January 18, 2012

An unannounced meeting to discuss applicants for Princeton Borough’s representatives on the consolidation transition task force got Mayor Yina Moore and members of the Council into hot water last week. But this violation of the Open Public Meetings Act was not intentional, according to the Borough’s attorney Maeve Cannon.

At Council’s regular meeting last week, Ms. Cannon said that a December 28 meeting of Council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller, and Kevin Wilkes, which was attended by then Mayor-elect Moore and Councilwoman-elect Heather Howard, was an inadvertent violation, since those on the committee may have thought that it was legal because only three council members were present, which would not constitute a quorum. Ms. Moore and Ms. Howard had yet to be sworn in when the meeting took place, but as future members of Council would be voting on the issue.

Councilman Roger Martindell said at the January 10 meeting that the procedure needed to be remedied. He also criticized the criteria for choosing candidates, saying those with an affiliation to Princeton University or residency outside the Borough should not be eliminated. Princeton Township chose its representatives early this month.

The Council has been contacted by about 30 members of the public interested in serving on the committee, said Ms. Butler, though some said they only wanted to volunteer for a subcommittee. Eight candidates were selected as finalists by the Council members. Four people will be selected, including three full members and one alternate.

The eight finalists С Alexi Assmus, Mark Freda, W. Bradford Middlekauff, Bruce M. Topolosky, Patrick Simon, James Levine, Hendricks Davis and Adrienne Kreipke С were subsequently interviewed at an open session of the Council on January 3. Council members Barbara Trelstad, Mr. Wilkes, and Ms. Butler were chosen to select a slate of four candidates from those eight. They were to be voted on at a special meeting last night, January 17.

In other business at the January 10 meeting, the Council was given a preview of its 2012 budget. Maintaining a zero tax rate increase is a goal for the year, chief financial officer Sandra Webb said in an overview of the projected budget. Councilman Martindell, who chairs the Finance Committee, commented that no major initiatives or significant labor contracts are proposed for 2012 as the Borough prepares to merge with Princeton Township.

“The less we do financially, the better, and this budget reflects that,” he said. Mr. Martindell added that the committee will meet with its counterparts in the Township, not only about the 2012 budget but to get a head start on the challenges likely to be posed by consolidation.

Ms. Webb told Council members that the budget proposals are preliminary, since 2011 had yet to be closed out. Figures included a $420,000 increase in spending, or 1.63 percent over 2011. No reduction in state aid is anticipated and department budgets are not being increased.

Since Princeton University has increased its voluntary payment to the Borough by $500,000 for 2012, the Borough will be using less of its operating surplus. Mayor Moore said she thought some of the surplus might be used to provide some relief for property owners who are struggling to pay taxes that rose after the 2010 tax revaluation. Mr. Wilkes suggested some of the money be used to focus on how to improve recyling and trash collection in the downtown area.

Ms. Howard commented that this is the time to make sure the state follows through on its commitment to pay 20 percent of the transition costs. She also suggested that the Borough and Township should send a list of help with budgetary flexibility that might be needed during the consolidation process.

At the meeting, the Council voted to accept Princeton University’s voluntary contributions (PILOT) of $1.7 million. Ms. Trelstad and Mr. Wilkes thanked the University for this increased payment, which includes $250,000 earmarked for transition costs. The University has also agreed to pay $300,000 for the expansion of the firehouse.

Speaking just before the vote, Ms. Butler expressed concerns that not enough was done during the negotiations. “It looks like something that could have been drawn up on the back of an envelope,” she said. Ms. Butler used the City of Boston as an example of how to do it better, saying the city sent a bill to its nonprofit organizations for 25 percent of what they would owe if they were not tax exempt. The Borough’s previous agreement with the University involved more detailed work, she said. “I hope going forward we can have a more comprehensive approach.”

Mayor Moore said she shares Ms. Butler’s concerns. “This opens doors to further the conversation where needs and benefits are assessed and integrated,” she said. “I look forward to furthering that discussion this year.”

January 11, 2012

Four applicants with backgrounds in academia, business, social services, and politics were recently selected by Princeton Township to serve on the consolidation transition team. The Borough has not yet announced its choices.

The transition team has been charged by the Consolidation Commission with implementing its recommendations for consolidation, which will take effect in January 2013. Both municipalities were asked to select four residents; three transition team members and one alternate. Two elected officials from both the Borough and Township will also serve, along with administrators Jim Pascale and Bob Bruschi. The Consolidation Commission, which is a separate entity, will continue to function in an advisory role.

Township choices included Dorothea Berkhout, executive director for administration at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University;К

Linda Mather, president of Beacon Consulting Associates and a regular League of Women Voters moderator who also served on the 1991 consolidation committee; and Scott Sillars, president of Isles E4 and chair of the Citizen’s Finance Advisory Committee for Princeton Township since 2007. Gary O. Patterson, a senior executive with Miller Investment Management, was selected as an alternate.

“Scott, Thea, Linda and Gary are all extremely well qualified and each brings different, complementary skills to the table,” said Township Committee member (and new Deputy Mayor) Liz Lempert, who, along with then-Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth, interviewed the candidates.

Applicants who were not chosen may still be asked by the transition team to serve on subcommittees. “We had many qualified applicants and want to take advantage of the great pool of talent that came forward,” noted Township Mayor Chad Goerner.

All interviews for Township members of the transition team were conducted in December by Ms. Lempert and Ms. Nemeth. “We reviewed their work in late December and met in closed session to discuss how we could put a team together with various strengths,” Mr. Goerner said.

In response to recent comments complaining that the selection process did not take place at public meetings, Ms. Nemeth observed that “interviews were conducted in a manner that allowed for candid and thorough discussion of each individual’s expertise, interests, and time availability. A public interview process would not have afforded us enough time or provide enough privacy to adequately weigh the commitment of serving.”

Ms. Lempert similarly commented that ‘Interviewing in private allows for a more open and relaxed dialog, and helps us to better evaluate candidates. This was the same process we used to select the Consolidation Commission members, as well as other committees.”

“The public should know that we recommended the very best team selected from among a highly qualified pool of candidates and hope many who were not selected will serve on subcommittees formed by the Task Force,” Ms. Nemeth added.

“We are anxious to move this process forward as soon as possible and hope that the Borough is able to make their appointments soon,” noted Mr. Goerner.

Borough Council members were scheduled to meet in a closed session last night (January 10) to discuss the appointments, before their scheduled public meeting.

The issue was first discussed at a private, unannounced meeting in late December of Council members Jo Butler, Kevin Wilkes, Jenny Crumiller, Mayor-elect Yina Moore and Councilwoman-elect Heather Howard. Eight candidates were selected from a list of applicants interested in representing the Borough. They were interviewed, in an open session, on January 3.

Councilman Roger Martindell took exception to the implication that Council was going to select from that group in a closed session. At press time, he said he intended to ask at the January 10 meeting that the appointments be discussed instead at an open session.

“The selection of persons to interview for the transition task force should be by publicly acknowledged criteria following public interviews of candidates,” he said. “Since we have not, as of the January 10 meeting, accomplished those goals, then I think it’s important to hold the process open and continuing so that we might select the persons in the most open and rational way possible. I look forward to doing so in the next few days ahead.”

Ms. Crumiller said in an email that meetings by governing bodies to discuss personnel matters, including appointments, are always done in closed session, “for a good reason.

“It would a disservice to volunteer applicants to discuss their relative merits in public,” she said. “Given that the Township Committee had chosen its Task Force members weeks ago, the Council felt a sense of urgency in moving the transition process forward and catching up to the Township Committee.”

“Frankly, it’s frustrating that people who agreed to that process are now raising issues about it,” she added. “There was not a peep of dissent over the plan until a few days ago. I hope we can move forward and name the task force — we have remarkable citizen applicants and we need to let these volunteers get to work. We’re anticipating that those volunteers who are not chosen for the task force will be considered for a subcommittee, where we expect most of the work to take place.”


In front of a packed house of local politicians and special guests, Princeton Borough Council held its last annual reorganization meeting as an independent municipality on Tuesday, January 3. U.S. Representative Rush Holt, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, and several county freeholders were on hand to witness the swearing in of new Mayor Yina Moore, new Council President Barbara Trelstad, and new Council member Heather Howard. Outgoing Mayor Mildred Trotman delivered a farewell speech, as did outgoing Councilman David Goldfarb, who did not mince words in his criticism of Princeton University.

After praising Princeton Theological Seminary for its community values, Mr. Goldfarb said the University would be wise to learn from that example.

“With financial resources that dwarf those of virtually all other colleges and universities in the world, Princeton University still demands that the residents of our town subsidize it,” he said. “On top of that, its president threatened to reduce its inadequate contribution in lieu of taxes if the town didn’t comply with the University’s wishes. When President Tilghman presented us with her ultimatum last year, we should have called her bluff. Instead, the leaders of our town capitulated, emboldening the University to make similar threats in the future.”

Mr. Goldfarb concluded by saying he hopes the town and the University “will work together to restore the mutually respectful relationship that we enjoyed under prior University administrations,” suggesting that leaving the Dinky in place instead of moving it 460 feet south would be “an excellent place to start.”

