- Advertisement -

VBSL E-Mail Roils Council Election


Share post:

- Advertisement -

WhiffThe Verona Baseball & Softball League waded into the Town Council election over the weekend and landed itself in hot water by implying that only certain candidates support the new Hilltop fields.

The VBSL sent an e-mail to parents (also posted to its Web site) that seemed to indicate that, unless the May 14 election went a certain way, the planned Hilltop field expansion would be in jeopardy:

Council’s decision to approve the bond means that the fields project will go out to bid. Once bids are received — a process that can take several months — a second Town Council vote will be taken to approve a selected vendor. Remember, however, that that vote will take place after the Town Council election on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Three out of five Council seats are up for grabs. Unless a majority of the new Town Council supports the fields project, Council could decide not to take any action at all on the bids submitted, thereby stopping the project in its tracks.

Parents were not told in the e-mail how to cast their ballots. But with a candidate for the election on the VBSL board–Rich Williamson is the group’s vice president for fields and scheduling–the e-mail struck some in town as electioneering.

The VBSL’s description of the process is correct. The April 15 Town Council vote approved only the funding for the project, and there have been times in Verona’s past when funding was OK’d but the work itself never happened. Three of the five council members must approve the winning project bid (four of the five had to approve the bonding).

But all seven candidates had already come out in favor of the fields, support that they reiterated in e-mails yesterday to this reporter.

“I am on record as voting YES on the bond ordinance for the new fields,” Bob Manley stated simply. Jay Sniatkowski, who like Manley is running for re-election, noted his involvement in the project’s evolution: “The ‘new’ Hilltop Master Plan that I helped create brought us increased recreational opportunities for our town in terms of field space and passive recreation, while bringing in close to a million dollars in revenue annually. I helped get us to this point and I fully support all aspects of the plan and I especially look forward to creating new, much needed field space in the coming months.”

Kevin Ryan, the incumbent who was the lone vote against the bond ordinance, wrote a lengthy post for his campaign Web site that reaffirmed his support for the fields despite the flawed funding. “I am for the fields but not for a bond ordinance that contained inflated estimates and too many additional items that should not be part of a bond ordinance,” he said.

Three of the four challengers took issue with the VBSL’s involvement in the election process. “We were very disappointed to learn that the VBSL is inferring that some of the new candidates will be against the field construction,” wrote Al DeOld. “It could not be farther from the truth. ALL of the candidates are in favor of the fields and will continue to support their construction. The fields are for our kids and, if I am elected, I will do my best to provide them with the fields they need.”

Alex Roman was equally unequivocal. “The project was passed by the council and that should represent a firm promise to the community that it will go forward,” he wrote. “I don’t believe it would show good faith if a new council used a procedural move to block the project entirely. The bid specifications that go out need to be reasonable and the contractor bids that come in need to be closely reviewed to ensure that we build the project we need.”

The Hilltop project plans.
The Hilltop project plans.

Teena Schwartz noted that all four of her children participated in VBSL and both her husband and her son volunteered as coaches. “Because of the interest rate environment, it would be advisable to move on the construction of the fields expeditiously,” she said.  “I have always supported the fields, and still do; but to avoid this confusion in the future it would be wise to put discretionary large capital projects up for referendum.”

Williamson did not address the VBSL’s e-mail, but said, “I have always been a supporter of the fields being constructed, as soon as possible. The timing has never been better, and there should be no delay.”

So why did the e-mail go out at all? VBSL President Andy Yeates said that the intent was to make sure “that members were educated on the process for the fields” and that it had two parts: approval of the bonding and approval of the construction. He said that Williamson was not the impetus for the e-mail, was not involved in its drafting and did not see the e-mail until it went out to all league parents. (It has not been the only e-mail to circulate on the election: Councilman Michael Nochimson sent out an email on April 29 directly asking for votes for Ryan, DeOld and Schwartz, saying that the three share his vision for “a more fiscally responsible Verona, greater accountability and transparency [and] more efficient and tighter budgets.”)

Yeates conceded that he had not attended the Verona-Cedar Grove Times‘ election forum in early April at which the candidates voiced their support for the fields. “The VBSL may not have had the knowledge that everybody was publicly supportive,” he said. The VBSL, along with representatives from Verona youth soccer, football and lacrosse programs had been actively involved in the planning process for the fields, which stretched over more than four years. Indeed, the length of the field planning process led Ryan to question the timing of the bond vote. “We still have not passed a regular budget for 2013 but the need to introduce and pass this ordinance for $5.1 million now takes priority over work on the 2013 budget,” he wrote on his Web site. “The budget introduction is pushed back to May 20th with a tentative vote on June 3rd. Both dates are after the May 14th election. Is this a coincidence? Not in my opinion!”

