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Keep the ‘Hebrew’ in HIAS

This is a response to Mark Hetfield’s letter (“Help HIAS and Make Your Bubby Proud,”) published on March 24, 2016.

I am certain that when history books are written covering the period from the end of the 19th century into the beginning of the 21st century there will be much praise for the good work that was performed by HIAS. Mr. Hetfield has justifiably heaped praise for the tremendous work that they have done. But now as “Hebrew” refugees are diminishing in number the organization has had to find other refugees to replace them in order to justify their staying in business. Unfortunately, they have selected to help Syrian, Iraqi and West African refugees to settle them in America, as well as in Europe. Most, if not practically all, of these refugees are Muslim, looking to establish independent communities within their adopted lands. Embedded within their group are a small percentage of terrorists looking to fulfill an ongoing goal that is more than 1,000 years old and that is to establish a Muslim Caliphate. Having recently been to France, I have driven through neighborhoods that are all Muslim and that police fear to enter.

Not one iota of these facts was mentioned by Mr. Hetfield in his letter. What he did state was the Torah’s requirement that we love the stranger as ourselves. He did not include the Torah’s requirement that if someone comes to kill you, you should kill him first or better still don’t let him come into your country in the first place.

I hereby request that HIAS fulfill its original mandate confirming that they are still the HEBREW Immigration Aid Society not the MIAS. That, my friend, will make my bubby proud.

Very truly yours,

Seymour Berkowitz


We Must Pay Attention to the Facts

This letter to the editor is in response to Eric Orgen’s letter entitled “We’re Not Sure ‘Gruber’ Is a Verb, at Least Not in English” (March 24, 2016), and reflects my own personal opinion and not that of the Teaneck Board of Education.

Mr. Orgen: Your comments are inappropriate and not based on fact. A smear campaign on behalf of others (unnamed Town Council incumbents) worked in the past, but no longer. We are One Teaneck and not distinct tribes able to be influenced by false messaging and sound bites. Since 2008, municipal taxes have increased 26.4 percent, more than twice the rate of inflation, and the debt level has tripled to $32 million. Those are facts in the public domain, not the hateful hearsay you espouse.

Since you brought it up, Elie [Katz, deputy mayor] and Mohammed [Hameeduddin, councilman] paying $900 for a $30,000 healthcare plan is unethical when the average municipal employee pays 26 percent. Who among the Jewish Link readers have $10 co-payments? Regarding the Mayor and Town Manager, a question of legality exists about their ability to accept waivers when ineligible to participate in the NJ State health plan due to ongoing employment and pension participation. Elie, Mohammed and others should not retroactively change the law, but get the $1–2M in inappropriate healthcare waiver payments made to employees returned to Teaneck residents. Where is the accountability?

It’s okay to refute my performance based on facts and not spurious, hate-filled rants. I have been in Teaneck 25 years. My involvement is solely altruistic, recognizing that education is critical to the success of future generations of Americans. Unlike Council members, I do not get a $7,000 stipend. No healthcare waiver. I work for free.

I have never seen you at a Board of Education meeting. Not in four years on the board. A few facts: I am but one of nine trustees on the BOE. Nevertheless, we have had an impact on spending. The 2008–2011 TTEA contract was for a net increase of 4.5 percent per annum; the 2011–2016 contract, net of givebacks was 4.9 percent for five years or less than 1 percent per year. We have outsourced paraprofessionals and night-shift custodians, and used attrition to reduce headcount. Opportunities for productivity improvements are being recognized. Our latest contract with BOE administrators includes consideration of the rising cost (to taxpayers) of healthcare benefits.

Until this year, I have never approved a budget. I have supported the Orthodox community in terms of busing, recognizing that it’s an irrevocable mandate. In addition, safety remains paramount in the minds of most BOE Trustees. The 2016–2017 budget does, however, eliminate courtesy (voluntary) busing, thereby inconveniencing many Teaneck parents, primarily public but also a few non-public. Trustees continue to focus on non-instructional expenditures as a source of potential savings.

A few more facts: 27 percent of the total budget is for special education; 21 percent of students have IEPs with 60–70 receiving out-of-district placement. We spent $5.3 million on the Teaneck Charter School; an increase of $300K is forecast for 2016–2017.