Ms. Trotman spoke of 2011 as a productive year for Princeton Borough, citing a zero percent tax rate increase for the third year in a row, the on-schedule renovation of the Community Pool, and passage of the ordinance to create an arts and transit neighborhood despite unanimous support for leaving the Dinky station in place. She also paid tribute to Michael Kenwood, the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad EMT/Rescue Technician who died while attempting a rescue during Hurricane Irene.

In her speech, new Mayor Yina Moore said she will be proposing new initiatives to create a Downtown Neighborhoods Commission and an Institutional Relations Committee. The Neighborhoods Commission will include representatives of businesses and neighborhoods in the downtown business district. “It will be charged with elevating common and disparate concerns to better address these issues through our shared community values,” she said. “The Institutional Relations Committee, made up of citizens, elected officials, and a cross section of the Princeton University community, including students, faculty, alumni and administrators, is intended to create a new conversation amongst all parties in a new forum to identify, discuss, and address our mutual concerns.”

Ms. Moore also said she will be asking the Affordable Housing Committee to expand its vision to look beyond its role in administering the former Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) program and policies.

Later in the week, Ms. Trelstad, who replaces Councilman Kevin Wilkes as Council President, spoke of her new challenges. “The biggest one is to, hopefully, enable us to all work together toward consolidation,” she said. “The road map has been laid out, but we need to do it right. And by that, I mean we need to do it collegially and set an example. Because I think New Jersey needs to think about doing more of this. If we can do it, and do it in the time frame laid out, more or less, and do it well, that’s good.”

Ms. Trelstad added that the Memorandum of Understanding between the municipalities and Princeton University needs work. She also hopes to help Ms. Moore as she transitions into her new post. “I’ve had six or seven years on Council, so I hope I can make it easier for her,” Ms. Trelstad said. “I want to make sure we all work together, because that will help her.”

Chad Goerner was reelected Mayor and Liz Lempert took Sue Nemeth’s place as Deputy Mayor at Township Committee’s reorganization last week.

In her nomination, Ms. Lempert observed that, given how much was accomplished in recent months, it was hard to believe that Mr. Goerner has been mayor for only one year. She described him as a “great colleague,” “inclusive” in his work and a “great communicator”

Ms. Nemeth, who hopes to run for a seat on the Mercer County Board of Freeholders later this year, nominated Ms. Lempert. Ms. Nemeth spoke of Ms. Lempert’s history of engagement in preservation efforts; her work with the citizens finance advisory committee; her role as an advocate for the Human Services Department; and her influence in the recruitment of bilingual volunteers Township offices.

Describing her as “an excellent leader” over the past year, Mr. Goerner noted that Ms. Nemeth has his full support as she looks ahead to working at the county level.

Mr. Goerner, who sported a blue bow tie that evening, was sworn in by former governor Jim Florio. “I worked on his campaign while in I was in college and his ability to stand by his principles and make difficult decisions–but the right decisions–even when they weren’t always the most popular, inspired me to become involved in politics,” said Mr. Goerner in thanking Mr. Florio.

Ms. Lempert was sworn in by attorney and former School Board member Walter Bliss.

Both Ms. Nemeth and Bernie Miller, who were returned to Township Committee in the November election, were sworn in as well at the Tuesday evening meeting. Ms. Nemeth was sworn in by Township Attorney Ed Schmierer. Noting that he had done this a number of times before, Simon Miller did the honors for his father, whom he thanked for the “lesson he’s given me and my children: the value of public service.” Mr. Miller announced that he would not run for office in 20012.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-12); Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes; and former Township May Michelle-Tuck Ponder were among the dignitaries present for the Township’s last reorganization meeting as a separate entity.

Dog Tax

With that in mind, Mr. Goerner said, he and Deputy Clerk, Kathy Brzezynski paid a visit to the Township’s archives that morning. Princeton was incorporated as a township by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 9, 1838, and the hand-written budget for that year, Mr. Goerner reported, included $500 for the repair of roads; $500 to support the poor; $50 for bridge repairs; and $400 for schools. Incoming revenue included a $1 tax on every dog. “From our humble beginnings to a budget today of approximately $36 million ($61m if we include Princeton Borough), we have grown into a vibrant, diverse and desirable community,” observed Mr. Goerner. “Reunited once again, the future for our community looks very bright.”

At last year’s reorganization meeting, Mr. Goerner reminded the audience, he paraphrased David Bowie, observing that “we won’t always know where we’re going, but I promise you it won’t be boring.” This time he channelled the Moody Blues as he promised that “we will ‘keep as cool as we can and face piles of trials with smiles.’”


January 4, 2012
A TIMES SQUARE NEW YEAR IN THE COMMUNITY ROOM

A TIMES SQUARE NEW YEAR IN THE COMMUNITY ROOM: Princeton Public Library gave kids and caregivers a chance to greet 2012 ahead of schedule Friday with dancing and music, their own noise makers, horns, crowns, sparkling cider, and blow-up versions of the Times Square ball in the form of globes to throw into the air to mark the New Year. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

Although the Borough and the Township’s annual reorganization meetings were scheduled for Tuesday evening, January 3, after Town Topics’ press time, Township Mayor Chad Goerner and Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth were happy to talk about their hopes and expectations for 2012 before the formalities began.

In response to rumors that he will not run again for mayor, Mr. Goerner explained that both he and Ms. Nemeth were expected to be renamed to their posts at the Township’s Tuesday evening meeting. He said, however, that he has not yet decided whether or not to run for mayor of the new consolidated municipality in the coming November election. He reported that he would make his decision “later this month.”

Implementing consolidation was, not surprisingly, high on both Mr. Goerner’s and Ms. Nemeth’s list of priorities in the coming year. “I predict we’ll implement the historic merger of Princeton Township and Borough with greater ease than anyone envisioned and achieve greater savings than projected,” said Ms. Nemeth.

Mr. Goerner was more guarded in his forecast, noting that while “the biggest obstacle was getting consolidation to pass,” making it happen “won’t always be easy and I am sure there will be obstacles.” Mr. Goerner, who served on the Consolidation/Shared Services Commission, said that he “was proud to promote consolidation and see it as a long term benefit for our residents.”

Preparing for a fiscally healthy new municipality was another priority for Mr. Goerner. “Collaboration will also be important as it relates to Borough and Township finances,” he noted. “I have proposed that the two municipalities’ Joint Finance Committee work together to ensure transparency and consistency in both municipal budgets for 2012. There should be no significant disparities in terms of new debt issuance or tax rates. It will build trust between the two communities as we transition to a single one.”

Ms. Nemeth predicted that the Princetons’ successful consolidation “will serve as a model for other communities committed to improving services and providing tax relief.” She anticipated “a more productive relationship with the University,” adding that “we applaud their willingness to contribute to essential services and underwrite a portion of the transition costs of consolidation.”

“I also anticipate that new development will be a lively issue for 2012,” commented Mr. Goerner. “The Institute for Advanced Study has a concept plan for housing right now that I believe strikes the right balance for both preservationists and faculty housing needs.” Princeton University will most likely begin planning for phase one of the Arts and Transit zone, he observed, adding that he looks forward to “being involved in those discussions.”

Two of Princeton’s landmarks — the hospital and the Community Park pool complex — are currently “undergoing major transformations,” Ms. Nemeth said, and she is looking forward to their reopening as “state-of-the-art facilities that will serve our community for many decades.” Other positive initiatives in the coming year, she said, include a study of transportation needs, encouraging the development of affordable housing in the community, and enhancing public safety with fully coordinated emergency services.

“I hope the action in 2012 is positive and not filled with political jostling and theater as we head into 2013,” commented Mr. Goerner. “That may be too optimistic,” he added.

Its graduates go on to perform in some of the most renowned opera houses and concert halls throughout the world. But Westminster Choir College of Rider University lacks an up-to-date performance space of its own. Students take part in recitals, concerts, and workshops at Bristol Chapel, Williamson Hall and The Playhouse, each with its own charms but without the seating capacity and technological capabilities that might be expected of a school of its stature.

A recent $3 million infusion by an alumnus of the College is designed to remedy the situation. The Henry L. Hillman Foundation’s gift to Westminster will help support construction of a $7.5 million new academic and performance building planned for the Princeton campus. The gift brings total funds raised for the project to approximately $4.2 million, leaving $3.3 million still to be raised.

“This is the first new building on the Westminster campus since the Scheide Student Center opened in 1975,” said Westminster Dean Robert L. Annis, in an email. “Its primary function will be to meet the educational needs of today’s students, enabling us to better prepare our students for successful careers in music.”

KSS Architects of Princeton provided the preliminary drawings for the project. The 3,000-square-foot building will house a performance and rehearsal hall, with a large lobby, a “green room” for performers, and other amenities for guests. Three flexibly configured classrooms will be used for a range of academic and choral events. The building, to be designed in the Georgian Revival style of others on the campus, will be located next to The Playhouse, creating a new quadrangle and courtyard that will be a primary outdoor venue for student and alumni events. There will be improved access to The Playhouse, which will be connected.

