Council Candidates Talk Town Services, Diversity at Teaneck Forum [Poll]
Four-day workweek for town employees could change in union negotiations.
Residents quizzed the six Township Council candidates on issues ranging from diversity to the town’s four-day workweek during the Northeast Teaneck Block Association’s candidates forum at the Richard Rodda Center Monday night.
Incumbents Monica Honis, Mohammed Hameeduddin and Barbara Toffler, along with council election newcomers Alexander Rashin, Mark Schwartz and Henry Pruitt are vying for three seats on the town’s governing body.
While there was little back and forth between the candidates, one of the more debated issues was the town’s current four-day work schedule for most township offices. One resident questioned if closing on Fridays had saved any money.
“There is no cost saving to the four-day workweek. We are not furloughing employees,” Toffler replied, adding staffers are paid for five days and work extended hours.
The move also does not offer any reduction in utility fees because the municipal complex and library are linked, Toffler said.
Enacted in 2009 as a cost-saving and customer service measure, the four-day week has drawn complaints from some residents who say closing on Fridays is inconvenient. Toffler, a recent critic of the move, said she was told a survey showed support for the idea was at 70 percent, but only 11 residents were polled.
Hameeduddin, Teaneck’s mayor, said Toffler had first supported the move and the council was bound by labor agreements with town employees.
“I’m hoping as a council that we can talk about staggered work weeks,” Hameeduddin said, noting a schedule change would have to come through union negotiations.
Toffler said she would continue to press the issue.
“I am fighting and will continue to fight though I do not have the [council] majority as I don’t on many things,” she said.
Rashin said the four-day week offered nothing for residents.
Honis, however, said employee absences had decreased with the extra day off.
“We did see cost savings in terms of our people power,” she said.
Hameeduddin and Toffler both said the township's building department needed service improvements.
"The building department is not user friendly,” Toffler said.
Resident Ron Costello asked what candidates could do to improve relations between young people and police.
Hameeduddin and Pruitt said the police department and school district have formed a positive working relationship.
The Board of Education recognized Police Chief Robert Wilson and recent incidents, including a lockdown at Teaneck High School, showed the two agencies worked well together, Hameeduddin said.
The police force has also become more diverse, he said.
Pruitt, a school board member, pointed to the collaboration on a district emergency plan, but said Teaneck must prepare its young people to grapple with larger racial tension outside the township.
“There is a cancer in the society that misjudges black kids when they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
The discussion of youth and race relations came a day after North Jersey residents rallied in Englewood to protest the shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Hameeduddin and Toffler both spoke at the march.
“What happened in Florida was nothing short of murder,” Schwartz said.
He also credited officers in the newly reinstated community policing squad with helping to bridge gaps.
The block association asked what candidates would do about a perceived growing divide among Teaneck’s diverse groups.
“I embrace friends of all kinds,” Toffler said. “I would like to encourage other people in this town to reach out.”
Rashin denounced any politicking that fosters conflict between racial and ethnic groups.
“I do not want to all the time look for racial or ethnic conflicts,” he said. “That poisons the atmosphere in the town and we don’t need it.”
Schwartz pointed to local activities, including athletics and the volunteer ambulance service, where residents were already working together. Challenges facing the township would bring people together, he said.
Community forums would also help to collect input on town issues, Schwartz said. Spending and rising costs were a concern, coupled with the need to maintain basic government services through difficult economic conditions.
“I want to make sure that we can maintain the Teaneck that we know today,” he said.
Board of Education Trustee Clara Williams questioned how the council deliberates on issues and if the candidates supported reinstating workshop meetings.
“I assume that there are some individual phone calls that go around,” said Toffler, who has called for holding regular workshop meetings. “We need to have public discussion.”
Hameeduddin and Honis countered that workshop meetings should be scheduled for specific issues.
“We have ample time to discuss things that are happening,” Hameeduddin said.
The council has also held budget hearings, Honis said.
Toffler and Rashin criticized the town’s handling of professional services contracts, specifically the move to run soil tests across Votee Park.
Although Toffler said the widespread testing opened a “Pandora’s Box,” Rashin said the councilwoman had still voted to fund the work.
Toffler said she wanted the town to collect multiple bids for complex projects.
Both Hameeduddin and Honis said opting to go with one company gave the town added accountability in the event work is botched.
In response to a question from BOE Trustee Howard Rose, five candidates said they opposed the practice of bullet voting. Rashin said voters were free to make their own decisions.
Voters will head to the polls in May for the township's non-partisan election.