The case of the languishing Montclair projects (On the Other Hand)
Everyone deserves a vacation, time to unwind and recharge the old batteries. Did you know that in Sweden everyone is entitled to a minimum of five weeks (25 days) paid vacation a year? Also, Denmark. In the Netherlands, even the unemployed get time off from job hunting, 20 days of paid leave while collecting their unemployment benefits.
Here in the good ole USA! USA! you’re lucky if you get two weeks.
However, we are happy to report that our town management is operating under no such restrictions. They are relaxing, avoiding burnout, perfecting their pickleball skills and catching up on their beach reading. At least that’s what we assume they’re doing, since they are definitely not paying attention to town management.
Exactly who is that, anyway? Who is in charge? No one seems to know. Maybe the people who know the answer are all on vacation. Maybe it’s a mystery, like a true-crime podcast.
Take, for example, “The Case of the Unfinished Parking Deck.” The new, somewhat extravagantly named Midtown parking deck on Glenridge Avenue was finished in January of this year yet remains closed, choking off business to area stores still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Why? Although various reasons have been offered, including missing elevator parts and rainwater accumulation, it recently came to light that the structure had failed a building inspection on Jan. 31.
Well, not the building exactly. The alleyway that runs from Bloomfield Avenue to the parking deck was found to be ADA noncompliant. Now is the township taking steps to…
Wait! It failed in January? And nobody did anything?
You’ll be relieved to find out that the township did have a project manager assigned to the parking deck. You’ll be dismayed to find out the project manager was none other than Ira Karasick, the township attorney who retired in disgrace last December.
Why was town attorney Karasick the project manager for the parking deck? Why didn’t someone take over when he retired? More mysteries.
But let’s move on. Consider “The Case of the Missing Director.” As detailed in a recent letter to the editor, the town Division of Senior Services has been without leadership since the previous director, Katherine York, left March 5, 2021. It took several months for the town to appoint her replacement. That replacement, Margaret Church, has been on disability leave since January of this year. Her boss, director of Health and Human Services Sue Portuese, retired on July 6, 2021, and a permanent replacement has yet to be named for her.
It kind of makes you wonder how many other administrators have resigned without being replaced. Is anyone keeping count?
Last (well, not really last, just all I have room for), there’s “The Case of the Closed Swimming Pools.” You may have noticed that it’s the end of July, Alaska is on fire, the U.K. is melting into a pool of Cadbury chocolate and Montclair is hovering around 36 degrees. (That’s Celsius, get with it, people!) Which makes it the perfect time to close two of the town’s three swimming pools.
Why are Nishuane and Essex pools closed? Well, you see, the contractor ran into supply chain and staffing delays for Nishuane, and the Essex renovation can’t start until… yada, yada, yada. No one is in charge.
Maybe no one’s in charge, but we can say for certain there is someone responsible. Except that person isn’t the mayor – it’s the town manager, Tim Stafford. Being mayor of Montclair is a part-time job with a stipend of $10,000 a year. The appointed town manager, with an annual salary in the neighborhood of $200,000, is supposed to run things. This form of government, though adopted in 1980, seems to hark back to a time when the town burghers took turns presiding over ribbon-cutting ceremonies and baking contests and left the messy work of administration to the hired help.
Whatever its origins, the result is a system in which the person responsible for running the town has zero accountability to its citizens. The town manager could in theory be fired by the Township Council for incompetence, but that would mean they’d have to pay attention to the day-to-day running of the town. Or a competent, dedicated town manager could, you know, do their job and avoid these messes.
Or we could have a system in which the person responsible had to answer to the voters every four years – a full-time mayor. That person would have a built-in incentive to make sure the town ran smoothly. Right now, if you want to get a pothole fixed (or a pool open), your elected representatives can’t help you. Can my vote be bought with a fixed pothole? Let’s find out!
In the short term, we’re stuck with a rudderless town government and a town manager who seems to be on permanent vacation. Perhaps Mr. Stafford can be convinced to look for employment somewhere else. How about Sweden?
Richie Chevat, writer, activist, has been a Montclair resident for more than 30 years. He’s the author of the comic sci-fi novel “Rate Me Red,” the play “Who Needs Men?” and the young reader version of “A Queer History of the United States,” among other works. He can often be seen running errands around town on his bike.