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Turf Plan Opponents Launch Parsippany Unite Website

Internet site seeks to give residents the whole story—including background info on the players—behind the so-called Fields of Dreams proposal.

Supporters of the have used the Internet to promote its opinion for months. Now, those holding alternate views have a Web presence all their own.

Parsippany Unite is a group of about 20 town residents who say those pushing the have had the upper hand in disseminating their point of view. 

Those days are over, according to one of the Parsippany Unite organizers, Brooklawn Road resident .

"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.

alleging such a conflict.

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 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 and are safe for students,
  • the particulars--and long-term costs--involved with financing the proposed project,
  • what the repercussions would be if the (as would be necessary in order to and
  • the proposed timetable envisioned by FOD boosters (as revealed to Ritter and others during a , 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."  

Frank Drebin March 08, 2012 at 06:14 PM
What recreation uses will be available for residents. Who is paying for insurance for all the "activities" ?
Michael March 08, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Frank, I would suggest attending the Town Council meeting on Tuesday. You can pose this question to the Mayor regarding the field use.
Kristen Ritter March 08, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Thanks @Kevin and @Jennifer. I didn't realize at all about the 3' level difference not being too much of an issue. The way it had been discussed at Council meetings, I took that as one of the critical pieces. Thanks so much for clarification. Agree completely about not needing 8 lanes. Especially at PHHS where the track is in great condition. I went to look at it and don't know why anyone would say it isn't. And, Michael, thanks for the clarification on field use. We bough on a high school, expecting high school football games....not non-stop use by all age ranges and sports. This thread is such great progress that there is FINALLY a debate going on that represents all sides of this. To everyone on this thread - thanks so much for being a part of it. Discussion + Debate + Transparency + Compromise = the best solution for everyone involved...
Kristen Ritter March 08, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Frank - great questions. I've had them added to the Our Questions section of Parsippany Unite. Check them out at the bottom of the page here: http://www.parsippanyunite.com/our_questions I've also sent them to the Mayor, so they should be addressed at the meeting on March 13th. Will you be in attendance?
Tom Wyka March 08, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I'm going to play "devils advocate" one more time on this thread and risk getting unnecessarily insulted by those I half agree with (thanks Mr. Brown). We really have to get off of the idea that the Town Attorney works for us. He does not folks. Sorry to tell you that although he's paid by us - he is hired and accountable to your elected official. That's the reality. If there is recourse or accountability as to whether he was technically working for a private concern is a real grey area.
Jonathan Nelson March 09, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Tom, at the last council meeting, Mr. Inglesino correctly stated that his sole client was the Township of Parsippany and not the greater public. The mayor, council, BA, etc, should all expect that their correspondence and guidance from him be privileged, and well it should be. However, the question I have is whether the mayor has the authority to direct his attorney to do legal work on behalf of a citizen group or private organization which is outside the role of government. Clearly the mayor has the right to ask the attorney for his legal opinion on the feasibility of FOD. That's his job. The real question is whether Mr. Inglesino provided legal guidance and support for the FOD supporters and organization (which it appears he did) and who paid him for that legal guidance.
Beth Bluj March 09, 2012 at 03:01 AM
Michael - I could be wrong, but I do not believe the BOE would be charging in-town teams to use the fields. My daughter played soccer in town for 13 years and probably used every school field there is; we, as a team, were never asked to pay for a field. The Pride Tournament has definitely used HS fields in the past for their tournament which has been held in town on Columbus Day weekend for the past I don't even know how many years.
Beth Bluj March 09, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Frank - Each team that rents a town field must submit a certificate of insurance and must display their permit at all times. Organizations that want to use a field or rent a room at the High schools must also submit their own insurance policy naming the BOE as additional insured. In addition, most school booster clubs must carry their own insurance. That is paid for by money collected through fundraising by each booster club.
Kristen Ritter March 09, 2012 at 03:58 AM
@Beth - we understand private sports may have insurance to cover when they're playing on town fields -- but what happens when it's town land (owned 51%) and a school athlete gets injured? What will town insurance cost to cover all land use?
Bob Taylor March 09, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Kristen - the school athlete already plays on the town land. Both HS soccer programs and field hockey, maybe even football for practice, use the town turf fields when the school fields are unplayable.
