Teaneck Blog

Casting a wary eye on Teaneck politics and municipal affairs

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Values and value

Embarrassing revelations of plagiarism by former Teaneck schools superintendent A. Spencer "Skip" Denham in public remarks and newsletters are casting a shadow on the back to school season. The district leadership cannot be happy with the latest publicity, nor will those who argue that Teaneck residents are not getting appropriate value for its school tax dollars will be pleased to hear that a slothful administrator was taking shortcuts to fulfill the responsibilities for which he was paid.

It is hardly necessary to comment on the moral dimensions of this case. For an educator to plagiarize the work of others is quite obviously inexcusable. At the same time, there is little need to heap any additional scorn upon Mr. Denham, who has apologized for his shameful deeds. What is worth noting is the impact of these incidents upon the public perception of the Teaneck school system and the movement to impose additional fiscal restraints upon it.

Mr. Denham may have done as much damage to the career prospects of his former administrative colleagues as he has to his own reputation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Our non-partisan Mayor

There is no question that Mayor Hameeduddin's star is rising. Local and national media have shined the spotlight on him and on Teaneck since his selection as mayor at the reorganization meeting in early July. It is, however, as yet unclear whether the Mayor's high profile will prove to be an asset for Teaneck or a harmful distraction.

Those who suspect the latter seem to have a bit more support for their conclusion after the bizarre scene that played out on PBS NewsHour with Gwen Ifill. What was intended to be a debate between New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio and Mayor Hameeduddin about President Obama's comments regarding the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan degenerated into a shouting match with Mayor Hameeduddin, who was introduced as a Democrat early in the segment, playing the role of Democratic attack dog and putting former Congressman Lazio on the defensive on a host of issues both related and unrelated to the topic at hand.

Ifill and her producers must have been surprised as most Teaneck residents will be at the nasty turn, as Mayor Hameeduddin has, quite rightfully, never played up his party affiliation and would seem to have no connection to an election campaign for statewide office in New York. 

There are a number of possible reasons for why Hameeduddin behaved the way he did. The most likely explanation would be that he perceives that Lazio, who has been trailing in the polls, has exploited the Islamic center issue to boost his popular appeal at the expense of the region's Muslim community. While his indignation may be justified, Hameeduddin at the very least showed a lack of poise in lashing out at Lazio's past record on unrelated issues and perhaps even a lack of understanding of what he ought and ought not comment on when appearing on television as the Mayor of Teaneck.
Another possibility is that the Mayor's political ambitions have grown to keep up with his growing name-recognition. What better way to get noticed as a potential candidate for higher office than to demonstrate one's loyalty to the partisan cause on national television? This would be an unwelcome development. While Hameeduddin is entitled to his personal opinions and has every right to take advantage of his notoriety to realize his dreams, today's Teaneck requires strong, independent leadership with the willingness to tackle the very unglamorous problems that face the town. An individual whose focus is on burnishing his partisan credentials is less likely to fulfill those requirements.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wrong attitude

This week's Suburbanite reports on the Council's request that the Board of Education permit police vehicles to park in the lot at 1 Merrison Street, the former elementary school building that houses the BoE's administrative offices. While the headline of the story reads "BOE lot likely to become home of Teaneck police vehicles," the unenthusiastic response of BoE president Ardie Walser to the Council's request suggests that an affirmative response is far from assured. 

The Suburbanite quotes Walser detailing the difficulties facing the BoE as it copes with budget cuts resulting from the loss of state aid and voters' defeat of a proposed budget that would have raised property taxes to make up the shortfall. On the surface, this has little or nothing to do with whether or not the BoE would permit this use of its parking lot by municipal vehicles. There is, presumably, no financial cost associated with the plan. But Walser's protest that the BoE is so busy with dealing with its fiscal problems that it is not focused on the Council's request for parking spaces is actually quite revealing. The comments display the BoE's lingering resentment toward the Council over this spring's budget process and suggest an unwillingness to work together with the Council even on an issue that not otherwise controversial.

Walser goes on to try to justify the postponement or even the eventual rejection of the Council's request by setting an unreasonable standard, declaring that the plan would be considered "If the council can demonstrate how allowing police vehicles to park in the BOE parking lot will benefit the children of Teaneck." Why should such an innocuous plan request that diverts no resources from the school system but simply maximizes the utility of existing resources (all of which were paid for by Teaneck's taxpayers) carry the burden of proof? This is a sorry excuse for a shameful pettiness that benefits nobody. Teaneck should be better than this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dawn of a new day

As Governor Christie continues fulfilling his campaign promises to address the serious long-term fiscal problems plaguing the State of New Jersey, the task facing our local elected officials is changing significantly. After many years of being either unable or unwilling to control the growth of property taxes, developments in Trenton are now forcing the hand of Teaneck's Council and Board of Education members. New legislation passed yesterday limits property taxes to an average of 2% per annum, with limited exceptions.

This protection for overstretched taxpayers compels Teaneck to take a more hands-on approach to planning and budgeting. As discussed previously on this blog, the days of tallying up the total required to balance the budget and handing the bill over to the residents are over. Fiscal issues cannot be the subject of a handful of meetings and workshops in the weeks leading up to approval. With a hard cap far below the historical rate of tax increases all but etched in stone, we know exactly where we need to come in every year, and there should be no need for the annual deadline drama of protest and recrimination as somebody's cherished program or job is slated for sudden elimination. 

It bears repeating: with more constants and fewer unknowns in the annual budget equation, the Township Council and the Board of Education should be working all year round to identify areas where cost increases in the following year are likely to eat up a larger portion of the pie as well as the places where offsetting savings can be found. There is no excuse for anything but a more deliberate and better considered approach under the new circumstances, and thanks to Governor Christie's initiative, we will know exactly whom to blame if we do not get that.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Super intentions

High drama on Merrison Street: Assistant Superintendent Barbara Pinsak has been named Interim Superintendent. Pinsak, of course, takes the position that was to have been occupied by Constance Clark-Snead, lured from Westbury, NY to fill the vacancy left after the illness and untimely death of John Czeterko.

