Saturday, December 6, 2014

ATLANTIC CITIZENS Commentary between Citizens inside Atlantic City & Environs

Commentary between Citizens inside Atlantic City & Environs

A Conversation with 
SCOTT EVANS, Deputy Chief of the Atlantic City Fire Department & former Mayor of Atlantic City
GEORGE LOZA, Architect & Citizens Campaign City Storyteller, Atlantic City Bureau

By George C. Loza//;

George:  Talking with you in the past, I sense your strong attachment and caring concern about Atlantic City and the area.  I recall how you were animated about discussing the outcomes on Election Day in Brigantine.  With your broad-ranging civic interest and involvement, the intent of this inaugural conversation is to provide a context for the issues faced by our City, which we will be able to go into in greater depth in the future.  But we can't let talk show hosts have all the fun!  While this interview format is so much more literate and substantial when published compared to ephemeral banter, I hope we'll present insightful "scoops" that will provide a factor promoting greater dissemination of information on these fundamentally serious topics. 

When and why were you Mayor of Atlantic City, how long have you been with the AC Fire Department, and what part of Atlantic City do you reside in?

Scott:  I was Mayor from November 2007 to November 2008.  I replaced Bob Levy, who stepped down from office.  I then ran against Lorenzo Langford in the Democratic Primary, who became the Mayor.  I have been with the Fire Department for 26 years.  I live in the Venice Park neighborhood of Atlantic City.

George:  Some have said I bring up linkages where there are none: I tend to wish to foster wholeness.  In any case, your abrupt appointment as Mayor indirectly reminds me of the Brigantine City Council situation upcoming in January, where Republicans will propose replacements for the 1st Ward Councilman. 

I attended the Brigantine Republican Victory Party meeting.  From there it appeared that Jim Mackay may be one of those popularly proposed for 1st Ward Councilman.  Since then, he has spoken at the recent Brigantine Lions Club meeting, which I’ve noticed anoints candidates.  Along these lines, per songstress Adelle, "rumor has it" that Ed will be the Manager and Matt will return in the New Year.  It’s funny about rumors, I don’t know from where they stem.  More about  gossip as grist, at a future time!

Continuing with Brigantine for the moment, since you have an interest in Brigantine as well, in reference to past Brigantine events: while it was reasonable to appoint the Public Safety Director in an interim, it really was not viable to drag out the appointment of Chiefs indefinitely, whether or not there was to be a savings.  It also coalesced the opposition around an issue and thus thereafter.

Scott:  Yes, the Public Safety Director was the death of the Brigantine Democrats in this election!  Fire and Police Departments need continuity of the leadership, so chiefs should have been appointed sooner.  It is political will to have a Public Safety Director.  We do not have one in Atlantic City.  A Public Safety Director could be part-time in order to negotiate with the departments: the Police Department, the Fire Department, EMS (Emergency Medical Services), OEM (Office of Emergency Management), the Lifeguards, and Communications, as in Atlantic City.

George:  In reference to these negotiations of the Brigantine Police and Fire Department contracts, which have been going on for about 2 years, what of going to arbitration?  It appears there is something dreaded about it. While the exact outcome would be out of local control, I understand New Jersey Arbiters are required to instill a 2% raise cap, require a personal contribution into their Health Care Plans which hasn't been occurring  during negotiations, and are to take the economic conditions of the City into consideration.

Scott:  I believe Brigantine is a Title 40; Atlantic City is a Title 4A. [The procedure depends on the Statues and Codes].  In some Cities the Mayor is strong, or the Mayor is weak, or divided.  In Atlantic City the Mayor can hire/fire people and make policy.  In Atlantic City, City Council approves all expenditures.  The AC Mayor has his own administrative budget for operating costs, but the budget must be approved by Council.  The AC Mayor must work with City Council, but the Mayor does not sit on Council.  The Mayor does not typically attend AC Council meetings.

George:  What do you think of an Emergency Manager for Atlantic City as brought up at the recent Summit by Governor Christie's people.

Scott:  There is already a State Manager in place.  There is a need for someone who has over-arching powers over the City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), and (Atlantic) County.  Five areas were identified in the Hanson Report.  [Scott begins Oogling for the Report]  There is no one person looking into which Project that can be started first.  Susan Ney, who's stepping down from the CRDA, was a great asset to the City.  She had the vision and the trust of the citizenship.  With the right cooperation with the State and the CRDA, Mayor Guardian can handle it.

