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Santa’s Express Mailbox available Nov. 25

Nutley Mayor Joanne Cocchiola recently announced her plans to once again collect letters written to Santa by children in the township and forward them directly to Santa Claus in the North Pole.

Now in its sixth year, the special Santa Express Mailbox will be placed at the Nutley Park Oval entrance on Chestnut Street where children can deliver their letters starting on Friday, Nov. 25, in conjunction with Santa’s Arrival in the Oval, which is sponsored by the Nutley Chamber of Commerce.  The last day of collection will be Tuesday, Dec. 20, allowing Santa enough time to respond to each letter by Christmas.

Parents are asked to please remember to have children include their age and return address on each letter to Santa.  The address is really important since Santa doesn’t always have the luxury of time to look up addresses during the busy holiday season.

For more information, please contact Kim Russomanno at 973-284-4976, or krussomanno@nutleynj.org.  Remember to visitwww.nutleynj.org for the latest on township news, programs and events.






Snowstorm creates havoc

Photo by Karen Zautyk/ Downed wires are draped dangerously close to roadway at Washington Ave. and Fairview Place, Kearny.


By Karen Zautyk

On Friday night, perhaps for the first time in living memory, local TV weather forecasters provided information the viewers could actually use.
Because the leaves were still on the trees, they warned, snow from the approaching storm would weigh heavily on the branches – more so than in a normal winter snowfall – and those branches, and maybe entire trees, would fall.
There was nothing anyone could do about that, but at least we were warned. And,
starting on Saturday, evidence of the accuracy of this prediction was all over the
After Hurricane Irene, we wrote that Kearny looked like one big crime scene,
with yellow tape blocking off fallen limbs and downed wires on streets throughout
the community.
This weekend, the scene was even more devastating.
Entire blocks were closed. And there were branches everywhere, along with wires
draped over autos, sidewalks and lawns.
“This storm was 100% worse than Hurricane Irene,” said Kearny Police Sgt. John
Manley, deputy coordinator of the town’s Office of Emergency Management. “The
trees still had leaves, and the wet snow, the weight of the snow,” combined to make
conditions extremely hazardous, he noted.

Photos by Karen Zautyk & Anthony J. Machcinski





Post-storm scenes of downed trees and wires, and one resident sawing up a fallen tree (from top): Oakwood Ave., Kearny; Edgar Place, Nutley; Kearny Ave. at Washington Ave., Kearny; River Road, Nutley, and South Midland Ave., Kearny.

“The tops of the trees were splitting and branches were falling everywhere,” he said.
Kearny Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer that, from noon Saturday until noon Sunday, the KPD logged 454 calls.  “As you can imagine, they were mainly downed trees, wires, road closures, flooding, accidents, etc.”
To deal with the 911 deluge, the department held over the morning shift into the afternoon.
Manley  noted that the Kearny Fire Department was also “running from call to call.”  These, he said, involved” downed wires, wires arcing, wires on fire, trees on fire.”
On Saturday, while the snow was still falling, the responders faced particularly perilous conditions. “As we were out there checking things out, trees and branches were falling all around us,” Manley said. “During the storm, it was too dangerous for anyone to work under the trees.”
He could only guess, but he speculated that thousands of branches and perhaps several hundred trees were down all over town.
Clean-up began in full on Sunday, and PSEG, which was on the scene during the storm, was to bring in extra manpower this week to deal with the power outages, which were affecting various neighborhoods.
The OEM was also assessing the damage along with the utility and the Department of Public Works.
The storm even forced the cancellation of the annual Halloween parade, which had been scheduled for Sunday along Kearny Ave.
Mayor Alberto Santos explained that, even though the storm had passed, conditions in town were “unsafe.” The Washington School playground, where costumed children were to gather, had not been cleared and “many sidewalks were not clear.” Add to that the downed trees and fallen power lines.
“We assessed the situation and decided it was much more prudent to cancel,” the mayor said.
The destruction in Kearny was repeated throughout Hudson, South Bergen and Essex counties.
A drive through Nutley on Sunday showed that it appeared to have been especially hard hit. We saw damage on every block we passed. The streets were a carpet of wet foliage. Branches were down on most streets, and there were also limbs covering the railroad tracks. Entire trees had been split, as if some giant lumberjack had taken an ax to them.
Throughout our region, homes were still without power at press time Monday, and some residents had been cautioned that electricity might not be restored until Wednesday.
PSEG was reportedly bringing in utility workers from as far away as  Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi to bolster its own work crews.

