Letters to the Editor
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By Michael S. Goldberger
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David B. Corbin
The Westfield Leader
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Richard P. Murray
How Stella Got Her Groove Back:
Welcome to Fantasy Island
archetype, a superior example of the species. That’s her assigned role — her appeal. Heck — she doesn’t look anywhere near 40, and she attracted a man half her age, didn’t she? Just what kind of courageous heroine would she be if these difficulties that vex mere mortals stood in the way of the romantic destiny that will ultimately complete her? If novelist Terry McMillan and cowriter Ron Bass really wanted to add dramatic conflict befitting their feature-length myth, they might have arranged some formidable intervention from Mount Olympus. Just how does Stella get her groove back? I doubt she ever really lost it.
* * * * * How Stella Got Her Groove Back,
rated R, is a 20th Century Fox release directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan and stars Angela Bassett, Taye Diggs and Whoopi Goldberg. Running time: 99 minutes.
In 1955, when tensions were high between the communist block nations and the western democracies, President Dwight Eisenhower suggested a detente between East and West. This French word had been adopted and brought into common usage earlier by European diplomats.
The word detente originally described several mechanical devices including “the catch, or part of a crossbow that stops or releases movement of a missile.” The political sense of detente is “a relaxing or easing of tensions between nations.” Its origin is the Latin word destendre, which literally means “to release.”
Detente becomes especially meaningful when one considers it in the context of the untold destruction made possible by today’s high-technology warfare. There can be no more lofty a meaning for detente than “to relax tensions” between nations and, thereby, to prevent the unthinkable: the release of atomic missiles by nations against each other.
An abused adult writes:
I am the product of an abusive home situation and I want to give a message to your readers. My parents did not fight; myfather neverbeatmenor toldmeIwas no good. No name calling, no angry outbursts. What he did do was horrible he withdrew.
Whenever he got angry and wanted to punish me, he would stop talking to me. He would go into another room, watch TV or read. This would go on for days, until I went to him and apologized. He made me feel that I had done something wrong, that I was bad. As the saying goes, if looks could kill, I would be dead.
So tell your readers that if they ever get angry at a child, don’t withdraw angrily; it’s the worst kind of abuse. Try to sit down with the child and talk things out, listen, don’t prejudge, and never walkaway fromanunresolvedsituation. That hurts and hurts for a lifetime. I should know, I’m still trying to survive.
Answer: We always focus on the acting out (rageful) behavior of the abusive parent who beats upon another family member. Too often we overlook those situations in which an individual uses a “velvet glove” to abuse another (subtly).
Those are the persons who punish quietly and create feelings of guilt, inadequacy and insecurity within the individual. Giving someone the silent treatment, indefinitely, only prolongs the abuse and stress.
Please do not use these tactics and alwaystryto externalizeyourfeelingsby (appropriately) talkingoverthesituation so that it does not build into a destructive and anxiety-ridden environment.
Readers: I received 11 letters regardinga letterIhadreceived inwhichImade reference to Dr. Laura, Ed Koch and Judge Judy. I was told in no uncertain terms (in 9 of these letters) that I was an anti-democraticandanti-liberalbecause I criticized Mr. Koch, I was immoral because I questioned Dr. Laura’s moral stance on everything, and I was too passive because I criticized Judge Judy’s behavior.
One person wrote: “These people tell it as it is. The trouble with you people in the mental health field is that you pussyfoot around confronting someone with the truth. Watch these shows and you’ll learnhowto makepeopleresponsiblefor their decisions. You’re a loser.”
I believe that people should be held responsible for their behavior. Each person and situation should be evaluated and dealt with individually. Calling names, belittling, talking over someone, mocking one out and not permitting the person to express his/her feelings are disrespectful, hostile and controlling.
I feel my professional opinions are appropriate and correct. You are doing the same thing your idols are doing by calling me names and condemning an entire profession. I hope the day comes (soon) when the public realizes that sensationalismand quickanswersoftenhurt the people they supposedly “help.”
