GARWOOD — Garwood residents saw a few changes, much discussion, and a year that ended with a dramatic save by the police department.
The year started out with the retirement of Police Chief James Wright, who was succeeded by Captain Douglas Stoffer, a Garwood resident. “All of your concerns are also my concerns,” Chief Stoffer told residents upon taking the helm of the department. “I look forward and I’m excited, more than anything else, to serve you back.”
In March, the police force welcomed Jada Shucai as the borough’s very first female police officer.
The following month, the borough got additional daytime stops to the Garwood train station, and eyed some improvements to the platform with NJ Transit.
The council agreed to disagree on several issues facing the borough, especially when it came to funding services and capital expenditures.
Disagreement, largely along party lines, came in regards to a change of use for Vermella, fees, garbage and grants.
Ultimately, the governing body reduced its capital budget from $1.184 million worth of requests from various departmentsdownto$497,000,thebulk of which was earmarked for road resurfacing.
After the passage of their budget, discussion turned to whether or not to apply for a matching grant from the county Kids Recreation Trust Fund for a pavilion, which governing body members across both parties were divided on as to whether or not they should move forward with applying for the grant this year. “Coming off the biggest tax increase that we’ve seen in a really long time, I think we should pump the breaks,” Councilwoman Kimberly Salmon stated.
Councilman Marc Lazarow also expressed his conflict with using the money for a pavilion. “Right now, I’m leaning towards no,” he said. “I don’t think we can[financially]moveforwardwiththis.” He also expressed how, although citizens have stated they favor the pavilion, they might not realize that they will have to pay more taxes.
Meanwhile, over at the board of education (BOE), a legal battle traversed a multitude of state courts where the BOE and one of its members fought over what one party called retaliation and the other called procedural necessity. Last fall, the board voted during an executive session meeting to remove Sal Piarulli as the district’s liaison to the Clark BOE, which prompted Mr. Piarulli to file a notice of tort claim on January 10 (which initially requested $10 million in “damages to reputation and emotional distress.”) According to the notice, the board’s decision hinged on three separate allegations made by then-Board President Tracey Roland: that Mr. Piarulli shared confidential information of an undisclosed nature with an individual who was being considered as the district’s next superintendent; that he shared information from an executive session of the Garwood BOE with the Clark board; and that he “did not follow rules regarding speaking to the press.” The matter was ultimately heard by Administrative Law Judge John Scollo in Newark, who indicated that Mr. Piarulli could either remain on the board or rescind his notice of claim — Mr. Piarulli opted to rescind.
While council members reported that Garwood’s board of education was threatening to kick out the Garwood Public Library if the library could not pay an increased rent, members of the board of education refuted the notion that the library would become homeless. Councilman Lazarow, liaison between the governing body and the library, reported on negotiations, saying that the board of education was asking for a “100-percent increase” from the current $1,000 a month in utilities to $2,000 a month, while also requesting a designated story time for kindergarteners two times a week for 40 minutes each. The board of education also only offered a one-year lease, even though the library had previously been offered five-year leases, according to Mr. Lazarow. The issue became a focus of the November election campaign, but with approval of a three year lease by the board of education last week, should be resolved in the new year..
The 2023 council election was a narrow lead for Democrats, forcing candidates and voters to wait until all mail-in and provisional ballots were counted and certified at the end of November for official results. Ultimately, incumbent Vincent Kearney garnered 621 votes, with his running mate, Karina Boto(604), capturing just 13 more votes than Republicans Michele Capobianco (591) and Shannon Anwander, who received 577. In the race to fill out the remainder of an unexpired term, Democrat Sean Keagan Foley beat Republican incumbent Rachel Herz by 24 votes, 615-591. The wins gave the Democrats all but one seat, held by Councilwoman Kimberly Salmon, on the borough council.
The council also spent several months discussing, before ultimately granting, a request from Vermella to allow a small scale pharmacy to occupy retail space in the new development. As part of the borough’s PILOT agreement, pharmacies were excluded from the property in the original agreement.
Councilwomen Herz and Salmon noted that they did not think Vermella deserves the exception and questioned if it was necessary for the council and planning board to help the development or if it was “poor marketing” by the owners.
Just after Thanksgiving, Garwood police reported and shared the bodycam footage of a dramatic rescue. After officers were dispatched to a call for body pain at a third-floor apartment in the Vermella, officers got no response when trying to make contact with the occupant. With the unknown condition of the resident, the apartment door was breached, and officers snatched the 41year-old resident out of the air as he attempted to jump from the balcony with a cord around his neck. The resident was transported to the hospital for evaluation.