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 Democratic Township Council Candidate Rina Franchino 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?

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?

For Julie Figlar and I, transparency in local politics means: 

  • Being accountable to residents in person. We need to take township government to the community, and not make residents come to us. Mayor Devanney and Team Purple have been out and around in the community in 2019, as well as using official Facebook pages and other outlets to show how progress is being made. Julie and I will do the same thing. We need to use mediums where residents are.
  • Give as much information as possible to our residents through the large number of avenues we have open to us. These include newsletters and e-newsletters, TAP into Berkeley Heights, in-person community forums, and social media. Our township and the Communications Committee just won a statewide award for their videos on upcoming events in town – proof that we’re doing a better job communicating with residents. 
  • Being open to criticism or dissent. Residents deserve the right to be heard and not be disregarded or dismissed.

Plus, the more we communicate with our residents, the more transparency they feel they are being given - the two go hand in hand. If we are truly making the right decisions for Berkeley Heights, there’s no reason to not be transparent and communicate the reasons for those decisions. 

But how you govern should also be transparent. For example, this administration approved lists of qualified professionals at the beginning of the year, vetting each professional before they could work for the township - instead of just hiring as we go. This list was public and presented to Council for approval in January. I am also extremely impressed that we are now going through proper financial steps in having the Council pass resolutions to apply for and receive grants and grant money, to properly hire professionals to do specific jobs for the town, and to make sure enough money is set aside for large infrastructure projects the township has planned. This all not only makes for good governance, but great transparency.

Based on these criteria, Julie and I know that Team Purple has exceeded what transparency in local politics requires. There’s more than can be done, of course, and we’ll join the governing body with that goal in mind. 

However,  these are some important changes I believe need to be made, and that I would focus on if elected.  These ideas can all be considered part of our definition of transparency. 

We need to communicate with residents and be transparent about what we plan to do about:

  • Property taxes keep going up, due to factors we have no control over, meaning we can’t keep the budget flat without slashing critical services like police officers or road repair funding. 
  • We need to better convey where our tax dollars are going; I will work with our CFO to try to develop a more user-friendly budget that is easy for residents to understand around budget season.
  • In any future redevelopment agreements, we need to include some sort of penalty when developers do not uphold their end of the agreements and get built on schedule. These agreements should be clear to the taxpayers what is coming, and what the residents may get in return (a Community Impact Fee, for example, to offset any negative conditions created by that project).
  • We also need less divisive, partisan politics in order to bring Berkeley Heights residents together to make more positive changes. 

On a personal note, I will also focus on how we can use shared services to provide more savings for Berkeley Heights taxpayers. We should host a Shared Services Summit in 2020, bringing together other towns to share ideas and find out how we can work together more productively in future. Not every idea will be a good fit for Berkeley Heights but we should actively examine every one of them to see if they are. 

I encourage everyone to read more about Julie and I, and our detailed plans for Change We Can Agree On at www.bhteampurple.com. Please vote for Julie Figlar & Rina Franchino for Township Council on November 5th, Column A. Thank you for your support!