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Security guard roughed up in KHS melee; 3 boys charged with aggravated assault

Kearny High School

Kearny High School

KEARNY –

The dust is still settling from a brawl that took place last Monday, March 30, inside Kearny High School.

Police officials reported that six youths – all juvenile boys – were involved in a fistfight during the early afternoon in a hallway outside the guidance office, just off the main entrance to the school.

No reason was given for the skirmish.

Schools Superintendent Patricia Blood told The Observer that the struggle “lasted all of 15 seconds,” before administrators, teachers and school security managed to break it up.

Turns out that one security guard who apparently got in the middle of the scrape, just as it erupted, got roughed up, according to police, who said that the man got punched and kicked and suffered a broken tooth.

Three of the combatants – who were identified by review of footage from a school hallway surveillance camera – were subsequently charged with aggravated assault, said Deputy Police Chief George King. Their names were not disclosed because of their age.

King said the KPD is weighing whether to file separate charges, possibly simple assault and inciting a riot, against the other three brawlers. As of last week, police were trying to find any other video resources such as smart phones that could show different perspectives on the fight.

Sometime after the incident, reports surfaced on social media that the high school was in lockdown mode. Both Blood and King said there was no lockdown – but King said the KPD did bolster police presence at the school in response to postings reportedly threatening retaliation of some kind in connection with the fight.

“We were fielding a lot of calls from parents about these reports and, yes, we did put extra cops outside the school at dismissal time just to quell their concerns. In addition, school personnel locked the gates at the stadium to make sure we didn’t have unwanted people wandering around,” King said.

Normally, the KPD has someone from its Cops In School unit assigned to the high school but, as of last Monday, there was no one detailed there. The officer most recently assigned to that detail was off-duty on sick leave, reportedly because of a knee injury sustained while the officer was chasing a student in an unrelated episode a couple of weeks prior to the fight.

King said the KPD was not immediately notified about the fight but did, eventually, learn of the incident from school authorities later in the day.

When asked whether the fight could have been gang-related, Blood said that, “there is no gang activity in Kearny High” and that “fights are not rampant in the high school.”

Acclaimed by their peers

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

American Legion Post 99 on Belgrove Drive was the setting Friday evening for a ceremony honoring Kearny’s Finest of the Finest and Bravest of the Bravest for 2014.

Police Officer of the Year is Sgt. Paul Bershefski.

Firefighter of the Year is Jason McCabe.

Last week’s program was only the first of several community ceremonies that will spotlight the duo.

As Fire Chief Steve Dyl told the audience in the Legion hall, for both police and firefighters, “It’s all about rising to the challenge.”

In McCabe’s case, the challenge included a particularly hazardous rescue of a man trapped in a Schuyler Ave. fire in February 2014. He and two other firefighters entered the burning home searching for the victim who they had been told was somewhere in the basement. That basement turned out to be a hazard in itself — with narrow hallways, low ceilings and doorways less than 6-feet high.

The firefighters used a thermal-imaging camera to find the man, who was trapped in a bedroom. McCabe was the one who located him. Then they had to get the victim out, through the same cramped space. “Help couldn’t get to them, and they were running out of air,” Dyl recalled. But, against the odds, they succeeded in the rescue. “We very well could have had three Firefighters of the Year,” the chief noted. But the Meritorious Acts Review Board chose McCabe.

And it’s safe to say, the other two don’t begrudge it at all. Heroes are like that.

McCabe, who joined the KFD in February 1999, is assigned to Engine 1 on Davis Ave., the department’s primary mutual aid company. He has previously been cited for performing life-saving CPR and for water rescues in the Passaic River. Recently, he completed training for the KPD’s Swift Water Rescue Team.

He has also volunteered his time on humanitarian aid missions, to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, as well as tornado victims in Missouri. And, Dyl noted, “he spent countless hours at the Jersey Shore after Sandy,” helping people rebuild their homes. He also built playgrounds as part of the Sandy Ground project, launched to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

“He reminds me of the Energizer Bunny,” Dyl said.

Prior to becoming a fireman (following in the footsteps of his father, Joseph, who had been a battalion chief in Jersey City), McCabe served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1991 to ‘95, with deployments to Somalia, Okinawa, Korea and the Mediterranean.

He and his wife, Kristin, have three children: daughters Tyler, 17, and Lindsay, 13, and son Eric, 8.

In an interview prior to the awards ceremony, Dyl had cited McCabe’s “character and work ethic.” The chief told us, “He gives you 110%. When you’re going into a difficult situation, he’s the guy you want to have with you.”

Police Chief John Dowie expressed similar sentiments at the awards event, noting that the police officers and firefighters who receive the honor are the ones “who go above and beyond, time and again.”

Police Officer of the Year Sgt. Paul (“Bear”) Bershefski joined the KPD in 2005, served in the trouble-shooting patrol division and was promoted to sergeant in May 2012. He is a member of the Tactical Services Unit and a certified firearms instructor.

Over the years, Dowie noted, he has received awards for participation in narcotics arrests and in 2009 was recognized by the Valor Committee after, while off-duty, he saved the life of a man who had been choking to death.

