Human Remains, Murdered Resident, Alleged Child Porn Top Stories of 2012
Here's a look at some of the top stories from each month since Watchung-Green Brook Patch launched.
The Watchung Hills Regional Board of Education approved a $36 Million budget that provided funding for additional staff, school repairs and a new phone system on March 28. The board had earlier authorized moving the school election to November, eliminating the need for public balloting on the budget since it came in below the 2 percent tax rate increase cap.
Tensions in the ongoing teacher contract negotiations at Watchung Hills increased in March with students quietly protesting the impact of "work to contract" rules by teachers, limiting some access to educators. Meanwhile, board members addressed residents to say the stalled negtiations weren't just waiting for an April meeting with a state mediator to resolve the conflict.
Local officials began reviewing a proposal to consolidate police departments throughout Somerset County in April. The panel which developed the proposal gave municipalities until Aug. 1 to indicate whether or not they would participate, but both Green Brook and Watchung quickly determined the plan wouldn't provide the service residents appeared to want and both nixed the plan.
November's elections began shaping up, when candidates in Watchung and Green Brook filed for the June primaries. After November's voting, Green Brook residents returned Pat Boccio and Ken Herrmann to the Township Committee, while Watchung Borough Council members Deb Joren and Thomas Franklin, running unopposed, cruised to additional three-year terms.
The Medical Examiner's Office forensic unit continued its investigation of a skeleton discovered near Warrenville Road in Green Brook in January, announcing in April the remains belonged to a male. So far, the ME has not released any additional information on the skeleton, however.
May held lots of big news at Watchung Hills Regional High School, including a resolution to the 11-month-late teachers' contract and naming WHRHS alum George Alexis, of Basking Ridge, as the school's new principal after the retirement of Green Brook resident Thomas DiGanci.
Watchung Library supporters presented a plan for a $4.2 million expansion and upgrade to the building. The plan included more space for public use, meeting rooms and a possible coffee shop. The Borough Council placed the proposal on a non-binding referendum on November's ballots, which failed to win voter's approval.
Work to remake Mountain Boulevard in Watchung kicked off this year, with plans to widen and straighten the road reviewed in May. The big project is set to start, with a project to replace an aging water main on the road completed.
Green Brook launched a strategic plan effort, seeking to collect input from residents, school and municipal officials and local businesses to develop a guide for future development and improvements. The project began in June, and a follow-up meeting in September helped to futher pin down priorities.
The Watchung Borough Board of Education bid farewell to Superintedent Mary Louise Malyska in June, and welcomed Dr. Barbara Resko in as her successor.
Green Brook rededicated its municipal courtroom in honor of long-time Judge Raymond DeMarco.
Watchung Hills Regional's project to repair the school's track became more complex, when it was discovered poor drainage was destroying the foundation layers. The board of education approved a $56,135 change order to undertake a more complete repair of the track aimed at ending the problems that have been plaguing it in recent years.
A bizarre series of event led to eventual charges of sexual assault against a minor and child pornography against Watchung resident Patrick Deck after he was allegedly caught videotaping boys in a bathroom at the Land of Make Believe amusement park in Hope on Aug. 12. When Watchung police took Deck into custody on the charge, they reported discovering he had a rifle in violation of terms of a previous conviction, as well as videotapes reported to contain child pornography. Further investigation led proecutors to charge Deck with sexual assault in producing the videos. At his arraignment, Morris County Superior Court Judge Ann Bartlett, sitting in Belvidere, told Deck he would not be considered for a plea agreement or other pre-trial intervention. His trial date has not been set.
Students returned to Watchung and Green Brook schools with little trouble (unlike last year, when classes were delayed because of Hurricane Irene), although some Green Brook parents had concerns about the district's busing schedules.
Green Brook Township unveiled its new website, which offered a friendlier interface and added features.
Less than two months before it would be put to a test (and fail), the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities issued a report demanding utilities do a better job of communicating with towns and residents about power outages.
A series of burglaries in the area which included some Watchung residents ended after five men from Englewood were charged by prosecutors with running the burglary ring throughout Somerset and Morris counties. Some said the burglaries had the hallmarks of the famous "James Bond Gang,"which prosecutors broke up in 1990s.
Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey Oct. 29, causing massive damage to shore communities and toppling trees and power lines in Green Brook and Watchung. Some areas of Green Brook were evacuated because of flooding, and residents were thown into a power outage that lasted as long as two weeks in some neighborhoods. Schools and municipal offices closed, and Halloween celebrations were canceled. The storm ripped the roof off of a gym at Watchung Hills Regional, causing damage the school has spent more than $450,000 so far to repair.
November began cold and dark, as the ongoing power outage caused by Superstorm Sandy became more problematic. Election officials scambled to find locations for the Nov. 6 general election and to accomodate voters unable to get to polling locations; a group of visiting students from Austria were stranded as their frantic parents tried to reach them; gas rationing was imposed as dwindling supplies caused lines and problems at gas stations; and thieves broke into more than 20 Route 22 businesses in Green Brook and Watchung during the outage.
Local officials spent days trying to pin down utility repair crews and communicate with residents, but many residents were not satisfied with the efforts.
The issues clouded election results for the first-ever November school board voting, with the election results not certified until the end of the month. Watchung's school board had a particularly tight race between incumbent Rhea Williams and Tiffany Brigante, who joined the board in June, which Brigante won.
Police are continuing to investigate the Dec. 4 murder of Watchung resident Lamont Downing, 34, who had been shot to death in Irvington.
A plan to recognize residents' contributions to Green Brook became a reality, when the Township Committee named volunteer firefighter Stan Schneider and Recreation Commission member Eileen Parker the township's Volunteers of the Year, Dec. 17.
A vocal ensemble of Watchung Hills Regional students won a $1,000 prize after winning the high school category of NJ 101.5 FM's Christmas Choir Contest. The students recorded "Silent Night" to win the prize.