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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mayor's Cracked Rose Colored Glasses Need Repair


Mayor Andy Skibitsky
 In Mayor Skibitsky's recent state of the town address he mixed optimism with political preaching.  Despite the fact that Westfield was named one of the best medium sized towns in New Jersey, he neglected to share what other towns Westfield was compared to.  I can't imagine the Mayor waltzing down the streets of Irvington (with which Westfield was compared) and dining al fresco.  Perhaps Mayor Skibitsky might request a police escort to Irvington like so many Westfield HS sports teams needed over the years.  Hope the residents don't throw rocks at the motorcade as witnessed by past visiting athletic teams. 
He later blamed Mother Nature for the Town's slow response to snow removal, and storm clean-up. 
As reported by The Alternative Press, when deciding whether or not to hire new firefighters,  “The fiscally responsible question we had was, ‘Are we top-heavy?’” said Skibitsky, who believes the department was.  Mayor, if the department is top heavy, then reduce the number of brass and replenish the front line firefighters.  TFoTM asks, is the Mayor being fiscally responsible in other areas of government including the DPW, Police Department, and Town Hall?  The amount of taxpayer money being flushed down the municiupal toilet is astounding.   
In fact, as reported by Jackie Lieberman of The Alternative Press, Councilman Haas told TheAlternativePress.com, “I think the mayor’s speech about politics was inappropriate. It had nothing to do with the state of the town.”
The fact of the matter is, the Mayor should be more willing to share the coffee on Saturday mornings.  The Tuesday night "Happy Waitress Special" just doesn't cut the mustard.  Some of us just don't eat what you are serving.   Maybe expand the menu just a bit.
Mayor, 2013 can't come soon enough.
There is much more to this blog story; to be continued...............

18 comments:

  1. Being "top heavy" in the fire department is a seperate issue from adequate manpower. Don't confuse the two Mayor. Keep smiling for the cameras and pretend everything is alright. Your administration is turning into a pathetic representation of government.

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  2. Matt Sontz was rightThursday, January 05, 2012

    What is the difference between fear-mongering and the truth? Why did Skibitsky send out a mailer the night before election day claiming all the fear mongering about the fire department was an attempt to gain votes. The way I see it is the fire department has less men and the amount of calls for mutual aid are up. Theres no fear mongering, our firemen have their hoses tied by the Mayor. Candidate Matt Sontz wasn't afraid to expose the truth. The mayor's candidate hid the truth.

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  3. Other towns also call upon Westfield for mutual aid quite often and not for huge fires. Seems to be the norm everywhere.

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  4. To anonymous,
    You are correct that it is becoming the norm.The problem is that with dependence on mutual aid, small fires will continue to build on themselves at a rate of double every minute while the homeowner must wait for manpower to drive in from Plainfield or Cranford. We now will have increased damage because of a lack of manpower This is not what the Council has consistently told us. They keep saying that there is NO impact on public safety as a result of the lowered number of firemen.
    If you have a fire and you are satisfied to stand out in front of your house with the responding WFD and watch your house burn whole you wait for Plainfield to arrive, then sit back in your apathy and accept what the Council feeds you like pablum.
    A.John Blake

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  5. What is being missed here is that the reduction in manpower in the FD is entirely by design and has the full support of the FD Administration. For several years the former fire chief refused to accept a fully qualified volunteer, one with the same UCFA training as Westfield's firefighters. One whom, in fact scored higher on the State Fire Exam than any Westfield firefighter before or since.
    This official refusal on the part of the former chief, the Town Administrator and finally the current fire chief resulted in a lawsuit.
    In court all three admitted that they passed over a qualified volunteer, but argued it was well within their right to do so. The jury agreed.
    Of course this firefighter, serving on a different department, has not been prevented by the WFD Administration from returning to town and serving the people of Westfield as a firefighter as part of Mutual Aid task forces (ironically, at the request of Chief Kelly, who has also never-the-less ignored the fact that the application submitted by this firefighter is, as was established in court, still in the WFD "active" application file).
    The point is, the WFD complains that they have too few firefighters but at the same time has a policy of rejecting volunteers who are willing to serve for FREE.
    What other town refuses fully qualified volunteers? Apparently, only the one complaining they do not have enough firefighters, volunteer or otherwise.
    The fact that this firefighter scored higher than any Westfield firefighter ever on the only State-wide objective test taken by all firefighters as well as the fact that he has served well for a decade as a volunteer firefighter elsewhere only highlights the twisted logic that guides far too many decisions in this town.

