June 25, 2014

In an email message to Town Topics, IAS spokesperson Christine Ferrara announced that the Institute for Advanced Study is planning an archeological survey at the site where it hopes to build faculty housing.

The announcement came one week after the Princeton Planning Board postponed a public hearing on the Institute’s plans that was to have been held Thursday, June 19.

When Municipal Planning Director Lee O. Solow, who plays a key role in briefing the Board, was unexpectedly absent on medical grounds, the hearing was taken off the agenda.

Ms. Ferrara provided the following statement: “The Institute for Advanced Study’s plans for Faculty housing were unanimously approved by the Princeton Planning Board in March 2012. The Institute agreed to conduct an archeological survey of the project area before construction commenced. The Institute is initiating this work so that the project can proceed once it receives approval on the amended plan, which is currently scheduled to go before the Planning Board on September 18.”

The statement continues: “The Institute has engaged the Ottery Group, a leading cultural resource management and consulting firm, to provide the archeological services. Fieldwork is expected to take place over the summer, after which the data and any artifacts found will be processed and catalogued. Following completion of the archeological work, all artifacts and associated records will be permanently transferred to the New Jersey State Museum, as promised in 2012 by the Institute.”

Meanwhile litigation intended to overturn the Planning Board’s original approval of the Institute’s building plans is pending in the Appellate Court of New Jersey.

After the Planning Board’s 2012 approval of the Institute’s plans to build a group of faculty townhomes and single-family residences on its property adjacent to Princeton Battlefield State Park, the Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, known for short as The Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), filed suit to overturn the Board’s ruling. When Judge Mary Jacobson threw out their suit last June, attorney Bruce Afran filed an appeal with the Appellate Court of New Jersey in July on behalf of the Society.

At that time, Battlefield Society President Jerry Hurwitz expressed the hope that a very different decision would be reached by the Appellate Court. “We were unlucky with Judge Jacobson,” he said: “With a different judge it may have gone our way. This time we will be able to critique her opinion and show its weaknesses as well as represent our case all over again.”

Mr. Afran has criticized Ms. Jacobson’s opinions and suggested that she made “some mistakes of law and did not address some important issues” such as the impact the Institute’s plans would have on neighboring sites.

The Institute’s long-standing plans for faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu). For more on the Princeton Battlefield Sociey, visit: theprincetonbattlefieldsociety.com.

 

June 18, 2014

The late afternoon sun was beating down on a crowd of athletes outside Princeton University’s DeNunzio Pool and Weaver Stadium on Monday, but nobody seemed to mind. Having just completed Day One of the Special Olympics USA Games, these competitors were pumped.

“It’s fun. I love it,” said William Quinn of the Pennsylvania delegation, the second largest group of athletes after New Jersey. Having competed in the pentathlon 400 and long jump, the 32-year-old was feeling good. So was teammate Tamika Newkirk, a competitor in shot put, long jump, and the 100-meter run. “When I run, I stay focused and everything is a whole lot easier for me,” said Ms. Newkirk, who is 42. “I have wonderful coaches. They love me so much. It’s a good thing.”

New Jersey’s hosting of this national event follows four years of careful planning by Special Olympics New Jersey, which is headquartered in Lawrence Township. The games showcase the athletic abilities of people with intellectual disabilities and celebrate the Special Olympics movement, which promotes acceptance and inclusion through sports. A group of 52 people ran down Nassau Street Saturday to open the games as part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

Athletes are being hosted at venues including Princeton and Rider universities, the College of New Jersey (TCNJ), the Lawrenceville School, Hun School, Peddie School, and Mercer County Park. The games began officially with an opening ceremony at Newark’s Prudential Center Sunday, and will culminate Friday at Trenton’s Sun National Bank Center.

More than 800 athletes were flown in and will be flown out from Trenton-Mercer Airport, free of charge, as part of the Cessna Citation Airlift. Physicians from all over the country took part in a “Healthy Athletes” program at TCNJ early this week, offering their services free of charge. A “Special Olympics Town” at TCNJ has a Jersey shore boardwalk theme with rides, games, and vendors. The list of special events is extensive.

New Jersey athletes taking part in the games represent every county in the state, competing in 16 sports including aquatics, track and field, baseball, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, flag football, golf, gymnastics, powerlifting, soccer, softball, tennis, triathlon, and volleyball. Eight of the teams are competing on Unified Sports teams, which pair athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without, on the same team.

“These kinds of events just make people happy,” said Martha Costa, an employee of the Princeton University Store, while riding back into town from the University venues on one of the First Transit buses employed for the occasion. “We’ve seen a lot of people come in from all over — South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee. One young man who does shot put came in with his Dad and was very proud of the fact that he’s from Arkansas. It was really nice to see.”

Bus driver Barbara Baldwin, making the runs between Palmer Square and the University venues, said the buses had been filled nearly all day. “It’s so exciting to see the kids’ faces when they get on,” she said. “And then when they come out of the events, you see them pumping their fists. It’s just so inspiring.”

 

Negotiations between the Princeton Public Schools (PPS), Board of Education (BOE), and representatives of the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) reached an impasse when representatives of both sides met June 10.

“The negotiating team came to the conclusion that the best way to move both sides toward agreement was to bring in a third party mediator,” said Princeton Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane. “The first step in securing a mediator is to file for impasse. We formally filed for impasse late in the afternoon on June 12.”

The Board and the teachers’ union is due to meet again on June 30, which is the date when the current teachers’ contract expires. Since it can take up to 60 days for a mediator to be scheduled, Mr. Cochrane said that “filing sooner rather than later was the right action to take to help ensure we achieve a settlement before students and teachers return to classrooms in the fall.”

If called upon, a mediator would be provided by the state at no cost to the District. If however, no agreement is reached in mediation, a fact-finder would be called in at a cost of $1,500 per day, split between the two parties. According to BOE negotiator Patrick Sullivan, 40 percent of school negotiations in New Jersey go to mediation.

At the crux of the impasse, Mr. Sullivan said Monday, is Chapter 78, which Governor Christie signed into law in 2011 as part of state pension and health benefit reform, and which makes teachers pay a higher portion of their health costs. “They are paying a higher percentage each year because of Chapter 78 and they want the District to reimburse them for these costs,” explained Mr. Sullivan. “This, we cannot do. Not only would it put a burden on the District that is already strapped by a 2 percent cap, but our attorney advises that any such reimbursement would circumvent the law. It would be illegal.”

“Even if we could circumvent Chapter 78, we don’t have the money to both give a pay increase and to reimburse health care costs. The only way to do this would be to make cuts to staff, including teachers, and we don’t want to do this,” he said.

But according to Teachers’ Union negotiator John Baxter, the BOE has got its facts wrong when it comes to Chapter 78. “N.J. law, Chapter 78 rates were imposed for a limited period of four years, ending June 2015 for Princeton. The BOE wants to continue them indefinitely,” said Mr. Baxter in an email statement. “The BOE should negotiate contribution rates that make sense for Princeton Public Schools; not rates designed and imposed by Governor Christie and the New Jersey legislature.”

Mr. Baxter and the PREA also take issue with the Board’s figures, citing a news release issued by the Board last week, claiming that the district’s health care costs are going up by “over 12 percent this year.” The union pointed out that this number did not fit with the board’s claim that all employee health costs would increase by 6.4 percent. The Board later acknowledged its mistake and issued an amended release.

Even so, Mr. Baxter questions the Board’s figures. “The Board’s revised press release continues to give the impression that their cost for PREA health benefits will be going up ‘by much more than 2 percent each year,’” he said. “The fact is the cost to the Board has been decreasing as PREA members have been contributing more.”

According to the teachers’ union, “the amount the Board will be spending in 2014-15 is roughly 7 percent less than what they spent on PREA health benefits three years ago in 2011-12: their cost has decreased from $5,636,146 to $5,222,769. In other words, none of the 2 percent increase in the 2014-15 budget is going to be spent on PREA health care benefits, not one penny.”

PREA members will contribute between 14 and 35 percent next year, an average of 24 percent, which is above what “most Americans contribute,” said Mr. Baxter, who offered the table, shown on this page, based upon numbers provided by the Board during the negotiation process.

The sides are also divided with respect to a proposal by the Board for a High Deductible Health Plan/Health Savings Account.

Even after six meetings, however, the BOE is hopeful that some compromise will be reached. “We are committed to continuing to meet with the association. We believe bringing in a third party mediator will help us move forward. In the meantime, we look forward to our next meeting with PREA on June 30,” said Molly Chrein, one of three Board members on the negotiating team.

 

Combating wage theft is the focus of a landscaping registration ordinance re-introduced at Monday night’s meeting of Princeton Council. If approved, the ordinance will require all commercial landscapers to register with the municipality and acknowledge awareness of federal and state wage theft laws.

These laws protect workers, many of whom are undocumented, from what Councilwoman Heather Howard called the “pernicious practices” of not being paid for all hours worked or sufficient overtime, earning less than the amount agreed upon, or not being paid at all. A public hearing on the ordinance has been set for Council’s July 14 meeting.

“This is a very important step we’re taking to protect the rights and safety of people working here,” Ms. Howard said. She described the work of the Human Services Commission’s Immigration Issues Subcommittee as “a unique collaboration between key government and community partners.”

Local resident John Heilner chaired the subcommittee. “Wage theft is under-reported because the folks who are victims fear losing their jobs or are undocumented and afraid of being reported,” he said, adding that existing wage theft laws do not discriminate against undocumented workers.

The ordinance also addresses workers’ compensation. Landscapers applying for registration, which they would be required to renew annually, would be notified of the state’s workers’ compensation insurance laws. The laws protect not only the health and safety of the workers, but also help homeowners, business owners, and landscapers avoid lawsuits. They would also be notified of the town’s leaf, brush, and log collection program. Under the revised ordinance, companies would lose the right to operate in Princeton if found to be in violation of the state and federal wage theft laws.

Princeton’s Human Services Director Elisa Neira said the ordinance will complement efforts already made to show the town’s commitment to human rights and strengthen relations between the police and the immigrant community. Birch Avenue resident Craig Garcia, who works with New Labor Education and Training Institute in New Brunswick, said wage theft is a problem all over the country. New Labor trained Princeton’s police force on how to address complaints related to wage theft laws earlier this year.

“I’m very proud of the work I’ve seen on this,” Mr. Garcia said. “The attention the town has given us is really commendable. Having a town like Princeton taking this big step would send a message to contractors that we need to do the right thing for our workers.” Mr. Garcia said the aim is not to shut down any businesses, but rather to promote honest and safe practices. “Since we passed [a similar ordinance] in New Brunswick, we’ve had an excellent response,” he said. “It makes companies do the right thing.”

