A1 A1
Ahmad Austin / For The Press  

Political strategist Kellyanne Conway can be seen at left after the ceremony for the wedding of her cousin, Giovanna Coia, and vice presidential nephew John Pence outside St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church in Atlantic City.


Crime
‘Enough is enough’: Egg Harbor City residents post signs urging drivers to slow down

EGG HARBOR CITY — As Paul Gladue stood on the porch of Red Barn Adult Books Tuesday morning, he noticed cars moving a little bit slower down the White Horse Pike.

It could be because drivers were actually obeying the 35 mph speed limit sign posted on the side of the road for drivers traveling from Galloway Township into the city, or because Gladue installed a 4-foot by 8-foot white sign on the side of the building with black, capital letters reading “SLOW DOWN.”

“I didn’t do anything fancy,” said Gladue, who runs the store. “I can tell just from standing here, people are going slower. I just think this town can use any help they can get.”

Gladue took his inspiration for the signs — another, identical sign was installed on the opposite side of the building — from a growing movement to curb drivers who speed through the city.

“It’s like, enough is enough,” Gladue said, watching a tractor-trailer creep into the neighboring lane on the narrow pike. “There’s no margin for error on this road.”

It all started over the summer with residents who placed 25 lawn signs urging motorists to slow down on the city’s main artery after a 7-year-old boy was fatally struck in July while crossing the street.

Steven Dash, 56, and his wife, Rosemary, put up the lawn signs within a week after the fatal crash, investing $120 of their own money along with help from the city’s Republican Club, he said.

“We certainly felt very upset that the little boy was killed,” Steven Dash said. “That area has a 35 mph speed limit, but it’s pretty common for people to go whipping through there.”

Marco Yu was crossing the pike with his grandmother and another young child July 11 when they were hit by a truck.

Marco was pronounced dead at the scene. His grandmother, who has not been identified, was taken to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus, with life-threatening injuries and later died.

Jorge Rodriguez, 30, of Horsham, Pennsylvania, who was later charged with immigration violations, was charged with being an unlicensed driver involved in a fatal motor vehicle crash in both deaths by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office. He also was issued a motor vehicle summons for being unlicensed before he was processed and released on a summons.

“A lot of people felt helpless when we saw the little boy was killed, and that’s why we thought the least we could do is get some signs up just to remind people,” Dash said. “It won’t solve all the issues, but it reminds all of us to slow down a little bit and care about the people that are in that area.”

From April through August of this year, city police issued 131% more citations to drivers on the pike than during the same period last year, and just more than doubled speeding citations, according to data from the department. However, during those same months, there’s been a 40% increase in car crashes on the road for those months from 2018 to 2019.

The data show enforcement isn’t enough to prevent accidents, police Sgt. Marcella Aylwin said, but community involvement is a great start to finding solutions.

Mayor Lisa Jiampetti said Thursday the state Department of Transportation has agreed to lower the speed limit on the road, which falls under its jurisdiction, but the city is waiting to hear back from the state to schedule a meeting.

The goal would be to get the speed limit reduced from Hamburg Avenue to Bremen Avenue, the entire length of the pike that runs through the city, but Jiampetti’s not sure what the state will do, she said, adding the DOT is coming to town to look at improving pedestrian crossings.

Deputy Director of Communications Steve Schapiro said the DOT is aware of the concerns raised by city officials and is working to set up a meeting to discuss them.

The effort behind the signs was thoughtful and shows the cohesiveness of the community, Jiampetti said. When she sees them, she remembers the tragedy of Marco’s death.

“I think people, when they see them, they think about what happened and it might inspire them to slow down,” Jiampetti said. “I think it keeps it in their faces that there was a tragic accident there. But you’ll always have some people that just drive by.”

PHOTOS from the Egg Harbor City Olympics

Food-access
Soup kitchens in Atlantic City adjust to life without Sister Jean's

Need to feed remains

{child_byline}COLT SHAW

Staff Writer{/child_byline}

ATLANTIC CITY — On a Thursday in August, sitting in the gym at the back of the Salvation Army on Texas Avenue, Jeff Litton ate a heaping plate of chicken, rice, green beans, carrots and a roll.

The 60-year-old, who sleeps most nights on the beach or the Boardwalk, started eating lunch there when Sister Jean’s Kitchen closed last winter.

“They treated us great, just like they do here,” Litton said.

Litton is one of dozens of people who began frequenting other soup kitchens in the city after Sister Jean’s closed. Leaders at the Salvation Army and the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, situated on Bacharach Boulevard beside the Convention Center, said they’ve seen an increase in the number of people lining up for meals.

In a city with a 40% poverty rate, they may need to sustain that population into the future. The Rev. John Scotland, head of the Friends of Jean Webster, said there are no plans at the moment to reopen.

Some 1,500 people use soup kitchens in Atlantic City every month, said Kimberly Arroyo, director of agency relations and programming at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, which provides food to soup kitchens and pantries in the city. Sister Jean’s was the largest hot meal provider in the city, she said.

“That was a huge hit to the community,” Arroyo said.

But others were there waiting to fill the need. Captain Frank Picciotto, the commanding officer for Salvation Army’s Atlantic City Corps, said the Texas Avenue location has seen a 20% increase in people coming for a meal. They’ve handled it well so far, he said, but would welcome the assistance that would come with Sister Jean’s reopening in another part of the city.

“I think us working together is meeting the need,” Picciotto said. “We’re praying that (Sister Jean’s) come back and help out the people who are hungry in this city.”

