The Week in Union County
Here's what made news around the county this past week.
Each week, Patch takes a look back at the news in Union County for the past week. Among the top stories, the cause of a six-alarm fire at Ferraro's Restaurant in Westfield remains unclear, car burglaries are under investigation in Cranford and boards of education across the county reorganize.
A six-alarm fire gutted Ferraro's Restaurant in downtown Westfield in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday. Agencies from across the county assisted. The fire, the origin of which remains under investigation, started at midnight and caused the evacuation of apartments above the restaurant. One resident was taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation after going back to rescue a dog. Firefighter union officials said the fire could have been prevented if more firefighters had been on duty and the ladder truck had been used. The Ferraro family said they plan to rebuild.
In other news, Richard Mattessich was elected vice president of the Westfield Board of Education during a reorganization meeting Tuesday evening. Mattessich succeeds Ann Cary in the vice presidency. Julia Walker was reelected board president for a second term and Mark Friedman and Rosanne Kurstedt were sworn in as members of the Board of Education during the meeting. Cary did not attend the meeting, saying she had a cold that evening and was sworn in to her third term as a board member in a private ceremony.
The Board of Education announced plans to have more transparency Tuesday night, 15 minutes before announcing plans to prohibit public comment on a proposed Facebook page for the school district. The board agreed to a study of a policy requiring periodic rebidding of professional services contracts in the district. BOE member David Finn said he made the proposal in light of March's arrest of suspended board Business Administrator Bob Berman on bribery charges. BOE member Ginny Leiz said Facebook comments would be blocked due to limits on school staff on moderating comments.
The Berkeley Heights Board of Education held its annual reorganization meeting on Thursday, May 5. John Sincaglia was appointed Board President and Dr. Gerard Crisonino was appointed Board Vice President. Board member Doug Reinstein was also nominated for both positions.
Superintendent Judith Rattner announced changes to the district’s Teacher of the Year events. Jacqueline Conti-Rimshnick, Eli Quinonez, Joanne Barton, Carla Pastore, Diane Corley and Doreen Ladinski will be honored at 3:30 p.m. May 12 at Governor Livingston High School and at a 7:30 p.m. congratulatory reception held during the board meeting at Columbia Middle School.
In other education news, the Columbia Middle School graduation ceremony will be pushed back to later in the day due to difficulty with the originally-scheduled time. It will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 20 at Governor Livingston High School.
On Tuesday, May 3, Laura Caliguire, Carmen Brocato and Michael Bonaccorso were sworn into office after the three members were re-elected to the Clark School District Board of Education. Caliguire was elected as president of the Board of Education after serving six terms on the board. Board member Henry Varriano was elected as vice president.
In Johnson sports, senior golfer Jacob Stockl won the Union County Tournament on Thursday, May 5. This is the third time in four years that Stockl has won first place. In February, we wrote about Stockl signing a letter of intent with Rutgers. He was our Athlete of the Week this week.
On Monday, May 2 at ALJ, athletic recruitment guru Jack Renkens separated fact from fiction about the college recruitment process. "It's a game," said Renkens, before he tore into the myths. "You have to know the rules."
Renkens's truisms spanned the spectrum, covering how easy it is for a parent to be bamboozled by college recruiters, how a parent should behave at games, the importance of being proactive and his key rules regarding recruitment offers – "You have to be in a position to negotiate" and "If they don't pay, you're not gonna play."
Police are investigating a slew of car burglaries in Cranford. Ten vehicles in seven different locations were broken into or damaged between 3 and 6 a.m. on April 27, according to Det. Sgt. Gerard Quinn of the Cranford Police Department. The list of stolen items from the unknown suspect or suspects includes two credit cards, designer sunglasses, an iPod and a valet key. The individual or individuals entered the vehicles by using a tool to damage and compromise the exterior door lock, Quinn said. The specific device used to crank open the locks is not yet known and police are still investigating.
Peter Baker, 55, entered the Union County Court at 10 a.m. for his first appearance session May 2. He was arrested April 27 after Cranford Police received six complaints from customers alleging he did not give them the varsity jackets they ordered in the fall of 2010 and kept their money, totaling $4,800. Baker told the court he is working on hiring an attorney. His second court appearance is at 8:30 a.m. June 23.
