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Category: News

Have you seen this alleged Nutley burglar?

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NUTLEY —

Police say they are investigating a diversion burglary that allegedly occurred on Fischer Ave. on Dec. 9.

An elderly resident told police that a man banged on her front door at 3 p.m., Dec. 9, claiming there was a chemical spill a block away. Police say the man produced an identification card and asked to enter the resident’s basement. After allowing whom she believed to be an actual contractor downstairs, he turned on water, creating a noise distraction, police say. He then radioed someone saying all appeared to be in order. At this point, police say, a second man entered the home and ransacked the bedroom.

Police investigating the incident learned two men ran from the residence carrying hand-held radios and entered a black SUV parked on Hickory, containing two more men.

The New Jersey State Police, with the help of the victim, created a composite description of the man who is alleged to have come to the door (see above).

Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Nutley Police Department’s Investigations Unit at 973-284-4940.

Help sought in cold case

cold-case

By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Somebody knows something.

Six years ago, an 87-year-old man was deliberately run down by a car in a South Kearny parking lot and robbed while he lay helpless on the ground.

He died of his injuries the next day. Authorities ruled the death a homicide.

The Kearny Police Department and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office have been hunting the killers ever since, and as the anniversary of the crime is marked, they are making a renewed call for the public’s help in solving this cold case.

Do you recognize the suspect in the sketch? Did you ever hear any chatter on the streets? Any rumors? Read more »

100G for Arena tax case

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

HARRISON – 

Now that the state Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the New York Red Bulls professional soccer team should pay taxes on the stadium and the land it occupies in Harrison, the town has hired an outside law firm to defend its position before the court.

To that end, Mayor James Fife and the Town Council voted Dec. 2 to retain the Bloomfield law firm of Pearlman & Miranda as special counsel, from Dec. 1, 2014, through Nov. 30, 2015, for a “maximum” amount of $100,000 (no hourly rate specified).

To the casual observer, that would seem to be a lot of money to spend on a legal matter that will end up with the lawyers for both sides fielding questions from the chief justice and six associate justices. Because the court already has the facts of the case in hand, the lawyers won’t even have to write new briefs.

But, for Harrison, the stakes are high enough to justify that kind of investment in a legal brain trust since the town currently is collecting more than $2 million annually between taxes on the land and the arena.

Why will the firm’s services be needed for up to a year? Because, as explained by Town Attorney Paul Zarbetski, typically it can take, from eight to 12 months, for the state’s highest tribunal to actually schedule a hearing of a case.

Zarbetski said the Essex County firm was the only one that responded to the town’s solicitation for proposals to represent the town in the case known as Red Bull Arena Inc. vs. Town of Harrison, the Harrison Redevelopment Agency and Hudson County Improvement Authority.

Zarbetski said the firm was well qualified to handle the assignment because several members of the firm were “well-versed in bonds and redevelopment law, which is the basis for what the Red Bulls’ claim for tax exemption is based on.”

Pearlman & Miranda are currently representing RTL Services, owner of Kearny Point Industrial Park, in efforts to apply for a lowinterest loan from the state Environmental Infrastructure Trust Financing program to facilitate water quality improvements at the firm’s South Kearny site.

In prior appearances before the state Tax Court and the state Appellate Court, where the Red Bulls argued for tax-exempt status, Kearny attorney Norman Doyle Jr. defended the town’s interests and came away with victories on each level.

Doyle died in December 2013 so, when the Red Bulls decided to press on with the case and managed to persuade the State Supreme Court to “grant certification” on Sept. 25 to hear the case, Harrison searched for a replacement.

The road to litigation began in 1998 when Harrison adopted a redevelopment plan for its 250 acre largely dilapidated waterfront area and because that plan was to include a “professional soccer stadium and its accessory uses,” the town invited the then-Metro Stars soccer team to set up its home field in Harrison. In 2003, the town amended the plan to provide for a 25,000- seat multi-use stadium to be built on 12 acres of land in the redevelopment area.

In 2005, Harrison sold $40 million in bonds to the Hudson County Improvement Authority and gave the proceeds to the Harrison Redevelopment Agency to finance acquisition and preparation of the land for the stadium.

