Some smoke, but little fire Residents attend council meeting to hear fate of firefighters

Many residents showed up at Tuesday’s Town Council meeting in order to find out one thing: the status of three firefighters whom a majority of the council recently voted to remove from the volunteer fire department, pending an administrative hearing.

In June, a Hudson County Superior Court jury awarded a gay couple $2.8 million, plus legal fees, for harassment they allegedly experienced while living next door to the North End Fire House.

Since the end of the trial the fate of the three firefighters has been the subject of much debate, both within the Town Council and among residents. Two weeks ago, the majority faction of the Town Council voted to dismiss them from the volunteer fire department.

The men now face administrative charges and have a right to a hearing with the town’s labor attorney.

Since dismissal is likely, the firefighters could decide to voluntarily resign from the department.

A minority faction of the Town Council believes anyone involved in the harassment should have been punished back in 2004 when the men complained, and that the town should now focus on improved trainings and policy changes instead of punishment.

In recent interviews, Mayor Dennis Elwell said he wanted the matter resolved by July 22. But the council made no statement on Tuesday regarding the status of the three firefighters.

Instead Elwell and the councilmen focused on business as usual.

Television sub-committee making progress

In response to a question from resident Carole Acropolis, Councilman Gary Jeffas reported that the council’s television sub-committee has made significant progress in its efforts to air and broadcast meetings for Secaucus residents who can’t make it to the Municipal Center to attend. Getting the Town Council meetings televised has been a major priority for some residents, especially those living in the senior centers who have limited mobility.

“Many of my neighbors are ‘shut ins,’ so they can’t come out to these meetings. But they want to know what’s going on,” Acropolis said during the public comments portion of the meeting. “They ask me questions all the time because they know I come to the meetings. I try to tell them what’s happening. But it really would be better if the meetings were televised.”

The subcommittee is made up of Jeffas, Councilman John Shinnick, and Town Administrator David Drumeler.

“We have pretty much ironed out the logistics,” Jeffas noted. “Right now we need to reach a consensus on what to tape, what not to tape. Hopefully by the next meeting we’ll have reached some decisions that we can report to you.”

The next Town Council meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 26.

Feelgood situation improving?

Golden Avenue resident Anthony Aiello commented that there has been a noticeable drop in noise and other problems stemming from the Feelgood Restaurant and Lounge on Paterson Plank Road in the center of town.

“The increased police patrols in that area are really working. I hope you plan to continue them,” Aiello said, addressing Mayor Elwell.

The restaurant’s owner also has put measures in place to decrease problems.

The mayor noted that weekend police patrols around Feelgood are permanent and there are no plans to discontinue them.

But another frequent critic of Feelgood, Humboldt Street resident Barbara Napierski, said at the meeting that she has not seen any improvements where she lives. She complained that patrons of the restaurant continue to park on Humboldt and hang out in the park across from her house.

Mayor responds to Lesniak bill

In response to the Reporter’s story last week regarding affordable housing legislation sponsored by State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20th Dist.), Mayor Elwell emphasized that Secaucus had concerns with the original language of the bill. The language was, however, modified at the town’s request.

In May, Lesniak introduced a bill that, among other things, divides the state of New Jersey into five regions – each region with 25 towns – that would work collectively to develop affordable housing in their region.

Lesniak and other supporters of the legislation have stated that this legislation would stop wealthy and middle-class suburban towns from paying poorer urban ones to take on their affordable housing share, and it would also give people living on modest incomes greater choice in where they can live.

But opponents of the measure argue that it would force increased development in towns that don’t want it.

Gov. Jon Corzine signed the bill into law on July 17.

“There are things that I don’t like about that bill,” Elwell said. “However, I want to emphasize that language added to the bill, regarding increases in the amount of affordable housing that will go in any town, was added only because we requested it. That was put in at our request, and our request alone.”

Elwell also said it is important to note that Lesniak’s work in Trenton has been helpful to Secaucus and that “90 percent of his work there had nothing to do with that bill.”

Lesniak is a senior partner in the law firm of Weiner Lesniak, which has service contracts with the town, including litigation work on affordable housing.

Put a leash on that thing!

Napierski also pointed out to the council that she has noticed an increase in the number of people walking their dogs without a leash, which is illegal in Secaucus.


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