WEST ORANGE, NJ — At its May 14 meeting, the West Orange Township Council approved a licensing agreement that will allow Pleasant Valley Productions to run the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center for three years with a fee of $1 per year. The ordinance passed with a vote of 3-1, with Councilman Joe Krakoviak as the only opposing vote. Council President Jerry Guarino abstained because he sits on the board of PVP.
Krakoviak voted against the licensing agreement because of the alleged mismanagement of OSPAC in the past by New Jersey Arts Incubator, whose contract to run the venue expired last year. At the council meeting on April 30, township attorney Richard Trenk said an investigation of the previous tenant is under way and would not affect a new licensing agreement with PVP. Trenk did not respond to a request for comment about the investigation.
“The township is excited that Pleasant Valley Productions, a local theater and arts organization for over 10 years, will bring to OSPAC first-class programming beginning this summer,” Mayor Robert Parisi said in an email to the West Orange Chronicle on May 21.
In his comments, Krakoviak said the mismanagement allegations against NJAI have nothing to do with the licensing agreement with PVP, though he is concerned that the process of working on the contract with PVP began at the same time the allegations against NJAI began to surface.
“At the same time, I began to try and get information about what had been going on at OSPAC,” Krakoviak said. “I thought it likely from the little we knew my concerns had been realized. I believe we first need to know what happened at OSPAC and to determine how that might have arisen from the license agreement and township supervision.”
Several members of the public encouraged the council to vote against the ordinance, agreeing with Krakoviak.
“Why are you being asked to force an ordinance through when there’s this level of impropriety left unchecked?” resident Micaela Bennett asked at the meeting. “I ask you to table this decision until you know what happened so you can be sure that what you pass will successfully lead OSPAC to a better place.”
West Orange resident Vivian Demas also asked the council not to pass the ordinance, saying she didn’t understand why the township did not find a replacement for NJAI after its contract expired last year.
“You know what three years is; you know when the end is coming,” Demas said. “You can time accordingly to intercede. This is not a good thing to do if it’s under investigation.”
Downtown West Orange Alliance Executive Director Megan Brill was supportive of PVP and its artistic director, Camille DiLorenzo, saying she has worked with DiLorenzo in the past on DWOA events.
“Towns would kill to have a facility like OSPAC,” Brill said at the meeting. “I’ve known Pleasant Valley Productions for a long time. It’s not just one person; there’s a volunteer army that comes with it. I think that OSPAC would be in great hands with them.”
Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown said she voted in favor of the ordinance so that PVP can move forward with the process. The organization has 30 days to present a business plan to the township for how it will manage the venue, and Matute-Brown did not want to delay that operation.
“We have something that belongs to the town that can be very successful,” she said. “I have no doubt that that can happen. I’d like to learn from the mistakes made in the past and move forward in making sure we don’t make them again.”
Matute-Brown proposed that a board be formed that will oversee the management of OSPAC, consisting of a council liaison, a member of the recreation department, a member of the West Orange Arts Council and a council appointee. The board would allow the governing body to have oversight of OSPAC and input on its operation.
Councilwoman Michelle Casalino agreed with the formation of a board, and also asked that PVP provide an annual report on its progress.
“I feel that what we’ve crafted, with the changes we’ve made, cover a lot of the issues and concerns of the public,” she said at the meeting. “I think it also keeps everybody in their lanes and everybody knows what they are signing up for.”
In her comments, Matute-Brown also said she does not want to delay any events that could be held at OSPAC during the summer months.
“I don’t want the mistakes of the past to hinder what in the next couple of weeks could be progress, could be community gathering, could be community building,” Matute-Brown said. “As far as I’m concerned, we have a responsibility to make sure that we respond and represent. It’s May, and you’ve got a short window of time to put together events. That’s no small task. If we put it off another month, are we in July or August? I don’t think that’s fair to the community.”