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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 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 , 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 . 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 .

Although Toffler said the 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. 

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Keith Jensen March 27, 2012 at 10:40 AM
Taxes must be spent wisely in the first place. Teaneck alone sends $37M to Abbott Districts which are considered poor by our legislature. If Fair School Funding was passed Teaneck would realize a 35% prop. tax reduction, reducing financial stress. The Teaneck Mayor and Council must sign the attached resolution which makes our legislators react. Give these distressed communities what they need instead of a blank check. If you never heard of them, here is an example: Hoboken is one of them. For ex. parents with a 3, 4 or 5 year old child get free Pre-K education in the 31 Abbott School Districts, even if they make $500K a year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbott_district Just by virtue of living in Hoboken, an Abbott School District, children receive FREE Pre-K education; incidentally the value of this Pre-K education is more than $20K a year, and Parents of Teaneck end up paying for children of Hoboken. In Teaneck, nearly 60% of local taxes go to education, but approximately 20% of it remains in town. The rest is sent to Trenton and distributed to 31 Abbott School Districts: towns with a greater need than Teaneck; towns such as Hoboken, but not Englewood nor Hackensack. These difficult public conversations would not be needed if Teaneck’s taxes were spent wisely in the first place. Speak out against the Abbott School ruling. Tell your elected officials: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/DistrictLegislators.asp www.schoolfundingexposed.com
Art Vatsky March 27, 2012 at 11:46 AM
What is the most important election issue? Rebuilding Teaneck's tattered reputation for social diversity, efficient government, economic development. Teaneck has not been improving in recent years. Our municipal government seems to act like the status quo is improvement. I feel Teaneck had been falling behind other NJ communities.
Art Vatsky March 27, 2012 at 12:08 PM
I strongly support a return to a 5-day municipal building workweek. The 4-day workweek is simply an inconvenience to the public. Teaneck's muni building is open about 190 days a year. Other NJ town halls are open about 240. Our manager said sick days have gone down years ago, but that should be expected as some employees must be sick on Fridays and Mondays when they are off anyway. Even Jackson, NJ which had the 4 day work week because of employee furloughs, has returned to a 5 day work week (July 2011). Teaneck should too. The 4 day workweek has been a hardship and delay on the public - permits, licenses, records retrieval, meetings are bunched into 4 and 3 day work weeks. Yes, due to our holiday schedule, 25% of the Municipal Building workweeks are only 3 days long. Additional open hours can be achieved by staggering work hours. Why wasn't that tried initially?
Keith Kaplan March 27, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Can't there be a compromise? Half a day on Friday and use the other half on a Tuesday for a late night?
Art Vatsky March 27, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Keith: That's not a bad idea but shouldn't be needed. There are 10 depts in the muni building. Keep a full Friday but have one trained employee from each dept start X hours late on a Tuesday and stay X hours after normal hours. Everyone still works the standard workweek of 37.5 hours. The towns I checked are open 8 AM - 4 PM or 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM. MONDAY thru FRIDAY.
Alan Sohn March 27, 2012 at 09:36 PM
For those in a typical 9-5 / 8:30-5:30 job and a commute of a half-hour to an hour, being open Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 8-5:15 doesn't help. Late hours on Tuesdays, when the building is open from 8- 7 buys the typical commuter a window of about one hour per week to get from work to the Municipal Building and hope that they can get their problem resolved. Next door, at the Teaneck Public Library, the building is open 7 days and 70 hours a week, 350 days a year, offering those away from Teaneck during the day as many as 20 hours of service outside traditional business hours. The Municipal Building is open fewer than 190 days a year. People in town during the day lose every Friday. If I'm near the Library on Fridays I often see confused people walking away from the Municipal Building, shaking the doors and trying to figure out why the building is closed. Folks working on construction projects can lose days of work because of the closure. While the workers are paid for five days of work, most application and OPRA requests are treated as if there are only four days, making many requests take longer even though there is no less time available to employees to process requests. I'm sure workers love it now that they've adjusted their schedules, but it's a big net loss for the township. I wonder if the supposed 7 of 11 people polled still support the four-day schedule? How does the Library balance their staff to provide a much higher level of service?
