Letters to the editor, July 18
Dismayed by sudden turnaround on councilwoman Baskerville
It was dismaying to read about the behind-the-scenes move within the town council to reverse its position on electing Councilwoman Renée Baskerville to be deputy mayor, after the resolution to that effect had been included on the meeting’s agenda. As explained by Dr. Baskerville, the council had an agreement that each member would rotate through the deputy mayor position in order by ward number. When her turn came, this abrupt turnaround took place, with no explanation.
This raises more questions with no answers in the minds of township voters. Dr. Baskerville has been an exemplary representative for the residents of Ward Four, and for the township as a whole. She has set an example of transparency, providing information, and an opportunity for participation to Ward Four residents on issues that affect them. She has advocated for the urgent need for a new supermarket to replace Pathmark, even traveling to another town to investigate the quality of the proposed new market in the Lackawanna development. I wish I had such responsive representation in my ward.
Dr. Baskerville and her family have literally devoted their lives to making Montclair a better and more just town. This is no way to treat her.
Is this a result of the May elections where 90 percent of voters do not show up? Do council members feel so secure that they will run unopposed and face no consequences for catering to developers, for lack of affordable housing, for traffic and parking issues out of control, for harm to local, small businesses? This can be changed. It is up to us.
Update on Lackawanna Plaza appeal
It is entirely fitting that Lackawanna Station has become the battleground for the soul of Montclair’s future. It is the most iconic site in town and the reason Montclair grew to be the diverse, vibrant community it is. What happens next will tell the story of Montclair’s citizen involvement in 2019.
Even more than asking what kind of town infrastructure is being created for the next generation, Montclair residents should be asking what example of government they want to leave for their children. A ridiculous lack of parking (this project has 50 percent — 383 fewer parking spaces — than required by zoning), a traffic nightmare (no legal left turns into the shopping center), and the loss of a dedicated walkway used by the public for 30 years (with no documentation made public to support this privatization of public access) are all detrimental to the future of Montclair. Much worse would be cynically ignoring the Planning Board’s actions which have led to this lawsuit.
All Montclair residents should read the appeal to understand what the planning board did and did not do to the benefit of the developer, and their repeated efforts to curtail the public’s right to know, to question, and to comment on a plan of unprecedented proportions (eight acres downtown!) Visit abetterlackawanna.org to read the suit, join the appeal with no financial obligation, or donate toward legal expenses.
As of press time we have 150 individual plaintiffs, and we welcome more until our Thursday afternoon deadline. After that, you may still join A Better Lackawanna LLC. Show that you value your right to be part of the democratic process in Montclair by joining our appeal. If you feel you cannot personally sign on due to professional reasons, find three friends who will. Share your reasons for why you believe in this grassroots effort. As we watch our national principles assaulted on a near daily basis, it’s all the more important we keep our corner of this great democracy strong. This link will allow you to easily join the appeal from a mobile device or computer: bit.ly/betterlackawanna.
Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about why this appeal matters. Spread the word like Paul Revere!
Say no to the ICE contract
This may be painful to read, but please take a moment: “I started taking care of X (age 5) in the Ice Box after they separated her from her father. I did not know either of them before that. She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. X sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor. We spend all day every day in that room. There are no activities, only crying.” – Girl, age 15. (First-hand account from child in custody at U.S. immigrant detention camp)
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo recently defended the ICE jail in Essex County, saying “the facility meets current operating standards required by ICE.” While that may be true, how can we concerned Essex County residents reconcile what is going on at the border, and in our own backyard, with what we consider to be legal and ethical? How does Joseph DiVincenzo and the rest of the freeholders justify having a contract with ICE that provides the county with a multi-million dollar surplus to run an immigrant detention center?
The OIG inspection report itself says “All ICE detainees are held in civil, not criminal, custody, which is not supposed to be punitive.” Does anyone believe that conditions at the border camps or Essex County ICE jail are not punitive?
We just celebrated a beautiful Fourth of July with reminders of American freedom and our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with relatives and reflected on the history of that wonderful place. Why can’t we offer the same protection for all undocumented immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, rather than enabling the Trump administration’s deportation machine?
On the superintendent’s resignation
Having served on the BOE from 2016-2019, I worked very closely with Dr. Kendra Johnson the past three years. I was one of the four BOE members who voted for her in April 2018; and served as VP during the '18-'19 MPS school year.
Today is an unfortunate day for Montclair. I am not surprised by Dr. Johnson’s decision to step down, and wish her well. Montclair’s loss is Howard County’s gain.
