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Updated: Fanwood Council Will Not Appeal Consolidation Study Decision

Mayor Mahr and Council Members discussed their feelings on whether or not to appeal the decision of approval for the consolidation study.


Updated at 1:13 p.m. to include the definite decision to not move forward with the appeal. 

At Tuesday evening's council meeting, Mayor Colleen Mahr and council discussed the option to appeal the decision of a consolidation study for the towns of Scotch Plains and Fanwood. 

Mahr told Patch the meeting provided an opportunity for council members to voice opinions heard on the issue.

In the end, the council did not make any motion to move forward with the decision.

On Oct. 2, Fanwood held a special council meeting at Forest Road Park to discuss consolidation, at the meeting two options were presented by Fanwood Attorney, Dennis Estis.

In moving forward, Fanwood has two options: to appeal the study or just to continue and see how it plays out. 

Estis noted the cost of an appeal could be roughly $20,000. 

During the council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16, Mayor Mahr again voiced her concern about Courage to Re-Connect's lack of transparency and her skepticism about the organization's intentions.

However, Mahr added that she is not comfortable using tax payer money to fund an appeal.

Council President, Russell Huegel, pointed out that his understanding from Mr. Estis was that Fanwood has a very strong argument if they decided to appeal.

He added that he felt this was a violation of due process by Courage to Re-Connect. 

What Huegel said he must remind himself is that, what Fanwood would be doing is spending tax payer money. 

"Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should," he said. 
Additionally, Huegel said if the council chooses not to move forward with the appeal, it does not mean they will sit idly by.

Councilman Michael Szuch, called on an example provided by Fanwood resident Michael Lewis.

On Oct. 8, an article in The Daily Record, discussed the possible consolidation of two New Jersey towns, Roxbury and Mount Arlington. 

The article states that Gina Genovese of Courage to Re-Connect will speak to residents to discuss the proposed benefits of consolidation.

Szuch pointed out that this is not a grassroots thing and these individuals(Courage to Re-Connect) are not who the residents should want representing Fanwood.

Barbara Deegan, a resident of Fanwood, asked at the Oct. 2 special meeting on consolidation, if properties would need to be reevaluated. 

Councilman Parenti remembered this question and said that the town, if one, would have to reevaluate all properties which could cost nearly $300,000.

"If it takes an appeal, I'm all for it," Parenti said. 

Councilman Boris looked to again to the lack of transparency in this process, noting that the people spearheading this are from outside of Fanwood.

He added that he only met one of the signatories at one of the upwards of five meetings on the issue.

Boris also shared his concerns about spending tax payer money.

Patch was able to reach out to one of the five Fanwood signatories of the Courage to Re-Connect application for consolidation.

Dan Winigrad of Fanwood, who signed the application, said merging the towns together could lower taxes and improve services, while still holding onto the towns' identities.

Many Fanwood residents expressed at the Oct. 2, meeting that Fanwood would lose its identity if consolidated.

Paul Abbott has lived in Fanwood since 1978 and worried about services going down if the towns merged.

"You're going to lose quality," he said. "It's hard to put a dollar amount on quality." 

Winigrad added that right now no one can know if merging the towns together is in the best interest of Scotch Plains or Fanwood residents, which is why he supports a free study.

"My goal is to have a free study done, see if it makes sense and if so, let the residents of the towns decide what is in their best interest," he said. "There is nothing to lose and much to gain."

Also, Winigrad mentioned that Fanwood residents he has spoken with do not understand the idea of an appeal that would cost tax payers money.

As noted, many of the council members share the same concern, especially Mayor Mahr who is hesitant to spend tax payer money. 

Mahr closed the discussion by saying she hopes residents can appreciate how much time and thought the council has placed on this.

The majority of the council was of the mind that they should not use tax payer money for the study.

Councilman Huegel asked if anyone wanted to make a motion, and no motion was made, so no further action will be taken to appeal the issue.

Patch will continue to reach out to fellow Fanwood signatories throughout the week.  

Holden MaGroin October 17, 2012 at 03:45 AM
I'm Holden MaGroin and I have a question. When I questioned how much it was costing taxpayers to have attorney Estes at all these connector meetings and at the Trenton meeting trying to throw logs in the way of citizens being able to vote on this, I was told he was on a retainer and it didn't cost any extra. So how would this appeal not be part of the retainer and cost $20,000?
ralphwiggummm October 17, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Wouldn't a successful appeal then leave open the door to a suit to recover costs from the group that has come into our communities to peddle their own agenda?
bgporter October 17, 2012 at 12:34 PM
An easy and obvious solution to Mayor Mahr's concerns about process transparency is to make smart use of her ability to name two trusted representatives to the Consolidation Study Committee.
Nicole Bitette (Editor) October 17, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Hi Holden, I do remember Estis saying something at the special meeting on Oct. 2, that if he went by his usual rate it'd be more, but jokingly noting how Fanwood pays him less. Also at last evening's meeting I believe what they did was change him to a contract employee. I'm not entirely sure on your question but I'm figuring this would require extra work that wouldn't be included in what he's currently contracted to do.
Holden MaGroin October 17, 2012 at 02:57 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and this is for Nicole. Thanks for the quick reply and the information that they changed his work status last night. Did it come up if the change they made to his employment status had anything to do with the connector fight they're gearing up for? I ask because the Fanwood council has talked about how they always hold costs down and even approved in August a $5,000 expenditure to hire another lawyer to write a report showing they spend the taxpayer dollars wisely. I'm trying to figure out if, in trying to prevent this connection with SP, the council has requested the attorney attend all these extra meetings and if he is saying that this extra time is going to cost the taxpayers more money.
Nicole Bitette (Editor) October 17, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Hi Holden, They didn't say anything further about his employment change, it was more of an agenda item that they just ok'd to approve. It also doesn't seem like they are planning to do this appeal because time is running out and they didn't state really if it would be discussed again, but they didn't provide a definite no either.
haljalikea kick October 17, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Turned on the Fanwood meeting in the middle of Mayor Mahr discussing, she had just find out that during the SP council meeting , SP mayor and council agreed to hire their own consulting firm in the interest of SP tax payers? Does anyone know more about this ? Mayor Mahr was disappointed to hear this news- Why did SP hire a consultant? Sounded like it would affect an upcoming meeting of the 2 towns.
Nicole Bitette (Editor) October 17, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Hi haljalikea kick: I have the information from Mayor Mahr's side but am working on talking to Mayor DePaola on why they felt it was necessary to hire a consultant. Mahr had no idea why they chose to do so. I'm waiting to hear back from DePaola to set something up.
firedup49 October 18, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I have posted much information about this group prior. Don't you find it strange, that no approval on this by the residence of our towns, and it will cost us money. Why? I have done research on this group, missing one part of puzzle. There is something that is not kosher about this.. Have a great evening : )

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