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.”
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.”