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The Case of the Languishing Montclair Projects (The Other Side)

Everyone deserves a holiday, time to switch off and recharge old batteries. Did you know that in Sweden everyone is entitled to at least five weeks (25 days) of paid vacation per year? Also Denmark. In the Netherlands, even the unemployed are given a break from looking for a job, 20 days of paid leave while they receive their unemployment benefit.

Here in the good old USA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! You’re lucky if you get two weeks.

However, we are pleased to announce that our city administration is operating without such restrictions. They’re relaxing, avoiding burnout, perfecting their pickleball skills and catching up on their beach reading. At least, we’re assuming they do, since they definitely don’t care about city government.

Who is that anyway? Who is responsible? Nobody seems to know. Maybe the people who know the answer are all on vacation. Maybe it’s a mystery, like a true crime podcast.

Take “The Case of the Unfinished Parking Deck” for example. The new, somewhat extravagantly named Midtown parking deck on Glenridge Avenue was completed in January this year but remains closed, stalling business for area businesses still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Why? Although various reasons were given, including missing elevator parts and rainwater accumulation, it was recently revealed that the structure had failed a building inspection on Jan. 31.

Well, not the building exactly. The alley leading from Bloomfield Avenue to the parking deck was determined to be non-ADA compliant. Now the community is taking steps to…

Wait! It failed in January? And nobody did anything?

You’ll be relieved to learn that the municipality had a project manager for the parking deck. You will be dismayed to discover that the project leader was none other than Ira Karasick, the community attorney who resigned in disfavor last December.

Why was City Attorney Karasick Project Manager for the parking deck? Why didn’t anyone take him on when he retired? More secrets.

But let’s move on. See “The Case of the Missing Director.” As detailed in a recent letter to the editor, the city’s senior services department has been without leadership since the previous director, Katherine York, left on March 5, 2021. It took several months for the city to appoint her successor. This substitute, Margaret Church, has been on disability leave since January this year. Her boss, Director of Health and Human Services Sue Portuese, retired on July 6, 2021, and a permanent replacement has yet to be named for her.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other admins have resigned without being replaced. Does anyone count?

Last (well, not really last, just whatever I have space for) is The Case of the Closed Pools. You may have noticed that it’s late July, Alaska is on fire, Britain is melting into a pond of Cadbury’s chocolate, and Montclair is hovering around 36 degrees. (That’s Celsius, deal with it folks!) That makes it the perfect time to close two of the city’s three swimming pools.

Why are the pools closed in Nishuane and Essex? Well, see, the contractor has had supply chain and staffing delays for Nishuane and the Essex refurbishment can’t begin until… yada, yada, yada. Nobody is responsible.

Maybe nobody is responsible, but we can say with certainty that there is someone who is responsible. Except that person isn’t the mayor – it’s City Manager Tim Stafford. Being the mayor of Montclair is a part-time job that pays $10,000 a year. The appointed city manager with an annual salary of around $200,000 is said to run the business. This form of government, though adopted in 1980, seems to date back to a time when the city’s citizens took turns presiding over ribbon-cutting ceremonies and baking contests, leaving the messy chores of administration to hired helpers.

Whatever its origins, the result is a system in which the person responsible for running the city has no accountability whatsoever to its citizens. In theory, the city manager could be fired by the city council for incompetence, but that would mean that he would have to look after the day-to-day running of the city. Or a competent, dedicated city manager could, you know, get the job done and avoid this mess.

Or we could have a system where the person responsible has to answer to the electorate every four years – a full-time mayor. This person would have a built-in incentive to keep the city running smoothly. If you need to fix a pothole (or open a swimming pool) right now, your elected representatives can’t help you. Can my vote be bought with a fixed pothole? Let’s find out!

In the short term we are dealing with a disoriented city administration and a city manager who seems to be on permanent leave. Perhaps Mr. Stafford can be persuaded to seek employment elsewhere. How about Sweden?

Richie Chevat, writer, activist, has lived in Montclair for more than 30 years. He is the author of the comic science fiction novel “Rate me red,” the game “who needs men‘ and the young reader version of ‘A Strange History of the United States‘, among other works. He can often be seen running errands around town on his bicycle.

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