City Council Honors Clifton Women
The Clifton City council met last night to discuss matters affecting the City of Clifton. The agenda is available here. The semimonthly meetings begin with a private work session from 6:30 pm and then move to a public session which is open to all from 8 pm on. Both sessions can be viewed live on The Clifton Channel (with the exception of closed confidential discussions which are not televised) and videos of past meetings are available as well. The highlight of this week’s meeting was the appointment of Women of the Year by each council member, including The Clifton Times’ very own editor Tova Felder.
Work Session - Action Items: The councilors quickly went through the list of Action Items on the agenda, with the advice of City Manager Dominick Villano and others. Most were passed easily, but there was discussion on the following:
A-6 (the approval of a change order to the new James Anzaldi Park (formerly Athenia Park) Field House). The engineer is asking for an additional $120,000 for upgrading the wire conduits. Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula asked why the architects did not know that they would need thicker conduits when the project was approved. The engineer said it was because they didn’t know the size of the building. The architects did not anticipate it would be so big, so now we need to upsize the conduits. He said that this is pretty typical for construction, and why we have change orders.
A-14 RFP (requests for proposals) for Labor Counsel Services. The City had put out a request for proposals, which were now in. The councilors want to learn more about the labor counsel firms so that they can find a way to reduce the legal fees paid, and why the City shouldn’t go with the lowest bid. Villano stated that it was because he didn’t feel that the lowest bid had sufficient staffing and the company was too far south to make it practical for them to represent Clifton. The councilors indicated that they intend to look at the legal and other service proposals and arrangements to see if there is a way to provide Clifton with excellent service while also saving taxpayer money.
A-23 Fireworks on July 2, 2023 (Rain Date 7/19). The annual city fireworks are scheduled for July 2, 2023. The council members discussed how to fund the fireworks and were told that former Mayor James Anzaldi would be reaching out to sponsors to gather funds.
A-24 Parking Structure Feasibility Study. Councilwoman Sadrakula wants to make sure it is done in a timely fashion as there is no time frame for the study and the council members urged the City Manager to look for more state money discretionary funding for the parking structure.
New Business. The council discussed the need to modify the handicapped parking space ordinance modification and increase fees for individual permitted spaces to $150 to cover the cost of installing the sign and getting a new placard. The current permit cost is a one time fee of $25 and this leaves the city paying the remaining $125. There are 900 handicapped spaces in the City of Clifton, which the City Manager says are routinely checked to see which are still needed. Councilman Antonio Latona asked for a mailing to go out to see how many are still being used.
The council also discussed the request of Springs of Life Church that parking near the church is limited only to parishioners on Sundays to facilitate church attendance. The Clifton Police Department has advised that this would be difficult to enforce but the council needs to carefully consider if there is any legal liability that might come from denying the request.
The council then moved into a closed session for further discussions.
Public Session - City of Clifton Women of the Year. Each council member was asked to choose one woman for the Clifton Woman of the Year 2023. The following women were honored for their contributions to our community.
Cathy Murtha (nominated by Councilman Latona). Cathy Murtha runs the Columbiette Blanket Ministry of Saint Philip the Apostle Parish. Murtha works with the Clifton community who donate yarn and the Clifton volunteers who knit shawls, hats, blankets, and other things to donate to people in need. Latona spoke movingly of the blanket that Murtha had given his mother.
Tova Felder (nominated by Councilman Kolodziej) - Councilman Joseph Kolodziej had prepared remarks highlighting Tova Felder’s service to the City of Clifton, as he was unable to attend. In 2015 Felder created the Clifton News and Community Facebook group, which is the largest group covering Clifton with 9,000 members. Felder volunteers her time to provide information on local events and to ensure that Clifton’s citizens get access to reliable news. Kolodziej praised Felder for moderating discussions calmly, ensuring a space for reasonable and helpful discussions. Felder is also a journalist and now the editor of Clifton Times, where she continues her commitment to keeping the community informed and united.
Theresa Putignano (nominated by Councilwoman Murphy). Theresa Putignano had to leave her job as a surgical nurse during the Covid pandemic, due to her own health concerns. Once vaccines became available, she recognized the frustrations so many in Clifton were feeling at the difficulty in obtaining Covid vaccines. Putignano shared what she learned online and worked to get appointments for her friends and family and others who needed them. Putigano single-handedly helped 75 people get vaccinated against Covid by assisting with the hard-to-get appointments.