Approximately 70 percent of BOE costs are contracted via salaries and benefits. Prior contracts have created an unsustainable compensation model inclusive of salaries, benefits and retirement payouts (for unused personal, sick and vacation days). I am no longer on the Negotiating Committee, but on the Finance Committee pulling together three-year forecasts. A negotiated and unaffordable contract for 2016–2019 remains a possibility without additional community involvement.

Lastly, being on the BOE is also about student achievement. Teaneck is challenged by the economics of its student population, with 35 percent receiving free or reduced lunch. Performance is below expectations. Union rules prohibit the firing of tenured “bad” teachers and the rewarding of Master Teachers. Seniority rules, as well as other civil-service regulations, prohibit standard management practices seen in the private sector.

I am open to have a discussion regarding performance as a trustee, but not from someone like yourself who “spits out” opinions with no factual basis. Ignorance and blind support for Township Council incumbents is not credible to many residents..

Your letter reflects hateful innuendo that has no place in a civilized community such as Teaneck. The Town Council also needs to learn respect and not treat its residents as disinterested parties oblivious to the abuse of an incompetent municipal government.

My brother and I are two different people. The letters recently published in the Jewish Link and the Suburbanite were my own; a conflict of interest does not exist. What does exist is a convergence of perspective and the need for fundamental change. Public service is a value to be respected and not scorned, especially by those not interested in self-aggrandizement.

David Gruber


There Must Be Transparency in Campaign Contributions

In the 2014 Municipal Council elections, in which I was a candidate, one of the repeated issues was the necessity for transparency in government. It was such an issue that two of the candidates chose to sue the Township and several sitting council members for failing to comply with OPRA requests for information.  It appears now that the loudest voices and plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Township don’t seem to live by the words they profess. I am specifically speaking about our now Councilmembers Jason Castle, Alan Sohn and the One Teaneck Committee to Elect Jason Castle and Alan Sohn.

As part of the election transparency process, candidates, myself included, were required by law to file specific information about their campaign contributions within certain time periods. Apparently, these rules did not apply to the above candidates.

There can be no excuse that “it was an oversight” since the candidate, campaign chairperson or treasurer are required to attend a one-day seminar in Trenton prior to the election to learn the State’s election laws and processes. I personally attended as I wanted to be sure to follow the law with no excuses.

In my campaign there was one contributor: me. I chose this approach in order not to be beholden to any person or group other than the residents of Teaneck. For Councilmembers Castle and Sohn to neglect disclosure of their campaign contributors or expenditures for close to two years is questionable. Look for yourself. The disclosures just filed by Jason Castle are available to view at http://www.elec.state.nj.us/publicinformation/viewreports.htm. Unfortunately, there are still no campaign disclosures for Alan Sohn or the One Teaneck Committee.

Now, as we enter a new election period, it will be interesting to see who the major contributors are to each candidate’s campaigns. The question this raises for me is, do the candidates represent the best interests of the entire Township or the interests of their contributors? Certainly, while campaign contributions are a part of politics, it does, in my opinion, speak to the motivations behind the candidates’ opinions and positions. We’re seeing it as an issue in our current national Presidential campaigns and this certainly is an issue for me when two contributors to our Municipal elections, Barbara Ley Toffler and Chuck Powers contributed over $5,000 to Jason Castle. This level of contribution utilized in a local election can have a significant effect in getting a candidate elected.

I understand that political contributions are part of the process and other candidates received significant contributions as well but we, as voters, are entitled to know who the contributors are. Unless ALL candidates comply, we as educated voters are being sold short. I hope the current candidates for this upcoming election treat the process and voters with due respect.

Eric Brauer


Time to Get ‘Grubered’

I read last week’s letter to the editor by Eric Orgen (March 23, 2016) and was chagrined by the tenor of the content. The letter quotes Mary Diduch’s Suburbanite article on March 8 (“Seven Candidates to Compete for Three Teaneck Council Seats”): “Gruber, whose brother, David, is a Teaneck Board of Education trustee, has been attending council meetings for about a year. He runs a Facebook group and website called Teaneck: End The Madness.”

All of this is indeed correct:

1) I am running for Teaneck council.

