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Classmates in court

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY–  The three young men, pictured above in their Kearny High School yearbook photos, had their whole lives ahead of them. Who knew where the future would take them? No one would have guessed that, a bit more than a decade later, it […]

Serial robber guilty

TRENTON – An accused serial robber has admitted to playing a role in 11 robberies, primarily of drug stores, in Harrison, Newark and Jersey City over a period of eight months, it was announced by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. On July 21, Christopher Mojica, 23, pleaded guilty to […]


Blue ranks get reinforcements

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent LYNDHURST – Talk about parallel life paths: Joseph White and Matthew Giunta went to pre-school (St. Michael’s) together, then to Franklin Elementary School, then Lyndhurst High. And, last Friday, they entered the Bergen County Law & Public Safety Institute in Mahwah to begin […]


Slow-paced developments

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  BELLEVILLE –  It’s been a year and two months since Gov. Chris Christie presided at a ballyhooed groundbreaking for Franklin Manor, an age-restricted 137-unit apartment complex for those 55 and over – the first such senior development for Belleville in more than three decades. […]


Still waiting for wall’s restoration

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  HARRISON –  A property dispute between a longtime Harrison business and some neighbors that has been simmering for a few years now appears to be coming to a boil. Smack in the middle of the controversy are Bergen St. homeowners Victor and Eleanor Villalta […]


‘Side Man’ jazzes up Nutley Little Theatre

Capturing the golden age of jazz at Nutley Little Theatre are Nick Pascarella, Jim Simpson, Anne Kenny Simpson and Pat Little.


Nutley Little Theatre will open its next production, “Side Man,” an award-winning drama by Warren Leight, on Friday, Nov. 4, at the NLT Barn, 47 Erie Place.

Winner of the 1999 Tony Award for Best Play, “Side Man” is a personal-memory play about the turmoil in the family of a jazz musician as his career crumbles at the dawn of the age of rock ‘n roll. This play contains adult language and themes and is not suitable for children.

Evening performances of “Side Man” will be at 8 p.m. on Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Nov. 6, 13 and 19.

Tickets are $15, with a $2 discount for senior citizens and students. Patrons can order tickets by calling 1-877-238-5596, or online through the NLT web site at www.nutleylittletheatre.com (click on the “Click for Tix” icon).

The opening night performance is a benefit for Franklin Reformed Church of Nutley.

Directed by Penny Potenz Winship of Montclair, the cast includes Marie Blado of Bloomfield, Frank Blaeuer of Hewitt, Patrick Little of  Montclair, Nick Pascarella of Ho-Ho-Kus, Anne Kenny Simpson of Bloomfield, Jim Simpson of Bloomfield and William Vonroth III of Nutley.

The NLT Barn is located off Brookfield Ave. (one block east of Franklin Ave.) in the heart of the Erie Place Historic District. For directions, please see www.nutleylittletheatre.com.

NLT auditions for ‘Cyrano’

Nutley Little Theatre has scheduled auditions at the NLT Barn, 47 Erie Place, on Sunday, Nov. 6, and Monday, Nov. 7 – 7:30 p.m. both nights – for the classic romantic drama “Cyrano De Bergerac.”

The cast will require 14 men ages 20s through 50s, and five women, ages 20s through 60s. Some actors will double roles. The play requires sword-fighting for some men. Details of the roles are available at the NLT web site at www.nutleylittletheatre.com.

The production will run for three weekends in February for a total of at least 10 performances.


NJDOT officials have announced daily closures for the entrance ramp onto the Route 1&9 Pulaski Skyway northbound from Central Ave. in South Kearny.

Beginning Monday, Oct. 31, the ramp is scheduled to be closed from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday for approximately two weeks, through Friday, Nov. 11. Motorists will be directed to use Route 1&9T northbound heading east.

The closures are part of an ongoing interim bridge deck repair and drainage improvement project on the Skyway.

The precise timing of the work is subject to change due to weather and other factors. Motorists are encouraged to check NJDOT’s traffic information website www.511nj.org for construction updates and real-time travel information.

Haunted houses

Photos by Anthony J. Machcinski
Monsters, skeletons, zombies, witches, etc., have begun appearing in our towns. (These are in Kearny, North Arlington and Lyndhurst.) Expect more every day!

Spooky scenes saturate the region for Halloween







Layoffs looming again


Photo by Ron Leir/ Kearny Council 11, Civil Service Association offi cers (from l.) president Mary Ann Ryan, first vice president Shirley Minucci and 2nd v.p. Craig Smith ponder pending layoffs.



