The following post has been submitted to the NutleyWatch by community member Espalier:
Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at Belleville High: Someone or Another Has Been Very, Very Bad
a.k.a. Neither Dismiss, Nor Forsake, the Witnessing Power of Community Awareness and Social Media. And Don’t Forget (no, not ever), the Importance of a Free Press and Reliable Public Reporting.
Black and white: the code words for newsprint and the tabulated facts. The colors of classic style police cruisers. The ones and zeros, by now, of binary possibilities.
The sometimes colors of big, bold stripes. The badge of a uniform that is used to set you apart from the law abiding. It’s the kind you are awarded before they throw you in with a chain gang. I read on Wikipedia that they are bringing them back in Saginaw County, Michigan, where, says their sheriff, orange has now become “too fashionable”. That was the uniform, they also cite, that was designed to bedeck the Jewish Dutch, circa WW2, in Buchenwald, for example.
The Buchenwald experience was, unforgettably, a horrific example of a dark and latent political utility, cultivated from a combination of shame and damaged national pride, and distilled over a flame of homegrown xenophobia until, drip by drip, a new popular sentiment was accumulated—a swollen sentiment that was then harnessed to the purpose of a “perfect” killing machine.
A political machine. With a very serious military arm. And some very disturbed ambitions.
How did some Belleville residents put it, back in August, 2014? That (Councilwoman) Marie (Burke), then facing the possibility of a ward recall effort, and already the subject of unanimous censure by her own governing body, was going to “beat the terrorists” arrayed against her? The terrorists who stooped so low as to expose her casual use of bitter racist epithets, which she was once heard to spit, allegedly, through the phone lines and onto a sitting councilman’s voice recorder, as she charmed her way into some leverage for an upcoming council vote?
Amazing what certain people will try to deny on their way to the top.
No biggie, right? And don’t forget, some residents are said to also be concerned that a citizen activist and blogger–our own Lee “Griff” Dorry, a person who, with thanks from many Belleville residents, challenged Ms. Burke to account for herself and her behavior–is making a play to lead the Belleville unsuspecting directly into the fire?
With no one but her “friend” and political ally, former Belleville BOE superstar and now star-spangled Councilman Joe Longo, there, by her side, to save us?
Mr. Jeffery C. Bliss, the state required auditor, has been compelled, by force of our present circumstance–a circumstance which is decidedly not “beyond our control”–to furnish the Township of Belleville with a proper financial accounting of recent events, with a specific focus on the practices of those individuals who have exploited the financial resources of the Belleville School District for grievous personal and political gain. What business, exactly, did they tend to while serving in their official capacity?
It’s not authentic Willie Sutton parlance, but Ho-Lee-She-It, if somebody in Belleville didn’t just invent the greatest bastardization of the term “creative.” And it is no urban legend–the fact that local political operators (included among them: the BBOE trustees and appointed officials) felt, at the time, that the money was indeed there, in the schools, and that they had a very soft target, because, you know, nothing but kids and schoolteachers standing guard.
And the parents? Never mind us, because we are too busy to notice–or too much of the “other kind”–to care what some of our so-called “urchins” might be up to during the day. And in broad daylight; a time when we might actually have to be engaged in honest work.
And what about the evenings, when board meetings occur? Well, what say you then? Have you one job or two? Three, you say? To do the work of an old fashioned single earner household? You mean you can’t just get a sitter?
Then too bad for you if your school system gets robbed! Serves you right for not paying attention! Always blame the victim! Rule numero uno for the bereft of conscience. A straight shot, for them, to easy pickings in the land of the submissive.
Would that be us, here in Effin’ N Town, the township Ms. Burke is alleged to be saving for us, on her alleged voice recording?
The one in which the woman who shall not be named was, apparently, well enough at home to forego even the slightest compunction about playing her racist and scaremongering second fiddle to once Planning Board Chairman Sam Papa. He is the other voice rumored to be on the recording. Silent Sammy.
Few are willing to state the exact time frame of the recording, since it is Burke’s strategy to act like the event didn’t actually happen. It is, at times, really hard to decide who is the most colorful of our citizens.
