Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Federated HSA-Valley Hospital meeting. What gives?

You may have heard that the members of the Federated Home & School Association (made up of the presidents of each school’s HSA, plus an executive board and member-at-large) will be meeting with representatives of Valley Hospital on Wednesday 9/22. It seems there are some community members who have misinterpreted this meeting, and are up in arms.

As one of the Board of Ed liaisons to Federated (and a former Secretary/Treasurer of the group and former member as Somerville HSA president), I hope I can shed some light on the facts of the situation, and help tone down some of the anxiety.

Wednesday’s meeting was conceived and scheduled by Federated following a brainstorming session in June. They decided to hold a "special" Federated meeting in September, to address the Valley Hospital Renewal project. Federated invited representatives from Valley Hospital, along with reps of the Village Council and the Board of Ed, to address questions and concerns regarding the health, safety and well being of our students should a hospital expansion project go forward. The purpose is simply to learn, listen and gather facts as they exist at this point in time, just as Federated has done in the past at their meetings on all important issues facing our educational community.

Federated’s President, Elizabeth Resnick, has stated that she sees Wednesday’s meeting is a beginning for these HSA presidents (don’t forget, they only started in their positions in June) to “get a grasp of the current status so they can be ready to decide how to best involve their parent communities moving forward.” The only motivation for Federated is to try and keep communication open and work together as a school community.

Some residents refer to Wednesday’s meeting as “the closed Valley meeting,” implying that there is something to hide or something untoward going on. The only reason it was scheduled as a special meeting was so that there would be enough time – those Federated meetings are long! And it’s not “open” or “closed.” It’s just a Federated HSA meeting. A meeting of the members of the Federated HSA. I guess in that sense it’s closed.

Others have questioned why Valley is being presented with questions in advance. Mrs. Resnick is trying to plan for an efficient meeting. Remember, the purpose is to get information, that’s it.

Some have asserted that “the other side,” the Concerned Ridgewood Residents, should have their opportunity to present “their side” to Federated. This isn’t about “sides.” It’s not about whether the master plan should be amended. It’s not about the decision that the Planning Board made, and it’s not about the decision that the Village Council will be making. It is about this: IF the project, in its current form, goes forward, these HSA presidents (and their constituent parents) have questions about how it will work and how their kids will be protected from harm.

Some residents have expressed their belief that Valley will simply present “slick powerpoints” or that they will lie or bamboozle the Federated members. That’s fairly insulting to these Home & School volunteers. They may not represent every single parent in town, but in attempting to do the right thing for their communities, why can’t they be trusted to ask the questions they feel are important and, likewise, to judge the answers they are given?

I find it particularly sad that our Village has degenerated to such a state of mistrust. How in the world are we going to face the challenges that we need to face, if no one trusts each other?

Any resident of this town has the right to pick up the phone or send an email to Valley and ask whatever questions they want. This group of residents, members of Federated HSA, has that same right. And by limiting their focus to health and safety around the proposed project, they are also exercising their responsibility to not get caught up in the politics.

Did I mention that the minutes of Wednesday’s meeting (taken by a professional court reporter, so no worries about accuracy) will be posted on the Federated HSA website? They will be.


Anonymous said...

The town has degenerated to this level of mistrust because Valley has made no effort to gain the hearts and minds of its neighbors and "regular" residents of the town. And the Federated HSA should stop feeding into Valley's games. I went to the parent meeting at Travell 3 years ago. Audrey Meyers tried to appeal to me as a mother. Really? Do you think as a mother she would tolerate for one second her daughters traversing on their way to school a 100 foot construction gate or 60 trucks and buses per hour (one per minute) for years at a time. I don't think so. And all concerns and questions of the parents were met with the stonewall of "We don't know, that will be addressed in the developer's agreement, which hasn't been written yet." They didn't know how many trucks, where they would go, what the noise level restrictions would be, what the background checks on the hundred of strangers they were bringing into the area would be. And you should not go to this meeting. You should have been at the public comment portion of the planning board meetings or demanding accountability from Valley at an open BOE public meeting. Valley should not be allowed to address any of our school or village leaders about this subject in a private closed meeting. Everything about this process has stunk. And this just perpetuates it. If the BOE is concerned, then ask Valley to address the entire BOE in a public meeting so that parents can truly be heard.

Laurie said...

Thanks for your take, but I respectfully disagree.

I have no idea what Audrey Meyers thinks as a mother or as a CEO, but if I did want to know I would ask her directly.

I'm going to go to this meeting like I go to every other Federated meeting in my role as a BOE liaison to that group. It's their meeting and it's their right to ask whatever questions they want. I think some are reading too much into this meeting. Sometimes a meeting is just a meeting.