The Hillman Foundation is located in Pittsburgh. A graduate of Princeton University, Henry L. Hillman was the heir to a steel-and-coke fortune who steered the family firm into real estate and venture capital, according to Forbes Magazine. It is Mr. Hillman’s wife, Elsie Hillman, who is an alumna of Westminster. A philanthropist and community leader in Pittsburgh, she serves on the boards of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and other cultural organizations, and was a member of the Republican National Committee where she encouraged women and minorities to run for office.
The new hall will recognize the HIllman family by naming the College performance portion of the building The Hillman Performing Arts Center. It will be part of Marion Buckelew Cullen Hall, named for the philanthropist who has contributed a planned gift to Westminster and to the overall project.

Westminster Choir College was an outgrowth of the Westminster Choir, which was founded in Dayton, Ohio in 1920. The choir school relocated to Princeton in 1932, and the campus opened in its current location two years later. In 1991, Westminster merged with Rider College in Lawrence Township, which was renamed Rider University. Westminster’s Princeton campus was maintained in the merger.

In 2007, Rider president Mordechai Rozanski announced the creation of the Westminster College of the Arts. A cooperative agreement with the Princeton Regional Schools, engineered by Mr. Annis, allows for up to 40 performances a year in the Regional Performing Arts Center at Princeton High School.

The Hillman Foundation donation is one of the largest in Westminster’s history. The gift is especially meaningful, Mr. Annis said, since Ms. Hillman is a member of the Talbott family, which helped found the College. The Talbott library on campus is named for that family. Over the years, the Hillman family has supported such projects as the Elsie Hilliard Hillman Chair for Artistic Direction, and endowed scholarships and technology.

The University will present concepts for campus development, including the performance hall, to the Regional Planning Board, at a date to be determined.

Princeton Township’s triple-A bond rating, said Chief Financial Officer Kathryn Monzo, will be not be affected by Moody’s Investor’s Service recent downgrading of Ewing Township’s bond services. In a December 23 report that described over-reliance on surplus money, Moody’s cut Ewing’s rating from A1 to A2.

“It will have no bearing on Princeton Township,” said Ms. Monzo, citing the success of a recent bond sale as evidence of the Township’s fiscal strength. “We have our own financial situation and different ways of doing things,” she added. The future looks “stable,” she reported, and consolidation promises to be a fiscal plus.

Moody’s Investors Service is a leading provider of credit ratings, research, and risk analysis. The firm’s ratings and analysis track debt covering more than 110 countries, 12,000 corporate issuers, 25,000 public finance issuers, and 106,000 structured finance obligations. Princeton’s triple-A rating is the highest that Moody ever assigns; its system follows the pattern Aaa, Aa, A, Baa, Ba, B, Caa, Ca. and C. Numerical modifiers 1, 2, and 3 are appended to each generic rating classification from Aa through Caa. Low bond ratings for municipalities usually result in higher interest rates on borrowing or issuing bonds, because the cities are perceived to be at greater risk of default.

Ewing was not the only New Jersey city to be downgraded in Moody’s recent report. Passaic received a similar demotion, going from A2 to A1 based on dwindling amounts of reserve cash. Jackson also went down a notch, from Aa2 to Aa3. The downgrades occurred despite the recent announcement that there would be a new infusion of $139 million in state aid to New Jersey cities. 

Ms. Monzo spoke at last week’s Township Committee meeting, which was noteworthy for its day and time — Wednesday at 10 a.m. — and for its brevity. The three members who were present, Mayor Chad Goerner, Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth, and Bernie Miller, approved a “consent agenda” of items that are typically described as “housekeeping.”

The Township’s reorganization meeting was scheduled for Tuesday evening, January 3, after press time.

December 28, 2011
Chris Christie

Just days after Borough and Township residents voted to consolidate, Governor Chris Christie spoke to a standing room only audience in the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room. He lauded the fiscal prudence of the municipalities’ decision and answered questions about consolidation and other topics (Photo by Anne Levin)

The year 2011 will be remembered as one of hard-fought battles and fraught decision-making about polarizing issues in Princeton. Some of these have been resolved, and some are awaiting resolution. Consolidation has been achieved — the Community Park complex will get a new pool, the school board and the teachers have not resolved their contract dispute, and decisions on the disposition of the Valley Road Building were postponed yet again. Princeton University’s arts and transit project, which involves moving the Dinky station, is almost a certainty. Not one, but two, out-of-control vehicles ended up crashing into buildings; and the verdict is still out on whether or not the Institute for Advanced Study will be able to build new faculty housing on a tract of a land that some claim should be preserved as a historic site. Oh, and there was an earthquake in October.

Consolidation

The breakdown in the consolidation vote was 1,238 for and 828 against in the Borough and 3,542 for and 604 against in the Township. Members of the Joint Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission had put their names to a final version of their report recommending consolidation (see www.cgr.org/princeton), and by unanimously accepting the report Borough Council and Township Committee members ensured that the question of consolidation appeared on the ballot in the November election. Having set the stage, conversations in the coming year will focus on the composition of the “transition team” and the difficulties of turning two municipalities into one.

Recreation Department

The selection of a Myrtha pool for a refurbished Community Park complex on Witherspoon Street came after reassurances about the ability of the municipalities and the Recreation Department to pay for additional costs that have been incurred in the years-long planning process for the pool complex. It was largely agreed that, although a Myrtha pool will cost about $500,000 more than a concrete pool up front, over the years its relatively low maintenance requirements would make the investment worthwhile. Timing was another factor in favor of Myrtha; opting for a concrete pool would probably mean a delayed opening of next year’s pool season, while construction of a Myrtha pool could be accomplished by Memorial Day, 2012. Myrtha pools represent the latest technology in pool construction, using a patented pre-engineered modular system, based on the use of laminated stainless steel panels and a buttress system. In the meantime, the recreation department responded to record-breaking temperatures in July by keeping the pool open extra hours.

On September 14, a sign on the door of the Princeton Recreation Department office that read “New pool project approved. Construction begins 9/12” made the much-discussed, years-long project a reality. The most immediate impact of the construction has been the cordoning off of the first several rows of parking spaces in the municipal parking lots off both Witherspoon Street and Route 206. As a result, the remaining parking spaces are now limited for use by Township employees. The pool complex is scheduled to open on Memorial Day, 2012.

Amid many words of praise, Jack Roberts retired at the beginning of the year as the recreation department’s executive director. Ben Stentz was named executive director and Theodore Ernst became the department’s director of finance and maintenance.

Site plans for the new pool environment are available on the Recreation Department’s website; go to www.princetontwp.org, click on “municipal departments,” and select “Recreation Department.”

Princeton Schools

In April, Borough and Township voters approved the Princeton Regional School’s (PRS) proposed operating budget of $73,830,765 for the 2011-12 academic year. The amount marked a 1.98 percent increase over last year’s budget and, because the budget is supported primarily by local taxes, it made it necessary to raise the tax levy, “even though,” PRS’s website summary of the budget notes, “a conservative budget [was] proposed.” In the Township, the new budget has generated an estimated tax increase of $103. In the Borough, the tax increase will be approximately $98. The average assessed value of homes in the Princetons dropped below the 2010 average, with the average assessed value of a Borough home now at $747,795, and Township homes averaging $827,065. Two School Board members who ran unopposed, Tim Quinn of the Borough and Township resident Dan Haughton, were re-elected to second terms. The Township also elected Afsheen Shamsi, who also ran unopposed, to fill the seat being vacated by retiring three-term Board member Walter Bliss.

In the meantime, the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), under the leadership of Littlebrook second-grade teacher Joann Ryan, and the school board, led by president Rebecca Cox, have continued to share dissimilar views of the status of their negotiations to replace a contract that expired on June 30. While PREA maintains that it is working without a contract, Ms. Cox recently pointed out that teachers are actually enjoying “all the protections and benefits” of the last contract, while foregoing, for now, salary increases.

Valley Road Building

Several days in advance of the August 30 meeting at which the Board of Education was supposed to announce which of two proposals it had chosen for the disposition of the Valley Road Building, the Board announced that it was postponing the decision until the autumn, after a decision on consolidation had been reached. The building is owned by the school district, which occupies offices on the first floor facing Valley Road. The rest of the building has fallen into serious disrepair in recent years, and the district is eager to have a new entity assume responsibility for it. Two competing visions for the future use of the building had been presented to the Board. VRS-ARC is a grassroots effort “to prevent the demolition of the Valley Road School Building in the belief that it has the potential to become a valuable resource for the Princeton community.” The alternative, based on a municipal “Analysis of Fire Department Operations,” would entail razing the older part of the building, now occupied by Corner House counseling center, TV30, and the Affordable Housing Department, and creating a centralized hub for fire and rescue services. If this plan is adopted, the Affordable Housing office would move across the street to the Township’s municipal building; the fates of Corner House and TV30 are less clear. “I do not have a sense of which way the decision will go,” said School Superintendent Judy Wilson at one point. “There’s much deliberation and some information gaps that still need to be addressed.”

