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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: Time is overdue for an accounting

Photo by Ron Leir Kearny High School in transition.

Photo by Ron Leir
Kearny High School in transition.

 

In July 2013 the Kearny Board of Education – spurred on by then-Superintendent of Schools Frank Ferraro – hired the accounting firm D’Arcangelo & Co. of Rye Brook, N.Y., for $75,000 to perform a “construction risk assessment” of the KHS Façade & Noise Abatement project.

At the time, Ferraro said the firm was being asked “to confirm whether what we’re doing [on the job] is right.”

It was also going to find out whether the school board would have enough money from the millions of dollars budgeted for the project by the Federal Aviation Administration, Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. and state Department of Education to finish the bedeviled job which started in 2010 and was supposed to be finished in three years.

But the general contractor was “terminated for convenience” in March 2013 and the board has been trying to pick up the pieces ever since, hiring another contractor to complete work on the south building of the high school and slated to receive bids for the north building on April 8.

Ferraro said he expected to get the report from D’Arcangelo within six to eight months.

Well, six months have passed. We hear unofficially that the board has received some preliminary information from the accountants which it has reportedly discussed in closed session. The Observer filed an Open Public Records Act request for the report and was told it hasn’t yet arrived.

Meanwhile, the politically divided school board has placed Ferraro on an involuntary paid leave and, at last week’s meeting, voted 6-3 to hire a private investigations firm, Check-M-Out of Newark, headed by retired Newark Police Det. Lt. James O’Connor, for up to $5,000 to look into several issues related to the superintendent’s office during Ferraro’s brief tenure in the post.

Since no written resolution was presented to the board when it was asked to vote on the measure, The Observer asked board attorney Kenneth Lindenfelser to explain what issues would be examined. He declined further comment.

When the members of the board’s new majority were elected last year, we heard avowals of transparency and straight dealing with its constituents. That sounded good at the time.

Now it’s time to stand and deliver on that promise.

It was disheartening to read in the Sunday New York Times how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to follow up on consumer complaints about an allegedly defective ignition system in six models of cars sold by GM – which we the taxpayers gifted a $10 billion bailout – and that the alleged defect, which caused cars to suddenly stall out, has been connected to 13 motorist fatalities since 2003.

GM is now recalling more than 1 million of these models worldwide, the Times reported.

Despite a pattern showing an increasing number of complaints each year, the NHTSA said it found “insufficient evidence” to warrant a safety check of those models.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised inasmuch as the Federal Railroad Administration didn’t bother pushing the MTA to install an automatic braking system in both the pushing locomotive and in the control car of its Metro North line, leading to the tragic derailment in the Bronx this past December, killing four and injuring more than 100 riders.

If we can’t rely on the federal government to keep us safe on the roads and on the rails, can we really expect President Obama and the Congress to protect the sovereignty of the Ukraine against the incursions of the Putin brigades?

I prefer to put my money on the Knicks making the NBA playoffs. That’s a safer bet, I think.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Get the drift? I love snow!

Created by Sabrina Walker The official Observer snowman

Created by Sabrina Walker
The official Observer snowman

 

As I write this, the snow has begun to gently fall, once again blanketing streets and lawns and turning our world into a magical wonderland.

I know what you’re thinking: “She’s now going to turn that observation into some snarky remark about the weather.”

Wrong! I mean every word of it. I have loved this winter, and every storm the season has brought. This is what winter should be, and what it hasn’t been in many years. Snowfall after snowfall after snowfall. I have lost count.

Unlike what appears to be 99% of the population, I am not sick of the weather. I’m sick of the interminable weather reports. Yes, people want to know what the forecast is, but must the weather be the lead “news” story every night? It is becoming farcical.

Last week, when things were going to warm up a bit, the following actually happened on one of the local TV stations:

As the 6 p.m. news broadcast began, the hosts offered a couple of video clips and teasers about the upcoming stories. A vicious mugger preying on women in Queens. An update on Ukraine. But first, this Weather ALERT! Which turned out to be, “We’ve had rain all day, but the weather is improving.”

I am not making that up. It is a quote.

That stupidity was trumped Friday night on another station, which had one of its newshounds doing people-on-the- street interviews about (of course) the weather.

Since even TV has concluded we are all fed up with “breaking news” stories about shoppers seeking rock salt and shovels, the reporter decided to focus on more crucial matters. Approaching a woman about to enter a supermarket, he asked, “What do you buy when you’re shopping before a storm?”

