Why did town vehicles take seniors to Clinton rally? legal fees also controversial at council meeting; bakery discussed

For a moment at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, it looked like the council would breeze through a handful of non-controversial measures, call it an early night, and get home before the wintry mix coated the icy streets.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
The seven-member Town Council got halfway through its agenda before hitting its first road bump.

Town pays for argument at meeting

Most of the town’s bills were paid without controversy. However, Councilman John Bueckner questioned a $1,471 legal services bill from Chasen, Leyner, and Lamparello. The fee was paid on behalf of a recreation center employee who got into a verbal altercation with a schoolteacher in the hallway after a council meeting last year.
In Feb. 2007, John Schwartz, recreation facilities supervisor and an ally of Mayor Dennis Elwell, got into a verbal altercation with Jim Clancy, a Secaucus Middle School teacher and a supporter of Councilman Mike Gonnelli, after a council meeting.
Details of the incident are murky. However, in a police report on the incident, Schwartz alleged that Clancy made “terroristic threats” against him, and complained that Schwartz was on the wrong side politically. Schwartz also alleged that Clancy made some vague threats against Anthony Iacono, who was the controversial town administrator at the time. Iacono has since taken a job in Paramus.
“Why are we paying this guy’s legal bill?” Bueckner asked on Tuesday. “I don’t understand what we have to do with this matter.”Mayor Elwell said that since Schwartz was at that meeting at Elwell’s request because an ordinance concerning the swim center was introduced that night, the town is obligated to pay his legal expenses.
“I had invited him,” the mayor said, “because I wanted him to be on hand in case we had any questions or needed his input.”
But after the meeting, Bueckner, along with Councilmen Gary Jeffas and Mike Gonnelli, balked at the explanation, noting that public comments aren’t entertained when ordinances are first introduced and rarely, if ever, is there discussion of ordinances at the time of introduction. Instead, there are discussions and comments from the public at a subsequent meeting when measures come up for a hearing and final vote.
Nevertheless, the council approved payment of the Chasen fee, thanks to affirmative votes from Mayor Elwell, Deputy Mayor John Reilly, and councilmen John Shinnick and Richard Kane. Councilmen Jeffas, Gonnelli, and Bueckner voted against covering Schwartz’s legal expenses.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Jeffas – perhaps to prove a point, or perhaps to inject a little humor into the proceedings – moved to have the council pay all the legal fees Gonnelli has incurred defending himself against a conflict of interest complaint that’s currently before the state Local Finance Board. Gonnelli, a political foe of Mayor Dennis Elwell, has been accused by political enemies of various conflicts of interest, including serving as a member of the council and as a deputy fire chief simultaneously.

Bus ride to Clinton rally

Later in the meeting, Councilman Jeffas asked why town buses were used last month to transport senior citizens to a Hillary Clinton rally in North Bergen.
Mayor Elwell, who has endorsed Clinton for president and attended two local Clinton rallies last month, responded by saying, “We received requests from several senior citizens who wanted to attend the rally and who asked if we could help get them there.”
“I think that’s totally, totally off the board,” said Councilman Gonnelli. “What if we wanted to take people to a rally? Would we be able to use a town bus?”
“Sure, if enough people requested it,” Mayor Elwell responded.
When asked the day after the meeting what constitutes “enough people,” the mayor said if 10 to 15 elderly people need transportation, he thinks it’s fair to accommodate them.
“I wasn’t really aware of this request, but we would have done the same thing if we had requests from people wanting to go to an Obama rally,” he added, referencing Clinton’s rival for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Sugar fire inspires discussion of Damascus Bakery

Citing the recent explosion at the Imperial Sugar Company in Port Wentworth, Ga., Mayor Dennis Elwell issued a press release during the Town Council meeting calling again for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) to reconsider its approval of the Damascus Bakery.
Elwell and a number of residents have been trying to stop the bakery from coming to Secaucus since last year.
Last May, the NJMC granted a zoning permit to Brooklyn-based Damascus Bakery, allowing it to take over an old warehouse at 10 Enterprise Ave. North. However, residents complained that the site is inappropriate for the bakery, given its close proximity to residential housing and Clarendon Elementary School.
Town officials have also raised concerns about possible noise from the facility, delivery trucks, the lack of adequate fire lanes, and the possibility that flour – the bakery’s main ingredient – could be a fire hazard.
However, the matter is part of a larger issue from town officials, because by state law, the NJMC makes zoning decisions for 80 percent of Secaucus, taking them out of the town’s hands.
At the council meeting, the mayor reiterated that the NJMC approved the bakery permit without a public hearing and input from the local community.
Damascus Bakery is a well-known pita bread manufacturer.
Although the cause of the Georgia fire remains under investigation, some have speculated that dry sugar dust that was being stored in a silo ignited after building up an electric charge.
At least seven workers were killed in the blast, one other remains missing, and dozens are hospitalized with serious burns. The Imperial Sugar Company is located in an open industrial area.
Mayor Elwell says a similar episode in a residential neighborhood would be catastrophic.
The bakery’s co-owner, David Mafoud, was out of town last week and was unavailable for comment. However, in a phone interview on Feb. 1, he stated that he is still waiting for the building inspector to issue a permit. Because of the problems the bakery has had with the town, Mafoud said at the time, “We’re six months behind schedule and we’re losing business.”

Other matters

A number of ordinances and resolutions that were introduced in January were approved without fanfare.
The Town Council unanimously approved a measure to use a $3.1 million grant to purchase land on Oak Lane and Farm Road to continue its River Walk project. This vote came despite the fact that earlier this month, an affordable housing advocacy group, the Fair Share Housing Coalition, filed a motion with the NJMC and the Council on Affordable Housing to stop the town from buying the two properties. They have said the properties might be better used for affordable housing.
The council unanimously approved an ordinance to amend town law to reflect wage increases for police officers. In December, the town signed new four-year contracts with the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association Local 84, which, respectively, represent rank and file police officers and their supervisors.
The officers will receive 3.8 percent pay raises in the first three years of the contract and a 3.7 percent hike in the fourth year.
The Town Council also approved a measure that formalizes the fire chief’s ability to call on other towns’ fire departments for assistance when necessary. The Secaucus Fire Department already had mutual aid agreements with 26 other municipalities in Hudson and Bergen counties that enabled them to request assistance from other departments whenever there is a need for additional emergency help.
The new law strengthens the chief’s ability to call on outside back-up based on equipment and manpower needs in emergency situations.
The mayor and five of the council members voted in favor of this measure; Councilman Mike Gonnelli, who serves as deputy fire chief, abstained.
In addition, the council passed an ordinance to create a handicapped parking space near 812 ½ Seventh St.


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