He also has received the Meritorious Service Award, two Certificates of Merit and two Unit Citations.

Like McCabe, Bershefski was recognized for his overall job performance in 2014, but he also had a particularly notable incident on his record. And it occurred at the very start of the year, on New Year’s Day 2014.

At 7 a.m., a “known gang member from Newark,” armed with a .45, invaded a Tappan St. residence, terrorized, assaulted and robbed the family and then fled in their Lexis, after taking the keys. He lost control of the car on Devon St., abandoned it and started running.

It was Bershefski who spotted the suspect and attempted to detain him at Central and Passaic Aves., at the border of Kearny and East Newark. But the thug kept running, heading across the Clay St. Bridge. with the officer in foot pursuit.

Bershefski closed the distance and ordered him to freeze. At which point, the man apparently drew the gun from his waistband — and threw it into the Passaic. (All this could have ended much differently.)

He continued running, with Bershefski following him to an abandoned lot on the Newark side of the river. Police surrounded the site and the suspect was located and taken into custody. Also located on the property was ammo for a .45.

Bershefski’s handling of the situation was “just one of his many meritorious acts,” Dowie noted.

As for community service, the sergeant was an original organizer of Kearny’s Police Unity Tour Bicycle Team. He still rides in the yearly event, which now attracts nearly 2,000 officers from across the U.S. Participants cycle to the Police Memorial in Washington, D.C., to raise money for the families of officers killed in the line of duty. They now collect more than $1 million annually.

Bershefski and his wife, Heather, have two sons: Patrick, 9, and Brendan, 5. His father, Paul, is a retired N.J. State Police lieutenant, and his mother, Patricia, is a retired Harrison/ Kearny schoolteacher.

Bershefski grew up in Harrison, attended Queen of Peace High School, and majored in sociology and criminology at Montclair State University. In 2004, after graduating from the Essex County Police Academy, he joined the Harrison PD. But he transferred to Kearny early the following year.

“I stole him from Harrison,” Dowie said. “He’s the best thing I’ve ever stolen.”

Turf is the way to go

KEARNY – 

Real grass seems to be headed out with the dinosaurs these days for Kearny’s municipal playing fields.

The town is applying for $743,000 in Hudson County Community Block Grant funds to put toward the acquisition and installation of synthetic turf at Veterans’ Field on Belgrove Drive near Bergen Ave.

Veterans’ Field accommodates one Little League baseball field and a combination football/softball field.

Mayor Alberto Santos and the Town Council held a public hearing on the CDBG application at the March 16 council meeting and no one from the public had any comments on it.

This is the second municipal recreation complex that the town is aiming to resurface, the other being the Gunnell Oval facility off Schuyler Ave., although the motivation for that project is keyed to an environmental cleanup of the site.

When all is said and done, the proposed Oval improvements, according to the town’s engineering experts, could run upwards of $16 million. The fix-up would include raising the elevation of the land, putting in a pump station and drainage system and a retaining wall as a buffer for E. Midland Ave. homeowners. The town is seeking outside funding sources to pay for it all.

Meanwhile, Santos said that the town is focusing on Veterans’ Field as a desperately needed temporary replacement for the several fields at the Oval that are currently off-line.

Santos said that playing area is used by both adults and more than 250 youngsters ages 18 and younger.

“There’s a high demand on our fields and installing synthetic turf will allow for increased usage,” Santos said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Michael Landy, who chairs the Recreation Committee, said that with the Oval off limits, “The hope is to minimize the impact on our [municipal] sports programs,” but he said that would be tough to achieve, given that Veterans’ Field hosts football and fall baseball from August through Thanksgiving and girls’ softball and Little League during spring and summer.

Assuming the town gets the CDBG money and goes ahead with bidding out the turf job, “one option we’re looking at is to do the baseball area at one time and leave the other end of the field open and schedule the other part of the field for another time.

“But we’re wary of shutting down Little League because we’d only have one field available [East field at the Oval],” he said.

“If we could do the work from, say, July, to when the winter starts, that’s all well and good, because we’d have two fields. The third option is we wait and do the Oval first. We should decide in the next month or two.”

Still, even if the town succeeds in getting the CDBG cash, it will need a lot more dough to do the work, Santos said, since the total project cost has been estimated at $1,786,000.

And the outlook for snagging the CDBG funding isn’t good, the mayor conceded. He said the expectation is that, given the full-court pressure by Republican legislators to button down federal spending, “the expectation is that Congress will reduce the pot of federal dollars available. We don’t know if [the CDBG allocation to counties] will be fully funded.”

 – Ron Leir 

‘Dream’ plan nixed by council

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

BELLEVILLE – 

The township is retreating on one prospective real estate development front while pondering a 180-degree flip by the would-be builder on another.

By a 7-0 vote last Tuesday, March 24, the Belleville governing body rejected an ambitious redevelopment plan that pitched several thousands of housing units in towers extending up to 50 stories at the old Jacobs property at 630-632 Washington Ave. and stretching down to Main St. on the old Kidde property.

In doing so, the Township Council turned aside a Planning Board recommendation made in December to approve the plan.