Hell hath no fury like . . .

By Karen Zautyk

A 42-year-old township woman was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly trying
to hire a hitman to kill her ex-boyfriend’s current love interest, authorities reported.
The suspect was identified as Nicole Faccenda, 42, of Olive St., Lyndhurst. The identities of the former boyfriend, with whom Faccenda reportedly has a child, and the new girlfriend, were not made public.
According to authorities, the ex also has a child with his new paramour. The longterm
relationship between Faccenda and the man reportedly ended about three months ago.
According to the criminal complaint, as released by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark, Faccenda, seeking help in finding an assassin, phoned a friend in Florida on or about Oct. 19 and explained what she wanted done. She reportedly commented that she had already bought a black outfit to wear to the girlfriend’s funeral and was ready to pay $10,000- $20,000 for the hit.
Later, the complaint states, Faccenda told the supposed hired gun that she wanted to
“spit on the casket.”
She also allegedly “stated that she did not want her ex-boyfriend dead but that he can be shot in the foot, but the victim’s girlfriend has to be shot in the head, ‘gone, gone to the moon’ and that her happiest day will be” when she gets the phone call that the job is done.
According to the complaint, Faccenda also said that she did not want the girlfriend’s children killed, “but if something happens to one of them, ‘Oh, well, I’m sorry.’ ”
The individual Faccenda had called in Florida immediately contacted federal authorities, Fishman’s office said, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began recording conversations between the two.
On Oct. 21, the complaint charges, Faccenda met with the supposed hitman for the first time, in an A&P parking lot in Mahwah. At the initial meet-up,  authorities said, Faccenda stated she had “watched a lot of Lifetime movies”  and wanted to make sure the man was not a cop.  Unbeknownst to the suspect, he was a “cop,” or, more specifically,  an undercover ATF agent.
Subsequent meetings with her friend reportedly took place in the lot of the Red Robin restaurant in Clifton on Oct. 22 and at an Exxon station next to the Olive Garden restaurant in Secaucus on Oct. 24.
Faccenda reportedly agreed on a  $10,000 price for the job – $5,000 up front and the balance when the deed was done.
During the negotiations with the hitman/agent, the complaint says,  the suspect was told she had to be sure of her decision, and she allegedly responded, “That’s not even an issue.”
At the Secaucus meeting, Fishman’s office stated, Faccenda gave her friend an envelope containing $2,000 and later that night and into the early hours of Oct. 25, via phone and text messages, allegedly provided the  intended victim’s name, photo and license plate number.
On Oct. 26, the friend phoned her to report  the victim had been shot in the head and it had been made to look like a robbery, Fishman’s office said.
Faccenda was arrested the same day by ATF agents at her place of work in Mahwah.
“This was a cold and calculated plan to end the life of another person,” Fishman said.  “It failed because of the actions of a private citizen, who immediately contacted authorities, and the diligence and hard work of federal investigators. Because of their quick  action, a life was saved.”
Faccenda appeared in Federal Court in Newark on the 26th and was remanded on a  charge of using the mail and facilities of commerce with the intent that a murder be committed for payment.
If convicted, she faces a maximum prison term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
Fishman’s office noted that the charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Nab 1, hunt 2 in store holdup

