Who's to Blame for the Conditions of the Fields?

Some say if fields had been properly maintained, Fields of Dreams proposal wouldn't be needed.

Since December, when the Fields of Dreams high school artificial turf proposal was unveiled publicly, Parsippany has been awash in controversy. Questions have arisen over ,  and the .

There is another question some are asking.

If the football fields at and are unsafe, as many FOD supporters claim and as Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz disputed at a March 29 BOE meeting, who or what is to blame if a legitimate need exists to install artificial turf and other athletic improvements?

Some say a shared services agreement between the town and the —which expired at the end of 2010—puts the responsibility in the lap of the municipality.

Others say the school board, which currently owns the fields, bears responsibility for the conditions of the football fields, fences and track ovals.

For the FOD proposal to go through as planned, a conservation easement would have to be put into place to allow the town an ownership interest in the properties, which would give it 51 percent of control over and use of the fields.

If there is blame to apportion, it appears choosing who or what is responsible is determined by the person answering the question.

Does the BOE Bear Responsibility?

At a March 20 Township Council meeting, Mayor James Barberio was very clear and very specific in leveling blame at former BOE member Robert Crawford, an outspoken critic of the school board ceding control to the town so that the municipality may use Open Space Trust Fund monies to finance the turf project.

"In 2008 and 2009, you were chair of the [school board's] Buildings and Grounds [and Safety] Committee, and in 2010 and 2011," the mayor said publicly to Crawford.

"You never brought anything to the Board of Education. You fumbled. Now I'm picking up the ball. You talk about leadership. You didn't show it on the Board of Education."

Crawford said the charges are untrue.

"When I chaired the BGSC, I did so in partnership with two other board members under the guidance of the business administrator," he said. "As a member of the BGSC, I had one vote and as a member of the full board, I had one vote and so had neither the power nor the authority to make any unilateral decisions.

"The mayor's recent and repeated charges that I, as chair of the BGSC, had sole responsibility for the conditions of the district's buildings and grounds (including the fields, fences and tracks) suggests just how ignorant he truly is when it comes to understanding how the BOE functions."

Crawford said that when he was chairman of the committee, the conditions of the fields, fences and tracks were not considered to be a priority by then-Business Adminstrator Marlene Wendolowski. 

"The committee's job was to review the list of capital improvement projects (which numbered close to 100) to determine which capital projects should be recommended  to the full board for its vote and for inclusion in the upcoming budget," he explained. 

"The committee's  discussions and decision-making processes were guided by input from the business administrator who, given her knowledge, was responsible for ensuring the efficient management of the district's operations and who prioritized for the committee which capital improvements  needed to be made to ensure the  safety and efficient operations of the school district."

Projects that received priority, according to Crawford, "tended to involve work on boilers, generators and roofs," which allowed the BOE to recoup 40 percent of what it paid out for the work by the state.

"It's also important to remember that when I served as chair of the BGSC the district was operating under very tight financial constraints," he added, pointing out a loss of state aid that resulted in cutbacks in academic programs including art, music and language classes.

"As I recall, the conditions of the  football fields, the tracks and the fences were never identified as a priority item by the business administrator or the superintendent [and] the BGSC [was never] advised by the board's Sports Committee, which liaised with booster clubs, had any concerns about the quality of the fields, tracks or fences."

Crawford said no member of the public complained about field conditions, either.

Former Colleagues Blame Crawford

BOE Vice President Frank Neglia, who sat on the committee with Crawford, offered another view.

"In my opinion, Bob has done his best to make a mockery of the Board of Education," he said.

According to Neglia, about $500,000 was cut in 2010 from the maintenance budget under Crawford's supervision in an effort to keep any tax levy for residents beneath the state-mandated 2 percent cap.

"I do recall Bob was quite clear in supporting the cutting the funds, despite the need for maintenance and upgrades," Neglia said. 

The matter surrounding slashing approximately $500,000 does not appear to have been discussed during a regular board meeting as the item does not show up in minutes from any BOE public session between 2009-2011. Committee meetings do not have published minutes.