Diane Schwarz March 27, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Maintaining an excellent public school system is a major issue for Teaneck, plus our whole state. My family moved to Teaneck for 2 major reasons: it's excellent public schools and its committed diversity.
Art Vatsky March 28, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Diane: I'll add 4 more reasons: our excellent location, our fully developed street and park system, our trees, and a reputation for excellent municipal government.
Keith Kaplan March 28, 2012 at 01:26 AM
I couldn't help but think of our town while reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/study-of-the-day-diversity-has-become-a-useless-concept/254357/
delgado March 28, 2012 at 01:42 AM
There seems to be a mistake in the article, it states Hon. B. Tofler voted for all the intiatives, including 4 day work weeks and now is opposed to all of the votes...... that can not be right..... that must be a mistake.
Art Vatsky March 28, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Keith: The article said the survey "They recruited 300 people, mostly students and staff members at UCLA, to take an online survey." I would expect such an upward mobile, well educated group to feel as they do. The term I prefer is "inclusiveness", feeling included by our society and able to give the best that we have within us to give. There are many kinds of prejudice. Not only race and ethnicity, but also age, education, language, physical ability and dimension, gender. Sincere inclusiveness, you know it when you see it.
Gee Starr March 28, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Looking at today's business environment that evolved drastically after 9/2008, munis and corps were allowed to take advantage of the American worker by the govt who gave the green light to summarily dismiss and put workers on the unemployment payroll in spite of unions. We are at a crossroads where so many of the unemployed would love to have a job... let alone a 4 day work week. We are by many measures
Barbara Ley Toffler March 28, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Perhaps I can clarify a few things for delgado. I was on a 3-person subcommittee to discuss the 4-day work week. I did not support it at any time, but the vote of the subcommittee (2 - 1) was presented to Council and public as "The subcommittee supports." [continued in next submission
Barbara Ley Toffler March 28, 2012 at 06:39 PM
" In regard to the soil sampling of Votee Park beyond the soccer field, viewing the dvd of the relevant council meeting (which date I can provide), you will see that we were presented with two proposals, one for $15,000 to test the surface soil under the soccer field and one for $125,000 to test the historic fill (6 to 8 feet down) of the rest of Votee Park. I initially supported spending $15,000 to test the surface soilk under the soccer field. The rest of Council supported spending the full $140,000. As I said when the vote was taken, I really didn't think we needed to be testing the rest of votee Park, but I would reluctantly vote with my colleagues since the information we had received from GZA, our environmental consultant was so confused -- so that maybe this further sampling was necessary. So I did vote for the $140,000, as I said, with great reluctance. Remember, on January 10, Ben Alter of GZA told us all was fine, no problems. Then on January 24, Mr. Alter came with a completely different story and described babies and toddlers putting soil contaminated with benzo(a)pyrene in there mouth and ingesting dangerous contamination. Subsequent discussions with experts and DEP suggested that benzo(a)pyrene (a PAH) was probably from CSX trains and the barbeques grills in the park, and that the amount a human would have to ingest for any effect was probably beyond the amount anyone could ingest in a life time. At any rate, there are my positions on two issues.
Barbara Ley Toffler March 28, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Following my two comments in response to delgado:. One important fact: since Council does not have Workshops any longer, we usually get copies of resolutions to be passed (often on critical issues like Votee Park), at most, five days before a Council meeting and sometimes as little as 2 days or even one hour before the Council meeting. In these cases, we are asked to vote on an issue with little information and no discussion. Because doing that can lead a responsible councilmember to want to change a vote after learning more about an issue, I have committed to not voting for anything on which we have insufficient time for reasonable review or discussion.
JamesTS March 28, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Councilwoman Toffler: I understand what you are saying however I must ask: how did you VOTE on these topics? I am just concerned because saying you do not support a matter and voting seem different. I do sometimes agree with your views (such as the park) but then you vote a different way in supporting something you said you don't support. That is why concenr and maybe what the ohter person was asking about.
JamesTS March 28, 2012 at 07:10 PM
public Safety is important. Please read the news.. this town is not so "perfect" as we all like to think!!
Barbara Ley Toffler March 28, 2012 at 07:31 PM
JamesTS -- please give me an example. I have on occasion changed my mind some period of time after a vote when I have gotten further information that should have had before the initial vote. (One can only change his or her mind -- can't change his or her vote!) There is the votee park situation, which I explained. but otherwise, I can't think of a time I have voted for something I was against. So please, some examples?