Ms. Howard said that public forums in the future will address the issue of getting people to come forward to report wage theft. “We recognize that there is an education component that is really important,” she said. Mr. Heilner and Ms. Neira have been working on an informational booklet for workers.

———

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Sam Hamod targeted Council president Bernie Miller with a complaint about the agreement under which Princeton University makes financial contributions totaling $21.72 million over seven years to the municipality, in lieu of taxes. Mr. Hamod wanted to know how the agreement, which he said favors the University and it’s “octopus reach,” was arrived at. “I just want them to pay their fair share,” he said.

Mr. Miller said he would be happy to send him the terms of the agreement. Councilman Patrick Simon defended the process, saying the University is tax-exempt under state law. “The University is not obligated to give anything to the town,” he said, adding that other non-profit organizations pay nothing. Mr. Hamod said he disagreed with Mr. Simon.

Council’s next meeting is Monday, June 23 at 7 p.m.

 

June 11, 2014

Two days after a primary election that was too close to call, Council member Jo Butler was declared the winner of the race for one of two available seats on the governing body, leading challenger Sue Nemeth by six votes. Council president Bernie Miller, who earned the most votes, will run in the November general election for the other Council seat.

“I think it’s important that we move on,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Monday in response to questions about the election. “We have a really big agenda ahead of us and we need to concentrate on the important work.”

With Ms. Butler only three votes ahead at the conclusion of voting last Tuesday, the race was turned over to the Mercer County Board of Elections in order to review 11 provisional ballots that were cast in the election. A provisional ballot is used to record a vote if a voter’s eligibility is in question and the voter would otherwise not be permitted to vote at his or her polling place.

Five of the ballots were validated, four of which were for Ms. Butler and one for Ms. Nemeth. Mr. Miller’s tally immediately after the election was 1,602 votes. Following the provisional ballot count, Ms. Butler earned 1,547 and Ms. Nemeth won 1,541. Mr. Miller and Ms. Nemeth, both members of the former Township Committee, had run together on a slate in an effort to oust Ms. Butler, who had been a member of Borough Council before consolidation. Mayor Lempert and Council members Heather Howard and Lance Liverman were supporters of the Miller/Nemeth slate.

Ms. Butler said this week that she had been “cautiously optimistic” before the election. “I had done a lot of door-to-door and gotten a lot of pretty positive feedback, but the odds were incredibly challenging,” she said. “I feel fortunate and grateful for the support of the voters. I’m looking forward to focusing on the business of the town rather than the campaign.”

Ms. Nemeth conceded to Ms. Butler immediately following the provisional ballot count. “Sue was gracious in defeat and I appreciate that,” Ms. Butler said. “Bernie is on a European holiday but I did hear from him and I appreciate that, too. We’ll have a better sense of it when we meet face to face.”

Ms. Nemeth said Monday that she hopes voters will support Ms. Butler and Mr. Miller, as well as others running for office, in the November election. “I certainly encourage everyone to get behind our two nominees. And there are other races in our district that are important to the voters,” she said, singling out Bonnie Watson Coleman’s upcoming run for Congress.

Ms. Nemeth said she looks forward to “mending all the fences. I fought as hard as I could,” she said. “The three of us know full well how hard this is. We give a lot of ourselves, give up a lot of time with our families. Jo and I both have day jobs that are demanding and I fully appreciate what she has given to this role, and I respect her service.”

At the Council meeting on Monday evening, Mayor Lempert offered her congratulations to Ms. Butler. Earlier in the day, she said she had attended Ms. Butler’s victory party and brought her flowers.

 

Negotiations that began in April between the Princeton Public Schools (PPS), Board of Education (BOE), and representatives of the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) continued yesterday, June 10, after Town Topics press deadline.

According to a press statement released by the Board negotiator Patrick Sullivan, who, along with Andrea Spalla and Molly Chrein, has met with the teachers’ union leadership on five occasions, the district now has an offer that it is hoped will be satisfactory to both parties.

Salaries and health benefits are the major sticking points. But the Board has little room to maneuver, said Mr. Sullivan, given the state-mandated 2 percent cap on annual school budget increases.

“Many school budget items, including the cost of employee health insurance have increased more than 2 percent,” states the release. “The School District’s health insurance costs will rise over 12 percent this year, and a 10 percent rise in health premiums equals approximately a 1 percent rise in the school budget, or half the allowed increase under the 2 percent cap.” [Editor’s Note: Subsequent to the printing of this article, the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education issued a correction to the press release quoted here removing the 12 percent increase claim and replacing it with 6.2 percent.]

“New Jersey law also mandates that all school employees pay a portion of their health insurance premiums. Prior to 2011, PPS employees paid for 1/12 (approximately 8.3 percent) of their annual health insurance premiums, while the rest was paid fully by the school district. In 2011, a new state law (“Chapter 78”) was passed that required PPS employees to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance premiums. Many observers have pointed out that the 2011 Chapter 78 law brought state public employees’ contributions to their insurance premiums in line with the amounts that most in the private sector had been paying for healthcare for years. The Board is working to find a way to contain these health insurance cost increases through new insurance structures that save money for both the Board and for teachers.”

According to the Board, the teachers’ union is asking for salary increases that exceed the state average in each of the three years of a contract, as well as for high benefit health insurance at a lower cost to its members, and increases in the stipends teachers receive for training, committee work, and extracurricular services.

The release points out that teacher salaries in Princeton are already among the highest in the State of New Jersey and nationally, and that Princeton already pays among the highest extracurricular stipends in the state.

It also states that the union’s request for health benefits is asking the Board to “depart from” the provisions of Chapter 78. According to the BOA, the union wants teachers to pay no more than an amount equal to 1.5 percent of their annual salary towards their health insurance premiums, at a time when most Americans contribute approximately 18 to 29 percent of premium costs for employer funded coverage.

The Board’s Offer

The School Board is offering salary increases at the effective rates of 1.8 percent in the first year, 1.8 percent in the second year, and 1.86 percent in the third year of the contract, conditioned upon the PREA accepting the Board’s offer on health benefits that would include higher deductibles in order to reduce premium costs for both employees and the Board.

The Board proposes to contribute an amount equal to 60 percent of employee’s deductible to a Health Savings Account (HSA) for each PREA member. If the member doesn’t spend their deductible, they keep the balance, resulting in an additional benefit to them. The Board can afford to contribute these amounts into the PREA members HSA accounts because of the significant savings it will realize from the reduced premium costs due to moving to the higher deductible HSA structure. In effect, the Board is offering to share over 70 percent of its savings from this plan.

As for stipends, the Board is suggesting a rationalization of the contractual schedule of stipends, as long as the total dollar amount budgeted for those stipends does not increase.

Teachers’ Union Response

PREA negotiator John Baxter took issue yesterday with some of the Board’s figures, characterizing Board statements regarding increases in health care costs as “misleading.”

“According to [the release] the district’s health care costs are going to increase by more than 12 percent in the upcoming year. However, according to the BOE’s budget, the cost of all employee benefits for the entire district is expected to increase by 6.4 percent.”

“These numbers cannot both be accurate,” said Mr. Baxter. Citing a December 2013 contract between the district and administrative staff in which the latter received a 2.4 percent salary increase, Mr. Baxter said that administrators had “better and more expensive health benefits than contained in the existing PREA contract.”

Not only that, the Board refuses to talk about health care contribution rates as imposed by Chapter 78 for a limited period of four years that ends June 2015 for Princeton. The BOE “wants to continue them indefinitely,” said Mr. Baxter.

With respect to the Board’s proposal for a Health Savings Account, Mr. Baxter described it as “limited and shortsighted,” a plan that even the Board admits will result in higher health care costs for some PREA members.

As for BOE proposed salary increases, Mr. Baxter called it a “fund-it-yourself” plan, since it’s contingent upon PREA members accepting costly health benefits changes.

“The BOE has not offered one penny from the $530,000 already in the budget that can be put toward salary increases; not one penny from the 2 percent increase.” he said.

“Administrators did not fund their raise,” said Mr. Baxter, “why should teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, child study team members, media specialists, and other essential certified staff?”

The results of the Tuesday, June 10 meeting will be reported in next week’s Town Topics.

 

Tourism in the Princeton region is on the rise, according to a study announced Monday by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The Economic Impact of Tourism in the Princeton Region, 2013 Results” reveals that the jump of 3.6 percent between 2012 and 2013, including spending by visitors of more than $1.9 billion, is a continuation of an upward trend.

Brian Tyrrell, president and CEO of Travel and Tourism and Research and Training Associates and a professor at Stockton State College, headed the study for the second year in a row. It was commissioned by the Chamber and the Princeton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

At a press conference held Monday morning at Morven Museum, Chamber chairman John Thurber credited the CVB for its promotion of tourism and called the report “a very significant study measuring the economic impact of tourism in our region and its growth over the last year. The good news is that the impact is substantial and growing in our region and still outpacing the state’s averages.”

In addition to Princeton, the region in the study includes Cranbury, East Windsor, Ewing, Hamilton, Hightstown, Hopewell Borough and Township, Plainsboro, Robbinsville, Rocky Hill, Trenton, and West Windsor. Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes focused on Trenton in his brief remarks, specifically citing the increased activity at Trenton-Mercer Airport, where Frontier Airlines has expanded its service over the past year. “Twelve airlines have come and gone, but Frontier is driving our economic engine,” he said, adding that a Cessna will be flying athletes into the airport “every five minutes” during the coming week’s Special Olympics USA Games.

A temporary shutdown of the airport last year for improvements resulted in a slight decline in transportation spending between 2013 and 2012. But Mr. Hughes and Mr. Tyrrell expect the numbers to climb in the future.

Mr. Tyrrell said there was growth of nearly 10 percent in the food and beverage sector, and shopping, recreation, and entertainment were up 5.5 percent each. Transportation was down slightly while traveler accommodations were largely flat. Occupancy tax collection as a whole in the region is slightly less than in the previous year.

Factors affecting the numbers included the temporary closing of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Plainsboro for renovations, and a surge in hotel rentals during the last two months of 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, when rooms were rented by Red Cross workers, displaced homeowners, and FEMA workers.

