Friday, December 30, 2016


Another year has passed and we again look back on the year that was in Maplewood.

From tax reviews to school board and township elections to an Olympic champ in our midst, we saw ups and downs. But as always, the people of Maplewood stood firm and trudged through the tough times, while more often enjoying the goodness that is our community.

With that, we offer our top 10 news stories for 2016:

10. TRUMP - The presidential election of Donald Trump was a national story, of course. But in this community, the surprise outcome and stress and anger it has caused for most of our neighbors in this diverse, liberal community continues to resonate as people worry about everything from immigrant treatment to education. The election sparked a night of healing just days later while the Township Committee is planning to declare Maplewood a sanctuary city, in large part to counter Trump's anti-immigrant policies.

9. IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD - The Columbia High School alum and fencing champ brought worldwide attention to Maplewood as she competed in the Rio Olympics and brought home a bronze medal. She also made history as the first Olympian to compete in a hijab. Prouder we could not be!

8. PEDESTRIAN SAFETY - Several pedestrian concerns, specifically a string of incidents on Prospect Street, sparked the installation of more than a dozen new stop signs, as well as speed bumps and the launching of a Pedestrian Safety Summit in 2016. 

7. SCHOOL BOARD - Voters chose to keep two school board incumbents, Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad and Johanna Wright, in the election that saw five total candidates. Newcomer Susie Adamson also won a spot, replacing Beth Daugherty who chose not to run again.

6. FISCHETTI - The two-year investigation into Columbia High School baseball coach Joe Fischetti's alleged harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) of former players took up much of the year and cost the district more than $25,000 in legal costs and the hiring of an outside investigator. When the dust settled, Fischetti was not chosen to coach the team again for 2017 and a lawsuit against him remains in court.

5. CHS RACE - Racial issues at Columbia High School came under scrutiny at times in 2016 with an insensitive Instagram posting and some African-American students objecting to a proposal for a police officer on campus out of fear of unfair treatment. But such awareness also sparked public meetings for understanding we hope will continue in 2017.

4. SCHOOL DISTRICT BUDGET CUTS - The school district had its worst budget cuts in many years with 15 jobs lost, including 11 teachers -- nine at Columbia High School alone. It also coincided with a lengthy list of administrators fleeing the district, with the business administrator, guidance director, and several principals departing. 

3. TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE ELECTION- It was a busy year for the Township Committee comings and goings as Marlon Brownlee dropped a bombshell in late August with a surprise resignation and the TC appointed former Committeeman Ian Grodman to finish his term. Meanwhile, Democrat Frank McGehee beat Republican Mike Summersgill for that seat in a rare competitive match-up.

2. POST OFFICE PROJECT - It finally happened! The former Maplewood Village Post Office saw the wrecking ball after years of discussion over its replacement. JMF Properties then began construction on the controversial three-story, 20-apartment, five-retail shop structure that will see a Starbucks, bank and a restaurant. Some objected to its design as well as the parking impact and tax break it includes, while others like the growth element. Look for a mid-2017 grand opening. 

1. REASSESSMENT- You have likely received your letter by now informing you of the new property value for your home due to this year's reassessment. Essex County ordered the review that has already cost the Township $400,000 to hire Appraisal Systems Inc. for the job. Inspectors went to each property and reviewed the interior, with at least 80% of homeowners letting them in. Officials said property values rose by an average of 27%, with the tax hit expected in the third quarter of 2017.

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