Princeton Public Library

Princeton Public Library was among the 262 libraries identified in the November issue of Library Journal as a “star library.” Cartoonist Roz Chast added to the glitter with an appearance at the Friends’ annual fund raiser, and the annual end-of-October book sale set a new record by surpassing sales in 2010. Daily rounds of story-telling to all ages in several languages, after-school tutoring, film series, distinguished speakers, updated technology, and first-rate reference service ensured that the Library’s nickname as “Princeton’s living room” is well-deserved.

Township Government

Chad Goerner and Sue Nemeth were sworn in as mayor and deputy mayor at Township Committee’s reorganization meeting on Sunday, January 2. Mr. Goerner replaced Bernie Miller, who stepped down after serving a two-year term, and Ms. Nemeth took Mr. Goerner’s place as deputy mayor. They were voted into office by their colleagues on Township Committee, including Liz Lempert and Lance Liverman who were re-elected in the November 2010 election. In the spring, the committee approved a $36.6 million budget for the calendar year 2011. The new budget represented a zero percent increase in taxes, and, according to Administrator Jim Pascale, “no reduction in services.” At the time, Citizens’ Finance Advisor Committee (CFAC) chair Scott Sillars noted that 2011 marked the third consecutive year of a flat tax rate, which he described as “good and bad” news. The good news, he said, was the Township’s apparent ability to manage costs; the bad news was the evidence of a soft property market that needs to be watched.

Earthquake!

On August 23, Princetonians experienced what the Earthquake Hazards Program of the United States Geological Survey reported as a magnitude 5.9 earthquake that had occurred at 1:51 p.m. in Virginia. Borough and Township Police said there were no injuries or damage. “You probably shake more when a truck goes by,” someone commented.

Arts and Transit

Early in 2011, Princeton University presented details about its intention to move the Dinky transit station 460 feet south of its current location to make way for construction of an ambitious $300 million arts complex designed by architect Steven Holl. This resulted in an outcry from many members of the public who did not want the station moved, and the University decided to change its plans and look for an alternate site.

But by February, the Borough and Township were pursuing a dialogue with the University about reconsidering a redesign of the originally proposed site at the intersection of Alexander Road and University Place. A plan for rezoning the area was proposed by the University for Arts, Education, and Transit uses (AET), which would allow the construction of the complex. Once New Jersey Transit announced it had no objection to the University’s interest in moving the Dinky, it became evident that the University would relocate the station whether or not their rezoning proposals were approved.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) resulting from closed-door negotiations between the University and the governing bodies was made public in May. It took until October for Borough Council and Township Committee to approve the MOU, which began to clear the way for the University to move the Dinky. At the same time, a lawsuit was filed by members of the citizen group Save the Dinky to halt the move.

Despite widespread reservations from the public and members of the governing bodies about moving the Dinky, Township Committee and Borough Council approved the rezoning ordinances this month. Final approval from the Planning Board is needed for the University to begin putting its plans into action.

Borough

In early May, Borough Council unanimously passed a $25.7 million budget, representing a zero percent tax increase from the previous year. Changes in the budget that were passed prior to the final adoption scaled it back from the initially proposed amount of nearly $26 million.

Borough Mayor, Mildred Trotman announced she would retire after 26 years as an elected official and six years as mayor. That announcement led to a vigorous campaign for the office between Democrat Yina Moore and Republican Jill Jachera, the first of that party to run for Borough mayor in 12 years. Ms. Moore won by approximately 100 votes.

Barbara Trelstad was elected to another term on the Council, and Heather Howard was elected to take the place of David Goldfarb, who is leaving his longtime post on Council at the end of the year.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) announced in October that it will move from its facility on Palmer Square, where only 2,000 of the 11,000 square feet are currently in use. The USPS wants to sell the historic 1934 building and move to a much smaller location in town. A representative of the postal service attended a meeting of Borough Council this month and gave an update and asked for suggestions from the community about where to relocate.

Princeton University

In what may be the most selective admission process in the University’s history, Princeton announced last March that it had accepted 2,282 of the 27,189 students who had applied. On December 15, the University offered admission to 726 students from a pool of 3,443 candidates who applied through single-choice early action for the Class of 2016. This is the first year since 2006 that the University has offered an early application round for those for whom Princeton is first choice.

The University’s endowment earned a 21.9 percent annual return on its investments and was valued at $17.1 billion in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That is up from $14.4 billion in the previous year. Construction on campus included replacement of the Lenz Tennis Center and work on several ongoing projects including the renovation of Jadwin Hall and Firestone Library.

The Class of 2011 celebrated the University’s 264th Commencement at the beginning of June. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the speakers to the 1,202 undergraduate and 815 graduate students in the class.

Hospital

The University Medical Center at Princeton is preparing for its move this coming spring to its new facility located on Route 1 in Plainsboro. The hospital announced in August that AvalonBay Communities, a New Jersey based developer, was under contract to purchase the 9.8-acre property on Witherspoon Street. In November, AvalonBay presented its plans for a 324-unit rental apartment complex to Borough Council. The existing hospital building will be torn down to make way for construction of the complex. The remainder of the property, which includes nine rental homes on Harris Road, a medical office building, and parking garage, will be maintained.

Institute for Advanced Study

A proposal to build faculty housing on property owned by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) ran into strong objections from members of the Princeton Battlefield Society. Two standing-room-only meetings of the Regional Planning Board this month failed to settle the issue. The IAS, which first applied for approval of the project in 2003, wants to build 15 homes behind a buffer zone between existing buildings and the Princeton Battlefield State Park. Those opposed to the development say it would be on land that was the site of General George Washington’s counterattack and the first victory against the British during the American Revolution. The matter will be taken up again by the planning board in January.

The Weather

The howling winds and soaking rains of hurricane Irene resulted in the death of an emergency worker on August 28. The storm caused downed wires, flooded basements, clogged roadways, and a mess for residents and rescue personnel.

Michael Kenwood, a 39-year old computer consultant who volunteered with the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, died in the early hours of August 28 from injuries sustained during an attempted rescue of a person from what turned out to be an empty car that was caught in swiftly moving water. Mr. Kenwood was swept away by the current of Stony Brook on Rosedale road as he tried to reach the stranded vehicle.

An unusual pre-Halloween snowstorm left its mark on local roads, homes and businesses. Since branches still had most of their leaves intact, the four inches of heavy snow caused several trees to fall and many tree limbs to break. Many residents lost power and driving was hazardous. However, Princeton got off relatively easy compared to areas in northern New Jersey where power was out for days and flooding ruined homes.

Development

Discussions continued this year about the East Nassau Street site of the former Olive May and West Coast Video stores. Formerly known as “gasoline alley,” the neighborhood has been the subject of discussions, surveys, and studies. Princeton Future has held special sessions on the area, presenting ideas from architect/planner Jim Constantine and graduate students from Rutgers University.

A proposal to develop the vacant site was submitted to the planning board by a representative of the two families that own the property, which is bisected by a driveway owned by Princeton University. Strong objections from neighborhood residents about the size and scope of the project sent the owners back to the drawing board.

The property owners would like to rezone the area from Service Business to Neighborhood Business. The issue will be taken up by Borough Council in the coming year.

“By far the largest October snowstorm on record clobbered central and northern areas of the state at the end of the month; an event that like several others in 2011 will long be remembered in New Jersey weather and climate annals,” reported New Jersey State Climatologist David A. Robinson in a recent posting on his website, http://climate.rutgers.edu/stateclim.

“Fall 2011 was warm and damp throughout New Jersey and, for several days, quite white in the northern half of the state,” the report continues. “The average temperature for September-November was 58.1 degrees F, which is 2.7 degrees F above average and makes this the fourth warmest fall on record. Temperatures each month were above average, with September (5th) and November (10th) in the top ten going back 117 years… Fall precipitation totaled 14.72”, which is 3.08” above average and ranks as the 18th wettest.”

Mr. Robinson is based at the Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/New Jersey Agricultural Station of Rutgers University. The responsibilities of the office are “to collect and archive climate data, maintain an active research program pertaining to New Jersey climate and, through various outreach programs, provide climate education and information to the citizens of New Jersey.”

Information on the website of The Office the New Jersey State Climatologist gives the lie to the notion of “talking about the weather” as a neutral, time-filling topic of conversation. In addition to summaries of trends going back over 100 years, searchers can choose from among text, digital, “quick,” and graphical up-to-the minute weather forecasts and a weather map of North America that is updated every several hours. Those who are interested can examine radar maps that determine “range and bearing, distance and latitude longitude” (e.g., how far away is that storm?); and color enhanced satellite images for, as an example, analyzing clouds and predicting cold temperatures.

Relevant local, national, and international agencies can also be accessed from the climatologist’s website. Following a link to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration one can learn about current phenomena like air quality, coral bleaching, fire weather, and harmful algal blooms. Close perusal of the El Niño “theme page” promises to turn a novice into an expert on that subject. The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (“because every drop counts”) plots precipitation reports from observers across the state; those interested in participating in this effort are welcomed and offered a chance to sign on.

