April 29, 2015

On April 28, at 10:04 a.m., the Riverside Elementary School received a pre-recorded message that was general in nature and threatened to harm children. The school notified Princeton Police headquarters and patrol units responded to Riverside School and found the school to be safe. As a precaution, police remained at the school throughout the day. Patrols have been increased in the areas of all the schools throughout the municipality. All Princeton private and public schools were notified of the incident by the police department. Each school took actions deemed appropriate, including sheltering the children inside. The Princeton Police Department will continue to investigate the origin of the threat.


PHS Walk Out

Hundreds of students at Princeton High School (PHS) walked out of their classes last Thursday, April 23, in order to demonstrate their support for teachers who have been embroiled in contract negotiations with the district for the best part of a year. The peaceful walkout “was to draw attention to the issue of the teacher’s lack of contracts and the board’s lack of cooperation in negotiating a fair contract,” said senior student organizer Catherine Curran-Groome. “We also wanted to demonstrate that the students at PHS care deeply about how our teachers are treated.” Senior Crystal Abbott alerted Town Topics to the demonstration. “Our beloved teachers are doing everything within their power to both support the students and establish a fair contract that gives them the benefits that they deserve,” she said. Students began leaving the PHS building around 12:25 p.m. to gather on the front lawn. Some students held homemade signs during the peaceful demonstration and most returned to their classrooms shortly after 1 p.m. Teachers, who have been working under the terms of an expired contract since June 30, 2014, have stopped performing tasks for which they are not paid such as student clubs and field trips. In spite of reported progress, negotiations continue with the help of a state-appointed mediator. (Photo by Jennifer Lea Cohan)

Dyson BookProfessor Emeritus of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study Freeman Dyson, described as “one science’s most eloquent interpreters” in The New York Times Book Review, will be reading from his new book, Dreams of Earth and Sky (New York Review) at Labyrinth Books on Thursday, April 30, at 6 p.m.

In this sequel to The Scientist as Rebel (2006), Mr. Dyson celebrates openness to unconventional ideas and “the spirit of joyful dreaming” in which he believes that science should be pursued. Throughout these essays, which range from the creation of the Royal Society in the 17th century to the scientific inquiries of the Romantic generation to recent books by Daniel Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell, he seeks to “break down the barriers that separate science from other sources of human wisdom.”

According to Kirkus Reviews, “Readers will be delighted by the fascinating insider’s view of the scientific community and its intersection with the political establishment.

Called by The Times of London “one of the world’s most original minds,” Mr. Dyson is the author of Disturbing the Universe (1979), Weapons and Hope (1984), Infinite in All Directions (1988), Origins of Life (1986, second edition 1999), The Sun, the Genome and the Internet (1999), The Scientist as Rebel (2006) and A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2010). He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 2000 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

On April 16, in a case that could have significant implications for Princeton University and for local taxpayers, a state appeals court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling in favor of four Princeton residents who are challenging the University’s status as a tax exempt non-profit organization.

Public interest lawyer Bruce I. Afran, brought the suit in 2011 on behalf of Kenneth Fields, Mary Ellen Marino, and Joseph and Kathryn King.

In February, tax court judge Vito L. Bianco denied the University’s request to have the lawsuit thrown out. In an attempt to reverse Judge Bianco’s decision, the University had taken the “unusual” step of appealing even before the case had been decided.

“The trial court denied our motion to dismiss the case, but in doing so made no judgment about the merits of the case,” said Robert K. Durkee, Princeton University’s vice president and secretary in an email Friday. “We asked the appeals court to review the trial court decision not to dismiss the case. We knew it was unlikely that the court would hear the appeal, but we believe the law is so clear that we thought it was worth asking for a ruling now.”

Mr. Durkee added that the University would not be appealing the recent higher court’s decision to the state Supreme Court but would instead be preparing for trial.

Mr. Afran, said Friday that the appeals court had also ruled against the University’s attempt to challenge Judge Bianco’s ruling that the University would have to show that it deserved the tax exemption.

“This is hugely significant because the University has to prove that it qualifies for tax exempt status as a non-profit organization and that might be difficult for it to do,” said Mr. Afran. “As a non-profit group it would not be allowed to distribute profits to people with whom it holds patents. The University is involved in a lot of commercial activities, setting itself up as a profit-based business, especially in the sciences and technology. It is using its science and engineering facilities to market products. This is of course a perfectly legal activity, but it is a commercial activity.”

However, in a letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian last year, which Mr. Durkee said Friday contains a summary of the University’s position with respect to the lawsuit, the University vice-president claimed that it was up to plaintiffs to persuade the court that Princeton [University] has ceased to be an educational institution and instead has become an entity whose dominant motive is to make a profit. “No one can argue in good faith that Princeton’s dominant motive is anything other than to be the best educational institution it can possibly be,” he said.

Citing the federal Bayh-Dole Act (or Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act), which provides guidance for research universities, Mr. Durkee’s letter stated: “Princeton’s mission is to educate students and generate new knowledge and new ideas. It does these things not only for their own sake, but to serve the public good by preparing and encouraging students from a broad range of backgrounds to aspire to positions of leadership and lives of service, and by making discoveries that lead to advances in a broad range of fields that have a direct impact on the broader society, fields ranging from medicine and the environment to technology and public policy …. Both state and federal tax policies enable educational institutions to maximize the extent to which their revenues can be used to support their missions. The University also generates a small fraction of its budget through patents and royalties, and it similarly invests those revenues to advance its educational mission.

“Even with a successful patent, the revenues that come to the University are dwarfed by the investment the University makes in creating the conditions that allow our faculty to do the research that leads to the ideas that eventually lead to the patent.

“A number of the practices that are being challenged by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are specifically required by Bayh-Dole, and they are followed by research universities throughout the country.”

“This issue is not likely to be concluded in a New Jersey Tax Court,” said Bernie MIller, president of Princeton Council when asked for comment, adding that he would rather not speculate on the outcome and it’s impacts on higher education in the United States or on communities like ours that host major research universities.”

Mr. Afran, however, remains confident. Asked whether he thought the lawsuit could have implications for other university towns and/or for educational institutions claiming tax exempt status across the state and even across the country, he said “Yes, although the potential impact on the taxpayer is hard to know since old assessments are no longer accurate.”

“The issue is not whether the taxpayer will win but how much of the University’s tax exempt status will remain if this goes to trial,” said Mr. Afran. “If the entire campus were valued for tax purposes, this could amount to some $60 million a year; even if only the science facilities were to be taxed, this could be some $30 million a year in taxes. For the average Princeton taxpayer, this could possibly mean a reduction of between 30 and 50 percent on their tax bill.”