She answered, with long pauses, “Uh, meat …. chicken …. rice.”

“Things you eat?” he said.

“Yes.”

End of report.

I am not making that up either.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so feeble. I can grasp the need for weather news, but we have become obsessed by it. News12 New Jersey has “Weather on the Ones,” meaning weather reports every 11 minutes. Year-round. Every season. Even when all is sunshine and roses. Do we think the weather changes every 11 minutes?

I long for the snows of yesteryear, which crept up on us unheralded. Or just about. Unless there was a hurricane or actual (not social-media rumored) blizzard pending, the weather report was at the tail end of the nightly news. Where it belongs.

Have we had one real blizzard this winter? I can’t recall. Every dusting is treated with the same media overkill.

I long for the mornings of my childhood, when I awoke to the jingly sounds of tire chains on the street below. That’s how I knew it had snowed overnight.

And if the storm had been bad enough, school would be closed. But we didn’t sit inside texting each other all day. We went out. And built snowmen. And snow forts. And had snowball fights. Or maybe just plodded through the hip-high drifts pretending we were trying to reach the South Pole.

(Google “South Pole,” children, if you are confused. You might also Google “tire chains” while you’re at it.)

On that warm day last week, yet another reporter was out on the sunny streets of a suburban town, interviewing passers-by — about the weather, of course.

A mother with two young sons expressed her delight at finally being able to allow them out of the house to play.

What?

When we were young, you couldn’t get us into the house after a snowfall. We’d succumb only when our mittens were so wet, or frozen, we had to change them.

But sometimes even that didn’t deter us.

In Down Neck Newark, St. Aloysius Church vestibule, which was always open, had lovely steamy radiators with metal covers, upon which we could dry those mittens, or at least melt the ice that coated them.

We could warm up at the same time.

But we never stayed long. There was too much adventure waiting in the snowy streets. In a world that had become a magical wonderland.

–Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: On the road again … and again … and again…

Photos courtesy Facebook Chris Christie (l.) and Cory Booker

Photos courtesy Facebook
Chris Christie (l.) and Cory Booker

 

So 2016 could see two New Jerseyans vying for the highest office in the land.

That would be the current N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and Sen. Cory Booker, the former mayor of Newark, a Democrat.

As head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie already has a national platform – and an excuse to fly to places like Chicago, Florida and California to raise money for like-minded Red Staters.

And when he was the Brick City chief executive, Booker was not one to let the dust settle, as demonstrated by a Star Ledger survey which reported on July 15, 2012, that the mayor “was out of state and the New York City area on at least 119 days since Jan. 1, 2001,” although Booker’s aides noted that their boss often returned the same day he went out of town.

Whatever.

The point is that the wanderings of both Christie and Booker have proven distractions that shoved local priorities to the back seat in favor of personal aspirations for operating on a wider political stage.

In Christie’s case, his administration has to, at least, share part of the blame – with the feds – in failing to ensure that the “tens of thousands” of New Jersey residents left homeless by the ravages of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 got storm recovery aid.

As folks continued struggling to reclaim homes and businesses ruined by Sandy, our governor spent a comfortable weekend vacation with his family recently in San Juan. I guess he needed to recover from all the jet lag he’s experienced flying around the U.S.

Then, of course, there’s Bridgegate, where the jury of public opinion is still out, awaiting the results of investigations by the legislature and the Port Authority. Apologies notwithstanding, if Christie didn’t order the Fort Lee lane closures, how come he wasn’t paying attention to what his appointees were doing at the GWB?

Same can be said for former Mayor Booker who recently condemned the actions of the former Newark Watershed Conservation & Development Corp. who, according to report issued by the state comptroller, allegedly plundered its coffers for hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal gain, as reported by The Star Ledger last week.

Booker told The Ledger he was relying on the city business administrator to keep tabs on the Watershed and that’s why he didn’t attend any of that agency’s meetings. Maybe the business administrator wasn’t in Booker’s Twitter phone book.

At a “Town Hall” meeting last week in Port Monmouth – the 110th such public meet and greet for Christie – a woman who identified herself as “Debbie from Brick” trying to get Sandy recovery aid told the governor, “I just wanna go home.”

