Government

First Look: Flemington Community Partnership, the New BID

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The board of the Flemington Community Partnership includes (from left) Councilman Brian Swingle, Karen Monroy and Paul Marciano. Credits: Curtis Leeds
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FLEMINGTON, NJ – The board that will guide Flemington’s business improvement district is starting to take shape, and its leaders are taking a step-by-step approach.

The board was created after Borough Council “de-designated” the previous board. Councilman Brian Swingle, whose job includes sitting on the new board, said when voting in favor of establishing a new board that his opinion of the original board had changed from “no confidence” to “no trust.”

The new board has adopted a new name to describe its mission: Flemington Community Partnership. Swingle is joined on the new board by a pair who bring each bring a background of inclusion and success to the endeavor: Dr. Paul Marciano and Dr. Karen Monroy.

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Marciano grew up in Hunterdon, is the author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, and has 25 years’ experience as a speaker and consultant working with businesses of all sizes. His doctorate is in clinical psychology.

Monroy’s doctorate is also in psychology, and she has master’s degrees in both business and economics. Although she has an extensive background in financial services and as a consultant, locally she may be best known as the savior of what Stan and Nancy Baron founded as Baker’s Treat. When that business closed – after working for more than a decade with women recovering from addictions – Monroy stepped in, founded Ability2work, and reinvented the shop on Route 12 that’s now called Grateful Bites. The restaurant seems true to its original spirit, and offers employment and training to the differently abled.  

Monroy said that what happened with the original BID board was “very avoidable and not inevitable.” It was a small number of people, she said, who contributed to what she called its “downward spiral.” The board wasn’t working well together, and that caused its eventual implosion, she said.

Marciano agreed. “If you ask people how they feel (about Flemington), you’ll get a lot of positive answers,” he said. But the previous environment led many people, including business owners, to be afraid to speak up.

Monroy, who is from California, compared the BID’s history to the aftermath of an earthquake. “At first, you’re blown away by the collateral damage,” she said. “Then you realize: It’s time to clean-up and re-build.”

The use of the word “partnership” in the new nomenclature is no accident. To qualify as a partnership, a group must share common goals, be open with each other and transparent with those it works with, Monroy said in an interview today. As its predecessor, Flemington Community Partnership will be funded through a special tax that’s paid by businesses and residential properties of five apartments or more that are located within in the district.

Swingle, Monroy and Marciano together form the “incorporators” of the new board. They’ve already agreed to a set of bylaws to govern the partnership’s operation and have chosen four others to join them on the board: Dave Dallas, Jim Gano, Andy Cohen and Judy Goodwin.

The bylaws, Swingle said, contemplate an 11-member board. Monroy said the remaining members will be selected by the seven now on the board. That’s consistent with the Flemington Community Partnership’s standards of openness and transparency, she said, and will allow the board to choose others who share their values. “We’re looking for leaders in the community,” Marciano said.

Monroy and Marciano agree that the policy of inclusion – something that’s obviously at the core of Grateful Bites – will be a key ingredient to the partnership’s success. Monroy quoted anthropologist Margaret Meade. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

“We aren’t sure what the future will look like,” Marciano said, but it will be different from what Flemington looks like today.

He said there’s no shortage of people offering to help the new partnership, something Monroy called “refreshing and exciting.”

The new partnership board plans to meet in closed session next week, but subsequent meetings will be public, Marciano said. Monroy said one reason she and her fellow board members can move relatively quickly is “we’re not reinventing the wheel.” The previous board already had pre-existing job descriptions, she said, and Marciano added that helped trim what is often a one-year task into a two-month mission.

Swingle said that as the board establishes itself, the next high priority will be its budget. The three agreed it’s critical that Borough Council be part of that process. “There should be no surprises,” Monroy said.

For all the work that remains, Monroy called it “light when you’re engaged with one another and the work is meaningful.” The board’s job – as with any business – is to empower other people and delegate, she said.

“People are passionate (and) positive about the opportunities before us,” Marciano said.  

The new partnership’s goals share much with its predecessor’s, including attracting and retaining businesses. As with a successful business, the Flemington Business Partnership will be entrepreneurial and resourceful, he said.

When helping to make partnership decisions, Marciano said he’ll ask himself, “If this was my business, is this how I’d be spending the money? Is this what I’d be focusing on?”

And listening, Monroy said, will be essential. “We’re a small town,” she said. But after looking at the borough fire marshal’s list of businesses, she was struck by its diversity.

Monroy said the group will “bridge chasms and divides” as it encounters them. “I prefer to think of life as a circular table,” she said, “rather than a table with sides.” All the while, she believes the group has to keep moving.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you can’t just sit there,” Monroy explained. Otherwise, Monroy said, “You’ll get run over by the train.”

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