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Bianchi focused on redevelopment


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Redevelopment of the borough’s meadowlands acreage will be “the first priority” of the incoming administration of Republican Mayor-elect Joseph Bianchi.

In a recent interview with The Observer, Bianchi – who, along with his Borough Council running mates, defeated the Democratic team led by incumbent Mayor Peter Massa in the municipal election Nov. 4 – said he’d like to take a cue from the borough’s southern neighbor Kearny in Hudson County.

“I’ve been very impressed with the way Kearny is developing their portion of the meadows district off Rt. 7 and elsewhere and I’d like to see development on our 50 acres of meadows,” he said.

There has been some activity already, with the new owner of the old Bergen County Utilities Authority property having leased the facility to PSE&G to use as an equipment storage site and staging area for upgrades to its regional high tension wires. But to stir more interest in the area by prospective investors and job creation, Bianchi said he intends to revive a municipal redevelopment board and hire a “specialist who knows the meadowlands and how to market our properties.”

The board that he envisions would have eight members – appointed by the mayor with consent of the Borough Council – “from all walks of life.” Bianchi said he would look to these board members – all of whom would serve as volunteers – and the “part-time” specialist – who would receive a “small stipend, maybe $25,000 and no benefits” – to come up with a redevelopment plan for the meadows area which would then be brought before the mayor and council for deliberation and, ultimately, adoption before it could be implemented. “No town or town council can do this,” Bianchi said, because “they have enough to do running the town.” While the borough has struggled to find additional revenues in recent years to offset tax hikes, Bianchi insisted that it should be seen as a community on the rise.

“North Arlington is strong and healthy and our future is bright,” he said. “We have an excellent Police Department [even though, with a force of 25, it falls 10 short of its T.O.] which is doing a wonderful job and our Volunteer Fire Department and Volunteer Emergency Squad, with the finest equipment available, are among the best in the USA.

“Our Public Works Department has 10 men and we do the best we can plowing and patching the streets, cutting down dead trees and grinding stumps – working very hard,” he added.

“Our recreation program is filled with volunteers who donate their time to coach and educate our kids,” Bianchi said. “There was a time when we didn’t have enough places to play but now we have a brand new county park and new high school field accessible to the community for exercise and walking, along with Zadroga Park for soccer and Alan Park for girls’ softball.”

As mayor, Bianchi said, “My thought is I’m willing to allow the girls from the high school to practice [softball] at Alan Park but to play their games at the county park” to allow enough playing time for the girls’ recreation softball program.

Bianchi, a hair stylist by trade who has served as a volunteer firefighter for the past three decades, thanked Mayor Massa “for his service to our community” along with the borough residents who voted for Bianchi as mayor after his having served seven years on the Borough Council (leaving a vacant seat to be filled) and 25 years on the Planning and Zoning Board.

Bianchi said he was “very humbled by the overwhelming show of support I received from the voters and I will work every day to live up to the confidence they showed in me to lead our community,” Bianchi said. Being given such an opportunity is “one that I will respect and cherish every day of my tenure.” He’s looking forward to working with his running mates Kerry Cruz and Dan Pronti and the rest of the council.

“We have a lot of work to do to revive our town and get it moving in a positive direction and I am counting on the support of – not only the Borough Council – but the residents as well. North Arlington is home to many intelligent and caring people and I hope to call on them to help me make decisions that will positively impact the future of the borough.”

Arce resigning after 11 years of service


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Now only three remain. A second member of the five-person dissident Democratic ticket, swept into municipal office by Kearny voters in 2003, is stepping down from her post.

Councilwoman Alexa C. Arce, who was elected to a First Ward seat on the Town Council in 2003, announced at Tuesday night’s council session that she was resigning, effective Jan. 5, 2015.

“I’m expecting my first child in a few weeks,” Arce said, “so I’ll be focused elsewhere.” Arce, who will be relocating from Kearny to be close to other family members, said she “thought it over so long” before concluding that separating herself from the demands of government service was the right thing to do.

She’ll also be taking some time off from her job as a manager for the Bank of America.