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  6. what say you Mayor Skibitsky, Town Administrator Jim Gildea, andFire Chief Dan Kelly?

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  7. Why should anybody be a volunteer firefighter? If someone is providing a service that we, as a town, need, that person should be paid for it. A small number of volunteers should not have to bear the burden of performing such duties. While I'm happy to get "free" services from volunteers I don't think it's right for a small number of people to bear this burden for the rest of us. We should all pay. As a town, I think it's kind of lame (and cheap/lacking in taste) for non-volunteers to expect volunteers to step up and provide a free ride to non-volunteers. I realize that under the current topic, this relates more to the ambulance squad and only theoretically to the fire dept. As we are clearly understaffed in the fire dept., we should hire and pay for more firefighters. While we're at it, we should also pay the people on the ambulance squad. If that means raising taxes a little on all households, then so be it. Part of moving to an expensive town like Westfield is realizing that the taxes are high and that they can go higher if there is a need to do so. Fire and ambulance safety is a need.

    -NR9

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  8. "Why should anyone be a volunteer firefighter?"
    Because that is how it is done in the United States and how it has always been done in the Untied States.

    72% of all firefighter departments in America are entirely volunteer, other departments like Westfield's are "part-paid" with both volunteer and paid firefighters.

    Considering how relatively fire safe the country is as a whole, this system of largely volunteer departments has worked well.

    I agree, it would be ideal if Westfield would hire more firefighters, but in 2009 they spent more than a million dollars in legal fees (paid by insurance) to argue that they had the right to prevent a single qualified candidate from serving as a volunteer.

    Having more firefighters is clearly not their goal, be they paid or volunteer. A million dollars could have paid for several firefighters and encouraged others to volunteer. Instead the Town / Fire Department Administration acted to purposely create a climate where even the best qualified and most willing are discouraged from volunteering.

    I have no idea what the priority of the Town and FD Administration actually might be, but they have worked far harder and spent more money in an effort to prevent adding additional firefighters than they ever have to hire or encourage citizens to volunteer.

    Can anyone explain this?

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  9. Answer: MISMANAGEMENT. The Town has no problem using tax payer $$ to replenish its legal defense accounts to defend itself when its administration fails to use common sense. The only ones that win, the lawyers. At $200+ an hour, Danser and company are smiling all the way to the bank. Why do you think Union contract negotiations get dragged out for years and corrupt department heads are defended and not prosecuted? Cronyism and cover-ups cost consumers.

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  10. Ebery time I drive by the fire department I look at the space that used to be Ferraro's and think never forget! Who ever was the officer in charge that night should be prosecuted for negligence. That was a small fire that could have been put down with two men on one hose line, two outside to back them up, one guy on the pumper and the officer to be IC and safety officer. Absolutely shameful!!!!

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  11. Anonymous, your sarcasm is obvious. The officer in charge that night did his job. It's too bad his hands were tied by town officials that refuse to hire enough firemen to properly staff a department to allow them to use a ladder truck that would have been able to leave the building instead of remaining parked. Now that is shameful.

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  12. @Paul B: "Because that is how it is done in the United States and how it has always been done in the United States."

    Just because something has been done a certain way does not mean that way was a good way nor that it should continue that way. There was a time when the same could have been said of slavery, women voting and people driving cars with un-buckled-up 3-year-old children riding in the front seat.

    Personally, I'm against all forms of volunteerism. I think people should be paid at "market price" for their time and effort. If they are providing a service that truly is needed then the recipients of those services, whether they be direct individuals or municipalities (individuals collectively), should pay accordingly.

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  13. Will skibitsky and neylan ever be absent form a council meeting so foerst can run the meeting as acting mayor? I want to see his self centered head explode from his ego attempting to expose itself. Now that would be a show.

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  14. "Just because something has been done a certain way does not mean that way was a good way."

    That is often true, but not in this instance. If towns throughout the country were not largely fire safe then switching to paid departments would make perfect sense.

    The issue isn't paid or not paid. The issue is manpower and equipment.

