Chuck Powers, June 5, 2014

Grassrooters –

It has been too long. We apologize. But after some sophomore institutional growing pains, BG is fully back and ready to resume our work in what has already been for us a very successful year. So today we are happy to:

1. announce our schedule for the remainder of 2014; and

2. invite you to become part of the what we are confident will be a vibrant and growing leadership of an organization poised again to define the important Bergen County social welfare issues (always insisting on governmental transparency) and to be knowledgeable and effective advocates for policies that are protective of the rights and needs of all the County’s residents.
If you would like to be a member of our Steering Committee – or have other BGR program leadership aspirations and ideas, be sure to drop me a line soon at; and

3. announce our resolution concerning the proposed LG construction in Englewood Cliffs:

Bergen Grassroots believes that the Palisades represent a unique and regionally significant natural resource, and that the Municipal Land Use Law, which had guided the approval for the current LG Corporation development project, is poorly suited to properly preserve and protect this resource. We believe that ultimately a regional planning mechanism is sorely needed in this regard.

In the interim, and in concert with the desires expressed by numerous residents, public officials, and organizations, The Bergen Grassroots Steering Committee strongly urges the LG Corporation to work cooperatively with the County’s construction trade unions, the County and Englewood Cliffs government, along with concerned individuals to expeditiously re-design the project such that the height of the building is below the tree line of the Palisades, and thus is not visible from the New York side of the Hudson River.

In conjunction with our resolution:

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Next, here is our schedule for the rest of the 2014 – always acknowledging that we may need additional. impromptu meetings or forums. For example, should we in addition to the Bergen County electoral races try to hold for forums for congressional candidates whose constituencies include Bergen County?

For now, this is what we have planned:

BG Established Meetings for the Summer and Fall of 2014

                  August 7  _  inaugural “2014 Fall Transparency and Campaign” planning meeting and election on new
BG leadership

        September 25  _  the Bergen County Executive Forum

                October 2  _  the Bergen County Freeholders Forum

          November 11  _  Flooding issues  OR  Should Freeholders be organized/elected to better serve defined areas
of the County?

            December 4  _  our 2014 Byron Baer Award Ceremony


Let us know if you can join us on July 4, or just drop in. We look forward to seeing you at the August 7 kickoff of what should be an exciting Fall.

Meeting locations are still to be determined, but we will alert you well in advance.

Thanks for waiting.

Chuck Powers

The original plan for the Bergen Grassroots meeting on March 22 was a presentation by Bergen County NAACP President, Anthony Cureton on From At-large to Good Governance in Bergen County” as a follow-up to Cureton’s December proposal that election of Bergen County Freeholders be, at least in part, by districts. The agenda then called for responses from the several Freeholders expected to be in attendance and only then an open discussion.  Cureton turned that sequence upside down by turning immediately to the meeting’s participants themselves and seeking their views of the current all-at-large as compared to a districted selection of Freeholders.  His turned out to be an particularly adroit decision because what then followed for the next 65 minutes was an energetic discussion among a very knowledgeable gathering of Bergen citizens with strong and divergent views on how best to choose county legislators.

That dialogue included the active engagement and expression of views by the two Freeholders present, Maura DeNicola (Republican) and Steve Tanelli (Democrat) each of whom expressed support for some early action to assure better demographic and geographic Freeholder representation, but concern also that the potential consequences be anticipated prior to the Freeholders being asked to consider a specific proposal. The other current public official in attendance, State Senator Weinberg, also indicated a preference for Freeholder districting and noted the anomaly that in Bergen County there are 5 legislative districts (in whole or part) but election of only at-large Freeholders.


From left: Anthony Cureton, President Bergen County NAACP Chapter, Freeholders Maura DeNicola and Steve Tanelli, and Bergen Grassroots President Charles ‘Chuck’ Powers.

Other active participants in the discussion moderated by GBR Stering Committee chair Chuck Powers included former Teaneck Mayor, Jackie Kates, experienced public attorney, Martin Cramer, GBR steering committee members, James Kinloch and Sandra Silverberg; Hackensack Citizens for Change activist Kathleen Salvo; Northeast Block Association President, Gwen Acree; BGR participants Lorraine Bogert of Oradell and Julie Otto of Fort Lee, former Bergen County NAACP head, Carter Jackson, and Alan Sohn, Teaneck Council candidate.

In the end, there was agreement about the need for additional information and careful policy thinking but also agreement on the need to test several working hypotheses:

1) the right answer to the issues Cureton has raised is likely complex and the path to securing it may well be full of serious potential potholes that could make the result worse. Yet clearly finding some way of taking the hefty Bergen geography and its demographics into better account in the selection and work of the Freeholders is both clearly important.

2) if the answer to better County representation involves changing important county constitutional issues it would have to run through a County Charter Study Commission that in turn would either have to be approved by a majority of Freeholders or by a county-wide referendum. Both paths are rigorous.

