HILLSIDE, NJ — Controversy continues over Hillside’s community pool, as members of the pool commission continue to clash with some members of the town council.
While those on the pool commission say that things are ready to go and the necessary pool personnel are hired, problems between the council and pool commission persist.
Things seemed to come to a head at the May 23 town council meeting, the agenda for which listed an ordinance calling for the abolishment of the pool commission altogether.
According to some council members, who named Mayor Angela Garretson as the author of the ordinance, the move to abolish the pool commission was supposed to be included in the agenda as a resolution, not an ordinance, and that because of the mistake, it was tabled. Other members of council told LocalSource that they knew nothing about the ordinance and that Garretson put it on the agenda without their knowledge.
Garretson did not respond to LocalSource’s request for comment as of press time.
Issues regarding the pool arose when Hillside Councilman and pool liaison Sip Whitaker, along with pool commission member Arthur Kobitz, questioned the township clerk and council members as to why resident pool applications and fees, along with employment applications and resumes that contain personal information, were being dropped at the clerk’s office and then dumped in a corner. In addition, the two took issue with council members after the files were allegedly sent to an unsecured office on pool premises.
Both Whitaker and Kobitz have accused some council members of deliberately trying to stop the pool from opening.
In addition, questions remain as to when the pool will actually be ready to open.
Hillside Council President Andrea Hyatt told LocalSource that the pool commission knew the files were at the clerk’s office at town hall.
“They chose not to pick them up,” Hyatt said in a recent phone interview.
According to Hyatt, the files are secure.
“Our clerk confirmed that all files were secure,” Hyatt said. “She locked the files. They are, and always have been, secure.”
According to Hyatt, the council has been corresponding with the pool commission since January.
“I am for the pool but I’m about doing it right,” Hyatt said in response to the accusation that she, along with Hillside Councilwoman Diane Murray-Clements, have been trying to stymie the pool opening. “Let’s make all corrections now and not put a Band-Aid on it. The goal is to put the township forward, not bickering or fighting.”
Hillside Councilman Gerald “Pateesh” Freedman told LocalSource that the pool has been an issue for decades.
“The pool has been a trouble spot for 20 years that I’m familiar with it,” Freedman said in a recent phone interview. “The summer catches people off guard annually.”
Freedman said that he was unsure what the pool commission was up to.
“I don’t know what they’ve been doing,” he said. “There’s a pool commission and the pool commission is supposed to do pool stuff. It’s not the clerk’ job to take care of the pool — that’s the pool commission’s job.”
Freedman also questioned why Garretson took over the pool office in order to create an extension of her own office.
“I don’t know why the mayor did that,” Freedman said. “I know it doesn’t belong in the municipal clerk’s office. That’s not their job to do the pool. I would think the people on the pool commission would roll up their sleeves and get things done.”
But according to Kobitz, that’s exactly what the pool commission has been doing.
At a meeting of the commission two weeks ago, said Kobitz, all of the necessary pool personnel were hired.
“We hired a manager, assistant manager and lifeguards,” Kobitz said in a recent phone interview. “All personnel have been hired. If the pool doesn’t open, that’s on other people. It’s now up to the DPW.”
According to Kobitz, DPW personnel said that the pool would be ready in time for the pool’s official opening.
“Public works said it would be done on time,” Kobitz said. “It’s their responsibility to get their pool up and open, not the pool commission. This is public works, which is strictly under the mayor’s jurisdiction.
Whitaker told LocalSource that he questioned the motivations behind the entire debacle.
“Hopefully, this is not about politics,” Whitaker said in a recent phone interview. “If the mayor thinks she can do a better job with the pool, then that’s OK. If this is a personal vendetta and they are hurting the residents, then that’s not right.”
Hillside acting Deputy Township Clerk Ashley Wyatt, who has had an administrative role with the pool since 2015, said that things changed when Kobitz was appointed in 2017 to the pool commission.
In an April 25 email from Wyatt to council members, obtained by LocalSource through an Open Public Records Act request, Wyatt called out Kobitz as the primary reason for not returning to her pool duties.
“Once Arthur Kobitz was appointed to the pool commission in 2017, I knew that my time with the pool commission would no longer be a viable option,” Wyatt wrote. “During the fall of 2016 on various occasions, both in writing and verbally, Mr. Kobitz indicated that I was unable to read and lazy.”
Wyatt, who stated in the email that she holds a master’s degree in corporate and business law, wrote that she found Kobitz’s comments to be “extremely offensive.”
In an April 24 email to Hyatt, obtained by LocalSource through an Open Public Record Act request, Kobitz noted Garretson’s unwillingness to cooperate with the pool commission.
“The situation we have here is that the day-to-day operations for all departments, except for the clerk’s office, falls under the mayor’s jurisdiction and we all know that’s not working out for cooperation,” Kobitz wrote.
While the pool commission and town council continue to battle it out, the DPW has had its own set of problems as far as readying the pool for the season.
Sources tell LocalSource that township DPW workers were caught several weeks ago cleaning the million-gallon pool with water from a fire hydrant instead of the dedicated water line.
According to these sources, the hydrant has since been locked down and is only accessible with a key, which is in the possession of the Hillside Fire Department.
But James Ballentine, DPW supervisor, told LocalSource in a June 6 phone interview that he believes the department was authorized to use the hydrant.
“We have used the hydrant to clean the pool in the past,” Ballentine said. “The day in question, the water company was out there. I believe we are allowed to use the hydrant and I believe the water company was assisting us. We’ve acquired a meter for the hydrant in question, so hopefully that will abate any further issue.”
According to Hillside Fire Chief Dominick Naples, DPW workers were discovered using the hydrant to clean the pool by a New Jersey American Water employee.
“I believe, in the past, the DPW has used a fire hydrant to fill the pool, but I cannot confirm this,” Naples told LocalSource in a May 22 email.
Naples also stated that he was unsure whether the hydrant was used with or without permission from the water company.
“I do know the DPW was using the nearby fire hydrant to clean the pool last week and was randomly discovered by a NJAW employee working in the area,” Naples said. “The water company then immediately put out a stop order to the DPW personnel who were cleaning and prepping the pool for this summer. NJAW then contacted me to advise me of the improper use of the fire hydrant in question. I personally responded to the pool and ordered a shutdown of using the fire hydrant as well. As far as I know, only fire departments are permitted, by the water company, to use fire hydrants. As of last Thursday, the DPW has not used the fire hydrant.”