This story has it all: big money, betrayal, litigation, and an angry public. Clark-Snead, who was to be paid $230,000 per year plus benefits to take the top job in the Teaneck school district, abruptly backed out of her agreement only days before she was slated to begin her new job amid ongoing controversy in her old one. Teaneck's Board of Education, still smarting from the significant reduction to its proposed budget, now faces the headache of restarting the superintendent search process as well as the embarrassment of being spurned by Ms. Clark-Snead. Meanwhile, former BoE candidate and current co-president of the PTO Council Patricia King-Butler is expressing her displeasure with the hiring process, and apparently with the school board leadership as well.

“Let’s just say that the process was not as transparent as it could be,” she told the Record. “I can’t sit back and continue to do nothing while the Teaneck school system goes down the drain.”

While Teaneck BoE President Ardie Walser was "disappointed" with Ms. Clark-Snead's resignation, it is not clear that Teaneck residents should share that sentiment. Perhaps even Walser himself should be pleased that Teaneck appears to have dodged a bullet here. The Board of Education has been given a do-over, and this time it might be able to identify a more reasonably priced administrator, or at least one who intends to abide by the terms of his or her employment agreement. Walser et al should relish the opportunity to demonstrate to the public that they are better judges of character than this episode makes them out to be.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Not as bad as it may sound

This week's Suburbanite reports on the impending elimination of a number of extracurricular programs in the public school, specifically five "demographic" clubs that take up issues of interest to minority groups and their student supporters. Given the presumed leanings of the author, Howard Prosnitz, the article is likely part of an effort to highlight the practical consequences of the school budget defeat and induce feelings of regret for those who supported the Council's subsequent reduction of the budget total. However, the article is just as likely to provide encouragement for those who feel the district should be able to do more with less.

Truthfully, it is not the clubs themselves that face elimination, but the stipends to their faculty advisors that must be cut due to funding constraints. According to Assistant Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, in the school just completed, $326,000 was allocated to pay faculty advisors for student clubs. In the coming year, stipends for advisors to 42 of the high school’s 51 clubs and 20 of the middle schools’ 55 clubs have been eliminated.

The Suburbanite article goes on to detail the role of the one of the clubs affected by the spending cuts, Spectrum Club, making the case that the Teaneck High School community will be worse off next year without it. But is Teaneck High School losing the Spectrum Club, or is faculty advisor Amy Moran simply losing her stipend? The answer is the latter. As Councilwoman Barbara Ley Toffler notes at the end of the article, a volunteer advisor could be brought in from the outside to keep the club going at no cost to taxpayers. Presumably, the Spectrum Club would be permitted to continue to publicize events on school grounds and to use classroom space for its meetings.
Cries to the contrary notwithstanding, this is not a case of Teaneck balancing its school budget on the backs of the students. The reduction in stipends for faculty advisors is another instance of (involuntary) shared sacrifice by teachers that need not detract from the educational experience. There is, no doubt, more to come.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hue and cry raises questions

We are still two weeks away from the Council's reorganization meeting, but a number of citizens are already protesting the presumed outcome. A series of speakers during last night's Good & Welfare lobbied for the selection of Lizette Parker as Teaneck's next mayor. Of course, under Teaneck's council-manager system of government, the mayor is selected by the majority vote of the new Council, not by popular vote. What's behind the heightened public interest in a process that has historically been conducted behind closed doors? Why are so many citizens, including a former mayor, attempting to insert themselves into the process this year?

It does not take more than a quick glance at the makeup of the incoming Council to see that the current Deputy Mayor is does not have the votes, so Parker's supporters are right to be concerned. But why do they care so strongly who the Council selects as its leader? The role of mayor is largely ceremonial. It is true that the mayor has some influence over the Council agenda as it impacts policy, but that is exactly why it makes sense for the Council to select the leader who best represents the Council rather than the individual who best represents the town as a whole.

Tuesday's proceedings could have been an orchestrated effort by friends of Parker to try to bolster her candidacy for a position she clearly wants. Or they could have represented a concerted effort by opponents of the Council members who are likely to form the majority for the next two years to put those members on the defensive even before the new term commences. Or they could have just been an expression of boredom now that election season has ended and the school budget is set. Regardless of what motivated the outcry, it ought to be ignored.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Calling Mark Twain

What are Governor Christie and all those taxpayers whining about? As long as you carefully select the right data points, it can be proven that teacher compensation in the State of New Jersey is actually lagging the growth in private sector pay! A report by Laura Bruno in The Daily Record points out that since 1985, the average worker in New Jersey has enjoyed a greater increase in pay than the average New Jersey teacher.

The NJEA is more than happy to cite this as evidence that efforts to curb the growth of personnel costs in the educational system are misguided.

"Teacher pay and compensation has not gotten out of control like the governor and others insist," said Steve Baker, spokesman for the teacher's union.

If only it were so simple. One counterargument is advanced by Gov. Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak, who points out that these numbers exclude the additional benefits (healthcare, pension, etc.) earned by teachers, the inclusion of which would drastically alter the picture. 

But even if one focuses solely on the salary figures cited, the argument is a feeble one. Suppose if instead of going back twenty five years, we look back only five (perfectly reasonable given that a large proportion of property tax payers were not even in the labor force back in 1985). Suddenly, the picture is very different. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Cost Index shows that the annual rate of growth in private sector compensation slowed from 2.9% in mid-2005 to 1.6% for the first quarter of 2010. Teacher pay in New Jersey climbed 4.5% from 2009 to 2010 according to the report (and made similar gains in each of the past several years). Neither statistics nor experience support the claim that teacher compensation has not become a heavier burden for the taxpayers to bear.

Of course, the rate of historical increase is not really at issue here. It is the current and future rates of wage and inflation that pose a risk to the state and local fiscal situation and pressure on the homeowner tax burden, and it is those that Gov. Christie is seeking to address.

The NJEA's Baker has a statistic for that too. He claims that a proposed 2.5% cap on teacher pay hikes would "only put teachers out of synch with the private sector, which averaged 3.75 percent annual pay growth the past 10 years." 

