HILLSIDE, NJ — Issues surrounding the opening of the Hillside Municipal Pool have those involved in the latest controversy trying to stay afloat.
The pool, which is located on Central Avenue and slated to open around Memorial Day, is at the center of the latest feud between the township’s Pool Commission members and some members of the Hillside Town Council.
According to Hillside Councilman and mayoral candidate Sip Whitaker, who is also the council’s pool liaison, there is currently no one to accept pool applications or fees from residents who want to sign up to use the pool. To make matters worse, Whitaker said applications that have been filled out have been transferred to an unsecure building on the pool’s premises.
Whitaker is calling out some members of the council, alleging that they are trying to hinder the opening of the pool.
According to Whitaker, council members have been trying to push all responsibilities regarding the pool onto the Pool Commission. Whitaker also claims that, although township clerks managed the application process for the pool last year, they have refused to handle the process for this season.
“The pool needs staff to gather residents’ information, take applications and fees, etc.,” Whitaker told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “The residents are bringing applications to the clerk’s office, and the clerk is throwing them in the corner somewhere, waiting for us to pick them up. Where are we supposed to put them?”
Although the Pool Commission is actively seeking staff and holding interviews to handle that application process, Whitaker said no one has been hired yet. In addition, Whitaker is calling out Hillside Councilwoman and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Diane Murray-Clements for allegedly instructing township clerk Lorraine Messiah to have residents’ pool applications sent to the pool premises, where they are allegedly being kept inside an unlocked office.
Messiah did not return LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
“The issue is private information being kept at the pool and no one is there,” Whitaker said. “It’s not secure. Lorraine and Diane managed to have the files moved over to the pool office. Applications are things that should be kept private.”
Murray-Clements told LocalSource that leaders must lead by example.
“As a former volunteer member and former council liaison of the pool committee, I did not wait for others to give me the ‘OK’ to hire employees, communicate with the Department of Public Works to start annual maintenance or hire vendors,” Murray-Clements said in a May 22 email. “I took the initiative to make things happen because I know the pool is a valuable asset to the community.
Councilman Whitaker has his right to his opinions. However, I caution him to talk less and do more.”
Murray-Clements also said that as the former pool liaison, she worked with several Pool Commission members to ensure that local youth were hired and trained to work at the pool, that pool applications were mailed and that a cash receipt system was implemented to avoid any theft.
Arthur Kobitz, a member of the Pool Commission who is running as councilman-at-large on Whitaker’s ticket, told LocalSource that there used to be a pool office inside Town Hall, but that is no longer the case.
“There is no pool office for anyone to work in before the pool opens,” he said.
Kobitz said that he would like a pool office, whether at Town Hall or at another location. According to Kobitz, the current pool office is an old building with warped doors which are unable to be locked.
“This process needs to begin in April,” Kobitz said. “It’s not being done because the clerk’s office is out of control,” he said, alleging that the township’s current clerks do not have the proper clerk’s certification. “There is currently no one to do purchase orders or to get what’s needed. There is no one to take money or applications. The clerk said she does not want people to come into Town Hall to register for the town pool.”
Kobitz is also taking issue with a letter sent by Murray-Clements to Lisa Bonanno, chairwoman of the Pool Commission, stating that the councilwoman expects Bonanno to field residents’ calls and emails regarding the pool.
“This email is to confirm that all pool materials including but not limited to the file cabinets have been moved to the pool office located on Central Avenue for safekeeping,” Murray-Clements stated in a May 3 email provided to LocalSource by Kobitz. “The township clerk office will direct all questions from the public directly to your email and cell phone. Please provide another contact number if you prefer not to use your cell phone. Job applications have been collected in the office and will be placed in the Pool mailbox. Please advise residents that all pool memberships and payments should be directed to the Pool Office. Due to security reasons, the township clerk office cannot be responsible for collecting any monies.”
Bonanno, in a May 14 response emailed to Murray-Clements, said she did not want her personal contact information given to residents.
“I do not want my personal cell number and email given out to the public,” Bonanno wrote. “Additionally, I believe the pool has its own telephone number, making this a moot point. This number should be made available to the public immediately. Additionally, I would prefer my personal cell to remain private … otherwise we will continue to provide the general telephone number available to the public for any Town Hall business.”
Kobitz, in a May 15 email to the council, Pool Commission members and the Hillside Township attorney, called out both Murray-Clements and Hillside Town Council President Andrea Hyatt.
“When people volunteer to sit on boards for no pay and take up their own time, council members should appreciate them,” Kobitz wrote. “Everyone knows that Diane (Murray-Clements) is trying to see the pool go down and I believe council president voted no to put money into the pool last year, which just doesn’t make sense because it’s the only recreation that makes money for the town. If some of the council members wish to have the pool office out of Town Hall, then more money should be put into the budget, which is a waste of taxpayer dollars, then an office should be rented and we should hire someone to work there.”
Kobitz also stated in the letter that he was concerned about the personal records of residents being kept at an unsecure location.
“I also have an issue of moving records to the pool where it is not secured,” he wrote. “If we had a certified clerk, they would have known the clerk is the keeper of all town records. How do you think the public is going to react that personal records which may include Social Security numbers, possibly DL’S etc. etc. are not secure? So if Councilwoman Murray took this foolish move on her own, then what is the council president going to do about it? If Councilwoman Hyatt approved this move, then she is part of the problem.”
Hillside Democratic Chair Anthony Salters said that issues regarding the pool are not new.
“The problems existed last year and a Band-Aid remedy to get through the summer was done by the administration,” Salters told LocalSource in a May 17 email. “The council has had the same council representative for two years in a row. To the other council members’ defense, there was no report or request for emergent relief of funds to completely fix the pool by the council representative since January 2016 to now. Rather than set alarms off now to blame others, pool commissioners should take responsibility by preparing a comprehensive report to detail what needs to be fixed once and for all and have the due diligence to make sure it’s done working along with the administration and council instead of running to the print media. Of course, the pool will be fixed in time for the summer season.”
Kobitz said he wants to get to the bottom of the situation.
“Why would two council people slow down the opening of the pool and hurt the residents of the town?” he said. “Is it to embarrass people running for mayor and council or is it to hurt the residents of the town?”
According to Murray-Clements, the scheduled opening of the pool is still up in the air, stating the reason is in part due to the fact that the Pool Commission has not held regular meetings.
“Maintenance has not been completed, employees have not been interviewed and the pool has not been filled with water,” she said. “The Pool Commission has not held regular meetings. Last week’s meeting was cancelled and Councilman Whitaker stated in his own words that he has not attended any pool meetings. I am unsure why he is confused about why nothing has happened. The Pool Commission and Councilman Whitaker are responsible for the pool opening, not the council, not the clerk’s office, not the mayor. We cannot continue to play the blame game anymore. This is just another example of why everyone is not meant to be in a leadership position.”
Whitaker said that the council and commission must work together to see the pool open successfully for another season.
“It goes back to us being a unit and working together,” he said.