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Township Council Champion Of ‘Peace And Nonviolence’ Park Knew Statues Were Under Construction Before Approval Of Their Placement

Emails reviewed by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate show that Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad knew that the four statues that will comprise a proposed “Peace and Nonviolence” memorial park were under construction since March, even though the council had not yet approved their placement on a plot of open space.


Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad knew that construction of the four statues planned for a proposed “Peace and Nonviolence” monument park began months ago, even though the idea of placing the project on township open space has not yet received Township Council approval.

Work on the statues was underway at least by early March, according to a review of Prasad’s and other council members’ emails obtained through an Open Public Records Act request. The first time the council publicly discussed the project’s latest iteration was at its May 22, 2018 meeting, and no action approving the project’s placement was taken at that time or has been since.

The email review also revealed the name of the donor, which Prasad has kept from the public despite requests for his name. The emails also show that the four statues are just the beginning of a series of statues envisioned for different parts of the township by Prasad (D-At Large).

The four monuments – bronze statues of Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and busts of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa of Calcutta – are targeted for a piece of the former Consolata Mission property at the corner of Route 27 and Cortelyous Lane. The targeted area lies among the roughly 41 acres of the property – designated as open space – that were purchased late last year using about $5 million in cash from the Open Space Trust Fund, and another approximately $5 million in bonds.

The monument park has been a pet project of Prasad’s for years. In 2007, the Township Council approved of placing the monument park in the municipal complex, but it was never built.

According to the emails reviewed by the FR&A, the monument park’s donor is Piyush Patel, CEO of Summit Chemical Specialty Products, which got its start in the township in 1962 and moved its headquarters to Flemington in 2003. The emails show that Patel is working with Climus Maxus of Guangzhou, China, which is apparently acting as the middleman for the statues’ construction.

In a history of the project prepared by Prasad on June 11, 2018, Patel was originally going to donate only the statue of Gandhi, but later agreed to “fund the entire memorial, including the statues, pedestals, dark blue wall granite tiles and rough red floor tiles similar to the 9-11 Memorial in town.”

In a March 9, 2018 email sent to Patel – and later forwarded to Prasad’s personal email account –  from Maxus’ Anton Rumao, Rumao writes that the wire transfer deposit for the statues and photographs from which the statues will be made were received by him, and “… the deposit has been paid to the vendor and the work has started.”

On March 10, 2018, Prasad replied to Patel: “Please follow up and QC the plaster molds by Face Time or Skype or in person. Thanks again. Please push to get this done right and ASAP.”

(Prasad as late as July 6, 2018 refused to disclose who the donor was, telling the FR&A in an email that “It is a single donor who has not yet met the council, hence I would rather he met them first before I divulge his name to you. The last time I introduced a potential donor to the Mayor, he ended up funding 50% of the gazebo. Hence you can understand my reluctance to prematurely  disclose his name, until the installation cost and legal issues are resolved.”)

Neither Patel nor Rumao responded to email requests for comment.

Prasad was apparently aware of the schedule for creating the four statues even prior to March. In a Feb. 20, 2018 email to Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and Carl Hauck, the township’s public works manager, Prasad wrote that the statues will “be here in 90 days from now.” It was not immediately known if the statues have indeed arrived.

That February email also lays out general plans for other memorial statues Prasad wants, including ones for Pres. John F. Kennedy, Benjamin Franklin and Guglielmo Marconi, credited with inventing a radio telegraph system, and for whom a small park is named at Easton Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard. It was on that site that the first inter-continental wireless communication occurred.

“As for JFK’s memorial, I will try and get Caroline Kennedy to come for it,” Prasad wrote. “We will also try and get Rep. Joe Kennedy III and others from the family like ex-Rep. Patrick Kennedy to come. The Irish Ambassador to the UN invited herself to the event. We will also need to invite the Catholic Clergy as well. We will also try and invite VP Joe Biden. Our local State Leaders and Congressional Delegation. Governor Murphy is a Boston Irishman transplanted to NJ and served with Amb. Caroline Kennedy in the Obama Administration. We may want to consider holding the speeches inside St. Mathais, with Father Doug’s blessings. We could wire in the video feed of the unveiling and then have it in the background while people make speeches honoring JFK.”

“As for Marconi’s bust unveiling, my thought was to invite a prominent Italian American Governor like Andrew Coumo (sic) to come and unveil it,” he wrote. “I am sure he will run for President soon. Can we put a Baci (sic) Ball Court at the top of the park with benches. We will get a lot more traffic to that park then.”

