Previous deputy mayor and ex-township committeewoman, Joanne VanValkenburg, asked Mayor Rob Moorhead to address issues of misconduct between other committee members and Blairstown residents at a meeting on September 27.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, VanValkenburg took to the microphone speaking directly to Moorhead, “Rob, first of all I want you to know that I like you, I really do. But I have to ask you to please step it up.”
Referencing committee members Charlie Makatura and Walter Orcutt, she continued, “You have a rotten pair of bookends sitting next to you… To your left [Orcutt] is a misogynistic narcissist… to your right [Makatura] is a misogynist who loves to yell, tell women to ‘stop’ all the time, and I really think that he needs anger management.”
“Rob, please take control because the people up there are yelling at women… please don’t let it happen anymore. I felt so bad for Lorraine when I heard the tape,” concluded VanValkenburg.
VanValkenburg is highlighting confrontational encounters during the last two BTC meetings between Makatura, Orcutt, and Blairstown resident Lorraine Meister.
Meister is the lead organizer for senior citizen activities in Blairstown and has visited many BTC meetings to inquire about the digital sign purchased by the township several years ago that has yet to be installed.
She seeks to advertise senior citizen events for township residents who may not have access to social media or email for promotional messages. Meister asked about the timeline for the digital sign again at July’s township committee meeting.
Orcutt told Meister that it would take another few months to be installed, to which she replied, “It’s taking too long.”
Makatura raised his voice, “And without it, what did you do… now we’re trying to give something to the public, and we’re criticized because it’s not there quick enough? That’s ridiculous! Stop!”
Orcutt, added, “The only other person who criticized about that sign being up is Joanne VanValkenburg and she asked you to come here tonight.”
Committeewoman Debbie Waldron, whose term ends this year, spoke to Makatura and Orcutt, “Don’t talk to people like that.”
To which Makatura responded, “Be quiet. Thank God I only have to deal with you for five more months.”
A similar interaction between Makatura and Waldron occurred during June’s BTC meeting. When discussing a new NJ law that would allow special events to be hosted on preserved farmland properties with little regulation by the township, Waldron shared her hesitancy on the matter.
Makatura interrupted her, “This is the problem with local government, why are you trying to control the public? Every time you open up your mouth all you’re trying to do is control the public. Let people relax! It’s their property, they’re not hurting anybody. My God, your job is not to control. Just stop!”
Flashforward to August’s BTC meeting, Lorraine Meister came back looking for an apology.
“I have been a resident in Blairstown for over forty-five years and have been active in the town… I attend every meeting and am very quiet but this situation at last month’s meeting was disrespectful and outrageous. To say I am hurt and very upset about the treatment from this committee is an understatement.”
Makatura was the first to respond, “Granted, I do apologize, it was a little aggressive… I was frustrated… There’s a lot of delays in this project that we are not in control of.”
Orcutt added, “I’ve explained this to you five times, but we’ll do it again… until JCP&L does their part nothing else can happen.”
When Meister accused the township committee of stalling Orcutt began to shout, “Why would we stall on the sign? That’s something Joanne VanValkenburg said to you… if you’re going to be Joanne VanValkenburg’s mouthpiece when she’s not here then good you can do that. But we’re going to take you about as seriously as we take her.”
The argument ended when the township committee and clerk Kristin Shipps offered to post information regarding senior citizen events on the township’s website and social media pages. It was suggested that during upcoming senior events a sign-up sheet should be passed around or volunteers could manage a contact sheet of all those in attendance.
At the end of September’s BTC Meeting Mayor Moorhead stated that he had spoken with Meister twice over the phone about the recent arguments. He recommended these kinds of disputes be handled away from the public eye, encouraging those with questions and concerns to connect with committee members individually. Neither Makatura nor Orcutt made a public statement regarding VanValkenburg’s remarks.
Each township committee meeting is video recorded for the public to view on YouTube. July and August’s meeting footage has yet to be posted.
Alex Tironi, Contributing Writer
A recent graduate of George Mason University in Virginia, Alex pursued a degree in journalism with a double minor in American Sign Language and nonprofit studies. She worked as assistant news editor to the Fourth Estate, the university newspaper where she reported on many things but mostly focused on campus crime and PD activity. While working for a nonprofit called the Borgen Project, she wrote about global health and poverty in third-world nations. Alex recently finished an internship writing and editing for a business consulting company in NY. Growing up in the area, she has always been active in her community and brings the same intention as a contributing writer for the Ridge View Echo.