BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Each week leading to the November 5 election, the candidates running for Berkeley Heights Township Council have the opportunity to answer question(s) that will be run in a series by TAPinto Berkeley Heights.

The following answer is from Republican Township Council Candidate Gentiana Brahimaj for Week 3.

Week 3 Question:

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Please give the definition of transparency in politics and how would you try and expand it? Change is often used as a campaign buzzword -- name the most important things you believe need change and why?

Transparency in politics is how we hold public officials accountable and to fight corruption within our government. When a government opens its meetings, budgets and decisions to the public, it is viewed as “transparent”.  However, bringing visibility to government process, budgets and decisions doesn’t go far enough. In fact, I would say, transparency in politics starts with the individual.

All public officials bring their vast experience to the table to work for the voters.  Often, public officials have a mixture of personal, private and public dealings that help to inform their position on matters related to vendors, contracts and budgets. First, we must bring to the public arena ALL of our current and past business dealings.  This will help our voters understand if there are any perceived and/or real conflicts of interest that would disqualify a public official from being objective in matters of consequence for the government. In the absence of this understanding, a public official could give favor to a past business partner or current interest that would have a positive financial outcome for that individual.

Secondly, we need to consider how the government opens itself and shares information on planning, long term decisions, budgetary impacts and day to day progress of doing the work of the area (city, county, state, etc).  A mixture of real time and periodic reporting are necessary elements to demonstrate trust with the voters. Closed door negotiations and political fluff are gimmicks that cause mistrust with voters.  I would propose the following actions;

  • In depth reporting from the DPW like what existed in 2017/18 which allowed sports programs to know when fields were being prepped and grass was being mowed.  It also gave residents an idea on whether or not they would see work happening in their area. In my opinion, this was great information that is no longer shared.

  • I would like to see the Mayor’s Corner communication be more about how the entire Council collaborates to deliver the progress which is most meaningful to the average taxpayer. 

  • I would publish our objectives so that ALL can see at the beginning of the year and then provide regular updates on progress to achievement.

  • Hold regular listening sessions with groups of residents in order to ensure we maintain connectivity with the voting public on all matters.  Additionally, these sessions will enable us to continuously bring diversity to the table.

  • We would initiate a series of surveys that would target our residence to further gain insights into how the voters approve or disprove of progress.

Change is tough for many people, in fact, it can be downright paralyzing to residents who have been in town for decades and love Berkeley Heights.  This is why, if we do progress the town in new ways, we must ensure we have a robust due diligence process that puts the taxpayer first and ensures that we are not providing favor to business contacts and/or friends of public officials.  We must demonstrate trust with our tax payers (as outlined above) in order to have the right to effect change that is in the best interest of the voters.

Often great ideas and improvements come from resident feedback so it is very important to keep the lines of communication open. How we present the information to our residents is also an important factor of transparency. The information from our government officials should be factual, clear, easy to understand and never misleading. 

Residents that have access to how our government works, understand the budget and the strategic plans, gain a greater sense of trust in the government that serves them. In today’s world technology provides an extraordinarily efficient way to improve transparency. 

Lastly, transparency involves measurement and accountability.  If tax dollars are being used for a program or programs appear to have a significant potential impact on residents, government is responsible for working with residents FROM THE START in developing meaningful indicators that are used to evaluate efficacy.  There is no reason why residents should find out about programs after the fact.

Manny Couto and I can not be perceived as having any conflict of interest with Union County, vendors of Berkeley Heights or Union county.

Vote Column B on November 5th!