Dr. Johnson had at least two strikes against her before she began as superintendent in April 2018. Let us not forget that Mayor Robert Jackson called a press conference in March 2018, on the eve of the BOE vote for superintendent, during which he unambiguously told the then board of education members that we should only hire a candidate with prior superintendent experience. His not-so-subtle message was this: don’t vote for Dr. Johnson, at the time the district's assistant superintendent. The mayor's press conference was highly irresponsible and inappropriate. I do not believe it is a coincidence that none of the four members who voted for Dr. Johnson remain on the board, whereas the three board members who did not attend the vote for superintendent still serve on the board and continue to be reappointed. In my view, this reflects an extremely disconcerting lack of independence.
Moreover, the optics are not good. Montclair prides itself on its purported diversity and progressive values. And yet, we are losing an immensely qualified, talented and energetic educator, someone committed to equity and equality, who also happens to be an African-American female. Dr. Johnson worked tirelessly on behalf of every student in Montclair. I am proud to have hired her, first as assistant superintendent and then as superintendent. She made many positive contributions to the District in her three years here.
Once again, Montclair is in the market for a permanent superintendent. If the recent past is any indication, it will probably take 12-18 months before a new “permanent” is hired, perhaps longer. I would be very happy to be proven wrong on this point, but there is no escaping the reality that Montclair is earning a reputation for being unable to keep a superintendent. This has to change.
The author is the former vice president of the Montclair Board of Education.
Walking the walk on NAFTA
U.S. Representative Donald Payne Jr., you have been notably silent on how or even if you will vote your approval or rejection of the excessive financial protections enjoyed by major pharmaceutical companies, as set forth in the current version of the NAFTA Trade agreements; stipulations which place increased financial burdens on your constituents; those least able to cope with them.
To paraphrase President Lincoln: The world will little note nor long remember the last newsletter you sent out, or the last speech you gave at the opening the new patio at the Senior Center, but if you fail to vote in the best interests of American consumers, many of whom must pay unconscionable prices for prescription medications at the expense of their other basic human needs, such as for food and their rent: your otherwise impeccable, commendable history of upholding social justice will suffer a lasting and grievous negative mark.
You will be seen as out-of-step with the current , progressive grassroots trends which are a potent and growing force in the centers of political power today.
Your failure to vote in the interests of your lower- income and especially, your elderly voters; many of whom rely on reasonably-priced prescriptions for their health and even their lives will give great political leverage to those who vocalize their concerns that the 10th District needs newer, more compassionate and more progressive leadership.
Congressman Payne, please rise above your concern for those who desire legislative protection for their already-excessive profits. Please vote to drastically- curtail or even eliminate the built-in pharmaceutical trade protections written into the current version of NAFTA 2.0 which perpetuate the high prices that we American consumers currently pay for our prescription drugs.
Kenneth C. Grosso
Board of Ed should give students a say
As temperatures soar, it is clear that summer vacation is formally underway. The 2018-2019 school year is finished. As a student of Montclair High School, it is not a year that I, nor my peers, will remember very fondly. This past year the name of the game was chaos and confusion, neither of which is particularly conducive to education.
I am not angry with the school administration, nor with the Board of Education. The collapse of a staircase is not the fault of any person, the presence of asbestos in that staircase is not some design of the school to make life worse for the student. The district and administrators did the best they could, and it was a hard year for everyone involved.
The Montclair Board of Education did their best that they could to ensure that every student’s needs were met. However, their capacity to do so was severely limited by the lack of student representation on the Board of Ed.
By allowing a student representative on the BOE multiple things would be achieved. First and foremost, a student on the Board would greatly improve the attitude of pupils towards the district. Last year when the proposed May 20 plan was withdrawn, students protested and felt ignored. More importantly, students will truly be represented. To have a person in power who is one of your peers, a person that you know, someone who will do what is best for the students not just because they care, but because it impacts them, that shows the student population of the Montclair Public School District that their opinions really do matter. A student member on the Board would open a much-needed channel of communication between students and those making the decisions. The Board of Education would be better able to understand what the students' needs are and how they can best be met, while the students would be able to understand the decision-making process of the Board.
By amending the current bylaws of the Board, one could ensure that there is always a student serving on the Board of Education. The student representative could be chosen in a variety of ways, ranging from an application process to a student vote. Certain qualifications with regard to grade level and years as a student in the district may be prudent to ensure that the representative is qualified, and will represent everyone in a proper manner.
Some may argue that students are not responsible enough or qualified for such a position, but I disagree. Who better to ensure that students needs are met, than students? I urge the Montclair Board of Education to listen to its constituents and truly make an effort to represent them.
Rehire Israel Cronk
I am writing to support Scott White's suggestion in last week’s Montclair Local that Israel Cronk be rehired as director of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District.
I have found Israel to be a dynamic, conscientious, and personable individual whose long- established roots in Montclair make him unusually well-equipped to perform a demanding task.