Secaucus goes blue for autism

Council to participate in program promoting autistic employees

Mayor Gonnelli with Secaucus kids who won awards in the annual Law Day competition.
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Mayor Gonnelli with Secaucus kids who won awards in the annual Law Day competition.

Secaucus council members painted their faces blue at their most recent meeting, an effort to support a local job training and employment non-profit program for autistic teens.
Spectrum Works, based in town, gives job training to young people with autism by partnering with different companies. Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
The non-profit recently started the Go Spectrum Blue challenge. The initiative asks people and companies to paint their faces blue “to raise awareness that 80 percent of people are unemployed that have autism, and they can be great employees,” said Spectrum Works CEO Ann Marie Sullivan at the May 9 meeting.
She hopes that the idea will go viral so they can raise money to launch Spectrum Works nationally. “We see it every day in the companies in Secaucus that host our program,” she said.
Putting their money where their mouths are, Spectrum Works had its autistic employees create and design promotional flyers for the initiative.
Paint kits are available at the company’s website for $10 each. After participants go online to challenge their friends, the company will then distribute the kits directly to their friends in blue envelopes. The Clarendon School signed on to participate a few weeks ago, and will challenge other schools to do the same, Sullivan said. A pitcher from the Minnesota Twins and local banks have also joined in.
After Sullivan spoke, council members issued their own challenges to local organizations. Councilman Rob Costantino challenged the Secaucus Little League. Councilwoman Susan Pirro challenged the volunteers and staff for the Secaucus Animal Shelter. Councilman James Clancy challenged the Knights of Columbus, Mary Immaculate Council; and Mayor Michael Gonnelli challenged the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department. To participate in the challenge, visit https://gospectrumblue.com/.

Local resident makes Facebook video promoting town

The council played a brief video from resident Gregory Griffith showcasing Secaucus landmarks, such as Mill Creek Point and Plaza Center. Mayor Gonnelli found the clip on Facebook. “Awesome job,” he told Griffith. “We’re going to show it on our channel 36.” The town has since placed the video on their website. You can view it at http://secaucusnj.gov/newsfeed/secaucus-video-directed-edited-by-gregory-griffith.html.

Secaucus hockey team wins championship

The council gave certificates of achievement to the Secaucus Youth Hockey Patriots, who took first and second place honors at the 2017 Hershey St. Patrick’s Day tournament. “The kids really developed this year, and we won the championship,” said Coach John Banks. “We competed against the best kids in the state and the region.”

Student Law Day winners honored

Secaucus kids won big in the county’s annual Law Day competition. Six students won in essay, poetry, and other categories for the contest.
“It’s really a big deal,” said Karen Boylan, the town’s municipal judge. “They get about 3,000 entrants in all different categories. Every school district in the 12 municipalities participates. The fact that we won six awards speaks volumes about the educational opportunities that the children get in Secaucus.”

Huber Street kids fundraiser

Students at the Huber Street School raised $421 for the Secaucus Animal Shelter from a February fundraiser, in a dress-up day. They presented the money to Councilwoman Susan Pirro, a volunteer for the Secaucus Citizens’ Animal Care Committee, at the meeting.
“This will help a lot of needy animals,” Pirro said. “And we really appreciate that the kids in our town take such great pride in helping our animals.”

Local resident asks council to limit sick time payouts

During the remarks from citizens’ section, resident Tom Roarty requested the council limit accumulated sick time payouts to town employees and public officials when they retire, arguing such agreements burden taxpayers. He claimed that years ago, he asked for accumulated sick time records for the DPW when Gonnelli was the DPW superintendent, but the request was denied.
That, along with reports that Jersey City’s retiring police chief will receive over $500,000 in unused sick time, prompted Roarty to look through budget records for the town.
“The CFO has 93 accumulated days; a tax collector has 131,” Roarty said. “The director of recreation had 251, the town clerk has 457. The police chief has 345 days. That’s a lot of money. All other town employees–besides the people who work in this building—have 10,941 accumulated days.”
He added, “In the 2006 budget, do you know the approximate dollar value of compensated absences? It’s $4.7 million dollars. These golden parachutes should no longer exist.”
Those payouts are generally part of employee contracts. Roarty asked the council to negotiate to remove the sick time payouts in future contracts.
Gonnelli refused to comment directly on Roarty’s claims, but said in response that “We’re doing things to protect the people of Secaucus, and our tax rate for eight consecutive years has been stable. We ate the Board of Ed. increase; we ate those increases. So our taxes don’t go up, Tom. I don’t think they will go up in the near future.”
“I think it’s our job to manage those costs and those appropriations to make sure that the taxpayers don’t feel the burden of that,” Costantino said. “And I think we have done a very good job over a very long period of time to not put that burden to the taxpayer.”

Budget delay

Though originally planned for a final vote at the May 9 meeting, the council announced that the state is delayed in approving the $54.7 million 2017 budget, which was introduced at the March 28 meeting.
“Hopefully it’ll be done by the 23rd of May,” Gonnelli said, regarding state approval.

Other Items

Firefighter Michael Sciscilo was sworn in for the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department at the meeting.
In other news, on May 20, the town will be holding its annual Memorial Day parade at Trolley Park at 12 p.m. Refreshments and entertainment will be provided after the ceremony.
The town’s traditional Memorial Day ceremony will take place May 29 at Town Hall at 12 p.m.
For more information, contact (201) 330-2000.
Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com