In a pre-meeting public caucus, attorney Anthony J. Frese, representing O&R Urban Renewal Co. LLC, and its principal Joe Orlando, asked the council to consider allowing his client to shift gears on development plans for the old School 1 property on Stephens St., by installing a Quick Chek retail store/gas pumps.

Frese said that O&R “has run into serious issues developing this property as a 60-unit apartment complex.” A Quick Chek, on the other hand, would be “clean and simple” and would offer a chance for “hiring 40 people” to work there in shifts around the clock.

But several council members had reservations about the plan: Kevin Kennedy wondered if the township would run into legal problems with a rival bidder who had proposed a retail use for the site; Marie Strumolo Burke and Dr. John Notari worried about safety issues that a 24/7 operation might generate; and Steven Rovell had concerns about adding to existing traffic congestion on the approach to the Rutgers St. bridge.

Mayor Ray Kimble ended the discussion by saying, “The next step is to discuss this among ourselves and our attorney.”

During the regular public meeting, the council dealt with the Northeast Area Redevelopment Plan by passing a resolution that found that, “… the proposed density, building height and intensity of development proposed development Option 3 [which called for at least one 50-story high-rise and others ranging from 10 to 20 floors] is out of scale with the existing and planned land use character of Washington Ave. and its surrounding neighborhoods.”

And it further determined that, “… there is no evidence in the near future, beyond development occurring along the Hudson River in Hudson County or Bergen County, that development [as proposed under Option 3] would ever find a feasible market in Belleville.

“That said, it makes no planning sense to approve a redevelopment plan for an unrealistic development of this scale and invite unforeseeable legal or zoning challenges.”

At the same time, the council unanimously voted down a resolution that would have send the Northeast Redevelopment team’s application back to the Planning Board “for further fact finding and deliberation and possible revisions.”

 

Photos by Ron Leir O&R attorney Anthony J. Frese (l.) and Quick Check’s John Carafello try to make a case for replacing proposed housing with a commercial use at the now vacant School 1 site (shown at l.).

Photos by Ron Leir
O&R attorney Anthony J. Frese (l.) and Quick Check’s John Carafello try to make a case for replacing proposed housing with a commercial use at the now vacant School 1 site.

Rovell told The Observer: “We’re not into the type of extreme density being proposed by the developer. As I understand it, [one member of the team] already has prior approvals to put up a 135-unit apartment building on a portion of the site but nothing has been built.”

Going along with such a huge project “is a lot to ask for in a bedroom-type community like Belleville,” Rovelle said. “Why would you change the look and feel of the community? It’s not that I’m against development but I’m a proponent of reasonable and rational development.”

The council decision was warmly greeted by residents Vincent Frantantoni and Jeff Mattingly.

“I’ve finally got a reason to thank the council for doing the right thing,” Frantantoni said, “because this project is so out of scale with Belleville. In our entire town, we have 11,800 housing units. This developer wants to come and add between 4,500 and 6,000 units and this town cannot handle this.”

Mattingly chose to take hope from the council’s action, “if it was meant as sending a signal to the developer to come back with a smaller project.”

Otherwise, he said, granting the team carte blanche would amount to nothing less than “a land grab to take over a [contaminated] property 10 years in the process of being cleaned.”

Putting a 50-story highrise “only 100 feet away from a utility electric tower is not a place for a residential development,” he added.

What the development team will do next remains to be seen.

Stepping up in the ranks

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

These days, Kearny is paying attention to its public safety personnel rosters.

Just a few weeks after hiring six new cops, the Kearny governing body voted last week to authorize promotions in both the Police and Fire Departments.

The Town Council named four fire captains and two police captains to fill slots vacated via retirements but in both cases, they are viewed by department heads as only temporary reprieves as the wave of departures by veteran employees continues.

Nonetheless, an SRO crowd of relatives and fellow bluecoats and firefighters and well-wishers jammed the Town Hall assembly chambers to celebrate the occasion.

Mayor Alberto Santos characterized the elevations in rank as “overdue” and lauded the recipients of the new ranks as “deserving of the honors they’re receiving.”

Those honorees are: Police Capts. Anthony Sylvester and Timothy Wagner; and Fire Capts. David Russell, William Solano, Andrew O’Donnell and Arthur Bloomer.

All go on the town payroll, as of April 1. The police captains will earn an annual base pay of $141,519 and the fire captains will take home $103,637 a year in base pay.

Police Chief John Dowie recalled that when he was elevated to captain, he was assigned to “train the new guys” after they had completed Academy training. “They were my little team,” he added. Guys like Sylvester and Wagner.

“Six made rank, three received Cop of the Year awards, two made detectives – not a bad batting average for my team,” Dowie said. Dowie called Sylvester, a 20-year veteran, “the Comeback Kid,” who, he noted, “a year ago, was down on his feet [due to a serious health issue] – the New England Patriots’ comeback in the Super Bowl paled in comparison.” That issue aside, however, Dowie said that Sylvester has never been one to shirk from his police duties; in fact, he always wanted to go where the action was, even as a superior officer, gladly taking on “a lot of night tours.”

