One of the major reasons we chose to run for Township Council was our concern about the lack of effective communications from our elected officials to ordinary residents like ourselves. In a town where most of us have long days at work, and oftentimes children to take care of at home, coming to a lengthy meeting at Town Hall on a weekday evening just isn’t feasible. The result is that most of us were taken by surprise when the new CVS began being built, and that many remain unclear or uninformed about the ramifications of the municipal redevelopment (known colloquially as the “Land Swap”) that the Council is pushing for, both for our community and Little Flower Church.
In short, we have a communications problem in Berkeley Heights, and it’s due to the way things are done at Town Hall. We believe we can do better in actively communicating with you, the residents we want to serve as Council members. Not only do we recognize that you have ideas and opinions that may make our actions better for our town but that you deserve to have your voice heard by your elected officials, regardless of whether we agree with you or not. With that in mind, here are several proposals to improve communication between Town Hall and the public:
- Televise Council meetings. There’s no excuse for the fact that we’ve had a Communications Committee for the last 5 years, formed in part to televise our Council meetings, but with nothing to show for it. One of our opponents, Councilman Pastore, has been the Council’s point person on this issue, and it’s a major blemish on his record. He claims it’s hard to record them in their entirety, but ask yourself: if New Providence can successfully televise its meetings in full for years, without a hitch, why can’t we? We won’t make excuses – we’ll listen to informed members of our community who have already demonstrated how easy this would be, and we’ll get the job done.
- Stream our Council meetings online. We recognize that, in the age of podcasts and web videos, some residents will prefer to watch the meetings online, not on television. Yet it’s even simpler to put the meetings online than to televise them. We’ll do our homework in order to put our meetings online. It’s not rocket science, and it makes our meetings open and transparent.
- Set up a Township e-newsletter. Our Recreation Department has been sending out updates on its programs and events to residents for years. These residents sign up to receive emails on a regular basis thus keeping them informed and engaged. Our local government has never done this, however, and it’s time they did. We’ll set up a town-wide email list for residents, where we can sign up for regular updates on the Mayor and Council’s actions, upcoming meetings and events, and to seek your input on various issues of importance.
- Restore the Township Newsletter. For many years our community received a quarterly newsletter from Town Hall, providing a regular source of information on events as well as how to contact various departments (such as our DPW) if you need assistance. This did not cost much but was cut a few years ago during a Great Recession-driven budget crunch. For those residents who like receiving news and information in the mail, we would also propose restoring the Township Newsletter (budget permitting).
Our opponents believe that upgrading our woefully inadequate website is sufficient for improving communications with residents. While we agree with their plan, we do not believe it’s sufficient, for once again it requires you to come to us, not the other way around. As a fiduciary consultant and a teacher, respectively, we understand the difference between passive and proactive communication: between simply putting out information, and actively spreading that information to everyone involved, getting your feedback in the process. The former leaves people uninformed and suspicious of what might be going on behind closed doors; the latter allows for better dialogue between residents and their elected officials, boosting transparency and trust alike.
That’s why we’re making greater communications and transparency the keynote of our candidacies. There are of course other significant issues we care about – and we’ll talk about some of those in next week’s statement – but we know this is where we can make the best difference possible for our town. We propose these things not to tear down others but to build up our community; not because everything is bleak and black but because we know we can make our great town even better. If you agree with us, please vote for us on November 3rd – because together, we can do better!
Bill Machado and Rina Franchino