The town council gave final approval September 14, 2010, to spend $117,300 to upgrade the futsal court at Colgate Park and build a skate park at Degnan Memorial Park. Certain aspects of the project, including the location of the skate park next to the children's playground at Degnan Memorial Park, were not prominently disclosed. The project, which appears to have attracted significant support and opposition in the community, has raised numerous transparency issues:
- The bond ordinance and budget resolution establishing and approving the project both name Colgate Field as the only location for the project.
- On Sept. 2, with approval of the bond ordinance pending, I filed a state Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for basically all of the town’s documentation on the project. On Sept. 14, the town responded with only a schematic of the futsal court and three e-mails from town employees (as well as my original OPRA request and a copy of the related bond ordinance, which was already public record). One of these e-mails appears to indicate that more documents exist on the project and that the purchasing of equipment was already underway.
- The location of the skate park was not specified until after the close of public comment at the Sept. 14 Council meeting, when Council President Anderton stated that he had “just a little bit of reservation” about the skate park being adjacent to the children’s play area at Degnan Memorial Park. "Degnan Field" was identified orally as the location as part of the brief first reading and approval of the ordinance at the Aug. 20 meeting as well as during public comment at the Sept. 14 meeting. At both meetings, several town residents, Mayor Parisi and councilmen discussed the skate park without specifying Degnan as the location.
- The town has recently, within the last year, cut down several of the mature cherry trees and significant amounts of shrubbery on the site of the proposed skate park.
- The site of the skate park appears to be a memorial to naval veterans. Ground memorials sit at the base of two remaining cherry trees, although one of the engraved metal plates appears to be missing. The base of the flagpole also appears to be missing an attachment to two rebar tips coming out of the concrete. I’m unable to find any additional information online about these memorials.
- On Sept. 17, I filed a complaint, including attachments, alleging failure to comply with the OPRA law with the state Government Records Council (GRC), a part of the state Department of Community Affairs charged with administering the OPRA law. I asked for mediation, an alternate process to the GRC’s adjudication process, in an attempt to speed release to the public of additional documents.
- On Sept. 20, I filed another OPRA request asking for documents relating to the work done on the skate park site. As of this posting, I’m still waiting for a response.
- On Sept, 21, I received an additional document related to my Sept. 2 OPRA request – a memo dated Sept. 20 from the town’s purchasing agent to the town clerk saying she “do(es) not have any project information to release concerning the Skate Park.” This appears to relate to the earlier e-mail that indicates that the Purchasing department has a purchase order relating to the project.
- Discussion of the project at the August 20, 2010, council meeting is here, starting at about ____. Discussion at the September 14, 20101, council meeting is here, starting at about ____.
The project has received news media coverage. Please note that the total value of the project is $117,300, which also includes issuing town bonds to pay for 95 percent of this cost. West Orange Patch has written two stories on the project -
The Star-Ledger also has a story http://www.nj.com/news/local/index.ssf/2010/09/skate_park_coming_to_west_oran.html
Here’s relevant video from the council meetings:
August 17, 2010, Council meeting video
Part 1 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_081710_Part_1.wmv at about 36:30
Part 2 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_081710_Part_2.wmv at about 7:45 and again at about 25:30
Part 3 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_081710_Part_3.wmv at about 43:30
September 14, 2010, Council meeting video
Part 3 http://krakoviak.com/video/Council_091410_Part_3.wmv at about 2:40
I’ll provide updates on this issue as they occur.