Maybe that’s what Chris from Trenton needs to do: Stay in New Jersey.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Moments of triumph

McDonough_web1

 

Among the happy events associated with Mayor Raymond McDonough and his beloved Harrison in recent years are, clockwise, from top right, a press conference last summer, attended by Gov. Chris Christie, marking a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long awaited Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s upgrade of its Harrison PATH station which figures to coincide with development of the town’s waterfront redevelopment area; Mayor McDonough at his home away from home, Harrison Town Hall, where, even as, technically, a part-time employee, he logged full-time hours and beyond; the mayor with the man he called “my new best friend,” Gov. Chris Christie, when McDonough became the first Democratic mayor in the state to endorse the governor for re-election last year as the pair exchanged greetings at Tops Diner in neighboring East Newark; and McDonough taking the oath of office as he was sworn in for his newest four-year term as the town’s chief executive by his lifelong friend, then-Municipal Court Judge John Johnson.

McDonough View_web

‘Sprung from cages on Highway 9’

NBC

NBC

 

Just twice in my life have I been frozen in my tracks because of music — music so unlike anything I had heard before that it was stunning.

Later in this column, I’ll get to the first time it happened. But I’m starting with the second.

That occurred on a Friday (Saturday?) night in 1975, and I was getting ready to go out. (I ended up being late for the party.)

WNEW-FM was broadcasting a live performance from the Bottom Line in N.Y.C. — some group that was new to me (and a lot of other people, as it turned out).

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine would cite the show as one of the “50 Moments That Changed Rock and Roll.”

When the music started, I stopped — standing in the middle of the room, mesmerized. Who was performing? Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

I have been a fan ever since — although not nearly as big as Chris Christie.

I love Springsteen’s music, but I do not always agree with his political stance. To everything, though, there is an exception, and I am still laughing at the Springsteen- Jimmy Fallon duet on the latter’s show last month. If you missed it, just go to Google or YouTube; the video is all over the web.

Fallon and The Boss took the spotlight about a week after the governor’s two-hour Bridgegate press conference, with a rewrite of “Born to Run.” Below are the lyrics, so you can sing along. Enjoy! Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Now his voice is still; rest easy, noble sir

PHOTO COURTESY GOOLGE IMAGES

PHOTO COURTESY GOOGLE IMAGES

 

We live in an era where most politicians and public figures – exceptions noted – flip flop so much, you never know where they stand. Expediency and convenience are, typically, the determining factors that dictate the outcome.

Pete Seeger, the folk singer, environmentalist and human rights advocate who died Jan. 27 at age 94, was always consistent.

Just when he was breaking into the big time music scene as a member of the Weavers, Seeger wouldn’t sell out his political beliefs and, after refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955, ended up unofficially banned from network TV until the Smothers Brothers welcomed him back in 1967.

Even so, the network censored his singing of the anti- Vietnam War song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” although, after pressure by the show’s creators, Seeger returned to the show the following year to sing the song for broadcast.

Seeger’s purity of vision was all-embracing: It extended from the simplicity and grace with which he treated family, friends and strangers, to his respect for international musical culture, to his defense of the environment culminating in the creation of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.

Seeger’s affinity for nature drew him to the upstate New York riverfront community of Beacon where, in the 1940s, he built a log cabin and continued to make that his home. It was in that setting that Seeger drew inspiration for his campaign to begin cleaning up a polluted Hudson River, using the Clearwater as a focal point for that goal.

The ship first sailed in summer 1969 and Seeger and other musicians sang at benefits to heighten awareness of the fouled waterway and to push for action to do something about it. Four decades later, his unflagging efforts – coupled with federal legislation – resulted in General Electric dredging PCBs from the river.

An annual two-day Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival music and environmental festival, founded by Seeger and his wife Toshi (who died in July 2013), continues as part of the couple’s legacy. This year, it will be held June 21-22 at Croton Park in Croton-on- Hudson, N.Y.

I never had the good fortune to hear Seeger perform but I was lucky enough to catch Peter, Paul & Mary’s version of Seeger’s anti-war classic “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer” (co-written with Lee Hays) at a Central Park concert.

It is said that Seeger was the bridge from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan in folk song tradition, even if Dylan did stray from the fold by playing electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

Even into his 90s, Seeger continued to sing at benefits for the causes he championed. And while he performed for the high and mighty, such as President Obama’s inaugural, Seeger preferred playing for kids. At a Beacon, N.Y. concert in October 2009, he said: “Singing with children in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”

Perhaps he identified with the youngsters’ innocence and saw them as symbols of hope for the future.