Once again, the opponents of fiscal restraint are guilty of extrapolating from the now irrelevant experiences of the distant past. The last time private sector wage growth approached those rates was at the end of 2004 and currently, it is far below even the proposed 2.5% cap for teachers. With high unemployment and widespread economic uncertainty, it is unlikely that private sector wages will resume growing at a rapid pace anytime soon. In the meantime, funding problems on the state and local level continue to mount. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sign of the times

Taxpayers, council members, and now apparently even members of the Teaneck BoE are expecting, or at least hoping, for some sort of giveback from teachers' unions in the reshaped budget. In the course of explaining to The Record why he is declining to publicly call for concessions, school board president Ardie Walser hints that such a development would not be unwelcome.
"I don't think that we can put any more pressure on the teachers union than has already been put on by the public," said Ardie Walser, the school board president. "It's a union decision, and a personal decision by members of that union as to what they feel they can do to help us with this issue. I'm not interested in vilifying them, because the ones that are left will have to work harder than they ever have before."
A pay freeze or additional teacher contributions toward benefits costs would certainly make the task of the BoE easier as it prepares to take some hard decisions. Might they also make sense from the perspective of the teachers? Walser seems to suggest as much, reasoning that by relieving some of the pressure on the school budget teachers would be doing themselves a favor by preserving their colleagues' jobs, thereby lightening their workload.

Though united through collective bargaining, it appears that teachers are now placed in a position where individual self-interest will carry the day. A teacher who is likely to keep his or her job and is closer to retirement and therefore less worried about what any future contract might look like is likely to take a stand for the sanctity of contracts. Others might be more willing to support concessions, distasteful as that may be.

Realistically, it appears that the battle that the teachers' unions lost in the court of public opinion is going to cost them the war too, and not just in Teaneck. Across the bridge in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg is moving to cancel scheduled pay hikes for teachers in an effort to preserve teaching positions. Politicians and voters alike have come to understand that as spiraling personnel costs have come to account for larger and larger percentages of public spending and private employees' wage growth has failed to keep pace with that of public employees, future teacher contracts cannot be as generous and that even existing arrangements deserve reconsideration. The times demand it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


The bitter argument over whether the Council should have authorized $10,000 to pay for an audit of the school budget has taken an ironic turn. As it turns out, the Record reports, paying the audit firm the fee they earned for producing the controversial report would be a violation of Teaneck's pay-to-play ordinance.

Though small in magnitude, this expense was among the most controversial and headline grabbing outlays of the past few years, and support or opposition to it came to define candidates standing for election to the Council this year. Later on, the report proved a useful tool in the Council's deliberations over its recommended adjustments to the defeated school budget and was referenced repeatedly even by its detractors. 

Yet throughout the entire period during which the report was in the spotlight, nobody in a position of importance seemed aware of the technicality that might have mooted the whole issue. It's somewhat amusing and also somewhat alarming.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Athens and Teaneck

The streets of Teaneck have been a lot calmer than the public squares of Greece over the last few weeks, but we too could be in for an austerity plan imposed from the outside.  

"New Jersey does not have a tax problem, that we don't have enough tax revenue," Governor Christie says. "We have a spending and size of government problem." Accordingly, a key component of the Governor's plan to fix New Jersey's fiscal mess is legislation that would cap the rate of government revenue growth on the local level and act to slow the growth of spending. The Governor will be in our area today to discuss a plan to limit total property tax increases to 2.5 percent per annum.

In Teaneck's case, this would mean that annual increases in tax rate would be significantly lower going forward than they have been in the past. In fact, Teaneck taxpayers have regularly swallowed increases of 4% or more in recent years. Had the proposed cap been in effect since 1997, Teaneck property tax bills would have grown approximately 34.5% over the past 13 years. In actuality, those bills have ballooned by approximately 66%, based on data presented by Alan Sohn here (and subsequent increases).
This would force a massive reconsideration of priorities as both the Township and the school board would be prevented from turning to the taxpayers to make up the difference every time their costs rose (at least past a certain point). The passage of Governor Christie's plans would force local governments to take some hard decisions on the spending side that would most definitely lead to the loss of some cherished services and drastic reductions in others. 

But at this point, is the status quo any better? Neither the Teaneck BoE nor the Council has shown a great degree of aptitude for limiting the growth of the homeowner tax burden despite the increasing strain this has placed upon residents as the economic picture has darkened. Starving the beast that might otherwise consume us may be our best option for keeping our communities affordable for years to come. Teaneck taxpayers may be more inclined to dance in the streets than to riot in them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Council speaks loudly

Don't confuse the form of the Council's recommendations on the defeated school budget with their substance. The Council's suggestions to the Board of Education took the form of a resolution passed by a narrow 4-3 vote that identified $6.1 million worth of savings through a combination of headcount reductions (especially in the administration and support staff) and reduced spending on supplies like textbooks. The substance of the Council's message to the BoE was clear. Taxpayers must not be compelled to bear the brunt of the sharp decrease in state aid to local school districts.

While the final number approved by the Council majority was deemed too high by Deputy Mayor Parker and Council members Honis and Toffler, none of them pushed hard for recommending only modest cuts in expenditures for the coming school year. As Council members from across the spectrum repeatedly voiced their frustration at a process that forced them to make difficult and very specific choices with incomplete information and what they claimed was little to no assistance from the BoE leadership, it became clear during last night's marathon session that the Council intended to throw down the gauntlet before the BoE. Council members repeatedly reminded themselves and their audience that the line items they were trimming were only suggestions and that the BoE itself would be charged with the task of apportioning the overall sum authorized to the areas of greatest need, doing "more with less."

In a dramatic and somewhat surprising statement, Council member Toffler revealed what it appears the Council was really intending to convey to the BoE by weighing such significant cuts to the school budget. Professing a belief in "shared sacrifice" under difficult circumstances, Toffler suggested (no doubt with the wholehearted agreement of at least four of her Council colleagues) that the BoE ought to seek concessions from the teachers' union that would ease the pain of the state aid reduction, presumably to include a salary freeze and employee contributions toward health benefits.

Attention now turns to the BoE, where Dr. Ardie Walser et al have limited room for maneuver. The BoE is hemmed in on one side by an electorate that has voted against a signficant increase in the school tax levy, a Council that has reaffirmed that vote and recommended freezing spending at the previous year's levels, and a new administration in Trenton that is fiercely fighting to slow the growth in the homeowner tax burden. On the other side is a binding contract with teachers that locks in a significant pay hike. In the middle is a large school system with a host of complex needs and wants.