“I believe that there is widespread support for this action. There is increasing awareness that today’s universities are “hedge funds masquerading as educational non-profit organizations.” Isn’t it ironic that Princeton University has hired one of the world’s most expensive law firms to defend its non-profit status. They charge about $1200 an hour.”

The University has hired Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. The challenge to its property tax exempt status will be tried in New Jersey tax court, most likely in the early part of 2016.

Princeton Council voted on several initiatives at its meeting Monday night, agreeing to adopt a budget for 2015, send out requests for proposals to update the parking system at the Spring Street garage, and contribute affordable housing funds for a group home to serve adults with disabilities, among other topics.

Lytle Street

After a closed session during which personnel negotiations and other issues were discussed, the governing body heard reports from the police, recreation, and public works departments before getting an update from administrator Marc Dashield on the options surrounding a 19th century house on Lytle Street adjacent to the Mary Moss Park, in the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood.

The town had proposed buying 31-33 Lytle Street, demolishing the house on the property, and extending the park, where a small kiddie pool is located and some renovations were already planned. But after protests from several neighborhood residents who opposed tearing down the house, plans were put on hold while other options were explored. The town granted developer Roman Barsky demolition permits last fall but have asked him to wait until a final decision is made. He will need an answer soon, Mr. Dashield said.

Ideally, some residents would like to see the house saved and converted into two affordable housing units. But Mr. Dashield said that option was not viable. He estimated it would cost between $240,000 and $300,000 for each unit, “which is way beyond what we can spend,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s prudent to use money from the affordable housing trust fund for this.” He suggested that the money should be raised privately by a corporation or non-profit organization. Last month, a citizens’ group involved in trying to save the house from demolition proposed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Residents Kip Cherry and Hendricks Davis spoke in favor of saving the house, and Bernadine Hines commented that the neighborhood already has several play areas and doesn’t need another one. Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission recommended to Council last month that the house not be torn down. The town is still waiting for an appraisal. A work session on the  issue will likely take place on May 18.

Parking Garage

With the payment system of the Spring Street Parking Garage next to Princeton Public Library “clearly on its last legs,” Mayor Liz Lempert said, Council took action to expedite a revamping of the technology. The governing body voted unanimously to pass a resolution allowing requests for proposals to go out as soon as possible.

Ms. Lempert said the garage is “the go-to place for folks to park” in town. Problems with credit cards and smart cards getting rejected have caused delays in getting in and out of the garage. “People are just having a really tough time getting the machines to behave the way you would expect them to,” she said.

When the issue was brought to Council last October, assistant municipal engineer Deanna Stockton detailed three options for consideration. Instead of installing meters, which was one of the options, replacing and upgrading the current system was decided to be the best idea. “You’ll never get a ticket in the parking lot, because you never have to worry about exceeding your time,” Ms. Lempert said.

Council hopes to have an update by the May 11 meeting. The upgraded system could be installed in three to four months, said Ms. Stockton.


Council voted unanimously to adopt a budget for 2015 that includes a tax rate increase of 1.6 cents. The budget is $60.9 million. Homeowners with properties valued at an average of $800,560 could expect their municipal tax bills to go up by $147.

Scott Sillars of the volunteer Citizens Finance Advisory Committee presented the budget to Council, recommending that the town spend no more than $7.1 million on capital projects during the next six years. He projected that the town is in good shape as far as surplus is concerned, and that debt service growth will be 5.2 percent this year. Core revenues are $52,957, and core expenditures are $53,726.

Among the financial challenges the town faces are such large projects as the new headquarters for the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS) and improvements to Community Park North.

Hilltop Group Home

Council members voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance allowing the town to use $400,000 in affordable housing trust funds to buy a house at 9 Hilltop Drive and turn it into a group home for adults.

The nonprofit organization Youth Consultation Services will renovate and run the four-bedroom home. New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities, who are of low or moderate income, will be eligible. One room will be reserved for a Princeton resident.

Praising the project as a public/private/non-profit partnership, resident Hendricks Davis said, “It is our responsibility as a community to do all we can to build and sustain all members of the community and provide wholesome, holistic and integrated housing resources for citizens and residents.” He added that the group home could also bring some jobs to town.

MORVEN IN MAY: The extraordinary skills and artistry of basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow Mary Jackson will be featured in the 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden, which opens with a preview party this Friday evening and continues with an exhibition and sale on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. This year the event promises to be bigger and better than ever with 35 participating fine craft artists. Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or via: www.morven.org. Tickets for the exhibition/sale and heirloom plant sale, which may be purchased at the tent entrance, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full list of 2015 Morven in May exhibitors is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.(Photo Courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden)

MORVEN IN MAY: The extraordinary skills and artistry of basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow Mary Jackson will be featured in the 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden, which opens with a preview party this Friday evening and continues with an exhibition and sale on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. This year the event promises to be bigger and better than ever with 35 participating fine craft artists. Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or via: www.morven.org. Tickets for the exhibition/sale and heirloom plant sale, which may be purchased at the tent entrance, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full list of 2015 Morven in May exhibitors is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org. (Photo Courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden)

Princeton is a place of discovery. Nowhere more so than during Morven in May. Focused on art and artistic creativity both indoors and outdoors, this year’s event will bring a number of extraordinary artists to Princeton for the first time, foremost among them basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow, Mary Jackson of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regarded as a national treasure by museums and private collectors, Mary Jackson, 70, is the nation’s most celebrated maker of sweetgrass baskets. Her work has been bought by Britain’s Prince Charles and Japan’s Empress Michiko.

In addition to sweetgrass, she uses pine needles, palmetto, and bullrush to create baskets that combine traditional techniques and forms with her own distinctly contemporary and elegantly sculptural flair. This is basketry elevated to the level of fine art.

According to a recent article by Joyce Lovelace in American Craft magazine, Ms. Jackson has done much to preserve the strong, pliable sweetgrass of her native South Carolina. As founding president of the Mount Pleasant Sweetgrass Basket Makers Association, she worked to see that plants that would have been destroyed by development were saved and transplanted on preserved land.

Ms. Jackson’s ancestors brought the tradition from West Africa some 300 years ago and handed it down through the generations in the Gullah community. Ms. Jackson was taught by her mother and grandmother. In 1984, she was invited to show her work at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C.