Despite the help from organizations inside and outside the resort, including the Community FoodBank, ShopRite and Acme, the Salvation Army’s Texas Avenue location is running a deficit, Picciotto said. It won’t stop them from carrying out their mission, he said. The location offers a food pantry, laundry, church services, summer day camp and more, in addition to weekday lunch.

“Financially, we’re struggling,” Picciotto said. “We’re not really getting that much money from the city or people. ... God is keeping us open.”

Sister Jean’s Kitchen on Pacific Avenue shut down in February after plans to move into St. Monica’s Catholic Church on Pennsylvania Avenue were dashed when the organization was told the building was unsafe.

Litton, a regular there, saw it as an effort to move services for the indigent out of the Tourism District. The Pacific Avenue location sat across from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

“They didn’t want us bums in front of Hard Rock,” Litton said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Since then, Scotland’s chef at Sister Jean’s, who has also worked as a chef at Harrah’s Resort for more than 30 years, told him regulars have come up to him wondering when they will reopen. He’s seen regulars eating out of trash cans, he said.

“I’m certain there’s still a hunger problem in Atlantic City,” Scotland said. “Look at the unemployment figures for Atlantic City. They’ve been double digits ever since the casinos began, and even before then.”

At least for the foreseeable future, the Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army will need to make do with the new normal.

The Rescue Mission is up to the challenge, said Pastor Bill Warner, vice president of biblical education and policies/procedures. The mission serves several hundred people a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Warner said, including 60-70 people who came from Sister Jean’s.

“We’re a larger facility, so really, to take the amount of people, even if it was all of them — even if nobody even came to Salvation Army — we would be able to handle that overflow,” Warner said.

Warner said the Rescue Mission would accept any of the volunteers from Sister Jean’s who want to continue feeding the hungry. He pointed to their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals as proof they can handle the overflow — they serve more than 1,000 people during their annual holiday meals, Warner said.

His staff and volunteers “might have a little bit more to do,” Warner said, “but there hasn’t been any kind of stress like, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we gonna get all these people fed?’ That’s not even a problem. That’s just everyday things that we’re used to doing.”

{child_tagline}

{/child_tagline}


Education
Ex-superintendent planning to sue Pleasantville, citing retaliation

PLEASANTVILLE — Former Superintendent Clarence Alston, who resigned in June after a second state monitor was appointed to oversee the district, plans to sue, citing retaliation by the state Department of Education and breach of contract by the school board.

Alston’s attorney, David Castellani, filed a tort notice Aug. 8 putting the state and the district on notice that he will sue the Pleasantville Board of Education, the state of New Jersey, state-appointed monitor Constance Bauer, Department of Education Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Finance Glenn Forney and school Business Administrator Elisha Thompkins, seeking $2 million in damages.

Pleasantville interim Superintendent Dennis Anderson and the Department of Education declined to comment on the suit.

The lawsuit will add to Pleasantville’s mounting legal costs, which have been cited by state officials, members of the school board and residents as excessive and part of the reason for the new monitor’s appointment.

Castellani said Alston was targeted since he won a lawsuit two years ago that secured him his job.

“He firmly believes he was retaliated against and forced out and scrutinized under a microscope,” Castellani said.

Once the lawsuit is filed, this latest legal claim will become the third time Alston has sued the district.

In February 2018, the Pleasantville Board of Education approved a settlement with Alston for $215,000 in lost wages and other damages related to Bauer’s decision to block his appointment.

The district has been sued so many times that it cannot be insured through a joint insurance fund. Instead, the district is insured through a private company, AIG, which has a $150,000 deductible. The remainder of legal costs, which last year totaled $1.3 million, is covered by the district.

State data show that last year, Pleasantville spent $238 per pupil on legal costs, the highest in the state among similarly sized school districts. The median per pupil cost statewide for legal services is $39.

In 2019, the district has been sued four times in Atlantic County superior court, three of them by its own employees. In 2018, the district was sued three times, and in 2017, seven times.

In addition to Alston’s 2018 payout, Pleasantville paid out several other large settlements to former employees in the past two years, including $185,000 to Dawn Rice-Bivens and $200,000 to William “Speedy” Marsh.

Anderson, who was hired to replace Alston in June, said Pleasantville is looking at ways to reduce legal costs.

“We have hired an in-house legal counsel, who has already provided cost reductions regarding legal fees,” he said.

Meanwhile, Alston’s current suit states he was forced to resign as superintendent under threat from both Bauer and Forney.

“After settling the case and resolving the matter, he was constantly scrutinized not only by the monitor but by the monitor’s supervisor in the Department of Education,” Castellani said. “He was forced out, and they basically made it very hostile for him.”

“These individuals also tortuously interfered with Dr. Alston’s contract with the Pleasantville Board of Education, and the Pleasantville Board of Education breached the contract with Dr. Alston in never conducting an evaluation of Dr. Alston and also breaching the covenant of good faith and fair dealing inherent in all employment contracts,” the tort notice reads.

The notice states that Alston has suffered loss of wages, “emotional distress, mental anguish, violation of dignity and privacy, humiliation, embarrassment, attorney’s fees,” among other items.

Castellani said the tort claim is a required legal step and the next step is to file the lawsuit.

PHOTOS from the first day at Pleasantville High School

elea-pressofac / Edward Lea / Staff photographer//  

ALSTON


Charles J. Olson 

Cedar Creek's Jojo Bermudez runs the football against Camden during Saturday's game on September 14, 2019. Photo/Charles J. Olson