The Metro Stars, acquired by Red Bull, agreed to build and finance the stadium. In 2006, the HRA, HCIA and Red Bull signed various contracts: a redeveloper agreement which required Red Bull to develop the land as a soccer/entertainment stadium; a ground and stadium lease which required the HRA to lease the land to the HCIA; and a ground and stadium sub-lease which required the HCIA to sublet the land to Red Bull for 30 to 50 years.

The Red Bulls began playing their home games at the Harrison stadium in early 2010.

The agreements signed by the parties left the taxation question an open-ended one and the town’s tax assessor Al Cifelli went ahead and assessed both the land and stadium. For 2010, the Town assessed the land at $3,702,000, and the stadium at $22,127,000 and it issued a tax bill to Red Bull for $215,863.62 for the land and $1,290,225.37 for the stadium. For 2011, the Town assessed the land at $3,702,000, and the stadium at $30,400,000 and billed $119,482.05 in taxes for the land and $1,222,359.31 for the stadium. The current assessment on the land is the same and the stadium is assessed at $30,750,000 so the taxes on both are more than $2 million, Cifelli said.

Red Bull argued that the state Authorities Law must be liberally construed to exempt the land and stadium as “property” or a “public facility” of the HCIA devoted to an essential public purpose and that the Redevelopment Law must be liberally construed to exempt the land and stadium as “property” or a “project” of the redevelopment agency devoted to an essential public purpose.

However, in a June 13, 2012, opinion, the state tax court judge held that the HRA owned the land, Red Bull owned the stadium, and neither the land nor the stadium was tax-exempt because they were not used for a public purpose.

In July 2012, Red Bull paid its back taxes and, since then, has paid its taxes on time, while, at the same time, reserving its legal quest of tax-exempt status, taking an appeal to the Appellate Court which, on May 12, 2014, affirmed the state tax court ruling.

The appellate court opined that, “We recognize that the Authorities Law authorizes the Authority to operate public facilities for public recreation and entertainment; however, Red Bull operates the stadium privately for its own economic benefit, not for recreation or activities freely open to the general public. Notwithstanding the Town’s right to use the stadium for four civic events per year, or the Agency’s ability to use the stadium for events open to the public, those uses are subordinate to Red Bull’s right and do not convert the stadium to a public use as contemplated by the Authorities Law and Redevelopment Law …. Accordingly, because the property is not used for a statutorily authorized public purpose, it is not tax exempt.”

Staffing Skyway fire-watch

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

For the first time, members of the Kearny Fire Department will have a shot at off-duty pay, much like their counterparts at the Police Department have enjoyed for many years, although there is a sunset provision for the privilege.

This opportunity has arisen as a consequence of the long-term reconstruction of the Pulaski Skyway, the elevated state highway built in 1932 that links Jersey City and Newark, and, in particular, the welding work being done on the structure.

Starting in mid-April 2014, the state closed the northbound (towards Jersey City) lanes of the 3.5-mile long superstructure while the contractor, CCA Civil Inc./ Diadone Electric, a joint venture, replaces the bridge deck. The job, which will run more than $300 million, is expected to take two years.

Until recently, when there was construction work involving burning going on, the contractor had assigned a member or members of the work crew to monitor that activity to make sure no one would be hurt and that no property would be damaged.

But after some safety issues surfaced, things changed.

Kearny Councilwoman Eileen Eckel, liaison to the Fire Department, reported at the Dec. 2 council meeting that “there have been several incidents where sparks of fire from work on the deck have triggered brush fires below.”

In at least one instance – on Aug. 15 — Kearny firefighters responded in the department’s fireboat to a fire involving wood tenders under the Skyway which could have been set off by sparks from a welder’s torch above.

As a result, one Kearny Fire Department source said, local fire chiefs from Newark, Jersey City and Kearny told the contractor and the state Department of Transportation that maintaining a fire watch “was something they’d rather handle themselves.”

After DOT, which contracts out the work on the Skyway, concurred that the municipal Fire Departments should handle that responsibility, the Kearny Town Council passed a resolution Dec. 2 “permitting off-duty members of the Fire Department to accept (on a volunteer basis) fire-watch employment with the contractor making improvements to the Pulaski Skyway.”

