Hi, this is Stephen Yellin, and I’m running for Township Council. You can read more about me and my ideas for Berkeley Heights at http://www.bhdems.com. You can find my name on the ballot in Column A, Row 9.

This week, I want to discuss one of the major issues that has brought up in this campaign; namely, the perception that our Council is unresponsive to the concerns of the residents, and lacks the transparency necessary to gain the public’s trust. While I would argue that the current members of the Council try their best to communicate with the residents, much more can be done in this area. Berkeley Heights’ residents deserve a government that will not only listen to their concerns and ideas, but actively provide information and transparency in what they are and are not doing. I have three specific proposals and a few general ideas to achieve this goal.

  1. Revamp our Township website. Currently the website is hard to navigate, and does not provide much information for residents to understand what the Council is working on. Specifically, there is no way for residents to see the Municipal Budget, to read ordinances and resolutions and understand what issues are being discussed without going to Town Hall to personally examine the records. Our High School has many students who are experts with HTML; I propose that we ask them to redesign our website (possibly for extra credit or for a letter of recognition for their resumes) to fit the above requirements. Not only will it cost the Township nothing, but it will provide residents much easier access to the issues that matter to them.
  2. Give residents the opportunity to offer suggestions and ideas. Currently there is a “suggestion box” at Town Hall; however, it is seldom used, and could be greatly expanded on. I propose placing several different boxes across Berkeley Heights; specifically, we could place one at the Library, Mount Carmel, our schools, the Post Office and so forth. To ensure that no resident would be afraid to offer their opinions, the comments should be made anonymously. The ideas that come from these “suggestion boxes” could very well be the ideas that help our Town emerge from our fiscal crisis or improve our quality of life.
  3. Hold a quarterly “Town Hall” for the public. I propose to organize a public forum for the residents, to take place four times a year on a weekend afternoon. Many residents, whether due to work or the difficulties of driving at night, cannot attend Township Council meetings. Having a place and time that is much more convenient would help tremendously in getting residential input on pertinent matters. I suggest holding these Town Halls at either Mount Carmel or our Public Library, depending on the level of interest. As a Councilman, I would present the group with what the Council is working on, ask for the public’s ideas, and answer any other concerns or questions they may have.

I also want to briefly comment on how I would conduct myself at Council meetings. I strongly believe that, as a representative of the public, I am obligated to take a stance on issues facing Berkeley Heights and cast my vote accordingly. Abstaining to block a resolution or ordinance from passing, because you lack the votes for it to pass, is an abuse of the intent of our Faulkner Act system of government. I will only refrain from voting if I have a clear conflict of interest on the issue at hand; otherwise, I will vote “Yes” or “No”. I will always seek to work with the other members of the Council; however, if I disagree with a decision I will respectfully, but clearly dissent, and explain why.

In my final online article, I intend to summarize my reasons for running, and offer a few final thoughts on the campaign.