"Regarding some of our B&G meetings, I recall Bob at times being in favor of a project at the committee meeting then when we would bring it to the full board, he'd speak against it, [for instance, a] paving project," the vice president said. "Bob also would complain about the condition at Parsippany High, especially the tennis courts and track. I recall him stating at one point that the conditions there were 'embarrassing.' He always seemed to focus only on Parsippany High though."

Crawford admitted that he has a personal interest in PHS, where his children attend.

"Bob had a political motivation," Neglia said. "All along I have felt he has been using the media as a means of gaining notoriety in an effort to make himself look clean and deny responsibility, as well as to get his name out there to the public."

Former school board member Andrew Choffo offered similar thoughts.

"It was our first budget under the 2 percent cap," he said. "We were trying to be fiscally conservative across the board to show taxpayers that we could be fiscally conservative while maintaining academic and co-curricular programs people wanted in our schools."

According to Choffo, Crawford often commented on the state of lighting at the Hills and the tennis courts at Parsippany High.

"He has shown himself to be intimately familiar with buildings and grounds," Choffo said. "Bob had the responsibility to put before the board choices to allow the board to understand the true condition of the fields so that the full board could decide how to allocate funds.

"Bob had the ability to champion an issue. For him to say he had one vote of three [on the committee], seems disingenuous. As chair, you have the ability to steer the direction of the committee. For the 2011-12 budget, we could have chosen to allocate the additional money to Buildings and Grounds for the fields. ... It wasn't in his best interest or worth his time to focus on those fields beyond what he did."

Other Former Colleagues Reject Blaming BOE and Crawford

Board member Michael Strumolo, who said he did not recall any half-million-dollar cut from Buildings and Grounds, defended Crawford.

"Bob is right," he said. "It was up to Marlene Wendolowski and Seitz to tell us about priorities that needed to be taken care of."

Dr. Frank Calabria, the BOE's president, said pointing fingers at Crawford is unfair.

"Bob Crawford is one board member, not nine," he said. "Bob may be a pain in the neck in a lot of ways, but he is a caring, bright, articulate person and very much always was for youngsters and in the best interest of youngsters."

According to Calabria, with reduced state aid, the board had difficult budget choices to make.

"We had to decide: Do we do something academically or for areas of facility? For many, it was academics. So you hold back. That's what happened," he explained. "When you lose your state aid, school boards are in a place where budgets sometimes limit what you can do. We're lucky that we [had] a board member ... focused on that. With budgets the way they are and the times being what they are, you have to make hard decisions."

Is Town Hall Responsible?

Then there is the matter of an agreement that until 2010 put the municipality in charge of maintaining the high school football fields. 

According to Seitz, the pact only addressed mowing, fertilizing and reseeding the grass fields. The agreement did not make the town responsible for repairing or renovating the fields.

Barberio said he terminated the shared services agreement when it expired in late 2010 in order to bring his municipal budget under its state-mandated 2 percent cap.

Under that pact, which is available for view with this article and on the website of anti-FOD group Parsippany Unite, the school board reimbursed the town for 40 percent of what was paid for general maintenance of the school fields—which included those used for football.

The arrangement, made official in 1962, allowed town residents to make use of school-owned facilities such as the tennis courts and athletic fields.

Among the duties stipulated were edging, removing unwanted grass from dirt infield sections of baseball fields, weekly mowing and adding required markers and lines to fields on an as-needed basis.

"The BOE was not happy about the termination of the agreement and tried to  persuade Mayor Barberio to renew it in everyone's best interests, but his primary interest was to protect his political interests by ignoring the big picture," Crawford suggested. "The irony of course is that Mayor Barberio, because it now serves his political interests, is playing the shared services card."

A shared services agreement is still in effect for the high school tennis courts. Under this pact, the BOE owns the courts and the land they cover, but the town has responsibility for maintaining them.

Beth Bluj April 17, 2012 at 12:51 PM
Why spend 5m - I don't believe our town or schools are qualified to install turf, tracks and lights Alterative Solution - I'd like to hear your plan in detail- don't forget to include the funding 5 lighted fields - we are the largest municipality in Morris County All at one time - it will be less expensive then doing things in pieces OSTF Spending - yes, I do think this is a good way to do this, and it's not just 'turf fields' it is funding - it is two HS facilities which will be used for recreation by all residents Both High Schools - simply not fair for one to have and one not to Ordinance - I think Mr. Inglesino explained this in great length at the last meeting BOE - our kids get a great academic education in our schools. I don't think we are letting them off the hook; I think we are helping them complete the package of a well rounded student
g April 17, 2012 at 03:50 PM
We argue over the conditions of the turf but we neglect the conditions which produce illiterate children. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey, 42 million adult Americans can't read; 50 million can recognize so few printed words they are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one out of every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of those who graduate, one out of every four has the equivalent or less of an eighth grade education. According to current estimates, the number of functionally illiterate adults is increasing by approximately two and one quarter million persons each year. Chose turf over our children, This is shameful.
Bob Crawford April 17, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Beth Rather then speculate as you do in your last blog about what the conditions of the fields be might be in the future, let's take a step back and ask a group of concerned non partisan and apoitical citizens to conduct a needs analysis, an impact analysis, a legal analysis and a funding analysis to determine how best to proceed with regard to ensuring that the school fields and tracks our children play on and compete on are up to standard. Those in depth and independent analyses were never conducted by the Mayor and members of the Town Council which is why so many questions remained unanswered and why the Town Attorney has had to concoct such tortured end runs to get around current ordinances. Let's set an example by acting responsibly and by not rushing to implement a proposal that has yet to be fully vetted. Haste makes waste and Parsippany cannot afford to waste $4.5 million.tax dollars.
VietNam Vet April 17, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Beth, you know it seems you and Thomas and Par, reaaly don't have any commpassion for other people in this town. You are only thinking of yourselves and the little kiddies, well get over yourself because nothing in this town is going to the little kiddies anylonger. The money all goes to Seitz and to the Admin. like when Wendolowski was there, she was one of the highest paid fools there. We have people who have been hurt bad by the hurricane last year and are still not in their homes, but you and the rest don't seem to care about that. You want to use the OSTF money for these fields when the BOE should have been doing that in the first place but Wendy. wouldn't let loose the cash for anything, thats why they had the 5M surplus. Now the mayor comes up with this scheme to take control of this money for whatever he wants, isn't it bad enough he has a private slush fund going with $ 7.2 M. and uses it for his own little projects, when are you going to wake up and really be part of this town
David Comora April 17, 2012 at 08:20 PM
As a border property owner to the Hills High, I admit that I do have some concern over the lights and the baggage that comes with town control of the field, which will certainly alter the character of both high school field complexes. Its pretty certain that "If you build it, they will come." Since we are already blessed in this town with 3 lit turfed fields, I find it difficult to understand how we "need" another two lit turfed fields. Does any other town in NJ have such an embarrassment of riches? I recall when Jannarone Park was first being constructed, there was talk of playing some of the high school games up on that wonderful field, under the lights. What ever happened to those discussions? There's ample parking, with the corporate lots that would be available after hours. I would imagine that the cost of building some locker rooms and expanding the seating would be well under $500,000. The two high schools could share the location, perhaps each having 4 night games a season. Sharing a field seems to work for the Giants and Jets, I'm sure our high schools could work it out. Obviously, repairs need to be made to the fencing, the fields and existing track at the High. But, It seems like there are many possible options that should be considered before embarking on this large of an expenditure.
Beth Bluj April 17, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Paul - I don't have 'little kiddies', I have a sophomore in college and a sophomore in HS. So, since chances are my son will never even play on the new field, I really don't think I need to get over myself. And to say that we don't care about others in the town couldn't be further from the truth. We do care, that's why we are trying to do something positive for the 7,600 school kids and their families and the rest of the community.
Jonathan Nelson April 17, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Mrs Bluj. I've seen you speak several times at council meetings but didn't realize you have a college and a high school sophomore. Were you 12 years old when you had your first child? (meant as a compliment)
FullofPride April 18, 2012 at 12:03 AM
I have lived in Parsippany for 23 years and have had 3 children go through PHHS. I have been reading about the FOD and I object to the spending of the OSTF money for these turf fields. In the last 6 years our football team has gone on to play in 3 state championships, our soccer and other sports teams have also gone on to play statewide, we have had state track winners and many of these athletes have gone on to become captains of their college teams. Our marching band has won numerous awards, we have National winners from mens and womens choir, state math winners and on and on. How can you say these students have no "pride"? Pride doesn't come from having turf fields or a sports complex, it comes from doing your best, working hard and supporting each other. Let's come together as a town and get the BOE to do the right thing and take care of these fields for a lot less than 4.5 million dollars!
VietNam Vet April 18, 2012 at 06:44 AM
Beth, as I said you really don't care about others in this town. You said it yourself when you said you are for the kids, NOT the rest of the citizens in this town, remember they pay taxes too, maybe not as much as you, but maybe you have much more than many of them, this money can be used to buy out some of their homes and let them move on with their lives, instead the town still keeps them hanging on not knowing if they will be able to return to their homes again. I don't care what you do with the fields, the BOE should have been taking care of them right along. Its not like they never had the money to do it but then you have a supt who is not taking responsibility for anything he ever done except take more and more money from the so called kids. There are other ways to fix a couple of stupid ball fields, that you and some are only worring how we look against other towns. Think of the Adults in this town many of them made this town what it is today. Someone once said that if the elderly can't afford to live here, then they should find some other place to go. That really shows what some people think of others, you don't, and I didn't say you had little kiddies, I am speaking in general about all the kids in town. You don't seem to read very well as many other in town.
g April 19, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Why is it that fields owned by the town are in such good shape? Take a look at the one on Route 46 and Baldwin Road, The turf looks pretty good to me and it is used quite ofter. Why?
Jim Beam May 01, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Rather then? really? How about rather than.
Kevin May 01, 2012 at 08:13 PM
the town spends more time/money on upkeeping their fields. But they are not perfect. They have grass fields that suffer during harsh weather and heavy use (Volunteers Park). the artificial turf you talk about at smith field takes care of itself. that is why it looks so good and why the FOD people would like to turf the high school fields.
VietNam Vet May 01, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Full, I agree with you, let the BOE pay for this, it was their doing in the first place. If they stepped up and took care of those fields all these years we wouldn't be going through this where the mayor is trying to rip off the taxpayers once again. He has surpluses all over and we still keep paying higher taxes so he can maintain them, when do we get together and put a stop to the mayor and inglesino sticking it to us again with some political double talk. The last thing we need as a town and taxpayers is for the mayor to jack things up some more, why does the mayor need surpluses like these 2 accounts and we continue to pay for it. If they want these fields so bad why isn't the BOE paying for this and finding a much cheaper way of doing it. As far as Mike Strumolo and Bob Crawford they know what they are talking about, Mike has been trying to help get things done but he is only one person on the Board and when he gets voted down by the others he can't do anything. Your coming down on the wrong people, you should be going after Calabria, Neglia, Orme, Orthwein, and Mancuso... three of them come up for re-election and if you put them back in, your going to have more of the same cover ups.
TJ Ritter May 01, 2012 at 11:36 PM
I am TJ Ritter at tj_ritter@yahoo.com. Please feel free to e-mail me if you would like to discuss further. Do you know what a conservation easement is and how it is traditionally used? Check out http://www.anjec.org/pdfs/EasementCD-EasementProvisionsinBrief.pdf and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_easement Did you know that the State Ethics Board is in the process of conducting a full and thorough investigation on many members of our Town Council, the mayor, the town attorney, BOE members and many committee members. Also, please check out www.parsippanyunite.com We have added a new Fact Check section that checks out some claims made on the “FOD” website. A basic tenet of a healthy democracy is open dialogue and transparency. Peter Fenn
Michael May 02, 2012 at 01:11 AM
I think it would be very interesting to bring in an expert on real, natural grass fields. Everyone who wants turf says, grass can't develop a root system on these fields. Well, when was the last time anyone actually tried to improve them and have a natural grass field properly installed and maintained? Has the BOE requested a quote and evaluation for this from a reputable company? As we all are noting, they have done the absolute minimum to maintain these fields so it is no surprise they are both in bad condition. I would like to hear from an actual expert that grass can't grow there before turf is the only option rather than just hearing this from the people who "drink the cool aid" of the FOD proponents who say it can't be done.
Michael May 02, 2012 at 01:17 AM
ParPardon - who are you really for one??? You sound a lot like a certain someone who speaks at a lot of meetings but does not have the guts to use even your first name on this board. I find it hard to believe this certain someone could restrain from posting on this board with all these comments about a project that is so near and dear to this person's heart so why don't you come out and say who you really are???
Michael May 02, 2012 at 01:23 AM
NIMBY - Not In My Backyard - Not a bad thing to stand for. Who wants super bright lights in their backyard? Who wants whistles everyday of the week? Who wants extra traffic, noise, strangers and other non-desirable additions to their backyards. Who wants very quiet weekends converted to soccer tournaments? Who wants to pay between $450,00 to over $1m for a house and a minimum of $10,000 in taxes every year to have their backyards converted into a stadium? Maybe NIMBY should be our slogan ParPardon and Mr. Mayor (has also stated this at meetings) as well as Mr. Mike Pietrowicz. Lets place this in your backyards and see who becomes NIMBY very quickly.
Michael May 02, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Speaking of Neglia - have you seen this? http://parsippany.patch.com/blog_posts/is-ptwll-really-for-the-kids he is the head of the Little League and banned a father for raising questions from watching his son's games for 7 years. Criminals don't even get this type of punishment the majority of the time.
Frank Drebin May 02, 2012 at 01:37 AM
I know who is to blame, the pickpockets who were elected to their office.
Michael May 02, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Yes Sir you are correct. I say, vote Every single one of them out of office, get real leaders into office and then deal with this issue at hand from a much more informed, ethical, intelligent and balanced manner.
VietNam Vet May 02, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Michael, I used to work in the landscaping field and I know there is a better way to do this, there is a grass seed that you can buy and it will grow in almost any type of soil and it will take a beating and keep on growing. They can regrade these fields and put some clean fill in there and reseed the fields, something they should have been doing right a long.
Beth Bluj May 02, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Michael - again, you are completely blowing things out of proportion. It's not a stadium it's one field with lights. It's one soccer tournament a year that has been going on for many more years than you have even lived here. Whistles? Really - come on. Traffic - no more than you get every morning/evening rush hour - remember there are speed humps for a reason. There are strangers at the school every single day of the week; you just don't realize it. Super bright lights - have you ever even taken a ride up to Jannarone to check out the 'super bright lights'? Who cares how much you pay in taxes - that doesn't make you any more special than any other person in this town. Seriously? Oh - and where is your last name? You sure seem to want to call others out for not using their real names.
VietNam Vet May 02, 2012 at 02:56 AM
Kevin, we know that the BOE hasn't done its job and will not do there job of taking care of these fields unless someone brings some " Smoke" under their butts, we need to force the BOE to start doing their jobs and stop putting the blame on a few choice people. Neglia is an idiot who likes to point fingers at other people when he was on the B & G as well, but Neglia does nothing but cause trouble and point fingers and refuses to take any responsibility for his actions. Well Mr. Neglia your term is up this year and we can vote you out as well as Orme and Calabria and next year its Mancuso's tern to go as well as Orthwein, she is worthless.
Michael May 02, 2012 at 04:18 AM
Beth, OK - yes, whistles are loud in one's backyard. Yes, Cheering is loud in one's back yard. Traffic that does not exist now, yes that is extra traffic. It does not matter how long I have lived here. You say 1 tournament but lets see what it turns into if this happens and the soccer club and little vikings decide to use it for much more than is currently discussed. Yes, it does matter what we pay in taxes because the money we pay is being wasted by the so-called leadership of the BOE and the Town Council. In fact, it is our tax dollars that will paying for this field that you want so badly. You are fond of saying how many children can use this field... which in reality is for a very small percentage of their time in school or in sports. Whereas, yes, we live here 365 days a year, and Yes, if this was in your backyard, I do believe you would have a different opinion. Yes, I have seen the lights at the other fields and NO I do not want them in my yard.
