"In all the years we have been sponsoring this event along with the county executive," said Freeholder Chairman Silverio Vega, "we have never witnessed such a heated exchange and debate on some of the issues. The performance of all the students certainly gives all of us hope for the future of America and Hudson County." County Prep students who participated were Michael Phung, Christine Teodoro, Melanie Vala, Yesha Ghandi, Sasha Ali, Ivan Mera, Genisis Mosquera, Erik Gromek, Priti Thareja and Dalia Shendi.
High Tech participants were Jaimik Patel, Catherine Dowie, Jenny Zhang, Nicholas Yuknalis, Gabrielle Gulo, Julio Flores, Elizabeth Perry, Cassandra Abousamak, Cindy LaRosa, Amy Patel, Vincenzo Sessa and Christian Gracia.
Moderators from County Prep were Thurman Carey and Assistant Principal Joe Giammarella, while history instructor John Jefferson represented High Tech. Hudson County Schools of Technology Director of Development Linda Quentzel assisted in organizing the event.
Passing laws The group met two days prior to the mock meeting with County Surrogate Donald DeLeo and Freeholder Media Consultant Anthony Amabile to fashion an agenda for the meeting upon which they would take action. The setting of the agenda is performed through discussion, suggestions and a democratic vote on which issues the students want to deal with.
The student group settled on a group of laudatory resolutions honoring High Tech students, and those resolutions were also passed by the real freeholder board later in the day at its regular meeting. Resolutions concerning student achievements at County Prep will be handled at a future freeholder meeting.
It was when the four "business of the board" resolutions were offered that the fireworks really began. The first one offered, a resolution urging the county executive to allocate more money for purposes of improving technological capabilities in the Surrogate's Office, was tabled pending receipt of the budget. A second, urging Gov. Jon Corzine to restore cuts made in the Governor's School Program, passed by an 8-0-1 margin. No fireworks there.
The first controversial resolution urged re-establishing the Hudson County Board of Freeholder's policy against racism, bigotry and discrimination as well as condemning talk show host Hal Turner of North Bergen for his inflammatory rhetoric. After a very heated debate, the proponents of free speech - agreeing that Turner's actions were despicable but protected by the first amendment - won out as the resolution was defeated by a 4-1-4 vote.
The next resolution that sparked a furious debate was benign enough upon reading - a resolution requesting the sheriff to strictly enforce the ban against commercial vehicles traveling through county parks as a safety measure protecting children and the elderly - but what ensued caught everyone off guard.
One of the students suggested that the traffic signs prohibiting commercial thoroughfare be in both English and Spanish, sparking a heated debate on why other immigrant groups were excluded and forced to learn English. The discussions certainly took on a liberal vs. conservative tone and both sides scored in the exchange.
In the end, the students felt that the resolution should pass (it carried 7-2) because getting action from the Sheriff's Office on banning the vehicles was the more important consideration. Surrogate DeLeo remarked he "can't wait until next year's event because the tenor and intensity of the debates seems to elevate with each passing year."
Each of the students was presented with a copy of a resolution to be passed later in the day by the freeholder board commending their participation.