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School business comes up at council meeting

Longtime Gonnelli critic criticizes superintendent search

Well known Gonnelli opponent Tom Troyer addresses the council.

Former Secaucus Board of Education member and sometime political activist Tom Troyer came to the June 27 Mayor and Council meeting to weigh in on the ongoing selection process for a new superintendent of schools. (Current Superintendent Kenneth Knops is serving in an interim capacity.)
The mayor’s office does not oversee the Board of Education and is not supposed to interfere in its decisions for political reasons, but in some towns, local officials give their opinions on school matters.
“I’ve been absent for a while, and I know you’ve missed me, but I’m back,” said Troyer, infamous for his disdain for Gonnelli, at the meeting. Gonnelli and six council members were present.
Troyer spoke of a rumor that the Board of Education recently sent a letter to Secaucus High School Principal Bob Berckes, telling him he would no longer be considered for the superintendent position. However, Knops said later that he could not comment on Troyer’s remarks, as it’s a personnel matter.
“I’m on record as saying that they’re making a mistake in not selecting Dr. Berckes,” Troyer said, alleging the mayor politically controls the school board. He added, “I’d like to know if you think the Board of Education is doing the right thing by not hiring someone in-system.”
“I know what you’re getting at,” Gonnelli responded. “But we’re not going to give an opinion. I don’t know why you’re asking this board this question, because we have no say in this.”
“Oh please,” Troyer shot back. “You have no say?”
“No say,” the mayor said.
“Ridiculous!” Troyer said, before suddenly storming away.
When reached by phone, Knops would only say that Gonnelli and the school board operate independently of one another. He could not comment on personnel matters.
Dr Berckes also said he could not comment directly on Troyer’s remarks. He did say he went for a first and second interview for the job, and confirmed he is no longer being considered for the position.

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“I’ve been absent for a while, and I know you’ve missed me, but I’m back.” – Tom Troyer

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Honoring a former Cub Scout

The council issued a proclamation for Alfred Namendorf, a former leader in the town’s Boy Scouts Troop 22, and longtime resident who dedicated much of his adult life as a volunteer with local youth organizations. He served as a volunteer for Cub Pack 157 from 1982 to 1990, was a member of the American Legion of Secaucus and the Sons of the VFW, and served as a sergeant mechanical engineer in the Army Reserve from 1961 to 1971.
Namendorf passed away last May at 73. “He will always be part of this community,” said Councilman William McKeever, as Namendorf’s family stood by. “His positive influence will continue to be felt for years.”
“Al was so much more to all of us,” Gonnelli said. “Al was really the backbone to this town. Everything he did for us will never go unnoticed.” During the meeting, the local KNS Social and Athletic Club also donated $100 to the scouts.

America’s Miss National Ambassador

Gonnelli and Councilman Rob Costantino recognized local resident Hampton Taylor, a young girl who was titled America’s Ms. National Ambassador for 2017.
In order to win that title, Taylor had to show proficiency in public speaking before a large crowd and perform charitable work. Per her mother, she’s collected over 400 new toys for an orphanage, and has donated cans of food, among other philanthropic actions. She will complete her title duties by September. The mayor also gave Taylor a key to the city.

Youth group wins awards for work in town

Secaucus Cares, a student youth group that performs community service in town, unveiled the gold banner award they received from the New Jersey State Governor Jefferson Awards Foundation. It is a local program of the Jefferson Awards, a national, volunteer recognition program established in 1972, encouraging Americans to change their communities and the world around them. The students earned the award in April,
Parents presented leader Cathy Wolfe with a plaque for her efforts. Secaucus Cares also performs service-learning program workshops that teach volunteers the root cause of issues such as hunger and poverty.
A few members also earned the Presidential Volunteer Service Award for their work around town.
“They have spent many, many hours doing this to earn this award, Wolfe said. “It’s a very high achievement.”

Looking for unsafe drivers

The town will participate in the statewide Drive Sober or Get Pulled over Labor Day crackdown, which will run from Aug. 18 through Sept. 4. During that time, Secaucus police will ramp up their efforts in catching drunken driver, which will include using sobriety checkpoints around town.
“Impaired drivers on our nation’s roads kill someone every 30 minutes,” said Councilman John Gerbasio, explaining why the town is part of the initiative. “Almost 18,000 people a year. Twenty-seven percent of motor vehicles fatalities in New Jersey in 2013 were alcohol related. Our guys will be out there and they’ll be looking for people in town.”
On that note, during Memorial Day weekend, the town conducted 229 stops, issued 112 total summonses, and made 3 arrests during participation in the Click it Or Ticket campaign. A state grant funded the campaign.
Costantino announced during the meeting that the town’s independent auditor is currently performing a municipal audit, to ensure the town’s books are in order. The auditor will work to ensure Secaucus’ accounts are in compliance with state laws, and that money for various municipal departments is accounted for. Eventually, auditors will discuss their findings with the town’s finance committee and mayor and issue any recommendations, in an exit conference.

Watch out for scams

The council warned against a phone scam in town in which victims are being asked to provide money in the form of money grams or credit cards, and being threatened with relatives being arrested, or their PSEG service getting cut off.
“If you are asked for money for any reason, please call the department at anytime,” Gerbasio said, reading a statement from the police chief. “They will help verify the situation and give you all the correct information. If you know someone who has been involved in that, and they may not want to come forward, please ask them to contact the police department. The more information we get, the better we may be able to prevent these types of things.”

Driving for seniors

The town will be holding an AARP driver safety course July 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will take place at the Secaucus Senior Center, located at 101 Centre Avenue. Upon completion, participants are eligible for insurance discounts and a two point reduction off their driving record. The class is open to Secaucus residents of all ages who are licensed drivers (not valid in NY or FL). Seating is limited to the first 50 people and preregistration is required. Contact 201-865-4422 to register.

Pool project, fire truck, and littering

The council introduced a bond ordinance for $850,000, authorizing various improvements to the town’s swim center. If adopted, said improvements will include a new pavilion and various concrete work. The cost of improvements is based on contractor estimates. The exact amount has yet to be finalized, but is expected to be close to the $850,000 the town is borrowing, according to Town Administrator Gary Jeffas.
Another bond ordinance for $5.9 million introduced at the meeting would authorize various public improvements, including new communication and signal systems equipment, new information technology and telecommunications equipment, new automotive vehicles, new DPW equipment, repairs to a DPW garage, and a new fire truck.
Secaucus received a Clean Communities grant from the state this year for $29,754, which goes towards educating the public on littering and cleaning up the community.

Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com

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