“He never asked out of work – he always helped out,” the chief said.

And even while serving as a desk lieutenant, Dowie said, Sylvester may have been “stuck inside answering the phone,” but he still functioned as an able field commander under pressure, like the night a call came in to HQ at 10 p.m. that a man had kidnapped a mother’s two babies and headed out of town.

Organizing the moving pieces “all fell to Tony” that night, Dowie recalled, and by 5 a.m., the suspect – and the infants – were traced through a cellular phone to North Bergen.

Dowie also credited Sylvester with overcoming enormous odds by organizing a motorcade to rescue motorists stranded in South Kearny by Superstorm Sandy.

Wagner, who joined the force in 2001, has developed into what Dowie characterized as “an outstanding street cop and investigator,” having also served in tactical services and as an EMT.

Wagner applied those investigative skills to help track the accused killer of a Kearny Ave. jeweler through the DNA taken from a burglar’s tools that matched the murder suspect, Dowie said. And he has been commended for the work he has done while assigned to the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Homicide Squad.

“Timmy’s the kind of guy who seeks out any type of training, sometimes on his own dime, and currently he’s going for certification as an arson investigator,” Dowie said.

He’s also in training for the Police Unity Tour, a four-day bicycle trek in May designed as a fundraiser to heighten awareness of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

Wagner is now assigned to the department’s Internal Affairs unit.

On the Fire Department side, Fire Chief Steven Dyl commended Russell, who was hired in early 1999, as “the type of guy who always does what you ask and then some.”

As part of the Rapid Intervention Crew, Russell and his crewmates responded to a Harrison fire that erupted during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March 2013 and helped rescue five members of the Jersey City Fire Department who were assisting at the fire scene. And, in 2007, Russell received a commendation for giving CPR to a fire victim.

Solano, a member of the department since 2000, is another firefighter “always willing to help,” Dyl said. Currently assigned to Fire HQ, Solano is a member of the Swift Water Rescue Team. He was awarded a citation for his work during Super Storm Sandy in 2012.

O’Donnell, who joined the department in 1999, was named 2013 Firefighter of the Year in recognition of his work in helping rescue two individuals trapped at a Devon St. fire. He was also cited for his work during Super Storm Sandy. And he received an exceptional duty citation in connection with dousing an early morning Laurel Ave. house fire. He has also served as a contract negotiator for the local FMBA.

Bloomer, a KFD member since 1988, “comes from a true firefighter family,” Dyl said. Bloomer’s grandfather, Knowlton Pierce, became Kearny’s first career fire chief in 1921 and Bloomer’s two sons Andrew and Sean and daughter Danielle are members of the Brick Fire Department.

Bloomer helped set up the KFD’s ambulance program, is a certified SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) repair technician, has helped design three KFD rigs and serves with the KFD’s Technical Rescue Team.

On his off-time, Bloomer is an instructor with the Fire Department Institute Corps in Indianapolis and is a member of the N.J. Task Force 1, which performs urban search and rescue service. He served at the WTC site after the 9/11 attack.

Dyl said that all of the new captains will be facing “a pretty serious challenge” in the upcoming months because, “by July 1, we’re going to have a combined 345 years of [firefighter] experience walk out the door.”

Between February and July, 13 members of the KFD will have retired, leaving the department three short of the 25 captains recommended under the department’s Table of Organization, Dyl said. By July 1, the department will be down to 78 members – far short of the 102 called for by the T.O., he said.

More library staffing sought

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By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY –

The Kearny Public Library, struggling to maintain its services in the face of diminished finances and staffing, is calling on the town for help.

Library Board President Barbara Pollock appealed to the mayor and Town Council Tuesday to help take up the slack since the state Department of Community Affairs eliminated all of the library’s $17,000 in state aid.

Municipal libraries are required to meet certain staffing levels tied to the populations they serve. Kearny was obliged to staff four full-time librarians for its population of nearly 40,000 but currently has only two.

“It’s upsetting to us that we’re not meeting those state standards,” Pollock said.

One librarian was among several civilian town employees laid off in 2011 and another retired. Neither has been replaced. And a full-time administrative clerk is retiring shortly.

“We can only claim half the amount of [full- and part-time] employees we had in 2000,” Pollock said.

As for the part-timers, of whom several are still in college or newly graduated, “As soon as they get a better job, they leave so there’s no responsibility for the long-term,” Pollock said.

And, because there is insufficient staff, she added, “we don’t have enough hours.”

In late 2012, the library cut back two evening hours on two weekdays at the Main Library and sliced a full day (Friday) at its branch facility.

“There’s only one night [Wednesday] during the week we’re open until 8 p.m.,” Pollock said. “This isn’t good for people working.”

Despite these disadvantages, she said, the library has managed to acquire computers and new reading tables and lamps for its patrons.

Additionally, she said, largely through the efforts of library director Josh Humphrey, it has expanded its mission as a “community” library by offering programs for adults and children and by completing its outdoor reading garden that will be used for musical, theatrical and poetry events.

Given these successful efforts, Pollock concluded, “Let’s not have the state tell us we’re not worth funding.”

