We chose Berkeley Heights to be our home away from home because of its proximity to the Watchung reservation, homes with mid-century character, good lot sizes with mature trees. We are very thankful for our home everyday especially when we see chipmunks on our deck, blue jays and robins at our bird feeder, little foxes running around, or a deer family first thing in the morning in our backyard.
We are usually an apolitical family but I decided to go and ask some questions when I heard we might be getting the pilgrim pipeline in our backyard in 2014. Most of our neighboring towns had a clear agenda on how to tackle this and had information readily available to its residents, we had none. I had to work with friends and got in touch with Sierra Club. That's when I realized this town lacks a clear communication strategy and plan. The elected representatives are disconnected from the real issues impacting the tax-paying residents. And we are reminded of it every single time you have to interact with township on any issues be it broken street lights, potholes or broken storm drains.
The very first time I tried to get a permit to update our home, we had to wait for almost a month which resulted in us losing our contractor. I was surprised it took this long when other towns have clear SLA's on the turn around times for issuing a permit which is ~48hrs. The staff are not the friendliest to deal with when you try to understand the process causing the delay.
We were shocked by the ever growing price of the town hall project from $14Million to ~$20Million to the current number of $28Million and the decision to go ahead with the SWAP by denying the residents to vote on this huge project. Most of neighboring towns spent in the range of $5-10 million and put those projects on the ballot for the tax paying residents to decide if they want it. That's how a democracy works by working with and convincing the residents of the need for a project so they can vote. Here we are stuck with a town council who will go to any lengths to deny its residents the right to choose or vote on any major project. They use closed executive sessions often. It boggles my mind that the town actually spent close $200,000 to deny its people the right to vote on this town hall project, going to the lengths of getting buildings designated as blighted and choosing the redevelopment law. When a petition for referendum to vote on this project collected hundreds of signatures the township got the attorney involved to shut the voice of the people down! Why are they so keen on denying people their right?
Attend any town council you will see all them vote yes within an average of ~2-10minutes no discussion whatsoever. It's like they have already made their decisions on any agenda items already. It very impetuous for them not have a public discussion amongst themselves for residents to understand the issues. And if any resident does decide to get to the mic to ask a question be prepared to be cross examined, bullied into shutting up or given the runaround. I have attended about five town council meetings, sometimes I was told this was already discussed so we can't give you an answer, given absolutely inaccurate information which contradicts actual documents.
Now is the time for us to usher the change we want and need in Berkeley heights. Please vote for Dr Thomas Foregger and John Leo Jr. They will help to ensure that our government acts with the required amount of scrutiny and transparency.
Sai Bhargavi Akiri
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