Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Addendum on Jaffe Spending

Mayor Frank insists that the HP Quarterly costs taxpayers not one cent. How is that possible when the taxpayers are paying to produce copy for the product? Plus, this work was not put out to bid. And, Jaffe has a no-bid contract, which grants him an exclusive business franchise, the HP Quarterly, on which he sells advertising keeping all proceeds and such to himself. The Mayor has stated the entire HP Quarterly production cost would be the responsibility of Jaffe, again at no cost to the taxpayers. Having Jaffe write content and be paid for it proves yet another lie from the Mayor's mouth.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Is This Responsible Spending of Taxpayer Dollars?

Is This Responsible Spending?

From December 2004 to the present, the Frank administration has paid a grand total of $30,863.33 to the politically connected public relations firm Jaffe Communications for work on the borough newsletter, press releases from the mayor’s office, and other promotional materials centered around Mayor Frank. This use of our tax dollars includes planned press releases and photo opportunities coordinated with the office of the governor of Alabama to promote Mayor Frank’s trip to the south in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, writing of the mayor’s State of the Borough address, and of the council members’ columns for the Quarterly. It does not include approximately $17,500 per year paid to Jaffe by Main Street Highland Park for its newsletter and general public relations. That money comes from the Business Improvement District, whose main source is an average $1,000 additional annual assessment, i.e., tax, on businesses in the designated area (Raritan Avenue, side streets off Raritan with commercial establishments, and parts of Woodbridge Avenue and Route 27).

Jaffe Communications Total Spending:

$2,500 for December 2004
$18,670 for 2005
$3,593.33 for 2006
$6,100 for 2007

Total: $30,863.33

For the eight months from December 2004 through July 2005, the borough paid Jaffe Communications $2,500 a month for what the official borough invoice simply states were “communications services.” The $2,500 per month for the first seven months of 2005 put the amount paid to Jaffe just at the state’s bid threshold of $17,500 per year. Vendor services above and beyond that amount are required to be put out to bid.

After being confronted at a public meeting about this spending, the administration began to itemize the list of services for which it was paying. Below are several examples of services rendered and their costs. You decide if this is responsible spending of hard working taxpayer dollars.

August 2005: Total of $832.50, with Jonathan Jaffe charging $75 per hour and his employees John Yocca and Laura Knutelsky charging $55 per hour:

These are only a few highlights of the items adding up to the $832.50 total:

Jaffe editing articles for the HP Quarterly, 100 minutes, $125.00
Yocca and Knutelsky writing articles on Centennial Park and Council Column for HP Quarterly, 90 minutes, $82.50
Yocca and Knutelsky revisions to Quarterly articles and email with Donna Como, 15 minutes, $13.75

October 2005: Total of $337.50, same rates as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe phone calls with Mayor Frank, 30 minutes, $37.50
Jaffe phone calls with Mayor Frank and reporters at Home News Tribune, Jewish State and other media plus coordination of photos with Alabama Governor’s Office, 80 minutes, $100
Jaffe development of press release regarding New Jersey Municipality Partnership effort (relating to Project Hope and Hurricane Katrina relief), 80 minutes, $100
Jaffe working with press offices in New Jersey and Alabama for quotes, messaging and approval and speaking with League of Municipalities Magazine for quotes, 60 minutes, $75
Jaffe phone calls with Star Ledger and other media to discuss League story (on Katrina trip), 20 minutes, $25

November 2005: Total of $894.58, same rates as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe wrote and edited four stories for HP Quarterly, 180 minutes, $225
Jaffe wrote story on renovations to Borough Hall and the Senior Center, 75 minutes, $93.75
Jaffe rewrote article on Woodbridge Avenue improvements, 60 minutes, $75
Jaffe wrote shuttle bus story for Quarterly, 60 minutes, $75
Jaffe wrote story on New Jersey Project Hope for Quarterly, 60 minutes, $75

March 2006 for communications services for Jan. 22-Feb. 22: Total of $440.83, same rates as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe wrote articles for HP Centennial Ad Journal, 80 minutes, $100
Jaffe wrote articles about two local artists for Century Celebration special edition, 90 minutes, $112.50
Yocca wrote press release for Century Celebration event, 120 minutes, $110

March 2006 for communications services for Dec. 22, 2005-Jan. 22, 2006: Total of $902.50, rates same as above. Highlights include:

Jaffe revised and edited Mayor Frank’s State of the Borough address, 180 minutes, $225
Jaffe edited Councilwoman Foster Dublin’s column for the Quarterly, 45 minutes, $56.25
Jaffe edited condensed version of Mayor Frank’s State of the Borough address for the Quarterly, 45 minutes, $56.25
Jaffe edited Nick Trasente story and Road Improvement Grant story for Quarterly, 60 minutes, $75
Yocca discussed missing Quarterly copy with Mayor and Jackie Stuart and edited Councilwoman Foster Dublin’s column for Quarterly, 90 minutes, $82.50
Yocca interviewed borough employees for story on Nick Trasente and revised Mayor’s State of the Borough for the Quarterly, 120 minutes, $110
Yocca emailed and interviewed borough employees for story on Nick Trasente and wrote an article on the Road Improvement Grants for the Quarterly, 120 minutes, $110
Yocca finished writing Nick Trasente and Road Improvement stories for Quarterly and emailed them to the Mayor and Jackie Stuart, 90 minutes, $82.50
Yocca communicated with Donna Como regarding Highland Park Ad Journal information, 30 minutes, $27.50
Yocca sorted and emailed documents and photos of Ad Journal to Donna Como, 90 minutes, $82.50

September 2006: Total of $2,250 for the design, printing, and town wide distribution of 7,000 programs for the borough and school board

January 2007: Total of $2,250 for mailing of Department on Aging shared brochure

January 2007: Total of $2,000 for mailing of Recreation Department shared brochure

February 2007: Total of $2,100 for three pages of the January issue of the Quarterly at the rate of $700 per page, specifically for messages by the Mayor and Council.

Note: All this information is available in the form of public documents at Borough Hall.

All of these services could be provided by either volunteers or by interns paid approximately $10 per hour, making use of our many talented residents in town, including high school and college students who could gain valuable work experience performing these tasks. Why isn’t the borough exploring these alternatives as cost savings measures? Why is the administration hiring a firm that publicly admitted in The Courier News to working for municipalities to “sell” redevelopment to their citizens, whose owner admits to having met Mayor Frank at a League of Municipalities meeting and having been impressed with her political takeover of Highland Park government eight years ago? Why was a supposedly humanitarian mission to the Gulf states after Hurricane Katrina organized to focus on photo opportunities, media attention, and individual quotes from the Mayor?

Is all this responsible spending of our money? You decide.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An Open Letter to Democrats in HP's 10th Election District

Dear Neighbors in the 10th District,

I am writing to ask for your support for the 10th District Democratic Municipal Committee seat, which I am seeking in the June 5 primary. For those who may be unfamiliar with district boundaries, the 10th district ranges from the eastern side of North Fifth Avenue (across from the high school) all the way to the Edison border on the north side (through Highland Ave, Lexington Ave, Washington Ave, and along Route 27).

Highland Park is divided into 13 election districts, each of which elects one Committeeman and one Committeewoman to the Democratic Municipal Committee, which makes up the party organization in town and ultimately decides which mayoral and council candidates get the party's official endorsement.

I am proud to be running with the Highland Park Democrats, the team for Smart Change, on Line C. I also ask residents of the 10th district to support my running mate Sal Raspa for Democratic Committeeman and for residents in the following districts to support our Line C team--Barry Seiden for Democratic Committeeman in District 1, Alan Salit for Democratic Committteeman in District 2, Michael Kornfeld for Democratic Committeeman in District 4, Mary Laney for Democratic Committeewoman in District 7, George Valenta for Democratic Committeeman in District 11, and Nancy Wolf for Democratic Committeewoman in District 11.

As your Democratic Committee District Representative, I will work to open meetings of the Democratic Municipal Committee to all who are interested and include time for public input. I will promote active support of Democratic candidates at all levels, creation of subcommittees to involve more people in the party, and welcoming of diverse opinions. I envision our local Democratic Party as a place with room for all who want to participate. Most importantly, I will work to facilitate a fair and open process of selecting mayoral and council candidates and district representatives.

My background, political experience and qualifications for this position include the following:

· Member, NJ Natural Areas Council, Appointed by former Governor Richard J. Codey
· Member and 2008 Board Candidate, Democratic National Committee Women’s Leadership Forum
· Member, Middlesex County Chapter, Democracy for America, played leading role in local voter registration drives and Get Out the Vote efforts for the 2004 Kerry/Edwards campaign
· Life Member, Raritan Valley Chapter of Hadassah
· 2007 Environmental Steward, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Program
· 2006 Graduate, Governing Institute of New Jersey
· Finalist for 2006 NJ Environmental Leadership Award, with score of 81 out of possible 100.
· 2005 Fellow, Leadership Somerset (year-long leadership training program)
· Graduate, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) Inaugural Leadership Training, 2005
· Completed Main Street New Jersey Downtown Revitalization Institute, 2003
· Graduate, Women’s Campaign School at Yale, 2001
· Member, NJ Coalition to Stop Eminent Domain Abuse
· Member Center for the American Woman and Politics (CAWP) Bipartisan Coalition on Women’s Appointments.
· Member, Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA)
· Member of Highland Park Board of Health and Food Pantry Committee. Served 11 years on HP Environmental Commission, 10 as Secretary
· Employed as Somerset County Editor for The Somerset Spectator and as Writing Instructor at Mercer County Community College
· Coordinator, Unofficial Highland Park non-partisan email newsletter, since 1999