If the construction project is approved, there will most certainly be a Developer's Agreement and the BOE will participate in the creation of that document. Until then, I see nothing wrong with a good-faith attempt to improve dialogue and info-gathering.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Anonymous 10:58", you could not have said it better!

And Laurie, the only thing Federated needs to urgently discuss with regard to this matter is a policy for sharing information about this topic with the HSA community. The BOE needs to realize that while this is a political issue, it also greatly affects and concerns the educational community. If Federated is allowed to meet with Valley to "gather information", then the individual HSAs should be allowed to post notices about various informational meetings on their websites as well.

Anonymous said...

Laurie, I understand that you feel it would underestimate an HSA if one were to suggest that an HSA representative might be unwittingly "swayed" by a Valley presentation. Let me say why I think Valley can certainly unwittingly sway those who listen to it's position, no matter how intelligent or savvy.

I used to work for the highly sophisticated (and expensive) PR firm that represented Valley on its efforts to get public approval of its late 1990s expansion. I did not work "on" that account, but there were several spiral-bound books, created by the PR firm, one for each "target audience" that they advised Valley to reach out and convince.

There was a separate book for each target audience: neighbors, village council, hospital employees, and so forth, each with their own "communications strategy" and objectives, "message points" , Frequently-Asked-Questions, and Q&As for each audience.

I don't think most people attending the HSA Federated meeting would be prepared to know that the marketing efforts behind a public approval of the hospital expansion would be that carefully positioned and orchestrated. It seems likely the educational community is a target audience now, just like the neighbors and others were last time and are now. I certainly wouldn't call it an insult to the HSAs' intelligence to be concerned about this. Again, I saw all the message points and strategy books last time, and this is just how it is done.

I would just suggest that anyone in the meeting be aware that likely questions and answers have been discussed and reviewed to reassure the concerned individuals that all is well, and instill the sense that the health and safety issues have all been planned for and can certainly all be fully resolved.

This isn't mistrustful. Its just how its done. I have seen the planning documents from last decades' similar meetings. It is just true. Whether one thinks such persuasive efforts are good or bad through an HSA Federated Meeting, or whether, in that context, a "meeting is just a meeting...?" Well, maybe it helps if the attendees are just aware how these efforts have been designed in the past.

Maybe if everyone has their eyes open to the fact that they are a target audience being met with targeted message points, it will help them think carefully... It is worth pointing out that I am inherently an extremely trusting individual -- I believe I am not being mistrustful, just informed...

Respectfully, a neighbor

Laurie said...

Thanks for your input. I hear what you're saying. Will try to post more later...

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that during the same week that a Council candidate's family member has been identified as working for a former PR firm for Valley that such a detailed description of Valley's alleged PR strategy of the past comes to be posted on this blog?

At least Mr. Train posts with his name.

Lisa Baney said...

To the most recent post -- I am the person who posted who used to work for the PR firm that had represented Valley in the approvals it needed to get from the Village for its renovation and expansion about ten years ago in the late 1990s. Speaking of cynicism and mistrust, it is a bit unfair for you to immediately judge that it was any one person, or a candidate's wife.

I am Lisa Baney and I did get up and state my name, and make essentially these same comments, not only for the record at the Bd of Ed meeting, but on public access television last night, (about 4 hours before you posted this insinuation that I was the referenced candidates wife on the blog.

The reason I had posted it anonymously was I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about it last week, stating that I had worked for the PR firm and sharing info about the very detailed targeted communications strategies and books that the Hospital and PR firm had developed to target what they called each "target audience" they aimed to reach with regard to approving the variances they needed for that expansion a decade ago. However, when I found out that the HSAs may now be setting up individual meetings for each HSA to hear Valley's presentation assuring parents about health and safety, that I felt I needed to speak up personally and in public about my experience...

I understand that the candidate's wife you are referring to, whose PR firm had worked for Valley some years ago, was some short term freelance writing for Valley. I don't believe it had anything to do with expansions, and the candidate is fine with talking about it, if you want to contact him.

Interestingly and by coincidence, I too once did so freelance writing for the hospital -- about its new maternity ward and fertility practice back in the late 1990s and about a new PET scanner it had access to though its then-affiliation with Chilton Hospital. But that really doesn't have any connection to the issues of the doubling of the hospital's size in the next several years.

I am sorry you assumed I was a candidate's family member, as I am just me, myself, with my own work background in public relations and public affairs.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Baney,

11:22 here. You're right. I was wrong to jump to that conclusion. Thanks for clearing it up. It seemed to be quite a coincidence, but apparently it was!

Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to the follow-up meeting on October 12th. That should be a great opportunity to get more complete answers to some of our questions.