A daughter writes:
My father has always said that it is not so important how bright you are as it is important how you use your intelligence. Consequently, since he feels I’m very bright, and feels I could accomplish more than I’m doing – I’m a school teacher — he calls me a goof-off and a loser. “You’ll never be financially secure and you will always be dependent on a man to support you.” I’m 26, and I’m ready to move out of the house and get an apartment, but I’m scared. How shall I handle him?
Answer: Your father is verbally abusive and sexist and seems rageful in his view of you and your accomplishments. Teaching is a wonderful and fulfilling profession and he has no right to judge you (so harshly). You are not a loser and you are not a goof-off! Gather your strengths and move out.
The peace of mind you will obtain will be invaluable. And in regard to intelligence, what one does with what one has is extremely important, but you seem to be doing fine. Just remember the saying: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
The Westfield Leader has undertaken an ambitious project – explaining property taxes and related budgets to its readers.
All too frequently these complex, contentious and unpleasant subjects emerge only in a cascade of political charges, which attempt to reduce the most difficult of subjects to a single paragraph or 10 second bullet points.
I hope the summertime publication of these articles gets the readership the topics deserve.
The articles are very timely. A gubernatorial commission has been studying the property tax and had hearings around the state; preliminary statements are out and a full report is due this fall. Having lived with the budget and taxing process for almost two decades, I am moved to add a few comments that may be of importance or interest.
First off, the big bullet is school taxes. You made the point that about two-thirds of Westfield taxes (ditto Scotch PlainsFanwood and most like suburban communities) go to support the school system.
More important perhaps, area residents pay almost 90 per cent of the cost of running these systems federal and state aid is minimal these days.
By contrast, local taxes pay a fraction of school cost, in the 30 “impacted districts” we read about in stories about Jersey’s urban schools. And if you go to a low school population area, like shore communities, the school system cost is the smallest part of the tax bill, not the largest.
This ties into my most frequent complaint while serving as mayor — the rhetoric “Westfield is a wealthy community, therefore...” The invariable predicate reduced or no state aid.
Sure, Westfield has many “wealthy” or at least well-off residents, but also lots who do not meet that description, and denial of aid to our municipality hurts our fixed income residents, pensioners, etc., whereas people in like financial circumstances in non-“wealthy” communities get the benefit of state (and federal) aid. One of many ways the reliance on property taxes is so unfair.
The tax rate, and comparing the extent of increase or decrease, is important in the same municipality year to year, absent reassessment or revaluation or some other extraordinary event. Comparing tax rates between municipalities is apples and oranges, unless the county equalization process is used. Boothe, talk English.
The Westfield tax rate is the total of three quotients. The denominator (on the bottom) is the total assessed valuation of all property in Westfield. This increases modestly each year as new properties are added to the tax rolls.
The assessed valuation is what all property town-wide was worth when the tax assessor last did (1981) a tape measure and clipboard inspection (“revaluation”) of every property. That was superseded by the figures when the assessor last estimated the value of each property based on information in her office (“reassessment.”) last done in 1986).
At present, assessed valuations are around two-thirds of what real-sales marketinformation indicatespropertyintown is worth; right after 1986 sales information circulated to the Council showed most valuations were darn close to actual market transactions.
The three numerators are what elected government officials decide to spend, less all sources of revenue other than property taxes. Town government, the school board and the county freeholders have to live with “caps” or limits on spending increases.
They have to decide what must be spent and then what would be desirable or nice to spend. And they must evaluate what their respective electorates will tolerate before voting them out office.
By Milt Faith, Executive Director
Youth and Family Counseling Service
Giving Silent Treatment Prolongs Abuse, Stress
HUNG UP!! HUNG UP!! HUNG UP!! HUNG UP!! HUNG UP!!
These realities, not cost of living figures, lead to budgets and taxes.
Governments do not buy much food or other principal CPI (Consumer Price Index) components.
The amount of each budget — town, school and county — that has to be raised by property taxes is divided by the total ratables. The results are three rates, expressed on the tax bill as dollars per $100 of assessed valuation, currently .63, 2.53 and .80 dollars respectively, totaling $3.98 per $100, or $3,980 for a Westfield house assessed at $100,000 (and probably having a market value of around $150,000).