If it is truly committed to protecting the interest of students, and indeed of the many public employees who are not tenured faculty whose livelihoods hang in the balance, the BoE will now turn to the teachers' union and seek to come to an arrangement. It might also, as Council member Toffler hoped, seize the opportunity to increase sharing of services with the municipality, and perhaps even revisit an idea unreasonably discarded by the Council in its deliberations: user fees. However, neither of those areas has the same potential for vast savings and preservation of existing programs and services as the suspension of salary increases, an idea whose time has most certainly come.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pay to play is a good thing

There is no potential school budget reduction that isn't controversial in some quarters. But among the many possible savings the Council weighed as it prepared to make its recommendations on the defeated school budget is one that should enjoy broad support. This would not involve taking a painful decision to cut something that in better times one would quickly restore. The imposition of extracurricular activity fees is the right thing to do under all conditions. It is a simple matter of fairness to all students and respect for the taxpayers. Distressingly, this has already been nixed.

Teaneck would not be breaking new ground in taking such a step. Other area districts have reluctantly imposed fees for participation in school sponsored extra-curricular activities as a result of the pressure on school budgets due to the soft economy and the steep reduction in state aid to local districts. This has generally been accompanied by great regret, wailing and gnashing of teeth. In our town, speakers at some of the public meetings following the school budget defeat preemptively warned the Council against considering such a measure, describing the importance of extra-curricular activities, especially inter-scholastic sports, in their lives and asking officials not to recommend any decrease in the taxpayer subsidy for these programs.

While poignant, these pleas should have gone unheeded. One can affirm the importance of school-sponsored extra-curricular activities to the development of character and improvement of our students without concluding that these activities should be paid for by all taxpayers. There is nothing odious about asking those individuals who benefit from a particular extra-curricular program to shoulder the financial burden of paying for it. Unlike academic programs, these activities carry no participation requirements; on the contrary, many students who would like to participate are excluded. Is there a compelling reason other than existing precedent as to why we compel Teaneck taxpayers to foot the bill for exclusive teams that serve only a small subset of Teaneck's youth?

The litany of reasons typically cited for why a robust program of school-sponsored extra-curricular activities is valuable and worthwhile is not a bit diminished by asking our students or their parents to contribute to the cost of sustaining them. Yes, studies seem to show that student-athletes are significantly less likely to abuse drugs and that student-athletes on average carry higher grade point averages than students who are less engaged in extra-curriculars. There is, however, no evidence that this edge evaporates when students or their parents contribute to the cost of running the interscholastic sports program.

Some have a legitimate concern that the introduction of activity fees will limit participation to those who can afford to pay for it. This is hardly an argument that nobody should have to pay to play. Some smaller sum could be left in the budget to cover financial aid for needy students, and of course Teaneck's many teams, clubs, theater troupes and the like would be more than welcome to supplement the funds they contributed themselves toward to the support of their chosen activities through fundraising drives (as many already do).

Strangely, this option has been taken off the table before others that might actually have implications for the quality of instruction in our schools or the health and general welfare of the students. Someone should answer for why that is.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fixing Teaneck's flawed campaigns

Voters and candidates alike routinely express dismay at the level of discourse in local campaigns. Despite preemptive measures designed to curb the excessive negative campaigning that characterized past elections in Teaneck, this year's Council race has proven no exception.

As residents field last minute robocalls and prepare to go to the polls, the atmosphere has again turned toxic, perhaps most noticeably in the furor surrounding candidate Joseph Steinberg and his loud detractors. Regardless of who wins or loses Council seats this year, the electoral combat will have reopened old wounds and inflicted new ones, not only upon the candidates and a handful of involved residents, but upon Teaneck's already dysfunctional political culture.

Of course we know by now that another spiteful season of electioneering will draw to a close and we'll collectively lick our wounds while our municipal leaders return to the more mundane task of governing. Still one cannot help but wonder if we in Teaneck are doomed to repeat this cycle endlessly. The costs can be high. It seems that each successive campaign diminishes social cohesion, and there is little doubt that the tenor of our local politics dissuades many qualified individuals from volunteering or continuing to volunteer their time and talents. Perhaps equally damaging is that in the aftermath of these bitter struggles, we are left with a factionalized Council. It may not be divided along party lines, but it is just as sharply divided as any partisan municipality's governing body.

This would be far less unhealthy than it is if candidates for office were pursuing a vigorous but contentious debate on the pressing issues facing our town. But they are not. This campaign, like many of its predecessors, has been more about the company the various candidates keep or what interest group they identify with than it has been about what the candidates actually want to do once elected. While expressing near unanimous support for tax stabilization, better labor relations and disclosing no actual plans to help us get there, the candidates and their advocates have kept us focused on other questions over the past several weeks, including:

-Is Steinberg a pawn of controversial Council member Barbara Ley Toffler?

-Do Elie Katz, Adam Gussen and Yitz Stern have significant ties to disgraced political boss Joe Ferriero?

-Are Helen Schlereth and Robert O'Neill running to represent residents or public employees?

In a similar vein, Joseph Steinberg has repeatedly reminded the voters that he has a child in the public schools and Gayle Helfgott has written a cryptic (and vaguely offensive, if I understand it correctly) letter to the Suburbanite seeking to dispel the preconceived notions one might have about her communal affiliations based on certain assumptions one might make about her. To the untrained eye, these claims seem basically irrelevant in establishing one's credentials for office, but in today's Teaneck, these oblique references are key to defining one's candidacy and identifying as a suitable candidate for a particular demographic.

Naturally, we the voters have adopted some common techniques to cut through the fog. We spend several weeks every other spring studying whose lawn signs are found together in each neighborhood's lawns, parsing candidate letters to the Suburbanite in search of certain code words and catchphrases, and then devising complex voting strategies for our favored candidates that we urge upon our friends and neighbors.

It's less important to assign blame for this political farce and its harmful side effects than it is to find a way to avoid repeating it. Future candidates for public office should not forswear negative campaigning, but affirmatively promise to tackle real issues and offer substantive policy prescriptions in the course of the campaign. This year, Yitz Stern assures us he has a "real plan" to limit future tax increases, but offers no details as to what it is. Joseph Steinberg claims to possess a strong record on fiscal issues and superior business acumen, but tells us nothing about what he hopes to do as our Councilman. Even the one "issue" discussed by the candidates, i.e. the $10,000 Council approved audit of the defeated school budget is not a real issue but a red herring, another little hint as to who the candidates are and with whom they symbolically stand. When voters are left to guess about what a candidate will actually do once elected, it is not surprising that the campaign period turns into an exercise in labeling.

