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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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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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