The New Jersey climatologist offers the big weather picture, as well as more specific local descriptions. For the Princeton area, New Year’s eve revelers may be interested to know that the forecast is for “partly cloudy” weather with lows in the “lower 30s.” It will be “partly sunny” on New Year’s day, and temperatures will be in the “upper 40s.”


After more than two decades of dedicating many of his weeknights to the workings of the Borough of Princeton, David Goldfarb is about to experience a new phenomenon: free time. Borough Council’s reorganization meeting on Tuesday, January 3 will mark Mr. Goldfarb’s last time on the dais. While he will remain involved in selected activities, he is stepping down from the governing body he joined in 1990. His seat will be filled by incoming Council member Heather Howard.

“I’m ready,” Mr. Goldfarb said during an interview last week. “I’m looking forward to finding out just what I want to do. I have limited my commitments and built a lot of leisure time, and I’ll see what comes along.”

Mr. Goldfarb was nine years old when, in 1963, his family moved to a house in Princeton Township at the corner of Balsam Lane and Riverside Drive. “My parents still live in the house I grew up in, near the border of the Borough and the Township,” he said. “So it always seemed kind of odd to me that we had this border in place. When we first moved here, and my brother and I were in public school, the people who lived right across the street from Riverside School couldn’t send their kids there. That changed soon after.”

Mr. Goldfarb became especially familiar with the question of merging the Borough and Township while serving as a member of the Joint Consolidation Study Commission. Residents of the Princetons voted for the measure last November. “I didn’t favor it,” Mr. Goldfarb said. “But it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.”

Despite his determination to take a back seat in local government, Mr. Goldfarb will clearly be watching closely as several issues unfold. He has chaired the Borough’s Finance Committee, has been an active member of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) for many years, was an active volunteer firefighter in Princeton, and is now Borough Fire Commissioner and treasurer of the Princeton Hook & Ladder Company. He has also served on the boards of the Princeton Senior Resource Center and The Jewish Center of Princeton.

Reflecting on the past two decades, Mr. Goldfarb counts his work on regulating the repair and replacement of the many miles of pipes in Princeton’s sewer system among his most important, if unexpected, contributions.

“I came on Council filling the seat of Marvin Reed, who had just been chosen to replace Barbara Sigmund as mayor,” he recalled [Ms. Sigmund died in 1990]. “Marvin had been a member of the Sewer Operating Committee, so this most undesirable position went to the new guy. But I found it to be interesting. If our roads were in the same shape as our sewer pipes had been 21 years ago, people would have been screaming.”

Mr. Goldfarb’s work on the Sewer Operating Committee led to his appointment representing the Borough on the board of the Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority. As a member of that body, he realized that a lot of money was being spent on repairing the extraordinarily leaky Princeton system.

“I became aware that there was a formula in place where a significant reduction in our flow would result in not only saving us money, but getting back money we had invested in the system,” he said. “So it became a challenge to convince others that we had to spend a lot of money, but that it would produce large dividends, and I was able to do that.” Mr. Goldfarb intends to continue his work on these issues. “There is a lot more to be done,” he said.

As a legal assistant at the firm Drinker, Biddle & Reath, LLC, Mr. Goldfarb specializes in trust and estate administration and tax preparation. It is in fiscal matters that he has taken a special interest while on Council, and his colleagues have valued his contributions.

“David has encyclopedic knowledge of the Borough’s finances, he’s fiscally prudent, and his work for the Borough has been to the great advantage of Borough taxpayers,” wrote Roger Martindell in an email. “He’s shared responsibility for the Borough’s Finance Committee with me for his entire 21 years with the Borough, and I’ll miss his quick mind, insight, and wisdom in protecting the interests of our taxpayers.”

Mr. Reed, who is currently a member of the Regional Planning Board, concurs. “If you talk with David Goldfarb about any two numbers, you’d better make sure they add up to the total you claim,” he wrote. “He’ll catch you every time they don’t. In all my years as mayor in the Borough, David was our stickler for accuracy. That was especially true when we worked on the reconstruction of the library, the Spring Street garage, and the mixed-use development that went with it. With David, it wasn’t a question of how many spaces you might need. David zeroed in on whether they paid their own way. Once convinced that they did, you could not ask for a stronger advocate for innovation.”

Adds Council member Barbara Trelstad, “I have enjoyed working with David in my years on Borough Council. David is true to his convictions and will be missed. His memory of Borough issues is encyclopedic.”

Another issue that rates high among Mr. Goldfarb’s concerns is excessive drinking among Princeton University students at the eating clubs along Prospect Street. He brought the matter up at last week’s Borough Council meeting, calling it “the single most significant unsolved problem” facing the Borough.

“The answer doesn’t come from the police, the University, or the mayor and Council,” he said. “It has to be a truly collaborative effort. The students at Princeton University are amenable to behavioral changes. We can deal with them. We have to be a model for other college and university towns.”

In a later interview about the behavior that frequently results from excessive drinking at the eating clubs on Thursday and Saturday nights, Mr. Goldfarb, who lives nearby on Charlton Street, added, “If this was happening on Nassau Street, people would be outraged. There have been sexual assaults associated with this, and all kinds of vandalism. It’s behavior that can’t be tolerated. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect people to behave in ways that don’t have these kinds of consequences on others. I have two concerns: one is that the excessive drinking is dangerous to the drinkers. The other is that there are real consequences to others.”

Since Drinker, Biddle & Reath represents the University, Mr. Goldfarb has had to recuse himself from the many Borough Council discussions of the proposed arts and transit complex and the moving of the Dinky to a site 460 feet south of its present location. But he has opinions on the subject.

“Through much of my time on Council, the University felt this strong obligation to get a sense from the community as to how it should proceed on this issue,” he said. “For whatever reason, the University has been completely insensitive to the desire that the Dinky should not be moved.”

Mr. Goldfarb still holds out hope that the University will reconsider, “leaving the Dinky where it is and improving the access and frequency of service. “I’m not optimistic that they will reconsider, but I retain some hope that it might happen, or at the very least that they would move ahead with their arts project without moving the Dinky and then see if having the Dinky here interferes with their plan,” he said. “Most of us who look at this issue think there is no reason why it can’t remain. It might not be ideal from the University’s perspective, but you can’t always get what you want.”

As Mr. Goldfarb’s 21-years on Council comes to an end, colleague Jenny Crumiller reflected on his contributions and his personal, sometimes argumentative style. “David is very direct and he usually has a well-informed opinion and this can lead to vehement debate, she wrote in an email. “But it’s always respectful and in the end, no matter the disagreement, he’s always the same friendly David. This has made him a pleasure to work with and I’ll miss him greatly. He understands the sometimes arcane minutiae of Borough affairs like no other. His knowledge is invaluable. David’s leaving is a major loss for Princeton residents.”

Council member Jo Butler found Mr. Goldfarb especially helpful in her first year of service. “As the newest member of Borough Council, I have been extremely grateful for David’s willingness to mentor and share information,” she wrote in an email. “I don’t think people fully appreciate how much the Council, the administration, and the community will miss his institutional memory. Whether it is the Finance Committee or the Sewer Operating Committee, David has the expertise, experience, and knowledge to ensure that the best possible decisions are being made for our community. I have found David to be forthright, principled, and a person of character. David is always true to his values, but he is respectful of a well-reasoned argument on the other side. He has been enormously helpful, gracious, and generous with his time as I navigated a challenging year on Council. I will certainly miss him, and I hope he will still take my phone calls!”

Ending her own term as mayor of Princeton Borough, Mildred Trotman has been a colleague of Mr. Goldfarb for many years.

“I had the opportunity to have David as my running mate five times between 1993 and 2005 and don’t think we could have made a better team, for a host of reasons,” she wrote in an email. “While we do contrast in some ways, the end result we were always looking for was the same — what is best for Princeton. We have not always come down on the same side of issues, but David has always, without doubt, worked to achieve the best result possible regardless of his personal conviction, and I admire and respect him for that. He has been an invaluable leader in the area of finance while representing Princeton Borough. On a personal note, I have never reached out to David for help in whatever way needed where he did not favorably respond and I appreciate that. I wish him all the best.”


December 21, 2011

At a meeting of Borough Council last week, representatives of the Princeton Housing Authority (HABOP) defended a controversial contract for that agency’s acting executive director. This week, Council member Roger Martindell issued a statement calling for an official look into the matter as well as into the agency’s general administrative practices.

Scott Parsons was rehired as HABOP’s acting executive director last fall after he resigned as its executive director to take an administrative post at the Lakewood Housing Authority. It is his $65,000 salary, reportedly for 10 hours of work a week, that prompted Mr. Martindell to say in a written statement, “It’s exactly the kind of sweetheart deal that Governor Christie has effectively campaigned against, and it’s a blemish on HABOP’s distinguished record in providing low-cost housing to Princeton residents.”

Mr. Martindell has written to New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs asking for an investigation into how HABOP is run. In a discussion of the housing authority during the Council meeting December 13, director Leighton Newlin and board member Toby Levy answered questions about the hiring, which was reported on the Planet Princeton website that day in a story about the housing authority’s failure to properly provide a sunshine notice of the two meetings where the contract with the Lakewood Housing Authority was approved.

