Residents voice need for greater communication

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    SPARTA-Some wanted to know why there was still only one grocery store in town. Others, well, they were more concerned about tax ratables, improving recreational facilities or reducing traffic congestion on Route 181. Everyone in the audience, though, both young and older, had some darts to throw at issues surrounding the proposed new high school. From her seat near the back of the room, Mary Nash had tossed a few shots, too, at the heated school debate, but after more than two hours had passed inside the Municipal Building last weekend, the Sparta resident had one more question. What about her plastic bottles, she asked. Should she put them out this week for recycling? About 50 Sparta residents like Nash were taking ownership of their township, asking questions of the mayor, the four council members, the manager, all who stood before them at a special open town meeting, the likes of which were said to be long overdue within the community. "I wanted to learn what was going on in the town and give my perceptions of things," said 69-year-old resident Bob Hopkins, who raised two children in Sparta and now has two grandchildren living in town. "We need to have the township residents get involved in government. They've got to go to Board of Education meetings, the council meetings, and not sit on the sidelines and complain about things. They've got to take the responsibility to do something about it." Councilman James Henderson professes to know a little about Sparta. The former mayor said he's been around for 35 years, back to when the governing bodies began and ended with the Lake Mohawk Board of Trustees, the Sparta Township Council and the Board of Education. Last year, he said, was the first time he could remember an open town meeting being held. "There's communication now," said Henderson. "It's growing, but people have to reach out to gather that information." In recent weeks, the township council traded barbs with school officials over their quest to purchase a parcel of land on a 203-acre property near the center of town where they planned to build a new $54 million high school. Each side blamed the other for the unsuccessful attempt. The public grew frustrated. "I wanted to hear what's on people's minds," said Sparta resident Pat Barker. "It was nice to hear what's going on and the positions of the council." Paul Johnson told the story about how he and other members of the board of education used to meet with the township council informally for breakfast at the diner to discuss issues relevant to each other. "It gave us a communication flow and toned down a lot of the animosity," he said. "I see value in this happening again." Johnson said the board of education has invited council members to a special public meeting to discuss the proposed high school, 1 p.m., Saturday, at the Mohawk Avenue School. "The past is the past," said Ernest Hofer, a member of the Sparta Planning Board. "This is the start of a new beginning. There's an opportunity for the future." Sparta Mayor Scott Seelagy echoed the need for improved communication between the township government and its citizens. He said another town hall-style meeting will be scheduled for April or May, when officials from various departments will make presentations and answer questions. "I want to hear what's on people's minds," Seelagy said to the gathering. "I want you to come here, even if you criticize us. Open government is the way it has to be." And Mary Nash, agreed. She knew now to check her township recycling calendar for future plastic bottle pickups. "It was good to hear that everyone's got the same issues," said Nash.