By Ron Leir

Mary Ann Ryan feels like she and her fellow workers are being squeezed dry. And the public will feel the pinch, she says.
Last year, to prevent threatened layoffs, members of Kearny Civil Service Association’s Council 11, which bargains for the town’s civilian work force, voluntarily took a reduction of an already negotiated pay raise, accepted 26 furlough days and swallowed a two-tier longevity plan.
“There’s not much more for us to give,” says Ryan, who serves as president of Council 11.  But Kearny is asking for more.
The state Civil Service Commission has greenlighted a town plan to implement economic job dismissals that would take effect Dec. 31.
Kearny was prepared to lay off employees last year as well to avoid what officials characterized as huge tax increases, but it  managed to negotiate agreements with unions to avert any terminations.
“We’re in the same situation we were in last year (preparing for a projected 2011 budget shortfall),” Mayor Alberto Santos said.
Kearny officials outlined those circumstances in a Sept. 15 letter to Civil Service. They said that although they managed to reduce personnel costs by $3.7 million for the 2011 budget, “restoration of the reductions in personnel costs from 2011 combined with implementation of contractually negotiated or awarded wage increases for 2012 will only . . . widen the gap (between appropriations and revenues) that must be closed to comply with the law and deliver a balanced budget.”
To that end, Kearny is moving ahead with a plan that would combine a series of demotions and layoffs spread among the ranks to lighten municipal payroll expenses, plus operational reductions.
Santos said the town “is hoping to negotiate with each employee bargaining unit sufficient givebacks, or there will be (enough) retirements so we don’t have to do the layoffs authorized (by Civil Service).”
The layoff plan filed with the state calls for these personnel moves:
In the non-uniformed ranks, the town proposes the elimination of nine positions and their current job holders. These are: construction code enforcement clerk Elizabeth Wainman, assistant tax collector James Waller, Health Department agency aide Theresa Marrazzo, Health Department bus operator Karen Greb, senior librarian Kerry Kosick, and four public works employees – sanitation inspectors Paul Ashe and Marcella Callaghan, park attendant Ronald Ciccone and clerk-typist Fatima Fowlkes.
In the Police Department, the town plans to demote Dep. Chief James Corbett to captain; Capt. Gregory Reed to lieutenant; Lts. David Montgomery and Charles Fergie to sergeant; Sgts. Anthony Limite, Richard Poplaski and Michael Cardella to police officer. Officers Sean Kelly and Richard Pawlowski would be terminated. Additionally, the demotions – through the process known as “bumping” – would trigger the layoffs of seven additional officers not yet named. Also, two civilians assigned to the Police Department – senior clerk-typist Lorraine Clifford and parking enforcement officer Willard Sanders – would lose their jobs.
Ironically, on Oct. 11, the Town Council approved pay raises for the department’s three deputy chiefs, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007. The deputies will get a 3% hike for 2007 and annual increases of 3.25% for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, with base salary rising from $131,773 to $154,624 over the life of the contract.
In the Fire Department, the town plans to demote Capts. Harry Fearon, Gerard Nardone, Joseph Mastandrea and Edward Agnew to firefighter. Firefighters Joseph Ferraro, Ian Kaneshige, Martina Smith, Brian Kirkpatrick, James Kroll, David Vassie and Darell Szezypta would be terminated and, through the bumping process, four additional firefighters not yet named would be laid off. Also: Mary Ann Ryan, the Council 11 president who works as a principal clerk-typist at Fire Headquarters, is targeted for termination.
Under the proposed layoff scenario, Kearny would save about $3.9 million in salaries and benefits (roughly $1.5 million for the Police Department; about $1.4 million for the Fire Department, and about $1 million for the civilians);  and about $1.2 million in operational costs to stave off a $5 million budget shortfall, Santos said.
Since that plan was filed, however, Santos said the town learned that it would realize a credit of about $1.4 million from the state on its annual employee pension contribution.
That means, Santos said, that the town will need to generate only about $2.9 million in savings for personnel and between $900,000 and $1 million for operational costs. And, in turn, it means that the numbers in the layoff plan could be revised downward, he added.
Retirements could also help bring down those numbers, Santos said. As of Jan. 1, 2012, 33 employees (12 in the Police Department, nine in the Fire Department, two crossing guards and 10 civilians) become eligible to retire, he said. However, that is tempered by the fact that for 2011, the town is already on the hook for more than $500,000 in terminal leave payments covering 16 retirees, Santos said.
Worst-case scenario for the Fire Department if the current layoff schedule holds could be the loss of one of its current six fire companies, Fire Chief Steve Dyl said. “But that’s all up in the air.”
Jeff Bruder, president of the Kearny fire officers union, and Jim Carey, head of the rank-and-file union, said they planned to meet with Rutgers professor Ray Caprio to review the town’s proposal and to see if savings can be achieved through non-layoff avenues.
Glenn Reed, president of the Kearny police officers union, said he preferred not to comment now.
But Council 11’s Ryan warned that the civilian layoffs would hamper public services.
It will take “twice as long,” she said, to process building permits and to arrange for inspections of home repairs and restaurants. Additionally, Ryan noted, the town will lose out on thousands of dollars in ticket revenues by cutting a parking enforcement officer, English-challenged residents will be hampered by the loss of bilingual clerks in the Public Works and Building Departments, and recycling will suffer from the lack of sanitary inspectors to enforce separation of waste products.

‘Take Back’ med collection is set for Saturday

Photo by Karen Zautyk/ Unwanted or expired drugs – prescription and over-the-counter - can be turned in anonymously this Saturday.


By Karen Zautyk

You would NEVER get your kids, or grandkids, hooked on prescription drugs, or feed a drug habit, right? It’s unthinkable.
But the unthinkable is happening all the time. And with increasing frequency.
According to the latest data available, provided by a University of Michigan study, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 400% between 1997 and 2007, and, from 2004 to 2008, the number of visits to hospital emergency rooms involving the non-medical use of narcotic painkillers increased 111%.
Often, the source of those drugs is not a pusher on the street, but the family medicine cabinet, which offers all too easy access to parents’ and grandparents’ prescription drugs.
This danger is the reason the Drug Enforcement Administration has enlisted the aid of police departments across New Jersey for Operation Take Back, a chance for the general public to properly dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medications.
The first such program was held September 2010, and more than 14,000 pounds (7 tons) of meds were turned in.
The 2011 collection is scheduled for this Saturday, Oct. 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in communities throughout N.J.
One of the participating agencies is the Kearny Police Department, which in the 2010 effort collected 44 pounds of medications, a leader in the Hudson County results.

KPD Sgt. Tim Wagner and Officers Jack Corbett and Jack Grimm are coordinating the local effort. A collection bin will be available at the Juvenile Aid Bureau – entrance on the Forest St. side of the Laurel Ave. police headquarters.
From 10 to 2, you can go there and anonymously drop off your meds – both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. No questions asked, Wagner pointed out.
The police will accept not only pills and capsules, but also syrups and other liquids. And pet meds, too.
“If it’s a medicine, we’ll take it,” Wagner said. However, “sharps” – hypodermic needles and the like – will not be accepted.
“It’s completely anonymous, no asking for ID,” Wagner said. “Just drop it in.”
“But,“ he noted, “we do recommend that you scrape off the labels.”
All the drugs are then turned over to the DEA, which takes them to a central location for environmentally safe disposal.
In Nutley, the collection point Saturday will be at the Police Department HQ, 228 Chestnut St. In addition, senior citizens living in either the Nutley Senior Manor or the Nutley Parkside Apartments will be able to drop their used prescription drugs into a collection box located in their respective buildings, according to Mayor Joanne Cocchiola.
Cocchiola’s announcement of Nutley’s participation in Operation Take Back also emphasized the at-home dangers: “Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.”
So why not just dump them yourself? Because the “usual methods for disposing of unused medicines—flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash—both pose potential safety and health hazards.”
Harrison is another participant, with a collection bin at police headquarters, 318 Harrison Ave. (at the rear of the Town Hall).
“The abuse of prescription drugs is a concern for everyone,” said Chief Derek Kearns. “This type of intervention brings the issue to the forefront, while helping to reduce the availability of substances that could be misused.”
In Belleville, you can bring your meds to police headquarters at 152 Washington Ave., and in Lyndhurst, the collection point will be the PD mobile command post, which will be set up in the shopping plaza at 425 Valley Brook Ave. Lyndhurst residents seeking more information about the program are asked to contact Det. Vincent Auteri at 201-939-2900, ext. 2770.
You can also visit www.operationtakebacknj.com.
But remember. On Saturday, the hours for all collection points in all participating communities are firm: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

