After a lengthy debate at its meeting Monday evening, Princeton Council voted down an ordinance regarding appropriate authority of the town’s police department. A new ordinance was introduced, naming the mayor and Council, rather than the township administrator, as the appropriate authority. A public hearing on the revised ordinance will be held at the Council’s September 9 meeting before a final vote is taken.
While Council member Jo Butler argued in favor of naming the mayor and Council for the post, Mayor Liz Lempert said Tuesday that she was frustrated by the vote. “We’ve had several meetings to discuss this, and we should be adopting recognized best practices which is to make it the administrator,” she said. ”We shouldn’t be playing politics with our police force and that’s one of the main reasons why it’s recommended that the appropriate authority be the administrator, to take the politics out of the police.”
Ms. Butler said yesterday that the appropriate authority’s role is to provide civilian oversight of the police force. “When you look at who that might be, it’s important for it to be the Council, because it is the most accountable,” she said. “Providing public safety is the most critical function we do, and I think it’s so important that we’re accountable to the public.”
Monday night’s meeting also included information from Princeton’s municipal attorney Ed Schmierer that Council member Heather Howard won’t be part of discussions regarding Princeton University’s voluntary financial contribution to the town. Ms. Howard is employed by the University as a lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School, which Mr. Schmierer said presents a conflict of interest.
Mayor Liz Lempert, however, who is married to a tenured faculty member, was advised by Mr. Schmierer last week that she can take part in the upcoming talks. In an opinion he provided to Council, Mr. Schmierer said that “any conflict of interest is non-existent.”
No date has been set for the negotiations with the University, Ms. Lempert said in a press conference before the Council meeting Monday. “We will be pursuing a multi-year agreement,” she said. “It helps in planning for our budget to know what the amounts are going to be.”
Asked at the press conference whether she supports the idea of the University paying taxes, Ms. Lempert said “It’s a complicated issue.” Ultimately, she added, “I believe that they want to be a good neighbor, they want to be good citizens, and they want to do their part.”
The Council was planning to discuss which members should take part in the negotiations in closed session following the meeting.
Township engineer Bob Kiser reported to Council about recent meetings between the Williams Transco company, the municipality, and members of the citizens’ group the Princeton Ridge Coalition regarding a natural gas pipeline the company wants to add to the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge.
As a result of the meetings, which included a walk along the length of the line, Transco agreed to narrow the right of way from 80 to 50 feet. “This will greatly reduce the amount of disturbance on the ridge,” Mr. Kiser said. “They also agreed to update their plan on which trees will need to be removed.”
Mayor Lempert praised the Princeton Ridge Coalition for their diplomatic handling of the situation, calling them “one of the most amazing neighborhood groups I’ve ever seen. They have approached it in a really impressively effective way.”
Transco is expected to file its plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in mid-September. Following that date, Council will decide whether it wants to officially intervene in the process.
The Council voted to pass a resolution regarding the sale of the building on Palmer Square that houses the Princeton post office. The resolution expresses the community’s need to maintain a post office in the central business district.
Mayor Lempert thanked U.S. Representative Rush Holt’s office for interceding in what was going to be the sale of the post office this month. The postponement means the Council now has 30 days to comment on the issue before the office is put on the market.
Some sealed bids have been submitted for the building. The New Jersey Historic Trust is negotiating an easement with the Postal Service, and the Trust will hold the easement. Mayor Lempert said it is important that whatever goes into the former post office needs to comply with historic and zoning ordinances.