Mayor Alberto Santos, who ran with Arce as head of the slate opposing the HCDO (Hudson County Democratic Organization)-backed ticket led by James Mangin, said that the local Dems county committee, which he chairs, has 15 days from the day Arce’s seat is vacated to submit the names of three nominees to temporarily fill the seat.

The Town Council, he said, has 30 days from the time of the vacancy to pick one of the three to fill out the balance of Arce’s unexpired term, which is two years.

“Being a public servant is not easy,” said Arce. Looking back on her elective career, she said she’d be able to recall “some wonderful moments … [like] the creation of a new park in the First Ward, but also some tough choices.”

Perhaps the hardest choice she faced, Arce suggested, was accepting the offer to run for office in the first place and then, once she agreed, she was intensely engaged “in a full primary battle.”

No regrets, though, Arce added. “I’ve enjoyed working with all of you,” she told her fellow council members.

And, judging from her colleagues’ comments, the feeling was mutual.

Said Santos: “It was an honor to work with you. You’ve been consistent and responsible throughout,” despite what the mayor characterized as the initial “theatrics” from the opposition “when local government was not operating effectively.”

Santos credited Arce for her candor. “You’d always tell me where you stood,” he said, “but your focus was always on practicality and getting things done for the community.”

Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, the Third Ward candidate on that 2003 ticket, thanked Arce “for rounding up those Bank of America volunteers for our [annual Passaic] river cleanup. I’ve enjoyed working with you.”

The Fourth Ward candidate on the ticket, Councilman Michael Landy, commended Arce for her “calm and logical” approach, even in the heat of debate, and for her “reassuring voice” that all would be well.

The fifth member of the team, Barbara Cifelli-Sherry, resigned from her Second Ward council seat in October 2009 after moving to the Third Ward. She subsequently ran, successfully, for the Board of Education last year.

Arce’s First Ward counterpart, Councilman Albino Cardoso said he was “very proud” to have supported her in 2003 and, after he was elected to the council, “You were always at my side to teach me everything.”

Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel joined the chorus, telling Arce, “You’re one of those rare people who brings out the best in all of us. I appreciate your friendship and counsel over the years,” especially, being “sassy,” she said.

And Fourth Ward Councilwoman Susan McCurrie offered this tribute: “I’ll miss you …. You’re going for a good cause.”

During her 11 years on the council, Arce has served as chairperson for the Transportation Committee and a member of the Police, Water and Recreation Committees. Most recently, she was the council liaison to the Planning Board.

She has volunteered and fundraised for March of Dimes Walk America, Project HOPE (Homebound Outreach Project for the Elderly) at Beth Israel Medical Center, AIDS Walk and Making Strides – Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer.

Recounting that bitterly contested 2003 Primary contest, Santos said the slate aligned with the HCDO was placed on Line A of the ballot while, “we were kicked over to Line E.”

The dissident ticket didn’t mind “working with the county,” Santos said, but its members also wanted to give Kearny residents more of a say in running the town, he added.

“Our ticket won by a 2-1 margin,” the mayor said and the victory gave the dissidents at 7-2 majority on the governing body – which became 9-0 a few years later.

Improvements eyed at Kearny Point

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


The town governing body is poised to adopt a conceptual redevelopment plan for the Kearny Point Industrial Park, after having voted Dec. 2 to introduce an ordinance to approve the plan and is expected to adopt it at a public hearing before year’s end.

Mayor Alberto Santos said that adoption – following the Planning Board’s Dec. 3 approval of a site plan and variance applications in support of the proposal – would set the stage for the town to act on the owner/developer RTL Services’ application for a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) and for RTL to begin work in 2015. Santos said the town will also likely act on a request by Carlstadt developer Ed Russo for a PILOT on a proposed expansion of a redevelopment project at Bergen and Schuyler Aves. for an additional 70 apartments.

The 126-acre property at Kearny Point – originally home to the Federal Shipyard and Dry Dock Co. – fronts along the Conrail tracks and Central Ave. to the west and the Hackensack River to the east, has been used for warehousing and distribution facilities for the last half-century.

However, because of flooding from Super storm Sandy in 2012, “many of the buildings are currently vacant or have been demolished,” according to a report on the redevelopment plan prepared by Heyer Gruel & Associates, the town’s planning consultants.