In other words, the need for property tax funds, the bottom line of the budget process, is the budget variable divided by a relatively constant total valuation. Spending (and available other income) decisions drive the tax rate, not the other way around.
Every municipality has its own history of assessing — Newark for example last did a revaluation over 40 years ago, so how low are the assessed values on its books? Thus, comparing tax rates among municipalities is meaningless without resort to a county-level process, equalization, which evens out valuations for the purpose of sharing fairly the cost of county government.
Returning to budgeting, at the town level, there are many “no choices” items. For example, the library enjoys a unique status — by law the council must appropriatea formula-drivenamount—around $1.1 million currently.
For the library. No other town function has this status — police, fire and public works could be cut to nothing under the law. Not the library. I am proud of our library andlovetoread too,but...Andisthis in line with our famous traditional “home rule” decision-making in New Jersey?
Every year Town Hall opens up a bill from the state pension system for current and retired employees, payable immediately, no arguments, no appeal. The bill has gyrated wildly year to year, bouncing up and down by six figures.
Yet Westfield’s employee force headcount has been stable and actually declined over the period. One would think that the bill would be more stable and more predicable. I could never get an understandable explanation of this phenomenon; I cannot believe corporate America gets pension bills oscillating like ours do.
Pension costs is a major unknowable in the budget process (and our tax bills) down to the last minute.
The reserve for uncollected taxes is a frequent political football. Lost in the pileup is the reality that the town is the guarantor to pay every penny in the approved school and county budgets. If, tax payments falter, the town has to find the money even by short-term borrowing, which some municipalities have had to do for various reasons.
As the August 20 Leader article noted, most of last year’s reserve is applied to the current year budget even as a new reserve is established in it. And a 3 percent reserve is not a lot in any business or industry, especially since the town (unlike industry) does not set up and fund reserves to replace or pay for major projects, such as fire and other trucks, tennis court resurfacing and the like.
Fortunately the Mayors of Westfield have always been able to appoint a council member with extensive financial experience to chair the Budget Committee — willing to make the Alice-in-Wonderland transition to understanding governmental rules and put in the hours necessary to oversee our budgeting and investing.
I worked with four and herewith applaud the two still living in town, Jubb Corbet and Jim Gruba.
Garland “Bud” Boothe served as Mayor of Westfield from 1992-1996.
By Bud Boothe
SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN SPECIAL GUEST COLUMN
Reliance on Property Taxes Continues to Be Unfair System
SPFEA Questions School Board’s Spending on Litigation Expenses
OnJanuary11, 1996theScotchPlainsFanwood Superintendent of Schools ordered all schools and offices to have a delayed opening.
Despite the Superintendent’s direction, the Director of Special Services ordered that the five secretaries in the Office of Pupil Services (OPS) report to work at their regular time on that day. The OPS secretaries complied in spite of the hazardous driving conditions while all other employees had a delayed opening.
The Association filed a grievance on behalf of these secretaries, in which it claimed they were entitled to additional compensation for having had to report 90 minutes earlier than all other district employees.
An arbitrator found in favor of the secretaries and directed that they were entitled to receive 90 minutes of compensation time. The Board of Education went to court and the award of the arbitrator was vacated.
The Association then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court
which reinstated the arbitrator’s original award.
Barbara McGuane, President of the Association, said at the time, “The board attempts to take advantage of employees, and then spends thousands of dollars in attorney fees,” when a settlement to the grievance would have cost nothing.
“After the board lost in the Appellate Court, to be financially prudent, the secretaries should have received the 90 minutes they were entitled to, which amount to $75 each. As of July, according to the board’s negotiator, the board may spend even more money on attorney fees to have this matter heard by the Supreme Court.”
This is only one example of how tax dollars are needlessly being spent by the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education. Are you being represented by fiscally responsible members of the Board of Education?