Mayor Alberto Santos sought to assure Pollock that, “it’s not just the library” where budget restraints have been applied.

Actually, the municipal budget introduced by the council March 16 increases dedicated local tax funding for the library, from $1,074,000 last year to $1,130,529 for this year.

That adjustment should allow room for some attempt by the town to address the library’s personnel quandary and, indeed, Santos said the council plans to adopt an ordinance that would increase pay rates for entry-level positions to $10 per hour in hopes that will entice employees to stay longer.

As for adding full-time librarian slots, Santos said he has directed town CFO Shuaib Firozvi to meet with Humphrey to discuss “whether we should advertise, for example, for two library assistants or a librarian or however we set about restoring some of the director’s staff.”

If there was determined to be a need for a “bilingual librarian,” for instance, “that’s not a [job] title we now have and I don’t know what the [job] market would dictate for such a position,” the mayor added.

Humphrey, who outlined his personnel needs to the mayor and council during a closed caucus held after Tuesday night’s meeting, declined to discuss details with The Observer but noted that since he became director in April 2010, “we’ve lost four full-time employees and a couple of part-timers. It just comes to a point where that has to be addressed.”

“It seems like a lot of libraries have lost people through attrition,” Humphrey said. “You can see that trend.”

Pat Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association, noted that, “Since 2005, property values across the state have gone down by 13% and that has a direct impact on local funding for libraries.

“In 2009, the average per-capita state funding for libraries in New Jersey was $67 and as of 2013 [the year for which the most recent figures are available], it’s at $57,” she said. “What we’re seeing now is the sixth straight year of cuts in this program and local libraries are finding it more difficult to meet the state’s standards.”

Reduced hours in Kearny notwithstanding, patrons’ use of the library has continued unabated, with library records showing a rise of about 3,000 in total circulation volume to more than 83,000 between 2013 and 2014, Humphrey said.

Probably the single most popular items, Humphrey said, are “graphic novels” for juveniles (meaning comic books). “Picture books go out like crazy,” he said. “The companies that put out e-books haven’t yet found a way to replicate them.”

Of the 83,164 books and tapes in circulation, more than half – 46,695 – are juvenile books, records reveal. More than 1,500 residents – adults and kids – took out new library cards and about 21,000 adults and youths came in to use the library’s computers last year, records show.

“For now,” Humphrey said, “we can tread water. I would hate to see us cut our hours more than we have already.”

Jaycees fete 5 for ‘distinguished service’

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Photos courtesy Walter Smith
Clockwise from top l: Alphonse Petracco, John Maiello, Mike Nisivoccia, Steven Picciano, Michele Fleitel

The Nutley Jaycees will present their 2015 Distinguished Service Awards at the 44th annual community awards banquet Thursday, April 9, at the Valley Regency, 1149 Valley Road, Clifton.

The event starts with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be reserved by calling Dr. Steven Clarke at 973-235-1515.

This year’s honorees are: Steven Picciano Jr.,Outstanding Young Man of the Year; Michael Nisivoccia, Public Health & Public Safety awardee; John J. Maiello, Educator of the Year; Michele Fleitell, Civic Affairs awardee; and Mayor Alphonse Petracco, Businessman of the Year. Picciano Jr. is being feted for his role as a leader in the Holy Family Knights of Columbus and devoting many hours of service to the less fortunate. He founded and coordinated the annual Chef’s Night at Holy Family Church and runs a Bingo Night that raises money for special needs youth in Nutley. He has also organized trips to food kitchens in Newark and run blood drives in Nutley. Picciano Jr. is director of business and development for the Church of St. Catherine of Siena & Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York.

Nisivoccia is a recently retired Nutley fire lieutenant who has served as the local FMBA president for the past 18 years. In 2001, he led the Nutley Fire Department’s Boot Drive that raised $5,000 for the New York City firefighters who perished in the 9/11 attack. He and colleagues served at Liberty State Park, decontaminating members of the public who fled New York after the attack. For two decades, Nisivoccia served as head coach/manager of the Nutley National/East Little League and started Little League trips to Cooperstown. In 2009, the team he coached was rated among the top four nationally. He also coached the Nutley Junior Raiders and was head coach and president of the league. And he supported the Nutley High School theater program by selling auditorium seat sponsors during the renovations.

Maiello is band director for Nutley High School. His teaching responsibilities include concert and marching bands and multiple jazz ensembles. He’s completing his 24th year as a teacher. This past fall, the Nutley Raider Marching Band was crowned USSBA Northern States Champions for best music, percussion and effect honors and was grand champion at the 2015 Gator Bowl, Tournament of Champions, which brought $10,000 in prize money to the high school. In 2009, the Nutley High music program was honored with a gala at Carnegie Hall and in 2008, the NHS Wind Ensemble gave a world premiere performance of Frank Ticheli’s “Angels in the Architecture” in the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The Wind Ensemble has won first place awards at festivals in Toronto (2005), Anaheim (2006), New York City (2007) and Jackson (2009). Maiello, selected as Teacher of the Year in 2009, performs as a trumpeter with the Ridgewood Concert Band and New Sussex Symphony.