In its PILOT application filed with the town, RTL envisions an investment in excess of $100 million for a water quality improvement project to enhance the property’s water, stormwater and sanitary sewer infrastructure systems, demolition of existing substandard buildings and infrastructure, a soil improvement program to minimize settlement that could disrupt new water facilities and construction of an impervious cap to mitigate contamination of the site and the river.

As part of the future use of the site, RTL is hoping to deploy a “flex space” concept where “a structure with high ceilings containing an open floor plan … can be modified [with partitioning, for example] to accommodate individual needs of its tenants. Individual areas can be leased for uses such as office space with warehouse, research and distribution facilities and other light industrial uses [as well as] general loading accommodations,” Heyer & Gruel reported.

In another commercial development, the Kearny Planning Board voted Dec. 3 to permit Signature Pre-Owned LLC, a used car dealer at 375 Schuyler Ave., to relocate to 369-371 Schuyler.

Signature owner Victor Castro, represented by attorney Ken Lindenfelser, told the board, “I need a little more room to make [the business] work.”

Castro plans to use an existing one-story, 1,900 square foot masonry building on the new site as an office for himself and three employees and possibly as a showroom for “one or two” of the 18 used cars he’ll have on the 9,000 square foot lot.

The rest of the cars will be contained on a portion of the new property which will also accommodate parking spaces for up to five customers, he said.

Castro’s Scotch Plains engineer Thomas Quinn told the board that the front of the masonry structure will be replaced by a glass front, that a roll-up metal garage door will be installed at the southwest corner of the building and that existing chain-link fencing will be extended along the northern property line so that the entire site will be enclosed.

Board member Michael Martello, who also serves as town administrator and construction code official, advised Castro and Quinn that as per licensing requirements for used car dealers, fencing “must be set back one foot beyond the property line” and that exterior lighting cannot “reflect onto the adjacent property.”

While the plans show a fairly tight configuration for the used cars to be stored on the lot, Quinn told the board that Castro’s employees “will have ample room to maneuver cars in and out of spots.” The process will be eased, he added, by the fact that customers are asked to make appointments so the employees will have ample time to do the maneuvers.

Since Schuyler is a county roadway, Castro must also get approval from the Hudson County Planning Board before he can go forward with the move, Martello noted.

Union pickets Passaic Ave. mall site


Members of Local 3, Building Construction Laborers of North Jersey, are picketing a Passaic Ave. mall development site where a new BJ’s is slated as the anchor tenant.

Currently, Danco General Contracting is demolishing the old Congoleum factory on the site to clear the way for construction of new retail outlet stores by DVL Holdings LLC.

Paul Roldan, Local 3 field representative for Hudson and Essex counties, said the union is upset about Danco’s use of non-union labor and about safety at the work site.

Danco, according to a published report, is paying its workers $22 to $25 an hour with no benefits. Roldan said the union scale “area standard” is $54 an hour. And, he said, the benefit of having union labor is that, “all of our people are OSHA (federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration)-trained.”

Aside from that, Rolan said that, “for jobs of this magnitude,” there’s no reason why at least some Kearny area residents shouldn’t be employed. For tax-abated development projects exceeding $20 million, the government permits Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) between the community and the developer, which, he said, would “trigger the use of a [union] apprenticeship program for at least 20% of the work force at the project.”

Asked about that, Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said that local government “cannot mandate the use of union labor” but they can sign a PLA “which requires the contractor to employ and train apprentices” and “a contractor with non-union workers would have to pay union dues for the length of the project and follow union rules on pensions and work conditions. Kearny does not have a PLA policy.”

Asked if the town would consider implementing such a policy, Santos said: “We would need a cost analysis done before doing so. Unlike Jersey City [which has a PLA], Kearny does not have the same level of developer interest.”

 – Ron Leir 

ShopRite of Lyndhurst hosts healthy-holidays events

ShopRite of Lyndhurst, an Inserra Supermarkets store, 540 New York Ave., has announced its roster of healthy-holidays and wellness events. All programs are free, open to the public, held at the store and do not require advance registration unless otherwise noted.

Julie Harrington, R.D., instore registered dietitian, leads each program and provides easy-to-implement nutrition and wellness advice.