This blog is an independent site that solely represents my opinions. For more on the Highland Park Democrats, please visit the official site at:

On June 5, 2007, Vote Line C for Smart Change
Nancy Wolf for Mayor, Michael Kornfeld and George Valenta for Borough Council
Polls Open 6 AM-8 PM

Thank you, and here's to a bright future for our community.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mayor Speaks with Forked Tongue

"I don't take money from developers."

Over and over again, Mayor Frank has reiterated this statement, emphasizing it as part of her "good government" stance.

Of course, the reality has always been a bit murkier. Frank and the Democratic Municipal Committee have never hesitated to accept funding from the county and state Democratic organization, whose chief donors include developers such as the very environmentally unfriendly Jack Morris and Michael Kaplan. It seems that in Frank's mind, if the money comes through a middleman, namely the official party, somehow it is washed clean from the taint of the original developer donors.

Does Frank plan to take money from Jonathan Jaffe of Jaffe Communications? This is the man who recently published an op-ed column in The Courier News explaining how he "sells" redevelopment to the public on behalf of governments and redevelopers.

Now, it seems Frank has abandoned all pretense of not taking money from developers. Her campaign's own web site lists teas at the homes of several developers. Are we to believe these are only hosts and have no plans to give Frank's campaign any monetary donations? They are already providing their homes for the events, which according to state election law is considered an in-kind contribution.

And it is important to note that these teas are being held in conjunction with Meryl's emphasis on "residential redevelopment." No pay to play here? You decide.

If she wants to stick to her word and her integrity, Frank should immediately cancel these events. Otherwise, the voters of Highland Park can come to no other conclusion than that our mayor speaks with a forked tongue.

Highland Park: Suburban or Urban?

Four years ago, at the April 2003 groundbreaking for the Environmental Education Center, Mayor Frank stated regarding Highland Park: "We're not suburban. We're urban." This statement should be viewed not as descriptive of our borough now, but as proscriptive, as a very telling statement of Frank's vision for the borough's future.

Most residents of Highland Park do not consider themselves residents of a city or urban area but of a friendly borough with a small town character, a place with a sense of community, where people know and look out for one another, a home of tree-lined streets away from the noise and overdevelopment typical of cities. And most residents would like Highland Park to stay that small town.

In spite of this, the mayor proudly proclaims that Highland Park is urban. Her vision, expressed through her 2020 plan, calls for increased density in both the commercial and residential sectors. She seeks four story mixed-use buildings on Raritan Avenue and possibly condominium high rises on Cleveland Avenue and at the site of the YM-YWHA. She speaks of residential redevelopment. What exactly does that mean, and to which areas is it supposed to apply? Without specifics, any part of town, including our homes, could be so designated.

Interestingly, it was Frank's administration that in the 2003 Master Plan recommended changing the zoning of the Y property from quasi-public to riverfront residential, allowing a high rise of up to six stories.

A pedestrian and traffic safety study currently being considered by the mayor and council calls for lowering the speed limit on Raritan Avenue to 20 miles per hour and drastically changing the configuration of our side streets, making many of them one-way instead of two-way. Again, here is a vision of urbanization. Having many one-way side streets is a characteristic of a city, congested with traffic, not of a small town.

Highland Park is 96 percent developed, and 25,000 cars a day travel down our main street, Raritan Avenue. Imagine the additional congestion with several new stories of apartments or condominiums and offices on Raritan Avenue, Cleveland Avenue, and South Adelaide Avenue.

When questioned about her support for high density development and residential redevelopment, Frank reiterates the dogma that higher density is "a principle of smart growth." "Smart growth," or new urbanism, is a trendy doctrine currently being preached in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University and at various urban planning schools throughout the country. If you listen to the rhetoric of politicians across the country, their words are almost identical, as if they are reading from a script.

The problem is that instead of promoting what 19th century writer John Stuart Mill called "an open marketplace of ideas," these schools of planning are instead doing a great disservice by pushing one theory as the gospel truth. Students of urban planning are not so much educated as indoctrinated. The reality is that "smart growth" or "new urbanism" has a questionable rate of success. It frequently amounts to little more than the same pro-development policies that originally got us into suburban sprawl. It favors wealthy, politically connected developers and often becomes a weapon against poor people and minorities, who are displaced from their homes and businesses by eminent domain so local governments can bring in high end developments that they see as bringing in more ratables. And it ends up re-creating the cities that many moved to the suburbs to escape.

