Public Wants Transparency In Private School Settlement

Photo by Bob Vosseller

  JACKSON – Residents wanted details of a land swap plan and cost figures of a nearly 10-year-old lawsuit, saying that the town leaders have not been transparent.

  Resident Ray Cattonar said that the public needs to be given more notice concerning items on the agenda during a recent Township Council meeting. He began a line of questioning that began with the power struggle over choosing members on an open space committee and led to the settlement.

  “We usually get two- or three-days’ notice and we get to see the agenda and we’ve seen a lot of juggling over the last few council meetings. It seems to me that the council wants more authority for transparency it is a great idea to have nine independent residents,” the resident said referencing an Open Space Land Committee that had been proposed but had been voted down.

  Cattonar added, “I’d like to be a volunteer on that committee being a long-time resident of the township. The mayor typically picks out the committee members and then obviously runs it through the council. That seems like the process that has been done but I’m curious because you said you wanted more authority from council. Maybe you can describe what you are talking about.”

  Council President Martin Flemming explained, “we asked for a conversation about how members would be appointed and nobody ever got back to us. That is the only reason it is not on there.”

  “Once we have the conversation and figure out how to man it, it will happen. It is just as important to me as it is to you,” Flemming added.

  Cattonar said he came out to the night’s meeting for that specific subject. “It is a first reading and it is not even on the agenda. The land swap deal (of Leesville Drive) I was hoping would be on the agenda. It wasn’t as of this afternoon on the township website.”

  Flemming said “the administration has been working on it since the fall and I saw it for the first time on Thursday. On Friday, I did my due diligence. I got opinions from three different attorneys to allay the concerns that I had. That was Friday afternoon. Monday was a holiday (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day). We gave it everything we could. I had two days.”

  “I’d like to see a site plan, of where the property is specifically located,” the resident asked.

  Flemming said as this was now public record, that information would be available.

  Susan Cooper lives in that area and said, “we do appreciate this (the land swap) and we know there was a lot of time and effort made and it really brought the residents of that area together.”

  “I just hope going forward, all the communication can be open with residents, developers with the council, the mayor because obviously we sit here and we see the tension and the non-communication and it’s hard for the residents. It’s a new year and I hope everyone can just be kind to each other, communicate and look at the great things that can happen,” she added.

  Sheldon Hofstein inquired about the financial settlement concerning “Oris Bais Yaakov High School for Girls, why doesn’t the council give us what the final settlement was?”

  The agreement concluded a long-standing legal challenge involving the building of a private religious school that will award a monetary settlement and grant approval for the construction of the school on Cross Street.

  The council did not discuss the matter prior to its approval during a December Council meeting. The all-girls school was rejected by the Jackson Zoning Board for having multiple safety violations, setbacks, traffic, and other reasons.

  Hofstein, who was a member of the Zoning Board at the time and he was among those members who voted to deny the application nearly a decade ago asked the council once again, what the settlement figure was.

  “You people approved it (the settlement). Any numbers on that?” Hofstein asked. He had previously posed this question during the meeting where the settlement had been voted on but was told by Township Attorney Gregory McGuckin that those numbers weren’t yet available for disclosure and he did not know them at the time.

  “According to what we read in social media and the newspapers the figure was $1,350,000 does that sound right?”

  “That sounds correct,” Flemming responded.

  “That is the number that the township or your insurance company is giving to the school?” Hofstein clarified.

  “Correct,” Flemming repeated.

  Hofstein said that usually in these cases, “the attorneys for the plaintiffs are paid by the loser, which would be the town, how much are the attorneys getting.”

  “That is inclusive of all the attorney fees,” McGuckin said noting that it was included in the settlement total.

  “How much was our own attorney paid extra for his expert work?” Hofstein asked.

  “The insurance company paid it so I don’t know the answer,” Flemming replied.