• Walking Club – Join this weekly club for a one-mile trek through the store on Thursdays, Dec. 11 and 18, starting at 8 a.m. at the Dietitian’s Corner.

Membership cards and prizes are awarded to all participants.

• Julie’s Produce Pick – Harrington will mix the week’s produce pick into a delicious new dish on Wednesday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. Stop by for samples and recipe cards.

• Healthy Freezer Finds – Drop by the Dietitian’s Corner on Thursday, Dec. 11, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., for samplings of ShopRite’s wide variety of nutritious items in the frozen food section.

• Healthy Holiday Brunch – Participants learn how to prepare a healthy brunch Monday, Dec. 15, from 2 to 3 p.m. or 5 to 6 p.m. Space is limited, and registration is required.

LiveRight with ShopRite Kids’ Day Cooking Class – Youngsters ages 6 and up can create and try new things while preparing a simple, healthy snack on Saturday, Dec. 20, from 11 a.m. to noon. Space is limited, and registration is required.

“Soup-er” Sunday – As the temperatures dips, warm up with satisfying soup recipes on Dec. 21, from noon to 2 p.m.

ShopRite’s dietitians can serve as guest speakers/instructors at wellness events hosted by local organizations. For more information or to pre-register for a program, contact Harrington at 201- 419-9154 or email Julie.harrington@wakefern.com.

around town


Belleville Public Library and Information Center, 221 Washington Ave., holds a Saturday craft program, open to all ages, Dec. 13 at 3 p.m.

Belleville High School’s Music Department presents its 2014 winter concert series, starting with the instrumental music program, featuring the BHS Wind Ensemble and Orchestra, on Thursday, Dec. 11, and the vocal music program, with the BHS Concert Choir and Acapella Chorus, on Tuesday, Dec. 16.

Both concerts start at 7 p.m. in the Connie Francis Theatre at the high school. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Admission is free but donations are accepted at the door.

For more information, email band director Anthony Gotto at Anthony.gotto@belleville.k12.nj.us or vocal music director Carol Lombardi at carol. lombardi@belleville.k12.nj.us.


Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., announces the following:

  • The Book Club meets Monday, Jan. 5, 6:45 to 7:45 p.m., to discuss “Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey. For more information or for help in locating a copy of the selection, call the reference desk at 973-566-6200, ext. 219 or 220.
  • Food for Fines will be collected Dec. 15-31. Bring in a can or box of non-perishable food and each donation will reduce up to $1 in fines, no matter how old, but cannot be applied to pay for lost books. Food products must not be expired.


On Sunday Dec. 14, the Harrison Lions Club will hold its annual Winter Wonderland shopping bazaar from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Community Center, 401 Warren St. Over 30 vendors will offer their merchandise for area residents to start their holiday shopping. Admission is free. First 50 shoppers will get a special gift. Former NFL quarterback Ray Lucas will be signing and selling copies of his book “Under Pressure” from 10 a.m. to noon. Children will have an opportunity to visit with Santa and have their picture taken from noon to 3 p.m. Lions Club members will be available at different stations to help children with writing letters to Santa Claus and assist in the making of their own personalized stockings, ornaments, and holiday hats. For more information, go to http://eclubhouse. org/sites/harrisonnj/ or visit them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ harrisonlionsclub.


A cat food drive is being conducted through Dec. 12 for Kearny’s TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return) program. Drop off cat food donations at K-9 Corner, 169 Midland Ave. at Elm St.

Trinity Episcopal Church of Kearny and Christ Church of Harrison will co-sponsor their monthly flea market at 575 Kearny Ave., Dec. 13, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Doors open at 8 a.m. for set-ups. Vendors are invited. Tables are one for $15 and two for $25. Call Trinity Church at 201-991-5894 to schedule your table or call Annamarie at 201-998-2368 after 5:30 pm. Walk-ins and new vendors are welcome.

Grace United Methodist Church, 380 Kearny Ave., hosts a Christmas spree and supper Dec. 12, 5 to 8 p.m. The sale includes handcrafted Christmas ornaments and decorations, candies, cookies and more. The $7 cost for the meal includes soup, sandwich and dessert. For more information, call the church at 201-991-1132.

Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., hosts a holiday marbleizing workshop Saturday, Dec. 13, at 10 a.m.

Marbleizing is the preparation and finishing of a surface to imitate the appearance of polished marble.

Using silk scarves, instructor Renee Johnson will lead participants in this ancient art, widely used in Pompeii and in Europe during the Renaissance.

Just in time for the holidays, the finished product, free to all registered attendees, will make a beautiful gift. This program will only be open to a limited number of adults. Call the library at 201-998-2666 for a reservation.


The Lyndhurst Historical Society is showcasing a sampling of the many businesses that contributed to the community and beyond in its newest exhibit, “Lyndhurst Business: Building a Community,” which runs through August 2015 at The Little Red Schoolhouse, 400 Riverside Ave.

The exhibit is free and open to the public, but a small donation to the Society is appreciated. The Little Red Schoolhouse Museum is open on the second and fourth Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, leave a message at 201-804-2513 and your call will be returned.

For more information about the Lyndhurst Historical Society, readers can visit www.lyndhursthistoricalsociety.org. Like them on Facebook.

Lyndhurst Public Library, 355 Valley Brook Ave., announces the following events for children. Registration is not required unless otherwise specified. To register, call the library at 201- 804-2478.

  • A reindeer craft program, open to pre-k to grade 3, is set for Thursday, Dec. 11, 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.
  • Children in grades 1 to 4 can make a holiday wreath on Thursday, Dec. 18, 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Registration is required.
  • A Yu-Gi-Oh! Card Game Night, open to grades 6 to 9, takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 10, from 6 to 7:15 pm. Refreshments will be served. Space is limited and registration is necessary. To register, call the library or email referencelyndhurst.bccls.org.
  • RoseMarie Rubinetti Cappiello, an intuitive medium/ healer, hosts a brief session of audience spirit readings followed by a discussion of her new book “Speaking From Spirit” Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 6:30 p.m. Books will be available for purchase. Space is limited and registration is necessary. No walk-ins will be allowed. Call the library or email romeo@bccls.org to register.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission hosts Watercolor Pencils for Kids, open to ages 5 to 12 (accompanied by an adult) Saturday, Dec. 13, 10 a.m. to noon, at the NJMC Science Center, 3 DeKorte Park Plaza. All art supplies are provided. Pre-registration is required. Cost is $10 (no fee for adults).

To register, go to www. njmeadowlands.gov/ec. For more information, call 201- 460-8300.

Knights of Columbus Council 2396 sponsors a Tricky Tray Friday, Jan. 16, at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. The $15 admission includes coffee plus one prize sheet of tickets. No alcohol is permitted. No tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call Steve Cortese at 201-657-0800 or Sal Russo at 201-446-7244.

North Arlington 

North Arlington Police Department Crime Prevention and Community Relations Unit is conducting a holiday toy drive. New and unwrapped toys may be dropped off at the Police Department through Dec. 11. Toys will be distributed to area hospitals, local families and others in need.

North Arlington Senior Activity Center, 11 York Road, hosts a holiday celebration Friday, Dec. 12. Bingo starts at 10:30 a.m., lunch is served at noon and dancing begins at 1:30 p.m. For more information and reservation, call 201-998-5636.

North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Road, hosts the following programs:

  • Carol Erickson performs jazz standards and some holiday tunes Saturday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m. There will be light refreshments. The Friends of the Library sponsor this event. (The program on Colonial and Victorian Christmas, which was set for Dec. 13, has been canceled.)
  • Computer Coding Club, open to ages 8 to 13, meets Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1 p.m. Registration has been completed for this event. The library will be closed to the public at 1 p.m. on this date, as usual, and open only for this special program.
  • A holiday pageant, for all ages, is set for Thursday, Dec. 11, at 6:45 p.m.
  • An origami class, open to grades 4 to 7, is set for Friday, Dec. 12, at 3:30 p.m.
  • The Woman’s Club sponsors a craft session, open to K to grade 5, Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 6:30 p.m.
  • Tween Book Club, open to grades 5 to 7, meets Thursday, Dec. 18, at 3:30 p.m.
  • Sing-along Story Time, open to ages 2 to 5, is set for Thursday, Dec. 18, at 11:45 a.m.

