By Anthony R Suarez
A key facet of the ordinance involves borough employees, since we know that bullying does not only take place among children and adolescents. Our goal is to address any citizen complaints
of bullying by elected officials or employees of
the municipality, and to provide an outlet for
complaints or concerns.
At the reorganization meeting of the Mayor and Council in January of this year, I proposed adoption of the first municipal anti-bullying ordinance in the history of the State of New Jersey. The ordinance was introduced and adopted with some minor amendments soon thereafter. I first discussed the idea for the ordinance with my Borough Attorney in December of 2011. My directive was to have an ordinance ready for introduction in January at the reorganization meeting, which was also the swearing in ceremony for my third term.
Even though the New Jersey Legislature recently passed the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation, the need for a municipal ordinance was obvious, since the state legislation only applies to schools and not municipalities. As a result, the state law did not cover our parks, playgrounds, library building, and other municipally controlled programs and facilities. For example, the state law would not cover an incident that occurred on the playing field during a recreation soccer game; it would not cover an incident that occurred in the children’s section of the library; and it would not cover the municipal employees and their interaction with other borough workers. The need to fill these gaps was obvious, and the anti-bullying law that the Mayor and Council enacted covers these holes.
Reorganization meetings are generally reserved for the pomp and circumstance of having the victors in the past November election sworn into their new terms, and appointing the new professionals for the year. In that vein, I wanted to introduce the bullying ordinance at this meeting to set the tone for my administration. The idea of focusing attention on the problem of bullying and taking effective action to eliminate it from municipal programs and property has become a key goal of the majority of
After some initial partisan bickering, I am happy to say that the full Council, Democrat and Republican, came to see this ordinance as a good policy. It has received tremendous support since it has become a part of our municipal code.
The ordinance establishes an anti-bullying committee, with nine members and two alternates, who are appointed by the Mayor and Council. There is also a Council liaison who attends the monthly meetings of the Committee, along with a police liaison who does not attend the meetings, but can be consulted for advice should any incident of bullying rise to the level of a crime.
The goals of the anti-bullying committee are threefold. First, the committee is to raise awareness in the borough about the effects of bullying on our residents. This is to be done through various outlets, including the committee’s initial anti-bullying campaign launch, scheduled to coincide with the annual night out against crime in August. We also plan to share information during our annual town carnival and at other municipal functions. Another venue for getting out the anti-bulling message will be local sporting events.
Second, the committee will be a source of education for the community. Committee members will be attending training classes offered by the New Jersey School Boards Association. Others, who are involved in various activities in town, will be required to attend these classes if they are interacting with our youth in sports programs, or in a variety of other capacities. The members of the committee will transmit the information that they receive from these classes to the greater community. They will provide guidelines to help citizens know what to look for in order to identify whether their child is being bullied.
Lastly, the Committee will be in charge of investigating and administering remedial action plans in the event of a violation of the anti-bullying ordinance. The remediation consequences start with a warning and progress to stronger penalties depending on the type of violation and whether or not the individual is a repeat offender. For instance, the committee will be able to require a violator to take anti-bullying classes, or to suspend or even expel someone from participating in a borough program.
Members of the Committee were carefully screened and selected by me for appointment by the Council. Because Ridgefield is a diverse community, I made sure that members came from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. I also chose individuals who play a variety of roles in Ridgefield, such as our Recreation Director, Library Director, a teacher in our school system, and individuals who have children both young and old. The result has been a dedicated Committee that takes its heavy obligation seriously. I also have sent the Borough Attorney to attend the meetings and advise as to the law, and made him available for questions and advice should any member of the Committee have any concerns.
The last facet of the ordinance involves borough employees, since we know that bullying does not only take place among children and adolescents. Our goal is to address any citizen complaints of bullying by elected officials or employees of the municipality, and to provide an outlet for complaints or concerns.
I had great hopes when I established the anti-bullying ordinance and committee this past January; and, thus far, the Chairperson and members of the Committee have not let me down in their enthusiasm to accomplish the goal of making Ridgefield an anti-bully zone.
While the Committee is still in the early stages of its existence, these dedicated public servants are committed to making our town’s anti-bullying law a success. I am grateful for their efforts in making my vision a reality. Together we can improve the quality of life for all of the residents of the Borough of Ridgefield. I believe that if we save the life of one child, this law was well worth the time and effort it took to get the ordinance and the Committee off the ground.
Mayor Anthony R. Suarez is now in his third term as Mayor of the Borough of Ridgefield, and served as a Councilman for five years prior to being elected Mayor.
First published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 7, October 2012