The Westfield Washington Township Board of Directors rescinded a previously approved, $15 million bond at its Jan. 8 meeting.
The bond was originally approved in late 2018 for land acquisition near MacGregor Park along the northern border of the township to possibly connect MacGregor and Bray parks. Board chairman David Gill added the motion to rescind the bond to the agenda although he had previously voted for the bond.
“Many of you have read about this, unfortunately, over and over again and discussed it over and over again, and that’s the issue of the bonds,” Gill said. “I’m going to make it very clear right off the bat. I’m moving we withdraw the petition of the park bonds. If this passes, we withdraw and start over. This has caused a lot of animosity with the community, a lot of anger, and I think it’s time to cool off. This (land acquisition for greenspace) is not an emergency thing, it’s a thing we have pursued for years and this bond issue is not critical to it. It’s certainly not critical when a lot of people in this community were not asked their opinion of it before the (vote).”
Gill made the motion despite several township residents recently organizing a remonstrance against the bond. If the bond had not been rescinded, the remonstrance would have continued on to a signing competition where those in favor of and those against the bond would provide their signatures. The side with the most signatures wins.
Although Gill made it clear at the beginning of the meeting there would be no public hearing, board members Danyele Easterhaus and Erica Strahm convinced him to allow attendees to speak since so many came to the meeting.
“I think you’re not doing due diligence to your constituents by not asking (the public to speak),” Easterhaus said. “You’re elected as an official. You can remain with the same thing, I’m not saying you won’t vote the same way, but these people have come here to be heard.”
Easterhaus said in the past few days, she had received 28 emails in favor of the bond and only four against.
Residents on both sides of the issue spoke, with several requesting the remonstrance be carried out for Gill to truly hear what the public wants. However, when the public hearing closed, Gill and Strahm both voted to rescind the bond.
Strahm gave a statement prior to her vote, saying her main concerns were the lack of available plans. She suggested the board go through a referendum process, where all registered voters could vote on the project and, if approved, all would pay the tax.
Strahm also expressed concern about how she felt the township didn’t push public relations efforts until after the bond had been approved and a remonstrance put in place.
“If this is such a great project, why were we not seeing announcements and PR about this project prior to an opposition coming up?” she asked. “The first information fair on Jan. 3 is the first time I and, I believe, the board saw any kind of site concept, and it was available for the public as to what this project would actually be.”
Strahm also said she was concerned the land acquisition would occur along the northern border of the township and not be more centrally located.
“Park impact studies show the most successful communities have parks that link neighborhoods and offer accessibility,” she said. “I would like to have parks interspersed throughout our township and not just concentrated in one area. The $15 million (bond) only goes for land acquisition and building structures on the land but does not go for maintenance, security, insurance. They’re talking about passive park space, but our largest demographic is people my age with families and right now, I would like passive parks, but I would also like some usable spaces as well.”
Board members discussed the financial burden that could befall the township with rescinding the bond, as financial advisors and bond council have already incurred costs.
“If we rescind, what’s the cost? Is there a financial burden to the township?” Easterhaus said. “I ask you as board members to at least stay this (motion), what I would consider a ridiculous motion, to rescind the bond and move forward with the remonstrance process and allow the citizens to do what they do best.”
Despite Easterhaus’ comments, Gill made the motion to rescind the bond, and the board approved rescinding the bond 2-1, with Easterhaus the sole vote against.
“I would ask the citizenry to remember this day,” Easterhaus said before the meeting was adjourned.