Ginny Ogrodnick SPFEA Action Committee
Town Residents Returning to Georgia Take Fond Memories of Garden State
I wasraised inAtlanta,Georgia.Eleven years ago, my wife and I moved our family to Westfield. Many of our Georgia friends “warned” us about New Jersey. Their perception was that all of New Jersey looked like that strip between Exits 13 and 15 on the Turnpike, and that the people were somehow different.
Ironically, the woman we bought our house from in Westfield was worried about moving to Florida because the people down there were so “different.”
Well,thetruthis thatpeoplearepeople. There really is no significant difference between New Jerseyans and Georgians.
And, as those of us who live here know, New Jersey is a nice place to live. It doesn’t look anything like that strip on the Turnpike. In Westfield, we have all the charm and advantages of living in a small town, but without being in a rural setting — something that would have been hard to do in Georgia.
Now, my wife and I are about to reverse course and return to Atlanta. Our daughters are young adults now, and they’ve decided to stay. In a sense, we are both leaving and returning home.
As we talked about our move, we began to think about what we would and
would not miss about New Jersey. We’ll miss the diners. The menus and most of the architecture are all the same, but the people who own and run them make each one unique.
We’ll miss Jersey-style pizza. We’ll miss trying to explain to someone how you make a left-hand turn from the right-hand lane, and exactly what a jug handle is.
We’ll miss being near the Big Apple. There’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing that skyline as we wind our way down the helix, or seeing it in the rear view mirror as we head home after a tiring day of fun.
We’ll miss being within an hour’s drive of both the mountains or the shore.
We’ll miss the thrill of driving into a circle where, according to state law, the right-of-way is decided by local custom.
The things we won’t miss are few. We won’t miss the toll roads, toll bridges and toll beaches. Nor will we miss the high taxes and crushing insurance rates. But, no place is perfect. Although we return to my first home, we’ll miss our adopted one.
Gregory O. Berry Westfield Township Resident Urges People to Attend
Bd. of Adj. Meeting on Park Place Diner
In recent years, the town officials and residents of Scotch Plains have stressed theimportance ofredevelopingourdowntown area. In my opinion, George Fillapatos, the owner of the Park Place Diner on the south side of town, wants to undermine this ongoing effort.
Mr. Fillapatos seems to feel his need to make a profit should outweigh the needs and wants of the surrounding community. His plan would be for a Drug Fair to be constructed on his property. Although a large segment of the south side community has already voiced their objection to this plan, Mr. Fillapatos has pursued many avenues at our local gov
ernment level, to get approval for his Drug Fair in our residentially zoned area.
Mr. Fillapatos’ personal gain should not outweigh the well-being of our town. Let us preserve the residential character of our neighborhoods.
The concern over this issue has become so great that it is now necessary for the Scotch Plains Board of Adjustment to hold a special meeting to deal with this matter.
I urge you to please come to the Special Hearing of the Board of Adjustment on Thursday, September 24, at the Scotch Plains Municipal Building.
Maura Berger Scotch Plains
When sinewy Taye Diggs removes his shirt or takes a shower in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the ladies in the audience gleefully issue admiring oohs and ahs, as if to give this glossy May-September romance their hearty stamp of approval. As a soft-core dalliance packaged in picture-perfect tones, and only on that level, this fantasy love story works. If you’re looking for meaning, message and reality, rent Brief Encounter (1945).
The convivial yet mediocre romance saga about a 40-year-old stockbroker (Angela Bassett) and the 20-year-old beach god (Mr. Diggs as Winston Shakespeare) she meets whilst on vacation in Jamaica has an occasional moment of genuiness, but the film makes no bones about its seductive ambitions. Time was, a strong feminine libido could only be justified when tied to some elaborate tale of undying love. How Stella Got Her Groove Back is in the bold business of delivering vicarious, albeit polite, sensuality with little pretense and even less plot.
Wrapped in pretty travelogue tones, director Kevin Rodney Sullivan’s first film tells its tale in simple terms. Based on novelist Terry McMillan’s semi-autobiographical experience, the follow up to her Waiting To Exhale continues its sociological survey of high-achieving, middle class black women. A mover and shaker in San Francisco’s version of Wall Street, Miss Bassett’s Stella is a supermom as well as a devoted athlete. But details of why her marriage failed are few, and the suddenly uncharacteristic impulse to leave her workaholic torment for a few days in paradise is never quite explained.
