HB Mayor taken to task for meeting behavior, Council plans for safer streets

Hopewell Borough resident Krista Weaver read a brief prepared statement at the start of the July 1 regular Hopewell Borough Council meeting, to address her extreme disappointment in the conduct of Mayor Paul Anzano during June’s regular Council meeting. Weaver described Anzano’s behavior as having descended into “condescension, bullying, and hostility” and said she felt it was the Mayor and Council’s responsibility “to set the tone for respect, civility, and to promote public discourse,” while in fact the opposite occurred, she purported.

Council members Ryan Kennedy, Samara McAuliffe, and Debra Stuhler expressed wholehearted agreement that Anzano’s conduct was “unacceptable,” and they were all “mortified” and “embarrassed” by the Mayor’s behavior. Council members also expressed that they additionally felt remorse that no one on Council, themselves included, stepped in at the time to stop what was clearly an unproductive and hostile situation.

In response, Anzano admitted that his conduct was unacceptable and promised to “never let this happen again.” He also noted that apologies were made to individuals following the meeting. He said he felt that his behavior was “not in line with his character” and “accepted full responsibility” for his actions and conduct.

On this topic, slightly later in the public comment portion of the meeting, Melissa Cookman of Hopewell Borough noted she had written to the Council following the meeting with regard to Anzano’s behavior, accusing him of “blatantly lying” and being abusive to her personally. She said she is disappointed that the meeting minutes neglected to document what she said was quite a lot of the details of this very negative confrontation including what she perceived as a condescending concluding remark “have a good life,” which Anzano made toward the end of their tense altercation. Cookman also noted that she felt that an adversarial relationship between her and Anzano had been going on for years and she thought he should be held accountable for his actions and that he no longer represented the people and values of Hopewell Borough. Anzano offered apologies and some attempts were made to reestablish future civil communication between Anzano and Cookman. 

Also during the public comment section, Hopewell Borough resident, Don Reichman spoke of a citizen’s group already formed advocating for Borough bike lanes and traffic calming measures. The group includes a roadway engineer and an architect. Anzano said he welcomes further input and suggested additional collaboration by appointing someone from the planning board as liaison, a role it was agreed that Committee member Chris Fossel would undertake. 

Michael Gray of Sourland Cycles also weighed in on the topic of bike lanes and traffic control, saying that the Borough should “aim high” when negotiating with Mercer County and make Hopewell a more walkable and rideable town, which will benefit residents and businesses alike. Mercer County’s involvement on this issue is due to the fact that Broad Street is also County Road 518 and any improvements made must be coordinated with the County accordingly.

Mark Bovenizer of Hopewell Borough offered to be on the committee for traffic safety, while Nick Perold (also of Hopewell Borough) reiterated Gray’s sentiments and suggested a “holistic approach” be taken to benefit businesses and make pedestrians more comfortable in Hopewell Borough. Hopewell Borough resident Anne Hayton suggested that any plans should be backed up by traffic and pedestrian data (all days of the week, all times of the year) so that informed decisions can be made in the planning process.

As the meeting moved on from the public comment portion, Borough administrator Michele Hovan pointed out some of the good work Hopewell Borough has done in the past with regard to traffic-calming measures, reiterating that working with the County and making use of the American Rescue Plan funding is critical in moving forward. Hovan stated that a 2-year grant of $99,700 per year has been secured; however the Borough is awaiting distribution of funds. Committee members Sky Morehouse, David Mackie, and Chris Fossel all offered to help with this project and, in particular, attend meetings with the Mercer County engineer responsible for drafting the proposed bike lane and traffic calming plan.

Ordinance 850 was approved, appropriating $35,000 to fix drainage issues on North Maple Street (alongside PNC Bank), which suffers from potholes and other road condition issues due to poor drainage. Hovan explained that the Borough has struck a beneficial deal with the County whereby materials are supplied by the Borough and the County provides all labor to resurface the road. The work will commence either this fall or the spring of 2022 at the latest. 

Regarding public works and sewer in Hopewell Borough, there are plans in action for the Borough to sever its dependence on American Water for what is now 50% of its water supply by adding a new well within the Borough. American Water is charging Hopewell an “exorbitant rate” according to Morehouse, and the investment in researching and drilling a new well could pay for itself within two years. Currently Hopewell Borough pays on the order of $20,000 to $25,000 per month for this interconnect, with a new well estimated to cost on the order of $1 – $1.2M. This would return Hopewell to full control of its own water, as it was prior to wells 1, 3, and 5 being shut off due to high levels of naturally occurring contaminants such as arsenic, radium, and uranium. Mackie noted a geologist is currently under contract to conduct the preliminary research which includes the drilling of a 800-foot  test well.  Additionally, a meeting has been scheduled with the NJDEP on the topic.

All resolutions were approved, including 2021-60 which kicks off the Borough park bandstand improvement project with roofing repairs, carpentry work, electrical work, and painting all in the plan. Morehouse noted that the painting portion of the project may end up being in excess of the current budget. 

Claims for payment per the agenda were ratified in short order.

The meeting was wrapped up with Council congratulating Dr. Rosetta Treece on her appointment as the new superintendent of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District. Anzano also offered a final round of apologies regarding his conduct at the prior meeting.

It was also noted that there will be no August council meeting, and the announcement that September’s meeting will be in person was met with big smiles and sighs of relief.

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