By Karen Zautyk

One suspect was apprehended and two were being hunted by police following an armed robbery at the Quick Chek on Kearny Ave. last week.
“An intense follow-up investigation is underway, and we have substantial leads to
the identity of the cohorts,“ Kearny Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer.
At 12:45 a.m. Thursday, Officers Rich Pawlowski and Pat Walsh were on patrol when they noticed a couple arguing outside the convenience store. When the cops stopped their squad car, the woman ran over and told them there was a suspicious group inside. (Dowie said the argument apparently was about whether or not to report this, with the woman wanting to call police and her male companion preferring to just leave.)
Through the window, the officers could see a man atop the store counter. After advising headquarters that there was a probable robbery in progress and requesting back-up, they drew their weapons and took cover positions to watch the door, Dowie said.
Before the additional units could arrive, three males exited the store. The cops ordered them to the ground, but the suspects took flight, running east on Bergen Ave. Two broke off and turned north on Chestnut St., while the third headed to Devon and ran south.
While Pawlowski and Walsh were engaged in the foot pursuit, other KPD units set up a containment perimeter. Officers Tom Sumowski and Tom Floyd spotted the pair who were on Chestnut and began a chase, but the suspects “went to ground” in the backyards and managed to elude the officers. Later, the Hudson County K-9 unit joined the search, but the two culprits had escaped.
Meanwhile, Walsh encountered a pedestrian, not one of the suspects, who told the officer that a running man had stopped him and asked to use his cell phone, “and the guy let him,” said Dowie.
Det. Sgt. John View and Det. Ray Lopez had joined the search, and at Chestnut and Boyd Sts., Lopez stopped a man who fit the physical description of the phone-borrower. He could not give a legitimate answer as to what he was doing there, but neither was he wearing the black hat, black hoodie and black sneakers that all three suspects had worn, the chief noted.
But at the same time, Dowie said, Officers Glenn Reed and Jay Balogh, who were also searching the area, found the clothing in question discarded on the ground. And, in a garbage can nearby, Lopez found a handgun.
The quick-change artist, an 18-year-old from Newark, was arrested on robbery, conspiracy and weapons charges and eluding police.
The search for his companions is continuing.
Dowie commended all the responding officers for securing the area and finding the evidence. “That was key,” he noted.
Dowie added: “This was a very good job on the part of all the officers involved, especially the first two responding officers, who came upon a crime in progress, who didn’t overreact, but took a good position and displayed a lot of restraint.”
This, the chief noted, “was a three-on-two confrontation.” He also commended Pawlowski and Walsh “for having the courage to engage in the foot pursuit of the suspects, all of whom were possibly armed.”
Dowie said no one in the store was hurt during the holdup. An undetermined amount of cash was removed from the registers.

Storm aftermath

Photos by Karen Zautyk & Anthony J. Machcinski
Pictures from the area after the snow storm hit October 29.


Driver arrested for shooting at Nutley cop

NUTLEY – As police officers know, even a routine traffic stop can turn lethal. And
lethal is what nearly happened Friday night on Route 21 in Nutley.
Authorities said that, at about 10 p.m., Nutley P.O. William Paro attempted to pull over a southbound car on the highway after a computer check indicated the driver, Jerry Shanks, 37, of Elizabeth, had outstanding motor vehicle violations.
Instead of stopping, authorities said, Shanks spun his car around, facing it into the
oncoming traffic, and then fired at least two shots at Paro from a .40-caliber handgun. The officer was not hit.
Shanks fled the scene but was tracked to an address in Passaic and arrested several hours later.
He has been charged with attempted murder and was being held on $1 million bail.
– Karen Zautyk