Queen of Peace Church presents its annual Christmas concert Sunday, Dec. 14, at 3 p.m. The event features the church’s choir, the Queen of Peace Schola Cantorum and the Chopin Singing Society along with soloists. There is no admission charge but a free will offering is requested.

Police seek help locating woman last seen in Belleville


The New Jersey State Police needs help locating a missing Belleville woman.

Mildred Soto, 52, was last seen in Belleville on Oct. 2, police said. Police said she suffers from paranoia and may be in the area of Midtown Manhattan or Bergen and Hudson counties.

If you have information that can assist in helping to safely locate Soto, please call 9-1-1 or the New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit at 609-882-2000, ext. 2895.

Driver in fatal crash found, is cooperating, officials say


Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Nutley Police Chief Thomas J. Strumolo have announced that the driver of the black Ford Econoline van believed to have been be involved in a Nov. 15 accident in which  a 77-year-old woman was killed has been located.

The man, whose name is not being released at this time, is cooperating with authorities. As of Wednesday, no charges had yet been filed.

The victim, Ernesta Fernandez of Nutley, was crossing Centre St. when she sustained fatal injuries. The investigation is active and ongoing. No other information is available at this time.

High stakes lottery


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Close to 150 folks have entered a special lottery which – if they’re winners – will, literally, change their lives.

They’re in the running for 15 one-room apartments at the Harrison Senior Residence, what’s been billed as the town’s “first affordable senior citizen apartment building.”

A certificate of occupancy for the three-story building at 774 Harrison Ave. was issued by the town’s Construction Code unit last Tuesday, said John Westervelt, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Newark and president of the Domus, its housing construction arm and sponsor of the Harrison structure.

The modular apartment project was built by Del-Sano Contracting of Union and was financed by $3.7 million in government funding: $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant/Sandy Disaster Recovery Program, $1.4 million from the Hudson County Home Investment Partnership Program and $509,000 from the Harrison Affordable Trust Fund.

To enter the lottery, prospective tenants had to be age 62 or older and meet federal household income limits set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

People who have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help after being displaced by Superstorm Sandy are to be given priority.

Last week, each application form was placed in a large cardboard box and Westervelt, Mayor James Fife, Councilman/Harrison Housing Authority Chairman Larry Bennett and Dan Ritchey Jr., vice president of R.P. Marzulli Co., the Bloomfield real estate firm picked by Domus to manage the Harrison property, took turns drawing the forms and reading the applicants’ names aloud as dozens of applicants and others watched and listened from their seats in the second-floor assembly chambers at Harrison Town Hall.

Photos by Ron Leir As interested parties wait for the lottery to start at Town Hall, a worker puts finishing touches of paint on railings at front entrance to Harrison Senior Residence.

Photos by Ron Leir
As interested parties wait for the lottery to start at Town Hall, a worker puts
finishing touches of paint on railings at front entrance to Harrison Senior


“Welcome to, hopefully, what will be the first of many lotteries like this in the future,” Fife told the expectant crowd. The mayor has said previously that officials are reviewing several prospective sites that could possibly be developed as additional affordable apartments for seniors living on fixed incomes.

And Westervelt – noting that the Harrison building is the 12th project that Domus has developed in New Jersey (including a larger one in Kearny) – said that he looked forward to building more if HUD continued to provide funding.

Each applicant was given a number corresponding to the order in which the form was picked. The first 15 applicants to be successfully screened as eligible for tenancies will be accorded the right to the 15 apartments, Westervelt said.

“Don’t get discouraged if your number is 25 [or higher],” Westervelt told the crowd, explaining that it’s possible that people higher up on the list of the draw could be eliminated from consideration if they don’t meet the eligibility criteria.

Westervelt said his staff would shortly begin calling in the first 15 applicants for vetting interviews and continue the process until the final selections for the 15 apartments are made.

He said the goal is “to start moving people in as soon as possible, maybe by mid-December.”

Westervelt gave The Observer a tour of the building last week. Aside from some “punchlist’’ items, such as painting of outdoor railings at the front entrance, installation of glass panes in the front doors and plastic covers to fill gaps between the ground floor and a crawl-space basement, a utility hookup and placement of its numerical address on the front, the building looked pretty much ready for its first-ever occupants.