Her pièce de résistance is an enormous shallow basket, with a plume of raw grass flowing out of it, that has a diameter of 3.5 feet. It took three years to complete for a private client who has it hanging on a wall as a single piece of dramatic artwork. According to Ms. Lovelace, a photo of the basket is on the cover of the interior design book Simplicity by Nancy Braithwaite.

Other newcomers are the decorative porcelain sculptor, Katherine Houston of Boston (a short video of her work can be viewed at: http://katherinehouston.com/video/) and glass artist Martin Kremer from Pound Ridge, New York. One other Southern artist is Lynn Pollard from Atlanta, Georgia, whose work with indigo on handmade paper can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJTKckf5tsk.

“In the craft show world, Morven in May has really begun to make a name for itself among the top artists,” said Director of Development Barbara Webb. The museum’s largest event of the year, Morven in May raises over $100,000 in support for the exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs at National Historic Landmark that was formerly the official residence of the New Jersey governor.

This year, 125 fine craft artists from all corners of the Unites States applied. Only 35 were selected, but that number represents a substantial increase from last year’s 25 participants. The selections were made by Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward, art auctioneer David Rago, and Veronica Roberts, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.

The beautifully crafted art objects will be displayed in gallery-style booths under a grand tent on the museum’s Great Lawn. Visitors will find many returning artists whose work they enjoyed last year in glass, ceramics, decorative and wearable fiber, furniture, jewelry, wood, and mixed media. Furniture designer Barry Newstat from Chicago, will be returning, as will textile artist Erin Wilson from Brooklyn.

Besides the exhibition and sale, festivities will include an heirloom plant sale with unique perennials and annuals ready to plant.

The event begins Friday evening, May 1, with a preview party catered by chef Max Hansen, author of the best-selling cookbook, Smoked Salmon, Delicious Innovative Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2003).

Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or at: www.morven.org.

Tickets, which may be purchased at the tent entrance for Saturday and Sunday, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free.

The 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Garden will take place at Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, this weekend from Friday through Sunday, May 1 to May 3. Hours are Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A full list of the 2015 Morven in May exhibitors and images of their work is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.


Sidewalk artists enjoying the 45th annual Communiversity ArtsFest Sunday. This week’s Town Talk features comments from a sample of the 40,000 visitors to the Town Meets Gown celebration. Pictures and poetry from the occasion can be found on page 15. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

April 24, 2015

Stand Against Racism

At a legislative breakfast today at the Nassau Inn, the Princeton and Trenton YWCA, the organization Not in Our Town, the Princeton Merchants Association and guests including Mayor Liz Lempert, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter, and Princeton Council members Bernie Miller and Lance Liverman gathered to show support for Stand Against Racism. Mayor Lempert, shown here, was among the speakers on this year’s theme, which is “Ending Racial Profiling.” Other speakers included sociologist Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, who chairs Princeton’s Latin American Legal Defense & Education Fund. Ms. Fernandez-Kelly stressed that while taking a stand against racism, wage theft, and other related issues is admirable, it is also important to invite members of minority communities into churches and other organizations. “It’s not enough to stand against racism. That’s just a question of good manners,” she said. “Racial profiling is very bad manners and I think we should focus on inclusion, which is a lot harder.” (Photo by Anne Levin)

April 23, 2015

A live conversation between Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who leaked classified NSA documents to the media, and Barton Gellman ’82, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and visiting specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, who broke the story in The Washington Post, will talk place Saturday, May 2 at 10:30 a.m. on the campus in the Friends Center, Room 101. The free, public event will be livestreamed at http://mediacentrallive.princeton.edu and will be recorded.

Mr. Snowden, now living in Russia, was a former defense contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton who worked at the NSA office in Hawaii. In 2013, using the codename Verax (Latin for “truth teller”), he approached the media bout classified NSA surveillance information. Soon after, Mr. Gellman helped break the story in the Washington Post of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, which mines data from nine U.S. Internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook.

Mr. Gellman, who is also author of The New York Times bestseller “Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency,” has, since June of 2013, written stories for The Washington Post about the NSA documents provided to him by Snowden. He is also a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. His professional honors include two Pulitzer Prizes, a George Polk Award, a Henry Luce Award and Harvard’s Goldsmith Prize for investigative reporting. Gellman graduated with highest honors from Princeton and earned a master’s degree in politics at University College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar.

The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Information Technology Policy, the Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

April 22, 2015
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Taken at last year’s Communiversity event, this photograph shows one Stone Soup Circus member enjoying the fun. The popular group will be back again this year when Communiversity takes over the town on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. Booths include one from this newspaper, Town Topics, on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers, so stop by and say hello!(Image Courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Taken at last year’s Communiversity event, this photograph shows one Stone Soup Circus member enjoying the fun. The popular group will be back again this year when Communiversity takes over the town on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. Booths include one from this newspaper, Town Topics, on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers, so stop by and say hello! (Image Courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

The Princeton University Marching Band and those madcap Stone Soup Circus people are set to entertain the 40,000 visitors expected to attend this year’s Communiversity on Sunday, April 26.

Between 1 and 6 p.m. the Arts Council of Princeton, in collaboration with Princeton University and the municipality, will turn the town into a giant outdoor music festival and market for the 45th Annual Communiversity ArtsFest along Nassau and Witherspoon Streets, on the Palmer Square Green and on the University campus in front of Nassau Hall.

The festival draws local and student performers, artists and crafters, chefs, merchants, community groups, and volunteers in celebration of Town and Gown with over 200 booths showcasing original art, contemporary crafts, unique merchandise, and food. Non-stop live entertainment for all ages will take place on six stages.

There will be music from returning artists Big Wake, Princeton School of Rock, Canto Del Sur, and The Shaxe. Up-and-coming newcomers are regional artists Lauren Marsh and Underwater Sounds. Other performers include Sarah Donner, The Blue Meanies, Sheltered Turtle, Yang Yi Guzheng Academy Ensemble, and the Princeton Girlchoir.

If you’ve been curious about how your name would look in Arabic script, the Arts Council’s newest Artist in Residence, Faraz Kahn, will enlighten you. Stop by his spot on Palmer Square Green to learn the rudiments of Arabic calligraphy and contribute your name to a pennant that will be featured in an outdoor display.

If you’ve longed to see the inside of the Chestnut Street Fire House, now is your chance. Members of the artists group Art+10 will be painting portraits of firefighters, their fire trucks and equipment between 1 and 5:30 p.m. at an open house for Princeton Engine Company No. 1, which dates to 1794. The station houses a rich collection of memorabilia and the paintings will be for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to the Fire Company.