Lakewood Housing Authority supplies management services for HABOP under a three-month old, shared services agreement. Other housing authorities also use shared services agreements, according to Mr. Newlin.

According to Mr. Martindell, Mr. Parsons was making $87,500 a year, with benefits of an additional $31,964, when he left the housing authority last September. “Presumably, Mr. Parsons was working 40 hours per week, for total compensation valued at $57 per hour,” Mr. Martindell said. “Now he’s making $65,000 per year for 10 hours per week, or $125 per hour. That’s more than a doubling of his rate of compensation when he’s devoting a quarter of the time that he used to devote to HABOP business. How can that be reasonable?”

Councilman David Goldfarb commented during the meeting that he wasn’t sure Council members should be criticizing the shared services contract and Parsons’ salary. The $65,000 flat fee, he said, is a unique arrangement. “I’m not making any judgment on this matter, but I would point out that Scott’s salary is not the total cost for HABOP,” he said. “You have benefits, liability, plus the fact that you can’t terminate him at will … if you are talking about comparisons, you need to compare apples with apples and oranges with oranges and make sure you get your comparisons correct.”

The housing authority was founded in 1938 and currently manages more than 230 units for low-income residents in the Borough and Township. At the meeting, Mr. Newlin said there are currently 208 applicants on a waiting list for housing, which he stressed is “low-income” rather than “affordable.” Median income for clients is approximately $20,000 per year, he said. “The people we serve have never been more at risk than they are now.”

Mr. Martindell suggested at the meeting that HABOP obtain legal assistance “as soon as possible” since they did not observe the sunshine law before the rehiring of Mr. Parsons. The contract for the shared services agreement with Lakewood was approved at the September 26 meeting of Borough Council. The Sunshine Law requires that notice of a meeting date be made 48 hours prior to the session, except for closed or executive sesssions.

When Mr. Martindell and Council member Jenny Crumiller advised them to seek a full-time executive director, Mr. Newlin and Mr. Levy countered that a full-time director would cost more than the arrangement currently in place.

“Scott is not just the executive director,” Mr. Newlin said. “He is a certified public accountant and a very unique individual. A big part of his obligations include the financial stability of the housing authority. If we hired someone else full time, we’d also have to hire someone extra to take on the financial aspects. That means we are saving an additional $60,000.”

Asked how Mr. Parsons could continue doing his former HABOP job full time while also working a full schedule at Lakewood, Mr. Israel replied, “We feel it works very well. The great thing about this arrangement is, if we feel it doesn’t work, we can cancel it in 90 days. Right now, it works.”

Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman advised Mr. Newlin and Mr. Levy to inform the Princeton Housing Authority board of the Council members’ concerns, and then return to Council at a future date and “address the concerns so they can be documented.”

A call to Mr. Newlin was not returned by press time.

Although the Princeton Regional School District (PRS) and teachers in the system have been described as “being close to an agreement” on a new contract in the months since the previous contract ended on June 30, that goal remains elusive. At last week’s Board of Education meeting, comments by Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) president Joann Ryan and other PREA members were deemed inconsistent with the evening’s agenda and out of order.
“Anyone attending the Board meeting on December 13 witnessed first-hand, the disrespectful treatment by Board of Education (BOE) President Rebecca Cox, as she attempted to quash comments from members having to do with negotiations claiming that it was not an agenda item,” said Ms. Ryan early this week. “The BOE President clearly commented on negotiations during item D of the agenda, the President’s Report,” she continued. “For her to try to shut down further discussions of negotiations by claiming it was not an agenda item, when she commented on negotiations during the President’s Report was disingenuous and disrespectful to the PREA membership.”
Teachers’ comments to the contrary, however, School Board President Rebecca Cox has asserted that “Teachers who are working with expired contracts are NOT working ‘without’ one.”
In a PRS statement released after the meeting last week, Ms. Cox pointed out that “Union members still have all of the protections and benefits of the expired contract,” noting, however, that “salaries have to remain at last years’ level until a new contract is ratified, and starting July 1, health-care contributions had to comply with new state law.”
Teachers came to last week’s meeting bearing signs like “Princeton Teachers Want to Settle Now.” “The PREA leadership is frustrated,” said Ms. Ryan on Tuesday evening. “We have heard the Board say publicly that they want to settle our contract and yet behind closed doors, there is no evidence of that fact. Instead of working collaboratively on a solution that is acceptable to both parties, the Board is demonstrating a disrespectful attitude toward our negotiations team and our entire membership.”
Ms. Cox’s statement emphasized the “new environment” in which school boards, teachers and community members now find themselves. The last time a contract was negotiated was in 2008, before the economy crashed, she noted. “The unemployment rate is still high, the economic recovery is fragile, and the state government continues to make major decisions that impact New Jersey’s school districts, sometimes in negative ways.”
“A lot of these changes are directly affecting our district,” continued Ms Cox. “Three years ago, the cap on the property-tax levy was twice as high, health-care contributions were lower, and raises statewide were double what they are today. Now we are in a new fiscal reality in the state, in the nation, and in the world. The state tax-levy cap is now 2 percent and recent settlements around the state reflect that. In contrast, three years ago the cap was 4 percent, and the settlement rate was about 4.5 percent.”
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Ms. Ryan. Quoting Superintendent Judy Wilson as having recently said that “‘We know that children’s levels of comfort, confidence, and trust matter every bit as much as academic achievement and excellent instruction,’” Ms. Ryan wondered about what “happens when trust and confidence in district leadership are lost? What happens to that ‘excellent education?’”
In the meantime, PREA members have begun daily after-school demonstrations on the sidewalk near the Valley Road Building, where the PRS administration is housed. “We want to make sure that we’re not forgotten,” said Littlebrook science teacher Martha Friend on Monday. Ms. Friend noted that groups of about 25 teachers from all the district schools would be taking turns each afternoon, excluding pre-holiday Fridays.
In the midst of contentiousness, both teachers and the district have expressed interest in working together. “PREA and the Board of Education should be partners, supporting this district of excellent teaching and learning for all our students,” said Ms. Ryan in her comments at last week’s meeting. “This is about all of us working together to reach a resolution,” Ms. Cox similarly observed in her press release. “We are ready with our proposals and looking forward to our next mediation session on January 5.”

December 20, 2011

Princeton University has upped its annual voluntary contribution to the Township by five percent, reported Mayor Chad Goerner on Monday. Along with a $250,000 contribution earmarked for helping with consolidation, the total amount of the University’s contribution this year will be $775,000.

“Having a professional relationship really does achieve results,” said Mr. Goerner to an audience that included University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee, and Director of Community and Regional Affairs. Kristin Appleget.

Describing another “important step toward consolidating the community,” Township Committeeman Bernie Miller reported that as a result of three recent meetings of the Board of Elections for Redistricting for Princeton Voters, there is a new election district map that acknowledges existing neighborhoods, instead of cutting through them. “All undergraduate students are in one election district,” said Mr. Miller, referring to the arbitrary lines that characterized the old map.

Consolidation also figured in Chief Finance Officer Kathryn Monzo’s report on an “excellent” recent bond sale in which Princeton Township’s “Triple A rating” was reaffirmed, signaling a “stable outlook for transition.”

Referring to “a trying time,” Public Works Superintendent Don Hansen promised that leaf and brush collection in the Township “will be done by December 31.” Mr. Hansen acknowledged the work of Chris Torres, who was present at the meeting, along with other members of the Public Works Department who “went beyond what they had to do” and put in many hours on the brush and leaf pick-up. “Residents didn’t realize the magnitude of the undertaking,” observed Mr. Goerner; some 350 truckloads of brush and leaf have already been picked up. Mr. Miller acknowledged the presence in the audience of Borough Council member Roger Martindell and expressed the Township’s thanks to the Borough for its assistance in brush and leaf collection.

“Now we go into snow removal and repairing trucks,” said Mr. Hansen, describing the importance of up-to-date vehicles in good repair for “getting the job done.” Dates and times for Christmas tree -pick-up, he said, will be posted at the Township’s website in the coming days.

Member Liz Lempert asked Township Committee to respond to the recent news, broken by Planet Princeton’s Krystal Knapp, that Princeton Housing Authority executive director Scott Parsons had resigned from that position and assumed a job with the Lakewood Housing Authority in Ocean County, only to be rehired by the Housing Authority at a salary of $65,000 (three-fourths of his original salary) for ten hours a week. Ms. Lempert noted that although Mr. Parsons’ salary was not coming out of local property taxes, it was still a matter “of concern to the community.” She suggested that there be a Township Committee member on the housing board, and it was agreed that the quality of service be monitored at Redding Circle, an affordable housing development that is in the Township but is administered by the Borough.

Facebook photos offer evidence of the speed with which the new Community Park Pool complex is being reconstructed, said Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth. She described last week’s Communities of Light display, when luminaries were lit all around Princeton, as “a wonderful event.” The terrific attendance at a recent holiday party at the Princeton Senior Resource Center was, she said, “ a testament to the work that the center does.”

It was agreed that there would be an end-of-year event to wish the Township “godspeed” as it ends its township days and consolidates with the Borough.