Alert cop thwarts alleged burglars

By Karen Zautyk

Three Newark men arrested last week in this township for allegedly burglarizing an auto have been linked to similar crimes in at least three other communities, police reported.
The suspects – Bryan Ervin and Aljir Davis, both 20, and Hakim Jones, 21 – were remanded to the Essex County Jail on $100,000 bail each.
Nutley Det. Anthony Montanari said Officer Ted Reilly was on patrol shortly after 1
a.m. last Wednesday when he observed a car with its interior lights on parked in the lot of a defunct gas station at Union Ave. and Centre St. Walking away from the vehicle was a man, later identified as Davis, carrying a silver case.
The driver, Ervin, when questioned by Reilly, reportedly claimed he had pulled over
to check his GPS to find his way home. Asked why his passenger was out of the vehicle, the explanation was that Davis was trying to find an open gas station, Montanari said,
noting that the two men “were inconsistent with answering questions.”
The third suspect, Jones, was found about a block away on Weston St., a small, residential side street not likely to have a gas station, police noted.
Back-up officers who had arrived at the Union Ave. scene observed a 2008 Dodge
parked nearby with damage to the side door and lock. The interior had been ransacked
and on the front seat there was a large screwdriver that was determined to be the burglary tool, Montanari said.
Inside Davis’ silver case were PlayStation games and other items identified by the Dodge’s owner as having been stolen from the car, police reported.
In addition, the suspects’ vehicle was allegedly found to contain proceeds from other burglaries, including a checkbook stolen in Belleville, ID and a backpack from Rutherford, and a cell phone and camera from Montclair.
On Thursday, Montanari said other items, including cell phones and an iPod Touch,
were still being inventoried and police were attempting to identify where these had
been obtained and what other municipalities may have been targeted.
All three men were charged with burglary, theft and conspiracy. Davis, who reportedly
gave a phony name when initially questioned, has also been charged with hindering
Police Chief John Holland commended Officer Reilly as “an exemplary officer who
took the initiative to stop and investigate, which led to the apprehension of three felons . . . and disrupted their operation.”

Time change is not for me



By Lisa Pezzolla

This weekend, at 2 a.m. on Nov. 6, we move our clocks back one hour, bringing an end to Daylight Savings for this year.
Daylight Savings time was instituted in the U.S during World War 1 in order to save energy for war production between April and October.
This past weekend, although we had sunlight longer in the day, electricity was out for many as a result of the unusual snowstorm which hit hard and suddenly. I hope this isn’t an indication of what’s in store for us this winter. Get generators, candles, flashlights and camping lanterns ready in case a power outage hits you. Don’t leave candles unattended!
I personally hate the long drawn-out winter months. Yes, it is sunny in the morning but we spend most of the day working indoors, and kids – who, studies show, are getting increasingly obese – stay cooped up in school.
After-school activities could help lower obesity by giving kids time after school to enjoy the outdoors.
During these cold winter months, we find ourselves sluggish and begin hibernating. With so many of us lacking in vitamin D, I will begin taking a supplement and try to beat it. Symptoms of this deficiency are depression, chronic fatigue, diabetes, heart disease. After all, vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin. We need sunshine and it doesn’t cost us a penny. We just need the sunlight and the capacity to enjoy the outdoors.
Wouldn’t it make sense for all of us to  increase our outdoor activities and enjoy sunlight during the winter months and get our intake of vitamin D?
We’d get energized and our depression would drop.

Bond not such a capital idea, lawmaker says

Photo by Ron Leir/ Councilman Steven Rovell, flanked by Jeanne Lombardi, of Bellewood Civic Association (l.), and Cary Sookram, supporter, are petitioning for a public vote on a capital bond.