Mayor Liz Lempert brought up the issue of tour buses that make brief stops in Princeton on their way from New York to Philadelphia, but don’t patronize shops, restaurants, or cultural sites in town. The buses often idle on Nassau Street while passengers use the bathrooms in the visitors’ center inside the Princeton University Store and snap photographs of Nassau Hall before leaving. Adam Perle, vice president of the Chamber, said the organization is working with the municipality to try and come up with a plan that is appealing to motor coach operators and will make them see Princeton as a destination rather than a stop along the way.

 

June 4, 2014

PRade2

At its 267th Commencement Tuesday, Princeton University awarded degrees to 1,244 undergraduates in the Class of 2014, seven from other classes, and 996 graduate students. Christopher L. Eisgruber, who presided over the exercises in front of Nassau Hall, delivered his first Commencement address since being named president of the University last year.

Honorary doctoral degrees were conferred upon former U.S. secretary of state Madeline K. Albright; Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder and chair of BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), the largest nongovernment development organization in the world; Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and retired chairman, president and CEO of Southwest Airlines; James McPherson, pre-eminent Civil War scholar and the George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of History, Emeritus, at Princeton; and James West, an inventor, engineer and educator who holds more than 250 patents and is a dedicated advocate for increasing diversity in the fields of science and technology.

———

The following is Mr. Eisgruber’s address to the Class of 2014, “Life’s Journey and the Value of Learning”:

In a few minutes, all of you will march through FitzRandolph Gate as newly minted graduates of this University. Before you do so, however, it is my privilege, and my pleasure, to say a few words to you about the path that lies ahead. I do so knowing that, for many of you, this morning’s ceremony will quite literally take you down a path that you have never trod before. Campus mythology maintains that students who exit through Princeton’s big front gate before earning their degrees will not graduate with their class. This superstition is of relatively recent vintage. When I was a student here in the 1980s, my classmates and I strolled merrily through the gate in both directions, with nary a second thought, and without, so far as I can tell, any adverse consequences. Traditions germinate in surprising ways on this magical campus, and, when they take root, they quickly seem as old and venerable as Nassau Hall itself.

But whether you have honored the taboo of FitzRandolph Gate or bravely defied it, this morning’s steps will be something new, the start of an adventure into frontiers unknown. Today is a celebration of what you have achieved here, but it is also — as the name of these exercises would suggest — a “commencement,” the beginning of a journey that takes you beyond this campus. That journey promises to be a challenging one, and even the first strides can be hard, as you leave behind a place that has been the locus of special friendships and personal growth.

Perhaps you will find it reassuring that Princeton students have felt that way not just for years or decades but for centuries. For example, John Alexander of the Great Class of 1820 waxed nostalgic about “his jovial hours at Nassau Hall,” which he said he would always “consider [his] happiest.” Likewise, Thomas Wilson, who graduated with the Great Class of 1879, said that he found leaving campus “harder than I had feared.” He remarked that “a college man feels the first shock of [adjustment] at graduation. … Of a sudden he is a novice again, as green as in his first school year, studying a thing that seems to have no rules — at sea amid crosswinds, and a bit seasick.”

Indeed, young Thomas’s life story, though he graduated from Princeton 135 years ago, sounds remarkably modern. Tommy, as he preferred to be called, was not sure what to do with his life after graduation, so he went home to live with his parents. After that he went to law school and got a degree, but he failed miserably as a lawyer. He attracted no clients and he felt sick all the time. His doctor diagnosed “liver torpor.” His disappointed and impatient father offered a second opinion. Dad told Tommy that his only problem was his “mental liver,” and the cure was to “choose a path and commit to it.” (I see several fathers in the audience nodding their approval!)

So what did Tommy do? At this point, I should warn the parents of the graduating seniors in particular to brace themselves. Contrary to Dad’s advice, Tommy went back to graduate school and got yet another degree — this time, a doctorate in political science. Fortunately, that turned out to be a much better fit for his talents, and he made quite a success of himself.

Those of you with degrees in history — or who are experts in what we lovingly call “Princetoniana” — undoubtedly know just how successful Tommy became. Tommy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, University Trustee A. Scott Berg of the Great Princeton Class of 1971, who is seated behind me on stage today, tells us that after graduating from Princeton, Thomas Wilson stopped using his first name. He switched to his middle name, which he thought sounded more grown-up and dignified. His middle name was, of course, “Woodrow.” Scott Berg suggests that Woodrow Wilson ultimately became “the most influential figure of the 20th century.” Others have emphasized that Wilson’s character and policies had serious flaws. His legacy is both compromised and controversial. There is little doubt, however, that Wilson lived a life of leadership, service and consequence, despite — or, indeed, perhaps because of — the surprising twists and turns that his path took after he stepped away from this campus.

There is a lesson for us in this story — and, no, the lesson is not that all of you should start using your middle names (believe me, my own middle name is “Ludwig Maria”; maybe Wilson’s change would work for you, but it definitely won’t work for me!). Your path beyond Princeton, like Tommy Wilson’s path, is likely to take many twists and turns. Immediate success is rare. You have to start somewhere, of course, but it may take you some time to find the right place. That is OK. You have emerged from this University with a liberal arts degree that prepares you for the long term — that prepares you to adapt and to confront challenges and to seize opportunities that you may not now be able even to imagine. My colleagues and I could not possibly teach you everything you need to know for your path beyond Princeton. We have not even tried to do so. But we have tried to teach you how to learn what you need to know to travel that path and to flourish in the places that it takes you.

Indeed, the twists and turns in the path beyond FitzRandolph Gate are not only inevitable. They are to be relished. Twists and turns bring discovery, they demand new learning — and that is a good thing. Discovery and learning help to bring joy and meaning to human life. That is one of the themes I hear frequently when I speak with Princeton alumni. They talk to me about how important continuous learning has been in their own lives. You may be able to become very successful by doing the same thing over and over again, and doing it very well. But it is much less clear that you can be happy doing the same thing over and over again.

Your teachers — represented by my faculty colleagues on stage with me this morning — have tried during your time on this campus to share with you the joy of scholarship and discovery that is so thrilling to us. Indeed, at the heart of all great teaching is the desire to inspire a genuine love of learning. You could hear that passion in the citations that we read for the marvelous New Jersey high school teachers, and the distinguished Princeton faculty members, whom we honored on stage this morning. It is one of the surprising and delightful secrets that all of us who teach discover as we go into the classroom. Some part of teaching is about transmitting information, but a lot of it, a wonderful amount of it, is about inspiring students to learn.

Even those of us who teach spectacular students like you find ourselves using all sorts of tricks to get your attention and engage your imagination. We will use whatever it takes: provocative questions, fanciful stories, in-class experiments, free food, bad jokes, dramatic pauses, demonstrative gesticulation! (That last was an example of both “demonstrative gesticulation” and a “bad joke.”) Teaching is a remarkably personal act, and teaching well depends upon a remarkably personal relationship.

I am, for that reason, skeptical about some of the enthusiasm one hears for MOOCs — that is, for the “Massive Open Online Courses” that anyone can take on the Web. These courses have their uses. Used appropriately, they are good things. But it is easy to exaggerate their benefits and their power. I recently heard a reporter say that colleges, like newspapers, were likely to have their fundamental business model disrupted by online alternatives. Journalism, she said, relied upon a relationship between writer and reader, or between television reporters and viewers, in the same way that universities rely upon a relationship between teacher and student.

Now, perhaps online technology will turn out to be, as some have predicted, a tsunami that radically changes all of higher education. Who knows; predicting the future is hard. But I do know this. The reporter’s analogy is mistaken. There never was a personal relationship between reporters and their readers or viewers. Once upon a time, Americans welcomed Walter Cronkite into their homes and trusted him and maybe they felt that they knew him personally — but he did not know each of them. Think now about the teachers who have mattered most in your lives — the ones in kindergarten or high school or here at Princeton. Take a moment to picture them. I’ll wager this: They mattered in your lives not because they were famous, not (in other words) because everyone knew them, but because they took the time to know you. Teaching is, as I said earlier, a deeply personal act.

I hope that, as you walk through FitzRandolph Gate, you will do so with a deep appreciation for the power of teaching. I hope that you will become advocates for the kind of personal teaching that has made a difference in your own lives. That kind of teaching is not something you can get from a MOOC. It is not cheap. To provide it, we as a society will have to invest generously in our schools and in our universities. But as we know from Tommy Wilson’s story and your own stories, an investment in the personal art of teaching is one of the best investments that our society, or any society, can make.

I hope, too, that you will continue to experience the joy of creative scholarship in your own lives. The challenge won’t be finding the books, or the syllabi, or the lectures. If you want them, you can find them. Easily. The challenge will be to find within yourself what your teachers have given you in the past. You will need to sustain the will to learn — you will need, in other words, to find the inspiration to read, the time to think, and the provocation and the energy to break away from the daily routines that enable you to cope with the responsibilities of adult life. Honoring the value of learning is not always easy, but if you do, it will make your life’s journey more fulfilling. Your teachers on this campus have sought to kindle a deep and persistent love of learning within you, and, if you nurture that flame, its glow can illuminate your path and warm your soul as you journey beyond the FitzRandolph Gate.
Those of us on this stage — along with all of your teachers, coaches, deans and mentors at this University — wish you well as you begin that journey. We hope that as you go forth, you, like Tommy Wilson and generations of other Princetonians, will continue to consider this campus your home. We hope that you will return here for Reunions and for other occasions. And, finally, we hope that you will stay in touch with the teachers and the mentors who mattered to you. For teaching is, as I have said twice already, a deeply personal act, and you matter to us. So we send you our heartfelt congratulations, and we will watch your journeys with affection and with pride. We are thrilled that on this auspicious Commencement Day, you are now, and shall be forever into the future, Princeton University’s Great Class of 2014.

Congratulations and best wishes!

With Bernie Miller in the lead and only three votes separating Jo Butler and Sue Nemeth, Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for two available Princeton Council seats was too close to call. It will be decided only after 11 provisional ballots are reviewed by the Mercer County Board of Elections on Wednesday.

According to the unofficial numbers, Mr. Miller, an incumbent, earned 1,602 votes. Fellow incumbent Ms. Butler finished with 1,543, while Ms. Nemeth got 1,540. That total includes absentee ballots.

In the race for former Representative Rush Holt’s Congressional seat, Bonnie Watson Coleman won the most votes from Princeton, with 1,310. Andrew Zwicker earned 660, Linda Greenstein won 459, and Upendra Chivukula earned 288.

The two-year terms of Mr. Miller and Ms. Butler are set to expire at the end of this year. The seats to be decided in November are for three-year terms.

