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Letter: Slater Addresses Post-Election Silence

Longtime resident and volunteer says he was honoring the wishes of the Board.

For some reason there were a number of people waiting to hear my comments after the Bond vote Monday evening. As I stated to the reporters at the time I was letting our President and Superintendent do the talking. Nobody silenced me- I chose to honor their wishes and let them respond post mortem to the defeat which, I believe was the right thing to do .

The fact of the matter is that the citizens of Westfield spoke loud and clear with nearly a 3-1 margin against the referendum. The Board will be meeting next Tuesday and publicly discuss the facts and begin the work on how next to proceed. There are two realities though- The town spoke loudly not wanting this referendum as it was offered and the more pressing reality is that we have serious problems with our roofs. It is my belief that we as a Board can come up with a solution that a majority of people will be comfortable with. 

It is also my hope that we can heal the misplaced anger and sometimes malicious blame that has been thrown at 9 volunteers and administrators who take their position very seriously- and always have the best intentions for the 6,000 students and taxpayers we represent. I know some believe we have other agendas- and I welcome those folks to join the 9 of us after midnight most Tuesday evenings (actually early Wednesday mornings) while we do the hard work that comes with the office. I, for one, was elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility and pledge to continue to keep that discussion alive at every meeting and future negotiations.

I've lived and worked in Westfield for 21 years- and remain very proud of our schools and our community. I know we can all heal these wounds and find solutions going forward. I hope to see you at one of our next meetings. Your voice truly matters. I continue to feel honored serving alongside the other 8 outstanding men and women on the Board of Education and representing all the people of Westfield.

To quote the now late Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along."