What is also overlooked is that higher density means more schoolchildren to educate, a need for additional infrastructure, and the requirement of additional police, emergency, and public works services and personnel, all of which wipe out the financial gain the new developments are supposed to bring. Also, those new developments are often given tax abatements of up to 30 years. Those that arrange PILOT or Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreements pay only to the municipality, and their money does not go towards the town's schools or to the county.

The concept of sustainability itself, which Mayor Frank so often repeats, has effectively been hijacked by proponents of this dogma called new urbanism. Sustainability originated as one of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party and was intended as a paradigm shift in which societies focus on sustaining our natural resources rather than emphasizing economic growth. It was never meant as a justification for high density development.

The Green Party defines Future Focus/Sustainability with the following words: "Like the Iroquois Indians, Greens seek a society where the interests of the seventh generation are considered equal to the interests of the present. Every generation should, minimally, seek to leave the planet no worse off than when it was bequeathed to them. We must act in the present in such a way as to reclaim the future for our children and their children."

That, not the same old pay to play sweetheart deals with developers, is the true meaning of sustainability.

Last November, when asked to support a public referendum on the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment, as Edison did, Frank responded, "I don’t believe that everything needs to go on a referendum before the public. This is a complicated issue. We were voted into these offices to make these decisions."

Is Highland Park's future suburban or urban? Is it about dogma repeated over and over by politicians or about what best fits the needs of our unique community? Frank thinks these decisions should be made only by her and those she handpicks. On June 5, it's our turn to make these decisions. Want your voice heard? Then get out and vote, vote for Line C, and tell this administration loud and clear that Highland Park is not and never will be a city.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mayor's Lunch or Campaign Brunch???

Mayor Frank has been holding a monthly Mayor's Lunch at the Senior Center for several years now. In 2007, the event has regularly been scheduled for the second Monday of each month. However, for June, the event was moved up to the first Monday, June 4, which happens to be ONE DAY before the June primary. Coincidence? You decide.

The event is being billed as a Fathers' Day Celebration and includes a barbecue and picnic with a Scottish-based duo, Master Fiddler Sarah Naylor, and pianist Douglas Miller of the Isle of Skye, Scotland, performing, courtesy of Artists Now. Yet Fathers' Day does not take place until two weeks later, on Sunday, June 17. So why isn't this Mayor's Lunch following the regular schedule and taking place on Monday, June 11?

Artists Now is supposedly funding the Community Arts Center planned for the site where the cell tower is currently located. Are they providing entertainment on June 4 to help Frank get re-elected? Artists frequently perform at campaign events, which is all well and good when those events are billed as the partisan events they are and not an innocent outreach to seniors. It is hard to believe this is all happening by coincidence.

This is not the first time a Mayor's Lunch looks to be suspiciously timed for the eve of an election. Frank pulled the same stunt in 2005 with a Mayor's Lunch one day before the council primary. Two years earlier, she violated the ordinance against campaigning in public buildings when, in November 2003, she prominently displayed a "Meryl for Mayor" sign and balloons in the Senior Center lobby.

Scheduling this event to conveniently give herself a public platform one day before the election is a cheap shot and a desperate act. Frank has always blurred the lines between governing and campaigning, deliberately staging supposedly non-partisan events in ways that just happen to promote her, her candidates, and her agenda right before elections. In this case, the lunch should be considered a potential violation of the borough ordinance against campaigning in public buildings. All the mayor has to do is urge one person at the event to vote for her, and she has clearly violated the law.

Therefore, I call upon the Department on Aging to change this date in order to avoid potential illegal campaigning. And I urge seniors, don't let yourselves be "bribed" with food and entertainment. The direction of Highland Park's future is at stake here. Frank has hardly been responsive to seniors' concerns. She has monopolized senior lunches with her choice of topics, not allowing seniors to voice their questions and concerns on issues of their choice. She has taken more time and space in the Senior Center away from seniors and allocated it to programs for other constituents, especially children, in ways that shortchange the seniors who gave their money and hearts to build this Center.

For seniors who do attend this event, please be as vigilant as possible to note efforts on the mayor's part to bring attention to the election and to her candidacy. If and/or when this happens, even once, call attention publicly to the fact that the mayor is breaking the law by campaigning on borough property.

This abuse of scheduling is typical of the disingenuousness that has characterized Frank's entire tenure as mayor. Let's recognize it for what it is--a campaign event, pure and simple.