But let’s not forget the red. In the language of accountants, and flags, and shark bites … hard labor (of which most still prefer the honest kind), with its scrapes, sweat and tears … and then there is war.
War, the very deep province of people who have actually bled for their family, their faith, their creed, their community, their country. Not John Wayne style action figures, designed for the eyes of kids and people who don’t yet know the whole truth. The real and staggering truth; the one made slightly more sane by people who quietly honor the uniform when they accept it. Who honor their commitment to serve, and who learn, with an unbroken and brutal line of sight, what it really means to take a life in the name of their country. Or give it.
Cherry poppin’ red.
In these languages have we labored, and we now have a document before us. An official document. The Schools Budget Audit from the last full year of the Board President John Rivera era. The Joe Longo era. The Helene Feldman era. And it has, by all reports, been loaded up with unexplained barrels of ink–the red kind.
Red ink, attached, like a careless and deliberate parasite, to scores of line items. So many instances that they seem to all bleed together. But whose ink is it?
It also describes, amid some mystery, red hot pay days for lawyers–the win win people who profit off misfortune and abusive churn, whether they represent the barrel or the staff—and another publicly funded gimme of wanton proportions, which further serves, by purpose or by ignorance, to weaken the schools.
Red, the color of Griff’s common refrain with regard to willful abuse; a “scarlet letter.” Red, the beet faced language of humiliation and shame. Red, the tell tale color of the livid.
But whose shame is it? And who, by breach of intended design, has been so careless, so contemptuous, with our all too human discomfort in the fight, and with our anger? It is not the shame of Belleville–not the true Belleville sons and daughters, no. It is not our shame to be abused by some among us who claim to be our leaders, our betters, our sworn servants. No it is not.
It is theirs; the wanton manipulators of our trust, our vulnerability, and in too many cases, our own wayward desires. This school board acted as a body. But there were, tellingly, a few heads missing from attendance last night.
I wish us all the best for coming to terms with it, because, apparently, that is what our lives are for. Some will be paying more than others. Some of the calculus will be patently not fair. This is our new tuition fee, I suppose. Our debt for hard lessons. Who, I wonder, will be allowed to walk away with a positive balance sheet?
The wayward are lucky—more fortunate than they know—to have some real sons and daughters of Belleville, and elsewhere, in our midst. Residents, officials, teachers, reporters, students, and plain old taxpayers, who refuse to swallow the abuse. Who refuse to accept the lies that roll so effortlessly off of serpentine tongues. Who read the gesture of conspiratorial silence. Who speak, honestly and face to face, of fools and charlatans and their busted political reasoning.
One good feeding frenzy, some might think, deserves another. But there is a difference to be respected. This citizens remedy, which staggered into the fiduciary bright lights of a cold Tuesday evening in January, will, ultimately, be accomplished according to the norms of a civil society. With the lights on, the red recording button engaged, the documents in hand, and all but the most evasive of the political glad handers there in attendance, we learned that we have indeed been taken for asses.
There’s no more denying it. Sorta.
This citizens remedy has been fair as fair is allowed, and just—as just as the State of New Jersey will permit–and it is now public knowledge. It has, so far, been hard earned and thankfully received by those of us who know, just a little bit better, what is really happening in Belleville, NJ, USA.
Zipcode 07109. One school system among many.
This citizens remedy will not be someone’s opportunistic and hare-brained scheme to run us straight into a sea of red ink, from which many, still strapped in their seats, would never return. And it wasn’t in the pugilistic cartoon language of demon number one, whoever that person might be, at any given time, who thinks they are so much “more” than the rest of us put together.
Over the past year, people have asked, who is Jeff Mattingly? Well, ask him. Who is Griff? Now you can ask him. Who is Mike Mignone? You really ought to ask him.
Ask anyone else who stepped right up and signed their name to the abused list. Five minutes a pop. Best you can get. Please stand before the podium and state your name and address.
But who is it we don’t really want to know, now that we have a key piece of a proper accounting?