Big bill to rid borough of sex suit

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


East Newark has agreed to pay a former civilian police dispatcher $101,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit filed against a borough police superior who also served as the borough’s volunteer fire chief.

Additionally, through its public liability insurance coverage, the borough has also consented to pay the ex-employee’s lawyers more than $90,000 in fees and costs in connection with the processing of claims against her former employers.

Borough Attorney Neil Marotta said the cop continues to be employed by the borough. But he has agreed to a voluntary demotion, from sergeant to police officer, according to court papers. He hasn’t been criminally charged.

An amended complaint filed in August 2013 in Hudson County Superior Court by the Whippany law firm of Foreman & Gray alleged that its client was a victim of a “sexually hostile and abuse environment” during her employment as a dispatcher.

The complaint said that sometime after she was hired as a part-time police dispatcher in May 2008, Police Sgt. Robert Tomasko, her supervisor, “forced … [the woman] to perform oral sex” on 10 different occasions and threatened to fire her if she told anyone what happened.

On May 1, 2010, the complaint said, Tomasko terminated the woman, for an alleged “failure to cover a shift she was not scheduled to work” to “silence her” on the belief that the Police Department “was becoming aware of his conduct towards [her].” After her firing, she told the police chief what she alleges had happened to her, the complaint said.

The complaint added that the woman, who served as a borough volunteer firefighter for eight years, “faced discriminatory actions” and “gender discrimination” after disclosing that she was pregnant and “was forced to resign” as a volunteer in April 2012.

The complaint alleged that the woman was subjected to a “sexually hostile work environment,” that the Police Department “failed to remediate” the situation, that she feared losing her job for speaking out against her supervisor, that she was wrongfully terminated from her dispatcher job and firefighter position and, therefore, demanded compensatory and punitive damages and legal costs.

On June 6, 2014, Hudson County Superior Court Judge Francis Schultz dismissed all but one of the claims against the borough and Tomasko, leaving only the sexual hostile work environment claim open for trial.

But, during settlement negotiations, after having initially indicated they would accept nothing less than $1 million for their client and then later modifying that to not less than $500,000, the plaintiff ’s lawyers accepted an “offer of judgment” of $101,000 in July.

However, in October 2014, the plaintiff ’s lawyers, Foreman & Gray, petitioned the court for fees of $786,247, based on 1,990.5 billable hours at $395 an hour, plus about $393,123 in “enhanced” legal fees and about $36,500 in costs for a total of about $1.2 million.

In evaluating the merits of the law firm’s enhanced fee application, Superior Court Judge Kimberly Espinales- Maloney found that although the lawyers’ billing rate was acceptable, she found certain billings “unreasonable.” These included:

• 12.5 hours to draft a set of  interrogatories.

• 19.8 hours to review  and abstract the transcript of Tomasko’s 2- hour and 47-minute-long statement of Sept. 28, 2012.

•41.8 hours to prepare for  Tomasko’s deposition.

• 9.1 hours to attend To masko’s deposition, lasting two and a half hours.

• 29.1 hours to prepare for  depositions of former Police Chief Kenneth Sheehan and current Chief Anthony Moreiro.

• 5.2 hours for Sheehan’s  deposition, lasting two and a half hours.

• 140 hours to oppose the  borough’s motion to dismiss the case.

“These examples are not exhaustive, merely illustrative of the efforts of plaintiff ’s counsel to recover fees,” the court determined.

“Additionally,” the court noted, “[plaintiff ’s lawyers, Paul Foreman and David Gray] each individually billed hours for all activities they worked on together.… It is unreasonable for two attorneys to charge individually for routine activities, such as drafting interrogatories.”

In its Oct. 10 decision, the court concluded that 200 hours was a “reasonable amount of hours” spent on the case which, based on the billable rate, works out to $79,000 in attorney’s fees. In addition, the court allowed $14,480 in “reasonable litigation costs,” for a combined total of $93,480.

The Hackensack law firm Sweeney & Sheehan represented the borough in the case and Philadelphia attorney Robyn McGrath, of Harwood Lloyd, appeared for Tomasko.