Indeed, the perennial optimist always felt that, no matter how desperate the struggle, “We Shall Overcome.”

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: I’m not ‘bowled’ over by football

PHOTO COURTESY ANIMAL PLANET

PHOTO COURTESY ANIMAL PLANET

 

Believe it or not, there are some of us who don’t give a hoot in Hades about the Super Bowl.

I mean, it’s nice that New Jersey is getting some national attention for something other than mobsters, political corruption and Snooki, and it’s even nicer that MetLife Stadium is in our own backyard (wave to it as you cruise past on Route 3), and I have even picked a team (the Broncos because I like horses), but do I really care? No.

I will watch, of course. At least some of it. Just in case something newsworthy happens that I should know about. And because on Monday, everyone will be talking about the commercials.

But I have never understood football.

They run. They fall down. They run. They fall down. This is exciting?

I have only just learned what “first and 10” means. No, I am not joking. It never made sense to me. First and 10 WHAT? Yards? But if they already got the first yard, where are the other 10?

I asked a friend to explain it to me the other night (no, I am not joking), and I think I now have a grasp on it.

Still, I will be channel jumping during the game, to catch the action in the 10th annual Animal Planet Puppy Bowl. This year, there will be penguin cheerleaders and a half-time show featuring Keyboard Cat.

Unlike the Super Bowl, all the Puppy Bowl players are adorable–and have better hair.

My sport has always been baseball. (Not playing. Watching.)

Its rules are far more complicated that football’s, but I learned them literally at my daddy’s knee, sitting on the floor at age 3 or 4, watching the N.Y. Giants on a grainy old B&W television, while he explained the basics. (Daddy had been a semi-pro baseball player back in the days when semi-pro baseball was a big deal. Not only a player, but an MVP, with the trophy to prove it.)

Anyway, I was raised on baseball. I can appreciate the skills needed. Which are far more than the ability to run and fall down (although run and slide is a different matter).

In any case, all this has reminded me of the classic George Carlin routine on violent, gladiatorial football vs. far gentler baseball, with which I am sure you are familiar, but I’m going to quote from it anyway:

“Baseball is a 19th century pastoral game; football is a 20th century technological struggle.”

“Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. Football is played on a gridiron….”

“Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.”

“Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.”

“Baseball has no time limit; we don’t know when it’s gonna end. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.”

“Football is played on an enclosed, rectangular grid, and every one of them is the same size; baseball is played on an ever-widening angle that reaches to infinity, and every park is different.”

“In football, they have the clip, the hit, the block, the tackle, the blitz, the bomb, the offense and the defense; in baseball, they have the sacrifice.”

“In football, you march downfield and penetrate enemy territory and get into the END zone. In baseball, the object is to go home. And to be safe. ‘I hope I’ll be safe at home!’”

This part, I had not heard before. It compares American football to Britain’s quest for empire:

“. . . that’s what football is, football’s a ground-acquisition game. You knock the crap out of 11 guys and take their land away from them. Of course, we only do it 10 yards at a time. That’s the way we did it with the Indians – we won it little by little. First down in Ohio – Midwest to go!”

Gosh, I miss George Carlin.

–Karen Zautyk

WE’VE GOT MAIL: ‘LET IT SNOW….’

To the editor,

So soon again, I’d like to commend Chief James O’Connor and the Lyndhurst Police Department, DPW, Commissioner Matt Ruzzo, Parks Commissioner, Tom Di Maggio, and also Superintendent Rich Gress; for their organized efforts on their job well done during this most recent snowstorm. Our departments’ professional response to any such immediate event, certainly reassures the security, safety, welfare and wellbeing of our also very cooperative Lyndhurst residents.

Thank you,

with appreciation,

Mayor Robert. B. Giangeruso

Lyndhurst

Thoughts & Views: ‘There is no Frigate like a Book’

When I was a kid growing up in Jersey City, we had a single first-run bookstore called Pritchard’s occupying a cramped space next to the old Public Service bus terminal in the heart of Journal Square.

Then the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – the same folks who aided and abetted in the recent Bridgegate snafu – built that monstrosity, the Journal Square Transportation Center, and promptly ruined the Square.

Their machinations in reshaping the retail space around what we used to call the Hudson & Manhattan Tube ended up hiking rents and displacing longtime tenants – including Pritchard’s – leaving a city with more than 200,000 residents bereft of for-sale books.