Mitch Slater

Member, Westfield Board of Education

UnionAtty September 28, 2012 at 01:16 PM
As someone who is responsible for developing policy for our children's education, I am not sure which I find more absurd - the fact that Mr. Slater felt Rodney King was the best source for a quote to defend himself in connection with our children's education or the fact that his letter was basically a lecture to the residents about how hard he works. Sorry, but many of us work hard. What this referendum really boiled down to is the fact that the board tried to sneak an unnecessary expense into the referendum, got called out on it and then could not adequately justify it to the town. To make matters worse, the board now wasted $30,000 on something that could have been made part of the November election but made the calculated risk to have an early election (with the hope that poor turnout would probably carry the day for them). Now, the town has to spend more money to hold ANOTHER special election. Fiscal responsibility? I really think not.
E Liz September 28, 2012 at 01:45 PM
This is who people were waiting to hear from? I don't have children in the Westfield School system, so I am unfamiliar with members of the BOE, but this seems rather unprofessional and a bit patronizing. I work hard too, it doesn't mean I can overcharge my clients or sell them something they don't want or need. Also, when my clients ask me to break out pricing for them so they can decide which aspects of a proposal they want to proceed with, and which they don't, I gladly oblige. Also, if people are angry, it's a little presumptious to call it "misplaced". Some people got angry because they were basically being forced to vote "NO" for something they felt strongly for (new roofs) because it would have meant they were voting "YES" for something they felt strongly against (turf/lights/etc). I feel that if someone was angry about being put in that position, that anger is justified, not misplaced.
David Wheeler September 28, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Mitch, really? I continue to be astounded by how of touch you seem to be. You lean on the fact that you're a volunteer, as if that's an excuse for something. No one asked you to run for the board. Cut the nonsense, you ran because you wanted to run, for whatever your reasons were. We all work hard, we all volunteer for various activities. Are expecting us to thank you for putting together a bond that very few wanted...because your'e a volunteer. Your letter shows very little leadership and accountability...but hey, that's okay, because you're a hard working volunteer. Thanks!
Gary McCready September 28, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Few comments - "could have been made part of the November election ": As of about a month ago, I did not see a clear indication/legal opinion that the NJ law restricting bond referendums to specific dates allowed a bond to be voted on as part of a general election. I don't think anyone else found a clear statement on that either. Would make sense on at least one level though... - The BoE, like many boards, is in the usually mostly thankless position of trying to accomplish goals that may benefit a minority but justifying them to the majority of it's stakeholders. As such, they may make choices (bundling) that they hope will result in all the goals being achieved. Obviously, it did not work this time. And in this day where the forum of discussion is more and more online, the BoE needs an official voice to respond at times in an online forum, otherwise those from the board who post become defacto spokespeople when they may not be the official voice. This "online" problem will not go away, and the earlier the BoE figures out how to best communicate online, the sooner better information distribution should benefit everyone. Yes, I'm tired of correcting stuff.
RDZ September 28, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Is anyone else extremely bothered by a member of the Westfield Board of Education quoting Rodney King? Mr Slater you do realize you quoted a man who was recently pulled dead from the bottom of his pool due to the fact that he was not only drunk but high on cocaine and marijuana. I am horribly surprised that out of the wide world of quotable figures both past and present, you sir would choose Rodney King who seemingly was a terrible person from the day of his birth. Thankfully, through this letter and the insight it has provided as to the thinking of our Board of Education I now, thanks to my hard work, will be looking into private school for my child.
Jeff F September 28, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Mitch, over the last few weeks, I too found SOME of the online postings unnecessarily harsh toward their depiction of the BOE. But as a public figure, you and the board need to set aside those 5% of the comments as the typical spineless and anonymous dreck you'll see on every internet blog, and focus instead on the points that majority of the tax-paying citizens raised: 1) while a lighted turf field may be nice in attempt to keep up with the Jones (surrounding towns) it would be a fiscally irresponsible expenditure in our towns current economic environment, and 2) no one cares that bond issues have been bundled in the past--maybe all those previous instances were bundling "need to have" expenditures that made sense, instead of what was being attempted this year. While I saw that as a financially IRRESPONSIBLE maneuver, and thus voted against the bond, others may have settled upon "under-handed" as their description of the bundling, and that may be where the backlash you are seeing is coming from. Whether you're in the business world or a volunteer, it just takes one "oops" to wipe out ten "attaboys".....and Monday's vote was certainly not the latter.