The resolution noted that the state permit issued to the contractor for the improvements has been amended to include these conditions:

“While all hot work is being conducted, a fire watch shall be posted.

“Fire watch must be conducted for a minimum of one hour after hot work has been completed. “

Fire watch personnel must be New Jersey State Firefighter 1 (basic knowledge of firefighting techniques) or 2 (working under supervision as a member of a team) Certified and must be on site during all welding and cutting operations. Dedicated off duty firefighters shall be used for fire watch. Arrangements shall be made through local fire department having jurisdiction. “In the event that hot work is being conducted in the vicinity or above brush or combustible material, an additional fire watch must be posted on in the direct vicinity of ignitable material.”

The Skyway contractor will pay Kearny firefighters opting for the off-duty work at the rate of $58 per hour for a minimum of four hours of work. An additional fee of $10 an hour is tacked on “to cover administrative costs and out-of-pocket expenses for the town,” the resolution says.

“If the contractor fails to contact the Fire Department at least two hours before the scheduled work time to cancel the job, or [if] the Fire Department member works less than four hours and the job is completed, the Fire Department member shall be entitled to be paid for a minimum of four hours at the rate established [$58 an hour],” the resolution notes.

The contractor must provide an estimate of the number of hours required for the fire-watch job to the fire chief for approval, set up a trust account dedicated to the payment of off-duty firefighters and deposit sufficient funds to cover all costs on a monthly basis. All payments must be submitted to the town for deposit into the account.

Town Administrator Michael Martello reiterated that the full burden for payment rests with the contractor. “We don’t lay out any money at all,” he said.

No fire rigs from Kearny can be used on a fire-watch job and, if there’s a fire or emergency during a firewatch, the fire chief can pull any of the off-duty firefighters to respond to that fire or emergency.

The opportunity for the off-duty work “shall expire upon completion of the Pulaski Skyway project.”

New No. 2 has seen it all

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

LYNDHURST – 

The Lyndhurst Board of Education has revived the position of assistant superintendent, albeit on an interim basis, with the hiring of 50-year educator Jeffrey P. Feifer.

Feifer, who came aboard Sept. 25, was appointed to serve “no more than 120 days,” to work two days a week at $80 an hour and at a salary “not to exceed $70,000,” but no health benefits.

The district has done without a No. 2 administrator since 2010 when the then-Asst. Supt. Tracey Marinelli was promoted to superintendent. Last year, the then-high school principal Nicholas Coffaro was given extra duties as assistant to the superintendent but he has since departed to become superintendent of the Haledon public schools.

What prompted the board to fill the gap this year isn’t clear: neither board president Christopher Musto nor vice president Joseph Abruscato could be reached to explain but Marinelli said, given that, “there are so many state mandates and initiatives,” she welcomed the counsel and insight of someone with a wealth of experience.

Feifer, who grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., began his career in 1964 as a fourth-grade teacher at Public School 61 in the South Bronx which his mother had attended as a girl. During his five years there, teaching pre-k to grade 6, overcrowding ruled and “every inch of free space was taken up by trailers.”

Next came a five-year stay in East Ramapo in Rockland County, N.Y., initially teaching grades 5 and 6, followed by a promotion to assistant principal. Then it was on to Closter in Bergen County, first as k-to-6 principal for nine years and then superintendent for 24 years until he retired.

But eight months later, Feifer heeded the call for service again, accepting the first of many interim appointments in Bergen County, the first as special education administrator at Northern Valley Regional High School for two years, followed by sojourns as interim superintendent at Norwood, Oradel, Oakland and Old Tappan.

And now Feifer has landed in Lyndhurst where, he said, “I’m very pleased with the work I’ve seen. I’m thrilled at the level of commitment to all the schools here, for which I credit Ms. Marinelli, in consultation with her staff, for developing a comprehensive and educationally sound plan to maximize student achievement and, especially, curriculum and instruction.”

Marinelli and Feifer have worked together on the first-year implementation of the state-mandated new administrator/ supervisor evaluation system. “We’ve taken the state model and tweaked it to get more face-to-face interaction,” Marinelli said.