2) For full transparency, Diduch mentions my brother David Gruber who is on the Teaneck Board of Education.

3) I attended every council meeting for over a year—which helps me realize the current level of dysfunction and the lack of understanding how to be financially responsible.

4) I created a Facebook group—called “End the Madness.” This has added much needed transparency and disseminates information as to what happens at Teaneck council and BOE meetings. Hundreds have told me how thankful they are for the increased ability to know what was happening in town. The group members include many reporters from the Bergen Record, Teaneck Dispatch, Bergen Dispatch and Jewish Link. (Please feel free to email me at [email protected] or FB me to join the group.)

The letter states that I have shamed and embarrassed us. Who is us? Teaneck residents or members of the Town Council? The residents by and large are grateful for the transparency I have added and have expressed so to me on numerous occasions. As for the Town Council, they are beginning to wake up, recognizing that their positions are vulnerable. Rather than act appropriately, they (or through shills) launch personal attacks against each other and against residents interested in local government activities. This has happened to many in the past and it looks like it is happening again. As a result members of town council are ashamed of the facts:

I (along with others who attend council meetings regularly) have shamed the council into cutting the healthcare waivers, after bringing the issue up for over nine months, saving you, the Teaneck tax-paying residents, $300,000.

Over the last seven years the inflation rate has been 11.7 percent and the tax rate has been more than double at 26.7 percent. There is a zero-percent budget the last two years, but we have overpaid for so long. It’s like getting a rebate: pay $100 and get a $10 rebate. Wouldn’t you rather just pay $90? (This is the same timeframe that Teaneck’s debt increased from $10 million to $32 million.)

Residential development needs to be fully evaluated before approval. What are the expenses for these new residential buildings? Where’s the analysis? For example: You have a widget factory and you can make widgets that will incur revenue of $1 per unit sold but does the material cost 90 cents for a profit or $1.10 for a loss. Where is the cost/benefit analysis? Is the development bringing in $6 million according to the Jewish Link or $3.5 million according to the Bergen Record/Suburbanite?

Deputy Mayor Elie Katz and Councilman Mohammed Hameeduddin have received township-paid healthcare as part-time employees. There are seven members of the Teaneck council; all are equal with one vote yet these two have opted to receive healthcare. This costs Teaneck $60,000 and they each contribute only $900, which is only three percent of their healthcare costs. For comparison, employees on average contribute 25 percent of their healthcare costs.

The council, when building the Sportsplex, built a reporters’ booth and not one bathroom. Our children’s bathroom needs are more important than the reporters’ booth.

These are the reasons I am running for council; as an actuary knowing how to look at an income statement and balance sheet will only help reduce the current wasteful spending.

Ask yourself are you better off now than you were four or eight years ago? Vote May 10 for someone that understands finances and will be financially responsible with your tax dollars. Hoping everyone had a happy Purim and wishing everyone a healthy and happy Pesach.

Stephen Gruber


No Shame in Fact-Based Criticism

As a former member of the Teaneck BOE I would like to respond to the personal ad hominem attacks on current BOE member David Gruber by Eric Orgen in a recent letter to the editor. I have read many letters authored by Dr. Gruber printed here and in the Teaneck Suburbanite. He is consistent with his factual criticisms of not only the Teaneck Council but of the BOE as well. If, in his view, a strong and fact-backed criticism of our elected officials constitutes personal attacks of council members, then we may as well discard the US constitution as well! Mr. Orgen also states that there are ethical conflicts of interest because his brother is currently running for a slot on the council ballot. I am not sure what those nefarious conflicts of interest may be or may lead to.

Mr. Orgen continues his diatribes by stating, “Teaneck was already Grubered once with David Gruber’s poor leadership and representation on the BOE.” He claims that the BOE’s budget is highest in the state because Dr. Gruber is “an obstructionist that doesn’t work well with anyone…and has tried to hurt the education of our students.” As someone who attempted to stand up to the teachers union and be fiscally responsible in the face of a bloated, top-heavy administration with a consistent no-longer-sustainable budget, I too was considered an obstructionist in the eyes of BOE members as well as the public.

To Mr. Orgen I reply: The only shame and embarrassment you speak of are your misplaced comments and criticisms.

Herbert Burack


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