Hi, I'm Stephen Yellin, and I'm running for Township Council to give back to Berkeley Heights. You can read more about me and my platform at www.bhdems.com
As I've spoken to residents across our community, at meet-and-greets and at their doorsteps, the first question is often "Why You?". My previous statement here should sufficiently address that question for interested residents.
For this week's statement, I want to talk about the second question that gets asked: "What separates you from your opponents?" While this question is asked less often, it is no less important that the first. It is not enough to say why you should be hired; any candidate for local office must also explain where they stand on the issues facing the community, and why their opponent(s) are not the better choice fo residents.
I want to emphasize that there is a choice in Berkeley Heights this year. My opponents are nice people, but they are part of the status quo. I know that the status quo is unacceptable to the vast majority of residents - and I also know that I am a better candidate to change the status quo than my opponents. Just look at the situation Berkeley Heights faces in 2011:
- Municipal property taxes have risen 17% in the last 2 years alone. Since 2001 the average propery tax bill has nearly doubled.
- Many downtown buildings remain vacant, including some on Springfield Avenue that have never had tenants since it was built a few years ago. Potholes and cracked sidewalks can be seen throughout town.
- Most of our local government infrastructure is in desperate need of expansion and/or replacement. For example, our Town Hall was originally built in the 1950s, and houses the Police Department and the Recreation Center within its cramped confines.
- We lack enough commuter parking for our train station.
- Our senior citizens have to pay Mount Carmel Hall to meet there once a week.
- Many residents, especially in Murray Hill and the Sutton Drive area, went without power for 1 week after Hurricane Irene, and had little to no contact from Township officials during that time.
There are other areas where problems exist, but I believe the major ones are addressed above. I cannot, and will not, claim to have all the answers for these problems. I don't believe any Council Member gets smarter and more thoughtful just from being elected. To tackle the problems faicng Berkeley Heights, I want to draw on the insights and opinions of our residents. Only with the input of the community can its Council truly claim to be acting on its behalf.
In this, there is a clear philosophical difference between my opponents and me. In the televised debate held on Monday night, Councilman Woodruff explicitly stated that the Township Council should not go out and seek the input of residents on pertinent matters. Rather, he argued that residents need to go to the Council meetings in order to express their thoughts.
I know how hard it is for working parents, especially commuters, to drop everything after a long day and go to a Tuesday night Council meeting for 2 hours or so. To expect residents to go to the meetings on their own initatives is not only making an unfair request, but ignores the essential point of local representation. This is not the United States Congress - it is quite easy to reach out to constituents in Berkeley Heights, and every effort should made to do so in order to get their input. When it comes to the local level, residents have a right to know not only what their government is doing, but that their ideas and opinions are being put to good use by the Township Council.
If elected, that is exactly what I pledge to do. By holding a monthly "Town Hall" information session on a weekend, holding office hours to answer residents' questions, creating a volunteer e-mail list and installing "suggestion boxes" around town, the Council can vastly improve its outreach to the community, and get the best possible feedback on what it is doing.
My opponents operate under the assumption that "If no one is complaining, then things are fine." If they had gone to the events I have held to date, they would know that there are many complaints about Berkeley Heights and our local government. The problem is that residents don't know who their elected officals actually are, or feel that their voice doesn't count.
If the voters of Berkeley Heights will give me the opportunity to serve on the Township Council on November 8th, they will get to know me a great deal. More importantly, I will make sure that I listen and learn from them, bringing together the "best and the brightest" of our community to benefit our town.
The status quo in Berkeley Heights is for residents to be in the dark on what their Council is doing. My opponents believe that is acceptable. I most certainly don't.
There is a choice on November 8th - by voting for Stephen Yellin for Township Council, Berkeley Heights voters can state loud and clear that the status quo is unacceptable.
Again, I urge residents reading this statement to go to my website, www.bhdems.com to read more about me and what I will seek to do if elected.
Finally, I want to clarify a statement I made in the debate held on Monday. In my closing statement I said that Councilwoman Elaine Perna would administer the oath of office to me if I am elected. A misunderstanding has occured, as Mrs. Perna is actually ineligible to swear me in. I regret the error.