Voters and the media have a responsibility to enforce this discipline upon the candidates if they will not do it themselves. Candidate forums can be a great venue in which to do this, but their reach is limited to those who can and do attend, and in any case this year they disappointed. The blogosphere is well positioned to take up the slack, but is also subject to hijacking by those with an ax to grind. So, after a long hiatus, I have come back to lend a hand. Welcome back to Teaneck Blog.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Teaneck 6

There is more than enough blame to go around for the controversy and ill-feeling 
surrounding an incident in which six students from Thomas Jefferson Middle
were briefly detained and ticketed for walking in the street after dismissal.
After reading the Suburbanite's front page account of the hubbub, I am left
wondering which of the aggrieved parties will show the character and maturity to
apologize and admit their role in the escalation.

The Teaneck Police Department is one candidate. While law enforcement
officials can legitimately claim that officers were just doing their
jobs when they slapped fines on a group of young violators and returned
them to school,
a department that spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on
policing and efforts to improve its relations with residents should
know better than to frighten, intimidate, and humiliate our children in
the process of carrying out its duty to keep order and protect public
safety. How about an admission from the TPD that this could have been
handled better and that in the future, officers will use better judgment
when making an example of people, even if those people had been
previously warned to obey the law?

Another group who may want to step back from the brink is the parents
of the children who were ticketed. Sure, any parent in the same position
would loudly protest the way in which this situation was (mis)handled
and the way their child was treated. However, it seems clear that
administration of the middle school cooperated with the police and issued numerous
instructions and warnings to the students not to engage in the very behavior
their children
allegedly engaged in.

"[TJ Principal Antoine Green] said he told the students, but kids will
be kids. If he had informed us that the police would be issuing
summonses, we would have instructed our children not to walk in the street,"
one parent said, according to the Suburbanite. One may express anger at
how certain parties may have acted, but excusing the children's failure
to heed warnings or obey the school principal on the grounds that the
parents were not aware of the punishment and therefore did not
explicitly tell their children to follow this specific rule suggests that the
parents may not be blameless here.

Finally, a couple of other individuals ought to retract statements made in the heat
of the moment. One prominent resident is quoted as threatening the Township with
"the biggest demonstration you ever had in Teaneck" in response to the incident.
past history, that is quite a loaded comment. And though it is possible that
he is being
quoted somewhat out of context, new Board of Education President Dr.
Henry Pruitt
should know better than to take sides here. Snidely commenting that
"if the police want
to empty their ticket books, they should spend their time on Cedar
Lane," is neither helpful
nor a good example for the youth in the school system, who
should not see the elected leader
of the school system expressing disdain for the
police in public.

Let's not forget that this incident began with children and our children are
watching how those
they look up to go about responding to it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Power to the people

The Township Council may be on the verge of taking a wise political step through the adoption of a new zoning ordinance for Teaneck Road, but can it live with the consequences? As today's Record notes, the proposed guidelines, drafted in concert with residents' groups, enjoy popular support, but they are also at odds with the Master Plan. Given the backdrop, political expediency may outweigh other concerns, but there is no question that a precedent is being set here, and it might be one that certain Council members will find burdensome in the future.

Of course, the recently adopted Master Plan itself is far from the ambitious document originally envisioned by members of the Council Majority and their allies on the Planning Board. Public protest in the form of demands for community input into the process compelled officials to scale back some of their favored proposals and incorporate language binding them to protect the character of residential communities. So, in effect, the groundwork for more restrictive zoning ordinances that emanate not from municipal government, but from neighborhood residents themselves, was laid months ago.

But the compromises that ended the standoff over the Master Plan could be viewed as part of a government-led process that reserved the right to make planning decisions from elected officials and their appointees. This more recent episode clearly cedes that power to a vocal group of involved residents who hold no position and are not accountable to anyone but themselves. Other community members will certainly demand the very same consideration in their own backyards. Time will tell whether that will be a good thing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Seizing the center

While dueling letter writers quibble over who came out looking worse during Teaneck's summer of discontent, one individual at the center of much of the swirling controversy is quietly padding his credentials and look toward the future. While political enemies continue their attempts discredit Mayor Katz and his Council allies, the Mayor himself has begun using the media more effectively to position himself as a moderate leader and dedicated public servant. This constitutes quite an improvement from earlier efforts and may serve to reposition him as a formidable figure in Township politics just in time for the next round of Council elections.

In Sunday's Record, Katz made all the right moves in commenting on an issue of importance to him. For years, Katz has been a promoter of additional parking in some form or another, especially in the Plaza area, though his proposals and the Council's RFPs have been met with limited enthusiasm. Katz wisely took advantage of the opportunity to balance his views with a declaration of the importance of protecting residential areas. Similarly, in local coverage of recent meetings on the future of North Teaneck Rd., Katz managed to come off a sensible and concerned participant in the deliberations who was willing to advocate for the residents. And to cap it off, the latest edition of the County Seat contains a photo that will do more for Katz's political fortunes than the infamous pastrami shot, as he is shown at a lunch with Hackensack officials to discuss a shared services arrangement.

There was little doubt that after a strong performance in the 2006 elections, Katz had lost a bit of his luster once installed as mayor. Around the time of the controversy over the parking lot in Brett Park, it became clear that Katz's widespread popularity and carefully cultivated image as champion of all of Teaneck was somewhat imperiled by his method of governing. To his credit, he seems to have learned from his mistakes and it appears that his opponents' continued petulance and negativity has allowed him the opportunity to move back to the center and regain his place as a pragmatic and likable leader. He may emerge from all the political sniping as a stronger and more mature public figure.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Restored to life

An interesting feature in this past Sunday's Record covered the remarkable resurgence of the Hackensack River. There is no doubt that the return of wildlife and recreational opportunities to the river is potentially a great boon for the residents of the region. But a clean and attractive river winding its way through our town isn't only desirable for the hikers, fishermen, photographers, birdwatchers, or boaters among us. It also represents a potential source of revenue for the town that cannot be ignored. That is why it is unlikely that the relatively brief debates that have taken place in recent months over the future of Teaneck's riverfront are the last we'll have.

