What will Livingstonians be talking (and squawking?) about in the New Year?
Each year brings a set of issues that capture the hearts and minds of Livingstonians. What will stand out in 2014? Here is a round up, by no means complete, of what the town will likely be talking about in 2014.
Township Manager Michele Meade Faces Charges of Obstruction, Assault
Township Manager Michele Meade will continue her court proceedings in 2014. The charges against Meade stem from a police exercise on April 19, 2013, during which resident Kelly Mollineaux — wife of Belleville Police Officer Charlie Mollineaux — alleged Meade assaulted her.
In addition, Meade faces two additional charges of disorderly conduct for abusive language toward a police officer and obstructing justice — both filed by Livingston Police Sgt. Kenneth Hanna. If convicted, the township manager could face a maximum of a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
Meade’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 28 or 29, according to the West Caldwell Court Administrator.
On June 26, 2013, Meade first went before Stecher who found there was "probable cause" for Mollineaux's claim.
Meade and her lawyer Salvatore Alfano had a court conference with West Caldwell Judge Bridget Stecher and prosecuting attorney Joseph DeFuria on July 31, 2013. The conference was conducted over the phone, the West Caldwell Court Administrator confirmed.
$2M Bond For Township Public Works Department Garage Remains Unresolved
The Livingston Council failed to make a final decision about a $2 million bond to purchase the Department of Public Works a new home on Okner Parkway.
The bond was approved on first reading at the end of July but never moved further. Because the council left the bond in limbo through the end of 2013, the council must reintroduce the bond ordinance again.
The council approved the first reading of an ordinance to bond $2,040,000 in July to potentially move the public works' garage from its currently location at 357 S. Livingston Ave. to Okner Parkway — a little used roadway in the northwest corner of town.
Mayor Rudy Fernandez said at the time the move has been discussed for years. If the bonding was approved, it would have given the township the green light to buy the property.
But the bond issue continued to hit headwinds from those both on the council and local developers.
In September, Councilwoman Deborah Shapiro proposed to withdraw the first reading of a $2 million bond. Shapiro cited innumerable concerns voiced to her by residents about the issue, and added the council was “premature” in introducing the ordinance before it had a clear plan.
“I am violently opposed, violently opposed to keeping this just hanging out there,” said Shapiro at the time.
“I think it should be voted down and then at the point we come to some sort of decision about what we actually want to do, then we move forward."
While Shapiro’s proposal did not come to an official vote before the council, Deputy Mayor Michael Reiber was the only council member to voice any support for it.
An open letter to the council was also submitted David Conklin and John Wolkstein, of Livingston, against the project.
Conklin and Wolkstein accused the Fernandez and Township Manager Michelle Meade of interfering and with their own interest in purchasing the property on Okner Parkway to develop a sports complex there.
Taxes, Taxes, Taxes
Livingston taxes skyrocketed 5.7 percent this year due to a $2.4 million unpaid tax bill of the East Orange Water Commission.
Livingston and EOWC finally reached a settlement on the hefty bill this year. The EOWC agreed to pay Livingsotn $2.014 million on delinquent property taxes dating back to 2009.
Unfortunately, the payment came too late to help Livingston taxpayers this year. The township could not the $2 million settlement retroactively to the budget, so Livingston residents were stuck with a tax bill that rose $140 on average, according to the township.
The impact of those increased funds on 2014 taxes will be a topic of great interest to residents during the council budget talks this year.
Death At Town Garage
The details surrounding the death of Gregory Johnston, 67, of Ledgewood, who was killed after he was hit by a dump truck at the Livingston Public Works Department garage in December, have yet to be released by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Johnston was working at the garage as a contractor for Fairfield Maintenance. He was reportedly working on the township's oil and gas tanks when he was hit by the dump truck.
It's your turn, Livingston. What did we leave off our list of hot topics for 2013? Let us know in comments.
And happy New Year!