    There were plenty of firefighters from volunteer departments at the Ferraro's fire. Westfield's ladder truck wasn't there, but Mountainside's was. Mountainside is an all volunteer department and they can manage to provide a crew to operate their ladder truck. Scotch Plains, also a volunteer department is able to man crew their ladder truck as well. Volunteer departments throughout the state and country are able to provide a level of fire protection that Westfield currently can not.

    If my house is on fire I don't care if the firefighter saving me gets paid to do so or not.

    The answer is not more money, but more firefighters.

    Skibitsky and Neylan have repeatedly emphasized the "Volunteer spirit" that makes Westfield unique. Yet what area in need of volunteers is important than public safety?

    The WFD is adamantly against qualified volunteers. In 2009 Kelly & Gildea, under oath, made it clear that they would fight tooth and nail to assert their right to reject any volunteer. This is understandable from Gildea, but is inexcusable from a lifelong fire service veteran like Chief Kelly. There is not another fire department in the state who would go to court just to ensure that a qualified candidate couldn't serve his community.

    Could all this just be the town administration retaliating for Chief Castellano's bonehead decision to repeatedly reject a highly qualified firefighter and thus costing them millions in legal fees? Only Gildea knows for sure.

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  15. Town Administration, retaliation, nah, never.

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  16. @Paul B. I'm in agreement with you. I also wouldn't care if the firefighters coming to my house were volunteer or paid. My point is not to say that I think paid firefighters are "better" at their work than volunteer firefighters or that volunteer firefighters are "better" at their work than paid firefighters. I just don't understand why we don't pay these people. That's the part that doesn't make any sense to me. Clearly, towns like ours all throughout the country need firefighters. And, clearly, there is a fair value for such services (not to mention the extreme risks these folks take to help us!). Yet, some of those folks are paid their "fair market value" and some get paid $0 (i.e. volunteers). I don't understand why we don't pay them all. Certainly, it's nice that they do it for free. And, I'm happy to get free services. But, I just don't see how it's right that as a town, we have a department in place where some are working for free and the rest are paid. I think they all should be paid. I don't think there should be such a thing as volunteer firefighters. Westfield should hire more firefighters and pay them all.

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  17. A fully paid fire department would be great, but who will pay for it? The number of actual fire calls in Westfield annually is very small when compared to all fully paid departments in Union County. There have been years when the number of actual fire calls next door in Scotch Plains has exceeded that of Westfield and Scotch Plains is a volunteer department.
    If the FD officially took over all EMS duties in town then they could easily justify the manpower needs.
    Related to what you have said, our firefighters are professional paid EMT's, where our Rescue Squad is all volunteer. The reality is there are far more medical calls than fire calls and this is why in most forward thinking communities the FD is in charge of all emergency medical calls as well.
    Why isn't that the case here? Politics would be my guess.
    The fact that the WFD denies qualified individuals the opportunity to simply volunteer on the FD makes it extremely unlikely that they will instead be looking to hire similar qualified persons and actually pay them.
    You say that our fire department shouldn't have "some working for free and the rest are paid." And it is clear that the administration agrees. The only difference is they believe none should be paid.
    Unless something changes soon that is undeniably where we seem to be heading.

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  18. @Paul B. I appreciate the dialogue by the way. In response to your opening sentence, "A fully paid fire department would be great, but who will pay for it?" my answer is that it should be paid by all property owners in Westfield. If each homeowner's tax bill is raised by, on average, $100 per year, which works out to just $8.33 per month per household or just about 25-cents per day per household, when multiplied by the 10,000 households in Westfield, that's an additional $1 MILLION available to hire and pay additional firefighters. I'm sure an extra 25-cents per day wouldn't hurt at least 99.9% of Westfield homeowners and the fire dept. can probably hire at least 8 extra firefighters (maybe an extra 2 or 3 on the job in any given shift) with that amount of money. I realize that raising property taxes would not be a popular position. But, if people knew that something like another 25-cents per day from each household times the 10,000 households in Westfield would generate $1 million for the town that could be used to beef up our seriously understaffed fire dept., I think a lot of people who might otherwise be automatically wired to always vote against higher property taxes might realize that it really doesn't add up to all that much per household - about the cost of a small cookie or a dunkin donuts munchkin each day. For added fire protection and to reduce the likelihood of 3 firefighters arriving at one's house and not being able to go in until Plainfield or Cranford or Scotch Plains shows up, I think it's a small price to pay.

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