BY MICHAEL OLOHAN
AND STEVE KELMAN
CRESSKILL, N.J. –– While the police chief proposed immediate steps Nov. 1 that he would take to address the student parking problems in and around Cresskill High School, both he and the mayor recently criticized school officials at two consecutive public meetings for failing to act on the problem or meet with them to address it.
Police Chief Edward Wrixon said Nov. 1 that he would dismiss the first ticket that anyone received for violating a two-hour parking limit on the streets around the high school.
In addition, he would attempt to secure additional spots for students by sending out a letter to nearby homeowners asking if they would be willing to let a student park in front of their property during the school year.
At both recent council meetings, Nov. 1 and Oct. 18, Wrixon and Romeo criticized the board of education for not meeting with them to resolve the problem.
“The board of education has failed to act and work on a solution; they put it to the town and the police department,” the chief said Nov. 1.
Romeo said Nov. 1 that although the borough and the police department are working to resolve the issue, “the fact that the school board has not met with us is amazing.”
Meeting arranged Nov. 2
On Nov. 2, a small group of municipal and school officials – including Wrixon and Superintendent Michael Burke – and students met to discuss the parking issue, said Burke Nov. 7. Northern Valley Press learned of the meeting only after repeated efforts to contact Burke and school officials.
Burke said a small group, including him, high school principal John Massaro, four student council members, a parent, and police chief met Tuesday, Nov. 2 to discuss the parking problem.
He said the meeting was initiated by the high school principal.
Burke said the district has “a great relationship” with local officials and had “a very productive meeting” Nov. 2 discussing possible options to increase student parking.
He said the next day he discussed possible on-site parking options with the fire marshal.
“We’re looking at everything. It’s a complex problem, our growth has been greater than any” nearby school districts, said Burke.
Told of strong opinions aired by Wrixon and Romeo about the district’s lack of cooperation and responsiveness, Burke declined comment.
He repeated the district “needs the help of the police and fire department” and added “the mayor, council and police are great, we get along great.”
Reached Nov. 8 by phone, Wrixon said the student parking problem at the high school “is nothing new” and said years ago when the high school was adding an addition, he was promised another parking lot would be added but that did not occur.
He said he will be sending out a letter and questionnaire soon to approximately 140 homeowners on 12 streets surrounding the high school to determine if residents would be in favor of a student parking in front of their homes.
The streets include Harvard Street, Bergen Terrace, Park Avenue, Morningside Drive, Delmar Avenue, South Street, Cottage Place, Cresskill Avenue, Evans Road, Pierre Avenue, Gilmore Avenue, and Mezzine Drive.
Spreading the blame?
At the Oct. 18 meeting, senior class president Noah Kim addressed the mayor, council and Wrixon, complaining about police ticketing student cars parked on Morningside Drive that exceeded the two-hour parking limit.
He said students were not notified cars would be ticketed and that police had “condoned” parking past the two-hour limit on streets near the high school because no tickets were issued previously at any time to students.
Kim’s impassioned plea to local officials at the council meeting was initially met with emotional rebuttals from both Romeo and Wrixon, though when tempers cooled later, Wrixon said he “applauded” Kim for standing up for his rights at the meeting.
Romeo told Kim that the “defensive tone you take makes me wonder if you know exactly…what is really going on.”
Wrixon said Kim’s comments were “completely inaccurate.”
“Before you go in and spout things that are completely inaccurate and wrong, do your homework. You’re a smart kid; you’ll look a lot smarter if you do that,” said the chief, before criticizing school officials for their lack of help.
Wrixon told Kim Oct. 18 that complaints, letters and pictures were sent to him since the school year started from residents complaining of garbage being thrown on residents’ lawns, cars blocking driveways, and cars parked over leaf piles, which caused him to instruct officers to issue tickets to offending vehicles.
The chief said he tried to contact school officials since the school year began to address the parking problem to no avail.
“As far as who failed here, [it] is your school administration,” the chief told Kim. “They’re not telling you the truth, they’re giving you BS stories, they’re trying to send you here to create an atmosphere of discord between the mayor and council, the police department, and the community. I cry ‘foul’ on them, I find their motives disgusting and completely, completely out of where we should be as a community.”
‘Safety and security issues’
Wrixon told Kim that he wrote a letter to the school district in September to advise them of “safety and security issues” and they did not inform parents or students.
He said prior to the $12.5 million referendum in late September for an early childhood center, he “brought up the problem with safety of children. I had a traffic study done, they had a heart attack that I had the wherewithal to do something…how dare I do something like that to try and railroad them getting their money and their little kingdom. Why? Because it’s unsafe for children like you and other children. They don’t give a damn,” the chief said.
Also at Oct. 18’s meeting, Wrixon and Mayor Benedict Romeo asked Kim to survey seniors and let them know how many drove cars to school. Romeo said then: “We’ve got to get on this right away,” adding he would reach out to Superintendent Burke and Wrixon to try to resolve the issue.
Kim reported back Nov. 1 that 77 seniors drove to school and there were 44 parking spaces provided at the high school.
Wrixon told Noah that the district was “misleading the public.”
Romeo told Noah that he had “hit a nerve” by addressing the high school parking issues and that the parking challenges had been a problem for a long time.
“Eleven years ago the mayor and council received complaints about drag racing, and kids leaving garbage on front lawns and we chased them away with restrictions on parking,” he said.
“And at that time they were not allowed to leave the school during the day, but now they are. Then, about a month ago, students were parking in driveways and dumping trash in front of people’s houses, which is absolutely unacceptable.”
In the middle?
Several residents on Nov. 1 said that they felt that they and their children were caught in the middle of “a fight between the board of education and the police department.”
Burke noted via phone on Nov. 7 that on-site student parking increased by 11 spaces this year, but factors that limit on-site parking include designated wetlands near the school and that school grounds are at maximum impervious coverage.
He said options discussed Nov. 2 to increase student parking may be “resident only” parking, possibly allowing students to park on the grass, and the student council writing a letter to the community.
“We’re exploring other possibilities with the [district] engineer,” he added.
“We’ve never had a ton of parking on campus, but we’ve been able to add here and there,” he said. “It’s just tough because enrollment is going up.”
Burke said the school board had “healthy discussion” at recent board meetings on student parking issues.
Efforts to reach the school board president, vice president, and mayor were not returned by press time.