Now there’s a tricky question, and if we don’t take care with it, a new round of operators will step in to use us–by easy means of our own willful blindness, our visceral disgust, our welcome indifference. Our inattention, however rooted, becomes their free pass to the taxpayer funded ATM and solid gold rubber ducky.
Yet despite the repugnance of this cannibalistic heist, we have to look past the spectacle–and our reflexive revulsion–and complete a proper examination of our fellow citizens, the people we allowed to be elected. The people whom “we” have deliberately supported, some knowing full well that we should have known better. We must then deal with the findings, however stricken we may feel, and no matter the true depth of our predicament.
Each and every mother loving one of us must deal with it. Alas, Major Kong, there is no turning back sometimes. That’s the fatal problem with a chance hit by a hostile SAM.
This is that time, according to the June 30, 2014 Schools Audit, and we all ponied up big time for the moment. Some, we know, paid more than others. A whole, nasty, mess of a lot more.
To those who feel this is just the natural order of things, the inescapable hamster wheel of local politics, please say goodbye to the trauma of this corrupt regime. The old scaremongers are going to be needing new friends, as some of their more convenient ones could and should be dropping off the radar with little warning.
Gang banging with your high highfalutin hoolie friends–arrayed against the common voter– won’t get you dates that are likely to meet with your dear mom’s full approval, if you get my drift (unless she’s only in it for the cash). That kind of street cred only goes so far, and it is exponentially dissipated as you leave the comfort of your chosen cohort. Some people owe us all a few specific apologies, irrespective of any abiding mistrust, and I don’t yet smell them coming.
Cowgirl up, ye proud and pungent political operatives, while you still have the time to do it on your own. Simple recognition is good for the soul. Take another step, please. Your rodeo has become a mucked up and noxious loop. Put your nose in the wind. Can you smell something fresh?
Lot’s of people “get religion,” for example, during a sojourn behind bars. But only–in a fair society–after they have burned through every decent opportunity that was ever offered to ’em. It is a flesh and blood, bona fide, inescapable and escalating tragedy that too many people have received too few key opportunities for genuine growth and self discovery. Their talents can go unnoticed, unfed, and untested in ways that will help them truly shine. I am talking about jobs, and careers, and homes, and families. I am also talking about a dearth, for many, in their exposure to acts of kindness and honesty and genuine support. The kinds we are supposed to share as a family, as a community, and as a people.
And who of us, by now, can assume a fair shake in life, let alone expect one? There seems to be a dollar value, or even a quid-pro-quo, attached to every opportunity for self advancement. The eye of a needle just gets tighter and tighter.
And the cost of education does not go down. Even when its value does.
And tell me, if anyone can, how in the world can a person demand love? Love is given, last I checked. And an absolute human necessity. As are the seminal forms of respect; the ones we inherit before we grow, in our own way, to earn, and give, and demand, in the pursuit, as well as the discovery, of our own lives and abilities and in our own times.
Sometimes, it is true, the other hand—the one that is not offered—wields a stick. But be careful when you find yourself loving the tools of big discipline just a little too much. People like that need to take care with their more conspicuous displays of power. Or not. But do not be surprised when other people you encounter, somewhere in the world which you have come to take for granted, say “enough,” and demonstrate to you that this is not who we are. We are not people you can roll right over and expect to thank you for the shafting.
Or are we? Is this what we have become, here in the USA? In New Jersey? In Belleville?
We are citizens first, and fighters second. As fighters, we arise in the time of need, and we return to the peace when our work is complete. We are given to the struggle, but we do not love it–not in the familiar sense. The “euphoria” of war, after all, carries with it a cautionary tale. War, left unattended, will consume–relentlessly–all available fuel. And when it does, the living must once again ask, why did we let this happen? To claim, at untold expense, a single path to victory? A single moment of fading glory?
Why do we fight?
The answer is in our six–military parlance for our blind spot. It is the place we cannot easily see, especially without help. It’s in our peripheral concerns, and also in our excrement–a part of us, a part of life, that we find repulsive–which, when not properly tended to, can poison our environment. First on the inside, then on the outside, then on the inside again. It is the part of our world that was, just hours ago (longer, sometimes), our choice of a feast, or fuel for our bodies, or the slimmest of threads by which we cling to life.