By Ron Leir

A new firehouse, a restored public recreation center, a fixed-up senior center and other improvements are in the works for Belleville with the passage of a $3.45 million capital bond ordinance last month.
But, then again, maybe not.
One of two Belleville Council members who voted against the bond Oct. 11 is spearheading a petition drive to put the matter up for a public referendum on the grounds that it’s too much to spend now for work that can wait.
By law, that man – Second Ward Councilman Steven Rovell, who is also deputy mayor – has until Nov. 8 – Election Day – to gather the approximately 1,000 signatures he says are needed to trigger the balloting.
Township Manager Victor Canning says the councilman’s efforts are wrongheaded and that all the improvements covered by the bond are essential to Belleville’s progress.
Rovell says that if he can muster the required number of residents’ signatures, he would prefer to have the Council majority reconsider their vote instead of having the township incur the cost of a special election.
Time will tell how things turn out.
Canning said the bond would account for an annual increase of about $46 in real estate taxes for the owner of a home with an “average” assessment of $249,400. “On a house assessed at $500,000, it would mean a $100 a year tax increase,” Canning said, “but there are very few $500,000 homes in Belleville.”
Canning said the township is well below its borrowing limit and is taking aggressive steps to pay down its total accumulated debt of $29 million and be “fiscally responsible.”
But Rovell and his ally, Councilman-at-large Michael Nicosia, gripe that Canning has not factored in the cost of two other recent bonds, one for paying tax appeals and another for acquiring water meters, that — together with the capital bond — will add up to about $10 million in debt and more tax dollars.
“My taxes this year went up $1,000,” Rovell said. “Fortunately, I can afford that, but a lot of people here are struggling with this economy.”
Nicosia echoes that, saying, “We’ve got the worst economy since the Great Depression and here we are putting a huge bond together with multiple construction projects that are not necessary.”
If the bond stands up, it would authorize spending $600,000 toward construction of a one-story firehouse on Franklin St. in the Silver Lake section to replace an existing 8-decade-old facility that, according to Canning, “needs extensive work” just to maintain. Repairs, he said, would cost “between $400,000 and $500,000.” However, Canning added that NJ Transit has offered to lease the township an acre of property and provide $634,000 toward the building of a new firehouse large enough to accommodate two rigs and parking.

Photo by Ron Leir/ The capital bond would fund a replacement for this firehouse in the Silver Lake section.


Rovell says this project would be counter-productive because the township is short of firefighter personnel and equipment and, therefore, would have trouble staffing a new firehouse designed for two companies.
Never mind what may happen in the future, Nicosia says. That firehouse “has been closed down more than 30 times this year alone for lack of manpower.” In the past two years, attrition has cut the firefighter ranks to 58 from around 70, he says.
The proposed bond would also provide $610,000 to supplement $476,000 in county Community Development Block Grant funds to rebuild the Friendly Home recreation facility on Frederick St. The old structure was torn down four years ago after having fallen into disrepair.
But Nicosia says the targeted site “couldn’t be located in a worse spot . . . . The property is on a small lot with limited parking and security issues, and the building would probably accommodate only one function at a time.”
The bond would also provide $330,000 for an Astro Turf soccer field on Elementary School 9 property on Ralph St. Since soccer is a growing sport in Belleville, that’s a “good idea,” Nicosia says, but “just not at this time.”
The bond would provide $300,000 to build a one-story storage facility to house township records which, by state law, it is obliged to keep for a designated period of time. “We pay to store records and files in two different places now,” Canning says. Neither Rovell nor Nicosia has an argument against this project.
Nor do they quarrel about the $150,000 earmarked for a backup generator and repairs to the township senior center or the repaving of the quarter-mile-long Garden Ave. or the acquisition of new public works equipment – all of which, they concede, are needed.
Problem on the bond is, notes Nicosia, that  “this was an all-or-nothing vote,” so certain items could not be pulled out of the ordinance for a separate vote by the Council.
Rovell hopes to make up for that by pushing his petition drive, particularly on behalf of the Second Ward which, he says, “historically has contributed more in residential taxes” than any other section of Belleville.
The last time Rovell took on the political establishment – in 2004 when he wasn’t yet on the Council – he and other residents crusaded against a development plan calling for 400-plus apartments at Essex Park. “We wanted to reduce the density of the project, and it was scaled down to 200-plus units. We fought and we won,” he said.
Now he’s waging a new battle. “I never chose this path,” he says, “but this is where I am.”

Farewell to longtime public servant


Photo by Ron Leir/ Karen Comer is retiring Dec. 1.


