That changed at last week's commissioners' meeting at the Robert Waters School on Summit Avenue. The school's cavernous cafeteria was packed with approximately 60 Union City residents, many of whom were concerned about having to move to make way for the proposed development of new schools.
The reason for the strong turnout was a pair of anonymous fliers that were circulated last week among the residents living near Roosevelt Stadium. This included residents from 27th Street, Summit Avenue, and others.
One of the fliers made accusations about Stack's supposed plan for "the elimination of all houses, buildings and businesses from 22nd to 30th Street, from Kennedy Boulevard to Summit Avenue." Apparently, the author of the flier would be affected by plans to build a high school within the walls of Roosevelt Stadium and also to build on the "air rights" over Route 495. That plan could force some residents to move.
In May of 2003, the Board of Education discussed how such a project, if given the green light, would proceed. The May meeting was not an open public forum and therefore, no residents could comment, but the issue of relocating residents was brought up. Former Union City Superintendent of Schools Tom Highton said at the time, "It's a tough thing. You have to find the people adequate housing, pay to move them. It's not a process that happens overnight. We are looking at plans that would avoid this."
Highton was present at last week's meeting and spoke on the issue of building a new high school. Echoing his comments from the May "air rights" meeting, Highton once again called on the Port Authority to "step up to the plate" and help Union City. He said that the Port Authority gives money for projects in other towns.
Highton mentioned again that if given the go-ahead, the "air rights" project would open up 16 acres, "the same acreage as the footprint of the World Trade Center."
Many residents are fearful of the "eminent domain" issues that may spring up from such a project, and the arguably political flier that was circulated last week fanned the flames of that fire.
So contentious is the issue that Union City Mayor Brian Stack broke with public meeting tradition last week and addressed the issue before the meeting actually got underway.
Said Stack, "I want to dispel the rumors. I believe in open government and keeping you up to date. Why would I hold a commissioner's meeting in the very neighborhood that I was going to 'knock houses down' in? It makes no sense."
Added the mayor, "The person who sent this anonymous flier didn't feel confident enough to sign it. That says something."
Stack promised that he would not knock people's homes down. Said Stack, "We're years away from even the stadium project."
Added Stack, "You have our word that we will not be taking your homes. That is a promise."
That project has been a source of debate in the town, as many residents consider the run-down stadium "open space," something Union City has a dearth of.
One resident questioned the need for so many schools in such as small city.
"What will become of [the existing] high school[s] when the new one is built?" he asked. Stack answered that the high school (either Union Hill or Emerson) would most likely become a middle school, to which the resident asked incredulously, "We need another middle school?"
Stack smiled and said, "Sir, for instance, the Edison school fits 600 students. There are 1,800 there now. Yes, we need more schools."
According to Executive Director of the Union City Redevelopment Agency Tom Leane, it is not Union City that is mandating new schools, but the state. Said Leane, "If you have a problem with more schools being built, you'd have to complain to the state. It's their mandate."
Stack allowed the public to speak, and speak they did
Some residents verbally chastised the mayor for even considering such projects, while others praised him for his hard work and for trying to bring Union City into the future.
As the spate of questions died down, the mayor thanked everyone for coming and began the regular meeting.
What followed was a mass exodus from the cafeteria of approximately three quarters of the assembled crowd.
However, the fireworks were just getting started.
Regular business; outbursts
After the 30-some-odd item consent agenda was unanimously passed by the commissioners, the mayor opened the floor once again to the public to speak on any measure within the consent agenda.
Sure enough, Union City gadfly and member of the Union City Board of Education Jose Falto approached the podium. What followed was a tense, sometimes humorous and somewhat scary exchange that culminated in Falto being forcibly removed from the meeting by a Union City police officer - twice.
Falto, who is mainly known for having spearheaded a recall movement against Brian Stack last year, makes it his policy to question almost every move the Stack administration makes. This results in usually humorous exchanges between the two men. And for a while last week, it stayed that way. Stack and Falto traded a barrage of "Please don't interrupt mes" as each man attempted to make his point.
At one point, however, a confrontation occurred between Deputy Director of the Union City Department of Public Works Fillipo Iocavelli and Falto.
Reached by telephone the day after the meeting, Falto claimed that Iocavelli stood behind him as he was addressing the commissioners and made threatening comments. Falto responded in kind, and the two had to be separated.
Said Falto, "I don't back down from anybody. The mayor's goons were trying to intimidate me." Sidebar: Police chief to retire
The consent agenda portion of the meeting included some interesting points, most of them on the police front.
It was announced that current Chief of the Union City Police Department Norman Bareis will be retiring from his post as of, according to police sources, Dec. 31, 2003.
Bareis, who became chief of police in 1999, has had a sometimes-contentious relationship with Mayor Brian Stack. Bareis, who has been, according to city sources, working without a contract for the entire time he has held the chief rank, will be paid retroactively for the entire period for pay he missed. Bareis' employment contract was passed unanimously as part of the consent agenda.
Also passed was a retirement package for Bareis. The amount of the package is undisclosed at this time.
In addition, the Union City commissioners unanimously approved a contract to purchase a 2003 Dodge Durango SUV for the Union City Police Department. This vehicle has four-wheel drive and seats eight passengers, although the last three seats will inevitably be used for the storage of police equipment.
According to Union City Mayor Brian Stack, the truck will "allow the police department to get around the city during snowstorms." Stack was careful to thank, as is his wont in this election season, Senator Bernie Kenny (D-Hoboken) for securing the funds to purchase the truck. Union City uses state Police Block Grants to keep their growing fleet of police vehicles up-to-date.
Just recently, the Union City Police Department was the recipient of six new police vehicles: two Harley-Davidson motorcycles, three new cruisers and an Emergency Services Unit. - Dylan Archilla