It is the corpse of the vanquished, left rotting in the open, because we haven’t the time to take proper care.
Charlie Cerami (say what you will about the man, as I have seen, over and over, that many are found to be hating on whomever because of their specific take on Belleville politics), a former head of the Belleville DPW, once spoke, on a typical working day and with complete enthusiasm, of the interrelatedness of all of the township services, and why the various heads of all departments need to coordinate their efforts to best effect. How, for example, beginning at six in the morning, when the whole town, as if in unison, needs to run their shower and flush their toilets, things had better be in proper working order. To do less, according to his flow meters, would result in one hell of a backup. One that no one wants to see or know anything about.
And it was his job, every day, to be sure that it never came to that.
Funny how much we take for granted. Stuff other people—people who actually give a sheit– have to render professional. Stuff they find a way to do and do well, because they understand the importance of their work and how it effects their community.
Some people make it their life to deal with complaint driven models. Local government is one such calling. It’s the job of people on the government payroll to, among other romantic things, help manage our six. To handle our crap–effectively, efficiently, and with the proper countenance–in the uniform of our design and their choosing. But taxpayers refuse to affirm, at critical times, that public employees are our very own, and we them. The resentment that builds in some can become toxic to many.
Who, one might ask, would deliberately pit taxpayers against public employees, and deny them what any worker or professional who, in their full commitment to a chosen field of endeavor deserves, and that we, as taxpayers, rightly require?
Too often, in my opinion, issues between government and the citizens they serve are reduced to mere complaints. With a little time and a few tweaks, complaints can then be fashioned into projectiles, like conveniently placed bricks–of a very specific design–a kind which self-styled “political operatives” will gladly sell you, for a discount, to hurl at our own. But only if you hew to that designer’s choice of scapegoats. Twenty-four karat gold bricks are available as well, for those with a more “distinguished” palate.
Always check the label for point of manufacture, people. All “truth” projectiles are not created equal.
We are, in the mean time, a single community, trying to find a common language, the language of our continuing birth. But Ho-Lee-She-It do we get led astray sometimes. The secret, for those who would deceive us, is in their all too clever ability to turn our own nature against us. They operate in our six and we pay the price. They are very “good” at what they do, but only until their time is done.
It is then, if we have done our work and done it well, that we must again police the battlefield, recover the dead and wounded, and begin the hard work of the restoration.
That is, in my view, what monuments to struggle are really about. This is the real story of hallowed ground. This is also why the Japanese Islands, also known for their cherry blossoms, have high water markers. Because tsunami—the once in a generation kind, the ones you really need to watch out for—can come, as if from nowhere, and wipe you out.
This is also why we, here in Essex County, must always, always, keep watch on the horizon. We must also be thankful for our own markers, wherever we happen to discover them, and not let monumental reminders become overgrown with brush. Nor can we allow them to be casually tossed aside.
We will, unfortunately, ignore (or even collectively defy) the simplest of human reminders and to our very great peril. So we need to care enough to listen, and honor the wisdom of our elders–and our forebears–and the simplicity of their message. No culture proceeds indefinitely without the benefit of wise leaders. Not one in the world. Everyone, no matter how troubled their origin, has an opportunity to know better and to learn, beginning with sticks and dirt.
But we must also be sane enough—and properly humbled–when we find ourselves, miraculously, battered but still intact; all for having located our oldest institutions on higher ground and ready, by dint of human insight, to weather the once in a lifetime storm.
When the siren sounds–and it does, at some point, in every life–this is where fortune allows us to take refuge. And when the tide recedes, we must, in turn, recover what we can from a sea turned red. We will then place new markers, with new inscriptions, beside any which happen to remain. They state, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, what will, one day, become painfully obvious to those who are next in line to face the rogue wave and tally the cost of its frightful message.
And learn we do. Generation upon generation, caring for life, as best we can, until it is our turn to recognize the big issues and ask the big questions.
And maybe, just maybe, we manage to answer them.