Top 10 Parsippany Issues for 2013
These topics dominated 2012 and likely will be the major issues facing the town in the coming year.
Parsippany's Republican Party was rocked when voters sent a reminder that it isn't guaranteed an exclusive hold on every elected position in town. Democrat Jonathan Nelson's election to Town Council sparked anger and raised questions pertinent in 2013: Is GOP unity broken? Will the party be able to once again grab exclusve control of Town Hall? Are Democrats and Independents becoming an unignorable force? Republican Mayor James Barberio has already announced he will seek a second term at Town Hall. Will residents again give him their support? Or will fields, the "leniency letter," the Terry Bradshaw infomercial, a perceived lack of administrative transparency or other issues push voters to another choice? And what other choices are there?
Police and Crime
The past year presented story after story about burglaries—from incidents involving parked cars and GPS robberies to residential burglaries to, by year's end, a group paying apparent homage to the notorious James Gang. At the same time, Police Chief Anthony DeZenzo insisted that his understaffed department was getting the job done and presented a series of Community Partnership Program events to show citizens all of the positive efforts of the PPD. But many residents weren't buying and railed against the department's focus on promotions at the expense of hiring more rank and file patrol officers to deal with day to day crime and investigations. We suspect police staffing levels—and how this effects crime prevention—will remain on the minds of many citizens in 2013.
As 2012 progressed, we saw an increasing number of drug-related stories reporting arrests involving marijuana, pills, heroin and crack cocaine distribution schemes. We also heard stories Parsippany Police would not talk about—tales of drug overdoses affecting the township's youth and rumors of pill-popping high schoolers. Early December opened the doors of communication on the volatile issue, as the Municipal Alliance Committee brought together community leaders to speak candidly on the issue of drug abuse in Parsippany. The topic will remain an important one for the town to address in the new year.
The last year was one filled with conflict for the Parsippany Board of Education. Controversy after controversy, from the athletic fields to teacher contracts to so-called 'secret' emails, made it clear that the board is split between two factions. It's true that most matters were decided unanimously or with near unanimity, but rarely without visible battles, power plays and grandstanding. New board member James Carifi joins the body at the January reorganization, and officers will be chosen. The board then has a huge first task: filling the vacancy left when Joanne Mancuso decided, due to personal reasons, to forego the seat. Will the school board go with November's fourth-place vote-getter, Alison Cogan? Will it look to Carifi's running mate, Anthony DeIntinis, despite his last-place finish? Or will it go for a former member? And will the eventual choice help usher a new peaceful era that allows members to focus on student performance and the achievement gap between Parsippany and Parsippany Hills high schools?
Fields of Dreams?
Will 2013 be the year when Parsippany high schoolers get their fields of dreams? A large part of 2012 was spent deliberating a plan put forward by Mayor James Barberio and the town's Recreation Advisory Committee. The mayor's idea was rejected by the Board of Education, which did not want to give up control of the high school athletic fields to the town. Now, the school board is working to hold a referendum to decide whether turf fields and some improvements—more than $7 million worth—can win approval from voters and give township youth fields that put pride in Parsippany.
Vacancy is the word: In terms of commercial vacancies in the township, the number of empty spaces is so high, no one in the administration will discuss the topic. The last year saw the announced departures of prime rateables Realogy and DRS Technologies. Mayor Barberio is working with the Morris County Economic Development Corporation to effect a turnaround. Will those efforts bring major corporations to Parsippany? Perhaps 2013 will tell.
In the coming year, the township will reexamine its master plan, the bueprint that defines the physical character of Parsippany-Troy Hills and how it will be permitted to grow residentially and commercially. Disputes over projects such as a Mountain Way townhouse development, a proposed Krishna temple on Baldwin Road and the plan to develop Waterview Plaza and install a Whole Foods Market, other retailers and a townhome community grabbed much attention in 2012. It's likely the debate will grow even sharper as Parsippany residents and leaders grapple with a tough question: How much growth is too much—and how much is needed to boost desperately needed economic growth in the township?
In the past year and a half, Parsippany has weathered three major weather events. The township's Office of Emergency Management, now under the control of Parsippany Police, is examining its activities during 2012's Sandy to see where it succeeded and what can be improved if and when the next huge storm comes. In the meantime, town leaders must examine its communications strategies, continue with storm mitigation and preparation efforts and continue to assist still-displaced residents. All eyes are also on the town's new sewer treatment plant to see if new lower rates and rebates are forthcoming for homeowners and businesses.
Are township apartment renters less worthy than homeowners? That question arose in 2012 as tenants in garden apartments found themselves served with eviction notices—and some say, callous and cruel treatment from housing staff. Their crime, the residents said, was having babies, which put them in violation of the maximum occupancy ordinance. In 2013, leaders will have to consider whether having babies constitutes stacking and, if not, how to help growing families that live in apartments.The mayor will have to decide whether the Housing Division is fulfilling its duties fairly and humanely. And residents will have to decide whether they care about neighbors who live in apartments.
The ongoing economic turndown and the approaching fiscal cliff likely will keep the prospect of finding employment a serious one in Parsippany. Last year, the township saw the loss of major employers and the entrance of smaller ones such as Smashburger and C2 Education. In 2013, jobseeking residents will be on the lookout for new business and job opportunities. The Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce promises to continue its series of job fairs and workplace development seminars to bring together employers and potential employees.