Pennington Borough Council faces challenges with resignations, closing of First Aid squad, and pedestrian safety

Vacant seat on Council

Mayor Jim Davy announced at the December 5 Borough Council meeting that member Ken Gross has resigned effective December 31, 2022. Davy expressed the he was sorry to see Gross leave the Council but stated, “I understand your concerns.”

Two Borough employees EMS staff also have resigned effective December 31: Kenneth Baker, the Emergency Management Coordinator, and Richard Smith, the Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator.*

“I decided to resign because the time required to be an effective Council person greatly increased over the past year,” said Gross in an email. “My work and family commitments combined with the extra time became unsustainable for me.”

Three candidates to replace Gross were present at the Zoom meeting, however, Borough Attorney Walter Bliss stated that he called Mayor Davy at 5pm on the day of the meeting to share that he became aware of a fifty-year-old New Jersey Court case that would require holding off on the nomination. Bliss stated that some advice he previously gave for structuring the process of filling the vacancy was erroneous.

“The case I belatedly discovered interpreting the statute is on when a vacancy occurs,” said Bliss. “The statute says a vacancy occurs upon the filing of the resignation.”

According to the court case referenced by Bliss, the nomination of new candidates is premature at this time. The fifty-year-old case decided by Judge Haines came from Mount Laurel Township and interpreted the statute to mean the vacancy occurs on the effective date of the resignation. Bliss recommended that, in accordance with that court case, the process should be put off until January.

Candidates Mark Blackwell, Jen Tracy, and John Valenza did not speak other than to express their appreciation for being invited to appear.

However, Council member Chico Marciante expressed frustration with the turnabout in legal advice. “How come all of a sudden we are breaking the law?” he asked. “This is nonsense, we have to move forward with the Town Council.”

“As members of Council, we must cut square corners in public life,” replied Bliss.

Davy thanked the candidates and requested that they not speak at the Zoom meeting. He expressed his thanks for their presence, apologies for the delay, and his hope that they all would return in January.

Pennington First Aid Squad

Davy stated that Council received notice the Pennington First Aid Squad will be going out of business effective March 2023. 

“The Hopewell Township Fire District is working on finding replacement service to cover parts of Hopewell Township, Pennington, and other areas that Pennington First Aid Squad covers,” stated Davy.

Gross noted that, at a meeting of the Hopewell Township Fire District, there was surprise at how quickly the Pennington First Aid Squad closed.

“They planned to come up with a solution to take over,” said Gross, “they just thought they had more runway.”

Council member Kati Angarone, who had lost her voice, asked Council member Nadine Stern to read a statement calling for Pennington First Aid Squad volunteers to bridge the gap in service. 

“People in the meeting stressed that this is really a crucial issue,” stated Gross. “We have to find more volunteers that can bridge this gap.”

The Danger of Crossing Route 31 at Delaware Avenue

Davy introduced Cheryl Kastrenakes of the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association. Davy had asked Kastrenakes to conduct a pedestrian count at the intersection of Route 31 and Delaware Avenue.

“After speaking with the Mayor over the summer about the concern of students crossing Route 31, we decided to do a pedestrian count when school was back in session,” explained Kastrenakes.

The morning count on October 12, 2022, was light due to a morning school event, according to Kastrenakes. But in the afternoon, there were 101 students crossing Route 31.

According to Kastrenakes, given the number of students crossing at that time, she believes an “all-pedestrian phase” would be appropriate. This phase would mean that when someone pressed the button indicating that they wish to cross the street, all traffic would stop in all directions while they cross. The New Jersey Department of Transportation told her that they cannot provide that capability only at school crossing times. 

“The NJ Department of Transportation is not just going to say ‘yes’,” said Kastrenakes. 

“I have witnessed recently that kids are crossing after school hours and they have seconds to get across the street,” said Marciante. “I know something is going on between neighbors for an overpass and I agree with it.”

“We have made that request of DOT and they have really pushed back,” said Davy.

“A big segment of the population, including older folks, cannot make it across the street in that timing,” said Kastrenakes.

The next Pennington Council meeting is scheduled for January 4 at 7pm.

*Betty Sterling, Pennington Borough Clerk clarified the role of Baker and Smith: “Ken Baker and Rick Smith are not [Pennington Borough] employees in the sense of Emergency Management Coordinator and Deputy Emer Mgmt Coor. Rick Smith is an employee of the Borough, but he only resigned as Deputy EOM Coordinator.”

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