Ruth Dippe (nominated by Councilwoman Pino). Ruth Dippe has been a community leader for over 35 years in the Clifton Latine community. Dippe was the 4th of nine children in her family in Colombia and was very engaged in her community there. She earned her law degree in Columbia and continued her commitment to public service and engagement. When she came to Clifton, she was the first Latina in Clifton to run for Board of Education. She has worked to get approval for the raising of the Colombian flag, which is now a 13-year-long tradition, to make sure Colombians have representation in the city. Dippe is also the secretary of Latino Leaders of Clifton and is active in her Catholic Church.
Gabriella Marriello (nominated by Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula) Sadrakula underscored her love for children and singled out Gabriella Marriello, who has lead Clifton Parents Requiring Assistance In Special Education (P.R.A.I.S.E.), a non-adversarial parent support group for parents/families of disabled children and adults for the last 12 years. Marriello organizes monthly support group meetings on the 4th Monday of every month at 7 p.m. during the school year, as well as a host of other community events, including baseball and bowling, and ensures that all are welcome. P.R.A.I.S.E. was founded by Judy Bassford, who asked Marriello to lead it after she was elected to the Board of Education. Sadrakula reminded everyone that this is Special Education and Disabilities Month and we should be so grateful that we have people in Clifton who want to help special needs children.
Margaret Beissel (nominated by Mayor Ray Grabowski) Margaret Beissel has been a crossing guard for 48 years, shepherding generations of kids across Clifton’s streets towards school or home. She participated in the unions and other activities to support other crossing guards and always watches out for the children. The mayor shared that she often kept dog treats in her pockets to give to people who would come by with their leashed friends. She has dedicated 48 years to protecting Clifton’s children and Mayor Grabowski thanked her for her service.
The Clifton Times congratulates all the women who were honored tonight and joins the council in celebrating the achievements of all of Clifton’s women.
Ordinances. The council heard and approved the ordinances listed on the agenda.
Gary Perino (Clifton) - Perino asked the council to look into honoring Clifton’s important and interesting history with signs and a museum for the City of Clifton.
Lily D’Amato (Allwood Road) - D’Amato said that things are not adding up in Clifton. Taxes keep going up, but we end every year with a surplus. So the question is, do we have a problem with communication or execution? Why are taxpayers not getting reliable information on how much is needed? D’Amato also pointed out that Clifton does not have a system of reviews and accountability for employees, departments, and institutions. She has a plan to restore trust between Clifton taxpayers and their representatives and government by using metrics and data to create transparency. She asked each council member to think about “What does success look like in Clifton?” This will help the council to align on next steps to take and to establish a vision for Clifton and all its departments, which will then lead to the development of metrics and data that taxpayers can look to, and that the government can use to provide better service. D’Amato invited the council to provide their answers.
Gerald Scorziello. Scorziello invited anyone interested to join the Clifton Republican Club. They meet the first Tuesday of every month at the Elks Lodge and there are many interesting events. If you want to join or attend a meeting please reach out through their Facebook Page.
Kim Castellano (Mahar Ave) - Speaking on behalf of Power of One, Castellano thanked Murtha for the hats and blankets donated every year and also the other honorees. She reminded Cliftonites that hunger doesn’t stop. The Power of One food drive/program helps 300 families that receive assistance in school when schools are closed by providing kid-friendly meals. Please drop off donations at JK Realty at 270 Colfax Avenue. Power of One is serving a larger community this year, so Castellano wants to put together more packages. She also invited everyone to the upcoming Dine and Dance fundraiser at the Grande Saloon.
Chris D’Amato (Merrill Road). D’Amato asked about the landscape of communication for Clifton after reading a statement about a possible tax increase and the $600,000 scam that Clifton fell victim to and then revealing that it was written by artificial intelligence. What plans does Clifton have with respect to AI (positive and negative)?
Micky Gaudette (Bergen Avenue): St Peter’s Haven has their Blooming 5K and 1K fundraiser. Sign up at www.stpetershaven.org. She asked again about the porta potties at Nash Park because she hasn’t seen them but hopes they will be replaced. She applauded the addition of a crossing guard but said they need to be closer to the school. She also asked about the addition of illuminated stop signs.
