When I voted for Mayor Angie Devanney last year, and she won that election to be our next mayor, I truly felt as if I were a part of something. I was part of a movement - of a broader community of Berkeley Heights residents who were working hard to enact positive changes in our town. That victory in November 2018 signified that people were ready for change, not only in how our government was run, but changes in transparency, fiscal management, communications, and in bringing in new ideas to solve our challenges.
Fast forward to 1 year from then and I am stunned at how much has been done in so little time. Angie, along with Council members Alvaro Medeiros, Susan Poage and Stephen Yellin, have been able to cut through the caustic environment that plagued our local government after the January 1 swearing in; I have to say, I, along with others, were stunned at the negative tone I heard that day. Yes, it was a change in local government, but as we have all seen now, it was an absolute change for the better. They plowed through and long got stuff done - a LOT of stuff - even stuff they were told they couldn’t do.
Some of the most impressive things I’ve seen, and I know many of you have as well, include:
● The vast improvement in communication - I want to hear from my local government officials, I want to feel connected to them. After all, we are all part of the same community. We’ve finally emerged from the Stone Age in this area. I love getting updates from our own Mayor on power outages, pumpkin contests and seeing her and our Council members out in the community! I for one WANT to know when our Mayor is hopping in the car to go to Elizabeth to get money for our town, or how they’re working. And who doesn’t love the videos?!
● The increase in services that benefit Berkeley Heights as a result of our DPW shared service with Union County - the terrible and dangerous stretch of Park Ave near my home was paved, the equipment our DPW now has at their disposal, the efficiency in which the employees work, the speed at which they respond to resident concerns, and more.
● The out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to how to find money to pave our roads. Reallocating money put aside in this year’s budget for a road project that turned out to be not needed, and putting it toward paving Rutgers, Hamilton and Princeton - arguably three of the worst streets in our town - was genius.
● Increased focus on the environment - I read that the Mayor is pushing solar canopies at the municipal complex. Meanwhile, Council President Alvaro Medeiros is extremely active on the Environmental Commission and heads up the Mayor’s Recycling Task Force, working with volunteers to try to find ways to keep our recycling costs down.
● The push to find grants to help increase our services yet keep taxes down. In just the few months since the Grants Committee was formed this year, we just won an $84,000 historic preservation grant from Union County to start restoring Littel-Lord farmhouse. Councilwoman Susan Poage spent months this summer putting this very intricate grant application together, even though she was told it wasn’t worth trying, then we won the second largest award in the county! I love how these passionate volunteers are helping to find funding for everything from first responder radios, scanning, alternative energy at our sewer plant, and more.
● A Historic Preservation Committee was formed to help preserve historic treasures in town, the ordinance introduced by Councilman Stephen Yellin - finally giving our town’s history the attention it deserves. That committee will work with the Historical Society and help project manage restoration projects.
All of the people involved in leading these huge accomplishments in less than a year were all voted in within the past 2 years - and all part of “Team Purple.” They didn’t just sit around waiting for interesting issues to come their way - they ran toward the challenges and found solutions.
That’s why I’m voting for Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino this year, so they can join this passionate group of “do-ers.” So many aspects of our town have been left to languish for so long - our aging infrastructure, our finances, senior citizen population, historical treasures, and more. I’ve seen enough in the past year to know that I made the right decisions the past two years with my votes, and I want to see more progress being made at lightning speed. Julie wants to speed along field and recreational field improvements, while Rina wants to spearhead more shared services and programming for our seniors. Both are very concerned with continuing with our newfound sense of fiscal responsibility, and they are very in touch with our community.
To me, this election comes down to a simple question: do you want to continue the progress made by Mayor Angie, or do you want more of what we had before 2019? The answer is clear for me - hopefully it is for you, too.