Newark dissolves Town & Gown committee
Published: Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 04:10
Newark City Council decided to disband its Town & Gown committee, which has been used as a forum for students and citizens to communicate. As of late, there had not been any significant discontent between the city and the university that would require a mediated assembly, so the committee was dissolved.
District 2 Councilman Jerry Clifton said the committee was more important during the late nineties and in previous decades, but had lost its relevance in recent years.
Clifton said council members could form new committees to address specific conflicts between the university and Newark.
"Just as we had alcohol issues in 1999, when five people were killed on Chapel Street, what did we do?" Clifton said. "We put together an ad hoc to help with that issue and once that issue was finalized and we had a direction, we put it to rest. I think that's the direction we need to take with the Town & Gown."
Council members also cited the absence of university students at committee meetings.
District 5 Councilman Ezra Temko said he thinks the university community displayed a lack of interest and the relationship between students and city council was poor.
"Do we have a partner? Not necessarily right now. So the other question is what do we do about that?" Temko said. "It sounds like there are some good conversations happening between certain people in a non-public setting, but what we really do need the university to do is step forward as a partner here."
Some council members said they provided the student body with opportunities to be involved in the local government, but few students, including representatives of the Student Government Association have taken interest.
City council meetings regularly have a time slot for students to take the floor and address the panel. However, students rarely attend meetings or speak about the relationship between the city and the university.
Mayor Vance A. Funk III said the committee's removal resulted from the absence of student representatives. Some members of the committee said they wanted a response from students, but did not receive one.
"I think the administration's response is the representative they are sending is as a high level as they are willing to send," Funk said. "She's been to a couple meetings and missed a couple meetings and when she comes, she always leaves after an hour. So without the people there, I feel like I'm spinning my wheels here."
Rick Armitage, director of state and community relations at the university, thinks that city council's decision reflects positively on the relationship between Newark and the university.
"The ordinance was really created by the city and we were happy to continue if they wanted to," Armitage said. "We're happy they feel comfortable enough with the relationship that we can put this on the shelf. That's a compliment to people working with the city, people in different departments and the university."
Senior Molly Sullivan, president of the Student Government Association, believes that university students have a positive relationship with the city. A lack of communication problems has not necessitated regular student representation at committee meetings, she said.
"The council is always there and they are always open to us, so I don't think sidelining the committee is a big issue," Sullivan said. "If the students and the university feel that the connection is broken, both parties will want to bring the committee back but right now, I know we can shoot the mayor an email and he would be willing to respond."
Though Sullivan said she was willing to attend the meetings this year. The mayor is still skeptical of her participation in regard
"We don't know if she'll come to the second one because last September, we were able to get five or six people from the student body and we had a really nice discussion," Funk said. "They all agreed to come back and we never saw them again."