Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Upheaval at Highlands Council

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Upheaval at Highlands Council

Article excerpt

The executive director of the Highlands Council was fired publicly Thursday evening in what one council member said is a move to concentrate more on the rights of property owners than the key environmental protections of the region.

The 9-5 vote at an emotional and, at times, heated meeting in Morris County was expected by supporters of the executive director, Eileen Swan, who said she was a political casualty because Governor Christie believes the Highlands protections hinder economic growth.

Kurt Alstede, a longtime member of the council who voted to fire Swan, said it was a chance to "right a wrong" by concentrating on the lost property values suffered by farmers and other large landowners who can no longer develop their property.

But council member Michael Dressler, the Bergen County surrogate, tore into his colleagues, saying the firing "was the most gutless move in 37 years of politics" and called it the "death knell" of the Highlands Act.

Other members of the council agreed. "It's all about stopping the Highlands Act," said Tracy Carluccio, who called Swan's firing "a travesty."

Shortly after Swan was fired, Deputy Director Tom Borden resigned, surprising almost everyone on the council and leaving the 25-person staff leaderless. Environmentalists say the pro-Christie members of the council plan to hire Morris County Freeholder Gene Feyl, a food industry consultant who has little environmental experience.

The meeting was packed and nearly two dozen environmentalists, municipal officials and former council members praised Swan publicly as they condemned the council. Three landowners supported the move, saying the direction of the council has to change.

"You have much more integrity than anyone sitting up here," council member Carl Richko of West Milford said to Swan before the vote. "If you don't have your job after today, it's because of one thing: nasty, dirty politics. …

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