Fleitell is a former two-term member of the Nutley Board of Education who served as guidance director and supervisor in the local district until her retirement in 2008. She is past president of the Radcliffe School PTA. She is a board member of the Nutley Family Service Bureau and is a past president of the NFS Women’s Auxiliary and chaired the Charity Ball. She is a founder and president of Nutley Thriving Survivors, a support program for women who live or work in Nutley who have battled breast cancer. The group organizes an annual walk/brunch, provide food for those undergoing treatment and companionship to women in need.

Petracco is the owner of Petracco and Sons, a local deli and catering facility. Petracco started in business many years ago when he began leasing and running the meat department at Foodrama on Washington Ave. Eventually, he opened his own business on Union Ave., eventually outgrowing that space and relocating to the site of the former Radcliffe Deli on Bloomfield Ave. For many years, Petracco has donated to a variety of causes and has supplied food and beverages to local senior citizens and athletic programs and community organizations. Petracco has coached baseball, basketball and other youth sports and sponsored Little League teams. He has helped provide residents with transportation to doctors’ offices and has donated food and supplies to the needy. In 2010, Petracco was elected mayor and serves as director of public safety.

This year’s honorees were selected by a panel consisting of chairman former Township Commissioner Walter Smith, Dr. Clarke, businessman John Brown, Schools Superintendent Russell Lazovick, community volunteer Anne Lynne Eisenfelder, former NJ Hometown and Nutley Sun editor Phil White and former Assemblyman Fred Scalera.

Now he’s running Montclair schools

bolandi_web

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

Former Kearny schools chief Ron Bolandi has a new administrative school post, this time as interim superintendent of schools for the Montclair public schools.

Bolandi, who was appointed by vote of the Montclair Board of Education March 16, will begin his new job on April 1 and his term will end June 30, 2016. He’s replacing Penny MacCormack, who has resigned to take an education job in New York.

Superintendent’s pay in Montclair is $177,500 but Bolandi said his salary will be prorated, based on 260 days of service, so it will be about $680 per day.

For Bolandi, who served in Kearny from July 1, 2011, to Jan. 4, 2013, it will mark his first time in 22 years as a chief school administrator that he will be working for an appointive school board whose members are appointed by the mayor and whose budget is struck by the Board of School Estimate.

He foresees no problems adjusting to the system.

What he will be facing, however, is a local maelstrom over the recently administered first round of the state-mandated PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College & Careers) to grades 3 to 11.

The Montclair Times recently reported that possibly as many as 1,000 parents – in a district with close to 7,000 students – refused to allow their children to take the PARCC because of various concerns they have about the test. The district, according to the newspaper, has refused to share the number of opt-outs.

“They’re going through a lot of controversy and I’m going to do my best to calm things down,” Bolandi said. “My main objective is to bring all the different groups together and stop the arguing.” He also pledged to release the opt-out figures.

Still, when asked if he supported the use of PARCC, Bolandi didn’t try to hide his suspicion of the new testing vehicle. (Many Kearny parents reportedly kept their kids from taking the test although the district has yet to release the figures.)

“It’s hard to jump on board,” said Bolandi, “when you don’t know what it’s going to do to adjust instruction as an assessment tool.”

And compounding the uncertainty, he said, is the fact that, “The state [Department of Education] did a really bad job of presenting the PARCC to parents and educators. There’s been a lot of confusion around it. And if I as an educator have problems understanding it, I can’t blame parents [for having their kids opt out].”

Bolandi added that with all the emphasis placed by local districts preparing for the PARCC, regular classroom instruction took a back seat to the test. “If you’re going to take this much time, you’d better have a Cadillac system,” he said.

Before landing the Montclair post, Bolandi spent the past two years as interim superintendent in the Bedminster public school system. Asked if he wished he were back in Kearny, Bolandi said: “I do miss Kearny. I don’t miss the politics but I miss the people. There were a lot of good teachers, administrators and staff. And the kids were great but they were cheated by the crazy politics of the town. I always felt good about what I did there.”

He said he still maintains contact with some Kearny educators “and it seems like they’re doing a good job under [Superintendent] Patte [Blood],” who was director of secondary school instruction under Bolandi.

“I always want them to do well,” he said.

34-month sentence for embezzler

KEARNY – 

A receptionist who embezzled nearly half-a-million dollars from a medical office in Kearny and used fraudulent credit cards to obtain more than $200,000 in goods and services was sentenced last week to 34 months in prison, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Gwendolyn Muller, 53, formerly of Kearny, had pleaded guilty in Newark federal court in October to one count each of embezzlement, credit card fraud and tax evasion. At the time, authorities said she faced up to 25 years — 10 each on the fraud and embezzlement counts, five for tax evasion.

The 34-month term was handed down March 24 by U.S. District Judge William J. Martini, who also ordered Muller to pay restitution of $556,000.

She will face three years of supervised release following incarceration.

While employed at the medical practice from 2007 through 2011, authorities reported, Muller used her position to take, cash and conceal more than $446,000 in checks paid by insurance companies for services to patients.