Bob Taylor March 09, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Kevin, In your post you reference the soccer club as being the driver of this proposal and why should we give more fields to the soccer players in town. If the 2 youth football programs, that each align themsleves with their respective HS, used the new fields would that change your opinion and tone? Look at the FOD committee, although there is respresentation from all youth organizations, most of the committee are football parents (I am not 100% sure on this, but when they speak at the town meetings they represent that). So why the hatred for soccer? Has the sport or the people involved in it done something to you? I don't know much about the sport, but if children play it, then I support it whether it is soccer, football, rugby, or cricket. Either support ALL youth sports and activities or don't support any, but stop with the hatred for a segment of our society that does not conform to your way of thinking.
Kristen Ritter March 09, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Thanks for that clarification, @Bob.
Michael March 09, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Beth, Thanks for your note. I understand you are saying the Soccer Club has used every field. However, an email included in the You Decide section shows the Club President Dave Ferguson saying they have NOT used the high school fields during his tenure. Do you know otherwise? http://parsippanyunite.com/you_decide
Michael March 09, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Bob, It is not that the Soccer Club has done something to us, they did something to all taxpayers. We only looked into this after Mayor Barberio said the Soccer Clubs would primarily be using these fields. See the You Decide Section http://parsippanyunite.com/you_decide There are TWO VERY DISTINCT ASPECTS TO THE SOCCER CLUB - Intramural is LOCAL. They only play from Sept. - Nov. The Travel and Academy Programs recruit from outside Parsippany and play up to 10 months out of the year. Because of not having 80% residents on these teams, the town ordinance was changed in order to ensure they would not be billed for these teams use of the fields. Is this fair to taxpayers? How much could have been made by charging the out of towners? Look at the Field Use Fees that are linked from Parsippany Unite.
Kevin Brancato March 09, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Bob, I don't have hatred for any sport and frankly I never thought about the youth football teams playing there. That was not my point, so I fail to understand where you are coming from. I even stated at one point I thought turfed fields is a good idea. My point is simply that these fields a currently controlled and paid for by the Board of Education and to give up that control in order to cater private groups is wrong. For it to be paid for by open space money is wrong. The arguments being made by the FOD folks are biased to their cause. Statements are being made about the unsafe conditions on these fields. I ask you how can that be a concern to the youth football or soccer or rugby teams if they don't use these fields now. I can only draw the conclusion that these private groups are looking to expand their programs and have convinced the powers that be that this would be shared services at its best. I believe the FOD group including Township employees wants to turn these fields into public parks without regard for neighbors, the BOE or the taxpayers. So no hatred from me I just this a poorly designed method to cater to special interests that are already being taken care of by our tax dollars. If that constitutes hatred in your mind then I feel for you.
Michael March 09, 2012 at 04:39 PM
We are waiting on exact numbers from the city regarding the number of non-resident players.
Frank Drebin March 09, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Who owns the Par Hills football Field?
Kristen Ritter March 09, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Well said, @Kevin. Points I hadn't thought about. True that the HS athletes have said their fields are bad, but I hadn't thought of why that would currently bother non-school sport youth/parents. Happy to see this debate happening, and happy to see residents get involved. There is no right or wrong, and no one, correct solution. What is needed is ongoing dialogue to get to something practical. The Mayor will be answering as many questions as he can next week to address concerns of people questionining or opposing the current turf plan. That'll be a great start. There are many things that still need to happen: 1: Town Council needs to vote on ordinance change, which would pave the way for funding with OSTF money and dissolve the current OSTF as we know it (taxpayers should have an interest in ensuring they have the info they need to make an informed decision) 2: Board of Ed needs to hear back from the State Dept of Ed (who, in turn, is waiting to hear from the AG on whether a conservation easement could be granted). If not, this doesn't proceed. 3: Board of Ed needs to vote, based on above (and should have all of the information they need to make an informed decision) 4 - Mayor has conditions he has or will be addressing with the BoE and if those aren't accepted, it doesn't go forward. Correct me if I missed anything here. Just wanted to point out that there are a lot of steps in this process so I don't think it can move as fast as some have said it would.
Kristen Ritter March 09, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Thanks for the clarification, @Beth. Do you know, based on the FOD plan, if any schedules have been drawn up? I hear some residents (including @Frank) asking what recreation use will be available for residents. We know school hours won't be open to the public, but we've heard that the field schedules will be pretty packed in order for the town to get their 51% use. Will there be set times where the tracks, etc, are open for taxpayers to just use? I think it becomes tough to call it "open use," if in reality it'll be pretty booked up. Currently, there's little to no availability for any residents to use the turf fields we already have since they're booked. I could be speaking out of line here...so if anyone out there is familiar with the other fields and scheduling, could you contribute here? Thanks again.
Frank Drebin March 09, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I forgot who owns Parsippany High fields? Thanks