Come hungry as there will be plenty to eat from local chefs. Vendors include D’Angelo Italian Market, Elements, Mistral, House of Cupcakes, Mamoun’s Falafel, Mediterra, Nomad Pizza, The Taco Truck, Triumph Brewing, Winberies, the Witherspoon Grill, and Blue Point Grill, to name but a small selection of what will be offered.

As usual there will be a large contingent of non-profit organizations presenting their causes and over 40 artists will showcase their individual and group talents. Dance performances will feature American Repertory Ballet/Princeton  Ballet School, the YWCA dance troupe, Lisa Botalico Fiesta Flamenca. Ballet Folklorico, Raks Odalisque, and others.

At the East Pyne Arch on the University campus there will be a cappella singing from student groups Old NasSoul, Tigerlilies, Katzenjammers, Wildcats, Acapellago, and others throughout the afternoon.

Princeton University’s radio station, WPRB 103.3 FM, will celebrate 75 years in broadcasting on the Chambers Street stage. According to its website, the student-run station was one of the first college radio stations in the country and began in 1940 as WPRU, “broadcasting through the heating pipes of a Princeton University dorm.” (Check out its history on wprb.com.)

Street performances will take place throughout downtown and visitors will be able to encounter art at almost every turn with visual artists in action throughout the day at several locations with ACP faculty members demonstrating different techniques and media.

Kids will be happy to see the ever-popular “Nana’s-Make-A-Mess” with an assortment of materials to inspire original artwork and Sidewalk Chalk at Tiger Park on Palmer Square.


The Town and Gown celebration began in 1971 when the Arts Council of Princeton held “The Art People’s Party” with musicians, artists and crafters. In 1974, the annual party was held on the McCarter Theater grounds and was dedicated in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday. In 1976, when it was held on the Washington Road Bridge, festival attendees arrived by boat.

When students from Princeton University joined the party in 1985, the name “Communiversity” was coined. Over the years, highlights have included a giant banana split fundraiser in 1987 and a “Communiversity Brew” from Triumph Brewing in 2001.

In 1991, the event drew a crowd of some 10,000 people. In recent years that number has grown to four times as many.

Paint Out Princeton

In 2013, the Arts Council introduced Paint Out Princeton to great success and this time around, local painters will be at their easels around town painting scenes of the day. The painting en plein air will continue for the second year in a row on Sunday May 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the grounds of the Morven Museum and Garden during the Morven in May festival from May 1 through May 3. Visitors will be able to see artists at work (register by emailing: info@artscouncilofprinceton.org) and the artwork produced at Communiversity and at Morven will be displayed in the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts through May 9, with a closing reception from 3 to 5 p.m.

Town Topics

Be sure to stop by and say hello to the staff at the Town Topics booth located on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers. Witherspoon Media Group is a proud media sponsor of the event and will be receiving entries for its Youth Poetry Contest on the theme of “What Princeton Means to Me.” Student poets should drop off their poems to the Town Topics table before 5 p.m. Submission should include name, age, grade, and school. Don’t forget to title your poem and include a contact phone number. Winning poems will be published in an upcoming issue of Town Topics newspaper.


In addition to street parking where it can be found, parking garages can be accessed via Hulfish and Chambers Streets. The Spring Street garage can be also accessed via Wiggins Street as well.

The owner and operator of Princeton Shopping Center, EDENS, is sponsoring a Communiversity shuttle that will transport passengers from the Princeton Shopping Center to the festival entrance at the corner of Wiggins and Witherspoon streets between from 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. Visitors can park for free at the Shopping Center and take the shuttle. Signage will be posted at the various pick-up locations.

Additional free parking can be found in Princeton University’s parking lots, which will be open during the event. For more information, visit: www.princeton.edu/parking.

For more information on Communiversity, visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call (609) 924-8777.


Writing of Nassau Hall, Scott Fitzgerald, Class of 1917, found it “not like a mother who has borne sons and wears the scars of her travail but like a patient old nurse, skeptical and affectionate with these foster children who, as Americans, can belong to no place under the sun.” (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

BACK TO NATURE: It’s adults only at a new series of courses running through the fall at the Watershed Environmental Center in Pennington. This view is from a Saturday morning field trip that was part of the first course on birds of New Jersey. Coming up are sessions on plants and flowers, insects, and trees of New Jersey.(Photo by Lynn Butler)

BACK TO NATURE: It’s adults only at a new series of courses running through the fall at the Watershed Environmental Center in Pennington. This view is from a Saturday morning field trip that was part of the first course on birds of New Jersey. Coming up are sessions on plants and flowers, insects, and trees of New Jersey. (Photo by Lynn Butler)

Offering ecology-based experiences for adults is a regular part of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association’s mission. But a new series of courses and field trips geared to grown-ups is designed to take these experiences to another level.

“We’re digging deeper with this,” said Jeff Hoagland, the Watershed’s director of education and a designer of “The Language of Nature,” which began last month and will run through the fall. “We had reached out before to staff and other experts in the community to teach classes. But that was really just scratching the surface. This is different.”

The first course, a six-session series focused on birds of New Jersey and completed last week, sold out. The next, “Plants and Wild Flowers of Woods, Fields, and Roadsides,” taught by Rider University associate professor Laura A. Hyatt, runs on Tuesday evenings May 5-20. Mr. Hoagland is hopeful that it will inspire similar enthusiasm.

“You could say that we’re preaching to the choir a little,” he said. “But what we’re doing is capitalizing on what we believe is people’s inherent interest in the environment, giving them an opportunity to really understand the ‘language’ of nature. As naturalists, we see things happen. We’re trying to shine a light on that. So we’re taking it further.”

The idea for the series has been in the back of Mr. Hoagland’s mind for some time. But a conversation with board member Fred Spar brought it into sharper focus. “He sat down with me one day and we started to talk. I have to confess I was really pleased to hear what was coming out of his mouth as a board member,” Mr. Hoagland said. “He feels the same way I do — that it’s one thing to learn on one level about these aspects of nature, but it’s another thing to dive in deeper.”

Mr. Hoagland is especially enthused about the approach Ms. Hyatt will take with the upcoming course on plants and flowers. “It’s a mixture of old-school tools and hi-tech gadgets,” he said. “She’ll have a plant press, which is a nice, hands-on and rather basic technique. And she’s bringing a piece of equipment I hadn’t heard of before, that you can put around a plant to indicate how much photosynthesis is taking place. All of this allows people to get up close and personal and discover the magic of these things we walk by every day.’

