Borough Council Meeting 1-23-23: Dodge Playground, Budget, Climate Action & Cannabis Complaints

Sadly, despite the impressive Climate Action Committee report, this meeting will forever be known for Bongholio. More on that further down.

You can watch the full meeting here and the agenda is here. Presentations from this meeting and prior ones can be found on the Rosenet Presentations page.

Mayor’s Update

In the Mayor’s update, he reminded residents that this was the last time for five years that the original Lincoln painting will grace the Council chambers. As covered in the last meeting, it will soon be on loan to the National Portrait Gallery. View more on that here in the HDM Trustees presentation from the January 9th meeting.

The mayor also provided an update on the Save the Drew Forest effort, noting that the deadline for applications is June for the Morris County Open Space Fund, which requires control of the property through a contract purchase agreement.  The mayor sent a request Drew’s attorney to meet, to get a conversation going now and to avoid losing another round of funding to save the Drew Forest. The mayor noted that University officials have publicly stated that they are fully committed to saving the Drew Forest, so he remains hopeful that positive action will be coming.

Committee Reports

In the next portion of the meeting, Council Members provided reports from committees, which can be heard in the full video.  Some notable items:

First Public Comment

In the first public comment period, 5 people spoke in support of the Climate Action Committee work, including Alan Swanson, Chair of the Loantaka Group of the Sierra Club. He spoke of how impressed he is with what Madison is doing to be forward-thinking about climate change and in recognizing that this is truly a local issue. He said Madison serves as a model for other towns about how to approach taking action now. One resident asked about re-using old equipment from the Dodge Field playground for Delbarton, which is in a sad state currently.

Agenda Discussion: Climate Action Committee Report

Next, there was an impressive presentation of the Climate Action report by Council Member Rachel Ehrlich.  The full set of slides and presentation are in the meeting video and are well-worth the time to watch, starting at minute 44. Highlights include:

  • The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, signed into law by President Biden in August 2022 has meaningful incentives for clean energy use, will deliver significant jobs creation, and will lead to innovation in developing clean technology.  This act creates an opportunity for Madison to fund future initiatives.
  • Ms. Ehrlich reminded listeners that actions at the state and local levels truly matter for progress to be made.
  • In Madison, Resolution 38-2022 was a starting point, creating a pilot program to explore potential climate actions.
  • Two reports followed this initiative with findings and recommendations:
    • 2023 Climate Action Recommendations (to be presented in the Feb. 13th meeting).

In the 2022 Climate Action Report presentation, a series of graphs and data points were presented showing Madison’s 12 climate goals, compared to where we are currently.  The detailed, but easy-to-follow presentation (which you can download here), walked through each of these goals and the 2022 Committee recommendations:

  1. Adopt the 12 energy and resiliency goals to form a 30-year path to aligning Madison with NJ state climate goals to reduce emissions and adapt to a changed climate. (Note, the 12 goals were detailed in the presentation).
  2. Implement the Climate Action Process, an annual measurement and reporting process to be conducted by the Climate Action Committee, to gauge progress and propose actions to meet goals.

Next, there was a preview of the 2023 recommendations:

Next steps were shared to conclude the presentation:

A few final highlights include:

  • Council member Ehrlich noted the importance of considering health equity in planning. The mayor echoed this point to underscore the outsized impact felt by climate change on the most economically disadvantaged within communities, even in Madison.
  • As part of the plan, Madison will seek to lead other towns in their own climate efforts, showing leadership and positioning Madison as a role model for climate action locally.
  • It was encouraging to note that a number of presentations that followed from other departments were already incorporating the recommendations from this effort into their planning process.

Agenda Discussion: Dodge Field Playground

Next in the meeting, Council member Deb Coen presented an update to the plans to replace the playground equipment and grounds at Dodge Field. You can view that presentation here or follow along in the recording. In the video, you can renderings of the design and details on the plans.

Some highlights:

  • Tree coverage will be preserved.
  • The design and equipment will be accessible to all, following ADA guidelines.
  • Equipment will be age appropriate and appeal to children with various interests and abilities.
  • Safety features include a fenced in playground, backless benches for monitoring play, and a rubberized surface.
  • The current timing is late summer/early fall for construction of roughly 45 days.
  • Unfortunately, it is unlikely equipment can be re-used for other playgrounds, as the equipment is in poured concrete and can’t be safety removed. Delbarton and Lucy D are up in the coming years for rehabilitation.

Agenda Discussion: Budget Hearing—Electric, Water, and Public Works

An overview by CFO/Assistant Borough Administrator Jim Burnet focused on transparency in the budgeted processing, sharing the hearing schedule:

Mr. Codey also shared the “famous” tax bill breakdown, showing the municipal portion in 2022 as just 22.9% of the total bill, with the remainder going to schools (61.9%) and to the County (15.2%):

In the next portion of the meeting, department heads presented their 2022 accomplishments, goals for 2023, and budgets.  The presentation provides detailed slides with this information and residents were once again reminded about the high level of commitment from these departments and the people who work there, and what it takes to deliver the high level of service residents have come to expect. You can view that presentation here.

Comments Related to Ordinances

At this point in the meeting, starting at 2:18 in the video, audience members rose to speak mostly for or against the upcoming second vote to repeal ordinances allowing for medicinal cannabis dispensaries. The speakers against this repeal were nearly all from outside of Madison, including someone from Lambertville’s Baked by the River, and a co-founder of Cannabis Equity Employment. One Madison resident spoke in favor of medical cannabis, and the majority spoke against it and reminded people that medical cannabis is available within 10 miles of Madison and soon will be even closer in Morristown. Edward “Lefty” Grimes, a disabled medical marijuana and disability activist from East Hanover who makes the circuit at Council meetings in our area next spoke in a heated exchange.  He was also livestreaming and filming speakers and the audience and was admonished by Madison legal counsel multiple times.

Following this was a man dressed in a bong costume who refused to give his name, calling himself Bongholio and singing a song about all the NJ towns where medical cannabis is not available. His comments accused the Council of being childish in their behavior and denying people medicine.

This group spoke again in another comment period, escalating their passionate, but disrespectful messaging, ultimately leading to the Madison Police being asked to be on hand if needed to regain order in the meeting.

It went on and on, but Borough business finally resumed, and the Council voted in favor of all the proposed ordinances and consent agenda items.

Final Comments

When the meeting finally approached its end, well after 11 pm, two more speakers rose to talk in favor of Madison’s climate change action.  They included resident and volunteer Claire Whitcomb, and Christine Clarke, who is running for State Senate in District 25, which Madison is now part of, following redistricting.  That seat is currently held by Anthony Bucco. More about Ms. Clarke can be seen on her campaign website.

This meeting was lengthy and exhausting, but important business was conducted and the Madison Democratic Committee thanks our Council members, Mayor Conley, the Borough Administration and the Madison Police for conducting themselves professionally, and for the many positive actions being undertaken across all aspects of the Borough government.

The next Council meeting will be Monday, February 13th at 8 pm.