Mr. Miller, who is currently Council President, and Ms. Nemeth, who served on the former Township Committee before consolidation, ran a joint campaign in an effort to unseat Ms. Butler. The move, announced in January, had the official backing of Mayor Liz Lempert and Council members Lance Liverman and Heather Howard.

Disagreements and differences in style were the reasons for the joint campaign against Ms. Butler, known for her questioning of details and insistence on transparency. The three candidates presented their platforms at a meeting of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) in March, but none received enough votes to win official endorsement from the organization.

Ms. Butler, 61, was a member of Borough Council before consolidation. She served for two years before being elected to the current Council after consolidation. She works for the educational consulting firm Wickenden Associates.

Mr. Miller and Ms. Nemeth served together with Mayor Lempert and Mr. Liverman on Township Committee, where Ms. Nemeth was deputy mayor. Mr. Miller, 85, was a member of Township Committee for a decade, and has also served as Township mayor and deputy mayor. He was a captain in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a corporate business executive until his retirement in 1998.

Ms. Nemeth, 53, ran against Marie Corfield for Assembly in 2012 but lost. She was elected deputy mayor of Princeton Township in January 2011, but chose not to seek reelection to the governing body after consolidation. She has worked at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University for more than 20 years.

 

Thomas John Muza, 55, of Hightstown has been indicted on a charge of second degree theft. He is alleged to have embezzled more than $180,000 from Princeton University’s famed Triangle Club.

Mr. Muza served as accountant for the theatrical troupe from 1993 until his dismissal in May 2013, following the discovery of financial discrepancies and suspicious expenditures in the club’s financial records.

Mr. Muza was general manager of McCarter Theatre until he was suspended from his job last year on November 19. According to McCarter spokesperson Tim Shields (Town Topics December 4, 2013), Mr. Muza had worked for McCarter since 1990.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced the indictment by a state grand jury. It has been handed up to Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez Jr. in Mercer County. Mr. Muza will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.

Between January 2008 and February 2013, Mr. Muza is alleged to have used his position as accountant for the Triangle Club to steal the funds. He received an annual salary from the club of $4,000 and was a signatory on the club’s bank account.

An investigation revealed that he allegedly stole nearly $90,000 by writing Triangle Club checks directly to himself and cashing them or depositing them into his personal bank account. It is alleged that he used the money primarily to pay his living expenses, including credit card debt, mortgage payments, and utility bills. In addition, he allegedly wrote Triangle Club checks totaling more than $95,000 to make direct payments on three personal credit cards and to an unauthorized third party.

He was charged last year, on November 27. The matter had been referred to the Division of Criminal Justice Division by the law firm that serves as counsel for the Triangle Club, and which conducted an initial investigation of the thefts. The Princeton University Police Department also provided assistance.

Deputy Attorney General Mark Kurzawa and Detective Benjamin Kukis conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial and Computer Crimes Bureau and presented the case to the state grand jury. Detective James Lanzi handled the investigation for the University Police Department.

“Rather than acting as an honest steward and ensuring that funds were strictly used to carry on the Triangle Club’s grand entertainment tradition, Mr. Muza allegedly abused the trust placed in him and shamelessly treated the club’s bank account like his own,” said Mr. Hoffman.

“White collar crime can have a devastating impact on its victims, whether they are individuals or organizations,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We intend to ensure that Muza pays for his alleged crime and pays back the money stolen from this nonprofit organization.”

The Princeton Triangle Club, which was founded in 1891, has had a number of famous members through the years, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jimmy Stewart, José Ferrer, and Brooke Shields.

The second-degree theft charge carries a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $150,000. The charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The press release announcing the indictment, noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free tip line 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime, and other illegal activities. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received through the tip line or webpage will remain confidential.

Members of the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), the union representing local teachers, and the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) met yesterday, June 3, to negotiate a new contract to replace the current contract that is due to expire at the end of this month.

Together with representatives of the 370-member PREA, President Joanne Ryan and Chair of Negotiations John J. Baxter, the negotiators are Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane, Assistant Superintendent Lewis Goldstein, Business Administrator Stephanie Kennedy, BOE Vice President Andrea Spalla, and BOE members Molly Chrein and Patrick Sullivan.

They are due for another bargaining session next Tuesday, June 10. Both parties hope that a settlement can be reached by June 30.

If past history is anything to go by, that might be overly optimistic. The 2011-2014 contract took almost a year to negotiate and was not finalized until well into 2012. According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, such negotiations typically last 11 months. In Princeton, negotiations began on April 10, shortly after Stephen Cochrane succeeded Judith A. Wilson as superintendent of Princeton Public Schools.

In response to email queries yesterday, June 3, Mr. Baxter said that in addition to the usual issues of salary and health benefits, the BOE is proposing expansions in teachers’ hours as what amounts to a pay freeze. “The BOE is currently proposing no increase in base salary, i.e., a salary freeze, for the next three years. This freeze also extends to all positions related to extra-curricular activities, e.g., athletic coaches and club advisors,” he said.

With respect to health benefits, Mr Baxter said that a major concern is teacher contributions to premiums for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. “State mandated contributions, that commenced three years ago, will sunset for Princeton next year when we reach ‘Tier 4’ the highest contributions,” he explained. “The law provides that the issue of contributions then returns to the bargaining table. To date, the BOE has refused to negotiate this issue, insisting instead that the Tier 4 contribution rates continue indefinitely into the future.”

The PREA maintains that the School Board is misconstruing the current law regarding health benefit contributions by suggesting in the recent budget presentation that staff contributions to health benefits “will plateau” in 2014-15 and implying that such contributions will level off at a fixed rate.

“Not so,” said Mr. Baxter. “The law, which sunsets in June, provides that, following a year of paying Tier 4 rates, health benefit contributions become part of the parties’ collective negotiations.” After that, the amount of contributions is a negotiable item for future years of any contract, although it must be at least 1.5 percent of a teacher’s gross salary.

Schools Budget

Superintendent Steve Cochrane and Business Administrator/Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy presented the 2014-15 schools budget at a public hearing on April 28. The Board adopted a budget of $86.9 million budget, up $1.7 million from last year. This year’s budget includes a school tax rate of $1.05 per $100 of assessed home value, up 3 cents from last year. The amount to be raised by taxation is $65.9 million, up $1.2 million from last year.

“The budget is always an important factor,” said Mr. Baxter. “In years such as this, when the BOE creates its budget prior to having a contract with the 370 members of the PREA, that cannot be allowed to be a fait accompli. In other words, the BOE cannot use the fact that it chose not to budget for a salary increase to dictate the terms of our contract for 2014-15. That is not negotiating.”

Cost saving measures outlined in the budget have “added to the feeling among PREA members that they are not respected,” said Mr. Baxter.

But, according to Mr. Sullivan, cost-saving measures enacted in order to balance the 2014-15 budget primarily affected items unrelated to PREA salaries and benefits. “The Board’s annual budget for the school district is limited by the state-mandated 2 percent cap on allowed annual increases. Salaries and benefits comprise the lion’s share (nearly 70 percent) of the Board’s budgets every year, and this year is no exception. So every provision of every contract to which the Board is a party, including its contracts with its employee associations, must fit within the Board’s approved 2014-15 budget and within the 2 percent cap in each year,” he said. “We are trying to collaborate with PREA to create structures that preserve coverage levels but that lower premiums, to our mutual benefit,” he said.

Teacher Demonstrations

Teachers protested the three-year pay freeze on May 27 with a march along Witherspoon Street before attending a public meeting of the School Board that evening in John Witherspoon Middle School. They also distributed flyers to parents as they dropped off their children outside Princeton’s public schools.

“The teachers certainly have a right to make their concerns known,” commented Mr. Sullivan. “The Board understands these concerns and has listened closely to the goals expressed by the PREA leadership in our negotiations. The Board’s proposals reflect our attempt to respond to and meet PREA’s stated goals, while keeping within our budget. We believe our proposals contain ‘wins’ for both sides, and we hope PREA will consider them seriously.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be Tuesday, June 17, at 8 p.m. at the Valley Road Administration Building.

After an agreement is reached, any new contract would take effect upon ratification by the parties’ respective memberships. Under state law, if a new contract is not finalized by July 1, the expired contract remains in effect until the new one is executed.

 

May 28, 2014

The death of Elizabeth Gray Erickson last week has inspired tributes from friends and colleagues who worked with her in the numerous charitable organizations she championed. The 46-year-old mother of three has been praised as a tireless advocate for community service and social change, on a local and international basis.

The body of Ms. Erickson, 46, was found last Thursday afternoon at the edge of a reservoir in the Spruce Run Recreation Area State Park in Clinton Township. She had been missing since early that morning. According to police reports, Ms. Erickson’s husband Jonathan Erickson last saw her at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday night. When he awoke at 5 a.m., she and her car were gone.

Mr. Erickson called police, telling them his wife had recently been suffering from insomnia and depression. A search was launched, and Ms. Erickson’s vehicle was located a few hours later in Spruce Run, blocking two lanes of traffic. Her body was found a few hours later.

“We don’t know why she left the car in that position,” said Larry Ragonese, press director for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which is assisting in the investigation along with the New Jersey State Police and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office. “There was no sign of any other persons with her. There is no indication of foul play, but it is being investigated.”

A candlelight vigil was held last Thursday night in Palmer Square to remember Ms. Erickson. A memorial service will be held Friday, June 6 at Nassau Presbyterian Church (see accompanying obituary).

Chosen as an honoree for the Princeton YWCA’s “Tribute to Women” in 2011, Ms. Erickson was the subject of a video detailing her many accomplishments. “She was involved in so many incredible organizations С Isles, Kidsbridge, Planned Parenthood, just to name a few,” said Judy Hutton, the YMCA’s chief executive officer. “What struck me, and the reason we honored Liz, was her motto, which was ‘You have to make change in the world, but start with yourself.’ She modeled that. She was a very laid back, caring, compassionate person, so well respected. She touched thousands of lives. I don’t even think she realized how many.”

Ms. Erickson was on the board of VolunteerConnect for nearly 10 years and was most recently an emeritus member. She was instrumental in redirecting the organization’s mission, a few years ago, to embrace skills-based volunteering. “It was really Liz’s forethought,” said Amy Klein, executive director. “She did the research along with another board member. It was a great example of how she wanted to find a way to support all the non-profits.”