Describing their contributions and special strengths during this past year, Mr. Goerner lauded Township Committee members and presented each with a set of chopsticks from his recent trip to China.


December 14, 2011

The future of Princeton Borough’s post office was among the items to be discussed at last night’s meeting [Tuesday, December 13] of Princeton Borough Council. A representative was to be on hand to update residents on the status of the Palmer Square station and answer questions about where a new, smaller post office will be located.

“We have an obligation do do what we call ‘community contact’ whenever we propose or consider these types of modifications,” said Ray Daiutolo, Postal Service spokesman, last week. “The representative will explain our plan. Our desire is to sell the location. If we’re successful in doing that, we will relocate the retail operation from that location to another smaller location close to where that is. Basically, it’s not taking away service. We just want to move it.”

The Postal Service announced last October that it planned to sell the Palmer Square station, which was built in 1934. The building is assessed at $1.9 million. Less than 2,000 of its 11,000 square feet is currently in operation. Carriers were shifted earlier this year to the post office at Carnegie Center, and some services previously offered at the Palmer Square location are now handled by the West Windsor station.

A national brokerage firm is representing the Postal Service in the sale. “We will do a public call to offers, and once we get to that point, it will go on the market just like any other building,” Mr. Daiutolo said. “I understand there will be extra due diligence because of its historical factor.”

One wall of the Palmer Square building is painted with a mural, America Under the Palms, by artist Karl Free. In recent years, Princeton University students have been known to protest outside the post office, claiming the subject matter depicting Native Americans cowering in the presence of European settlers is discriminatory. The artist was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department to create the mural, which includes a rendering of Princeton University’s Nassau Hall.

Mr. Daiutolo said the representative would listen to suggestions from the public about where to relocate the station. “That’s part of the process,” he said. “We will even work with the local officials as to what potential areas to go to, what will offer the best parking, that kind of thing. We want to do something mutually beneficial for everybody.”

While he declined to name parties interested in the building, Mr. Daiutolo said there have been inquiries. “I’m thinking that based on the amount of feedback we’ve gotten from potential buyers, if and when we are able to get it on the market, I don’t foresee it taking long,” he said.

After another lengthy session taken up by extensive cross-examination of expert witnesses, the Regional Planning Board did not make a decision on the fate of the faculty housing project proposed by the Institute of Advanced Study. The next hearing on the plan, which is being challenged by the Princeton Battlefield Society, is scheduled for January 26, 2012.

The meeting last Thursday was the second that the Planning Board devoted almost exclusively to the subject, and it again drew a capacity crowd of supporters from both sides. The 15 homes would be built behind a buffer zone on land that the Institute owns between its existing buildings and Princeton Battlefield State Park. Those opposed to the development say the land should not be disturbed because it was the site of General George Washington’s counterattack and first victory against the British during the Battle of Princeton in 1777.

Bruce Afran, lawyer for the Battlefield Society and several individuals against the plan, questioned American Revolution historian Robert Selig as to whether the Institute land was pivotal in the Battle of Princeton. Mr. Selig cited several studies and said that the land was key in the struggle. Attorney Christopher Tarr, representing the Institute, asked historian Mark Peterson, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in the Colonial period, for his assessment. Mr. Peterson questioned the validity of the main report from which opponents of the plan draw their information.

It was Princeton University emeritus professor of history James McPherson who suggested a compromise on the ongoing issue. Mr. McPherson, whose own field of specialization is the Civil War, said that Congressman Rush Holt had arranged for Mr. McPherson and fellow historian David Hackett Fischer to meet with Institute director Peter Goddard to try and amend the plan. “We saw ourselves as mediators between these two honorable, desirable goals,” he said.

The meeting touched on several possibilities including moving the site to another location on the Institute property. But wetlands and drainage problems made that an impossibility, Mr. McPherson reported.

The revised proposal that they did come up with was presented to the Planning Board toward the end of the meeting, by architect J. Robert Hillier [a Town Topics shareholder]. The modifications would include reducing the size of one house lot to preserve more space, moving the tree line screening the houses from the west side of Battlefield Park to the east side, providing public access to the buffer zone, and building a path through the Institute property with interpretive signage commemorating the Battle of Princeton. “This is a feasible compromise that will allow both parties to go forward,” Mr. McPherson said.

Mr. McPherson commented that he shares the concerns of the Battlefield Society. “We’re not talking about something unimportant or marginal here,” he said. Asked by Mr. Afran whether he thinks the faculty housing development is a good idea, Mr. McPherson said, “If I had my way, it would not be done.” But his role, he added, was to come up with a compromise.

The Institute seeks to build the cul-de-sac of eight townhouses and seven single-family homes because faculty members cannot afford the high prices of houses in the area. Being within walking distance of the campus is highly desirable to Institute scholars, only about 28 percent of whom currently reside in that radius.


After five years of debate over the fate of the Dinky train station, Princeton Borough Council last week passed an ordinance that will allow Princeton University to proceed with plans for a $300 million arts and transit neighborhood. Should the measure receive final approval from the Regional Planning Board, the University will move the terminus 460 feet to the south as part of the plan.

The Council voted 3-2 to approve the measure at its December 6 meeting. Voting for the proposal were Kevin Wilkes, Barbara Trelstad, and Roger Martindell, while Jo Butler and Jenny Crumiller voted against it and David Goldfarb recused himself because of his affiliation with the law firm representing the University. The ordinance had been previously approved by Township Committee for the section of the parcel located in the Township.

Several community residents offered their views during the public comment segment of the meeting. The plan was called “ludicrous” by Princeton professor and planning expert Alan Kornhauser. “People have worked hard to find a win-win over the last five years,” he said. “It is amazing that this project basically hasn’t changed from the University’s perspective in five years. The University has found a way to say no to all the suggestions.”

Borough resident and historian Clifford Zink said moving the Dinky would be “really bad urban planning,” adding that the zoning would have been passed years ago if the move were not part of the plan. Taking the station from its present location on the street to a site off the public road is a bad idea, he said. “You are certainly going to diminish the experience and diminish our town, losing this transit center we’ve had for a hundred years.”

Kip Cherry, Township resident and professional planner, urged Council to vote against the ordinance and said the University’s claim that it has a right to move the station should be challenged.

Speaking in favor of the ordinance, Arts Council of Princeton director Jeff Nathanson said the project “would fulfill the promise of Princeton being a cultural destination. It would be a whole new ball game for us.” David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management; Melanie Clarke, executive director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra; Raoul Momo, local restaurant owner; Joann Mitchell, President of the Board of McCarter Theatre; and Dorothea von Moltke, owner of Labyrinth Books, were among those who voiced support for the plan.

Also in favor was Lori Rabon, general manager of the Nassau Inn and a member of the board of directors for the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Rabon read a letter in support of the project signed by Chamber head J. Robert Hillier, [a Town Topics shareholder]. “For the first time in 51 years, we are going to take a position in favor of the University,” she said of the letter, which cited the plan’s economic benefits for the region.

While the Council members who voted to approve the ordinance are in favor of plans for the arts complex, their decisions seemed motivated more by the idea of moving forward than enthusiastic endorsement. None were in favor of moving the Dinky station.

“It’s bad public policy to move the Dinky in terms of global warming, transit policy, development, and community relations,” said Mr. Martindell. “That said, we have to play the hand we were dealt.” Mr. Martindell added that while discussion and healthy discourse can be a good thing, the time has come to take action. “It makes sense to move forward because of the benefits of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which includes improvements to transportation,” he said, referring to the agreement signed by the University, the Township, and the Borough. “We have the ability to work with the largest single stakeholder in the town, and to have good relations with the State, New Jersey Transit, and Princeton Township.”

Mr. Wilkes said he and Borough Engineer Jack West had met with New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson and New Jersey Transit director James Weinstein that morning. They assured him, he said, that they intend to support the continuation of the Dinky and the possible long-term transit goals that are mentioned in the MOU. He is trusting the University to keep its word about “staying at the table” through studies of transit issues.

“It’s a shame that it took five years for us to get to this night, but a lot of hard work had to be done to get the issues resolved,” he said. “The issue of the train, larger resentments that had built up over time, the issue of the growth of downtown, issues related to university expansion — it has taken a while to paddle through the complexity of issues. While we may not have arrived at a solution that is ideal for everyone, we have arrived at a point where we can advance and move forward.”

Ms. Butler said that while she supports the arts, she has issues with the University, specifically that they have not negotiated a new voluntary payment (PILOT) agreement with the Borough. “Rather than working together, the University will be rewarded for their bad behavior,” she said.

Ms. Crumiller said that by approving the ordinance, they “would be making the biggest public policy mistake ever made by the Borough Council.” The University’s assertion that it will not build the arts project unless it can move the Dinky is “holding the arts hostage to the Dinky. It’s a calculated strategy to divide and conquer.”

The fact that people will have to walk further from town to reach the relocated terminus and negotiate stairs up a steep incline will discourage people from using the train, she added. Instead of being located on the road, the new station would be behind buildings, “like a strip mall.” She also questioned projections by University representatives that attendance at McCarter Theatre will increase under the plan.