At the New Providence Board of Education reorganization meeting on Thursday, John Wolak and Ira Krauss took an oath of office for three-year terms, Wolak was elected board president and Nancy Opperthauser was elected board vice president.
Final results from the April 27 School Election were also announced. Wolak received 1,009 votes, while Krauss received 731 votes. For the $30,722,298 General Fund, 1,064 voted in favor, while 512 voters were opposed. Overall, 1,582 votes were cast in the election out of the 7,920 registered voters in New Providence.
In other business, the board approved the “generous donation of weight room equipment from Sportscare of America, to the High School, valued at approximately $25,000.00.” When board members asked how this donation came to fruition, School Business Administrator/Board Secretary Jim Testa said it was made possible through retired head football coach Frank Bottone.
The board also approved the purchase of Dell computers, projectors, and printers in the amount of $130,253.94. Testa said funds to make this purchase are being utilized from the generous donation from Goldman Sachs Gives program, which was made on behalf of James and Teri Covello at the March 24 board meeting.
The computers that are not longer deemed appropriate for school use will be donated to the Senior Citizens Center and a non-profit organization in Newark.
Police, Courts, Construction Top Shared Services List: The Scotch Plains and Fanwood mayors and councils held a joint meeting Monday night, squeezing elbow-to-elbow at the front of the Municipal Building courtroom to announce the potential for combining services. They had reached an informal consensus to consider mergers of their respective police departments, courts and construction offices. The Shared Services Committee, which includes officials from both towns, will next take up the matter, then bring its findings to each municipal council. Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr said she expects to have the findings by the end of June.
Revisiting Ground Zero: One day after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. special forces had killed Osama bin Laden, Patch freelancer Chris Federici headed to Ground Zero last Monday, the site of an impromptu celebration the night before. There, he spoke with visitors and laborers, who shared their thoughts on bin Laden's demise.
Council Adopts Shackamaxon Redevelopment Plan: The Scotch Plains Township Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to adopt a three-phase redevelopment plan for Shackamaxon Golf and Country Club, a 146-acre property that went on the market in December. The plan sparked strong opposition from the country club's members and Councilmen Kevin Glover and Mickey Marcus. Click here for the story.
Willow Grove Cell Tower Unanimously Denied: The Scotch Plains Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously rejected T-Mobile's application to construct a 120-foot cell tower in the parking lot of Willow Grove Swim Club on Wednesday night, capping more than nine months of meetings that attracted dozens of local residents opposed to the tower.
Thumbs-Up for Flannery's: Anyone can own or run a pub. But not just anyone can live up to the title of "publican," the special classification of innkeeper who can make you feel welcome. The folks at Flannery's Pub in Fanwood get it. From the simple decor and easy intimacy in the cozy establishment to the sturdy and delicious pub fare and funky, interesting specials, this is the place you visit to lower your blood pressure and enjoy the company of friends, some of whom you're just about to meet. To read the full review, click here.
Remembering a Victim, Looking to the Future: Following the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden last Sunday night, Springfield Patch explored how bin Laden’s death impacted the lives of Springfield residents. Former Springfield resident Alice Adler lost her husband Lee in the attacks, and said bin Laden’s death was “all the more bittersweet,” considering it occurred the same week as her Daughter Lauren’s graduation from C.W. Post University in Long Island. Her husband’s friend and Rabbi Mark Mallach said bin Laden’s death brought with it “a sense of peace.”
Elsewhere in Springfield, reactions to the death were mixed. For some, knowing the man behind 9-11 was dead was a relief. Others worried about retaliation from our exultation in bin Laden’s death.
The Summit Common Council approved the 2011 municipal operating budget Tuesday night, raising taxes 1.93 percent. "I’m proud to say the current council is committed to living in the nominal 2 percent cap," Councilman Tom Getzendanner said. After adding a 4.06 percent county tax increase and a zero percent school tax increase, the fiscal year tax levy increase is 2.36 percent. But the budget hearing wasn't without discussion over two frequent points of contention for council: public safety and library finding. Councilman Michael Vernotico was the only dissenting vote on the resolution approving the budget citing continued concerns over what he believes is a lack of funding for the police and fire departments.