While the Master Plan recommends that "Township commit to maintaining all existing zoning along the waterfront," no such commitment seems to have been made. Sure, back in January, Councilman Rudolph's dramatic excision of a section of the Birdsall report urging the creation of a "Waterfront Redevelopment Area" seemed to close the book on rezoning for the time being. But what happens when a developer shows up with a proposal in hand to transform several parcels of riverfront property into a significant ratable for the town? Up to now, there were few economic considerations involved in decisions to set aside areas adjacent to the river for recreation or environmental purposes. Now that the river is on the rebound, towns such as Teaneck would have to make a conscious choice to forfeit the potential benefits of exploiting a newly restored natural resource in order to preserve the status quo. Will they do so?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Opening salvos

It is easy to dismiss the recent political posturing in Teaneck as mere filler during a summer lull in township affairs. With nothing substantive to fight about, one might simply suppose that Teaneck's factions are sparring with one another out of sheer boredom. All signs, however, point to the current clashes being the first engagements of the 2008 Council campaign season.

While the opposition may yet have a few surprises in store, the New Beginnings crowd and its fellow travelers seem to have tipped their hand as to their message well in advance of what could prove to be one of the most bitterly contested Council elections in recent memory. With a coordinated effort that involves packing public meetings and engaging in constant letter writing to local media outlets hammering away at the same themes, the main objective seems to be to undermine the credibility of Council majority first, and to raise questions about policy issues second. With perhaps as much to lose as it has to gain in the 2008 Council race, this faction has clearly opted to go negative, arguing that Mayor Katz and Councilmen Feit, Rudolph, and Gussen are themselves the problem. If they can gain traction with that idea, it is not much of a leap for them to attempt to persuade voters to avoid electing anyone who might align with the Council majority in the future.

It is a bit harder to discern how the Mayor will go to bat for whomever he backs for Council next year. A recent e-mail from Mayor Katz, however, seems to hold some clues. In a "Teaneck Tid-bits" message dated August 6, the Mayor includes a laundry list of accomplishments that he claims have produced "$3.6 million in tax savings this year alone." As a result of the steps taken, the Mayor writes, "we are on the road to tax savings and equity, without sacrifice to our ideals and way of life." Might the Mayor be laying the groundwork for a campaign in which he will present the record of his administration to the voters as the basis for an appeal to support like-minded candidates that will help him build on it?

Though it would certainly make for an interesting race, it is questionable whether it would make sense for the Mayor to involve himself very much in the next Council race. Why risk a repudiation by the voters in an election during which his term is not even up? Calling the question of whether the electorate is pleased with how he has performed makes little sense at this stage. While policy wonks may appreciate some of his accomplishments, the majority of the electorate knows only of what it hears and what it reads (including what it reads in its tax bills). It is doubtful that the Mayor, under continuous attack from a vocal group of detractors and powerless to deliver on his main issue in the near term- stemming the rising tide of property taxes- has enough political capital to spend much when his own seat on the Council is not at stake. On the other hand, he cannot sit idly by and allow his opponents to frame the debate and potentially snatch away his majority on the Council.

Instead of dismissing the current battles as political theater, Teaneck voters should recognize that the confrontation over the makeup of the next Township Council is already underway, with serious implications for the future course of our town.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Everyone is a victim

As Teaneck's tensions become fodder for an ever growing list of media outlets, it is interesting how the warring sides have each sought to claim the mantle of victimhood. The Jewish Daily Forward is the latest to cover the row over the infamous luncheon photo. Its article attempts to place the somewhat absurd controversy within the context of the relations between Orthodox Jews and others in Northern New Jersey. What emerges is a he said, she said pitting Mayor Katz against his predecessor as competitors for the title of most misunderstood and unfairly victimized.

It is, of course, perfectly natural to make such an appeal when outsiders come to inquire about what is going on in town. What is telling is the nature of the victimhood that each side claims. Both believe they are being attributed motives they claim not to harbor. According to the Forward, Mayor Katz is upset that he and his cohorts take a beating for an attitude of exclusivity and Council member Kates resents when people are labeled "anti-Orthodox" for speaking out against the current Council majority.

Whether or not the protestations of Katz and Kates are correct, they are unlikely to be believed. Mistrust is now so strong in Teaneck that the tiniest slight, real or imagined, is enough to trigger another clash in the Council chambers (or online). Whatever happened to the good old days when our elected officials were free to tick off large segments of the population without being called on it?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Vox populi

Thanks to a successful signature gathering effort, Teaneck will get to conduct a little experiment in direct democracy. As the Record reported yesterday, the Township Clerk has 20 days (now 19) to check the 2,200 signatures collected in favor of an ordinance on public contracting reform, aka a ban on pay to play. It would be rather surprising if the ordinance did not pass by a landslide.

That's not to say there are not any legitimate arguments against this type of legislation. As discussed here before, it is possible that the measure could unnecessarily handcuff local officials when they choose contractors for municipal business. Practically speaking, however, it seems rather unlikely that there is a large constituency out there ready to mobilize and get out the vote for preserving the rights of large political contributors. Whether those who might oppose such a measure would be willing to spend the time, money, and effort to mount a defense of their right to grease the palms of local government officials without penalty remains to be seen, but it seems doubtful.

There are, on the other hand, at least a few thousand voters who were willing to sign a petition in favor of rules against pay to play, and given the low turnout expected for this November's elections, that should be more than enough to carry the day. If the vote is even close, there will be a lot to discuss. Boy would that send a message ahead of the next Council elections!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

That picture

Scandal of all scandals- Mayor Katz, Councilman Feit, Councilman Rudolph, former Councilman Yitz Stern, and Teaneck Planning Board Chairman Joey Bodner are pictured in this week's Suburbanite while meeting with other Orthodox Jewish elected officials from throughout New Jersey. While many at tonight's Council meeting were quick to condemn this meeting as portraying some kind of disregard for other Council members or conveying the impression that religious ties somehow trump the issues, the individuals appearing in the photo are guilty of nothing more than having a tin ear for politics. Given current sensitivities in Teaneck, it is unwise for people in positions of power to play up their affiliation with the Orthodox Jewish community, unbelievable as that may seem (could anyone imagine members of the public or fellow Council members complaining if Council members Kates, Honis, and Parker joined a group of local female politicians for a meal or if Council members Honis and Parker appeared at a gathering of African-American elected officials?). Political considerations aside, did those who attended the meeting do anything wrong by going there? Absolutely not.

