Attending a Highlands Council Meeting: Why Bother?

As awful, uncivil, rude, disinterested and possibly illegal as I think the Highlands Mayor and Council is for refusing to talk about, let alone take any action, to enable persons with some disabilities to participate at an official meeting, I also feel terribly sad for the residents of Highlands who really don’t seem to care much about the business going on in their town.

In spite of the borough having all the capabilities to present zoom coverage of meetings, and their refusal to do so, at least former Councilwoman Claudette D’Arrigo thinks the public has a right to know what’s going on at a meeting where they authorize the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, approve refunds for a variety of reasons and hire a very expensive overseer to be sure the construction of the borough hall -to-be goes along perfectly, and more.

Granted, the former councilwoman is not a professional at videoing meetings, and council members tend to mumble, talk fast, turn away from the mike or speak so softly they cannot always be heard, watching and listening to part of the meeting on Ms D’Arrigo’s camera is better than nothing.

My suggestion to interested residents is to listen to a tape of the meeting to be sure I was hearing right, and to find out what else happened that I missed at the meeting. Unfortunately, as good as that is ... you weren't have the opportunity to participate.

What I did hear was council unanimously hired what the attorney said was the lowest of 12 respondents to a request for proposals for a management consultant for the borough hall construction. That lowest bidder is MFS Construction of South Plainfield, New York, and Puerto Rico, whose principal civil engineer is Jose Fuentas.

The firm whose key principles have done considerable major construction oversights in the past for New Jersey Transit, the Department of Defense, National Park Service, some state agencies and others. But a bid of $263,921.28 to oversee construction of one $10 million building created by a well-recognized and experienced architect from the neighboring town seems like a very high “lowest bid.”

Borough Administrator Michael Muscillo assured the governing body the firm would be on the job every day to oversee all faces of construction, including equipment, time, and in general be the “eyes and ears on the project.” Everybody is looking forward to getting construction started, he concluded.

Committee reports were difficult to hear or understand, with one councilman simply spieling off a bunch of stuff from a prepared paper, another turning towards the mayor so words were mumbled, anther simply mumbling and another speaking so softly it was difficult to hear anything. Gotta love the mayor, she could almost always be heard.

During the public portion, in response to a Central Avenue resident asking for a progress report on the marina construction on Washington Avenue, which he said appears to be at a halt, Muscillo said he understood the owner had some “issues” and the administrator told him he needs to get moving and he wants to know what the holdup is.

No answers, yet, nor did anyone address whether the holdup has anything to do with the proposed redevelopment of the business district.

A representative of the First Aid Squad told the governing body the squad is purchasing a wonderful new ambulance and will be selling the one they bought used seven years ago and of course want and need the support of the borough for the purchase, part of an apparently well designed plan to ensure future transportation for emergency calls.

While I think the First Aid Squad is spectacular, I think their volunteer work is beyond reproach and everyone should be so grateful they are there, with the difficulty in getting volunteers out when needed, the need to pay for an outside squad on weekends, and time delays when volunteers are able to respond, it would seem a great time to be talking about regionalization of volunteer squads as well as schools.

And maybe it’s always been in the official notice, but tonight was the first time I heard that people wishing to address Council during the meeting could be removed from the meeting if they don’t conduct themselves in a proper manner, their remarks would be terminated in the speaker’s conduct is not proper and efficient enough for the meeting; nor can they talk about employment, appointment, terminations, negotiations, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of performances promotion or discipline and of course they only have three minutes to discuss whatever ends up being ok to bring up. Wow! Doesn’t sound like pubic participation is really being encouraged


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