Ms. Klein went on to describe Ms. Erickson as “very charity-driven, and all about the people. She wasn’t just talk. She was really hands-on. She was a warm, caring, lovely person. I suppose most people don’t speak ill of people after they have passed, but if you had asked me about Liz before this happened, I would have said the same thing. She was salt of the earth. She wanted to help other people. I’ll miss her wisdom, her leadership, and her guidance. Everybody is saying the same thing. There are just no words to do her justice.”

Another board on which Ms. Erickson served was at McCarter Theatre. “There are no easy words to convey the profound grief and sorrow that so many people feel at this time. The McCarter board and staff are stunned and devastated by the news of her passing,” wrote Brian McDonald, president of the theater’s Board of Trustees, in an email. “I was with some fellow trustees and senior staff members at the theater on Thursday in a meeting that Liz normally attended. When we learned the tragic news of her death, tears flowed and continue to flow.”

Mr. McDonald went on to describe Ms. Erickson as “a truly exceptional individual, trustee, and friend. Her past board experience, extensive knowledge of other non-profit organizations and her passion for the arts made her an ideal trustee …. Implicit in her life of service was the belief that by working together, we can make our communities, large and small, better.”

Speaking by phone, Mr. McDonald added, “Liz was a friend in addition to a colleague. So this is really, really hard.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert also counted Ms. Erickson as a friend. “Last week Princeton lost one of our very best people in Liz Erickson,” she wrote in an email. “Liz was an exceptional person — smart, generous, funny, and totally down to earth. She made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people, including my own. I am grateful for our friendship, and join the rest of the huge community of people who loved her in mourning her passing.”

Among the tributes to Ms. Erickson on Facebook is one from Marty Johnson, founder, president, and chief executive officer of Isles, the non-profit community development organization based in Trenton. “We are saddened by the tragic passing of Liz Erickson, a friend and former trustee of Isles,” he wrote. “Liz was smart, optimistic, energetic, and always wanting to think big. She was always willing to roll up her sleeves and if you wanted to get work done, you wanted her on your side. We mourn and give thanks for her support, friendship, and wisdom that greatly impacted our work and lives. She will be deeply missed.”

 

No more wage theft! That was the message of some 20 placard-carrying demonstrators who gathered in front of Cheeburger Cheeburger on Nassau Street last week.

The demonstrators, many of whom were Princeton University students and staff, showed their support for Irma Munoz de Gonzalez, a former employee of Cheeburger Cheeburger’s Lawrenceville branch.

In a lawsuit pending in the federal district court in Trenton, Ms. Munoz alleges she was not paid the legally-required overtime rate of pay for work over 40 hours per week.

“Wage theft is a significant problem for the Latino community, which is frequently victimized by employers in the Princeton area, especially restaurants and landscape businesses,” said attorney Roger Martindell, who is representing Ms. Munoz.

Mr. Martindell said in a press release that the demonstration was intended to educate consumers to harmful labor practices, especially wage theft, at stores where they shop.

Additional demonstrations against Princeton-area wage theft are planned for the near future, he said.

According to Mr. Martindell, wage theft is “fairly prevalent” in Princeton and is both a criminal and a civil offense.

Ms. Munoz worked for the Cheeburger Cheeburger franchise for about a year in the Lawrence and Hamilton stores. She came forward with her complaint after she terminated her employment in July of 2013 and the suit was filed in November of last year.

Ms. Munoz was not employed at the Princeton eatery. The Princeton, Hamilton, and Lawrence restaurants are owned by the same franchisee of the national Cheeburger Cheeburger chain.

“What’s interesting here is that an individual employee can sue not only on behalf of himself or herself but also on behalf of similarly situated employees even if those employees do not come forward and make a complaint on their own behalf,” said Mr. Martindell. “By bringing this action, Ms. Munoz, is representing the interests of any current employees who may be suffering from wage theft. They are covered by her legal action and could benefit from it.”

“It’s a kind of class action suit,” said Mr. Martindell, who said that he hopes for financial compensation for Ms. Munoz as well as changes in the practices of the company.

According to Police Chief Nick Sutter, there were some 10 cases of wage theft investigated and rectified through mediation last year in Princeton. Mr. Sutter has described wage theft as a crime that takes advantage of people with undocumented status.

But for the purposes of the law, “the immigration status of an individual employee is irrelevant,” said Mr. Martindell. “People living hand-to-mouth are less likely to bring a complaint of this sort and while that is a practical concern for individuals, the law protects workers from retaliation from their employer, who could be fined for retaliation against anyone who brings a complaint against them for wage theft,” he said.

“There is much discussion nationally about raising the minimum wage to deal with income inequality in our society. But too frequently consumers are unaware that workers are also hurt by the failure of employers to pay minimum wage, or the legally-required time-and-one-half overtime rate of pay, even at current low-level legally required wage rates,” said Mr. Martindell.

“Wage theft is an all too common occurrence in the Latino worker community, and some local restaurants are frequent violators,” said John Heilner, volunteer chair of the Human Services Commission subcommittee on immigration issues. “The purpose of the demonstration was to heighten awareness of restaurant-goers to abuse of the restaurant workers who serve them.”

“Wage theft” is the generic term that describes failure to pay wages according to federal or state legal requirements, as set forth in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law or New Jersey Wage Payment Law.

Persons who believe they have been the victim of wage theft can come to either the Human Services Office at One Monument Drive (the former Borough Hall), to the Princeton Police Department, or to the Latin America Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.laldef.org).

 

The Princeton Ridge Coalition has made progress in its negotiations with the Williams/Transco Corporation, which is planning to install a natural gas pipeline across the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge. But the citizens group still has serious issues with the safety of the company’s construction plans, which were recently filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Williams/Transco hopes to have approval of those plans by the fall.

To address their concerns, the Coalition will hold a safety briefing detailing the company’s plans on Wednesday, June 4 at 7 p.m. in Monument Hall. Mayor Liz Lempert and municipal engineer Bob Kiser are scheduled to attend. The meeting will focus on the latest construction plans filed this month by Williams, identifying “serious risks that we believe have not been adequately addressed and present conditions that we are requesting FERC to enforce if the project is approved,” said Rakesh Joshi, a member of the group’s safety committee, in a press release.

Williams/Transco first announced in January 2013 that it planned to build a second, larger, high-pressure pipeline next to one that was installed in 1958. Since the Princeton Ridge is a combination of wetlands and hard basalt bedrock and boulders, the Coalition is especially concerned about the fact that construction activity would take place 20 feet or less from the existing line, which the company plans to leave operational during the project. In addition to the more than 150 homes located within 2,000 feet of the pipeline, it passes through the property of Stuart Country Day School. Princeton Day School is 2,000 feet away and Princeton Academy is 4,000 feet away.

According to Rob Goldston, former director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab and chair of the safety committee, an accident could be catastrophic. “If the old pipeline ruptures and ignites, adults and children within 2000 feet of the blast will have 90 seconds to get to shelter before developing third degree burns,” he said. “According to the Gas Research Institute, those having 30 seconds of exposure at 550 feet have a 50 percent probability of mortality.”

Coalition members have additional concerns about the company contracted to do the work, Henkels & McCoy. That firm was working at the South Fork townhouse complex in Ewing Township last March when a gas explosion killed one resident and damaged more than 50 homes. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the accident, since some reports have stated that when employees of the company smelled gas, they did not evacuate residents or call 911.

Mr. Goldston said there is particular worry about Williams/Transco’s plan to leave gas on during a portion of the excavation work. The company responded to the Coalition’s requests to turn off the gas in the existing pipeline at one point in the project, but plan to have the gas on as a 60-ton “side-boom” lays new pipeline while operating on top of the old pipeline. “We are concerned that forces due to the operation of this equipment could cause a catastrophic rupture of the existing pipeline,” Mr. Goldston said. “The soil in the Princeton Ridge is saturated with water and large, hard basalt boulders ‘float’ in this soil above the bedrock. Boulders could easily be wedged between the bedrock and the pipeline and/or the pipeline and the heavy equipment, resulting in unsafe stresses.”

Barbara Blumenthal, president of the Coalition, said that although members have been encouraged by Williams/Transco’s willingness to listen to their concerns over the past year, there are lingering worries. “We are holding the safety briefing because many residents remain unaware of the risks. In the next few months, our community has an opportunity to influence this project. By the time construction begins in April 2015, it will be months too late to speak up,” she said.

 

May 21, 2014

U.S. News and World Report ranks Princeton High School (PHS) among the top 10 Best High Schools of New Jersey for 2014.

PHS earned Gold Medal status in the media report Best High Schools of 2014, coming in at number 10 of 398 high schools in the state. Nationally, PHS is ranked at number 216 in the list of more than 19,400 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

President of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education Tim Quinn said: “My board colleagues and I congratulate all PHS students, teachers and staff for this achievement. I think it’s significant that PHS was one of only three open enrollment high schools in the state included in this [top 10] ranking.”

The top ranked New Jersey schools are: 1: Biotechnology High School in Freehold; 2: High Technology High School in Lincroft; 3: Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in Jersey City; 4: Middlesex County Academy in Edison; 5; Bergen County Technical High School, Teterboro; 6: Academy of Allied Health and Science, in Neptune; 7: Ridge High School in Basking Ridge; 8: Union County Magnet High School in Scotch Plains; 9: Chatham High School in Chatham; and 10: Princeton High School.

West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in Princeton Junction ranks 14th in the state; Montgomery Township’s Montgomery High School is 16th; and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North is 20th.

While also pleased with the report, PHS Principal Gary Snyder was quick to point out that rankings are by no means the whole story when it comes to education. “We are honored to be recognized in the publication and yet are not guided by rankings since the data shows only a narrow piece of the overall picture,” he commented by email Monday.

Mr. Snyder’s tempered response was echoed by Mr. Quinn. “While the entire community can be rightly proud of such an honor, the Board knows that many special things happen every day at PHS that can’t be ranked or measured.”

The school board president went on to say: “For me personally, if a poll or ranking or school performance report contains information the staff can use as part of our district’s culture of continuous improvement; if it uses criteria that are aligned with our mission and goals and takes into account the diversity of the learning community at the high schoolСreally, in all our schools С then it is useful, no matter where we’re ranked.”

“PHS students are recognized nationally for their achievement in the arts, athletics, activities, and service, in addition to their academic achievements. We also strive for continual improvement as a school and seek ways to support every student in his/her quest for knowledge and pursuit of their passion, while maintaining a proper balance in regards to student wellness,” said Mr. Snyder.

Best STEM Schools

PHS came in at number 91 in the list of the 250 high schools across the nation that are listed as the best in terms of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The STEM ranking is based on a measure of student participation and performance on math and science AP exams in the top 500 public schools.

