Don’t expect any public questions targeted to Lyndhurst residents on the ballot for the November general election.
That is because both the Lyndhurst Board of Education – which was hoping for voter approval for a proposed $19 million upgrade on all schools – and the petitioners for a charter study on the township’s form of government missed the filing deadline.
But no worries, though, advocates for both groups insisted last week, each claiming there is no rush to put their respective platforms before the voters.
When asked about the situation, Schools Superintendent James Corino told The Observer that the school board was supposed to present “a lot of documents” detailing plans for the capital improvements to the state Department of Education for review and “the paperwork was not ready, not in order.”
As a result, the DOE has yet to sign off on the project. And the school board must get that sanctioning before it can ask the voters for their approval to spend the money, Corino said.
“So the plan is still in place but the sequence is delayed,” the superintendent added. “And it’s not detrimental to our overall plan of constructing a new junior high school [on Matera Field] because our plan is still intact. Plans for construction of the new school will continue and, at some point in the future, perhaps by next November, we will have a referendum on our proposal for improving our other schools.
“And this delay gives us more time for developing our strategic plan as to the merits of the referendum. Hopefully, good information makes for good decision making.”
Asked if school trustees had been pressured by the township’s municipal officials to hold off on the referendum, Corino said he was unaware of any such effort.
“I still say there is absolutely unity of purpose between the township Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education,” Corino said. “Everything is still a go.”
Meanwhile, the Lyndhurst Study Change citizens group for charter study issued a press release, that although it had collected a sufficient number – 3,100 – of signatures on petitions to submit to the municipal clerk for consideration by the required deadline in August, it had chosen not to do so.
Instead, because of what the group characterized as “less than enthusiastic support” by certain members of the Township Board of Commissioners, and, in particular, “opposition to changing the form of government” by Mayor/Commissioner Robert Giangeruso, it has opted “to seek a court ruling … to have the petitions validated by an independent body.”
The municipal clerk in Lyndhurst reports directly to the commissioner in charge of the Department of Public Affairs and that happens to be Giangeruso.
Asked about the situation, Giangeruso told The Observer, “If they [Lyndhurst Study Change] have the signatures, they should submit them [to the clerk’s office]. I’m in favor of the [charter] study. I am not in favor of the mayor/council form of government where you have to get an administrator, hold partisan elections every year and it costs money for elections. I see no benefit in it. The current commissioners are highly qualified in administering their departments.”
Commissioners Matt Ruzzo (Public Works) and John Montillo (Public Safety) acknowledged they have signed the group’s petition but said they did so only to give residents the opportunity to consider whether they wanted to explore a possible change in the form of local government.
“We study everything else,” said Ruzzo. “[But] I still believe our current form of government works better, especially with my department, involving construction.”
And Montillo said that, “apparently 3,000 people are looking to have our form of government studied. I was elected by many of those same people so if that’s what they’re looking to do, I don’t have a problem with that at all.” But he added that whatever form of government may result “is really irrelevant to me – I’ll continue to govern the same way.”
Former Commissioner Brian Haggerty, who is spearheading the charter study campaign, said the group would likely end up going before a judge in Bergen County Superior Court to seek a show cause order to submit the petitions to the Bergen County Clerk for review.
If that happens and if the county clerk certified the petitions as valid and sufficient to get the question on the ballot, then the clerk could call for a special election within 120 days, according to Haggerty.
Asked why he was pressing for public consideration of the issue, Haggerty said that, “under our commission form of government, you’re electing people to be department heads and investing each of them with executive authority over their departments without checks and balances.” The mayor/council option – which, he said, need not require partisan elections – can offer a more balanced approach, Haggerty said.
“For those who believe in the commission form of government, however, this is their opportunity to stand up and defend it,” he added.