HILLSIDE, NJ — There may be a Clean Team in Hillside, but some council members and residents say that Hillside is not any cleaner. In addition, questions still remain as to how much the Clean Team is getting paid, under whose auspices they fall, whether the team has provided liability insurance to the township, and why there are almost no Hillside residents on the Clean Team.
On Oct. 3, 2016, an ally of Mayor Angela Garretson, Tyrese Wooten-Outlaw, posted an announcement on Facebook announcing the launching of Hillside’s Clean Team.
“Mayor Angela Garretson launches new Clean Team,” read the post.
But since then, people in Hillside want to know what, exactly, the seven-member Clean Team is doing in the township. And several of Hillside’s council members told LocalSource that they are not sure who the Clean Team members are and to whom do they answer.
According to documents obtained through an OPRA request, five of the Clean Team members live in Newark, one is from East Orange and one is from Hillside.
Artie Kobitz, a longtime Hillside resident, former Hillside Board of Health president, and current candidate for the Hillside town council, told LocalSource that he has been seeking answers regarding the cleanup crew since its inception, yet he has not received any definitive answers.
At the Feb. 27 workshop meeting of the Hillside town council, Kobitz addressed the council, telling them that he saw on the township’s bill list that the Clean Team are being paid as vendors.
“Shouldn’t they have to provide us with liability insurance?” Kobitz said at the meeting.
Township attorney Farrah Irving told Kobitz that she did not know how Clean Team members were getting paid.
“Regarding liability insurance, I’m not sure how folks are getting paid,” Irving said at the meeting.
Hillside resident Aldina Mitchell also addressed the council at the Feb. 27 meeting.
“This Clean Team in Hillside is a joke,” Mitchell said. “Do we really have one? Because in Newark they have a clean team and you actually see them out cleaning. I see them on all different streets because I work in Newark. But do we really have a Clean Team?”
Garretson did not return requests by LocalSource for comment as of press time. James Ballentine, acting director of the Department of Public Works, also did not return LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
At the Feb. 28 meeting of the council, Kobitz once again addressed the council.
“Now that we’ve caught this administration with their pants down,” Kobitz said.
“They’ve been lying for months about the Clean Team. We know that they don’t have a vendor’s license, we know that they don’t have a business license. They don’t require insurance but we make our senior citizens who want to have a little dance at the community center go out and get an insurance policy? They can’t screw up our catch basins.”
Kobitz said at the council meeting that since Clean Team members are being paid as vendors, he wanted to know who signed the purchase order.
“Who signed the P.O.?” Kobitz asked the council. “Because everybody’s saying the Clean Team doesn’t exist. Public Works is saying they don’t know anything about this. The B.A., he says it’s not under him. Who signed the P.O.?”
In fact, according to documents obtained through an OPRA request, the township’s chief financial officer, Faheem Raoof, signed the purchase orders, dated Feb. 3, on Feb. 22 in the amount of $210 paid to each of the seven members of the Clean Team. The PO also listed the expense as “Grant Reserves — Clean Communities Program.”
Hillside Business Administrator Ray Hamlin told LocalSource that the Clean Team is an initiative put forth by Garretson to beautify the township.
“The Clean Team is part of the mayor’s initiative to beautify the town,” Hamlin said in a March 6 email. “It’s comprised of up to 10 people that are deployed as per the township’s demands. They are not actual full-time employees but rather seasonal personnel. The people come from Hillside and surrounding communities as I understand.”
Council President Andrea Hyatt told LocalSource that the council has not received many answers to their requests for more information regarding the Clean Team.
“We have not been able to get complete comprehensive details regarding the Clean Team,” Hyatt said in a March 2 email. “We were told that they are independent contractors and are being paid as such. I cannot tell you specifically what they do.”
Council Vice President Gerald “Pateesh” Freedman said that he sees no improvement in the township despite its having a Clean Team.
“I don’t know what they’re doing,” Freedman told LocalSource in a phone call last week. “There’s nobody to complain to. We’re just gonna have to ride out the next 10 months. It’s going to be a long 10 months. We asked repeatedly, who is the Clean Team? Who do they answer to? There’s only one person who would know the answers. We wouldn’t care if they cleaned. Better days are coming. The countdown has begun.”