Gold Status

PHS is one of 25 gold medal winners in the state, which also has 19 with silver medals and 32 with bronze medals. Princeton’s Gold Medal status is determined by the college-readiness index, with only 500 schools nationwide achieving gold status.

With a student/teacher ratio of 12/1, near the average for the state, PHS scored above average for college readiness, at 62.6 percent, and above average for math proficiency and language proficiency, with a score of 3.6 for each out of a possible 4.0.

“We are pleased that the ranking recognizes both high achievement and equity,” stated Superintendent Stephen Cochrane, “and we congratulate our staff and students for their continued commitment to excellence.”

Methodology

To produce its Best High Schools 2014 report, U.S. News & World Report teamed up with the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes of Research. One of the key principles is that a high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show that the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

U.S. News’s methodology for determining the overall rankings is based on three factors:

1. students’ reading and math results from the state standardized tests;

2. the scores of minority and low-income students as compared with the average for similar students in the state; and

3. the “college-readiness” index, which is based on the percentage of seniors who took and passed Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

The methodology used in the 2014 Best High Schools rankings was unchanged from the 2013 edition.

This year’s ranking is good news. Last year, the school was not listed at all by U.S. News & World Report, although last year’s Washington Post report placed it at number six in its list of New Jersey’s “most challenging high schools.”

In 2012, PHS had made US News &World Report’s top 10 list and ranked 196th in the nation.

“Princeton High School is a great place of learning for our students,” said Mr. Snyder. “With a talented faculty, challenging curriculum, varied course offerings, and supportive community, our diverse student body is able to thrive in one of the top open enrollment public high schools.”

In a similar report of Best Colleges and National Universities 2014, Princeton University ranked number one.

To view the complete rankings, visit: www.usnews.com/education.

 

The Mercer County Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program’s announcement that it would close its Princeton office as of May 16 was a wake-up call of sorts for members of the town’s government and municipal staff. The office, which is sponsored by the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, provides checks for food, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support to those who qualify, on the third Friday of every month at Witherspoon Hall.

Bob Hary, the town’s interim health officer until the appointment of Jeffrey Grosser last March, had been meeting with the Children’s Home Society because of a decrease in the number of clients from about 600 a few years ago to a more recent number of about 200. “The question was whether there was still a need,” said Elisa Neira, Princeton’s Human Services Director. “Our belief was that there is. But I don’t know how much promotion the program had been getting in recent years. With consolidation and other changes, it kind of fell through the cracks.”

Mr. Hary was able to negotiate a reprieve for the program, and Ms. Neira and Mr. Grosser have come up with a revised plan to keep it alive and make residents aware that it exists. “They sent out over 1,000 flyers,” said Princeton Councilwoman Heather Howard, who is the governing body’s liaison to the Board of Health and the Human Services Commission, last week. “Health department inspectors were handing the flyers out at restaurants to employees, at the Y, at nursery schools, and other places. The good news is that they’re full for this week. But they need to maintain it. It is a reminder that there’s a significant need in our community.”

A driving rain last Friday kept some clients away during the morning hours. Many of them walk to the Witherspoon Hall municipal building with their children in tow. But by the afternoon sessions, attendance was up. “We had about 40 appointments for the day,” said Ms. Neira. “We’re serving about 150 families.”

The program used to operate out of the Henry Pannell Center on Witherspoon Street, in the neighborhood where many of the eligible clients, some of whom are undocumented, reside. Moving the monthly service to the municipal building may have something to do with the decrease in numbers. “It’s further away from where they live. And people who are undocumented might not feel comfortable taking part in a program like this,” Ms. Neira said. “So we’ve been doing quite a lot of work with that. Mayor Lempert did a public service announcement that will air on TV 30 sometime this week.”

In addition to providing clients with checks for free nutritious foods, as well as education and support, WIC makes referrals to other social service agencies and healthcare providers for pregnant and postpartum women, as well as children up to the age of five. People are often surprised to learn that this type of need exists in Princeton.

“New Jersey is unique in that it contains areas of both extraordinary wealth and extreme poverty,” Kelly Mannherz, the program’s administrator, wrote in an email. “Hunger is everywhere, even in communities you may not suspect like Princeton. The Mercer WIC Program of The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey is here to make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.”

Ms. Howard, who was formerly Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, ran the WIC programs across the state. “I saw that there is a significant vulnerable population,” she said. “For people in Princeton, this is a resource. They would otherwise have to travel to Trenton for these services, and that isn’t possible for many of them.”

 

An underage college student accompanies his friend to a liquor store where the slightly older friend, who is of legal drinking age, buys a case of beer. The pair are stopped, on the way out, by a police officer checking to see if they are old enough to be making the purchase. Though he is only carrying the case of beer and is not the person who made the purchase, the hapless underage student is taken into custody. And the unfortunate incident ends up on his permanent record.

It is situations like these that Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and leaders of other municipalities addressed last week at a rally at Hinds Plaza, in support of The New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act. The bill, expected to be voted on next month, would ask employers to sensitively evaluate job applicants who must check the box indicating they have a criminal record. The seriousness of the infringement, and how many years it has been since it occurred, would be taken into account. And if a serious crime was committed, the bill asks employers to consider whether the applicant has proven to be rehabilitated.

“It is in the interest of Princeton residents and all residents of New Jersey that those with non-violent criminal records are eventually able to find gainful employment in the mainstream economy,” said Mayor Lempert, who delivered a speech. “In fact, it’s not surprising that having a job significantly reduces the risk of recidivism — lowering the crime rate and enhancing public safety for everyone’s benefit.”

Under the Opportunity to Compete Act, criminal background checks are delayed until later in the hiring process. The bill does not apply to violent crimes including sex offenses, and it does not prevent employers from conducting background checks. Nor does it force an employer to hire anyone with a criminal record or hire an applicant deemed unsuitable or unqualified.

Some 65 million adults in the United States have a criminal record, Ms. Lempert said, the highest level in this country’s history. “This is largely because of increased enforcement of non-violent drug offenses,” she said. “As a result, we spend an incredible amount of money incarcerating people for non-violent crimes and then creating a system where once they’ve served their time, it’s nearly impossible for them to find a job.

“On top of that, the vast majority of people with criminal records, even of those convicted, have never spent a day in prison. Yet in some ways we are giving them a life sentence of never getting a fair shake at a job. We have to ask ourselves — is this system actually making us any safer?”

Laws similar to the proposed bill have been adopted by 12 states. The bill is sponsored by Senator Sandra B. Cunningham and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman. It is “not about handouts or giveaways, but rather responsibility,” Ms. Cunningham has said. “The text of the legislation is summed up in a phrase: competing, win or lose, on your own merits.”

 

May 14, 2014

The developer AvalonBay is suing the town of Princeton, Princeton Council, Mayor Liz Lempert, and two municipal staff members over the developer’s agreement for the 280-unit rental complex planned for the former Princeton hospital site. Council’s decision to require additional environmental testing is the focus of the suit, which was filed last week in Superior Court.

“The Mayor and Council’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and should be quickly reversed by the Court,” the suit reads, ”These environmental testing requirements are the product of the imagination of Princeton’s new environmental consultant, [Ira] Whitman, who was retained by the mayor and Council at the end of January 2014 С five months after AvalonBay obtained its site plan approval from the Princeton Planning Board.”

Council voted unanimously to approve the developer’s agreement last month, but with more testing than originally proposed and more than what is required by the State of New Jersey. Mr. Whitman, who was hired after citizens repeatedly expressed concerns over the discovery of a medical waste incinerator once in operation at the site, among other things, recommended more soil testing and sampling of concrete the company plans to crush and re-use.

“It’s disappointing,” Mayor Lempert said Monday when asked about the lawsuit. “We were certainly hoping AvalonBay would recognize we were acting in good faith to try and protect the community and the future residents of the site. I would have liked to have worked this out outside the courtroom.”

Ms. Lempert said that Mr. Whitman was hired to advise the Council on matters beyond their own expertise. “We hired a top environmental consultant and we’re following his recommendations,” she said. “If he is recommending certain things, it’s hard for us, as lay people, to say we don’t need to do them. We feel like we need to go with the recommendations of an expert. People’s safety is in question.”

Bob Bruschi, the town’s administrator, said the critical issue is going to be whether the town is allowed to ask for additional testing under the municipal land use law, adding that the vote to require extra testing falls into “the right thing to do category.”

Municipal attorney Trishka W. Cecil, who said Tuesday she believes AvalonBay attorney Robert Kasuba has requested a case management conference with the judge assigned to the case, echoed Mr. Bruschi’s comment.

“The question is whether the town had the legal authority to request this testing. Or, is that pre-empted by state law? That is AvalonBay’s primary claim, that we exceeded our authority,” she said. “I think it makes sense to address that question first, because if the judge rules in AvalonBay’s favor on that question, then we’re done. If she rules in our favor, it’s different. It makes a lot of sense to ask a judge to address that question first and then get to the rest if we need to.”

AvalonBay has been doing preliminary site work, removing underground storage tanks, doors, lighting, and additional items that are permitted before the company agrees to sign the developer’s agreement. Asbestos remediation has also been taking place (see accompanying story).

 

Princeton Council adopted the proposed 2014 budget Tuesday night, but not without heated discussion. The issue under debate was whether to include a line item in the budget for an increase in the salaries of the mayor and governing body.

Patrick Simon argued that adding the line item would not be fair since the pay raises С from $7,500 to $10,000 for council members, $7,500 to $12,5000 for council president, and $15,000 to $17,500 for mayor С are not in line with those budgeted for municipal staff. “They represent an ambiguous sign of entitlement on our own behalf and show disrespect to the administration,” Mr. Simon said, adding that he would be in favor of either a pay raise in proportion to the staff, or a raise for future council members.

Council members Lance Liverman and Bernie Miller, both former members of Township Committee, took pay cuts after consolidation when it was established that stipends for the new governing body would be at the lower level employed by Borough Council. Mr. Liverman said he was in favor of the proposed increase because it would make serving on the governing body more appealing to people who are on a more limited budget than those who currently serve. He said he spends about 80 hours a month on municipal matters, which converts into about $6.25 an hour, less than New Jersey’s $8.25 minimum wage.

“Some people I’ve talked to say if the stipend was increased they’d consider running for office,” he said. “It would allow people of lesser means to serve. Please support this adjustment and let’s move on.”

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said that while she agreed with much of Mr. Liverman’s comments, “The problem is you didn’t say it when we were making promises. For me, it’s a matter of promises,” she said, referring to the determination to keep salaries at the Borough level.