Court documents noted that, as the receptionist, she handled the mail and had unsupervised access to the office computer system, which she used to conceal the embezzlement.

During the same period, Muller also fraudulently obtained 10 credit cards in the name of a principal of the practice and used these to charge approximately $218,000 in personal goods and services.

Fishman’s office said Muller also admitted to filing a false tax return to evade taxes on the illegally obtained income.

Authorities did not disclose Muller’s post-Kearny place of residence.

Fishman’s office also told The Observer that, since it was not part of the public record, they could not reveal the name of the medical office where she had worked.

– Karen Zautyk 

around town

Belleville

The Woman’s Club of Belleville meets the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at its clubhouse, 51 Rossmore Place. Prospective members are welcome. For more information, contact Terry Landon at 973-751-6529.

Belleville Elks Lodge 1123, 254 Washington Ave., holds a blood drive Saturday, April 11, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Donors must be age 17 or older, be in good health and weigh at least 120 pounds. All donors must eat a light meal before donating blood, bring a signed form of identification and know their social security number.

Bloomfield 

Adult crafters of all ages are welcome to join a craft program at Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., April 8, 6 to 7:30 pm., to make denim pouches. Bring an old pair of jeans (2 legs would yield six to eight pouches), thread, needles, scissors, buttons, etc. Registration is required. To register, call the Reference Desk at 973-566-6200, ext. 602.

Harrison 

Holy Cross Church sponsors the following trips:

  • The group takes a nonstop United Airlines flight from Newark Airport Wednesday, April 29, at 7:15 a.m., to Las Vegas, and returns Thursday, May 5, at 6:15 a.m. The group will stay at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. The $771 per person cost covers air, hotel and taxes. A $250 per-person deposit is required to guarantee reservations. Call Gina at European Travel, 973-484- 4023, or Joan at 973-481-2434.
  • The group takes a bus trip to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City Sunday, April 12. The bus leaves from Holy Cross School at 10 a.m. Refreshments will be served in the school basement starting 9:15 a.m. Cost is $30 with a $30 rebate (ID required). For reservations, call Joan at 973-481-2434 or Maria at 973-481-1799 (Leave name, phone number and number attending).

Kearny 

Grace Lutheran Church, 223 Ridge Road, invites the community to attend Holy Week services and meet the new pastor, the Rev. Glenn L. Boisclair. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services begin at 6 p.m. Easter Sunday service is at 9 a.m.

Kearny Lions Club hosts a brotherhood luncheon Wednesday, April 22, at noon, at the Salvation Army, 443 Chestnut St. For more information, call Joann at 201-998- 3018.

Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., screens: “The Sound of Music” (G / 174 minutes) Tuesday, April 7, at 1 p.m.; “Into the Woods” (PG / 125 minutes) Friday, April 10, at 1 p.m.; and “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” (PG / 81 minutes), Saturday, April 11, at 11 a.m. All films will be shown on the library’s lower level. Donuts and light refreshments will be served. Admission is free. For more information on any library programs, call 201-998-2666 or visit www.kearnylibrary.org.

Lyndhurst 

The Humane Society of Bergen County, 221-223 Stuyvesant Ave., has a supply of dog food, both canned and dry, available to anyone who, due to unemployment, disability or any other financial difficulty, cannot afford to feed their dog. Just stop by or call 201-896- 9300 for more information. Hours: Monday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lyndhurst Health Department conducts a free eye screening, including a check for glaucoma, for Lyndhurst residents ages 18 and over, Wednesday, April 15, at 1 p.m.

For an appointment, call 201- 804-2500.

Kingsland Lyndhurst AARP Chapter 4866 sponsors its annual entertainment night, Tricky Tray and raffles Thursday, April 16. Doors open at 6 p.m. The show features music of the ‘50s and ‘60s. No alcohol is permitted. Admission is $20. For tickets and more information, call Jo Oleske at 201-438-2118 or Kay Roberts at 201-438-3611.

Lyndhurst Boy Scout Troop 86 has launched its co-ed Venture Crew for all boys and girls, aged 14-20. The Crew is youth-led, but relies on knowledgeable, experienced and trained adult men and women volunteers for sound guidance and advice. Meetings are held at 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the United Presbyterian Church of Lyndhurst, 511 Ridge Road (entrance off Page Ave.), across from St. Michael’s Church. Among the outdoor activities are: horseback riding, camping and BBQs. Interested youth and parents are invited to call Crew President Joe Shinnick at 201 275-2884 or email him at jmusic171@aol.com. For more information, visit beascout.scouting.org.

The N.J. Meadowlands Commission holds its First-Sunday-of- the-Month nature walk, with the Bergen County Audubon Society, Sunday, April 5, 10 a.m. to noon, in DeKorte Park, starting outside the Meadowlands Environment Center. Participants are asked to sign a standard liability release that is good for NJMC/BCAS events throughout the year. To register, email Don Torino of the BCAS at greatauk4@gmail.com or call him at 201-230- 4983.