3 sentenced in local ATM skimming

By Karen Zautyk

Three Bulgarian nationals were sentenced last week in Newark Federal Court for stealing account information – and more than $270,000 – from Valley National Bank customers in Nutley and Belleville. The bank ultimately absorbed the loss.
Appearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. last Wednesday, Lachezar Lazarov, 26, who had been living in Queens, N.Y., was sentenced to 65 months in prison; Georgi Nikiforov, 25, also of Queens, to 57 months, and Viktor Kafalov, 28, of Brooklyn, to 32 months, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced.
Authorities said the trio had admitted to a “skimming” operation, installing secret recording devices and pinhole cameras on Valley National ATMS in Nutley and Belleville in September 2008.
In “skimming,“ account and identity information, which is contained in the magnetic strip of an ATM card, is read and recorded by an electronic device secretly inserted into the ATM. Additionally, a pinhole camera records the bank customers’ keystrokes when they enter their personal identification number.
According to court records, once the defendants had obtained the information, it was transferred and loaded onto blank ATM cards. Beginning in October 2008, the newly created cards were used to make unauthorized withdrawals from the skimmed accounts by co-conspirators throughout the tri-state area and other parts of the country.
In all, the culprits stole information from approximately 348 accounts and defrauded Valley National of $278,144. The bank absorbed the loss when it repaid the defrauded customers.
Kafalov was arrested in June 2010; Lazarov and Nikiforov, in October 2010. All three have been held without bail since their apprehension.
The defendants each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and to aggravated identity theft.
In addition to the prison terms, Brown sentenced Lazarov to five years of supervised release; Nikiforov and Kafalov, to three years of supervised release. The defendants were also ordered to pay restitution in the total amount of $189,471.25.
Fishman cited agents of the U.S. Secret Service, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jacob Christine, with the investigation leading to the resolution of the case. He also thanked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, for its assistance.

Educators counting on new math strategy



Photos by Ron Leir/ Paula and Bob Ellis (above), parents of a first-grader, and teacher Jennifer Scardino (below) favor the use of “manipulatives” as a math learning tool for children.


By Ron Leir

The township’s  public schools are going math crazy.
When kids in kindergarten through grade 5 came back to the classroom for the start of the fall term, they were introduced to a new approach to what educators used to call arithmetic.
Now, however, students will be asked to cozy up to “Math in Focus” or “Singapore Math,” named, appropriately, for that city-state off the Malay Peninsula that, in the 1980s, developed its own math curriculum for primary students, focusing on problem solving and model drawing.
At the recommendation of Schools Superintendent Tracey Marinelli, the Lyndhurst Board of Education bought into the concept, investing local funds for textbooks, workbooks and software computer packages.
The change impacts some 600 children spread among six elementary schools.
Marinelli declined to say how much was spent because the district got a break on the retail price from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of the teaching materials.
What sold her on the value of those materials, Marinelli said, was that the curriculum “is directly aligned to the state (Department of Education) common core standards” and offered “a good blend of both hands-on and more traditional ‘skill and drill’ learning.”
Asked if students’ performance in math prompted the change in curriculum, Marinelli said that Lyndhurst meets the federal AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) benchmarks “but there’s always room for improvement.”
Marinelli commended district math teachers for agreeing to give their time gratis for several days during their summer break to attend professional service workshops to familiarize themselves with the fundamentals of the Singapore technique.
Math teachers from the Rutherford public school system, which has also decided to go with the Singapore method, participated in the training sessions, which alternated between the two districts, Marinelli said.
Marlene Krupp, Lyndhurst math supervisor for primary grades, is also high on the merits of the Singapore system for its use of “manipulatives” that help students transition from concrete objects to abstract concepts.
Additionally, Krupp said, the curriculum “looks for mastery of those concepts before students can move on” to the next lesson.
Elaborating, Marinelli said that over the course of a typical five-day lesson on a particular mathematical concept, the teacher serves as “lecturer, observer and coach” in shepherding her students through the lesson.
And, in this context, she said, the student’s math textbook “never goes home with the student for homework.” Instead, the teacher will assign a review lesson in a workbook to students who have documented mastery of a given concept over the course of the five-day lesson. If a student has failed to master the lesson, the teacher can provide an online software drill or worksheet to use at home. For an exceptional student, the teacher can offer an enrichment package.
As explained by a publisher’s pamphlet, a signature aspect of the Singapore system features the use of rectangular “bars” or bar models to show the relationship between known and unknown numerical quantities and to solve problems related to these quantities.
It also uses representative photos, icons and thought bubbles that model the thought processes students are encouraged to use to solve problems. Journal writing further reinforces a child’s ability to do a self-check on whether he or she really understands the work.
Some 45 parents responded to a district invitation to learn more about the new system last Wednesday night at Washington Elementary School.
They heard Hoover Herrera, a math coach for the Newark school system, explain how the Singapore government – desperate to improve children’s performance in math – invested 20% of its GNP in education, sending its educators around the globe – to Australia, Switzerland and the U.S. – in search of the best math teaching systems.
That research has apparently paid off. As noted by Wikipedia: “The (Singapore) method has become more popular since the release of scores from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study in 2003 showed Singapore at the top of the world in 4th and 8th grade mathematics.”
At Washington School, several math teachers were on hand with samples of the Singapore system’s educational tools to show interested parents.
Lyndhurst grade 2 teacher Jennifer Scardino, an 11-year veteran of the classroom, said she finds the system “wonderful” since it “allows us to differentiate students on various (performance) levels” and it provides parents with “access to online resources” to help guide their children.
Parents seemed to like it, too.
Renata Sales, who attended the demonstration with her son Matthew, a 5th grader, said she was impressed. “I’ll be going online to check it out more,” she said.
“I think it’s good,” Matthew affirmed.
And Paula and Bob Ellis, parents of 1st-grader Angela, were also sold on the concept. “I like it a lot,” said Paula. “I think it’s better – it makes more sense using manipulatives to make sense of abstract concepts.”

