ORANGE, NJ — It was standing room only at the Artfullbean Cafe in Orange on Thursday, Oct. 24, for a South Ward community meeting spearheaded by South Ward Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson. Residents asked questions and conveyed concerns to local officials, hoping for answers on local issues.
“We’re having a South Ward community meeting, bringing the directors of all the departments here, to really bridge the gap between the government and the community,” Summers-Johnson told the Record-Transcript after the event. “This meeting is relevant within the community because, normally, at council meetings residents can’t always get their answers to questions. So I thought that if I bring the directors here, residents would be able to get some answers.”
Summers-Johnson was positive about the community meeting and the turnout.
“I could cry,” she said. “I’m so overwhelmed. I’m so happy. It lets me know that residents want to be involved in their community and whether they support me or not, they support this city, which is way more important. And they came out, they asked their tough questions and we had to give some tough answers. I average about 15 to 20 people; tonight, I think we were at fire capacity code. I think we ran out of chairs and I think that’s a blessing.”
A multitude of community topics were covered, as well as updates from police, fire, administration, public works, recreation and community service, and health departments.
One topic raised by a resident at the meeting is the lack of lighting around the train station. She said that when returning home from work she finds the area too dark. In addition, residents also brought up parking, crime and the condition of the streets and sidewalks. These questions were answered by different departments, including the police.
Capt. Vincent Vitiello, the Orange Police Department’s commanding officer, provided residents updates concerning law enforcement and told the resident concerned about the train station that police would step up their patrols in that area.
“We’ve discussed several topics and concerns of the citizens, mainly about lighting and their safety at the train stations, walking back and forth to and from work to the train stations,” Vitiello told the Record-Transcript at the meeting. “I’m very, very proud of the turnout which shows that the citizens care about their community and they’re willing to do what they need to do with the police department, the fire department and the other departments of the city in order to get a better city.
“I’m extremely thrilled about this meeting tonight,” Vitiello added. “The crowd seems very supportive and they’re into this and we like that. We like the meshing between the community, the police department and the other departments of the city.”
Orange business administrator Christopher Hartwyk also spoke to the Record-Transcript after the event, saying, “This meeting was held so that we can hear from the people about their concerns. Also, the things that they would like to see done. Tonight’s event was great. I think the attendance was awesome. The more people you have engaged in community activities, the better the community will be.”
The next South Ward community meeting will be led by Summers-Johnson on Thursday, Nov. 14, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Artfullbean Cafe.
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman