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Bellmawr Boro Fails to Keep Caucus Meetings Minutes, Lawsuit Alleges

 

John Paff, a well known open government advocate, filed a pro se lawsuit against Bellmawr Borough Council alleging violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.

In his complaint, Paff alleges that Bellmawr Borough Council has failed or refused to record minutes of its caucus meetings and further, that minutes have failed to specify the manner in which notice was given.

Bellmawr Council holds two types of recurring meetings: “caucus” meetings, which are typically held at 5:00 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month and the “regular” meetings, which are typically held on the fourth Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m.

Paff’s Complaint states: “Council does not presently keep or record…has never kept or recorded minutes of its ‘Caucus’ meetings,’ which violates N.J.S.A. 10:4-14.”

The Complaint also alleges that Council’s January 28, 2016, January 4, 2016, November 23, 2015,  November 3, 2015, and October 22, 2015 meeting minutes do not contain any language, in accordance of N.J.S.A. 10:4-10, that informs the public that adequate notice of that meeting had been provided “specifying the time, place, and matter in which such notice was provided.”

Additionally, the Complaint states that the 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Council meeting minutes on the Borough’s website suffer from deficiencies.

Paff is seeking to be awarded the costs of his lawsuit and that going forward, Bellmawr Council be compelled to comply with all of the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act.

Josh Tregear, the Borough Administrator, and Chuck Sauter, the Borough Clerk, were both emailed yesterday for a comment on the lawsuit. Chuck Sauter responded via telephone and he referred the matter to the Borough’s solicitor, Robert Messick, due to its legal nature. A voice mail message left for Messick was not returned.

When reached for a comment, the plaintiff, John Paff, said via telephone yesterday afternoon: “I have been doing this for about 20 years and I don’t think I have ever found an instance of Borough Council or a Municipal Council not keeping meeting minutes at all, or for a class of meetings. I’ve often found meeting minutes that I don’t think are appropriate, or I don’t think are detailed enough, or I don’t think are reasonably comprehensible as required by law. But this is a case where Borough Council just doesn’t keep meeting minutes at all for one of its sets of its meetings, for the work sessions, and that’s very unusual.

To view the Complaint, click below:

Paff vs. Bellmawr Borough Council

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Bellmawr Gloucester News Recent News

AT&T Store To Open In Brooklawn Shopping Center

Major renovations are underway to transform the shuttered Taco Bell into an AT&T Store, according to commercial real estate developer, Brahin Properties, Inc.

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The AT&T Store is the latest tenant to join Planet Fitness, Petco, Hope Thrift, Hair Cuttery, DaVita Dialysis in the redevelopment of the Brooklawn Shopping Center.

Brahin Properties’ website indicates: “The Brooklawn Shopping Center offers its tenants a remarkable mix of high visibility and easy access from every direction. It has become a focal point of not only Woodbury, Westville, and Brooklawn, but also for residents throughout Camden County.”

Demographics provided by Brahin indicate: “The marketplace within a five mile radius has a strong population of over 363,000 and an average household income of over $68,712.”

When the redevelopment project is completed, the Brooklawn Shopping Center will be over 95% occupied, Brahin notes.

No word on an official opening date for the AT&T Store, but we’ll provide an update just as soon as we hear something official.

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Credit: Brahin Properties, Inc.
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Credit: Brahin Properties, Inc.

*Special thanks to 42 Freeway for helping with this story.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bellmawr News Recent News

Bellmawr Mayor Gives Updates on Landfill, Construction

During the February 25 council meeting Bellmawr Mayor Frank Filipek provided updates on the landfill and on other issues in the Borough.

Pastor Vincent Kovlak asked during the public portion if the Mayor could provide an update concerning the landfill and on some of the empty pieces of property around Bellmawr.

Excerpts from the mayor’s responses:

First thing we got good news yesterday. We don’t have to drive the pilings down too deep. There is a report that says they only have to go down 20 feet.

Borough Administrator, Josh Tregear, added clarification by saying: “I believe it’s 60. Originally, they thought it was going to be over 100.”

Mayor Filipek continued:

Whatever it was, it’s less. So we can have construction there, so that was a good sign. Also, the developer thought that we might have our first development by late spring, early summer this year. Also, the thing that is holding it up is the State because they are doing a traffic study. We are doing a traffic study and it’s not finished but we’re not paying for it, the re-developer is. The State wanted a traffic study finding out how many cars are going to go by there for the second phase. But the problem now is the second phase.

About new construction in town, Amoroso moved into town. Even with the new construction in town the safety of workers is just as important as the production tracking when it comes to a construction project.

Pastor Kovlak asked: “What is the story with the gas station on the corner?”

Mayor Filipek responded:

The State is ready to release them because they had an eight month environmental impact because of the gas. I did hear from the owners that two businesses are interested and we also met. Somebody is already interested in the drug store. That will be something that Bellmawr will be very proud of on the corner. I do not want to give out names, because then once you do that, then people will keep you at that. Every time you meet with somebody, somebody gets the word that the mayor met with Bass Pro or the mayor met with these people. We meet with a lot of people that want to come to Bellmawr, but until it’s finalized, I don’t want to go public. Bass Pro wanted to come to Bellmawr, but Bellmawr doesn’t give out tax rebates. We never did it, we never will. That’s why we lost Bass Pro.

That mini-mall in Gloucester Township, we met with them eight-nine times. They were coming to Bellmawr, but Gloucester Township found out about it and they already had their roads already done so they went to Gloucester Township. They gave them a better deal.

That’s why we don’t want to go out and say we are meeting with all of these people because the other towns find out and give them a tax break or a deal because we don’t give tax breaks. Amoroso did not get a tax break from us at all. They are paying taxes just like everybody else. Everybody in this town pays their taxes. Nobody got a break. That’s why we have been lucky with our developer that this hasn’t cost the town a dollar. He has picked up the tab for most of the things.

It’s all ready to go. It’s capped. Now all we have to do is wait for the State to give us the ok. We are going to go ahead and do what we have to do because we can’t wait for the State to hold us back anymore.

They called me today about they want to take the property over and sent us a letter. I told them we wouldn’t do that until we finalize where our roads end up. We are making progress in everything that we are doing and we are meeting with everybody. A lot of people want to move to Bellmawr. You’d be surprised. Josh (Tregear, the business administrator), Jim Burleigh (Code/Zoning Official, Fire Official CO Housing Inspector) and I met with a client yesterday. They want to come to Bellmawr, they want to build something. We just have to wait. It’s going to be a beautiful place to live once the roads are done. Right now with the roads and the digging and that stuff, it’s tough.

I think we are doing a good job for what we have to work with. I think our people that work for the Borough are doing an outstanding job because with all of the problems that we are having.

Wawa is there.

Any time there is an accident on 42/295, there is going to be a backup on Browning Road. They cut through the town.

We are negotiating every day with somebody to try to move into town.

You will be happy to hear some of the things that are going to happen. Especially at the buildings on the corners when they’re finished.

Resident Debbie Allen asked: “Is that all one property back there, the property on Creek Road?

Mayor Filipek responded:

100 and some acres.

Allen asked: “Is that all privately owned by the developer?”

Mayor Filipek responded:

It’s owned by the developer. One part is Deptford. Two parts are Bellmawr.

Allen asked: “Is the Deptford part up against the water?

Mayor Filipek responded:

When they did the map, they took the waterline at that time, it was Deptford. So it’s Bellmawr, Deptford, and Bellmawr.

Allen stated: “It doesn’t really matter because the developer owns it.”

Mayor Filipek responded:

We talked about this before. Before it gets developed, I think the developer is going to lease it to Bellmawr. He just wants to be the developer. Because they own it and they’re paying the taxes. Eventually in the end, it will be owned by Bellmawr.

Allen responded: “The level gets higher, when you drive by.”

Mayor Filipek responded:

All of that is going to be brought down. You can see on 42, you see three big piles, that’s the testing. They are testing and have test borings to see how long is it going to take to settle because it was a landfill. We have been lucky that it hasn’t settled at all. And we just found out yesterday it went down 30-40 feet and they got a newspaper. A dry newspaper, no water at all. When we first started that project, there was tons and tons of water. Everything was all water, cans and trash. Now it’s almost dry. The newspaper was dry as a bone when they brought the paper out. Because they take these test borings.

Every piece of dirt that is there, it is checked by a truck every day. It is examined. We are not bringing in anything that is chemically wrong. Everything is checked. Every truck that has gone in there. It looks like it’s real high but all of that will be moved because we also have to clean the other part – the Eco Center. That’s got to get dirt too and also the front of it.

It will be slanted down. They are ready to build. They have been negotiating with people already about who wants to come here and we have feelers from restaurants and hotels already.

Allen asked: “Is there any chance of bringing that Eco Center back into use, for compost?”

Mayor Filipek responded:

What we want to do is redevelop the whole area for tax ratables for the whole town. At one time, we were thinking about the solar panels. But the State ran out of money.

That concluded the mayor’s remarks and the public portion of the meeting was closed.

All business on the meeting agenda was passed.

With regard to Resolution #02-76-16, appointing Eric Jacob as emergency medical technician for Bellmawr, Josh Tregear responded via email with the following information concerning the salary for the position: “Eric Jacob will begin full time employment on March 1, 2016 at an hourly rate of $17.92 / hr.”

Below is a copy of the February 25, 2016 meeting agenda:

February 25, 2016 Agenda

During the meeting, the councilmen gave reports. Councilman Jim D’Angelo was absent from the meeting.

As part of his committee report, Councilman Paul Sandrock stated that there is going to be a Hazardous Waste Collection on March 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Cherry Hill Public Works Complex, 1 Perina Boulevard, Cherry Hill.

Sandrock also stated: “We have been working feverishly and waiting to hear on a grant for our wheelchair accessibility into the Borough Hall. We are waiting to hear back and we do have some good vibes that it will happen this year. We do know we are not compliant and we are trying to meet that compliance by making sure that this grant comes through and allows us to complete this project.”

Councilman David Spector gave his report: “In regard to buildings and lands, I just wanted to point out that we are working at the senior building and the court offices with work that is being completed. I would like to thank our borough employees for all of the hard work that they do to multi-task and to make these properties presentable.”

Councilman Steve Sauter extended his thanks to Bob Bauman for retiring from the zoning board and welcomed Kathleen McCarthy to the board.

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Sauter said: “The water department roof came off on the service building and we are in the process of getting quotes from the likes of Austin roofers and other roofing specialists to replace that. In public works, everything else is running pretty smooth. Roberts Avenue playground will commence construction on Monday morning [February 29]. All materials are in place.”

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The water department’s service building sustained roof damage during the recent storm.

As you can see from above, the storm was pretty bad. The water departments building sustained roof and water damage as a result. This is now due to be reviewed by the local authorities ready for repair. In the area, there are various roofing and water repair contractors. For example, roofing Lakeway is one of the most common contractors in the area, but of course, there are others.

Councilman Steve Hagerty gave his report: “Public safety part, we hired Eric Jacobs, Bellmawr resident. He will fill the position of a full-time EMS employee. We had one leave so we have to replace that. At the last caucus meeting, we had a special meeting for the police department where they made promotions due to Sgt. Gillis’ retirement. They went through the process of promoting officers and we also hired one, patrolman Kevin Lokaj. John Mader was promoted to Corporal and Chris Cummings was promoted to Sergeant. For the fire department side of it, we had 80 fire calls and 172 ambulance calls. About the storm, I was riding along with Chief Burleigh in one of the trucks. I saw first-hand the damage and what was going on. All of the workers out there were doing a great job cleaning up the whole area that it touched down at.”

“For finance, we sent our financial report to the State for review and we are also going through the budgets now. We are doing the department budgets and we will have those presented for next month at the March meeting.”

Excerpts from Councilman Ray Bider’s report: “RTT (Race to the Top Grant) was for the Early Childhood Center. A couple people have asked the responsibility. At this point, until through 2020, the local district is funded. At that point, the local district then picks it up themselves, unless something else happens. But that is several years down the road. Some people thought it ended this year and it goes through 2020. I discussed with Annette Castiglione, the superintendent, and requested a five year enrollment projection, which is called a cohort, just to get an idea of how many new students they anticipate coming in and she will be getting back to me with some information on that because they are growing every year in significant numbers.”

Note: A copy of the Bellmawr School District’s enrollment numbers as of January, 2016 were attached as part of their meeting agenda. Below is the district’s January, 2016 enrollment.

Enrollment January 29, 2016

Mayor and council will meet next for their caucus meeting on Thursday, March 17 at 5:00 p.m. in the conference room at Borough Hall.

*Article updated on March 3, 2016 to indicate a change for March’s regular council meeting. The monthly council meeting has been changed from Thursday, March 24 to Wednesday, March 30 at 7:00 p.m. in the courtroom in Borough Hall.

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Information provided by Bellmawr.com
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Bellmawr News Recent News

Bellmawr Schools Receive $50,197 in State Aid

For the 2016-17 school year, the Bellmawr School District will receive $50,197 in regular State aid and $171,696 in pre-school aid. Bellmawr School Business Administrator, Amy Capriotti shared these figures during the February 24 Board of Education (BOE) meeting and stated that this was “very good, because we were only planning on flat” (funding).

She added that the budget is being worked on and will be presented at the March 16 meeting. The budget is due to the county on March 22 and a public hearing on the budget will be on April 27.

Mrs. Capriotti was also asked if there was an update on the soil remediation costs and she responded that she still has not have received those final numbers.

In other matters, School Superintendent, Annette Castiglione, spoke of a series of strategic planning sessions that the district is hosting for the community. She said the sessions are designed to create a three year plan that will help guide the district in the future.

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Mrs. Castiglione also spoke about the fourth grade picnic. She said: “The objective for the fourth grade picnic is to help transition the fourth graders into fifth grade.” She said that the students will be bused from their respective schools to Bell Oaks where they will be buddied up with fifth graders and will receive a tour of the school. The PTOs will provide food and there will be activities. After the students receive the tour, they will be bused back to their schools. If there are any questions concerning the fourth grade picnic, Mrs. Castiglione stated that those can go directly to her.

In other matters, the superintendent recognized teacher, Jessica Catrambone, as Staff Member of the Month.

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School Superintendent, Annette Castiglione, stands with Bell Oaks Principal, Anthony Farinelli, as they honor Gina Catrambone as Staff Member of the Month.

The BOE watched a presentation from teachers, Jessica Cook, Matt Ryan, and Heather Dunham about the digital features of the sixth-eighth grade math program.

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All business on the Board’s agenda was approved, including the bill list with a grand total of $1,443,907.05.

The following field trips were approved:

  • E.M. Burke & Bellmawr Park fourth grade students on May 24, 2016 (rain date May 27, 2016).
  • Bell Oaks seventh and eighth grade students will attend “Team Building/Leadership/Self-Esteem Workshop & Activities” on May 27 at the International Sports Complex Center. Cost covered by Bellmawr Police Municipal Alliance Grant.
  • Bell Oaks eighth grade peer mediators will prepare and serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House on May 17 and 18, 2016 at no cost to the district.

The Board approved a maintenance services agreement with the Collingswood Board of Education for shared services on an as-needed basis for the 2016-17 school year.

The Board approved job descriptions for custodian and maintenance positions.

The Extended School Year (ESY) special education program will run from July 5-August 4, 2016 and will operate Monday-Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (three programs at E.M. Burke and one program at Bell Oaks). The BOE approved the following positions:

  • 4 teachers at $3,500 each
  • 7 paraprofessionals at $15.00 per hour each
  • 1 school bus aide at $1,000
  • 1 speech therapist at $3,500

The board approved the hiring of Jesse Genzel as a custodian at step 1 of the BEA negotiated agreement effective March 1, 2016.

In other matters, Bellmawr Park Principal Elizabeth Calabria thanked the Bellmawr Park Dragons PTO for presenting her with two checks – one in the amount of $2,250, which will be used to purchase two security doors. The other check in the amount of $2,200 will be used to purchase ten Chrome Books.

The BOE will meet next on Wednesday, March 16 at 5:00 p.m. for its work session and the regular meeting will follow at 6:00 p.m. All meetings will be held in the Bell Oaks Media Center.

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Bellmawr News Recent News

Last Minute Efforts to Save Historic Hugg-Harrison-Glover House

Last minute efforts are underway to try and save Bellmawr’s historic Hugg-Harrison-Glover House from impending demolition. The Camden County Historical Society hopes to save the house by having it moved approximately 100 feet out of the path of demolition. The house is located on the property of St. Mary’s Cemetery, which is owned by the Diocese of Camden. The house is situated directly in the right of way line for the ongoing New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) I-295/I-76/Route 42 Direct Connection project.

The Camden County Historical Society is behind the efforts in trying to saving the house, which has significant ties to the American Revolution and plays an important part in Bellmawr’s history.

Previous studies on the house stated: “The Harrison Glover House was recommended not eligible for listing in the National Register due to its lack of architectural integrity and subsequent inability to convey its historical and architectural significance.” (Historic Architectural Resources Technical Environmental Study, Volume I, August 2006, page 207)

Last week, Chris Perks, the president of the board of trustees of the Camden County Historical Society, met with Bellmawr Mayor Frank Filipek and the members of council to ask for their support in saving the house.

Perks was joined by Garry Stone, a retired archaeological historian who has researched the Revolutionary War and the house’s involvement in it. He gave a presentation to the mayor and council about Bellmawr in the American Revolution.

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Garry Stone speaks about Bellmawr’s Hugg-Harrison-Glover House.

Stone said of the findings that stated the house did not fit the criteria. “To be polite, it was a flawed evaluation of the house.”

He further elaborated:

To find a building eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it must have significance in one or more of four areas.

The National Register calls these categories “criteria.” Criterion A is an association with significant historical events. B is an association with a significant person or persons. C is architectural or aesthetic significance and D is significant information.

NJDOT and its consultant architectural historian focused on criterion C, architectural merit. They found that additions had compromised the building’s architectural significance. They never seem to have considered the project historian’s research findings on the historical associations of Captain Harrison and his farms.

Criterion D: “Would study of the building yield important information?” was completely ignored.

When the initial evaluation of the house was completed May 16, 2005, the project historian had only a verbal report that Captain Harrison’s property was associated with a Revolutionary War battle.

However, by the time that NJDOT published the archaeological report in March 2006, the historian had fully fleshed out the fact that it was connected with two battles, one of which was important in the career of the Marquis de Lafayette. The architectural report on the house was not finalized until August, 2006. This new information was not considered in the evaluation of the house.

Mr. Stone has authored “Bellmawr in the American Revolution.” His updated article (below) includes maps and is published here with permission:

Bellmawr in the American Revolution (Updated 3/1/2016) * (Correction by Garry Stone on page 8 to indicate that the Loyalist rising was in 1778, not 1777)

Mayor Filipek stated at the caucus meeting that Bellmawr would support the cause, but stressed that the residents of Bellmawr could not be expected to pay to relocate the house.

Filipek added that he has tried in the past to help save the house. When the pastor of Bellmawr Baptist Church, Vincent Kovlak, approached him to ask for assistance, Filipek said: “I went as far as I could to try to save the house. We signed the petition, but I was told it wasn’t a historical site,” Filipek stated.

Perks said: “All we are asking is to have Bellmawr’s support of preserving the house.”

Filipek responded: “We will gladly fight for it. I think it’s a great thing to fight for. We even had our superintendent of public works go over to see if we can move it. But it wasn’t something that we could handle.”

A Resolution pledging Bellmawr’s support for saving the house will be on council’s February 25 meeting agenda.

As for an update, Chris Perks provided the following information:

We have solicited, and will receive, a proposal from professional house movers who will give us an actual cost for the move.

We are reaching out to the Diocese in order to open a dialogue and to understand their positions.

We have been carrying on an email dialogue with the NJDOT public information office about their position and various alternatives.

The Camden County Historical Society has created a Facebook page dedicated to saving the Historic Hugg-Harrison-Glover House.

On Sunday, February 28 at 1:00 pm, there will be a meeting of all the various preservation advocacy stakeholders at the Camden County Historical Society, 1900 Park Boulevard, Camden, N.J. (on the corner of Park and Euclid). There will be a briefing of the current status of affairs as well as a round table discussion.

These photographs, maps and the descriptions were all provided by Garry Stone.

A.1 111435pv HABS photo March 1937
Photo credit: Nathaniel R. Ewan for the Historic American Building Survey, 18 March 1937

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A.6 Draft Rds. 1777, LC cropped
Part of an anonymous “Sketch of the Roads,” probably early November 1777. The dashed line shows the Hessian march route crossing Little Timber Creek through Captain Harrison’s property. Edward Fox has tentatively identified the cartographer as General John Cadwalader of the Pennsylvania militia (Library of Congress).
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Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy, Carte de l’action de Gloucester (part) (Cornell University). This is a presentation rendering of an unfinished sketch map. It does not show the King’s Run nor the farmland south of the King’s Highway. It does show the approximate location where Lafayette attacked the Hessian jaegers (blue symbols), where they were reinforced by the British light infantry (red symbols), and where Lafayette left them (at the fork in the road leading to Gloucester Town. Note the small yellow symbol (“K”) south of the road representing the Continental light dragoons. Note also the British troops and forage being ferried across the river.
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Provided by: Garry Stone

 

*A special thank you is extended to Garry Stone for sharing his expertise and also for authoring an article, providing documentation, maps, and photographs for such an important part of Bellmawr’s history.

Filmmaker Adin Mickle’s YouTube Video (below) added 3/4/2016:

*Article corrected on October 20, 2016 to correctly identify the official name of the NJDOT roadway project and to add the above video: “Save Hugg-Harrison-Glover House: If Walls Spoke.”

*Article updated on March 21, 2016 to include:

  1. A screenshot of a portion of the March 16, 2016  the Bellmawr Board of Education agenda pledging support of saving the historic Hugg-Harrison-Glover House.Support of Restoration & Preservation
  2. A copy of the March 21, 2016 letter of support from the United States Department of the Interior:

       Support letter from the National Park Service

*Article updated on March 1, 2016 to include:

  1. Updated version of Garry Stone’s “Bellmawr in the American Revolution.”
  2. Updated Change.org petition