Feifer is taking the lead on a project to minimize disruption of classroom time in language arts and math for students who are pulled out for things like Gifted & Talented, instrumental music, ESL (English as a Second Language), speech and occupational therapy.

Both are working to ensure that students have a smooth adjustment to the first-time online administration of the state-mandated PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers) test. “Every elementary school has its own computer lab and in the high school, we have five computer labs and each student has his or her own iPad,” Marinelli said.

Meanwhile, the local district is moving ahead with several of Marinelli’s initiatives like the consolidated third grades at the Jefferson Annex Memorial Campus, the Parent Academy and the Lighthouse Campus on Riverside Ave.

Marinelli said the academy offers monthly workshops designed to give parents insights into all the changes that are taking place in all aspects of their children’s educational program.

For example, she said, in November the topic was report cards for children in pre-k through grade 3. Instead of the conventional letter grades, the state now wants local districts to incorporate a 4-point scale of how students are meeting the Common Core standard set for each grade. Some 70 parents showed up for two sessions led by Elba Castrovinci, elementary supervisor of instruction, and Marlene Krupp, supervisor of math curriculum and instruction for pre-k to 12.

This month, Krupp and Marinelli did a presentation on changes to the language arts instructional program in language arts for grades 3 to 5 and in math for grades 4 and 7, along with reports on special education developments and the SATs.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from parents so far,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli said that her administrative team is still fleshing out the mission of the Lighthouse Campus, a shared-time program in life skills, vocational training and recreation for general and special education high school students, operating from 601 Riverside Ave.

“Approximately 25 to 30 students are bused between the campus and the high school where they have lunch and attend their regular classes,” Marinelli said. “The space at Riverside is being made available to us by the township under a sharedservices agreement.”

Meet Nutley’s ‘Notables’

Notables_web

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

NUTLEY –

The prolific Anthony Buccino (15 books and counting) has just published his latest work: “Nutley Notables,” profiling more than 150 “Men and Women Who Made a Memorable Impact on Our Hometown.”

Included, of course, is Annie Oakley, whom everyone in Nutley knows once lived here. (Yes, outlanders, she did!)

Almost everyone in Nutley knows that this was the hometown of Martha Kostyra, now Martha Stewart.

But do you know about Frances Goodrich? Or Uncle Fred? Or Grumpy the Clown?

You can meet them, along with political leaders, military heroes, businessmen, scientists, athletes, artists, writers, et al., in the pages of “Nutley Notables.” And you may be surprised at the wide array of talents who called this tree-shaded town home. Or as Buccino describes Nutley: the kind of place “Norman Rockwell only dreamed of illustrating.”

The author started accumulating material, including photos and sketches, about three years ago, doing research at the Nutley Historical Society and the Nutley Public Library. The library, he noted, “had five five-drawer cabinets full of clippings. I spent a couple of weeks going through those.”

In fact, his research produced so much information, he is already working on Volume 2 of “Nutley Notables” and has compiled a five-page list of names.

But back to the current book. We had a chance just to skim through it, but we did finally learn how Annie Oakley ended up here. The world-renowned sharpshooter performed with a circus that used to visit Nutley (performances were held on what would later become the Hoffmann-LaRoche property). She fell in love with the town and, in 1892, she and her husband, Frank Butler, built a house at 304 Grant Ave. Because of their travels, they lived in it intermittently for about 10 years. Alas, it was torn down in 1937.

Frances Goodrich was born in Belleville but grew up in Nutley. She and her husband, Albert Hackett, became celebrated screenwriters and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights and based the fan-favorite Nick and Nora Charles movie characters on themselves.

They also wrote the screenplay for that holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Buccino has surmised that Goodrich based the Bedford Falls bridge, which has a key role in the plot, on her memories of the Passaic River bridge that joins Nutley to Lyndhurst. (It’s possible. The bridge is 100 years old. But if Goodrich saw its traffic mess today, she’d put it in a horror movie.)

When we found “Uncle Fred” in the book, we were gleeful. Fred Sayles hosted a long-long-ago children’s cartoon show called “Junior Frolics,” which was broadcast live from a studio in Newark. And it was on this show that your correspondent, at age 5 or so, made her television debut. As a member of the audience, sitting on a little grandstand with the host and a dozen other kids.