Mayor Katz's perfectly acceptable explanation for why he and others decided to attend the friendly luncheon meeting (as if any was needed) should close this absurd chapter forever. He and his colleagues have every right to freely associate with whomever they please. In fact, one might argue that their posing for a photo that was voluntarily released to the press by one of their number itself demonstrates that they probably were not up to anything untoward.

Though observers may fault their timing or question their political judgment, there are no apologies required here, and those who suggest otherwise should be ashamed of themselves.

Squeaky wheels

Among the talked about upgrades to the Teaneck's public transportation infrastructure is the introduction of new jitney bus routes along the town's thoroughfares. Commuter parking problems could be alleviated and quality of life for both commuters and those living along heavily trafficked bus routes would be improved, or so the theory goes.

As always, it is an open question whether theory accords with reality. While it may seem like a good idea to increase options for commuters and other users of public transportation in Teaneck, a recent article in the Record suggests that inviting jitney buses to cruise Teaneck's streets may not be the most responsible course. As the article notes, operators of the jitney buses have been cited frequently for safety violations and in some cases may not exert a great deal of oversight over whom they hire to drive their vehicles. Of course, in their defense, they claim that as largely unregulated competitors to NJ Transit, they are being singled out unfairly for extra scrutiny by local authorities for a variety of reasons unrelated to their actual safety records.

Whatever the course of action Teaneck follows, it is important that traffic and safety concerns be weighed equally alongside the potential benefits of bringing in the jitneys.

Monday, July 23, 2007

South of the border

Word comes today of the latest stunt from our colorful reactionary neighbor, Mayor Steve Lonegan. The Record reports on the Bogota Mayor's plan to enlist his own local police force in the fight against illegal immigration. Naturally, there is a bit of suspicion that the Mayor is not motivated solely by his sincere desire to extend a helping hand to the federal government. Might there be some other reason that the same man who battled McDonald's over a Spanish-language billboard advertisement would be anxious to have Bogota's police officers also serve as immigration agents? To suppose so does not seem far-fetched.

A few miles to the north, the politically engaged minority in Teaneck is gripped with suspicion and resentment. Elected and appointed officials on both sides of the town's comparatively minor political squabbles are demonized by their opponents. There is little recognition that there remains a broad consensus in Teaneck that has endured many far more trying periods in the town's past. While one faction or another lays claim to the mantle of defender of Teaneck's principles and upholder of its legacy of tolerance, it is clear that the vast majority no matter what their outward affiliation remain committed to "live and let live" above all else. It may seem trivial to us, but that's not a given down in Bogota.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Teaneck's top cop snatched by Newark

No, not that Newark... The News Journal of Wilmington reports that Teaneck police chief Paul Tiernan is moving down to Newark, Delaware to head up the police force in that town. As a result, a vacancy is opening up at the top of the Teaneck Police Department only weeks after the Chief's request to add a significant number of officers to combat gang activity was pared down by the Council.

Whether or not friction over that decision played a role in Tiernan's departure is unclear. What is clear is that the next police chief will inherit the gang problem- and the already negotiated terms of the solution. One wonders whether the issue will be reopened by the new leadership in conjunction with the Council and if a candidate's preference for adding staff versus finding less costly ways to address the gang issue will become a new litmus test for potential hires.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Open Space and openness

Today's Record reports on a plan to consolidate power over Bergen County's Open Space Trust Fund in the hands of a single official. Sadly, the fact that the current County leadership wants to be able to circumvent the vetting process when convenient and grant greater influence to the Democratic party donor currently occupying the seat of Director of Bergen County Department of Planning and Economic Development is not the least bit surprising. We've come to expect such galling actions from Bergen County government over the years. While each additional step away from the principles of good government- transparency, multiple checks and balances, and the like- is troubling, we have become so numb to the situation that there is scarcely any protest anymore.

Compare this situation to what we have going on in Teaneck. Here every step taken by municipal government seems to raise hackles. While it is terrific that vigilant citizens are keeping a close eye on the actions of their elected and appointed officials, the righteous anger so often poured out in letters to the Suburbanite or during the public comment period of Council meetings seems somewhat hollow. If the protest is truly on principled grounds, why does the appearance of impropriety in local government matter more than the same thing in Bergen County government? Put another way, might all the energy expended in pointing fingers at Teaneck officials be better spent curbing the egregious excesses of Bergen County insiders, whose power and money is allegedly the root of many of the abuses supposedly occurring in Teaneck?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Not a "worthy and essential goal"

Today's Record contains an editorial decrying a recent Supreme Court decision that banned the use of race as a factor in school admissions decisions as a "step backward." The premise underlying this view is that "racial diversity in the nation's classrooms, as in its communities, is a worthy and essential goal." It appears to me, however, that what is "backward" is the view of the Record staff.

As support for the claim that the nation's march toward integrated public schools has stalled, the paper points out that in Teaneck, a town with a proud history of taking the lead in ending segregation, "three-quarters of the district's student population is minority." This factoid is apparently intended to illustrate that Teaneck's efforts to "achieve racial balance in its schools by slightly altering school boundaries when necessary" is insufficient and that the Court should countenance more aggressive methods of guaranteeing whatever is considered the appropriate mix of skin pigmentation in a given educational institution.

One wonders, however, what it is about the color of one's skin that could possibly enhance the educational experience. Is making sure that classrooms contain a full palette of skin shades really what we should be after? What inherent difference is there among people of different coloring?

We might assume it is some kind of laziness or inadvertent oversimplification rather that leads the Record staff to express itself in this way. However, if what is meant is that we can all benefit by being exposed to people who hold viewpoints different from our own and experiences that are not the same as ours, then "racial diversity" is a strange shorthand for it. Fostering diversity of opinion, of experience, of family background to the extent possible- these may be legitimate educational goals. But these are all still possible after the Supreme Court decision, which continues to permit the use of socio-economic status and other less objectionable markers of diversity in school admissions. So what, again, was the Record's point?