Several of the candidates expressed the hope that voters would look beyond the fields to all the issues that face Verona. “What I am bothered by is that this is being made a campaign issue,” Roman said. “I hope that the community does not use speculation about the position of the candidates on one project as a deciding factor in placing their votes. We have a number of major financial issues heading our way in the next year and beyond, including union contract negotiations, changes to health care, and aging municipal facilities. We need strong representation that is capable of navigating through these upcoming financial icebergs. We can meet in the middle on this and move forward.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
- Advertisement -
Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


  1. Maybe I am missing something here but if the PILOT money is being used for the Hilltop fields, doesn’t that take away money from the Board of Ed to use the money to repair the High School field that is in dire need? If I understand correctly, it is being argued that PILOT money will help to pay back the bond to build the new fields. However, PILOT takes the normal 50% of tax money away from B of E.
    I am not stating an opinion about the new fields. However, I do hope that consideration is being given to the need to fix what we already have; the High School athletic field. Unless, of course, the High School games will now be played on one of the new Hilltop fields.

  2. Oh Jeff, where to start?

    When the PILOT was agreed upon, the economy was rosy, the Hilltop apartments were supposed to be age-restricted, lacrosse was something played in Montclair and there was only one hole in the upper football field. The PILOT allowed us to keep 20% more revenue in town than we would ordinarily keep from a piece of real estate.

    Now, the economy is sputtering and the Highlands at Hilltop is not limited to adults. As of last check, no families with children are living there. Will it stay that way through 2043, when the PILOT expires? It’s anybody’s guess.

    In a perfect world, we would not be getting the estimate on what it will cost to fix the football field on the evening of election day. (The Board of Ed will have a presentation on the field repair scenarios on Tuesday, May 14, starting at 8 p.m.) There have been two holes on the field in the last year, but there are seven fenced-off areas where soil test samples were taken. Let’s hope that’s not an indication of how widespread the fix will need to be.

    We are lucky in Verona to have lots of kids–and adults–who want to be active. We are lucky to be committing to new fields at a time when bond rates are so low. With luck, the ratables will rise again in Verona so that the town can share some of the PILOT windfall with the BOE instead of using it in town budget.

  3. Virginia,
    Thank you for your usual great explanation. I forgot about the 20% tax revenue that would have gone to the County. Bottom line we net more revenue as a town in whole. Like you, I too hope some of the PILOT money can be shared. And I also agree that this Hilltop project can only increase our property values. I cannot see any reason for anyone to oppose this proposal.

  4. Hello Virginia,

    You raise an important issue: that the world today is different in many ways than it was 4 or 5 years ago when the PILOT was agreed upon.

    But the economy 4 or 5 years ago was not at all rosy. It was much worse than it is today. Then we were in the middle of “The Great Recession” which began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.

    And although many of us, and our friends and neighbors are still going through rough financial times, either between jobs or out of a job, the economy it not sputtering. In fact, the economy has grown for 15 consecutive quarters.

    The graphs in this link tell the story better than any words can:

    The words “because we’re in a bad recession” serve as an easy, convenient, all-purpose justification for many strongly held views. The problem is that, as May, 2013, those words are patently false.

    It is important that we hold our public officials, and candidates for public office, to a standard of truth. Doing so means rejecting “because we’re in a bad recession” as a justification for anything.


  5. Rich,

    To use an overused phrase, I am “cautiously optimistic” about the economy.

    The new Hilltop fields are, in many ways, a model of what should happen in municipal development. A group of people with different interests came together to plan a project that benefits all. The number of sports and age groups that these new fields will be able to accommodate is quite impressive. I hope we can use that kind of consensus-building as we figure out what to do with the high school field, the public school buildings, commercial and residential development, municipal services and all the other challenges Verona will face in the years ahead.

  6. I agree Virginia. The democratic process is an imperfect one, but the best there is. I hope it fosters the consensus you describe, so that those challenges can be met.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -

Related articles

Cat Missing From Hillcrest Terrace

UPDATE: Twinkie has been found and is back home. This is Twinkie. She got out late on Thursday night...

Bernard F. Craig, Jr. , 62

Bernard F. Craig, Jr. passed away on Tuesday, November 28, 2023 at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston....

Letter: The Truth About Turf

To The Editor: We all see the shiny new turf fields in other towns and think that looks great!...

St. Jude Relic At OLL

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church will host a public veneration of a relic of the Apostle...
- Advertisement -