In any case, she goes, she sees, and she is enamored of the young beefcake (or is he still calfcake?) who immediately claims her attention. At first uncertain how to react to Mr. Shakespeare’s amorous advances, she consults Delilah, her best friend and traveling companion. Playedby WhoopiGoldberg,whosecharacterizations rarely mince words, Delilah tells her girlfriend exactly what to do in no uncertain terms. Her two-word answer alone could easily account for the movie’s R-rating.
Minor bickering accompanies the whirlwind romance, yet it’s obvious the screenwriters are merely trying to manufacture legitimacy for the romantic chimera by sprinkling it with a dash of realistic adversity. A visit to Winston’s parents, well-to-do island Brahmins, ratchets up the tension a tad when Mom Shakespeare’s hoity-toity cattiness causes Stella to second-guess her cradle robbing ways. But she survives it. And since Winston isn’t exactly sure if he’s going to follow in his doctor dad’s vocational footsteps, taking off with Stella to live in her posh Bay Area home seems a good idea.
Once happily ensconced there, where of course Winston gets along phenomenally well with Stella’s sweet son, Quincy (Michael J. Pagan), the writers try to roll another barrel at the title character’s shins. This time it’s trouble on the job and a resultant career crisis, but again there’s too much artificiality in the ploy. And then, just to make life really unfair, Delilah is hospitalized. Yet more troubles to test Stella’s womanly mettle. As entertainment, the hogwash is passable. As drama, it is second rate.
The inherent problem is, Stella is an
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Serving on Rescue Squad Can Be Rewarding Regardless of Whether Incentives Are Offered
Ourlocalregion hasbeenmadea betterplacetolive thanks to the dedication of folks from the communities we serve. Residents frequently participate in everything from events sponsored by the ParentTeacherAssociationsto clubsandorganizationssuch as the Rotary and historical associations, as well as donating time to their local volunteer rescue squads and fire departments.
In the age of the two-parent working families, time hasbecome apremium.Onearea thathassufferedthe most from lack of expendable hours is volunteerism. This isespeciallyevidentwhen itcomestoemergency services, which brings us to the situation in Mountainside, where the borough is working feverishly to find volunteers to fill its nearly depleted daytime squad.
At an emergency Borough Council meeting Monday night, officials looked at a number of incentives to attract volunteers, such as granting $35-per-call stipendstoemergencyservice workerswhentheygive 12 hours or more per week to the squad.
State legislators are considering a number of ways to encourage more people to volunteer, including offering tax breaks, exemptions from jury duty, and a pension fund for those who put in 10 or more years on a squad.
Regarding the option of a fully-paid service to cover the municipality, the Borough Council determined that the annual cost of a quarter of a million
dollars would be prohibitive. Neighboring towns face similar situations. Westfield presently has sufficient volunteers to handle calls during daytime hours but, like other communities, can always use extra manpower. Scotch Plains senior citizens have helped beef up their township’s squad, while Clark and Springfield have been forced to hire paid personnel to ensure their squads have available personnel.
As a community with a large senior citizen population, Mountainside has traditionally relied on volunteers from a number of surrounding communities such as Westfield and Springfield to serve on its squad. Maybe this time borough residents will come forward to help their community.
Theborough’sfire department,althoughalsoneeding extra volunteers, currently has sufficient coverage. The municipality also receives assistance from Westfield, which has a paid department.
Itis ourhopethatmembers ofourcommunitieswill come forward to offer their time to these invaluable services. Perhaps local college students, self-employed workers and senior citizens can spare a few hoursduringtheweek. Whileincentivesmightattract individuals to inquire about volunteering, there is no monetaryfigurethatcan matchthefeelingvolunteers get when they save a life or comfort a family member during anemergency.Wehope thiscallforvolunteers does not go unanswered.