February 26, 2014

Princeton Parks Oversight Will Be Responsibilty Of Recreation Department

Following more than a year of planning, maintenance of Princeton’s parks is being consolidated under the Town’s Recreation Department, it was announced at the Princeton Council meeting Monday night. Shifting responsibilities previously shared by the public works and recreation offices to just one department will allow the public easier access when reporting problems, said Ben Stentz, the municipality’s recreation director.

“The most common complaint we have heard from people is that they didn’t know who to call for park issues,” Mr. Stentz said. “With consolidation, it has gotten a little bit simpler, but not that much. We wanted to address this by streamlining communication and creating one-stop shopping.”

The reorganization makes the Recreation Department a clearinghouse for all things related to park maintenance. No new workers will be hired to accommodate the change, but four seasonal workers from public works will be shifted to recreation. Any concerns about park issues should now be reported to parks@princetonnj.gov, a temporary email address until See Click Fix, an online system for reporting town issues, is put into play. With that system, residents will be able to include a photo of the problem.

“This is a major shift and it will take time to find its groove,” Mr. Stentz said. “I don’t want to sugar-coat this. This is an ambitious plan. It will be continually evaluated.”

Later at the meeting, Mayor Liz Lempert cast a vote to break a tie over whether to hire Trishka W. Cecil to replace Edwin W. Schmierer as municipal attorney. Both Mr. Schmierer and Ms. Cecil work for the Princeton law firm Mason, Griffin & Pierson. Mayor Lempert voted in favor along with Council members Heather Howard, Bernie Miller and Lance Liverman. Voting against the appointment were Jenny Crumiller, Jo Butler, and Patrick Simon.

Ms. Cecil will take over March 1, with a contract that runs through the end of 2014 and does not exceed $375,000. Mr. Schmierer, who was praised at the meeting by Mayor Lempert and members of the public, has been municipal attorney, serving the former Borough and Township, for more than 30 years.

Five proposals were received from firms interested in the job, Ms. Lempert said. Three were interviewed in multiple closed sessions. Before casting his vote against the appointment, Mr. Simon expressed frustration that the Council could not reach a consensus. Ms. Butler echoed that sentiment. “I think a fresh start would have been beneficial,” she said.

Ms. Lempert said she, too, was sorry a consensus could not be reached. “I cast my vote reluctantly [to break the tie],” she said. “But I think the stability and history we have with the firm will serve us well.”

The Council held a preliminary discussion of the town’s budget, the first in a series of talks that will be held through the end of April. The preliminary budget is $59.4 million, which is $950,000 less than last year despite a proposal to build a $1 million storage facility for Public Works equipment and vehicles.

The anticipated budget decrease is due to a reduction in staff from consolidation, said Ms. Lempert. Kathy Monzo, the town’s director of finance, told Council that the goal this year is a flat tax rate. Council will adopt policies for managing debt and surplus at the next meeting on March 10, Ms. Lempert said.

Also at the meeting, Princeton’s administrator Bob Bruschi urged the Council to move forward with the hiring of Captain Nick Sutter as Chief of Police. Mr. Sutter has been in charge of the department since former Chief David Dudeck left in September following charges of harassment in a lawsuit by members of the force.

After Mr. Bruschi outlined the vetting process for Mr. Sutter, which would include a public presentation and an opportunity for members of the police force to offer anonymous comments, Council members debated whether to act on the issue but ultimately took it into closed session.