The mayor and five council members of Buena Borough went ahead and canceled the town’s century old Landisville Volunteer Fire Company.
Many residents had urged them to rethink their action against the company and its firefighters.
But in several meetings this year, Mayor David Zappariello and council members Rosalie Baker, Jorge Alvarez, Joseph D’Alessandro III, Joseph Mancuso and Matthew Walker Sr. have treated the public with disdain — giving people little or no response, not even explaining why they’re not responding. This can’t help but look like the arrogance that sometimes comes with a small amount of power.
One of those ignored members of the Buena public asked how the local government could have discussed its actions against the firefighters when officials hadn’t done so in public meetings and seldom scheduled executive sessions.
Discussions about the status of the fire department, which is composed of volunteers and not borough employees, should be subject to the state Open Public Records Act. If the mayor and council members collaborated in secret on their scheme to terminate the fire department, as seems likely, they were in violation of the act. The borough hasn’t posted the minutes of its meetings for six months.
These no-discussion public meetings led to their vote last week to dissolve the Landisville Volunteer Fire Company.
The mayor and council began their actions against the company by suspending it after a former member complained to three state agencies about deficiencies and compliance issues he had found there. As we said in a spring editorial, none of the publicized violations sounded serious enough to justify borough officials seeking to end the volunteer fire company rather than help it get back up to compliance — especially during the pandemic when normal activities were more difficult or not possible. We added that a disappointed or disgruntled worker could surely come up with such violations against any medium to large business in over-regulated New Jersey.
Once advised of the things needing correction, the officers and firefighters of Landisville Volunteer Fire Company remedied them. The state inspected the company again and determined that it had fixed all of the violations, which the state Department of Health stated in a letter to the borough and company, adding that it considered the matter closed.
This confirmed the relatively minor nature of the charges that had been assembled against the company. In our editorial, we stated, “There would have to be a compelling, insoluble reason for throwing away a century-old volunteer fire company these days. We don’t see anything close to that.”
Shortly afterward, borough officials said that $102,000 a year could be saved by getting rid of the Landisville company and leaving the whole borough covered by the Minotola Volunteer Fire Company.
Whenever anyone responds to the weakening basis for an attack by quickly finding another rationale, the possibility must be considered they have personal motives they prefer not to mention.
Mayor Zappariello and the council have badly handled the matter from start to finish, encouraging suspicion that they are asserting their preference for one volunteer fire company over the other for reasons they don’t feel they need to share with borough residents.
Even at this late date they could try to make a sounder argument for their actions. Saving $100,000 might be a good start if details would support that, and it should include an accounting of the dissolved company’s money and property the borough is getting and where those assets came from.
Surely Buena officials could see that destroying the fire company a year before its 100th anniversary and upending the lives of its volunteer first responders was going to be deeply hurtful to many in town. To treat the company and its supporters rudely, as if they were enemies, makes their pain worse and raises grave doubts about the governance of mayor and council.