A handful of Second Ward residents gave the Morristown mayor and council an earful Tuesday at the year’s final council meeting, registering concerns about everything from sporadic street cleaning to stacking and racial profiling.
“The Second Ward seems to be… the most expendable section of this town,” said James Kersey, contending that officials only care about the district–home to many African-American and Latino residents–at election time. “I think it’s a sin, it’s a shame, and it’s insulting to the Second Ward.”
Mayor Tim Dougherty disagreed with that assessment.
“They’re being treated equally, like every other ward. And we will continue to address their concerns. If you have an issue, call your council member. All issues that were brought up will be addressed,” the Mayor said after the meeting.
Many of the complaints involved heavy traffic–from tractor trailers as well as passenger vehicles–on Abbett Avenue.
Alaria Jackson vowed to speak out at every council meeting until something is done to stop speeding motorists, late-night truck noise and noxious fumes.
“We’re sick of it, sick of it,” she said.
Another resident, Herb Cochrane, said traffic is so thick that his wife often is late for work–and she only works a block from home. He invited the Mayor to sit on his Abbett Avenue porch during rush hours to observe the problem first-hand.
“I’ll bring the coffee?” the Mayor said.
“Dress properly” for the cold, Herb responded.
The Mayor also surprised one of his most vociferous critics, Helen Arnold, by accepting her offer to drive officials around the ward.
“If Helen wants to tour the town with the Mayor, I’ll toss out the olive branch,” the Mayor said.
“I’ll have to think about that,” answered Helen, who worked in the prior administration.
She has asserted that Second Ward streets are not swept as often as streets in other wards; on Tuesday she alleged one reason is stacking–illegal overcrowding of houses–that results in extra cars that block street sweepers.
Another Second Ward resident, Choman Samuels, who is African American, said her teenaged son was stopped by police while walking to work through the Manahan Village neighborhood.
“Everyone who walks through there is not a drug dealer,” said Choman, calling for public meetings to sensitize young police officers to stop what she described as “off-the-charts….harassment and racial profiling.”
Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid, who represents the Second Ward, said she was unaware of this and has heard no profiling complaints over the last decade or so.
The Mayor asked Police Chief Pete Demnitz to speak with Choman. He also urged citizens who suspect stacking or illegal street parking by commercial vehicles to report it on the town website or call town hall.
Police responded swiftly, the Mayor said, on two occasions when Councilwoman Toshiba Foster reported commercial vehicles illegally parked in the Second Ward.
Council President Michelle Dupree Harris asked the administration to distribute these reminders in flyers as well.
The Mayor also directed town Engineer Jeff Hartke to redouble efforts to post street sweeping schedules, so Second Ward residents know when to move their cars. And he asked him to make sure road crews salt the hill on Abbett Avenue during storms; residents reported cars were spinning out on Tuesday morning.
Abbett Avenue’s ongoing traffic issues may prove even more slippery.
Everyone blames a ramp from Route 287, which brings traffic from the interstate across Ridgedale Avenue onto Abbett.
Vehicles weighing more than four tons already are prohibited on that avenue. But around-the-clock enforcement is not feasible, the Mayor said.
Raline Smith-Reid initially favored making Abbett a one-way street. But residents preferred simply banning all Route 287 traffic from entering Abbett, she said.
It’s doubtful the state would approve such a ban, the Mayor said. He asked the town engineer to explore traffic “calming” options, including curbs that would hinder tractor trailers attempting to navigate Abbett.
While many things continually need fixing, the town has come a long ways, according to former councilwoman Margret Brady, who thanked the mayor and council for performing “thankless jobs.”
The evening concluded with a round of applause for the leadership of Michelle Dupree Harris as council president, followed by a year-end photo of town officials.
They will re-convene at noon on New Year’s Day, 2014, at the Thomas Jefferson School, for their annual reorganization meeting.