And because it was a Saturday, we got cake! (The Monday-Friday audiences got zilch.)

Grumpy the Clown (a/k/a Weary Willie) we had never heard of. “Nutley Notables” explains that Grumpy performed with a traveling circus in the 1800s. He carried a bag of gold coins, and if you could make him smile, you’d get the coins. Apparently, no one ever did.

When Grumpy died, he was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field, now part of the cemetery at Franklin Reformed Church on Prospect St. There was no money for a headstone, the book explains, so when the circus came back to town the following year, his friends planted a pine tree on the grave. “Nutley Notables” has a recent photo of the now-stately tree. (You might like to pay a visit. Maybe that will finally make him smile.)

All these people and more are in “Nutley Notables,” which you can order at www.nutleynotables.com or Amazon.com.

And if you’re wondering why we didn’t profile Martha Stewart’s Nutley links, it’s because we are not a fan of Martha Stewart. If you’re interested in her, read the book.

Market fined for violations

KEARNY –

A local supermarket was fined $700 plus court costs by Municipal Court Judge Thomas McKeon on Nov. 20 after being found guilty of several health code infractions.

Kearny Environmental Health Inspector Catherine Santangelo said the court action stemmed from the annual inspection of the A & J Seabra Supermarket, 180 Schuyler Ave., on Aug. 18, which uncovered 16 violations involving “critical control points” in food handling.

These included: non-compliance with employee hand washing, blocked access to sink, faulty refrigerator thermometers, cleaning issues, improper food coverage and manager’s failure to demonstrate knowledge of food safety procedures.

These deficiencies resulted in a rating of “conditional satisfactory” for the market.

“When we re-inspected on Sept. 12, we found that there were still a lot of the same violations,” Santangelo said. Those resulted in the issuing of three summonses for person-in-charge failing to show knowledge of food safety regulations, hand-wash sink not accessible and hand cleansers not fully stocked and failure of employees to wash hands.

A third inspection made on Sept. 30 showed sufficient compliance to qualify for a “satisfactory” rating, but the market was still required to deal with the summonses, which led to the court-imposed penalties, Santangelo said.

“We anticipate continued compliance,” she added.

No food from the store was embargoed as a result of the inspection process, Santangelo said. “There have been conditional ratings for this location in the past,” she said, “but not serious enough to order a closing.”

This year, more than 30 local food-related businesses received conditional ratings – some still pending re-inspections – out of a total of “close to 200” in operation, according to Santangelo. “We had a slight increase this year and that may be related to the recession, with businesses cutting back on employees, exterminating services, equipment and employee training.”

Santangelo said James Farm Market on Passaic Ave., was closed for a day after it received an “unsatisfactory” rating in July but the business was forced to shut after it, like several other retailers in the same location, were displaced by a mall development project now in progress.

– Ron Leir 

State to study problem bridges

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

Two long-neglected Passaic River vehicular bridges have been targeted for rehabilitation or replacement by a state transit agency.

They are: the DeJessa Memorial (Kingsland Ave.) Bridge that links Lyndhurst and Nutley and the Bridge St. Bridge which connects Harrison and Newark.

On Monday, Dec. 4, the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority voted to prioritize planning studies for each “functionally obsolete” span.

The NJTPA earmarked $750,000 for a study of the DeJessa Bridge and $600,000 for the Bridge St. Bridge to devise a “preferred alternative” strategy for remedying the various deficiencies of each.

Both are movable swing bridges, designed to allow for the passage of marine traffic.

The Kingsland bridge, rededicated in 1981 to the memory of U.S. Marine Joseph Carmine DeJessa, the first Lyndhurst resident killed in the Vietnam War, was built in 1905 and refurbished in 1986.

The Bridge St. Bridge, a thruway for County Rt. 508, was constructed in 1913 and rehabilitated in 1981. Motorists have only one lane to cross in each direction and the bridgekeepers require four hours’ notice to swing open the bridges for passing vessels. The Bridge St. Bridge is listed on the N.J. Register of Historic Places. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy knocked its two electric motors out of commission, along with old mechanical parts that allow the bridge to open and close. And that created delays for barges transporting contaminated soil being excavated, at the time, from a section of Lyndhurst mudflats along the Passaic riverbank.

