Elmwood Park Borough Council Confronts Allegations of Fire Department Misconduct and Discusses Redevelopment Plan

Elmwood Park Borough Council’s meeting on December 7, 2023, was dominated by a series of allegations made against the local fire department, including misconduct, unfair suspension practices, and violation of town ordinances. Members of the fire department shared their grievances, painting a picture of a department fraught with fear and retaliation. Concurrently, the council also discussed a proposed redevelopment plan for a property on Main Avenue, a previously contaminated site, and deliberated over potential tax increases due to increased affordable housing obligations and unexpected expenditures.

The fire department’s issues took center stage, capturing much of the council’s attention. Members of the Elmwood Park Fire Department voiced strong objections to current disciplinary practices, with allegations of unfair treatment, retaliation, and an environment of fear. Ken Presler, involved in an incident where a fire truck left the station without him being fully onboard, characterized the investigation into the matter as a personal attack stemming from a vendetta. This incident, captured on video, led to a debate over the need for an independent investigation, despite the fire department having conducted its own. Council members, including Tanisha Dennis, suggested that the incident could be a learning opportunity but emphasized the importance of an external review to mitigate potential borough liability.

Other speakers, including a former fire chief, Mike Pressler, and a long-standing member, Nick Fedor, reiterated concerns about current practices within the fire department, suggesting a vote of no confidence against the leadership. An attorney, highlighted the potential legal repercussions of the council’s handling of disciplinary matters, warning of possible litigation and financial penalties.

Council member Daniel Golabek mentioned efforts to support fire department recruitment, such as revising programs and offering sign-on bonuses. The council’s decision to consider an independent investigation and potentially seek outside counsel underscored the seriousness with which they discussed the matter.

In parallel to the fire department controversy, the council discussed a redevelopment request from CSG law firm representing property owner P Maano for 99 Main Avenue. The site, unused for 40 years due to contamination, is poised for transformation into a 6,000 square foot office space. However, redevelopment hinges on securing tax incentives from the Economic Development Authority. The council’s support, signified through a letter, could be instrumental in moving the project forward, provided it includes specific details to avoid future land use conflicts, as pointed out by Council member Golabek.

The DEP’s agreement to waive their lien on the property, contingent on continued monitoring, and Mayor Colletti’s reassurance that the town would not assume liability, reflected a cautious yet optimistic approach to the project. The redevelopment could not only remediate a long-standing environmental issue but also inject new economic vitality into the borough.

Affordable housing was another topic of note, with the council reviewing a court-approved settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center. The settlement outlines the borough’s affordable housing obligations, and the council discussed a rehabilitation program to benefit homeowners and renters. The appointment of an administrative agent was considered crucial for proper fund allocation. The potential tax increase in 2024, due to costs associated with these obligations, was a concern, prompting discussions on conservative spending and alternative revenue sources like retail marijuana licenses.

The borough’s budget also presented challenges, as CFO Roy Rano reported a financial shortfall due to unforeseen expenditures. The council was reassured that reserves would cover the deficit, but the potential for tax increases remained a concern. Mayor Colletti called for a conservative spending approach, while Tanisha Dennis introduced the possibility of revenue from marijuana licenses, which sparked a debate due to traffic concerns associated with a recent dispensary application denial.

Further discussions at the meeting included an engineer’s report on ongoing projects, such as road programs and park developments, and contractor issues. Also mentioned were applications for events by the American Legion and updates from the Recreation Advisory and Library Boards.

The Elmwood Park Borough Council meeting was a microcosm of local governance, dealing with complex issues ranging from public safety and economic development to community welfare and budget management. The fire department’s internal strife exemplified the challenges of maintaining volunteer services vital to the community’s safety. At the same time, the potential redevelopment of a long-neglected property on Main Avenue offered a glimpse into the opportunities and intricacies of economic growth and environmental stewardship. With affordable housing and budget considerations also on the table, the council’s ability to navigate these multifaceted concerns will be crucial for the borough’s future.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Robert Colletti
City Council Officials:
Sandra Balistrieri, Tanisha Dennis, Francesco Fasolo, Daniel Golabek, Lorraine Pellegrine, Theresa Sheridan

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