In September and October, Mercer County Community College associate professor Amy Iseneker Ricco will teach “Insects of New Jersey,” with field sessions on insect collection, identification, and preservation at the Watershed Reserve. Next is “Trees of New Jersey,” with specific dates and location still to be named. All of the courses are designed to appeal to learners of all levels, Mr. Hoagland stressed.

“Sometimes these might feel almost like college courses, and that can sound intimidating,” he said. “But we have a whole range of learners, from people who are new to this to people who have some depth of knowledge already. And the teachers have been chosen to carefully accommodate that.”

Fees for the courses vary according to how many sessions are being taken and whether a student is a member of the Watershed, starting at $185 for one session and ranging to $840 for four. Visit www.thewatershed.org for more information.

The hope is to make the series a regular part of the Watershed curriculum. “We might offer some of the same courses next year, as well as some new ones,” Mr. Hoagland said. “There is a feedback loop we need to digest once we get into this further, and that will help us determine the next step.”

In celebration of National Bike Month, the Whole Earth Center will once again be committing Random Acts of Community throughout the month of May. This town-wide program was created to thank and reward bicyclists for choosing to bike rather than drive in Princeton.

Started 10 years ago with $125 in gift cards from the Whole Earth Center, this year’s participants include 26 Princeton businesses plus McCarter Theatre and the town of Princeton. A combined total of over $2,000 in gift cards will be given away this May.

Once a week, on an arbitrarily chosen day, time, and street corner, a representative from the Whole Earth Center will give the first five bicyclists who pass by a “Thank You for Bicycling” packet of gift cards from local businesses.

The certificates in each packet have a combined value of $70 to $120. The following will be given away each week: a $25 gift card from Whole Earth Center, a $25 Terra Momo gift card, a $25 JM Group gift card, a $25 gift card to the Nassau Inn, two tickets to any play in McCarter Theatre’s 2015-16 drama season, $5 from small world coffee, two free ice creams or cupcakes from the bent spoon, two $10 gift cards to Kopp’s Cycles, a $10 gift certificate to the Princeton Record Exchange, a $10 gift card from jaZam’s, a $10 gift card to Olive’s, a Princeton Pillow from the Princeton Tour Company, a $10 gift card to Hinkson’s, a $5 gift card to greendesign, a $5 gift card to P.J.’s Pancake House, $5 to Dolceria, $5 to Princeton Soup & Sandwich Company, three vouchers for a free sandwich at Olsson’s Fine Foods, and two vouchers for a free spice blend from Savory Spice. During May, two $20 Princeton SmartCards and two $10 gift cards to Labyrinth Books will be given away to cyclists.

“Bicycling brings so many benefits to Princeton and should be encouraged and rewarded,” says Whole Earth Center manager Jennifer Murray. “This program is our way of thanking bicyclists for their contribution to the quality of life in our town.”

For many years, the Whole Earth Center has rewarded shoppers who bike to their store. Biking customers can choose to either receive $1 back on purchases of $15 or more or to participate in a punch-card reward program where, after 10 punches on their Pedal Power card, customers who bike to the Whole Earth to shop receive $10 off on bike accessories at Kopp’s Cycles.

The Whole Earth Center is located at 360 Nassau Street in Princeton. To find out more about National Bike Month and Bicycle Friendly Communities, visit the League of American Bicyclists’ Web site at www.bikeleague.org.

With rapid-fire delivery, cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker gave an abbreviated version of the highly researched and heavily supported arguments in the 800 pages of his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Monday night to a packed audience in Princeton University’s McCosh auditorium.

Members of the public as well as students and faculty came to hear the Harvard professor who is listed among the world’s top 100 public intellectuals (Prospect Magazine) and today’s 100 most influential people (Time magazine).

Once described in Britain’s Financial Times as “a handsome man” with a hairstyle befitting Led Zeppelin’s front man Robert Plant, Mr. Pinker, who was born in Canada in 1954, studied experimental psychology at McGill University. He has spent most of his career bouncing back and forth between Harvard and MIT.

The award-winning author has written for the New York Times and The New Republic. His books include The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), and The Stuff of Thought (2007).

He conveyed his seemingly contrary-to-contemporary-experience ideas with remarkable clarity, explaining the claim that humans are currently living in an era that is less violent than any previous period of human existence. And he is not just referring to wars but to violence in the family, in neighborhoods, between tribes, and between states. According to the author and the statistics that back up his assertions, people today are less likely to meet a violent death, or to suffer from violence or cruelty at the hands of others, than people living in any previous century.

In his book, Mr. Pinker attends to the skepticism that has greeted his ideas in six chapters of support. On Monday night, he began his talk with the words, “Believe it or not, violence has declined.”

Even taking the worst cases in the 20th century, Nazi Germany and Russia, Mr. Pinker debunked the claim that the 20th century was the most violent in human history. While the Second World War is said to have caused 55 million deaths, the Mongol conquests of the 13th century caused an estimated 40 million deaths in a world which then had just one-seventh the population of the mid-20th century.

Since 1945, we have seen a “long peace” in which, for 66 years, the great powers, and developed nations in general, have not fought wars against one another. The past, he said, has seen decades long wars: the 30 Years’ War, the 80 Years’ War and the Hundred Years’ War; the 20th century gave us the “Six-Day War.”

Mr. Pinker presented graphic comparisons drawn from history: paleolithic forensic anthropology, the causes of death in different eras, archaeology, contemporary or recent hunter-gatherer societies, pre-state societies in which life was, as Hobbes put it: “nasty, brutish, and short.”

A graph showed a massive decline in the number of the homicides in England from 1200 to 2000. “This is not to say that the decline will necessarily continue,” said Mr. Pinker, before moving on to discuss the causes of such declines, from the introduction of states that replaced tribal raiding and feuding with industry and trade. Replacing personal revenge and retaliation with a state monopoly on the use of force made everyone better off.

He suggested that the development of printing and the spread of literacy, the mixing of people during the Enlightenment, increasing empathy from novels and journalism led to a decrease in cruelty with people beginning to look askance at practices once taken for granted: slavery, torture, despotism, dueling, and extreme forms of cruel punishment. Apparently sawing a person in half was an accepted form of judicial punishment.

The empowerment of women also has had a pacifying influence, and the world would be more peaceful if women were in charge. Changing norms have come to present war as no longer a legitimate option except as a last resort. Where once war was regarded as heroic, glorious, manly, and thrilling, it is now seen as stupid, wasteful, and cruel. Other norms have prompted declines in corporal punishment, spanking, child abuse (both physical and sexual), and increases in vegetarianism.

