‘Way better than Hoboken,’ Morristown looks for another big year, Mayor says

'WAY BETTER THAN HOBOKEN' : Mayor Tim Dougherty expresses his opinion at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
'WAY BETTER THAN HOBOKEN' : Mayor Tim Dougherty expresses his opinion at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Videos: Scroll to Mayor Speech, Clerk Speech, Fire Promotions, Council President, Vice President

Hoboken edged out Morristown last year in a “best downtown” contest. But Morristown is unlikely to finish second to anyone in 2015, according to Mayor Tim Dougherty, who predicted the town will continue its rise as one of New Jersey’s most desirable places to live and work.

“It’s been amazing to see the transformation in our downtown,” the Mayor said at Tuesday’s council reorganization meeting.

'WAY BETTER THAN HOBOKEN' : Mayor Tim Dougherty expresses his opinion at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘WAY BETTER THAN HOBOKEN’ : Mayor Tim Dougherty expresses his opinion at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“And personally, I think Morristown is way better than Hoboken.”

HOBOKEN MAYOR RESPONDS

Mayor Dougherty’s 21-minute “State of the Town” speech followed eloquent opening remarks by new town Clerk Kevin Harris.

“Everyone is here because they love Morristown, and care about what happens here,” said Harris, a former attorney  for the city of East Orange. He quoted the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

PRESIDENTS, TAXES, AND CONDOLENCES

Council members approved Rebecca Feldman, an Independent, for a second year as their president, and chose Democrat Toshiba Foster as vice-president.

Five volunteer firefighters were promoted, and many board appointments and service contracts were okayed. Morris Township Mayor Bruce Sisler even paid a courtesy call.

Mayor Dougherty injected a cautionary note, asserting it won’t be easy to hold the line on taxes for a fifth straight year.

Employee health insurance and pension costs are shooting up, he said, and contracts from all six municipal unions–representing police, fire and town hall staff and supervisors–are up for renegotiation.

“We’ll work very hard to hold the line. It’s a work in progress,”  Mayor Dougherty said.

Choking up, he expressed condolences for town Attorney Vij Pawar, who is mourning the death of his father. “He will be in our thoughts and prayers,” the Mayor said.

The rest of his comments were pretty sunny for such a frigid January night.

Please click icon below for captions.

Mayor Dougherty thanked residents for their help in shaping the town’s new zoning master plan, and encouraged their participation in upcoming talks to transform Pioneer Park at Headquarters Plaza from a barren, wind-swept expanse into a communal place of  “endless possibilities.”

He rattled off examples of local businesses that are expanding, like Boutique 161, and national chains flocking here, like the women’s sportswear chain Athleta, a CVS pharmacy  and a Whole Foods Market.

Morristown emerged from the recession, hurricanes and a polar vortex stronger than most Jersey municipalities, the Mayor said, thanks in part to Administrator Michael Rogers, careful planning, and diligent efforts by emergency management personnel, the Morristown Parking Authority and the Morristown Partnership.

Now, Speedwell Avenue’s redevelopment finally is under way. Construction of apartments and townhouses continues. Swanky restaurants like the Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen are planting their forks in Morristown.  And every month, it seems, brings a new festival to town.

“It’s going to be a great year,” the Mayor said.

AN ELECTION YEAR, TOO

This fall, four council seats will be in play: Rebecca Feldman’s in the First Ward, Raline Smith-Reid’s in the Second Ward, Stefan Armington’s in the Third Ward, and Alison Deeb’s in the Fourth Ward.

But for Tuesday, at least, the mood largely was harmonious. Almost everything was approved unanimously.

Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, moments after being named council president for the second straight year, at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman, moments after being named council president for the second straight year, at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

One of the exceptions was an appointment to the Morristown Parking Authority.

Feldman proposed Bob Iannacone ;  Councilwoman Michelle Dupree Harris nominated former Councilman Dick Tighe for another five-year term to the unpaid post.

Smith-Reid and Deeb supported Feldman’s choice, but that was not enough.

In a subsequent vote, Feldman joined Harris, Armington, Toshiba Foster and Michael Elms to re-appoint Tighe.