I like the title Czar better than Emergency Manager.  The Czar must choose one Project, must reach consensus and get shovels in the ground.  There is no time left. The schools are also important and the Board of Ed could be configured as an Abbott District to receive funding.

George:  One of the report’s recommendations is to cut back the AC Police & Fire Departments?

Scott:  There are a sizable number of people retiring in the Fire Department: 23 people, many of whom are middle managers.  This will be a significant return to the Fire Department.  Federal grants are paying for 50 firefighters, along with contributing grants.  The firefighters will be near compliance with the Hanson Report.  The City pays 183 firefighters and 50 are paid by grants, which equals 233 firefighters.  We had 261 firefighters; it will be 228 or 225 firefighters.  50 are paid by grant; AC will only pay for 180, as per the Hanson Report.

George:  Excuse my continued ignorance, but does the CRDA pay taxes to the City? How does or will the taxes from the casinos come back to AC?

Scott:  The Hanson Report redirects casino taxes, such as the luxury and parking tax, from the State to Atlantic City.  I agree with everything from the Hanson Report, but reports have come and gone.  The most important thing the Czar can do is get shovels in the ground.

George:  What can be done about crime in the City?

Scott:  The AC Police have made great improvements in policies and technology.  “Shot Spotter” and “TIP 411" texting are making a difference.  There is also community outreach: Pizza with Police; Coffee with Cops.  And Civic Associations are involved: The Venice Park Civic Association, The Westside Neighborhood Protective, and the 3rd Ward Civic Association. 

George:  I’ve wanted to attend certain of the Stop the Violence Marches, but I've often missed the notices.  I'll have to reach out

Scott:  That effort is by the Church groups.

George:  What of the cut backs to the AC Alliance?

Scott:  It may continue as a component of the CRDA, with responsibility assumed by the CRDA.  AC barely touches what Las Vegas spends on promotion.

George:  The Sunday free concerts on the beach appeared very successful; the boardwalk was jammed with people in cowboy boots afterwards.  The light show in front of Boardwalk Hall is entertaining and can be seen from inside the Ocean One Pier.
The art installations may have been derided, yet I’ve cut through that Art Park on Pacific Avenue several times on the way to the Boardwalk.  While the sculptures, that now have been returned, may have been somewhat controversial, I found the mounds and the lit-up words to be quite inspirational, personally.  While the route cutting through was a bit intentionally circuitous, I just read in a National Geographic how green spaces in cities, such as Paris and elsewhere, tend to cut down on area crime and there is less litter.  Also, people have mentioned to me that they enjoy the art installation on the Boardwalk at California Avenue, where they have the Zumba.  On a side note, that Bungalow Beach Bar at California Avenue is a blast.

Scott:  Yeah, that place is great!  Across Pacific Avenue from the Art Park are plans for a fresh food Market Place, like the Eataly in the Flatiron District in New York City.

George:  I thought you said Eatery, until you I looked it up; maybe this place should be called the Eatery.

Scott:  There are many projects being started.  The art installation you mentioned at California Avenue is being replaced with Boardwalk stores.  Then there is West Hall,  next to Boardwalk Hall by Toll Brothers.  The Boraie- Shaq Development may start just north of the Revel.

George:  How about the largest Art Gallery in the world: The David Holtzman Gallery, to be in the Claridge Hotel, that’s exciting!  And Bart Blatstein buying Ocean One Pier for a song.  That One Atlantic event space out at the end of the Pier is one of the most dramatic spaces I have been in with the views and all that white marble, fireplaces, and shimmering glass.  Bart Blatstein revitalized several neighborhoods in Philadelphia, where I was born and lived.  It had been my original plan to return and revitalize certain of those Philadelphia neighborhoods as well.  I must admit Bart revitalized certain neighborhoods where I was surprised as to the extent of his success, so I guess he will be able to do this in Atlantic City too!  I'll have to write him a letter!

Scott:  He will need the cooperation of Caesars.

George:  Oh, I believe he will get that cooperation.  While I do not gamble much myself, people often go gambling at the closest location after an event at that Atlantic One.  I really like the stores that are still there at Ocean One, such as Tommy Bahamas and especially Armani Exchange: the cut of the clothes actually fit me.

Scott:  There’s the Bass Pro Shops going up and we are to get a Cracker-barrel.  They say you’re not on the map until you get a Cracker-barrel!

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