South Westfielder September 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Mr. Slater, I think it is hypocritical to insist that others "heal the misplaced anger and sometimes malicious blame that has been thrown at 9 volunteers and administrators who take their position very seriously- and always have the best intentions for the 6,000 students and taxpayers we represent", when you yourself are also responsibile for it. Afterall, it is how you and others got their seat on the Board. Jeff F, just because one is anonymous doesn't mean that she/he reflects just 5% out there or that her/his comments are not valid. I have been one of those people who have posted harsh things about specific members only after they have used words like "coward" and "bully" to describe anyone whose opinion differed from theirs. For the record, those like you, Jeff F. who think by putting a first name and last initial means your opinion matters more than those who use another moniker, you are no less anonymous.
Nancy A. Sternbeck September 28, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Why does the Patch let people write such junk like South Westfielder always does without making them use their own name? Sounds like the true hypocrite is a person that makes up a false name (like South?) and hides behind it when sharing their thoughts. Back where I grew up in Ohio we called those people chickens.
neveragain September 28, 2012 at 11:23 PM
The issue of people posting critical comments anonymously through pseudonyms was also criticized in a recent Scotch Plains forum, with those posters being called "spineless" and "un-American" by an alleged candidate for town council. As was pointed out there, anonymous public criticism is a truly American and longstanding tradition. If you were paying attention in your American Revolution history class, you might recall that pseudonymous politcal commentary was a prominent force in our struggle for independence - garnering public support for the nascent drive for independence. And no, Nancy, our first NJ governor, William Livingston, a prolific pseudonymous pamphleteer, was not a chicken and neither are those folks who choose to remain anonymous here, mainly to avoid the personal attacks that so frequently occur in these forums.
Luke September 29, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Mitch do you really think your that important?
A.John Blake September 29, 2012 at 10:16 AM
Mr.Slater, It was reported that you were asked not to give a statement.If that is correct, I think such a request,by the Board, was improper and compliance by you also improper. At this point, it is irrelevant. No one should detract from the hard work of the members of the Board. Disagreement with the actions of the Board is not an attack on the Members. It is a lesson which they should study.Volunteerism does not mean omnipotence . Volunteers make mistakes. Good intentions may lead some to conduct that is not appreciated.The Board must be reminded that they are representatives of the taxpayers.There are boundaries within which they must work. Just because something may be desirable does not mean they should try to get it, no matter what. The reason the roofs are in the shape they are is because the Board allowed them to deteriorate over time and spent the money set aside for them on expenditures the Board thought was more important at the time.Whether they were right or wrong is debatable. Someone hit on the idea of floating a bond to do repairs and nominating it as a capital improvement.The Bond would be outside the budget and the normal repairs could be done outside the 2% cap.This was less than candid with the taxpayer.The bundling of the turf field ended credibility on this referendum. Now do what you were elected to do. Work within the budget you were given and receive the praise of those you represent. A.John Blake
Richard Brautigam September 29, 2012 at 11:52 AM
As a Westfield resident of over 30 years, I hope we can turn the results of this vote in to effective change at the BOE. Starting with the Dolan rehire, which no business in the economic environment of the last 4 years would have considered, this Board shows how out of touch they are with economic reality. I would be happy to attend and support a Taxpayers Association that could provide a focus for the disaffection all of us feel towards both the BOE and insensitive town council. Rodney King? Amazing.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I am sure that in Ohio, they had a lot of names for a lot of things and know a lot about chickens.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 12:09 PM
@neveragain, there are reasons - good reasons why people remain anonymous. To your point, just like the posting in Scotch Plains, calling those who post anonymously "cowards", "bullies", and "chickens" as well as daring them to confront them in person in front of the Board or Council is like the street bully who tells the less powerful kid to meet him / her behind the schoolyard to fight. Dismissing the comments, feedback or criticism is a way to deflect answering quesitons and dealing with the problem.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 12:11 PM
@ A. John Blake, he should have been able to respond before now, but it was ABSOLUTELY appropriate for him to defer the first comments to the Board President and Superintendent.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 12:22 PM
@ David, as much as I have posted harsh things and disagree strongly with Mr. Slater and others on the Board, we do owe each of them a "thank you", even when a bad mistake is made. I cannot imagine how difficult making decisions for the public is. Everyone, including me, needs to expect that public figures are not perfect, will make mistakes, and hopefully learn from them. How else will we ever have good leaders in the future or weed out the bad ones early? Who knows, maybe some will take the lessons learned from this and grow, become better leaders, but it takes honest self-reflection, candidness, honesty and a willingness to look weaknesses in the face and not deny them.
Westfieldmom September 29, 2012 at 12:46 PM
What about just fixing the roof's? My family has been here for 150 years.
South Westfielder September 29, 2012 at 12:56 PM
@ Richard, if you're angry with the Dolan rehire or that there was no money for the roofs, remember that half (if not more) of the current Board was NOT on the Board at the time monies were not set aside and Dolan's contract renewed. What we should ALL do more of is go to the BoE meetings in person whether or not we decide to speak in front of the group or not. All of the members have encouraged attendance.
