LIVINGSTON, NJ — Now more than two months into his second term as Livingston’s mayor, Al Anthony is looking to the year ahead with optimism, citing his experience and new faces on the governing body as reasons why this time around will be even more successful as his last.
As of March 1, Livingston has officially had a permanent township manager in place for one year—which will make Anthony’s next term as mayor very unlike his first term in 2016, when the position became vacant and Russ Jones took over responsibilities of both township manager and deputy township manager.
Although Anthony said having a township manager is “one of the only things that’s really going to be different this time around,” he said that Barry Lewis is “setting his stride” in 2019 and is bound to make the township run more smoothly than ever.
“The last time I was mayor was a different type of year,” said Anthony. “At the time, we did an evaluation of our town manager and that person ended up not being there for the full year, so now I am looking forward to working with Barry for a full year as mayor.
“Barry is a very experienced and terrific town manager. With him being so knowledgeable and learning more about the town in the last year, I think he is getting even better at his job.”
Anthony noted that having a township manager is “a different style of government,” but that he wants Lewis to be able to “do the things he needs to do to run the town day to day.”
“If he wants to be creative on something, I think we’ll give him a lot of latitude on that,” he said. “We just want to make the town the best it can be for everyone who lives here.”
Despite the impact that having a new township manager will have on the governing body, Anthony felt differently about the recent addition of Michael Vieira as the fifth council member. He stated that the remaining four council members are “all moving in the same direction as far as what the priorities are for this year” and expressed confidence that Vieira will be equally committed to these goals.
“Being in the mayor's seat means you get to set the agenda and be the face of the town for the year, but I think the entire council—to the person—is all going in the same direction as far as what's best for the town,” he said. “I think we'll be able to work on our goals this year and hopefully reach them even with a brand new person. I think the transition will be seamless because anyone interested in being on the council will be interested and putting the town first and know what the town needs and how to get busy working on it.”
One of Anthony’s top priorities this year is to have a “shovel in the ground” on the Department of Public Works (DPW) relocation project. He expressed doubt that the project would be complete during his year as mayor, but indicated that the council intends to at least determine a new location for the building, potentially acquire the land for it and finally start the construction process.
“It's ambitious, but I think we will at least acquire the site or pick the site and be well down the road on that by the end of the year,” said Anthony. “For years we've been talking about whether [S. Livingston Ave.] is really the right space for the DPW, knowing that it should probably be moved elsewhere and that the condition of it now is not the greatest. Now is the time to either renovate it, which I do not think we are leaning toward, or to move it to another more suitable location and do something more appropriate for that spot in town.”
As mayor in 2016, Anthony put together a DPW committee to determine viable spots for the DPW headquarters. At the time, the committee discussed the possibility of relocating it to an area near the Livingston Circle, which has access to many of the main roads in town—but the project never made it further.
However, with Lewis now firmly in place to reopen the discussion, Anthony believes the council can finally move forward.
“The next step was to get an architect to see what was possible there, and that took a little while, but now we have a new town manager who’s reassessing everything and seeing if that would be the best spot,” he said. “He’s getting to know the whole town and he is looking at the whole map to see what he thinks. So in addition to the great committee, why not have the guy who is running the town day to day look at it and see if there are any other spots that are even more ideal?”
Some of Anthony’s other goals include strengthening the relationships that he made in 2016 and has been fostering with elected officials in other towns as well as making good use of the resources that are currently available in the township’s Open Space Trust Fund.
Anthony is currently looking forward to the second of what he hopes will become a monthly meeting with the mayors and business administrators of surrounding municipalities—including Roseland, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Caldwell, West Caldwell and North Caldwell—to discuss shared service opportunities. West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta is hosting the next meeting of the mayors on March 28.
Meanwhile, as the council liaison to the open space committee, Anthony noted that money has accumulated in the township’s Open Space Trust Fund and that the committee is “looking for ways to use it to acquire property.” In 2019, Anthony hopes to either determine some properties for the township to potentially purchase and preserve as open space, or determine ways to use the funds to enhance existing open space, such as turfing an existing field or implementing a community garden.
“The whole idea behind the Open Space Trust Fund is to enhance the quality of life in town,” said Anthony. “You can't have everything developed, so this is meant to preserve some spots for open space. This year, I'd like to see our open space committee come to the council with a recommendation of what to purchase with our open space money—and if not for a purchase, the ordinance also states that it can be used to enhance or develop open space as well.”
Anthony explained that working on the bigger projects, and particularly seeing them completed, is one of the greatest thrills of being on the council.
He reflected that “2016 was an ambitious year” with several large projects that included the construction of the Saint Barnabas Medical Center Community Field and securing a commitment from the county to refurbish Riker Hill Art Park, which is finally in the works.
“Former mayors have told me that the thing that you'll remember when you're off the council is the projects that you worked on and got done,” he said. “I can go past Saint Barnabas field and say, ‘We did that when I was on the council.’ That's very rewarding to see things that have been talked about for years and you come in and are able to be a person of action to help get it finished. Seeing things come to fruition is a huge thrill of being on the council.”
An equally rewarding part of the job for Anthony is handing out citations during council meetings—which is something that becomes even more special while sitting in the mayor’s seat.
“One of the things I love most is when we give a citation to kids who did something outstanding during the year,” he said. “Whether it's an Eagle Scout or an athletic team or an Academic achievement or an innovative project…these kids have these great ideas so I love to bring them in.
“I love any citation, whether it's a business that meets a milestone or someone who save someone else's life—that's one of the most fun parts of the job. You're able to me these great people who come to you at Town Hall because they did something great. If you want to meet great people, join town council because you really see some of the best of the best.”
As the year moves along, Anthony intends to put his previous experiences both in the mayor’s seat and from his career as a partner at Locks Law Firm to good use.
“Experience helps,” said Anthony. “The second time around will present itself with new issues, but I have three members who just won re-election and I'm in the middle of a second term, so I think the experience of all of us helps with anything that comes down the pike.
“I'm also an attorney and I handle class actions, so I'm quite accustomed to representing large groups of people at the same time. [My job] involves is talking to a lot of people and getting as much input as possible and coming to the best decision on large-scale cases. Sometimes you're talking to hundreds of people at the same time and representing them, so it's not that far from representing a town and doing the best thing for a town.”
Anthony, who has always been interested in politics, was a political science major in undergrad at Seton Hall University and also received a Masters Degree in public administration as a joint degree while in law school at Syracuse University.
One of his responsibilities now involves advocating to a jury or a judge, which inspired him to implement a “Meet the Mayor” series in 2016 that he has carried into his new term. For at least a half hour prior to each council meeting, Anthony invites the public to speak with him one on one about any concerns or ideas they may have.
“If I hear a good idea from the meet the mayor sessions I can advocate that position even though I'm only one of five votes,” said Anthony. “I thought it was terrific last time because not everyone wants to come to a microphone or post something on Facebook. Meet the Mayor allows me to just sit there and just listen to anyone who wants to come up and talk about any issues or ideas about what the town needs without having to say it in front of other people.
“Even if the discussion is about an issue rather than an idea, it always seems to be friendly and light-hearted. It’s nice to be able to talk things out, hear what people are saying and put it into action. That's what makes good government.”
Meetings are typically held on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. at Livingston Town Hall. The next township council meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 13, at 7 p.m. Stop by before the meeting to visit with Anthony during his Meet the Mayor sessions.