Keith Kaplan March 28, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Art, I'm all for the "concept", but I think you're wrong about knowing ti when you see it. We are absolutely amazing at convincing ourselves about knowing things we know nothing about. This article shapes my view in better terms: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/08/21/the-illusion-of-asymmetric-insight/ The takeaway: "The illusion of asymmetric insight makes it seem as though you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves. You believe the same thing about groups of which you are a member. As a whole, your group understands outsiders better than outsiders understand your group, and you understand the group better than its members know the group to which they belong." I suggest reading the entire thing, it's extremely enlightening.
JamesTS March 28, 2012 at 08:57 PM
what about the work week? personally i just dont see any point to the fridays off. what is the gain? i agree with Councilwoman Tofflers views on that one.
Barbara Ley Toffler March 28, 2012 at 09:02 PM
In some towns the four-day work week was instituted as a furlough plan, saving one-day a week employee salaries. That was not the case in Teaneck. I believe some councilmembers thought there might be utilities cost savings, but that proved not to be the case. At this point there is no benefit to taxpayers in any way.
Barbara Ley Toffler March 28, 2012 at 09:09 PM
At the Northeast Block Association Forum on Monday evening, in speaking about improving the Building Department Service (which everyone agrees needs to be done!), Mayor Hameeduddin suggested possibly using Total Quality Management. I was thrilled to hear him say this, because a few weeks ago I suggested that we needed some kind of process re-engineering (of which TQM is one kind) to repair the Building Department services, and my suggestion was pooh-poohed by my colleagues. that they have rethought that suggestion is great. I truly believe that better understanding the work-flow processes and the physical set up of the BD and making appropriate changes will produce a marked improvement. Possibly just a month or so of a good consultant's services for analysis and recommendations and change oversight would get the job. done.
Art Vatsky March 28, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Noah: Some pretty good comments in the comments. 1. Let's bring back those workshop meetings so the public can see the back and forth between the Council members. Which Council candidates support it. I'd be more likely to vote for them, than those that oppose it. I see a trend here: Close Town Hall 52 Fridays. Close workshop meetings on 26 Tuesday. Hmmm. 2. Perhaps the Council gets its information late because the town clerk's office is closed 3 and 4 days a week. If a resolution doesn't go out on a Thursday when there is a 4 day weekend, the earliest the Council can see it is Tuesday, the day of the Council meeting. Council members who insisted on the 4 day week for the town hall staff should say so during the campaign. Nobody has explained how it benefits Teaneck citizens. 3. Voting Records. I have considered requesting the voting records of our Council members but thought the process would be too tedious for our Town Clerk staff. However, since Council members seem to keep track of C. Toffler's votes, I hope the incumbent candidates would present their voting records as part of their campaign materials. So, C. Honis, C. Hammedudin, how about it? You spent the township's money and time, let's see your voting records. Note: By being a Council member of Teaneck for 4 years, Council members vote on approx $250 million dollars of expenditures and a staff exceeding 360 employees. Let's see the voting!
zizi March 29, 2012 at 04:39 AM
excellent public schools === you must be either joking or measuring with some imaginary scope...... Teaneck has the least scores with the most $s spent per student...... use google.. it helps clear things up
b.smith March 29, 2012 at 05:39 AM
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Diane Schwarz April 04, 2012 at 03:04 PM
The new website, should publish all council votes, and keep a record, that can be tapped by any citizen! And in response to Zizi, who thought i was kidding about the school system, Teaneck WAS one of the BEST in the late 60's and 70's, when I chose it, and my son & many other graduates from the Teaneck schools had FIRST CLASS public educations (no charter schools!). And actually, I know students going through the system NOW, that feel the same way!
Patricia Whitney May 01, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Dear Ms. Toffler, just from your statement "At this point there is no benefit to taxpayers in any way" You got my vote. I been a homeowner here in Teaneck for 16 years and I am embrassed to tell people the outragous taxes I pay for such reduced services. If you check out the foreclosure rate, Teaneck has the highest in Bergen County; these high taxes are part of this problem too.

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