Mr. Pinker considered and then rejected the idea that human nature may have changed, citing the example of Germany, once the most bellicose and now the most pacifist country in Europe. Change in such a short period could not have an evolutionary explanation, said the author who believes that human nature has both propensities to violence and inclinations towards peace and cooperation.

His title, he explained, comes from a remark by Abraham Lincoln. Our better angels are self-control, empathy, a moral sense, and reason. What brings them out? Giving the state and justice system a monopoly on violence, gentle commerce, an expanding circle of empathy (as Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, has documented in his 1981 book The Expanding Circle) and the “escalator of reason.”

In less than an hour, Mr. Pinker demonstrated the breathtaking scope of the book, which Mr. Singer, has called “supremely important.”

“To have command of so much research, spread across so many different fields, is a masterly achievement,” said Mr. Singer in the New York Times Book Review, October, 2011.

Mr. Pinker not only “convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence,” said Mr. Singer, he is “persuasive about the causes of that decline.”

The Better Angels of Our Nature poses some very big questions: are human beings essentially good or bad? Has the past century witnessed moral progress or a moral collapse? Along the way, Mr. Pinker also addresses links between the human rights movement and the campaign for animal rights, why homicide rates are higher in southern U.S. states than in northern ones, whether aggressive tendencies are heritable, whether declines in violence could be attributed to genetic change, even the way in which a president’s I.Q. correlates with the number of battle deaths in wars in which the United States is involved.

In a moment of levity the speaker suggested that news media pulls the popular imagination away from considering these declining trends. “It’s rare for a reporter to stand in front of a school with the news that there have been no shootings here today,” he said.

Since his book was written in 2010, Mr. Pinker said that he had updated some of his material to include the Syrian Civil War, which he said “had wiped out about a dozen years of progress.”

But what of the future? This question didn’t arise during Mr. Pinkers presentation on Monday. But, as Peter Singer has pointed out: “Pinker is an optimist, but he knows that there is no guarantee that the trends he has documented will continue. Faced with suggestions that the present relatively peaceful period is going to be blown apart by a ‘clash of civilizations’ with Islam, by nuclear terrorism, by war with Iran or wars resulting from climate change, he gives reasons for thinking that we have a good chance of avoiding such conflicts, but no more than a good chance.”

Founded in 1912, the free public Vanuxem lecture series has previously presented speakers like J. Robert Oppenheimer, John von Neumann, and more recently Neil deGrasse Tyson. For further information, visit lectures.princeton.edu.

Community Park School (CP) will celebrate 10 years of its school garden on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22. Each student will make one “recycled” plastic flower from yogurt cups that have been saved by Principal Dineen Gruchacz and

others, decorate it with colorful cast off fabric and tissue paper, and hang all the flowers on the fence surrounding the school’s Edible Garden.

At 2 p.m, Mayor Liz Lempert, along with representatives of the Princeton Environmental Commission, Sustainable Princeton, and Princeton School Gardens Cooperative will join students and teachers in viewing the decorated garden, and in singing an environmental song led by CP Science Teacher John Emmons, one of the garden’s steadfast supporters during his seven years at the school, teaching classes in the garden and leading efforts to add an innovative Prairie Garden, Light and Shadow Gardens, and a Community Forest.

Teachers Elizabeth Czelusniak and Adam Blejwas, along with Karla Cook, whose daughters attended CP as elementary school students, remember the early days of the garden as ones that required them to involve as much of the school and larger community as possible.

Ms. Czelusniak found time in her schedule to take every class out at least once. Mr. Blejwas, the school’s Spanish teacher, grew Latin vegetables such as tomatillos with students, and joined them in making salsa from the garden’s harvest.

Ms. Cook, a longtime food journalist, was inspired to lead efforts for school gardens as an academic tool to connect children to the food on their plates, to each other and to the world around them. Other Community Park parents joined teachers and community members, and with input from people like Dorothy Mullen, longtime Riverside School Garden Educator, constructed the first raised beds and fence for the “Edible Garden.”

Ms. Cook’s work at Community Park inspired her to co-found the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative (PSGC), a unique, community-scale non-profit group, with Ms. Mullen, Fran McManus and Diane Landis Hackett. The PSGC, which fosters garden- and food-based education in the classroom, the cafeteria and the community, first constructed and filled edible gardens at all of the public schools in town, and still assists in fund-raising for garden educators and for garden maintenance.

In addition to funding from PSGC, the CP garden is supported by the school district and the school’s PTO. The funding goes for supplies and to pay an award-winning garden educator Priscilla Hayes, who has been leading gardening and sustainability efforts since the 1990s, when she originated programs in the Robbinsville Township schools as part of her Recycling and Clean Communities work.

In recent years at Community Park, parent Stephanie Chorney, has helped coordinate efforts in the school gardens and co-chairs the PTO’s Go Green Committee with Sandy Moskovitz. Community Park also has a Food and Flavor Health Residency with Fran McManus and coordinated by another parent, Lee Yonish. This program highlights tastings of some fruits and vegetables grown in the school garden.

andreas labyrinthAndreas Huyssen will read  from his new book Miniature Metropolis: Literature in the Age of Photography and Film (Harvard Univ. Press $39.95) at Labyrinth Books on Thursday, April 23 at 6 p.m.

Mr. Huyssen shows how writers from Baudelaire and Kafka to Benjamin, Musil, and Adorno created the metropolitan miniature to record their reflections of Paris, Brussels, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, and Los Angeles. Contesting photography and film as competing media, the metropolitan miniature sought to capture the “visceral feeling of acceleration and compression that defined urban existence. But the form did not merely imitate visual media, it absorbed them, condensing objective and subjective perceptions into the very structure of language and text and asserting the aesthetic specificity of literary language without resort to visual illustration.”  The author argues that the miniature subverted the expectations of transparency, easy understanding, and entertainment that mass circulation newspapers depended upon.

According to Anthony Kaes, University of California, Berkeley, “This book will serve as an invaluable guide to the wide variety of miniature writings that emerged in the modern age. Huyssen’s close readings of these literary gems highlight the ways in which they responded to new modes of sensory experience. A brilliant study of literature in the era of visual media.”

Andreas Huyssen is professor of German and comparative literature at Columbia University. He is the author of Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory; After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism; Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia; and Other Cities, Other Worlds: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing Age.


TRACKING OUR TREES: Having served as a tree climber and worked as assistant director of horticulture at New York’s Central Park, Princeton’s new arborist Lorraine Konopka knows her way around an urban landscape.

