May 29, 2014 at 8:54 AM
BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - This interview is one of a series of interviews with the mayoral candidates on The Alternative Press of Berkeley Heights. All candidates for mayor are being provided with the same opportunity to participate. The Primary Election is on Tuesday, June 3 -- polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mayor Joe Bruno's Re-election Position
Being your mayor is my primary responsibility. I am available 24/7 to work for you. I want to be mayor because in my heart, I offer the most value because of my availability and my commitment to the town. I have no political ambitions outside of this. This is what I do and my way to use the talent that I have to help the town that I love.
I have had three goals:
- To represent to the best of my ability. Keeping in mind that it is your money that funds our programs and it should be spent frugally.
- To let you know and be vocal as to what is on my mind. No backroom politics, full transparency.
- To keep my pledge: That it is ok to disagree, but never ok to be disrespectful.
Why did the Council not back the incumbent Mayor?
"It was a strange development," said Bruno. "Bob [Woofruff] mentioned the collaboration -- I won’t comment on why he’s saying that except that we probably have a difference in our understanding of this form of government." Referring to the change from the committee form of government to council form where the mayor does not get to vote.
Bruno had disagreed with the council's decision of firing Administrator Amy Upchurch. "I do not get to vote, but I do get to have an opinion," said Bruno. "As an elected official, people want to know how the Mayor feels."
"I disagreed with the opinion. I didn't divulge what was said in executive session. I fundamentally disagreed about firing someone without cause," said Bruno. "Without cause, you need to pay the employee three months salary."
"If you had cause, then fire her with cause. If you don’t have cause, but you think you have cause, then send it to the prosecutor's office. Let them determine if there is cause. Litigation is a two way street. When it comes to the township, you shouldn't be afraid of litigation. Maybe this would have been the best route," said Bruno.
"I think they didn't endorse me because I got too big for the position. They think I’m too involved," said Bruno. "Don’t you want an involved mayor? I’m everywhere I can possibly be."
What differentiates Bruno: Being the 24/7 Mayor
"I do believe people elect a mayor for his or her vision and to lead the town. That is why we have an elected mayor," said Bruno. "What are you going to do during your term of office to help or benefit the township?"
"My role is to get involved -- to be the town cheerleader," said Bruno. "My job is to promote the town and the town pride."
Bruno enjoys showing his support to the uniformed services. "I want to show my support and they like seeing me. When they come off the line when they are risking their lives, I want to let them know how proud I am of them," said Bruno. "I do this from cues from Mike Bloomberg, he was always on the scene."
"It’s important for me to go to the nursing homes to see the residents. They get a kick out of seeing me sing Karaoke and I enjoy doing that," said Bruno.
"We’ve been through a lot the last 3 ½ years: two hurricanes, multiple storms, the October snow storm, a tornado. Every one of those times, I was on the scene," said Bruno.
"What do we need to do for the residents? If it was a warming station to put coffee on, we had it. Or making chili for the people without power. I just can’t do nothing."
Bruno met a lot of residents during those times, driving through the neighborhoods with his black Tahoe with the identifying #1 plates. "I would stop and talk with the residents letting them know there was a warming station and power for the computers," said Bruno.
"That was the first controversy when I got the plates. It wasn’t about saying I’m number one. It was about telling people that I am retired and I am around and I will be at fires or whatever the case should be. I want them to know that I care enough to be there," said Bruno.
Bruno believes the role of the mayor is to be visible. "If you want to talk to me during the day or need me to perform a daytime wedding, I can do that and that is a service to the people," said Bruno.
"We have a full time administrator and department heads and their jobs are the day to day management of the town," said Bruno. "As the town gets bigger and bigger, it is more complicated. I am able to attend meetings so the administrator can stay and get her job done."
Working relationship with employees
"The working relationship is a great one with the employees," said Bruno. "The mood was not a very nice place to work," said Bruno of prior years. "My goal was to change the culture of working here." Bruno sends a birthday card to all employees and has started a sunshine fund to send flowers or gift baskets for employee births, illness or death.
"I expect you to work 110% when necessary for the betterment of the people of Berkeley Heights. if you do that, then I’ll take it that you are loyal to me," said Bruno.
Recent Announcement of Grant Oversight
Bruno confirmed that this past year the township had been awarded $750,000 in grants and has received $345,590 in 2013 according to 2014 Budget pages 9 and 9A.
"We don’t have a grant writer and every department needs to file their own grants," said Bruno. "We need to develop a policy that every grant available is looked into. Mistakes do happen, now that it happened, let’s fix it so it doesn’t happen again."
Bruno's Vision for Berkeley Heights
"My vision was to make the town more polished and add town pride. Take the nastiness out of meetings and the blogs," said Bruno.
At the debate, Bruno provided his vision for the potential land swap between Church of the Little Flower and the Municipal Complex: "Envision and see the upper level campus -- we would have everything that we want in one location," said Bruno. "A brand new library, a town hall that is functional, we have a meeting place for the seniors or community groups. Extraordinary parking lot that could house a farmers market. A place that could be a community hub. Town Pride."
The 70-80 year old municipal complex is fragmented. "We are a ways off from a finalized deal," said Bruno. "We have to do something."
Working with the County
Bruno will continue to work with the County looking for improvement in the roads as well as their budgetary process.
"There is a lot more we can do in working together and letting them know what our priorities are and where to spend money. There has to be a little consolidation with what they do," said Bruno.
"Only one gets to be mayor. I have had the privilege and I’m not ready to give it up. I had the position and look back at the changes in the town and I feel good about my accomplishments. I won’t have grudges moving forward. There is a little strain on friendships," said Bruno.
"We make decisions. We have agreed on most, there have been a few bumps in the road -- it’s politics. Our form of government works, I just don't agree with it," said Bruno. "I don’t get to vote, and if I win the primary, it will prove my vindication. If I win, it’s a vindication that I get to share my opinion. It’s ok to disagree, but it’s not ok to be disrespectful. If I disagree with you, then I disagree with you. It’s not personal," said Bruno.
To view the debate between Mayoral Candidates Joe Bruno and Bob Woodruff in its entirety click here. Topics: Vision down the road of the Municipal Complex; Relationship with Union County; Downtown development; Balancing the needs of the township and maintaining services within budget restraints.
Editor's Note: This interview is one of a series of interviews with the mayoral candidates on The Alternative Press of Berkeley Heights. All candidates for mayor are being provided with the same opportunity to participate. The Primary Election is on Tuesday, June 3 -- polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.