May 19, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere - Not Just in Cranford

Isn’t it a pity that the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders can silently erect a footbridge for the convenience of concert performers and their roadies in the blink of an eye yet a footbridge to ensure the daily safety of Cranford’s school kids apparently takes an act of God?

Isn’t it a pity that the Board of Chosen Freeholders justify dragging their feet when it comes to their complicity in Cranford’s flooding problems by putting the blame on Cranford’s governing body?

And isn’t it a pity that even though there is a Freeholder hailing from Cranford itself that that Freeholder, even when she was board chairwoman and up for reelection, didn’t position herself as a champion for the interests of central Union County residents, after all the water doesn’t stay in Cranford alone.

One has to wonder exactly why she recently decided to go on the attack against her home town rather than hold accountable the highest paid county employee for his lack of common courtesy to simply return a telephone call or two to an elected Cranford official. County Manager George Devanney has taken this tact before when he ignored the repeated telephone messages and requests for a call back from a Summit Councilwoman who was hot on the trail of information for the “Summit Report” on the relationship of county services received vs. county taxes levied against the municipality.

The county manager seems to repeatedly forget exactly what his role in county government really is, very simply put he is an employee, and an over paid one at that. That he has the audacity to not return the phone calls of elected municipal officials is cause for concern because he has admitted, in the Summit situation at least, that it was politically motivated . Devanney has inferred that there was no love lost between the all Democratic county administration and the Republican Common Council, but was confident that now that there was a Democratic Mayor in Summit that relationship and communications were sure to improve.

Perhaps Devanney has taken it upon himself to act as a self appointed monitor of which municipalities gain favor and which ones don’t. It is a sure bet that in the corporate world any CEO would receive his walking papers for not taking calls from a major investor. Residents of Summit and Cranford contribute a healthy chunk to the county coffers and therefore could certainly be considered major investors.

It is interesting that Freeholder Kowalski, rather than Chairman Estrada released a statement on behalf of the rest of the board and it is very obvious that the county information department drafted it for her.

As a life long Cranford resident Kowalski would be well acquainted with the history of flooding in the town. She certainly should be able to recall the flooding of her youth when in 1968, Springfield Ave, Nomahagen Park and parts of the Boulevard near the skeet range were under water as were many other parts of Central Union County near the county parks.

Surely she realizes the impact that Hurricane Floyd and the Tax Day Storm had on not only Cranford but her neighbors down river. But the tone of the statement almost makes her appear foolish and uninformed when she scolds her own mayor and governing body for not going through the proper channels. Perhaps Devanney in his infinite wisdom squelched any communications to open those channels and decided to put Cranford in its place.

Did it ever occur to the Freeholder that perhaps she could be pro-active? Did she at any point in this saga pick up the telephone or shoot the governing body an Email asking “yo, what is up here?” Does she read the local newspapers? Was she ever the least bit curious about what was going on, was she ever prompted to put a fire under anyone by following up with her state and federal representatives asking where does the county fit in?

An internet search for information on Rahway River Flooding turns up a plethora of government studies, reports and analysis going back decades from everyone from the Army Corp of Engineers to the DEP. There are those who would be surprised to learn that the City of Rahway uses the Rahway River that causes flooding in Cranford as its source of city drinking water. Also, in the early eighties that drinking water was contaminated with chemicals from manufacturing plants located on Fadem Road just off Route 22 in Springfield. That the same Rahway River that hosted canoe races caused flooding so bad in Rahway that they had to declare their public library a total loss and build a new one.

Cranford officials have long recognized that the flooding is a regional issue and not just confined to their town but where have the county freeholders been all of these years. One has to wonder why two long time freeholders Chester Holmes and Rick Procter both from Rahway have remained silent on the flooding issue even though they have also been heavily impacted in that city costing the taxpayers money. Could the anchor of the downtown revitalization, the Union County Performing Arts Center paid for by the county, somehow hold the answer?

To his credit Cranford Mayor Bob Puhak is trying to be optimistic now that he has recovered from getting Kowalski’s ill guided missive. Cranford would do well to proceed with caution when working with the county and it is imperative that they keep the residents and neighboring communities appraised of any discussions and progress that is made as the county has a knack of placing the blame for their own short comings and screw-ups on everyone else. And that would be a pity.