TRACKING OUR TREES: Having served as a tree climber and worked as assistant director of horticulture at New York’s Central Park, Princeton’s new arborist Lorraine Konopka knows her way around an urban landscape.

Since taking over from Greg O’Neil as Princeton’s arborist this past February, Lorraine Konopka has been bracing herself for the arrival of tiny visitors that could alter the town’s landscape. They are emerald ash borers, and they are a major threat.

“We’re told that it’s not a matter of if. It’s when,” said Ms. Konopka, who joined Princeton’s staff after nine years as Hanover Township’s arborist and two previous decades working for Manhattan’s Central Park Conservancy. The troublesome insects have yet to be detected in the branches of Princeton’s ash trees — which number somewhere around 1,700 — but they have been found in nearby Bridgewater and across the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The town is conducting tests to try and monitor a possible invasion.

Dealing with the ash trees is only one aspect of Ms. Konopka’s new position. She commutes from Morris County, where she lives with her family. Ms. Konopka’s husband is the Central Park Conservancy’s Director of Mechanical Services. Their children are 17 and 21.

“Princeton is a beautiful town,” she said. “There is so much to see and do. I love history, and of course there are so many beautiful trees. There is a lot of work to be done, but I have a great crew and everyone on the staff has been so supportive.”

Growing up on Long Island, Ms. Konopka always knew she wanted to work outdoors. “My dream as a child was to go out west and be a forest ranger,” she says. “As it turned out, I take care of the urban forest. It just kind of happened that way.”

After graduating from college, Ms. Konopka worked for a private tree company as a tree climber. “You wear a saddle and rope, you prune off dead branches, and take down trees that need to come down,” she said. Today, she is a tree expert certified by the New York and New Jersey Departments of Environmental Protection, and an arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture.

Ms. Konopka was hired in the early 1980‘s by the then-fledgling Central Park Conservancy to help refurbish its trees. The park was not in good shape at the time. “There was graffiti everywhere, there was dead wood everywhere. It was not a place that people wanted to go or where they felt safe,” she recalled. “You look at those old pictures and you can’t believe it looked that bad. Because now, it’s beautiful and everyone wants to go there.”

The Conservancy was formed in 1980 with a mission of rescuing the park. The public/private partnership became a historic management agreement between the Conservancy and the City of New York in 1998, and the nonprofit organization today raises 75 percent of the park’s annual budget. Through public education programs and special signage throughout the park, the Conservancy has turned it into a major destination. But that creates another challenge. “People love the park, but they can consume it to death,” Ms. Konopka said. “So there is this need for constant maintenance.”

After the Conservancy completed its first big project, which was renovating the expanse known as the Sheep Meadow, its administrators realized they would need to raise more money to keep it healthy. “So they started hiring young 20-somethings and I was one of them,” Ms. Konopka said. “I did just about everything there. I ran the tree crew. I worked my way up to assistant horticulturist. I stayed for 20 years.”

It was 9/11 that made Ms. Konopka decide to move on. “I was a commuter, and I was in Central Park that day and there were F-16’s flying overhead. My kids were seven and four, at home. I couldn’t get there,” she says. “I had been thinking that the juggle was getting tougher, but that was the catalyst. So I came west of the Hudson and got a job working with a tree company, then some work for a consultant and some nursery work, before I heard about the job in Hanover.”

Here in Princeton, where she applied for the arborist job after her hours in Hanover started to be cut back, she is especially grateful to have the support of the town’s Department of Public Works. “The most important thing for me, being a tree expert, is safety,” she said. “We’re working hard to try and take care of the problems you have with big, old trees with dead wood or storm damage sustained after a few years of very rough weather.”

As for those emerald ash borers, she says, “Insect issues are always out there. These are things that happen in our natural world, but this is a pretty big threat. Out in the midwest they’ve lost millions of ash trees due to this. And it isn’t just about aesthetics. This affects the furniture industry, and the baseball bat industry.”

Explaining how the ash borers inflict their damage, Ms. Konopka says, “The insect comes in and drills a little hole in the upper canopy of the tree, so you don’t see it right away. It lays its eggs, goes through its life cycle, and hangs out for a few years. They aren’t terrific flyers, but they do move around from tree to tree. By the time you see the symptomology of the decline, like dead branches, the tree has already been ill three to five years while the insect population is growing.”

Princeton is participating with New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s study of the insects. “In early May, we will put up a couple of traps in some ash trees to get a sample of what insects are around,” Ms. Konopka said. “We haven’t confirmed that we have them here just yet, but they are nearby.”

There are methods of preventing the spread of disease. “You can inject the trees with chemicals that are a preventative,” she said. “We’re hoping to try and stay ahead of it. We want to identify where the trees are in good health, especially those that have more historical value or are in a more prominent location, to maybe consider this kind of treatment. But it does come down to budget and what you can do. It’s not like we’re in Central Park, where you have a non-profit group that raises money.”

firemen art

Members of the independent artists group Art+10 will showcase their skills as part of Communiversity, April 26, from 1 to 5:30 p.m. with an open house demonstration of painting and photography at the Chestnut Street Firehouse, 13 Chestnut Street. The event highlights Princeton Engine Co. No. 1, which was founded in 1794. Artists will paint portraits of firefighters, fire trucks, equipment, and the building itself. Shown here is Jim Bongartz’s “Firemen Engine 3.” The Chestnut Street station has been home to the fire company since 1949 and houses memorabilia of a rich history and of the families that have served. On the rosters now you can find grandfathers, fathers, sons, daughters, in-laws, and cousins. The motto above the door is “We lead, let others follow.” The paintings will be for sale with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Fire Company. (Image Courtesy of the Artist)

Morven in May, the annual juried exhibition and sale of contemporary, American-made crafts by 35 artisans from around the country, will take place May 1-3 on the Great Lawn at Morven Museum at 55 Stockton Street.

All of the art is displayed in gallery-style booths. In addition, plants including fragrant heirloom flowers, new varieties of annuals and perennials, flowering shrubs, and select items propagated from Morven’s own gardens will be for sale.

The weekend kicks off on the Great Lawn with a Friday evening preview party before opening to the public for two days of art and garden treasure hunting. All proceeds help fund the museum’s exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs. The preview plant sale for Friends of Morven is May 1, 1-3:30 p.m. The Preview Garden Party is 6:30-9:30 p.m. For tickets to that event, which start at $125, call (609) 924-8144 ext. 113.