At the DeJessa Bridge, state traffic studies reportedly show that more than 40,000 vehicles use that bridge daily and officials from Bergen and Essex counties agree that the bridge is simply not equipped to bear that kind of load.

And commuters complain that they’re subjected to further delays by poor synchronization of traffic lights on either side of the bridge and on the bridge itself.

Lyndhurst, in conjunction with Bergen County, is now in the process of making adjustments to the intersection at Kingsland and Park Aves., including new dedicated turning signals, and expansions of rights of way along the bridge approach that, officials hope, will help relieve some of the traffic buildup.

Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso said he was happy to hear about the NJTPA’s action. “It only took them nine years,” he added, noting that he’s been agitating that long for a replacement span. “It’s well overdue.”

“We need a new bridge,” the mayor said. “The traffic congestion there is one of the worst in the state. Let’s hope this [planning study] gets moving quickly.’’

In the meantime, he said, commuters can look forward to the installation of a new timing system for the lights on and off the bridge, “once we get synchronized with Nutley. It should happen within a month or two.”

Other bridges prioritized for planning studies are: the Central Ave. Bridge over the Newark City Subway, dating from 1908, $500,000; the Sixth Ave. Bridge over the Passaic River in Passaic County, $600,000; and the Monmouth County (Bingham Ave.) Bridge over the Navesink River. $600,000.

New superintendent expected soon

BELLEVILLE – 

More than 40 educators have applied for the position of superintendent of schools for the Belleville public school district, according to Board of Education officials.

Board President John Rivera and board member William Freda, who chairs the search committee, said last week that no more applications are being accepted and that the consultant hired by the board to conduct the search, Strategic Educational Advantage of River Edge, was expected to develop a “short list” of candidates soon.

As advertised, candidates must have a New Jersey school administrator certificate and some experience as a central office administrator, along with “knowledge of school finance and budgets.”

Rivera and Freda said that the full board would interview the finalists, as provided by the consultant.

“I would expect that we will get through the interview process quickly so that the board could vote on an appointment in January,” Rivera said.

Whoever gets the job will be inheriting a deficit from the 2013-2014 school year which Tom Egan, the state monitor assigned to the district, has projected at around $4 million. The board is waiting for an audited statement of finances so that it can request an appropriate amount of state aid to cover that gap in next year’s budget.

In late August, the board designated School 4 Principal Ricardo Acosta as acting superintendent in place of the departed Helene Feldman, who resigned with two years remaining in her contract after receiving more than $95,000 in compensation. Last month, the board voted to grant Acosta an additional $2,000 stipend for taking on extra administrative duties.

Last month, the board also hired Robert T. Clark as an interim school business administrator/ board secretary at $500 a day with no benefits. He’ll serve through June 30. He’s a former school business administrator for the Sussex County Vocational School.

The board also appointed Henry Sinatra as interim assistant principal of Belleville Middle School, also through June 30, at $475 a day.

 – Ron Leir 

Pettigrew picked to lead Council 11

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KEARNY – 

Civil Service Council 11, the union that represents nonuniformed civilian employees and crossing guards in Kearny, has elected Bill Pettigrew as its new president.

Pettigrew, who serves as town registrar and public health investigator, defeated Ken Salinski, a public works employee, by a wide margin in balloting held Oct. 17.

Also elected was Nevier Ruiz as first vice president, replacing Shirley Manucci, who retired Dec. 1. Craig Smith retains his office as second vice president.

Pettigrew, who has served on the union’s executive board for the past decade, takes over for Mary Ann Ryan, who retired last year. She had been president for the past eight years.

Council 11, with 83 members, will see its current labor contract with the town expire Dec. 31 and Pettigrew said he’s hoping for “smooth contract negotiations” with the town.

Of late, the union and the town have struggled to maintain labor peace. Council 11 contested the economic layoffs of several of its members a few years ago but a state administrative law judge dismissed its appeal earlier this year and Pettigrew said that any further legal action has been ruled out.

– Ron Leir