Two and half weeks after Sandy hit Scotch Plains, the Mayor and Council held their first public conference and business meetings where they discussed the storm's impact and what it means for the township.
Mayor Mary DePaola announced at the 7 p.m. Conference Meeting and the 8 p.m. Business Meeting that the council will hold a Town Hall Meeting for the public with representatives from PSE&G within the next 2-3 weeks to discuss Sandy.
The 7 p.m. conference meeting began with the manager's discussion items, the first being a "Super Storm Sandy Update."
In the update, Township Manager Henry Underhill discussed the township's current involvement in the clean-up process, which Underhill said fully began yesterday. The current process has crews making a full loop of the entire town to clean up debris. He added that all debris should be removed within the next 12 days.
In addition, Underhill added that crews have been working hard since the storm to remove trees from streets and wires from homes.
Police Chief Brian Mahoney, who replaced Paul Malool as the township's Office of Emergency Coordinator, was also available to comment and answer questions on the impact of Sandy in Scotch Plains.
"This storm was of epic proportions," Mahoney said. "I've been here seven years and have never seen anything quite like it."
Mahoney stated that he has been in touch with FEMA on a regular basis to see what the reimbursement costs would be. According to Mahoney, he believes there is still a couple of months of work left to do.
When the floor opened to the public, Scotch Plains resident Albert Muller addressed the council about the public's responsibility in emergency situations such as Sandy.
"There are steps we as the public can take," Muller said. "In a way, we have to take care of ourselves."
Mahoney agreed with Muller and laughed that he would add his name to the volunteer list. However, joking aside, Mahoney said he was serious about getting more people involved as volunteers during emergency situations.
Mahoney and the council members agreed that they learned a lot from Hurricane Sandy and will be making a lot of changes for possible future emergencies.
DePaola added that it is going to require participation with the public for better communication during these types of situations.
One resident explained that he and his wife did not have any internet or cell phones so had no way of receiving information.
Mahoney addressed the residents concerns and assured him that it is something they are aware of and working on.
"We need boots on the ground." Mahoney said.
He added how Fanwood did a great job communicating to residents, but also that Scotch Plains did not have the luxury to send their police force door-to-door since the township is so much larger than Fanwood.
Mahoney said in the future they will need residents to volunteer and be able to check on their neighbors and keep them informed with new information.
Additionally, as the OEM he plans to coordinate open emergency management meetings for the public at town hall for those residents who can make it there .
Longtime Scotch Plains resident, Kimberly Nix addressed the council very distraught about their presence following Sandy.
Nix said she spent many days following the storm inside Town Hall to charge her phone and keep warm and never once saw any of the council members and only saw Mayor DePaola on one occasion.
Nix said she is very invested in Scotch Plains and felt the mayor and council were not as invested.
"We(the Township of Scotch Plains) are not united," Nix said.
DePaola replied by saying "I was here everyday." She also mentioned seeing Nix at least three times.
Additionally, DePaola mentioned that on Nov. 1 they held a meeting in the dark at town hall and she was also on a PSE&G conference call every morning. She added that herself and some of the other council members were also without power for 14 days.
"We lived through exactly the same thing you lived through," she said.
According to DePaola, Deputy Mayor Bo Vastine and Councilman Ed Saridaki drove around posting notices in numerous locations following the storm, including phone poles.
Vastine addressed Nix by saying she should also keep in mind that in addittion to serving on the council voluntarily each member also has their own family, home and job to take care of.
"As much as we understand your frustration and feelings of isolation… we too felt isolated, the frustration and anger at times," Vastine said.
He added that he also does not feel this absolved the township of their mistakes.
Nix replied by saying she felt disappointed in her council rather than angry.
Councilman Saridaki and Councilman Marcus also provided Nix with a rebuttal.
Marcus stated that he did not want to sit there and defend himself, but did comment to Nix, adding that he was glad a forum would be in place for residents to express similar concerns and suggestions.
"We take what you say very seriously," Marcus said. "We will try to figure out ways to improve our response"
Saridaki told Nix that he had opened his own home to neighbors so that neighbors could take advantage of his hot water during the days without power. He also said he burned four tanks of gas while checking on people around town and running his business in Berkley Heights.
As things move forward following Sandy's landfall in Scotch Plains, Mahoney mentioned some of his suggestions for future emergencies.
In addition to having residents volunteer, Mahoney said he would also use Town Hall employees to assume emergency management roles, including someone in the Municipal Building that would be available to answer all questions. He also said they would look into a plan for residents to loan generators to those still without power once their own power has been restored.
At the eventual Town Hall meeting the council and Mahoney said they will be better prepared to answer all questions and would welcome any feedback or suggestions from the public.
Muller also wanted to thank the town employees for their hard work throughout town, especially the police officers who he witnessed knocking on doors checking on residents.
Councilman Marcus also thanked the town employees and his colleagues on council, as well as the group from St. Bart's who delivered coffee and donuts to residents on his street who were still without power on Nov. 11.
"Those types of people and residents make us the good community that we are," Marcus said.
Check back with scotchplains.patch.com for more information on the Nov. 20 conference and business meetings.
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