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Transparency issues on the futsal court/skate park capital project PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joe Krakoviak   
Tuesday, 28 September 2010 13:14

The town council gave final approval September 14, 2010, to spend $117,300 to upgrade the futsal court at Colgate Park and build a skate park at Degnan Memorial Park. Certain aspects of the project, including the location of the skate park next to the children's playground at Degnan Memorial Park, were not prominently disclosed. The project, which appears to have attracted significant support and opposition in the community, has raised numerous transparency issues:

 

  1. The bond ordinance and budget resolution establishing and approving the project both name Colgate Field as the only location for the project.
  2. On Sept. 2, with approval of the bond ordinance pending, I filed a state Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for basically all of the town’s documentation on the project. On Sept. 14, the town responded with only a schematic of the futsal court and three e-mails from town employees (as well as my original OPRA request and a copy of the related bond ordinance, which was already public record). One of these e-mails appears to indicate that more documents exist on the project and that the purchasing of equipment was already underway.
  3. The location of the skate park was not specified until after the close of public comment at the Sept. 14 Council meeting, when Council President Anderton stated that he had “just a little bit of reservation” about the skate park being adjacent to the children’s play area at Degnan Memorial Park. "Degnan Field" was identified orally as the location as part of the brief first reading and approval of the ordinance at the Aug. 20 meeting as well as during public comment at the Sept. 14 meeting. At both meetings, several town residents, Mayor Parisi and councilmen discussed the skate park without specifying Degnan as the location.
  4. The town has recently, within the last year, cut down several of the mature cherry trees and significant amounts of shrubbery on the site of the proposed skate park.
  5. The site of the skate park appears to be a memorial to naval veterans. Ground memorials sit at the base of two remaining cherry trees, although one of the engraved metal plates appears to be missing. The base of the flagpole also appears to be missing an attachment to two rebar tips coming out of the concrete. I’m unable to find any additional information online about these memorials.
  6. On Sept. 17, I filed a complaint, including attachments, alleging failure to comply with the OPRA law with the state Government Records Council (GRC), a part of the state Department of Community Affairs charged with administering the OPRA law. I asked for mediation, an alternate process to the GRC’s adjudication process, in an attempt to speed release to the public of additional documents.
  7. On Sept. 20, I filed another OPRA request asking for documents relating to the work done on the skate park site. As of this posting, I’m still waiting for a response.
  8. On Sept, 21, I received an additional document related to my Sept. 2 OPRA request – a memo dated Sept. 20 from the town’s purchasing agent to the town clerk saying she “do(es) not have any project information to release concerning the Skate Park.” This appears to relate to the earlier e-mail that indicates that the Purchasing department has a purchase order relating to the project.
  9. Discussion of the project at the August 20, 2010, council meeting is here, starting at about ____. Discussion at the September 14, 20101, council meeting is here, starting at about ____.

The project has received news media coverage. Please note that the total value of the project is $117,300, which also includes issuing town bonds to pay for 95 percent of this cost. West Orange Patch has written two stories on the project -

-- http://westorange.patch.com/articles/township-council-oks-cash-for-skatepark

-- http://westorange.patch.com/articles/township-drops-in-on-skating-culture


The Star-Ledger also has a story http://www.nj.com/news/local/index.ssf/2010/09/skate_park_coming_to_west_oran.html

Here’s relevant video from the council meetings:

August 17, 2010, Council meeting video

Part 1 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_081710_Part_1.wmv at about 36:30

Part 2 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_081710_Part_2.wmv at about 7:45 and again at about 25:30

Part 3 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_081710_Part_3.wmv at about 43:30

 

September 14, 2010, Council meeting video

Part 3 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_091410_Part_3.wmv at about 2:40


I’ll provide updates on this issue as they occur.

Comments (3)
  • Marie
    I am outraged by this plan! So many of our residents are strolling around the park in search for a bit of tranquility and now we are going to have to look at the skaters all day long??? Our neighbors strongly oppose this project and I am hoping that with joined efforts we can make it disappear from our neighborhood.
  • John
    I take my kids to the playground at Degnan and completely disagree with this project. Skate parks have never brought any positive influence to any community. Let's preserve WO's good image please. :0
  • Ryan
    Joe,
    What do you think is the reason for the obfuscation of the location of the skate park?
  • Angel  - Let's go forward
    I used to spend time wondering if some of the decisions by the council were based on them being malicious or being uninformed, but it doesn't matter. WE need to keep informed and question them when applicable.
  • Joe Krakoviak  - Obfuscation?
    I apologize for taking so long to reply. A cynic might automatically say this situation looks like something’s being intentionally hidden. I don’t subscribe to that theory. Government, like most worthwhile pursuits, isn’t easy. And being human, I think the people who run our government sometimes may look at things from a perspective that doesn’t necessarily take into full account the viewpoint of the larger audience. I’d prefer to believe that was the case here.

    But regardless of intent, the effect is the same. Information is power, and the withholding of information often leads to the filling of that void with speculation and rumor, frustration, and the questioning of motives. And that often leads to backlash that no one wants.

    I think it’s crucial the public communicate with their government officials to make them aware of what residents want and think. So I’m trying to do my part, and so are a lot of other folks. I believe the easier it is for people to know and understand what their government is doing, the more effectively they can guide their government. And that’s why I push for more transparency and that’s why I founded West Orange Grassroots.
  • Ryan  - Fair enough
    Thanks. I, too, generally don't like to attribute malice when simple oversight or short-sightedness are more likely explanations. But in this case (and having no particular stake myself -- it's nowhere near where I live, and I don't have kids who might use it), I have to say that not even publicizing the *location* of a new project brings out the cynic in me. But you're more familiar with the matter than I. And I certainly endorse your stance on transparency as a general matter.
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