Ms. Crumiller served on the finance committee with Mr. Miller and Mr. Liverman during the transition to consolidation. On Tuesday, she said, “We had plenty of opportunities to make the arguments he is making now, but no one said anything either privately or publicly. I feel it would be embarrassing to go back on my promise, even though I sympathize with their arguments.”

Mr. Miller commented at the meeting, “Tonight we’re not talking about salaries of elected officials or salaries of the employees or the municipality. We’re talking about a $59 million budget, an increase in one element of the budget. That’s not a tenth of the budget, or a hundredth of the budget. It’s not a thousandth of the budget.” He added that an attempt has been made to politicize the issue that is “undemocratic, ill-advised, and out of place.”

Before the meeting, Mayor Liz Lempert said the issue is “really an uncomfortable conversation to have,” adding, “The easy thing is to leave it the same, and the politically expedient thing is certainly to leave it the same. But I think that’s why there hasn’t been a change to it in 14 years.”

Tax rates stay the same in the $59.2 million budget, with no reduction in services. The total amount is $1.2 million less than last year’s budget.

 

The rat, as a symbol of union displeasure, made an appearance on Witherspoon Street Friday, May 9, in front of the old hospital building that has been purchased for redevelopment by AvalonBay.

“The rat is here to draw attention to the fact that AvalonBay has hired a subcontractor and started the abatement process,” said Saverio Samarelli of the Laborers’ Eastern Region Organizing Fund, who, together with Franklin Ortega of LiUNA (Laborers International Union of North America) Local 78 was making flyers available at the site.

“We are here to inform the public that the subcontractor hired by AvalonBay is considered substandard because of past violations,” said Mr. Samarelli, who went on to express his doubts about the subcontractor’s workforce: “We aren’t totally confident that all of his workers have the correct qualifications for this work.”

Mr. Samarelli described the hospital site as “the perfect storm of environmental hazards. There’s PCB, mercury, silica, lead, asbestos and medical waste, all of which can be airborne if not done correctly.” [PCB is polychlorinated biphenyl, a synthetic organic chemical compound containing chlorine.]

“And as far as we have observed there is nobody here to check that the work is being done correctly,” added Mr. Ortega.

Under the heading “Improper Asbestos Work is Dangerous,” the Union flyers cite the death of a 23-year-old women from mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. It states: “AvalonBay Communities has hired substandard company Yannuzzi Environmental Services to perform deadly asbestos abatement at 253 Witherspoon Street,” and alleges that company owner John Yannuzzi “was indicted on felony charges of criminal mischief and unlawful disposal of solid waste.”

“Not true,” said Mr. Joe Giannetti, general manager for Yannuzzi Environmental Services, who described the union’s action as an attempt to replace local hires with union members. “We are an open shop and what you have here is a disgruntled union that wants us to hire their members rather than local workers,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. As for the alleged felony charges, he said: “We were charged but there was no indictment.”

Asked about 2008 and 2009 reports by the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice Environmental Crimes Prosecutions stating that Mr. Yanuzzi’s company was charged in 2008 with illegal transportation of solid waste and criminal mischief with respect to a 45-foot box trailer abandoned on a Newark street in 2006, Mr. Giannetti said: “It is only partially correct. To my recollection, there was no 45 foot trailer filled with waste, it was three yards of sandblasting sand.”

“Our company was founded in 1923 and registered in New Jersey in 1957,” said Mr. Giannetti. “We stand by our track record. One violation in all that time.”

In a telephone call Tuesday, municipal engineer Bob Kiser pointed out that building department personnel had been stopping by the former hospital site periodically and that he had been there on Monday afternoon with John Pettenati, Princeton’s chief building code official, as well as land use engineer Jack West and electrical inspector Larry Logan. “The work we saw was satisfactory, the proper safety measures were being employed and materials were being correctly separated.”

Mr Kiser noted that no demolition had started, just the removal of carpeting, ceiling tiles, copper piping, electrical wiring, steel, and aluminum.

Asked about the allegations as stated on the Union flyer regarding AvalonBay subcontractor John Yannuzzi, Mr. Kiser said that he was aware of the past incident referred to and that the company’s record had been looked into via OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and found to be satisfactory. “We saw the information that was provided to us and it appeared to be an isolated incident by a company that is properly licensed and certified.”

As for the company, Mr. Giannetti observed that it was happy to be working in Princeton, where it is also “doing work on the University’s new dorms.”

 

May 7, 2014

Princeton University is listed among 55 institutions of higher education being investigated for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. The list was released last week by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

The investigations support efforts by the Obama administration to combat sexual assault on college campuses. On Wednesday, May 1, the administration released the first report of its White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

The task force, which was set up in January, includes Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The 20-page report, titled “Not Alone,” cites a statistic from the National Institute of Justice that one in five women experience rape or attempted rape in college.

Stressing the need for more data on the subject, the report recommends that schools conduct systematic campus surveys to assess the prevalence of sexual assault as well as student attitudes toward it, or “campus climate.” The task force will be reporting again in 2016 and “will explore legislative or administrative options to require the schools to conduct a survey.”

The report emphasizes the importance of confidential advocates and calls for further training for those who deal with sexual violence on college campuses. It states: “Insensitive or judgmental comments, or questions that focus on a victim’s behavior (e.g., what she was wearing, prior sexual history) rather than on the alleged perpetrator’s, can compound a victim’s distress.” The report can be viewed at www.NotAlone.gov, a new government website, also unveiled last week, calling attention to the problem of sexual violence at institutions of higher learning.

Vice President Joe Biden said officials at colleges and universities, even if they fear their schools’ reputations may be damaged, “can no longer turn a blind eye and pretend rape and sexual assault don’t occur on their campuses.”

“Colleges and universities need to face the fact of what exists on their campuses,” said Mr. Biden. “They need to step up to it.”

According to the report, the NotAlone.gov website would be an information source that would “give students a clear explanation of their rights,” as well as “a simple description of how to file a complaint” with federal authorities.

Besides Princeton, the list of schools being investigated includes Boston University, Harvard College and Harvard University Law School in Massachusetts; Dartmouth College in New Hampshire; CUNY Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College and SUNY at Binghamton in New York; as well as Pennsylvania State University, Swarthmore College and Temple University in Pennsylvania.

The list, dated May 1, 2014, will be updated regularly and can be viewed online: www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/us-department-education-releases-list-higher-education-institutions-open-title-i.

Investigating Princeton

Princeton is the only New Jersey institution included on the OCR list. The Department of Education will not disclose any case-specific facts or details about the schools under investigation.

In Princeton’s case, the investigation began in 2010, said University spokesperson Martin Mbugua in response to a request for comment Monday.

By email, Mr. Mbugua quoted Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon at the time the list was announced, who said that “a college or university’s appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.”

“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” said Ms. Lhamon. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”

Mr. Mbugua said that the University is aware of the investigation and will continue to cooperate with the Office for Civil Rights.

In 2011, the Obama administration said that under Title IX schools had to address sexual violence in order to provide equal access to education. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The primary goal of a Title IX investigation is to ensure that a campus is in compliance with federal law. All colleges, universities, and K-12 schools receiving federal funds must comply with Title IX. Schools that violate the law and refuse to address the problems can lose federal funding or be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action.

Under federal law, sexual violence refers to physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse, and sexual coercion.

The OCR’s list is the first comprehensive look at which campuses are under review by the DOE for possible violations of the law’s requirements regarding sexual violence.

Campus Procedures

In recent years, questions have been raised about Princeton University’s response to sexual assaults on campus.

Last May, Princeton University’s Department of Public Safety and the newly consolidated Princeton Police Department put an updated agreement in place that clarifies who does what. The agreement defines operating procedures and includes details of police response strategies and protocols. As such, it was not released to the public. Then Princeton Police Captain Nick Sutter, now Chief Sutter, said: “It contains privileged information that if released could endanger the public and officers.”

Prior to consolidation, the University’s statistics were included in the former Borough and Township crime reports. Post consolidation and subsequent to the above-mentioned agreement, the University’s Department of Public Safety submits its own Uniform Crime Report statistics to the State Police responsible for collecting such data.

 

A suspect attempting to break in to a residence on Randall Road has been arrested by the Princeton Police Department. The suspect is being looked at in connection with other home break-ins in Princeton over the last two months.

Kenneth Nwachukwu, 19, of Juniper Row was charged with criminal trespass and attempted burglary after being apprehended following a call to the Police Department from a Randall Road neighbor reporting suspicious behavior.

Upon receiving notification, Patrolman Judd Petrone arrived at Randall Road and determined that Mr. Nwachukwu had attempted to enter the home. The officer placed the suspect under arrest at the scene. Mr. Nwachukwu was taken to Mercer County Corrections Center in Hopewell when he could not post $25,000 bail.

Last month, Town Topics reported that the Princeton Police Department was working with other area police departments with respect to a “rash” of daytime residential burglaries that had occurred in Princeton homes unoccupied at the time of the break-ins. After the arrest of two Ewing men by West Windsor police on March 25, Princeton police looked for a connection to burglaries in Princeton. Stolen property found in the home of one of the suspects was examined to see if any of it had come from the Princeton break-ins.

Interviewed Friday, Detective Sergeant Chris Quaste, in charge of the Princeton burglaries investigation, said that “there was no reason to believe that they [the two Ewing suspects] were tied to Princeton.”

“We looked into it and found that none of the stolen property found in the home of one of the suspects had any connection to the burglaries in Princeton,” he said.

Of the ongoing investigation into burglaries in Princeton and the arrest of Mr. Nwachukwu, Mr. Quaste commented that the suspect faces a second count of criminal trespass stemming from a burglary investigation in the 200 block of Stuart Road. “We believe this person is possibly responsible for some of the other burglaries, but as yet the investigation is ongoing,” said Mr. Quaste, who was unable to comment further.

The detective, a 26-year veteran of Princeton Police, went on to praise the vigilance of the neighbor who called the police.

“This arrest was made because a resident called us. Residents are our eyes and ears and we are always grateful when we get a call like this, resulting in an arrest,” he said.

To Foil a Burglar

Mr. Quaste reminds Princeton residents of the following anti-burglary tips:

• Call immediately to report any suspicious vehicle(s) and/or person(s) in your neighborhood. If possible, get a description of any suspicious person or vehicle (including a license plate) and the direction of travel, so as to advise responding officers.

