The Case of Montclair’s Languid Projects (On the other hand)
Everyone deserves a vacation, time to relax and recharge old batteries. Did you know that in Sweden, everyone is entitled to a minimum of five weeks (25 days) of paid vacation per year? Also, Denmark. In the Netherlands, even the unemployed benefit from job search leave, 20 days of paid leave while receiving their unemployment benefits.
Here in the good old USA! UNITED STATES! you’re lucky if you have two weeks.
However, we are happy to report that our city management does not operate under any of these restrictions. They relax, avoid burnout, hone their pickleball skills and catch up on their reading on the beach. At least that’s what we assume they are doing, as they certainly don’t pay attention to running the town.
Who is it exactly, anyway? Who is in charge? Nobody seems to know. Maybe the people who know the answer are all on vacation. Maybe it’s a mystery, like a true crime podcast.
Take, for example, “The Case of the Unfinished Parking Lot.” The new, somewhat extravagantly named Midtown parking deck on Glenridge Avenue was completed in January this year but remains closed, stifling business for area stores still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Why? Although various reasons have been given, including missing elevator parts and rainwater accumulation, it recently emerged that the structure failed a building inspection on January 31.
Well, not the building exactly. The driveway that runs from Bloomfield Avenue to the parking lot has been found to be non-ADA compliant. The municipality is now taking steps to…
Expect! Did it fail in January? And nobody did anything?
You will be relieved to know that the township had a project manager assigned to the parking deck. You will be dismayed to learn that the project leader was none other than Ira Karasick, the township attorney who retired in disgrace last December.
Why was city attorney Karasick the parking lot project manager? Why didn’t anyone take over when he retired? More mysteries.
But let’s move on. Consider “The Case of the Missing Director”. As detailed in a recent letter to the editor, the city’s senior services division has been directionless since the departure of previous director Katherine York on March 5, 2021. It took the city several months to appoint its substitute. This replacement, Margaret Church, has been on disability leave since January of this year. Her boss, director of health and social services Sue Portuese, retired on July 6, 2021 and a permanent replacement has yet to be named for her.
It makes you wonder how many other directors have resigned without being replaced. Does anyone count?
Finally (well, not really the last, just everything I have room for) there is “The case of closed swimming pools”. You may have noticed that it’s late July, Alaska is on fire, the UK is melting in a pool of Cadbury chocolate and Montclair is hovering around 36 degrees. (It’s Celsius, go ahead, people!) making this the perfect time to close two of the city’s three swimming pools.
Why are the Nishuane and Essex pools closed? Well, you see, the contractor has encountered supply chain and personnel delays in Nishuane, and the Essex renovation can’t begin until… yada, yada, yada. Nobody is in charge.
Maybe no one is responsible, but we can say with certainty that there is someone responsible. Except that person isn’t the mayor – it’s the city manager, Tim Stafford. Being mayor of Montclair is a part-time job with an allowance of $10,000 per year. The appointed general manager, with an annual salary of around $200,000, is supposed to run things. This form of government, though adopted in 1980, seems to date back to a time when the city’s bourgeois took turns presiding over groundbreaking ceremonies and baking competitions and left the messy administrative work to hired help.
Whatever its origins, the result is a system in which the person responsible for running the city has no accountability to its citizens. The chief executive could in theory be fired by the city council for incompetence, but that would mean he would have to pay attention to the day-to-day running of the city. Or a competent and dedicated city manager could, you know, do his job and avoid this mess.
Or we could have a system where the person in charge had to respond to voters every four years – a full-time mayor. This person would have a built-in incentive to make sure the town ran smoothly. Right now, if you want to get a pothole fixed (or open a swimming pool), your elected officials can’t help you. Can my vote be purchased with a fixed pothole? Let’s find out!
In the short term, we are stuck with a rudderless city government and a city manager who appears to be on permanent vacation. Perhaps Mr. Stafford can be persuaded to seek employment elsewhere. And Sweden?
Richie Chevat, writer, activist, has been a resident of Montclair for over 30 years. He is the author of the comic science fiction novel “rate me red,” the game “Who needs men?» and the young reader version of «A queer history of the United States”, among other works. He can often be seen running errands around town on his bicycle.