Proposed advisory board ordinance left off agenda

Public speaks in favor of advisory board

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Councilman Joe Krakoviak and several residents have demanded to know why an ordinance proposing a senior citizens advisory board was not included on the voting agenda during the Aug. 9 Township Council meeting.

The ordinance, written by Krakoviak in conjunction with resident senior advocates Rosary Morelli and Leigh-Anne Zaolino, was submitted to the township’s legal department a few days in advance of the meeting. Krakoviak said he expected the legislation to be considered Aug. 9, but was surprised to see it had been left off the agenda. Considering that the measure calls for a mere advisory board, he said he did not understand the holdup.

“The whole idea is to have an organized voice for the seniors in town so the council and the administration can find out about” their concerns, Krakoviak said.

Having such a voice is necessary in a township with such a large senior citizen population, according to Morelli. During the public comment portion of the meeting, the vocal advocate pointed out that numerous other communities, such as Livingston and Millburn, have found great success after forming similar boards for their elderly residents. Yet in West Orange, she said the administration has shown no interest in a board or any of her ideas for aging in place — a concept that involves towns providing services that allow seniors to live independently in their homes.

Morelli wanted to know why the ordinance was left off the agenda.

“This ordinance is no different from the dozens of ordinances that this council considers each year, except for the fact that tonight you didn’t put it on the agenda,” Morelli said. “Just what could the problem be with what we’re asking for? We don’t know. We can’t understand why we’re getting stonewalled.”

Zaolino stressed that a senior advisory board was necessary to provide a place for senior citizens to share their concerns. The board could then report any issues to the township, rather than have numerous seniors speaking individually at council meetings, she said. And considering that it would not cost West Orange any money to create such a group, she said the council should have no problem passing the ordinance.

“There’s no logical reason not to have some kind of an advisory board for seniors,” Zaolino said, adding that almost everyone becomes a senior citizen one day. “It’s an absolute win-win.”

Morelli and Zaolino were not the only ones to speak out in favor of a senior citizen advisory board. Several other residents advocated for the idea during the public comment session. These supporters included Susan Lenczyk, who pointed out that not every senior is able to attend council meetings or use social media. Lenczyk said a board dedicated specifically for their interests would provide a “comfortable forum” for West Orange’s elderly to speak their minds.

Clare Silvestri, Krakoviak’s wife, said she is “mystified” by the treatment the ordinance received. Silvestri said she hoped no one was attempting to resist the measure, pointing out that the municipal code mandates that all proposed legislation be put on the agenda. She also said she hopes the council will consider the idea as she believes a senior advisory board will benefit West Orange as a whole.

“Creating this board seems like a no-brainer to me,” Silvestri said at the meeting. “Focusing on aging in place is a compassionate move — to provide support and hopefully enable the men and women who have spent most if not all of their lives nurturing and enriching our township community to stay and live out their days in the place they’ve always called home. I urge the council president to get this legislation on the agenda as soon as possible.”

In response to these comments, council President Victor Cirilo stressed that there is no “conspiracy” to keep the ordinance off the agenda, saying the ordinance has not been rejected but that it is still under review.

“We want to make sure that the administration is also on board with the way it’s laid out because we all have to be on the same page,” Cirilo said. “We just don’t draft a law and immediately put it on. We have to assess. It would be irresponsible to move things forward that quick.”

But Krakoviak disagreed that the administration needed to be consulted before the council voted on the ordinance.

“The administration has next to nothing to do with this, except to perhaps accept the annual report and listen to what the board advises,” Krakoviak said.

Cirilo agreed that the matter is an important issue, and said he hopes to have the ordinance on the agenda for the council’s Sept. 6 meeting.

But there appears to be a disconnect between the council members and the township administration as to how the ordinance was to be considered. Assistant township attorney Ken Kayser said he had expected the council to discuss the measure Aug. 9, so that he could learn exactly what it wanted to see in the legislation. Councilwoman Michelle Casalino, however, said she did not think it was appropriate for the council to weigh in on the ordinance’s specifics until receiving input from the administration. In the end, Cirilo said the council should discuss the legislation with the administration before hearing the measure on first reading.

In the meantime, some council members offered their initial thoughts about the creation of a senior advisory board. Casalino said she appreciates the efforts to make the idea a reality, adding that West Orange should always cater to its senior population’s needs. But she did have some concerns about details of the legislation, such as the possible cost of township employees being members of the board.

Councilman Jerry Guarino said West Orange’s senior citizens are an important part of the population for whom the township should always care. At the same time though, Guarino said the council must make sure the ordinance does the “right thing.”

Councilwoman Susan McCartney wondered whether a board is truly necessary. She said the West Orange Health Department does an excellent job of addressing senior needs and providing services, such as a transportation program and social events. She added that she has not heard of any complaints from elderly residents that the township is not doing enough for them, so she questioned whether a board would be “redundant.”

“It needs to be fully discussed if there’s something that hasn’t been addressed,” McCartney said.

Though the ordinance was not included on the agenda, Krakoviak did post his draft on his Facebook page. According to the unofficial draft, the senior citizens advisory board would consist of the following 15 members: a Township Council member; representatives from the Degnan House, the Renna House, the township’s health and welfare department, the Jewish Federation Plaza, the Daughters of Israel facility; a representative from the West Orange Police and Fire department or emergency services; three mayoral appointments, including one from a West Orange house of worship; and one appointment from each of the five Township Council members.

The unofficial draft states that the board’s functions would include investigating issues affecting the township’s senior population, recommending initiatives and policies to the mayor and council regarding senior wellness, disseminating information to senior citizens and submitting an annual report on the board’s activities.