By Ron Leir

Another familiar face will soon be vanishing from this township’s roster of key leadership posts.
On Dec. 1, Karen Comer will retire as the Harrison health officer after 25 years and five months in the job.
Her departure follows the retirements earlier this year of Municipal Court Judge John Johnson and Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan, with their replacements earning quite a bit less as the town aims for a leaner payroll.
And the Harrison Housing Authority continues to search for a new executive director to replace Michael Rodgers, who was abruptly fired more than a year ago. An interim director is now at the helm.
After Comer leaves, the Harrison Board of Health will look to negotiate an interlocal services agreement with North Bergen to contract for that community’s health officer, Rich Censullo, to oversee Harrison operations.
Censullo, who has already met once with the board, said that once the agreement is struck, he anticipates conferring with its members to determine to what extent the long list of services it provides, funded by a $572,000 budget, including $130,507 for health officer’s salary, can be preserved.
Comer, meanwhile, plans to continue teaching career education one night a week at the Hudson County Schools of Technology’s KAS (Knowledge & Advanced Skills) Prep in Harrison.
Comer had originally considered a career in teaching and, after getting her college degree, served as a health educator with the Inter-County Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse at Kearny High School and Queen of Peace High in North Arlington.
But a Belleville colleague convinced her to go for a master’s in public health – which she completed at Hunter College in New York in 1981.
In 1983, the then-Kearny Health Officer Ed Grosvenor hired Comer as assistant. She took the State Health Officers Exam in November of that year and on June 30, 1986, she was selected to replace Arnold Saporito, who was retiring as the Harrison Health Officer.
Under her watch, Harrison residents – young and old – have benefited from a myriad of preventive health programs including: flu and pneumonia vaccinations; immunization against tetanus, diphtheria, HPV and meningitis; prostate, mammography, blood pressure, cardio-vascular and child lead poisoning screenings; rabies clinics; restaurant inspections; WIC (Women, Infants & Children) nutritional counseling; and health education.
In 2003, Comer launched a local Medical Reserve Corps, financed through a federal grant program, which recruited health professionals and nonmedical volunteers and trained them to respond to medical emergencies and assist with local health programs.
In the past two years, in particular, Comer said the volunteers helped administer H1N1 vaccinations for more than 2,000 residents in 2009, and assisted at local fires by helping relocate victims and providing water and refreshments to firefighters. They also participated in a recent trial pandemic flu exercise at the senior center. And, with departmental layoffs in 2010, they supplement health personnel at clinics and screenings.
“Next year, we’ll combine our MRC unit with the county,” Comer said.
During her tenure, public health priorities have shifted, Comer said. “At first, the concern was about people putting garbage out on the wrong day and about people not picking up after their dogs,” she said, “but today, it’s about communicable disease transmission, including sexually transmitted disease.”
“And bedbugs,” Comer added. “It’s become so rampant – now somebody calls us about that every day.”
Harrison has seen an upswing in Hepatitis A and B, Comer said. Among the town’s population of about 14,000, there were 27 cases reported in 2005 but that jumped to 42 in 2006 and, last year, there were 41, she said. Hep A, which is food-borne, is seen increasingly among the South American population while Hep B, blood-borne, has been on the rise among Asians, Comer said.
Local eateries and delis that prepare and serve more than three types of hot foods have been complying with state regulations on certified food handler training. “We have a 90% compliance rate among them,” Comer said.
Comer advises nonprofessionals to educate themselves about health issues as much as they can since there are likely to be fewer public health care resources available in the near future.
Today in New Jersey, for example, there are only between 100 and 200 certified health officers to cover more than 500 municipalities, according to North Bergen’s Censullo.
And, Comer says, “we have fewer people meeting the qualifications for health workers in general – and that’s throughout the nation, not just New Jersey – because fewer people are going into the field. And there are going to be fewer public health programs – we’ve already seen a decline in public health government grants – so the population is going to be more vulnerable.”
Looking ahead to retirement, Comer anticipates spending time with her family and teaching with the hope of “keeping more young people in school.”
“I will miss my colleagues after I leave this office and anticipate I will do something to connect me with the wonderful people I have met in Harrison,” Comer said. “I’ve been impressed by the number of people who’ve stopped by the office to wish me well.”
And, she added, “It has been a pleasure to work with such a supportive Board of Health. I’m grateful to the board for believing in me and providing guidance and support throughout my career.”