The ongoing debate over the busing of school children reached new heights last week when Mayor Michael Gonnelli and former School Board Trustee Tom Troyer entered into a shouting match at the end of the Town Council meeting.
Also at the meeting, the mayor and Town Council passed a resolution to appropriate emergency funding for the response to Hurricane Sandy in the amount of $347,000, which they hope will be reimbursed through federal funding. The municipality also passed a resolution to offer subscription busing for the first time to residents at Creekside Manor for $400 per student.
War of words
Troyer – a persistent critic of the mayor through his letters to the editor and public remarks – has said that he supports the town’s effort to provide courtesy busing for Riverside Court children to Huber Street Elementary School, even though they live less than the two miles that makes busing mandatory under state law. The town buses them for safety reasons.
Gonnelli, who led a successful campaign against Troyer’s re-election to the Board of Education earlier this year, said Troyer always supports every mayor only to turn against them. He has also repeatedly criticized Troyer for antics such as following the school bus that picks up children at Riverside then questioning the driver, an action that alarmed many parents from the development.
“If you don’t think there is a war going on,” said Troyer during the public remarks section, “you are wrong.”
Troyer said that many people have told him he is right to support courtesy busing. However, he disapproves when school board trustees get “beat up” for their opposition, referring to Salvatore Manente, Mary Ann Weiner, and Dora Marra, who all voted against busing Riverside Court students.
“There is no war between the board and the mayor.” – Jack McStowe
Troyer defended his record of “checking things out” as an elected official and sought recognition from the mayor.
“No one knows the work I do,” said Troyer. “But for you to turn around and say I am a zero… I resent that. And I hope someday you will apologize for that. I accept.”
“I never called you a zero,” said Gonnelli.
The mayor accused Troyer of instigating the recent discord between him and board trustees Manente, Weiner, and Marra. They took issue with Gonelli’s claim that they didn’t care about busing, a suggestion he made in response to questions from Troyer at an earlier meeting.
“I didn’t sit up here and say Dora, Mary Ann, and Sal don’t care about the kids,” said Gonnelli. “You posed a question to me and I answered honestly. My answer was that if it is deemed an unsafe route, I guess they don’t.”
“Semantics,” said Troyer.
“It wasn’t my intent to come out and say that,” said Gonnelli. “If the police say it is an unsafe route, neither you, nor Dora, nor Mary Ann, nor Sal have expertise over a police officer who is certified in traffic control to say that it isn’t.”
Gonnelli later sought to distinguish himself from Troyer.
“You thrive on controversy, you thrive on separating people…that is what you live for,” said Gonnelli. “I live for bringing this community together as one and being one peaceful community.”
Gonnelli accused Troyer of a history of shifting loyalties.
“You have endorsed… every single mayor, and you have turned on every single mayor.”
“When they didn’t do the right thing,” said Troyer.
“In whose eyes?” asked Gonnelli.
“In the eyes of the people,” said Troyer.
The meeting ended abruptly after the heated discussion. Some of the residents who attended the meeting left with a bad impression.
“These meetings are a disgrace,” said one Creekside Manor resident.
No war between mayor and Board of Education
Prior to the argument between Troyer and Gonnelli, Board of Education President Jack McStowe got up to speak to “set the record straight” and correct statements that were written in a letter to the editor in the Secaucus Reporter weeks ago, in which Troyer said there was an “upcoming war between the board and the mayor.”
In the letter, Troyer rewrote the lyrics to the popular World War 1 song “Over There,” and put a local twist on it.
“I am here to tell you that there is no war between the board and the mayor,” said McStowe. “Our relationship between the board and this council is probably better than it has ever been in a long time.”
Subscription busing begins
For the first time the municipality will offer subscription busing for $400 per rider per year to transport children from the Creekside Manor development to Huber Street Elementary School, which is less than a mile away. Councilman Gary Jeffas voted against the resolution.
FEMA funds sought
The mayor and Town Council passed a resolution for an emergency appropriation in the amount of $347,009, mostly to cover the cost of salaries and wages that were incurred during the emergency response to Hurricane Sandy.
New contracts, hires
– The municipality has hired Keri Ann Etglentowitz, Esq. for $125 per hour to serve as associate town attorney.
– Michael Bukatman, Esq. has been hired as a municipal prosecutor for $300 per court session.
– Michael William has been appointed to serve as a part-time worker in the Food Pantry at $10 an hour.
– The municipality has renewed its contracts with Jersey City-based Galaxy Recycling company, with JAA Enterprises to supply, maintain, and repair vending machines on town property, and GS Elevator Industries for elevator maintenance and repair services.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.