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Handicapped Committee Overwhelmed

Thomas Mundy Peterson Plaque,  Food & Water Watch 4/10/17 Caucus

PERTH AMBOY – City Clerk Elaine Jasko asked that this be listed for a topic for discussion. She stated, “I met with Acting Chief McKeon and Officer Chris Joy to discuss problems were having with the Handicap Committee. A lot of times there’s not a quorum for the committee meetings. There are over 200 handicap applications that are still outstanding. Currently there is a two year renewal date. There is a restriction on the number of spaces per handicapped parking on each block. Two days a week we review applications. I’m suggesting we have two Handicap Committees with three members each. One day, each group can look at applications. I looked at other towns that have handicapped spaces. Some of these towns average a little over 300 spaces for the whole town. We have over 600 handicapped spaces. One Councilman has suggested that we go back to the way to the old ordinance. Some say to give the new ordinance more time. The way the old handicapped ordinance read is that we never had to get a doctor’s slip. It was done through DMV records.”

Councilman Joel Pabon remarked, “You have to remember the reason we updated this ordinance was because of the abuse of handicapped spots. We can’t go back to the old way. Let’s have two committees of 3 members each. People have driveways but still get handicapped spots.”

Council President Bill Petrick stated, “If a resident has a driveway, they should not get a handicapped spot in front of their home.” Petrick remember when a physician came to a meeting who said he only gives medical notes to his patients who he truly feels the need for handicapped spot. “We should also have Council Members on each committee.”

After Petrick said this, Councilman Irizarry commented, “I’m already on the handicapped committee.” Irizarry also wanted to know, “Will these two committees consisting of the members each be permanent?”

Petrick said, “Only until we get the number down from the 600 handicapped spots we have now.”

Irizarry said, “The Handicapped Committee has denied almost 50% of the applications presented to them.”

When he said this, one of the Committee people sitting in the audience, Jeremy Baratta indicated that was wrong and it was lower than that. Then Police Officer who was present said it around a 30% denial.

Irizarry started to talk again, “These are difficult decisions we are making and we are doing the best that we can from the information we get. Mr. Baratta has helped us out a lot.”

Councilman Jelmin Caba had concerns, “I have seen a lot of handicapped signs on streets where the person who is assigned that handicapped spot has moved out of town.”

Jasko explained, “Sometimes we rely on people who are their neighbors to call us or we find this out when we send out renewals every two years. “If they don’t respond in a required timeframe, we remove the sign from that handicapped spot.”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez said, “This has been going on for 3 years.”

Jasko then reminded the Council that the system of renewals was changed to once a year and will be going alphabetically by street names.

Petrick said, “Two Handicap Committees with 3 members each sounds like a good idea and we will have a Council Member on each one.”

Another topic for discussion was an update on the Thomas Mundy Peterson projects. Jasko stated, “The funding was backed by Buckeye and the plaque is ordered.”

Council President Bill Petrick also said, “The verbiage is completed and the historic facts were verified.”

Also at the meeting, was a presentation by Junior Remero who is a Central Jersey Organizer for the Food & Water Watch Organization. Remero came before the Council to talk about the Transko Gas Pipeline, “This pipeline compresses 32,000 horsepower of propane gas. Somerset County has already drafted an ordinance against this. My organization is against this project because it can destroy the environment, especially marine life. If Perth Amboy is against this project, you will be the first in Middlesex County to do so.”

The last topic for discussion included e-mail monitoring. The City’s IT Tech John Alleman could not be present because he called out on a sick day. Councilman Fernando Gonzalez opened up this discussion by saying, “I just found out that our private emails were being read. Business Administrator Cruz stated, “If it’s through the City’s server, it can be read.”

Gonzalez wanted to know, “Is this common practice?”

Cruz answered, “No, but if it goes through our (the City’s) server which is public, then the emails can be read.” Cruz continued, “Any equipment owned by the City is public and you all (the Council) sign a disclosure form stating that the emails sent can be read.”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez still wasn’t satisfied and said, “I should be able to send emails to my fellow Council Members without them being read.”