South-side resident September 29, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Amen, you said it best, John Blake. Although, I do agree with South Westfielder that it was appropriate for Mr. Slater to defer his comments until after the BOE made a unified statement. If they had prevented him from commenting at all, that would be troubling. I think the biggest point for Mr. Slater to take away from these comments is that most of us volunteer in some capacity, and most of us without some of the perks that undeniably come along with sitting on the BOE. Being a volunteer doesn't give you carte blanche, even if you do have good intentions. The BOE bundled these two items together very quickly, and without really making a good efffort to clearly and widely advertise their intentions to taxpayers, who CERTAINLY would have voiced IN ADVNACE that the idea would not fly -- thus saving time and the $30,000 special election cost. Once the issue of the bundling was fully absorbed by most residents, they made it very clear, very fast that it was not acceptable. The BOE chose to proceed with blinders on. BOE -- please own your role in this, and try to move forward with the lessons learned.
Tom Bradley September 29, 2012 at 04:29 PM
http://www.nbc.com/news-sports/today-show/2012/04/what-did-we-learn-from-rodney-king/
Jeff B September 29, 2012 at 05:09 PM
John, I commend you on your eloquent description of the circumstances surrounding this bond issue. In my opinion, volunteer or not, the Board deserves condemnation for their conduct - not the least of which is taking an unnecessary course of action that wasted tens of thousands - and may waste that much more for a second vote, if it could have originally been held in November as an unbundled vote (about which the facts are not clear/known). That said, it has been a challenge to get fiscally-informed people on the Board for decades - that are willing to consider the unpopular positions that we really can't afford everything and that maybe the union (as opposed to individual teachers) really isn't in it "for the children". I am pleased to have Mitch Slater on the Board and note that he was one of three that opposed the vote bundling. I especially encourage him to inform the community if the Board is going to pull another fast one on the 2013 teachers' contract negotiations.
SCREETCH September 29, 2012 at 07:03 PM
DON'T BE A SLATER HATER
A.John Blake September 29, 2012 at 08:47 PM
To South Westfielder, I agree that we must realize that This Board is not made up of the same people who rushed to sign the union contract or rehire Ms.Dolan. The Board ,in turn, must realize that such actions as that rehire and the rushed contract signing is not in keeping with the representative nature of the Board. The reasons given for both the rehire and the contract signing were as dubious as the reasons given for the " necessity" of a turf field.No one believed it except the Kool Aid drinkers. If it were not reported correctly that the Board did not want Mr.Slater to speak, then he was polite to allow them to have the first comment. If he were "censored" it was wrong. The problem does not stem from any one vote or action. It comes from any belief by the Board that a specific plan or expenditure has to be finessed so that the Board can push through what might fail an honest exam and debate. If you can't repair the roofs within your budget, tell us plainly why. You might be amazed how generous the voter might be if he fully understands a situation. The Board needs our support so they may follow the wishes of the voter. What happened years ago should only be seen as a lesson for the future. A.John Blake
Jeff B September 29, 2012 at 10:04 PM
John, you should consider running for the Board. Don't forget that with the vote now held in November, candidates with broader appeal should have a much better chance.
Luke September 30, 2012 at 12:27 AM
With the election done and with the vote totally one sided will anyone on the board come out and just say we made a poor decision?
JC October 01, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Regarding the proposed adding of solar panels, with current technology, I believe the payback is 15 -20 years to recoup the upfront costs. By then the technology will be outdated. With current technology, the efficiency of the panels decreases yearly. Per the article below, substantially better solar panels may be available by the end of 2013. Why not wait. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/solar3d-unveils-working-prototype-solar-070100079.html
JC October 01, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Below excerpted from the above article: “We were thrilled to see our Solar3D Cell outperform the basic solar cell by producing 250% of the power of the basic cell,” continued Nelson. “Its two key powerful performance characteristics make that possible. First, it is substantially more efficient in producing power. Second, a wide-angle light collection feature on the cell surface allows our 3D Solar Cell to collect light at more times throughout the day, month and year, an attribute unique in the solar industry. We believe that conventional solar cell technology, based on a 2D design, has reached its limits and a major breakthrough is required to lower the cost of solar energy. We believe that breakthrough is in 3D light trapping and conversion, and that our device will allow us to achieve grid parity.” Mr. Nelson concluded, “Our total focus now turns toward bringing this breakthrough technology to market. Our next major step will be to produce a manufacturing prototype, which is required to undertake a pilot production run in early 2013. The pilot run will prove the 3D Solar Cell’s performance characteristics in a production environment and lead us to a manufacturing partner and entry into the marketplace by the end of 2013.”
Jeff B October 01, 2012 at 03:42 PM
JC, here is an interesting and detailed article on the iffy future of (current technology) solar in Union County from yesterday's paper. I will bet that Union County has to make good on that debt guarantee, which would mean the program will end up being a net disaster for the county. http://www.nj.com/union/index.ssf/2012/09/solar_panels_come_to_union_cou.html

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