Michael May 02, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Beth, do the 7,600 school kids all play sports in particular soccer, football or lacrosse? Seems like quite a few school kids to play just these three sports. Or, are you counting all of the outside of parsippany residents in the soccer club who would benefit from these for free? Actually, I doubt that would even add up to 7,600 athletes, or, is this the number of users for the next decade?
Michael May 02, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Paul, I agree with you 100% but unfortunately something such as you are suggesting and I asked about I now believe utilizes too much common sense for our elected officials. It also utilizes too much common sense in terms of how to do something economically, and also does not have enough back-handed favors involved for the people who belong to the clubs and want to use more fields for free. The craziest aspect of this entire Field Proposal is that they have Never Even looked at a 2nd option. Never, all it took was the little vikings president to approach the mayor, get the township attorney to change some ordinances, gain the support of the local clubs who will benefit, meet behind closed doors with Neglia and Seitz and there you have it, a $4.5 million plan devised by people who did ZERO RESEARCH with the exception of how to raid the Open Space Funds. Welcome to our local government.
Beth Bluj May 02, 2012 at 11:14 AM
Michael - Little Vikings will not use these field for tournaments or games because they don't have tournaments and they have their own field. The soccer club has one tournament a year that brings in huge amounts of money to this town - I think that gives them a buy on using the fields once a year. What is a small percentage is the number of people that live on Brooklawn Drive compared to the amount of children/residents that will be able to enjoy these fields. And no, because you pay more taxes does not give you any entitlements - sorry. Why aren't you crying about anything else the mayor spends money on? Oh wait, I know, it's because it doesn't affect you. I did not ask you about other fields - I asked you specifically about Jannarone and more specifically the baseball field. If the sound of whistles and cheering is so awful, honestly, you should have never bought by a school. When you live in a town it's not all about you, it 's all about everyone. Luckily the decision for the FOD isn't going to be based on who has the biggest house. It's going to be based on what is best for the majority and the town as a whole.
Michael May 02, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Beth, The cost of the houses shows the amount of tax revenue collected which is substantial and mismanaged. If I think bonding $4.5 million for fields is a waste of my tax dollars, then yes, I have a right to say it. The 1 soccer tournament you say will happen generates for the soccer club $225,000 profit per tournament. They are sitting on a lot of money and on their own site say it can be used to buy a field. Yet they don't do so. Why, because they can get the mayor to do it for them. When the soccer club was billed for not having 80% of the team members living in Parsippany they had the council change the ordinance to read 80% of total club members. So, they are actually getting away (by creating their own loophole) with not paying to use the fields for their Travel and Academy Teams. This is taking money away from the town that would be going to the parks department for people who actually do live here. Back to your favorite topic of NIMBY. The school uses the fields now as a regular "School schedule", we knew it when we moved here. Last I checked school practices, etc end around 5:30, there are not a lot of night games and they don't use the fields at all on Sundays. So, yes, this is all new and no, I don't want to hear whistles and cheering at times that are now very peaceful here.
Beth Bluj May 02, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Michael - Answer - if lights were not a part of this project- how would you feel about it? For the record - I have never used the word NIMBY. In fact, I have always publicly addressed the sensitivity we need to use for the residents near the schools. I got angry when I was falsely accused of being someone that I am not. There has been a fear campaign started by people with their own political agendas that have managed to make the residents near the schools think that this is going to change their way of life. No one on the FOD wants to see that happen. Regardless if you believe that or not - it is the truth. So, while I understand the concerns I think they have been blown way out of proportion and I will continue to maintain that with common sense these items can be addressed in a way that will be good for everyone. However, everyone needs to be a little flexible and stop finger pointing.
parpardon May 16, 2012 at 01:18 AM
I wanted to publicly apologize for any rude comments I may have made. I have come to terms with my issues and realized I have been way out of line with some of my comments. I look forward to working together to form a better future for Parsippany children. Once again please accept my apologiy and I promise to not revert back to my old ways.


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