The public hours for the craft show and plant sale are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 at the door ($8 for Friends of Morven) to the craft show. No tickets are necessary for the plant sale. For more information, visit www.morven.org.

pr record exchange

The world-renowned Princeton Record Exchange marked 35 years in Princeton Friday on National Record Store Day. As usual, fans and collectors lined up well before the doors opened. In this week’s Town Talk you’ll find out some of the special items people were looking for. (Photo by Emily Reeves)

orson theater

Princeton Garden Theatre will screen five films honoring the late actor, director, writer, and producer Orson Welles beginning on May 6. One of Welles’ best-loved films, “Citizen Kane,” will be shown on May 14 at 7:30 p.m. For a complete listing of events, visit www. thegardentheatre.com.

Members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and representatives of the teacher union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) met face-to-face for the third time in recent weeks last Wednesday.

In spite of positive expectations on both sides following their earlier meeting on April 9, no agreement has yet been announced. Instead, yet another session with the state-appointed mediator Kathleen Vogt has been scheduled for May 4.

“The parties remain in mediation as a legal matter, so the Board continues to adhere to the mediator’s confidentiality recommendation regarding the details of the discussions,” said School Board President Andrea Spalla.

“In addition to that agreed-upon mediation session, the Board team offered the PREA two other possible face-to-face meeting dates. We’re waiting for their response to those dates,” she said.

After the April 15 talks, union negotiator John Baxter sent the following statement to Town Topics: “Our meeting with the Board ended late Wednesday night. We thought progress had been made. The Board agreed that progress had been made, but then they insisted on bringing back the mediator on May 4. The Board could not explain why face-to-face negotiations are unsatisfactory and their decision certainly came as a shock to us given the praise they have publicly heaped upon these sessions. This is a bitter disappointment given that we made essentially no progress in our four sessions with the mediator. The Board further stated they are not available to meet prior to May 4 as we had hoped. We asked the Board to reconsider its decision.”

But according to Ms. Spalla, PREA agreed to a May 4 mediation session and it was not the sole decision of the Board to include Ms. Vogt.

Princeton’s teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July 2014. The long drawn out negotiations have repeatedly foundered on the issues of health insurance contributions and salary increases.

Parents have called on both sides to compromise and have appeared before BOE monthly meetings to support the teachers. In a Letter to the Editor in this week’s Mailbox, PREA President Joanne Ryan thanks parents, students, community members, and local businesses for their support.

“The parties are making progress, although we recognize that it is happening more slowly than the community would prefer,” commented Ms. Spalla. “The Board team hopes to keep pushing forward, using the resources available to support and guide the parties.”

The BOE is also in negotiations with its other two bargaining units: PRESSA, which represents support staff, and PAA, which represents district administrators. While pointing out that those negotiations are also subject to confidentiality agreements, Ms. Spalla was able to say that the BOE team is “pleased with the progress being made in those discussions.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m. in the John Witherspoon Middle School, 217 Walnut Lane. The agenda will include public comment as well as a vote on the 2015-16 Schools Budgets.

NJ Transit wants to eliminate bus service between Princeton and the University Medical Center on Route 1 as part of cost-saving measures. The move would also include a hike of approximately nine percent in fares for trains and buses.

A public hearing on the proposal is set for Thursday, May 21 at the Trenton Transit Center, 72 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The agency claims that ridership has been low on the bus between the town and the hospital, and if the measure is approved it would stop service on September 1. The bus route was introduced when the hospital moved from Witherspoon Street to Plainsboro.

According to Mayor Liz Lempert, the town is committed to continuing transportation in some form between Princeton and the hospital.

“Whatever the outcome, the municipality will be working closely with officials from NJ Transit, Plainsboro, and Mercer County as well as the hospital and Princeton University to make sure that a transit link is preserved between Princeton and the new hospital, and that residents who need medical care are able to get to the hospital clinic for treatment,” she said in a written statement on Monday.

NJ Transit cites increased costs of healthcare and benefits, general liability insurance, workers’ compensation, and pensions as reasons for the proposed changes. “Although NJ Transit has identified more than $40 million in reductions in overtime, fuel savings, energy, and vehicle parts efficiencies, the agency still faces an approximate $60 million budget gap for the 2016 fiscal year,” a press release said. “To close the gap, fare and service adjustments are being proposed.”

The agency has planned nine public hearings and one information session before its board convenes to vote on July 8. Fares would rise as of October 1 if approved. Currently, it costs $29.50 roundtrip to travel between Princeton Junction and New York’s Penn Station. The measure would raise the fare to about $32.

Officials from the hospital, which has been subsidizing the bus service, issued a statement saying they will keep funding it if the decision is made to keep it running.

“We are actively working with other area organizations, including NJ Transit, to develop even more transportation solutions so that community members can have additional options for convenient access to the Princeton Health campus,” the statement reads. “PHCS remains committed to finding access solutions for the residents living in the neighborhood of the former hospital site.”

Among the other options available are Princeton University’s Tiger Transit. Seniors and people who have disabilities are also eligible for free transportation to and from the hospital.

In addition to the public hearings, comments can be submitted online by visiting www.njtransit.com, or by mail to Public Hearing Office, Fare Proposal Comments, 1 Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ 07105.

April 17, 2015

The New Jersey State Police have released a composite of the suspect from the criminal sexual contact that occurred on Friday, April 10, in the area of Franklin Avenue near Jefferson Road, where he grabbed the buttocks of a 15 year-old female walking to school.  The male is described as Hispanic, 5’5” – 5’7”, 30 – 40 years of age, thin build, black hair, brown eyes, wrinkled complexion, and wearing a gray hoodie jacket, green puffy vest, and blue jeans.

Anyone with information should contact Detective Benjamin Gering at (609) 921-2100 ext. 1840  or email bgering@princetonnj.gov.

 criminal suspect

At a meeting Monday night, Princeton Council introduced an ordinance that would turn a four-bedroom house on Hilltop Drive into a group residence for developmentally disabled adults. The municipality is providing $400,000 toward the purchase, which will earn affordable housing credits toward Princeton’s Fair Share Affordable Housing Obligation.

 While the town will contribute to the purchase, it will not own the property. Money for the project would come from Princeton’s affordable housing trust fund. Youth Consultation Services would run the home, providing any extra funding for the purchase and renovations.

 Low or moderate income residents from throughout New Jersey with developmental disabilities would be eligible for a room in the residence, but one room would be reserved for a Princeton resident.

 The ordinance comes up for public hearing and adoption at Council’s meeting on April 27.