Lyndhurst Public Library Children’s Room, 355 Valley Brook Ave., hosts the following events:

  • Grades pre-k to 2 are invited for a walk-in storytime Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. No registration is required.
  • Children ages 3 to 10 can learn about caring for our planet with Muscle Man Mike’s “Going Green” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Show Wednesday, April 15, at 3:30 p.m. Registration is required. To register, call 201-804-2478.

Lyndhurst Knights of Columbus host “A Taste of Poland” Saturday, April 18, at 2 p.m., at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. Tickets are $15. For tickets, call Steve Cortes at 201-657-0800 or Nick Garafalo at 201-893-2849. Lyndhurst Girl Scouts, Lyndhurst Girls Association and the Township will honor Libbie Lindsay for her 88 years of service and leadership in the Lyndhurst Girl Scouts Saturday, April 25, at 11 a.m. (rain or shine), at the Girl Scout meeting house, 238 Livingston Ave. For more information, email teresa.casadonte@gmail.com.

Ladies Auxiliary of the Masonic Club hosts its annual Tricky Tray on Sunday, April 12, at the Masonic Club, 316 Riverside Ave. Doors open at noon. Calling starts at 1 p.m. Admission is $5. For more information, call Kathy at 201- 997-1997.

North Arlington 

North Arlington Seniors, Inc. (Tuesday Club) sponsor a trip to Sands Casino in Pennsylvania April 9. The group leaves from Borough Hall at 9 a.m. Non-members are welcome. Call Rose Florio at 201-991-2423.

North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Road, has passes for the Museum of the City of New York. Each pass allows two adults and four children access to this museum. Requirements to borrow: $50 cash deposit and an adult library card in good standing. http://www.mcny.org/

The library also offers passes to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. One pass allows up to six people admission to the museum. Requirements to borrow: $50 cash deposit and an adult library card in good standing. http://www.intrepidmuseum.org.

To check availability, visit or call the library at 201-955-5640.

The North Arlington Volunteer Emergency Squad hosts its annual Easter Egg Hunt Saturday, April 4, at noon, at North Arlington Middle School on Beech St.

The event includes games, prizes, and photo opportunities with the Easter Bunny, so don’t forget your cameras!

If it rains, the event will be held in the gym.

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

  • Story Time, open to ages 2 to 5, takes place every Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. April 15 Story Time will be held at Barnes and Noble in Clifton.
  • The sixth annual George Miller Art Show is set for Thursday, April 2, at 6 p.m.
  • The Lego Club for grades 1 and up meets Tuesday, April 7, at 6:30 p.m.
  • Spring Story Time and Craft for ages 4 to 6 takes place Thursday, April 9, at 2 p.m.
  • YA Movie Day, open to grades 6 and up, is set for Friday, April 10, at noon.
  • Music and Movement, open to ages 2 to 4, is scheduled for Tuesday, April 14, at 11:45 a.m.
  • Flat Stanley program with the West Hudson Art and Theater Company for grades K to 5 is set for Tuesday, April 14, at 4:30 p.m.

Nutley 

The Women’s Initiative of Nutley presents the Art Exhibit of Women’s History Month at the Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive, throughout March and April.

The exhibit spotlights the oil, watercolor, pastel, pencil and photography of local artists Susan Farr, Jackie Hanlon, Margot Parker, Teresa Ruffo, Edith Sirmons and Dianne Louise Wilson. All have won awards in local, regional and national competitions.

Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive, announces:

  • Children of all ages and their caregivers are invited to put on their pajamas and meet in the children’s room for P.J. Story Time on Mondays, April 6, 20 and 27 at 7 p.m. Registration is not required.
  • Patrons are invited to play bridge at the library every Tuesday at 1 p.m. No registration is required.
  • Lego Club for Kids, open to ages 7 and up, meets on Thursday, April 9, at 3:30 p.m. Registration is required.
  • Two-Year-Old Story Time, open only to Nutley children ages 24 to 35 months, is set for Friday, April 10, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Registration is required.
  • The next installment of the First Friday Films series continues with a screening of “And So It Goes” (PG-13), starring Michael Douglas, Friday, April 10, at 2 p.m.
  • Author Anthony Buccino will sign and discuss his new book, “Nutley Notables: The Men and Women Who Made a Memorable Impact on Our Home Town, Nutley, New Jersey,” Saturday, April 11, at 2 p.m. Be on the lookout for some Nutley notables in attendance!
  • Tuesday Night Graphic  Novel Club meets April 14 at 7 p.m. to discuss “Batman: The Killing Joke.” Copies of  each book are available at the library. Register online at nutleypubliclibrary.org/graph icnovelclub or by phone at 973-667-0405, ext. 2604.
  • A Butterfly Tea, open to ages 3 to 12, is set for Wednesday, April 15, at 2 p.m. Regis tration is required online at http://nutleypubliclibrary.org/ youthservices/.
  • Children ages 12 and younger are invited to paint  a butterfly flower Thursday, April 16, at 11 a.m. Registration  is required.
  • The Butterfly Guy will  visit on Tuesday, April 14, at 1:30 p.m. This program is open to all ages. No registration is  required.

For more information or to register for programs, call the  library at 973-667-0405.