Lions, Tigers and Bears!



By Lisa Pezzolla

Last week it was shockingly reported that 49 exotic animals were shot and killed by law enforcement officials in Zanesville, Ohio.  There were nine male lions, eight lionesses, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzlies, two wolves, one baboon . . . and 18 Bengal tigers.
When I first heard about it, I thought it was a zoo, not a private farm. The owner Terry Thompson committed suicide after opening the cages of all his exotic pets.
Ohio has some of the most lax regulations of exotic animals in the country. Hopefully, after this tragedy Ohio will consider cracking down on the ownership of exotic animals as pets.
Where was Thompson getting the money to purchase these animals? Where was he importing them from?
These creatures belong in the wild, not in some backyard, chained, defanged and declawed, where it is impossible to give them the proper care that they need. This was a sad life and it is unfortunate that it has ended with the loss of life — pets and owner.
It seems to be easy to purchase exotic animals over the Internet or via classified ads in animal magazines. My girlfriend recently went through hell and high water to adopt a dog in New Jersey; meanwhile, exotic animals are being bought as pets. These cuddly animals grow up to be wild animals and that is where they belong — in the wild.
Zoos and sanctuaries are turning them away; funds are not available to care for them and people who are purchasing them are not watching them growing in size and in appetite.
They belong in the wild!

When Halloween wasn’t scary at all

In today’s paper, you will find Halloween safety warnings as well as news of community efforts to provide “secure” trick-or-treat environments for the little ones.
While I understand the modern-day concerns, oh how my heart aches for what used to be.
Somewhere (I tried to find it to illustrate this column but couldn’t, so you’re in luck) is a photo of me in what was my all-time favorite Halloween costume. I was a leopard, with full spotted suit with long tail, hood with ears and a full face mask, the kind you are now warned not to put on your kiddies because it limits their vision.
I wore the outfit when I was 6. Which was the first year I went trick-or-treating. And it was without adult supervision.
Does this shock you? Back in the day, it was normal.
I guess there was safety in numbers, with mobs of kids roaming around our apartment complex on their own.
The Pru as it was known (it was owned by the Prudential Insurance Co.) covered an entire Newark block and was divided into five courtyards, each with multiple hallway entrances. The buildings were all six-story walkups, two apartments per floor. I don’t know the exact count, but there had to be hundreds.
And that’s where we’d be all night, climbing stairs and knocking on strangers’ doors. Most of the time, we’d be in little groups, but I recall more than one Halloween when my friends had all gotten tired and headed home, and I continued, at least for a little while, all by myself. Knocking on strangers’ doors.
The thought of danger never occurred to us. The idea of razor blades in apples was unheard of. Neither did all the treats have to be in their original wrappers. In fact, the most prized ones were those that the giver had handcrafted themselves, napkins tied with bows and filled with loose candy. Horrors!
As I said, this started at age 6. And all the way to 8th grade (which is when I decided I was too old to trick/treat anymore), we kids were out on our own.
As far as I recall, nothing untoward ever happened to anyone. (I know that some of my readers are also former denizens of Down Neck, so if I’m wrong, and something awful did occur, please let me know.)
Until I hear of anything, I will continue with nothing but the happiest memories of Halloween, a night when the only thing that scared us was another kid jumping out of a doorway and shouting, “BOO!”
— Karen Zautyk