. Go back to Citizens, Inc.


    Many thanks for putting a spotlight on the issue Councilor Cummings raised for the 3rd time!

    What the Councilor may not know is that Dr Baskerville’s parents were financial supporters of the Essex Park rink back in the early ’60s.

    Those supporters, under the banner of Skating, Inc, covered half the cost of the new rink. I learned to skate there the first season open. I practiced my mediocre brand of hockey shortly thereafter. It was toe numbing cold without a roof or glass.

    Luckily, I am not a complainer.

  45. Frank, Didn’t a group of supporters also raise the funds to enclose the rink in the 70’s. It was a different Montclair back then.

  46. YQ1: Yes. I think it mostly due to the financial support from Barney Martin’s Montclair Savings Bank.

    YQ2: Not as much as you would think. Politically, our town has always held the position going back to the early 1920’s that a skating rink was “a nice to have, status thing” and building one and any upgrades should be supported, at a minimum, by matching private funding. This continues to this day with a 2022-2023 offer from a private group to fund raise for an upgrade.

    The town’s Governing Body has a history of NOT investing in maintaining and making very tardy – & minimally required – repairs. It is a niche recreational offering – clearly demonstrated by the above poster who lamented the lack of public skate sessions. That apparently went unnoticed by the vast majority of residents & government officials. So much for the comparison to our pool fees.

    The 4th Ward Councilor raised the objection, used a vocabulary I’ve heard before on the HP issue that indicated a lack of support. And let’s not forget our political valuation formula of our “deference to the ward” practice. We did that stupid thing with the Nishuane well issue. Boy, was that some shortsighted stuff and now $2MM wasted on Rand

    My prior 4W statement was supported by a record of actions while others like to talk about appearances. And then they not only don’t take the time to do their homework, they want me to hold their hand through their request for me to explain why their knee-jerk conjecture is wrong.

  47. And the distasteful part is they attribute their conjecture to anonymous “some people”. That, to me, indicates a character flaw.

  48. This thread has morphed from clerk critique to hockey hell. I would like to answer
    Frank’s earlier query to me first. The Government Records Council says:
    “OPRA provides that the custodian of government records in a municipality is the Municipal Clerk. However, OPRA does not preclude a municipality from developing reasonable and practical measures for responding to OPRA requests, which may include the designation of deputy custodians for particular types of records (most common occurrence is the Police Department).”
    The statute that lists the duties of the municipal clerk says that the clerk is the custodian of records, except that the governing body may provide by ordinance that “any other specific officer” shall have custody of “any specific other class of record.” NJSA 40A:9-133(e)(1). No such ordinance has been enacted. Therefor, R-19-022 deputizes directors as helpers in fulfilling OPRA requests, but does not and cannot delegate either authority or responsibility for OPRA compliance to the deputies, who are not even given any guidelines to follow. I repeatedly objected over the years to clerk’s efforts to shift OPRA compliance because dispersal of responsibility undermined efficiency, accountability, and most of all, the ability to respond to a request in a complete and timely fashion. Given the volume of requests and the complexity of the constantly changing rules and rulings, the only sensible way of handling OPRA is to have one office (the Clerk) handle all requests, all responses, all communications with the requestor, and all redactions (if necessary), with assistance from the Law Department in the relatively few cases required.

    Now, as far as Clary Anderson Arena, much time and effort has been contributed over the last 15 years to address its condition and future, and meanwhile to keep it open for both scholastic and public use. Nobody has gotten rich, many compromises have been made, and good and bad ideas have fallen through. The Council has spent whatever minimum was required to keep the structure functional. The potential big money investment by residents never quite got off the ground, and if I remember, lost momentum when one of the principals passed away. The current operator is not corrupt, to my knowledge, and has been the best that could be engaged without the Township being willing to make a major investment. That said, the public would benefit from more and better oversight. As I see it, the problem for a long time has been the failure of any person or group to take ownership of Clary Anderson’s future, allowing things to just limp along and barely be adequate. Either the Manager (which we don’t have), or the Council (who are, as a group, incompetent) or a local coalition (which has not yet appeared), needs to develop and spearhead a plan for Clary Anderson (and perhaps Essex Park) that will maintain and expand its value to the community. It is not a simple fix. I don’t expect any progress on this until Montclair has functioning Council and competent, dedicated administration in place.

  49. Ira,

    Thank you once agin for educating us…and more reason for us to worry about the clerk’s office.

    I will than you for your “hockey hell” characterization. It was very, very funny & true.
    I agree with you that Clary Anderson Arena (CAA)has some kind of unique, almost clandestine status in our municipal government. One simply has to point to the Dept of Parks & Recreation’s role in CAA. Right. They have no role. A department that is funded to the hilt an got a way-above avg budget increase this year. No feeder program for figure skating or hockey. So, when you treat a public funded facility as a private club, people will push back when the club gets a overly zealous.

    It is simple. The Director of Dept of Parks & recreation has to do their job. It is one of those departments that gets an audit. And the department has a history. Not recent, but still a history.

  50. Re: Next Request FOIA software installation

    The single greatest (exponential increase to transparency) feature of this software is the online, real time ability FOR THE PUBLIC to see and access all OPRA requests and fulfilled records. Not just theirs.

    The opening betting line suggests that Montclair will disable the feature.

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