Thank goodness, we still had the Public Library and the two college libraries (assuming you had access). But still, no bookstore?

Only in the past year did we get one and, sometime this year, we may have two. Glory be!

Not that long ago, Hoboken – the city of yuppies that’s been home to now-ex-Gov. Corzine and now-U.S. Sen. Menendez – lost its Barnes & Noble.

Now, it appears that Rizzoli Bookstore will soon be gone from W. 57th St. in Manhattan to make way for big-time developers’ projects. This comes in the wake of the B&N at Sixth Ave. and Eighth St. folding its tent. And on and on.

In the scheme of things, does it matter? Does it mean that fewer folks are willing to support the cause of literacy? Or that many of us just can’t afford the price of a hardcover book in this economy? Or that we’ve abandoned the written word for the Kindle reader or the Internet. Maybe we just want instant information from Google; we don’t want to ruminate over a best seller, a spellbinding mystery, a sci-fi puzzler or a tasty biography.

When I was a fourth-grader, I remember being so engrossed in the book I was reading (which I’d brought from home), I was oblivious to the fact that our class had begun reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. And I was promptly chastised by my teacher for doing so.

Well, I haven’t quite shaken the habit of allowing the printed page to take me on an unscheduled adventure of the mind. So all I can say is, please support your local library because it may turn out to be the last resource for a hungry mind.

Still unconvinced about the need for gun control legislation?

Well, here’s another reminder: A 4-year-old kid was fatally shot by his cousin as they were playing in the victim’s Detroit home on Jan. 16, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The cousin, a 4-year-old girl, dragged a loaded rifle out from under a bed, aimed the gun at the boy and pulled the trigger, hitting her cousin in the chest, police reported.

Finally, from the Department of What Could They Be Thinking?, there was this development from the Country Down Under:

The people running the Australia Tennis Open didn’t suspend play even though the temperature exceeded the 100 degree mark for four days. Apparently, officials didn’t feel the conditions that disabled several players and many spectators met their “extreme heat” specifications so as to justify closing the roof or shutting down the proceedings.

Just a little dab of sunscreen, a cap, and you’ve got it made in the shade, right?

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Here’s looking at you, gov

Even before Gov. Chris Christie’s lengthy pity-party press conference last week on the George Washington Bridge “traffic study,” I was thinking of one of the famous lines from “Casablanca.” The one where Capt. Renault (Claude Rains), the prefect of police, having himself won a bundle at roulette at Rick’s Cafe, orders the place to be shuttered.

Rick (Humphrey Bogart): “How can you close me up? On what grounds?”

Renault: “I’m shocked — shocked! — to find that gambling is going on in here!”

The Christie version turned out to be more verbose but similar: “I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here . . . “

Stunned, he is. Stunned!

Thanks, gov, for living up to the script.

Later, I realized that many of the lines from “Casablanca” could, with little revision, be applied to the ongoing Bridgegate drama. Even the classic opening voiceover is adaptable. So, with apologies to screenwriters Julius Epstein, Philip Epstein and Howard Koch:

“With the coming of September 2013, many eyes in imprisoned New Jersey turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the George Washington Bridge. It was the great embarkation point.

“But, not everybody could get to the bridge directly, and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up – Main St. to Lemoine Ave…. across Fletcher Ave. to Hudson Terrace… The fortunate eventually make their way to Manhattan. But the others wait in Fort Lee… and wait… and wait… and wait.” “

It’s still the same old story/ A fight for votes and glory…”

“Who are you really, Bridget, and what were you before? What did you do and what did you think, huh?”

“We said no questions.”

“You said I was to do the thinking for both of us, Bridget. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing. You’re getting under that bus with Bill Stepien where you belong.”

“Of all the governor’s offices in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“Let’s see, the last time we met…”

“Was at the GWB.”

“How nice, you remembered. But of course, that was the day the Port Authority marched in.”

“I remember every detail. You wore blue, the cones were orange.”

“What in heaven’s name brought you to Fort Lee?’

“Faster traffic. I came to Fort Lee to beat the traffic.”

“The traffic? The traffic is backed up to Ohio.”

“I was misinformed.”

“I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people (Kelly, Stepien, Wildstein) don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

Media pundits: “You know how you sound, Gov. Christie? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.”

“We’ll always have Trenton.”

And, of course: “Round up the usual suspects.” As for advice to the governor: If anything you said last week proves to be less than completely truthful, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

–Karen Zautyk