Supporters of the proposal to use open space funds to finance artificial turf fields and other improvements at the township's two high schools have used the Internet to promote its opinion for months. Now, those holding alternate views have a Web presence all their own.
Those days are over, according to one of the Parsippany Unite organizers, Brooklawn Road resident Kristen Ritter.
"We want to ensure that there is a site that represents the other side of the FOD initiative," Ritter said. "We want to make sure Parsippany residents are educated on all sides of the argument and that they are not just served up one opinion in favor of a very extensive project.
"We also know many people who live near the fields had no idea this was even happening."
According to Ritter, Parsippany Unite's goal is about more than pumping up its members' oppositional view.
"We want to make sure they can learn about it," she said. "We even offer up a link to the FOD site so people can decide for themselves."
The portal also presents information from documents collected by member Michael Espejo through Open Public Records Act requests so residents can learn exactly what went on during the meetings in which town officials and others formulated the turf plan long before word of the effort reached the public at large. Site visitors will also get to decide for themselves whether they believe some local leaders' work on FOD constitutes a conflict of interest.
Among the information revealed are emails indicating that Mayor James Barberio and Town Attorney John Inglesino were among the people involved in crafting the FOD website.
One email dated Nov. 28, 2011, makes this arrangement clear. This conversation, which predated the Dec. 15 Board of Education initial public hearing on the matter, included the mayor, the township's lawyer, Lim, Board of Education Vice President Frank Neglia, Recreation Superintendent Joseph Plescia, Parks and Forestry Superintendent James Walsh and FOD proponent Mike Pietrowicz.
The email says in part:
We are set for our meeting on Thursday December 1st at 5:30 p.m. at the municipal building. Thanks for your feedback on the website. Changes to the content and layout will be made tonight. Once we have John's sections we will build them into the website and we should be ready. Frank is working on the Recreation Advisory meeting for December 8 and to invite the Booster Club presidents from both High Schools. We should be ready and well prepared for the BoE meeting on 12/15.
The remainder of the email spells out that Inglesino drafted sections of the site. It also denotes that the "project task force" for FOD was made up of Mayor Barberio, Township Attorney Inglesino, BOE Vice President Neglia, Business Administrator Lim, Recreation Superintendent Plescia, Parks and Forestry Superintendent Walsh and Pietrowicz.
Another email, from Dec. 12, 2011, presents a conversation between Plescia, Pietrowicz and Lim (with the mayor and town attorney copied) over what to say when asked who was behind the pro-turf plan website.
In this email, Plescia asks Lim and the others, "A question is coming on the website. Who owns it and controls it? Information on the Patch quotes the information on the website as if it was being presented there by the Recreation Advisory Committee."
Pietrowicz suggests either "Friends of Parsippany Fields of Dreams" or "Recreation Advisory Committee," adding, "I don't want me or anyone else to be publicly identified as owning/operating the website and it shouldn't be attached to the Mayor's Office."
Lim told Patch that Inglesino has been paid $6,500 so far out of the recreation budget for his pro-FOD legal services.
Parsippany Unite members say more information revealing the backroom stories behind the planning of the pro-FOD effort will be available on the new website.
The site also offers a number of sections devoted to different aspects of the issue.
A Facts page recounts details about the plan including:
- the truth of whether the football fields at Parsippany High School and Parsippany Hills High School are safe for students,
- the particulars--and long-term costs--involved with financing the proposed project,
- what the repercussions would be if the Board of Education gives up 51 percent of its ownership of the fields to the township (as would be necessary in order to use Open Space Trust Fund dollars over the next 15 years to pay for the project and
- the proposed timetable envisioned by FOD boosters (as revealed to Ritter and others during a private meeting with Mayor Barberio, proponents want construction to begin this June).
Michael Espejo said information on that invite-only confab with the mayor, which he and a number of Parsippany Unite members attended, will be presented on the site as well.
The Parsippany Unite site also features a page entitled "You Decide," which contrasts the FOD party line with alternate viewpoints. Among the disputed points is whether the support for the current FOD plan formulated out of public site for the past year is "overwhelming." The website points out that many of the residents who live closest to the high school fields—the people most likely to have their day-to-day quality of life affected—are still just learning about the proposal.
Another page lists questions for Mayor Barberio and encourages residents to add theirs.
The site also offers a petition seeking "to halt the turf field plans in their current form."
According to the Web page, "We should revisit our high school fields more closely with the Board of Education and research all other available project scopes and sources of funding before proceeding."
"We're starting basic and will add to the site over time," said Ritter. "Anyone can contribute if they feel they have info relevant to all. We're all about transparency. ... We want to make sure Parsippany residents are educated on all sides of the argument and that they are not just served up one opinion in favor of a very extensive project."
Organizers say they need petition signatures this week.
"Since we can't leverage the town attorney to check our web copy and organize our argument (as the FOD people did—and we're looking into just how fair that was), we're on our own to collect donations for legal fees. We're applying for [federal nonprofit] 501(c)(3) status," Ritter explained.
A page on the site is set up to accept donations from the public.
Parsippany Unite members say they hope citizens will check out the site, analyze the public records and information, participate, submit thoughts and questions and share the information with their friends and neighbors.
"We want all of Parsippany represented," said Ritter, "not just the local sports interests.
"What we want to achieve is a wider interest in the project and more involvement from taxpayers. We want to raise awareness and become a stronger voice to challenge the project in its current form. There should be some healthy negotiation so taxpayers have their voices heard and this doesn't just push through."