As some in Teaneck seek a more vigorous dialogue over what diversity truly means, we ought to keep in mind that the filing of individuals into neat categories based on superficial characteristics is most certainly not in keeping with the spirit of respect for our fellow citizens as individuals that diversity is supposed to promote. We should take our cues from the younger generation. Those less saddled by the past and more in step with contemporary culture seem to be less cognizant of supposed racial differences. We could be well on the way toward building a colorblind society...if editorials from the Record don't screw it up.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Naming names

Unable to get any satisfaction from Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli, who has ended his investigation of alleged transgressions of campaign laws during the 2006 Council race without bringing charges, Teaneck's disaffected opposition appears to be taking a new tack.

This week's Suburbanite contains a letter from outspoken Council critic Naomi Cramer questioning the motives behind the decision to halt the investigation, and comments by a number of individuals at Tuesday night's raucous Council meeting showed that many are still committed to keeping this issue alive.

What's new, however, is the announcement by a local political organization that it will hold a meeting during which a report that "gives names of those who allegedly had a part in the production and dissemination of the campaign literature" will be presented to the public. The agent of this vigilante justice? The Teaneck Democratic Municipal Organization, who is no doubt holding the event only because of its high regard for the rule of law and a clean and transparent political process, and not because of any affinities with the Teaneck New Beginnings slate, in keeping with the non-partisan nature of Teaneck local politics.

Whether this story still has any traction with the wider public more than a year after the defeat of the majority of the Teaneck New Beginnings slate by a sizable margin is an open question. What is clear, however, is that the hardcore support for TNB, which has also constituted the most vocal opposition to the current Council majority, is determined to attempt to delegitimize current elected officials rather than engage them in policy debate. This desperate effort to regain some influence is perhaps the clearest admission that the TNB fringe, once very much part of the establishment, is increasingly out of step with public opinion in Teaneck.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The nanny municipality

Among the issues commanding the attention of the Council recently has been the question of Teaneck's response to the alarming uptick in gang activity in town. Last night's Council meeting featured an impassioned discussion about a resolution ratifying a costly proposal to add police officers to help combat the gang problem in town. Ultimately, with some apparent reluctance, a majority of the Council agreed to back the plan in response to the gang threat. As one of the voices calling for serious consideration of the issue in consultation with the Teaneck Police Department command, I am pleased to see that Township officials have taken the issue seriously, despite the unwelcome financial burdens associated with the proposed solution. Hopefully, the recommendations of our law enforcement officials will prove effective enough to put an end to gang activity in town.

What did not please me were the comments of a number of residents and officials who spoke at the meeting. It seemed that several speakers were subtly assigning blame to the Township for the gang problem. As they rattled on about the need to demonstrate to the youth of Teaneck that the community is behind them through expanded programming and handouts of public funds to local non-profit organizations, it became clear that certain individuals simply cannot pass up an opportunity to advocate for additional services, more government spending, and a greater role for public institutions in community life, all at taxpayer expense.

One might argue that the root cause of gang membership and violent criminal activity is poor parenting, low self-esteem, boredom, or whatever other excuse one might offer and that attempts to stamp out such anti-social behavior that do not address these root causes are doomed to failure. It does not then follow that it is the responsibility of every Teaneck taxpayer to furnish entertainment options for local teens. It would be terrific if we had the resources to prevent every young person in town from getting mixed up with gangs and falling into a life of criminal behavior. We do not. In fact, Teaneck does not even have the resources to pay for the additional police officers needed to contain the existing problem, though we have little choice but to do so. The best we can do at this stage is take steps to protect the innocent from the pernicious side effects of gang activity in town. There is no way we can protect the criminally inclined from themselves, too.

It's time to look away from government and towards ourselves as individuals if we want Teaneck's children to turn out better. What kind of parents, grandparents, or siblings are we? Are we volunteering our time with local organizations as mentors, coaches, tutors, or the like? Are we giving what we can afford to give financially to the causes that matter to us, or are we just putting our hands out to others, hoping to compel them to make up the difference?

The Township of Teaneck handles public safety and law enforcement, and for that reason, the Council has just agreed to saddle our community with a significant ongoing expense to protect public order. The people of Teaneck as family members, neighbors, and friends are responsible for steering our youth down the right path. It is time for us to individually assume an equal responsibility for achieving the outcomes we hope for.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Poison arrows

Oh my! Pandemonium in the Council Chambers. A telling scene at approximately 11:30 pm on a Tuesday night: in the foreground, Councilman Gussen gets a tongue lashing from a resident for his public castigation of former Planning Board member Barbara Ley Toffler. In the background, Councilman Rudolph and Councilwoman Honis can be seen arguing and gesticulating after Honis took Rudolph to task publicly for what she perceived to be impolite behavior during the meeting as part of a longer tirade filled with innuendo.

Is this the end of civil discourse in Teaneck? Has the "Comments" section of the local blogosphere spilled into the real world? Stay tuned. There's probably more to come after the time out called by Mayor Katz.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Candor and its consequences

Four months after its appearance in the Metro section of the New York Times, Peter Applebome's article about diversity and Teaneck is making waves on the local scene. At the time of its appearance, I surmised that the very public airing of dirty laundry in Applebome's piece had the potential to "shake up the Teaneck landscape." Surprisingly, the inital fallout from the article, which depicted growing alarm and resentment towards Orthodox Jews, "the most conspicuous and fastest-growing group in town," seemed limited. Until now.

Among those residents who spoke on the record about views of the Orthodox community was Barbara Ley Toffler, a member of the Planning Board. "People worry that there's a group that wants this to become an Orthodox community like some of the ones in Rockland County," she told the Times. "This has always been an incredibly diverse community, and from my perspective, I don't want it to become any one thing."

While this statement may be open to some interpretation (the first part suggested that it was "people," and not necessarily Toffler herself, who held that view), it upset Councilman Kevie Feit enough that he joined a majority in blocking Toffler's reappointment to the Planning Board. In widely circulated correspondance, Feit outlines some of the reasons why he felt he could not support Toffler's reappointment. Feit characterizes Toffler's statements as "insensitive, at best, and highly offensive, at worst." "Either way," he continues, "[they are] inappropriate for a member of the Planning Board to state publicly."

By Feit's own admission, his rationale for opposing Toffler is that she has conducted herself in a manner not befitting a member of the Planning Board and called her impartiality into question rather than any qualm he had with her actual performance as a member of that body. It is the quotation itself, and apparently some subsequent follow up comments that were circulated over e-mail that were at issue here. So here we do indeed have some tangible fallout from the Applebome piece. What will be the next shoe to drop?