• Notify the police immediately of any unknown person knocking on the front door. Be aware that knocking is a means to determine whether or not a house is occupied. Potential burglars might say that they are looking for someone or for a particular street, even for a lost pet. They might pretend to be a door-to-door salesman. If there is no answer to their knock, they will generally walk to the back of the house and use unlocked doors/windows to gain entry. If none are found, windows and doors have been forced open. Jewelry and silver are generally targeted.

• Report any suspicious activity immediately to your local police department, or in the event of an emergency for an incident in progress, call 9-1-1.

The Princeton Police Department also suggests that residents have digital photographs of their valuables as a way of helping the police in their attempts to recover stolen property. Practices that often prevent homes being targeted at least during daytime are the turning on of any alarm systems, and showing signs of occupation such as a car parked in the driveway, or a radio or TV left on inside the home.

 

Despite a few debates over semantics at a work session on code review Monday night, Princeton Council was able to introduce several ordinances and begin discussion of some others that need to be “harmonized” to reflect the consolidation of the former Borough and Township. A public hearing on several of these ordinances will be held as part of the Council’s meeting on Tuesday, May 27.

During a discussion of the ordinance for the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), chairman Matt Wasserman noted that the commission’s work might be compromised by restrictive wording of the document. The governing body opted to go back to the town’s handbook on boards and commissions before taking a vote.

An ordinance concerning landscaping registration was also discussed, with PEC member Heidi Fichtenbaum telling Council the commission would like to add wording that would provide some sort of “lunch and learn” educational sessions for landscapers who registered with the town. The sessions would encourage environmentally friendly practices. Both Mayor Liz Lempert and Council member Jo Butler said they liked the idea but weren’t sure it needed to be ordinanced.

Ms. Fichtenbaum favored making registration of landscapers mandatory in order to encourage preservation of the environment. “I can’t speak strongly enough about this. We are not making progress on these issues fast enough,” she said. “Every little piece is important. Every single citizen of this planet needs to draw a line in the sand and be committed to this because we will not survive if we don’t.”

The Council voted to introduce the ordinance. Assistant Princeton Attorney Lisa M. Maddox said she will look into whether it is legal to make registration mandatory.

Among the ordinances that were introduced were those concerning issuance of a certificate of compliance for rental units; general provisions; administration; parades; pay-to-play regulations and campaign contributions; municipal court; peddling and soliciting; and Corner House. Each of these was discussed at length at the Council’s previous meeting.

 

April 30, 2014

The town of Princeton and Princeton University have produced a seven year agreement under which the University will make voluntary unrestricted financial contributions to the municipality totaling $21.72 million, as well as one-time contributions valued at $2.59 million to several identified municipal projects.

The agreement was voted on at Monday’s public meeting after brief discussion and public comment. Mayor Lempert and Councilwoman Heather Howard recused themselves from the discussion and vote because of a conflict of interest; both of their spouses are employed by Princeton University.

Council President Bernie Miller summarized the agreement and the process by which it had been achieved since last fall. He described it as “unique” and “groundbreaking” for three reasons: it is for seven years; contributions increase annually; and the University will make one-time contributions to projects that were agreed to be of mutual benefit to the University and the town.

In a press release from the University last week, Mr. Miller described the seven year duration as important for “fiscal stability.” The annual amounts paid by the University will increase at a rate greater than permitted for the municipal property tax under New Jersey State law. In addition, the University has agreed to donate to the municipality for its use the University-owned parking lot on Franklin Street that has been valued in the range of $1 million.

In the same press release, Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber is quoted: “We are very pleased to be able to make these contributions to the town of Princeton, and in doing so to reaffirm both our desire to help sustain the vitality and well-being of our home community and our deep appreciation for the many aspirations and interests we share.”

At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Miller went on to thank Mr. Eisgruber, who participated in the initial town/gown meeting last fall, for setting a positive tone for the negotiations that recognized the interests of both the University and the municipality in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

He gave special thanks to the town’s administrator Bob Bruschi and Councilman Patrick Simon, who served with him on the negotiating team and he thanked Council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller and Lance Liverman for their input.

“It will serve Princeton well and be a model for other towns where town and gown share common goals,” Mr. Miller  said after listing highlights that include the following:

In calendar year 2014 the University’s voluntary unrestricted contribution will be $2.75 million, an increase of more than 10 percent over its 2013 contribution; in each subsequent year through 2020, the University will increase its contribution by 4 percent per year; in 2014 the University will contribute an additional $90,000 for the purchase of a new Free-B vehicle.

Over the course of the agreement, the University will also make the following one-time contributions: $250,000 toward construction of a new storage facility for the town’s Department of Public Works equipment; $500,000 toward construction of a new Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad facility on municipal land; $250,000 toward the expansion of the Witherspoon Fire Station (in addition to $300,000 already committed to this project under a prior agreement); and $500,000 toward the purchase of fire-fighting apparatus.

Patrick Simon expressed his pleasure at the agreement and for having “turned a page” in the relationship between the municipality and the University. He thanked Council members Lance Liverman, Jenny Crumiller, and Jo Butler, who met regularly with the municipal negotiators, and volunteer Brad Middlekauff for invaluable assistance.

University representatives Robert Durkee, vice president and secretary, and Kristen Appelget, director of community and regional affairs, who were at the meeting, were praised for their efforts; both had worked on the agreement.

Public Comment

Several members of the public, including Mary Clurman, Kip Cherry and Paul Driscoll, rose in public comment to question the amount that the University has committed to the town.

In 2011, a group of local residents sued the University on the grounds that it should pay property taxes on nearly 20 buildings not directly related to classroom or educational activities, such as Princeton University Press, Alexander Hall, Prospect House, Dillon Gym and Stephens fitness center, McCarter Theatre, the Frist Center, and McCosh Infirmary.

“They [the University] should be paying more, given the amount of property they own and the percentage they are contributing to the town’s budget,” said Ms. Cherry. She then went on to question the contributions promised by the University to projects that have not yet been discussed or approved by the citizens of Princeton. “These are projects that the town hasn’t decided upon and yet they appear on the budget.”

Mr. Bruschi replied that the funds could go to other projects, a point reiterated by Mr. Miller who explained the projects as candidates for funding by the University; projects that would be of mutual benefit to both. “If any or all of these projects do not come about we can sit down again with the University and discuss others, and if this or a future council changes plans, we can work with the University to redirect the funds.”

But Ms. Cherry was not sufficiently assured. Ms. Butler commented that while she understood Ms. Cherry’s concerns, it was important to find projects of mutual interest.

It was pointed out that in addition to the contributions described in the agreement, the University makes additional voluntary contributions each year through a longstanding practice of leaving certain properties, such as non-dormitory graduate student housing, on the tax rolls even though they could qualify for exemption from property taxes under New Jersey law.

According to the new agreement, the University intends to continue this practice and that if the practice is modified, it will make additional voluntary payments to the municipality and the schools at the levels they would have received if the properties had remained on the tax rolls.

The University’s property taxes are expected to increase significantly in future years with the completion of its Lakeside graduate student housing and Merwick/Stanworth faculty/staff housing projects.

Following Ms. Cherry’s remarks, Mr. Driscoll expressed his dissatisfaction with the transparency of decision-making in the town. From the public’s perspective, he said: “it feels like powerful groups in the University come in and trump our needs. No matter how many times we come in and talk, we feel powerless.” There was no response to his comment from members of Council.

Mr. Durkee was then invited to speak. Addressing the council, he said: “We appreciate the opportunity to provide the community an unrestricted contribution which you decide how to spend and to provide funding for projects that you have described.” He endorsed Mr. Miller’s earlier remark that the agreement represents an effective model for other university towns on how to work together.

The agreement, which can be viewed on the University’s website www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S39/83/46G77/index.xml) passed unanimously.

 

When he was 12, Paul Sigmund won the Philadelphia auditions for Quiz Kids radio show. Despite this distinction, after which he traveled to Chicago to compete with similarly gifted children from around the country, the young Mr. Sigmund never made his five younger siblings feel he was in any way superior. Mr. Sigmund died Sunday at the age of 85 (see accompanying obituary).

“In spite of his tremendous scholastic achievements, Paul didn’t have any sense of being above everybody,” said his brother Peter Sigmund, on Monday. It is a description echoed by family members, friends, and colleagues of Mr. Sigmund, who began teaching at Princeton University in 1963 and helped found the school’s program in Latin American Studies.

“What impressed me was that he had the finest mind of anyone I’ve ever known, but he never talked down to people,” said Stephen Sigmund, one of Mr. Sigmund’s three sons. “I think that’s something his students always found, and they benefitted from that.”

Author and journalist Cokie Roberts, the sister of Mr. Sigmund’s late wife Barbara Boggs Sigmund, described him as “never overbearing, and a wonderful teacher in both his life and his work.” Barbara Sigmund was the mayor of Princeton Borough from 1983 until her death in 1990.

Anne Reeves of Princeton described Mr. Sigmund as “a very, very dear friend for a very long time. He was a treasure, a fine, modest human being. He was always there for you, always had a good suggestion. And certainly, he was very brilliant.”

Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs issued a statement calling Mr. Sigmund “a great scholar, favorite teacher, and generous colleague.” Mr. Sigmund attended and contributed to the bi-weekly seminars of the program.

“Moreover, he had a reserved seat at almost all of LAPA’s public events,” the statement reads.К“He willingly agreed to be a guest each year at an LAPA Fellows’ lunch, sharing his incredible knowledge of and personal experiences in Latin America.КPaul welcomed inquiries from Fellows who sought his wisdom on so many subjects.КHe was beloved by generations of students who looked for questions that would afford them the opportunity to meet with him.КPaul’s interests were rich and deep, and even included sharing with us his concerns about the New Orleans Saints football team, no doubt an interest inherited from his late wife’s family.”

Leslie Gerwin, associate director of the program, who co-wrote the statement with LAPA acting director Paul Frymer, elaborated on Tuesday. “I never met anyone who had met Paul who wasn’t influenced by him in a very positive way,” she said. “He had such wide interests. He was both a scholar and a participant in life.”

Steve Sigmund said his father, a longtime resident of Princeton, was devoted to the town. “Princeton was so meaningful to him because he was a teacher throughout his life more than anything else, and this was a warm and welcoming community to him,” he said. “He was so grateful that he could teach to and learn from so many generations of Princeton students. After my mother died, he had a supportive intellectual community to help him.”

“He listened when you talked to him,” said Peter Sigmund of the brother 14 years his senior “He was a really good brother and a very good family person with a wonderful sense of humor. He was always the leader.”