Attorney Peter J. King was acting in the capacity of Law Director had been asked to give his opinion on this matter. King stated, “Certain communications can be OPRA’d. All emails are fingerprinted. In cases where emails are important to criminal investigations, they can be subpoenaed whether they are public or private. All emails go into the Master Server.”

Council President Bill Petrick asked, “Is this a moral overstepping here?”

B.A. Cruz reminded the Council that a few days before the Advisory Budget was sent to the Council for their eyes only, a Council Member sent it out to 5 or 6 selected residents.”

King added, “It looks like the administration tried to find out who gave this information to those residents.”

Councilman Joel Pabon wanted to know if other communities do monitoring.

King said, “Others have done it through a third person monitoring system. I think what happened here is that a document was sent out that wasn’t supposed to be distributed (to the public). I will review if this was done (monitoring) ethically.”

Petrick asked, “Was the ID Department monitoring the emails per a verbal request?”

Cruz said, “I asked the lawyer to check to see if the Council Member was unethical by providing information to residents who are not authorized to receive it because it was not for public knowledge, yet.”

Council President Petrick stated, “In the past, there was a committee with residents on it who would go over the Budget to make recommendations.”

Cruz answered back, “I would like to have the name of the committee and the people who served on it.”

After the topics for discussion closed, other questions arose about ordinances, specifically about Ordinance No. 1 – Establishing a Street Performer Ordinance.

Department of Recreation Director Ken Ortiz came up to speak, “I spoke to the Arts Council and the BID and they both had recommendations pertaining to this ordinance. Both these organizations thought that the artist who will be participating in these performances should be able to sell their items. I thought that because of this, it might cause a change in this ordinance. If the Council wants to make these changes, we can add additional language.”

Council President Bill Petrick said, “Perhaps we should reduce the fees in the Ordinance.

Council Fernando Gonzalez said, “I met with Mr. (Bienvenido) Torres (Chair of the Arts Council) to solicit more information to tweak the Ordinance.”

Torres came up to speak, “We’re asking that the artist be able to sell their artwork and these should all be family-friendly events. We’re also asking that this ordinance exclude the performances taking place in Bayview Park because the residents living in that areas state too many events take place already.”

During the public portion Resident Stanley Sierakowski looked at the closed session portion on the agenda and said, “It needs to be more specific on the items to be discussed. On the closed session, Item No. 2 involving Seabra’s Armory, I want to know if there as a tax lien put on this property?”

King answered, “This will be discussed in closed session.”

Sierakowski responded, “This is absurd and has been going on for 3 years, now.”

Sierakowski also had comments about the Street Performers Ordinance, “If a street performer is fined by the City or a Police Officer (e.g. for disobeying a provision in the ordinance) will that performance be able to perform again before the fine is settled? A lot of provisions in this ordinance are absurd.” He also had one more comment about the Armory, “They owe the City over $800,000. With interest it would be over $3 million.”

Resident Ken Balut came up to speak next with a solution for the large amount of handicapped parking, “If you take care of the Illegal Housing, it would take care of a lot of the handicapped parking. Also, the Mayor spent a lot of money to stop subpoenas for people to testify at the Landings trial. Kushner owes us $4 million. You need to take power away from the Mayor.” Balut continued, “When it comes to contracts that had no bids, our City has no paperwork on high bid contracts. Is it because these contractors were campaign contributors? Vas had a police computer and a Democratic Headquarters when he was Mayor. Our Mayor is having the B.A. looking at the Council emails.”

Jeremy Baratta came up to speak in regards to the email monitoring. He stated, “When it comes to email monitoring, OPRA has a long list of exceptions. It’s to protect private emails. If the Administration is hijacking your server, it has nothing to do about OPRA. You guys (the Council) should get your own server to transmit your private emails and lock it up in City Hall. If your emails are opened up on whim, the Administration made the point for you.”

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