“As for Ben Franklin, we should Governor Murphy (sic) to do the unveiling in honor of another Boston born leader who transplanted himself to NJ/PA,” Prasad wrote.

Also concerning the Franklin memorial, Prasad wrote, “I would also support putting a curb in front of the Municipal Building and even all the way to Amwell, as it will give the Ben Franklin Memorial better curb appeal. Please resurrect the budget item and we can get it passed.”

Prasad also told Vornlocker in that email that “We should begin the parking lot construction near the Pump House. Impervious coverage, with handicapped access to the Peace & Non-Violence Memorial.” The target area for the memorial park is next to a water pumping station.

An asphalt sidewalk between the property entrance and Cortelyous Lane should be installed, Prasad told Vornlocker in the email.

Prasad also had sidewalks on his mind for the Consolata property in September 2017, the emails show. In a Sept. 21 email, Prasad asked Vornlocker to “Please put Consolata Side Walks in 2018, on the Land Use Agenda for discussion and recommendation to Council in the 2018 Budget.”

“Sidewalks where?” asked Councilman Ted Chase (D-Ward 1),who was CC’d on the email. “Along Rte 27 doesn’t make sense, they don’t connect with any other sidewalks.”


Township Open Space Advisory Committee rejects plan for “Peace and Nonviolence” Park at Consolata


“We will need sidewalks, if we have a YMCA, where kids can take the bus and get off at a bus stop and walk to the Y,” Prasad replied. “We may have other activities onsite that may require public transportation and the ability to walk from the bus to the facility.”

The Somerset County YMCA has begun fundraising for a YMCA on part of the Consolata property.

In the Feb. 20, 2018 email, Prasad also said that flood lights and security cameras would be needed for the monument park, and told Vornlocker to use “the $20K in the Community Foundation Account raised for the Memorials 10 years ago from one dinner. We will recognize the donors at the Peace & Non-Violence Memorial.”

The Franklin Township Community Foundation was created more than 15 years ago by a grant from the Heller Corp. developers. The foundation, which includes three council members and a Heller Corp. executive on its Board of Trustees, generally gives out scholarships to Franklin graduating seniors, but also awards small grants to organizations such as Second Chance for Animals.

A fundraising dinner for the memorial park was held in 2009, at which $14,115 was raised, according to records reviewed by the FR&A. That money was parked in a dedicated account under the auspices of the community foundation.

Among the top donors to the memorial park were:

  • $2,500 from the Business and Governmental Insurance Agency
  • $2,000 from Dr. Paresh Patel
  • $1,000 from IK Communications
  • $1,000 from Golden ERA
  • $1,000 from Rev. Florence Ridley

Plans for how the flood lights and security cameras would be provided changed by the Spring. In a May 21, 2018 email to Vornlocker, Prasad wrote, “The red floor tiles, dark blue granite wall tiles, benches, lights, security cameras, Outdoor AV equipment are all being donated by the donor.”

Later in that email Prasad asked Vornlocker for a cost estimate for the project.

That was in preparation for the council’s May 22 meeting, during which Prasad asked the council for a “head nod” to allow Vornlocker to begin preparing the land for a Sept. 29 unveiling of the memorial.

“Any issues with this memorial will be resolved by staff and the Council, as needed,” Prasad said.

A majority of the council, led by Mayor Kramer, rejected the idea that the project would not come back for regular council review. A resolution authorizing Vornlocker and Rainone to simply “vet” the project was later passed, but not before Councilmen Carl Wright (D-Ward 4) and James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) argued against “micro-managing” the project.

It was also at that meeting that Mayor Kramer estimated the project would cost at least $100,000 in salary and benefits for the eight public works employees who would install the park, although the council’s ad-hoc committee on the park in June determined that no public funds would be used for its installation. There was no indication of how the value of the open space land that would be taken up by the park and its parking lot would be accounted for.

Concerns about licensing issues for the statues were also brought up. Prasad has said that that is being looked into.

The council dust-up and resultant resolution – which effectively put the brakes on the project and ensured that it would not be completed by Sept. 29 – didn’t seem to dampen Prasad’s belief that the project will ultimately be approved.

In a June 13 email to a resident asking about the project, Prasad wrote, “We will pass it. We have to let everyone say their piece and we will get it done soon.”

 

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