Franklin Lakes Debates Bandshell, Police Chief Absence, and Playground Woes

In a recent Franklin Lakes Borough Council meeting, community concerns and debates unfolded, with the proposed construction of a bandshell at Parsons Pond Park taking center stage. The meeting, presided over by Mayor Charles J.X. Kahwaty, saw residents voicing their apprehensions about various issues, ranging from the state of the local playground to changes in traffic patterns and the prolonged absence of a police chief.

The bandshell proposal ignited a debate, with estimates ranging from $110,000 to $300,000. Residents, including John Matarese and Drita McNamara, questioned the necessity, potential maintenance, and relevance of the structure, citing examples of other communities dismantling such structures due to vandalism and lack of use. Bruce Haywood advocated for a “keep it simple” approach, suggesting that changing socialization patterns might reduce the utility of such a structure. Several council members and residents voiced opposition, citing a lack of public support and questioning the necessity. Some members, including Dennis Bonagura and Joel Ansh, suggested reallocating the funds to more pressing needs, such as improving playgrounds or addressing capital needs in the fire department, ambulance corps, and DPW.

The inadequacy of the local playground was another hot topic, with residents comparing it unfavorably to the one in Wyckoff and requesting the reallocation of funds intended for the bandshell to improve the playground. Chelsea Vichai and other residents echoed these concerns, advocating for reallocating funds meant for the bandshell to improve the playground. The council deliberated on reallocating funds for playground enhancements, emphasizing compliance with state codes and the necessity for commercial-grade equipment. A motion was made to investigate moving funds for playground expansion, with unanimous agreement among council members.

Traffic pattern changes on Franklin Avenue and Colonial were also discussed, with residents fearing it would exacerbate existing issues on nearby streets, particularly Sunset Terrace and Connie Avenue. Two residents from Sunset Terrace detailed experiences of speeding cars, with one highlighting the additional risk to his special needs child. Council members, including Ardith Cardenas and Gary Sheppard, expressed concerns about speeding and proposed increased police presence, ticketing, and the installation of speed humps.

The absence of a police chief in Franklin Lakes for ten months was brought up by a resident, questioning the transparency of the governing body regarding this issue. The council responded that they were legally constrained from discussing the matter in detail but assured that an acting police chief was in place and performing competently. Residents also expressed concerns about a development by Hakeemian and the delay in evaluating whether the acting police chief could return to his position. Lori Burnett inquired about the latter, with a council member responding that they were legally constrained from discussing personnel matters.

Throughout the meeting, there was a recurring sentiment of dissatisfaction with the council’s communication and decision-making processes, with several speakers urging more transparency, public involvement, and consideration of community needs and preferences. The Mayor, Charles J.X. Kahwaty, responded to concerns about the handling of the Cigna property and called for greater inclusion of residents in the decision-making process, citing court deadlines and legal constraints as reasons for some rushed decisions and secrecy.

The fire watcher ordinance implemented the previous year was another topic of discussion. The ordinance had resulted in charging charity fundraisers, like those for Oasis and Charlie Landers, a substantial fee for fire watchers. Council members, including Gail A. Kelly and Thomas G. Lambrix, debated the necessity and number of fire watchers required, questioning the justification for the fee, especially for charitable functions.

Additionally, the council addressed issues related to election polling places, with concerns raised about congestion at current locations. The council aimed to work with the county to find a solution. The proposed tax increase aimed to raise $45,000 annually, constituting almost 5% of the total budget. The council deliberated on the title and notice for the referendum, emphasizing the importance of taxpayers voicing their opinions.

Lastly, administrative matters such as a shared services agreement for school security, a filming permit application by ITV America, and the scheduling of a Parks and Rec committee meeting were discussed. The shared services agreement involved the hiring of two police officers as school resource officers, with their salaries and benefits covered by the school board. Amendments to the agreement were proposed to ensure clarity and legal compliance. The council discussed the responsibilities and costs associated with hiring additional police officers, emphasizing their role in school security. The filming permit application by ITV America was eventually approved after clarifying the nature of the filming. The Parks and Rec committee meeting was scheduled, with suggestions to invite and solicit input from local mothers, despite limitations on the number of attendees due to facility constraints.

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