By David Yarger
The North Tonawanda Common Council had a busy night Tuesday. The council heard from several residents, approved several motions, and even honored a special group of individuals in the city.
Mayor Arthur Pappas began the meeting by presenting a proclamation to the North Tonawanda volunteer firefighters during Volunteer Firefighter Month in the city. Six volunteer fire companies have served North Tonawanda for over 125 years.
Pappas said, "The North Tonawanda fire volunteers selflessly spend their own time and transportation attending New York state mandated firefighter training and also attending city training drills. ... are on call 24/7 to respond to motor vehicle accidents, fires and natural disasters. ... The North Tonawanda fire volunteers have grown and expanded over many years, having had its members; many prominent citizens, men and women, who are carrying out important roles in the fire company and the community."
In other news, one resident opposed a proposed community garden at 228 Sommer St., saying, "I think it's nice to have it, but we have to have it in the appropriate place."
Council President Eric Zadzilka replied, "That's where it belongs; where the people need it most." He also said the project had two proposed sites, but the council went with the Sommer Street location. The council later agreed to enter into a lease agreement with Imagine Community Gardens for the proposed garden.
In agenda items, the council approved the resignation of Scott Kiedrowski from the Planning Commission and Board of Assessment and Review. The council followed up by appointing Robert Fritschi to the Planning Commission and Frank DiBernardo to the Board of Assessment and Review.
The council granted permission to National Grid to begin a study on streetlight energy efficiency. In the past, the city had requested information on converting and possibly acquiring streetlight assets.
The Common Council also approved a $10,000 donation from Confer Plastics for the purchase of a launch pass kiosk at Gratwick Park. The donation will give boaters the capability to dock at Gratwick Park.
Lastly in items, the council appointed Mark Zellner as the superintendent of Public Works. Zellner had previously worked with the department for 29 years.
Talk about the community garden continued, as Zadzilka said, "I think they really have the right idea on going to the location where the need is most. As the church would refer to, those are God's people that really don't have access to shopping centers. They could go into the little pantry and go into the gardens and get some of those vegetables that they could use and they could eat. So, I think the access to it is important. ... It's where the people need it the most."
The council also heard from Erik Herbert, who is running for the North Tonawanda Board of Education.
Herbert said he heard complaints about putting his election lawn signs out too early. In North Tonawanda, for political elections, signs can be placed no sooner than four weeks before an election. Herbert said he received over 200 requests about lawn signs in his effort to run for the School Board and he added that past and current School Board members said the political ordinance did not apply in his case. Herbert's main request was for a clarification of the ordinance, which City Attorney Luke Brown said he would look into.
"It's an interesting question," Brown said. "The code specifically says 'political signs.' So, the question is if it's a School Board election, is it a political sign? Political sign isn't defined in our code ... so what I did was send an email to the general council ... because they issue opinions on such matters. ... I'm hoping to have the answer soon. ... Personally, I wouldn't think it's a political sign, but because it's brought under the Board of Education, it's separate from the Board of Elections. I just want to make sure before I give advice either way."
Zach Niemiec, who ran for the School Board last year, backed up Herbert and said, "As a candidate last year, my signs were up nine weeks before the election and did not receive a single complaint. And it is my understanding that election is not actually governed by the state Board of Elections, but by the state Education Commission and it is not a political election, because it is not any party affiliation."
In closing comments by council members, Alderman Austin Tylec agreed that he thought School Board election signs weren't political, but he also voiced displeasure for businesses posting signs, paper and stamps on public posts and various objects throughout North Tonawanda.
Alderman Bob Pecoraro announced that Thursday concerts would be returning to Gratwick Park. Pecoraro was excited to announce the events and said a work session would be held soon to move forward.
Pappas praised Zellner and the work of the NT departments.
"We have a new leader and someone that has been with the department for 29 years," Pappas said. "Mark has handled just about every job there's been with the Public Works Department, and he knows the department inside-and-out, he knows the community and the people involved; his team ... are going to be very proud. ... This past couple years has been absolutely exceptional with the work they've done."
Zadzilka finished the meeting by saying, "Everything you're hearing tonight has a lot to do with the direction the city is going in." Zadzilka went on to praise the work of volunteers, department workers and the Common Council.
The next North Tonawanda Common Council meeting is at 6:30 p.m. April 17.