Steve Goldberg - Goldberg invited Clifton to attend the Fundraiser for Disabled American Veterans in Woodland Park ($30 for dinner and a show) on April 21, 2023. He also invited people to remember that April 30th is Israel Independence Day, so Clifton needs to speak up about anti-semitism.
Bart Servo (Delawanna): Servo indicated that he is concerned about a sewage problem in the area of the proposed dog park that will likely cost more than the $100,000 currently budgeted.
Judith Bassford: Bassford started by stating that these are her personal views, speaking as a private citizen. She congratulated all the women, especially Marriello who took over P.R.A.I.S.E. which was founded by Julie Skolnik, and herself, and grew it from a seed to a flower. Marriello supports parents, gives them resources, hosts information sessions, and has done more with that organization than any of the founders could have dreamed possible.
Councilwoman Sadrakula raised concerns about the fact that $600,000 was scammed from Clifton and the City Manager didn’t inform the council. She reminded the council that they also were not told about a 10 million dollar lawsuit against the planning board last year, until she heard about it from a journalist. She asked for more transparency from City Manager Villano. She reminded all Cliftonites that the budget meeting will be televised and to watch. She agreed with D’Amato that City employees should be receiving annual evaluations.
Councilman Bill Gibson congratulated all the women who were recognized as Woman of the Year and all the women of Clifton, with special thanks to his wife Robin who cared for him during his illness. He reminded people that the council is working hard to create a budget that will provide for Clifton’s $3.5 million garbage contract and the $800,000 requested by the Clifton Police Department. He also reminded Cliftonites that electric bikes need to be stored outside, not in the house, in case the battery ignites.
Councilman Antonio Latona said that the council is looking to find ways to release money from city trust funds and to reduce expenditures to avoid raising taxes. He said that the Master Plan Review was supposed to come back to council, but it hasn’t and he asked for follow-up. He also said he was concerned about what is happening at City Hall because if $600,000 can go missing, what else is happening? He asked that a corrective action plan be created to prevent this from happening again. Latona answered D’Amato’s question, saying that success in Clifton looks like accountability; everyone deserves to be treated fairly, equally, and with dignity and respect. There should be one set of rules for everyone and transparency on how those are enforced. He asked that the City do more comparison shopping (RFPs and RFQs - requests for proposals and quotes) for better information on pricing for services, rather than allowing fees to keep going up. Happy Ramadan to all who celebrate and Happy Women’s History Month.
Councilwoman Lauren Murphy said that there are many valid reasons why we may need to raise taxes so please attend the Budget Meeting on March 30th to hear why. She also reminded people that Athenia Park will be renamed James Anzaldi Park on Saturday, March 25, 2023. She shared that the Nash Park Bunny Bash is on April 1, 2023 and said that Clifton Recreation sports seasons will be opening soon, so please sign up for events for children, teens, and adults. The Recreation department has a lot to offer, including baseball, softball, and summer camp programming. For more on Clifton Recreation programming please call 973-470-5956 or review their website.
Councilwoman Rosemary Pino gave an update on the Civil Rights Committee. They had the first meeting on Thursday, March 15, 2023 at 5:30 pm. The members will review the handouts from that meeting and work with partners to expand the mission statement and then bring their ideas to the next meeting on Tuesday, April 20th at 5:30 pm. Pino said that “Success in Clifton looks like yearly performance reviews, town hall meetings, and a review of how committees work in Clifton.” She said that there currently is no rotation among committees which would allow council members to be more well-rounded. She said we need more uniformity with minutes and schedules for accountability between committees and the council. Pino talked about her plan to go to residents with folders of information showing them the resources that are available through the government.
Mayor Grabowski addressed the issue of the $600,000 that was stolen from Clifton in a scam and informed the public that the monies have been recouped. He reminded people that Clifton televises the budget meetings to inform citizens, and cautioned people not to spread disinformation. Just because someone mentions a tax raise of 8 percentage points does not mean that this will happen. When citizens get angry it takes time and energy for the council to have to defend a decision that has not yet been made. He agreed with Gary Perino that we should document the history of the area, especially Sipp House.
The council wished everyone a Happy Women’s History Month and Ramadan Mubarak.