Kristen Ritter March 09, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Frank, I believe it's the BoE that currently owns them. I live literally right on the field. Our property line is less than 50 feet from the track. I was told by someone in my neighborhood that the land that the fields are on was given to the town back in the late 60s, I believe, by the developer of the houses on Brooklawn so that the development could continue. So, the land was given over as a gift and then packaged as part of the high school when it was built. It's been BoE land since the school was built....meaning the BoE is responsible for maintaining it, developing it, insuring it, etc.This would essentially shift all of that responsibility to the town if they take over the 51% rights via the permanent conservation easement. Hope this helps...and if I am incorrect on any of this, I'd hope everyone can jump in and correct me. I am just writing what I've heard...
Kristen Ritter March 09, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Thanks @Beth. Understood that someday the kids will be at the high school. That's a great point - one I hadn't thought of. In my mind, this then makes it something that isn't as critical as breaking ground ASAP, but something that really is important to address and have as many voices as possible behind, going into next year's budgets. Do you think we could have more dialogue about this and shoot for a collaborative plan to start on for next year....one that could keep the BoE land with the BoE and have them finance it? Having time to plan could ensure we could explore other ways of fundraising, get detailed water studies, work out appropriate scope, lobby for BoE funding for this, etc. Surely with more time to plan, we could come up with something that would get the fields to what they need to be and have a lot more support. In the meantime, if more field space is needed...could we look at other town owned land, and something that could be moved on right away? I know there is an idea that could be implemented quickly that wouldn't meet such resistance. I am in support of it. I am a huge supporter of getting the high school athletes their fields...but doing it with BoE resources, in a way that isn't over-scoped, and keeping the land school owned. Just keeping this at BoE level cuts cost for lighting, track lanes, etc since scope for shared usage is cut. It's just where I am coming from. Thanks for your perspective and shedding some light for me!
VietNam Vet March 10, 2012 at 08:27 AM
Michael, the Mayor is going to tell these people anything they want to hear as long as he can get this thing through. Parsippany needs to wise up for a change, not everything here is about the "Kids". Think for once, somebody wants this to go through real bad, and you have to ask yourself "WHY" whats in it for them. You cannot trust this Mayor or the council, whatever the Mayor wants they are going to give it to him.
VietNam Vet March 10, 2012 at 08:34 AM
I cannot believe some of the things I read here, you are all just worried about who is going to play on the fields and how some of you poor babies are going to impacted with this abortion of a project, when we have many other in this town that are effected in other ways, and how many people here can't get back to their homes if ever, many may lose their homes because they can't aford the higher taxes that this board has planned, all you are worried about is yourselves, like a bunch of idiots. Whe are you rich people ever going to think of how this is going to impact some others for a change. Get a brain!!!!!
Bob Taylor March 12, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Kevin, I apologize. After reading your response to my comment and re-reading your Part 2, I see better where your coming from. My reponse was to your comments in Part 1. It seems people are using the soccer as a rallying point against the project and that should not be the case; base it on its merits and not on the possiblility of one youth organization's benefits.
Bob Taylor March 12, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Michael, I read the use decide as suggested. In the ordinance where it lists all the local youth orgainzations being exempt, it also states that any non-resident must pay a $100 fee. So it would appear, based on this information, that all youth orgainzations are exempt from paying and all non-residents on those teams are paying a fee to the town. I wonder, would it be better to rent to organizations not affiliated with the town and would not have the same overall community feeling of looking after the fields. Also looking at the section you point to and reading the emails and gather other information. The Soccer Club appears to be the only town-wide youth organization so with limited space in the fall would it not benefit all the youth participants to provide more fields for there use. It seems the soccer club does a lot more for the community as it was just honored by the Parsippany Chamber of Commerce.
Bob Taylor March 12, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Michael, You are wrong. I read the You Decide section you mentioned, The email between Dave Ferguson, President of the Soccer Club, and Joe Plescia (town's Recreation Supervisor) states they soccer club has not used the two HS football fields; not that they never use the fields at the HS.
Seriously? March 25, 2012 at 02:02 PM
@donna I challenge you to quote one attack.
Seriously? March 25, 2012 at 02:03 PM
@beth How much did Inglesino charge for his time developing that website? It's pretty impressive.
Seriously? March 25, 2012 at 02:07 PM
@foil You said "In other words, nearby residents sound like nothing more then idiots when they say they knew nothing about it." This project started over a year and a half ago and it wasn't until last December 2011 that residents in the area even heard about it. Think about it. If you were going to start a project would you want your potential opponents to know about it once you started the project or would you wait and let them find out as late as possible? It's politics, plain and simple.

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