Town frets at idea of terror via gumballs; 3 aldermen on quest to safeguard chewers
(The Star Ledger) Three Dover officials say they’ve found a serious homeland security threat to chew on: gumballs.
They worry the colorful round treats could be poisoned by an enterprising terrorist who sees them as bait for unsuspecting targets — young kids.
So, with the approval of the mayor and the skepticism of the police chief in this central Morris County town of 18,000, the three aldermen are in the middle of a nine-month inspection of Dover’s coin-operated gumball and candy machines. Thus far, they have surveyed 103 local businesses about their machines.
Led by Alderman Frank Poolas, who envisioned the project and enlisted the aid of fellow Aldermen Jack Delaney and Michael Picciallo, the trio began their investigation six months ago and plan to report their results to Mayor James Dodd Jan. 1.
Already they say they’ve discovered more than 100 unlicensed coin-operated machines in town — many filled with gumballs, jawbreakers and other candies they call perfect for potential terrorists.
The security threat should be “looked at seriously in light of what has happened so far,” said Poolas. “Someone who wanted to do harm really could.”
However, Police Chief Harold “Butch” Valentine said the police department has no reason to believe terrorists are even contemplating contaminating candy.
“We’ve never received any information to the contrary. The gumballs are safe,” he said.
The odds are remote that candy machines would be targeted by terrorists, he added. “You’d probably win the lottery first,” Valentine said.
Thomas Zellman, director of the Morris County Department of Law and Public Safety, agreed that gumball machines are “certainly not” a threat to homeland security.
While sticky local issues such as overcrowded housing, taxi ordinances and redevelopment projects have dominated past elections in Dover, Poolas called gumball machine inspections a “high priority.”
Delaney said the aldermen’s goal is to create a registration process for gumball machines and find out where all that candy is coming from.
“God forbid something happened,” he said. “There’s just no record of anything.”
William Shuler Jr., a Republican running for a seat on the board of aldermen, thought gumballs are a problem, but only after they’ve been chewed.
“If I had it my way,” Shuler said, “I would probably remove all gumball machines and get the gum off the sidewalks and make less work for sidewalk sweepers.”
But the mayor said the aldermen are “absolutely on the right track.”
“One of the problems that we have here with homeland security is that it would be very easy for someone to put poison in one of these coin-operated devices that distribute candy to children,” Dodd said.
Properly licensed machines must be inspected by the health department, and they should provide revenue for the town, Poolas said.
The aldermen say they conduct their survey on weekends and plan to meet 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Town Hall to continue their inspections. They’ve already covered businesses on Blackwell, Sussex, Warren, Essex and Morris streets, Basset Highway and a small section of Route 15.
At local taverns, clubs and stores, they log the number of coin-operated machines on a spreadsheet and check for stickers to see if they are licensed.
After they submit their report to the mayor, they hope a town committee will make further recommendations.
“We have to sit down as a mayor and board, and come up with a decision on the gumball machines,” Poolas said, “for the children.”
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