Participating by phone, Deeb, the council’s only Republican, also raised questions about a pair of firms endorsed by the Mayor.

Cole Media Inc., a Newark public relations company that has represented Sen. Cory Booker and the city of Paterson, among other clients, was hired for $30,000 to provide “public relations, strategic and tactical communications services.”

The vote was 6-0; Deeb abstained, saying she needed more details.

Her other questions, about rehiring planning consultants Topology NJ at last year’s $150,000 figure, were technical in nature. Deeb joined her colleagues in unanimously approving that contract.

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES

A slew of other contracts also were authorized.

The Alaimo Group was named as the town’s consulting engineering firm, for an unspecified fee, along with H2M Architects and Engineers, which is working on new zoning ordinances to support the master plan adopted last year.

The law firm of Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala and Taylor LLC was hired to provide services as Assistant Municipal Attorney for $72,000, plus $150 an hour for any special projects.

John Inglesino’s firm also was rehired as special redevelopment counsel, at rates of $100 t0 $150 an hour.

Town Clerk Kevin Harris administers promotion oaths to volunteer firefighters Alexander Gathings, John Rickershauser, Jesus Castano and Paul Miller at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Town Clerk Kevin Harris administers promotion oaths to volunteer firefighters Alexander Gathings, John Rickershauser, Jesus Castano and Paul Miller at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The law firm DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole LLP was retained as employment counsel and special counsel, at rates of $100 to $150 an hour.

Matthew O’Donnell was rehired as special tax appeal advisor, at hourly rates of $100 to $150.  Also hired for tax appeals, at the same rates, were the firms of DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis, Lehrer & Flaum P.C.; and Murphy McKeon.

McEnerny, Brady & Co. LLC were hired as auditor / financial advisor, at a maximum of $43,500.

Robert Rudy III was kept as municipal prosecutor, at $500 per court session. Attorney Terry Webb, as municipal public defender, and Robert Warmington, as municipal conflict public defender, each will earn $300 per court session.

Michael J. Noonan was reappointed to a three-year term as municipal judge.

Fairview Insurance Agency Associates Inc. were named the town’s insurance consultants, to be paid via commissions from insurance agencies, not by the town.

Richard Allocca of Advent Insurance Services will provide risk management consulting services for $15,000.

McNerney & Associates Inc. will provide appraisal services for tax assessments, at an hourly rate of $100.

MAYORAL APPOINTMENTS

The Mayor appointed Ann Bertucci as a five-year trustee of the Morristown & Township Library; town Administrator Michael Rogers will serve one year as an alternate.

Toshiba Foster takes oath as council vice president; Mayor Tim Dougherty is on her left, town Clerk Kevin Harris is on her right, at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Toshiba Foster takes oath as council vice president; Mayor Tim Dougherty is on her left, town Clerk Kevin Harris is on her right, at 2015 Morristown council reorganization. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Joseph Kane was appointed to four years on the planning board. Mark Gandy was named to a one-year term and Helen Dodick got two years as an alternate member.

Robert Parker was given two years on the environmental commission; Jennifer Coglan was appointed as an alternate for a year.

Longtime commissioner Marion Harris was returned to the historic preservation commission for four years, while Michael Rockland was named to the shade tree commission for a five-year term.

COUNCIL PICKS

The council sentenced zoning board Chairman Cary Lloyd to four more years of hard labor; Larry Cohen also got another four years, while Scott Wild will spend two years as an alternate member.

Council assignments for 2015 include Michael Elms on the board of the downtown Special Improvement District, with Rebecca Feldman continuing as liaison to the Morristown Partnership.

Michelle Dupree Harris is the new liaison to the Morristown Housing Authority. Toshiba Foster will serve on the Morris County Community Development Revenue Sharing Committee.

CLERK WORKS

Clerk Kevin Harris administered oaths of office to four fire volunteers.

John Rickershauser was promoted to fire captain, Alexander Gathings made 2nd lieutenant, Paul Miller became a first assistant chief and Jesus Castano was named second assistant chief.  Thomas Gaylord, who did not attend, has been promoted to first lieutenant.

Photos by Berit Ollestad. Please click icon below for captions.

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