3) there are actually important precedents to this question being raised in Bergen County, and specifically nearly 30 years ago when, in fact, the County’s governance structure was importantly changed but did not include districting;

4) there is an a serious lack of public understanding of what Freeholders do – the fact that they are the county legislature budget, that the budget they pass is half a billion $, that key decisions and mechanisms for health care delivery, emergency preparedness, parks and libraries are made at the county level. Bergen is, in population, the largest County in the state. (Even among this very comparatively well-informed crowd, most participants acknowledged they could not name the seven current Freeholders – nor define where the term Freeholders comes from.);

5) there may well be important lessons to be learned from how other counties in the state and elsewhere manage this same issue (Essex being perhaps the most interesting in that it does elect a majority of its 9-member Freeholder Board by district some similar geography and demographics). The process by which it got to that form was quite arduous. (See: [BGR Steering Committee member Ed Lipiner has developed a chart of how several other key counties address the issue that is appended to this summary.]

6) an intriguing idea emerged late in the discussion that Freeholders formally themselves assign each Freeholder a specific geographic area – shaped by demographics – as a short-term surrogate for formal representation of sub-portions of the County.

7) the assembled group appeared to agree that it is essential that the data be obtained about how the County got to its current governmental definition. Several also suggested that opportunity be afforded to those Bergen residents who have been involved in this question over the years be tapped and given the opportunity to discuss their experience. Bergen Grassroots committed in the meeting to tracking down report from the 1985 study commission process. (It may be found at 1985 Study Commission Report. The County’s administrative code may be found at

Anthony Cureton’s final word was that he intends actively to pursue the districting of Freeholder election issue and ended with “see you at the next Freeholders’ meeting”.  Some 45 minutes later, most of the meeting’s participants were still clustered together in small gatherings fleshing out elements of the ideas presented in the session.

Bergen Grassroots’ Steering Committee is now planning to continue its research and interactive discourse on this important question and will certainly be exploring the options suggested at this initial meeting.  at its next meeting on May 1, 2014.

BGR Steering Committee member Ed Lipiner has developed this very useful matrix showing how some  nearby NJ Counties compare on key factors in the selection and constituting of their freeholders:

BC Election Options



Bergen Grassroots opens inquiry into a set of
County representation issues at its 
March 20 meeting,
7:30 at the Ethical Culture Society,
Larch Avenue and North Street, Teaneck

Also: Reflections on Bergen Grassroots recent multiple efforts on Pay-to-Play, and Health Care Insurance Deadline Reminder

From the Chairperson’s Desk
March 18, 2014

To: Grassrooters
From: Chuck Powers, Bergen Grassroots

It has been a good month for Bergen Grassroots (see below) This week’s BGR meeting may open up a new and important issue for those of us concerned about how elected officials represent us legislatively – should they be elected at-large, county wide or should the county be divided into districts for at least some of our legislative (Freeholder) choices.

At our next regular Bergen Grassroots Meeting on Thursday March 20 at 7:30 at the Ethical Culture Society in Teaneck Anthony Cureton, President of the Bergen County NAACP will initiate the session with a presentation entitled: “From At-large to Good Governance in Bergen County“.  After his presentation at least 3 Bergen Freeholders have committed to joining us to give us their reactions to his proposal. And then there will be plenty of time to open the discussion and questions for other participants in the meeting.

Mr. Cureton[1] has suggested that districts be defined so that all or a majority of the members of an enlarged nine-member Freeholders board actually represent distinct geographical areas in the County.  He initiated this discussion with a statement made during the public portion of your Freeholder Public Session on December 17 2013 statement. But it is now being discussed not only by the Freeholders themselves but by citizens throughout the County and has gotten additional media attention in the past several weeks.

Although the initial presentation will be by Mr. Cureton, a goal of the meeting will be to not only understand initial sentiment for such a change but also to have identified and clarified options within or outside the general framework of the Cureton proposal. Such a change would, Cureton acknowledges, require several complicated steps by County entities and publics. He clearly states that his proposal is about the structure and not meant as criticism of any individual Freeholder or the current Freeholders generally. But Cureton particularly notes that no one from 5 large and contiguous Bergen municipalities (Hackensack, Teaneck, Englewood, Leonia and Bergenfield) is on the current Board and believes these areas and their demographics are regularly are not well represented on the Board.

Bergen Grassroots is hosting this session because it raises such important questions about what in the specific context of Bergen County constitutes effective democratic representation and specifically the advantages and disadvantages of at-large as compared to more specific elected official representation of specific geographical/demographic areas. The steering committee of BGR has not yet taken a position on the issue. Should we do so? The Press is interested to know whether we will and if so, what will be our recommendation.

Come help us decide

[1] Anthony Cureton is a graduate of Jersey City College and has earned a Masters from Farleigh Dickenson University in addition to doing coursework in organizational management at Notre Dame. He is very recently retired from the Englewood police force and has held adjunct faculty roles at both FDU and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is currently in his first full term as head of the Bergen County NAACP


The Record story on the initial Cureton presentation is on this website at:

And there is a very recent 30 minute radio discussion of the concept  between Cureton and Record reporter John Ensslin. It may  be found at:


Remember: Health care insurance deadline

Do not forget to make sure that all of your acquaintances know that if they are planning to be covered by Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) insurance for 2014, they must complete their application by March 31, 2014.  Among the several sources of information are these:


Let us hear from you:

Let us know if BGR should be addressing additional issues.  Example, the regional planning challenges illustrated by the debate over the height of the LG headquarters building planned on the Palisades north of the GWB.

Leave us a comment on our ‘Comment’ page if you can’t come to our March 20 meeting or beyond. Thank you.