Editor's note: This is the first in a series of Meet The Leaders profiles that will run on the Summit Alternative Press. The objective is to provide our readers the opportunity to hear from Summit's leaders in government, public safety, commerce and other areas, regarding Summit's present and future outlook, their background and what they enjoy doing in their private life. In order to keep the format consistent, The Alternative Press presents each individual with the same five questions. We publish their answers unedited.
Today - Summit Mayor Ellen Dickson
Background / Biography
Ellen Dickson holds a Masters in Business Administration from Babson College and an undergraduate degree fro the University of Massachusetts in Boston. A 20-year Summit resident, she and her husband Chip raised three children, all of whom graduated from the Summit public schools system.
She served two terms on the Summit City Council, and was elected as Summit's Mayor in November, 2011. Dickson has served as president of the PTO at Lincoln Hubbard and Summit High Schools, served for five years on the Zoning Board, was Summit City Council President in 2009, and currently is the Chair of the Board of School Estimate. In 2011, Dickson was honored with the "Good Scout Award" by the Boy Scouts of America.
What inspired you to pursue a role in public office?
I first ran and won elective office when I was 19 years old. Students were very active politically in 1969-1970. My freshman year of college virtually every campus in Boston was shut down over the Vietnam War. Students felt empowered.
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing Summit today?
The opportunity facing Summit is to optimize the wonderful community we have. The millennials and baby boomers agree, we want a more urban experience. We want walkable communities. We want connectivity not isolation. How great is it to be in Manhattan, the airport, the Shore, the mountains, all within an hour. There is so much here.
Our challenge is the cost of living. Because of our high tax and regressive property tax structure housing, in particular, is very expensive. We have too many layers of government, and I believe County government should be abolished. We will send about $35 million to the County this year and get very little in return. It is an onerous burden to our residents, and it has grown much faster than the City or school budget, as well as, the income of the county's residents.
We recently had a Town Hall meeting on the future of our downtown. With retail changing, land use issues become paramount. I believe we need to increase density and add more residential options in downtown.
What are the top priorities on your "to do list" as Mayor?
I have been Mayor for eighteen months. Much has happened and some goals have been achieved. I'm very proud of our Community Garden, which came about from a healthy living grant received by the YMCA. It took many hands to accomplish, but what a sense of community that has been established.
Public Safety is, of course, our number one obligation to residents. They should feel very safe in Summit. What is peace of mind worth?
We have an active technology committee that is working on improving the City website and make it more interactive. I would love to see WIFI coverage in our downtown. Communication is key. Please make sure you are signed up for Code Red and Nixle.
I do appoint the Board of Education and Chair the Board of School Estimate, so the schools are critically important to me. The Board of Education will continue to strive to find ways to help improve student performance. We have much to be proud of.
When you are not being The Mayor, what do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time I like to enjoy life. I make time for family and friends and love to entertain. And I do play bridge... Badly!
Five words that describe Summit are...
"All you need is here." Summit is a comfortable little city that is economically and culturally diverse.