November 30, 2011

At its meeting last Tuesday, November 22, Princeton Borough Council was questioned repeatedly about why a proposed zoning change to the former Wild Oats Market and West Coast Video sites on east Nassau Street had not been discussed, as originally promised, at its previous meeting.

The complaints came from Linda Fahmie of ROI Renovations, who represents the families that own the two properties. Council members had agreed at their September 13 meeting that the proposed change, which would move eight properties zoned service business (SB) into a neighborhood business (NB) zone, would be part of a discussion at an October meeting. But that discussion did not take place.

“Now, we are here to discuss it, and everyone is on vacation and no one has been notified,” Ms. Fahmie said. “We only got notice at the end of last week, and it’s two days before a holiday.”

Councilman David Goldfarb expressed his concerns as well, saying the omission was “not the right way to do the public’s business.” Since Council had voted to have the public discussion on the October agenda, he expected it to be held at that time. “But somebody somewhere made the decision to ignore the clearly expressed will of the council, and I have very great concerns about that,” he added.

Borough administrator Robert Bruschi explained that the Borough staff had worked on an ordinance concerning the proposed rezoning, in addition to a large workload. “We were trying to work with the neighbors,” he said. “The presentation tonight is a supplement to the dialogue we have had.” Since Council had only heard from those in favor of the proposal, he added, it wouldn’t be fair to present an ordinance before others had an opportunity to speak. “This is a step in the process.”

The Wild Oats and West Coast Video properties are located at 255 and 259 Nassau Street. Princeton University owns the driveway separating the two sites, which are in the neighborhood known as Gasoline Alley. The area has been the subject of studies and presentations by Princeton Future, including one held last August at the Chestnut Street firehouse. Jim Constantine, who gave that original presentation, spoke again at the Council meeting about visions for the neighborhood compiled after a year of discussions and polling of area residents.

“People think of this part of Nassau Street as a kind of Village High Street,” he said. “But they don’t want it to be part of downtown. They like the diversity.” The area is a place where there is a true “town and gown” relationship, he said, where Princeton University faculty and graduate students intermingle with members of the community.

Mr. Constantine projected images of how the area along Nassau Street could look, focusing on a concept known as shared space. Adjacent properties would use the same paving patterns, a practice that is followed in Petoranello, Italy, Princeton’s sister city.

The survey of neighborhood residents showed that restaurants, a market similar to Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal, and a supermarket were the most desirable tenants for the Wild Oats and West Coast Video spaces. Least appealing would be a laundromat, fast food restaurant, or bank.

Ms. Fahmie commented that banks are “triple A tenants,” while restaurants are among the riskiest potential occupants. Mr. Goldfarb said he thought a bank would be a reasonable tenant for the site. “Banks can be attractive,” he said. “There is no reason why a bank wouldn’t be a good use there.” Both Ms. Fahmie and Mr. Goldfarb questioned how the survey was conducted and who responded.

Planning Director Lee Solow commented that having spoken to residents of the area, he believes a bank is undesirable because it doesn’t add much to the streetscape. “They’d like to see a lively area,” he said.

Council member Jo Butler said that by not doing what they agreed to do, Council has cost businesses in the Nassau east area money. “We’ve set them back a long way,” she said. “We’re going to have a lot on the agenda in January. It’s not like we are going to be a whole lot less busy next year. And we haven’t even begun the conversation with the business owners. It’s unfortunate.”

If the discussion is not put on the Council’s and Planning Board’s December agenda, property owners will have to start the process over with the two groups.

Palmer Square Christmas Tree Lighting

Palmer Square Christmas Tree Lighting

As the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) prepares to appear before the Princeton Regional Planning Board this week with a proposal for its 7.3-acre residential project, the Princeton Battlefield Society has armed itself with a statement denouncing the plan because they say it encroaches on the historic site of a pivotal battle in the American Revolution.

The land, which is owned by the IAS, lies between the Institute and the Battlefield State Park. The Institute wants to build 15 houses for faculty on the site comprised of seven single units and eight townhouses. The project was first proposed to the Planning Board in 2003, but was rejected at the time because of a disagreement over the size of a buffer zone between the houses and the park.

The revised plans include a 200-foot buffer zone with a dense row of hedges between the houses and the park. The single family homes would be closest to the battlefield. A retention basin would be placed between the houses and the buffer zone. The development would be on a single street with a cul-de-sac.

Representatives of the Institute will appear before the Planning Board Thursday, December 1 with their architects, engineers, and others involved with the project to try and win approval for the residential development. The Institute has owned the land since the 1930s.

Preservationists say that this site is where the “counterattack” that decided the Battle of Princeton was fought, and they claim to have the archaeological evidence to prove it.

“Certainly the site of the counterattack is hallowed ground,” reads a statement prepared by Battlefield Society member Kip Cherry. “Both American and British soldiers died in the counterattack. This was not a skirmish. It was the heart of the Battle of Princeton. And certainly following the counterattack there were skirmishes as the Continental Army moved north to avoid the British Army, which was returning to Princeton at a fast march.”

The Battlefield Society bases its claims on a Federal study prepared by Milner Associates of Philadelphia. The IAS maintains that the project sits entirely outside and to the east of the buffer zone, and also cites their own studies contradicting the Milner firm’s findings.

Those opposed to the project say it will change the topography of the land. “The site will be regraded to create a plateau, which at one end will be 10-11 feet above the current grade of the site,” reads Ms. Cherry’s statement. “This will dramatically change the ability for Americans to understand and interpret how the battle progressed and the difficulties in winning this battle, the first won against professional British soldiers.”

In a recent Town Topics interview, Institute director Peter Goddard cited the organization’s long-standing consideration for its “environment and historical context” as a positive precedent for the proposed development. But Battlefield Society members feel it is not enough.

“We fully realize that in 1992 there was a legal settlement that ultimately involved the payment of $14 million to the Institute and provided protection for the Institute Woods,” their statement reads. “Nevertheless, the Princeton Regional Planning Board is required to consider the site’s historical resources and features and determining whether future development of this site is appropriate under the Master Plan.”

The Institute says it needs new housing to serve its permanent and guest faculty, only 28 percent of whom currently live in the surrounding neighborhood. Rising home costs have made it difficult to find affordable housing. Several years ago, 66 percent of the faculty lived near the campus.

The statement from the Battlefield Society concludes, “We would like to see the property put into the public domain. Just as eminent domain was considered in creating the Park, it might be reasonable again to seriously think about using eminent domain to preserve this property for the American people. It is our hope, still, that as a great educational institution, that the IAS should respect the historical facts and realize that it should preserve the property as it is now.”

It’s not the most ennobling time of the year. People eat themselves silly on Thursday, then shop until they drop on Friday. (And for some, “Friday” can actually mean a 12:01 a.m. dash to the nearest mall.)

The Saturday after Thanksgiving has been somewhat dignified with the creation, by American Express, of “Small Business Saturday.” Now in its second year, the day’s directive to “shop small” by patronizing independent area businesses was endorsed locally by both the Princeton Merchants Association and the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.

A Sunday treat, courtesy of the Borough in collaboration with the Princeton Merchants Association, was the appearance of “Free Holiday Parking” bags over Borough meters. “The Borough works very nicely with us,” reported Anita Fresolone, Marketing Director of Palmer Square Associates and Merchants Association Vice President. In addition to free parking every Sunday through Christmas, Ms. Fresolone said, the Borough had kindly donated the time of public works employees to hang the festive wreaths around Palmer Square. Describing efforts to make shoppers aware of Small Business Saturday in Princeton, she noted that “our independents are our gems.”

So how did Princeton Merchants fare over Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/free parking Sunday?

While the spring-like weather drew lots of people outdoors, it was not, however, a particular boon to a store that sells “The World’s Most Beautiful Woolens.”

“It’s been a very nice fall; it would be nicer if it got a little colder,” said Landau co-owner Henry Landau. He reported, though, that business is brisker than it was last year, with lots of coats, hats, and scarves being sold, along with the “logo” items that students like to take home. Mr. Landau also did his share on Sunday by bagging the meters with “free parking” notices along the store’s Nassau Street block.

“The Square was certainly filled,” reported Palmer Square Management Vice-President David Newton. Although he had not yet received the weekend’s reports, he thought that “it looked like things were going well. We heard some nice stories, with people saying that there’s a lot of activity.” The Palmer Square Christmas tree lighting drew some 5,000 people, he said.

“There was an enormous amount of spending restraint in September and October,” added Mr. Newton. “We’re coming off the back of a couple of very, very tough years; the retailers deserve an uplift.” One source of encouragement for Palmer Square, he noted, is the “big interest” that has been shown for rental units in the Palmer Square Residences.

Economics also apparently affect eating styles. Although he said that “things are picking up,” The Little Chef Bakery owner Edwige Fils-Aimé said that it still isn’t “like it used to be” when he first came to Princeton ten years ago. Food lovers and anthropologists observing indigenous eating patterns, may be interested in Mr. Fils-Aimé’s report that another difference from the past is people’s current preference for cakes, rather than the traditional pies of the season.