PLAINFIELD, NJ - Tracy Bennett was born and raised in the City of Plainfield. She is proud to have been educated in the Plainfield School System. In 1986, Tracy passed the state exam making her the first African American female certified as a tax assessor in the State of New Jersey. In 1988, she was appointed to the position of tax assessor for the City of Plainfield making her the first African American female to hold this position in New Jersey.
Tracy was inducted into Plainfield High School Hall of Fame in 2013. She is a Board member of the New Horizons College Club, served on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Union County, served as chairperson for the Plainfield Cooks for Children Who Have Beat the Odds Program, and served as a mentor and Board member of the Plainfield Safe Haven program.
MN: Mayor's Newsletter; TB: Tracy Bennett
MN.Hi Tracy, I know you're busy so thanks for taking the time to chat with us.How long have you been with the City of Plainfield?
TB. Officially since 1982 but started working here since I was a junior in high school. I was part of the Summer Youth Internship program from Junior high through College.
MN. Wow, so your entire career has been with the City of Plainfield?!
TB. That's right, my entire career has been here and I've loved every minute of it!
MN. Have you ever thought of going elsewhere?
TB. There was a brief second when my former boss who at the time was the Tax Administrator for the County retired, and it was suggested to me that I should apply for the job. The Mayor at the time who was Al McWilliams said he would support me and so did some of the commissioners but I didn't even apply because I like to be very hands on and I love going out to do inspections and meet the people that I serve in my capacity here. I also enjoy when they come to the office and meet me
MN. I didn't realize that you had to do inspections also
TB. Yes, there are only three of us in this department. Richard and I do the inspections and he can't do them all by himself. We are entering Tax appeal season now and there is only a small window to do the inspections and we get close to 500 each year. Plus, I actually enjoy doing it. I like putting faces to names, and the majority of them know that if they come to City Hall for whatever reason they can call on me and I'll try to help if I can.
MN. So you've always been in the Tax Assessor's office since you started?
TB. NO actually, when I was an intern I was in the Tax Collector's office and I came to the Tax Assessors office in 1982
MN. What position(s) did you hold?
TB. In the Collectors office I worked as a clerk then when I came to the Assessor's office I was the Principal Assessing Clerk and then in 1986 I became the Assistant Assessor and in 1988 I became the Assessor.
MN. Well that didn't take very long - just two years from Assistant to Assessor. (laughter)
TB.What happened was the person who was the Assessor and who was a great mentor for me... Bill Wheeler, he actually took the job as Finance Director and then the Administration appointed me as the Assessor. It was both humbling and exciting.
MN. It's a testament to the work that you do. People speak very highly of you as a person and of your work ethic.
TB. Thank you, I really feel that I have to live up the confidence that has been placed in me and for a little while I also was the Finance Director under Mayor Al Mcwilliams. He had made somechanges in the administration and didn't want to go outside to look and so I held a dual role as Assessor and Finance Director.
It was a lot...
MN. I'm sure it was
TB. But it was great, at that time I wanted another challenge and he allowed me to auction some City owned properties that were just sitting on the books. I remember the first auction we were thrown out of City Hall Library by the Fire Chief at that time Cecil Allen - because we were over capacity (laughs). But we moved to City Hall steps and that turned out great. We were able to raise approximately $1.5 million dollars through a couple of auctions.
Then we were also looking for a site for the Senior Citizens Center. The Seniors would come out to the council meetings and complain and the Mayor was like "Tracy do something, why are they at the mike so much?" and I went down there to figure out what was going on... They said we deserve a better place to meet than we have now. So we assembled some properties together and with my real estate background it helped facilitate the process. We approached the property owners and put the property together and that's where the current Senior Citizens Center is now.
It really has been a great career here, I have no complaints
MN. That all sounds wonderful but there must have been some challenges along the way, what would you say was your greatest challenge(s)?
TB. I would say when I had the dual role as Tax Assessor and Finance Director. It was both rewarding and challenging. The challenge was trying to juggle that much responsibility and do it well; it really demanded a lot of my time and I really only intended to do it until the end of his first term. It never crossed my mind that he would want me to continue doing it. But it turns out he did and I had to respectfully decline because it was taking a lot of time from my family so he nicknamed me "Benedict Bennett" and that was our inside joke (laugh) - He would hear me outside his office and say "is that Benedict Bennett out there" (laugh).
MN. So do you have any regrets?
TB. Absolutely no regrets associated with my time here. I've worked with many different administrations who all have had their different styles; But I respect each one and in doing my job I've tried to make it easier for them to do theirs. I never would want them to go out and speak about my office and cringe. I've always respected the Mayor's position and I've gotten along well with each one. I report to a lot of people in this position; I report to the county, I report to the Mayor, I report to the Finance Director and most importantly I report to the residents of Plainfield. I've never had any real difficulty - if you just treat people decently and are honest with them - you don't always have to agree, but you don't have to be disagreeable either.
MN. What has been a highlight for you over the years?
TB. The highlight of my time has been helping to develop the people I work with professionally. A former assistant of mine is now the Assessor in Piscataway and I'm extremely proud of her, and also having the summer interns work in my office each year because that's how I started and I always tell them that. Don't just think of this job as just a check. Even if they don't end up working in City government - they can use the skills they gain here as a springboard to something else. I try to instill in them a good work ethic. Many of them come back to see me, some of them are married, own homes and have kids of their own (laugh) I'm like "Oh my goodness." Some are in the service, some work for the State. It's just really gratifying to see them grow and develop.
This is not a field that people choose, I didn't choose this field, I was going to be an accountant but this turned out great because I get to work with my numbers and I get to work with people so it's the best of both worlds. I couldn't ask for more than that, plus I was born and raised here in Plainfield and I live here. The two young people in my office now are great, they work hard and are willing to go to classes. There are certain classes you have to take to be an Assessor and I want to prepare them for that role because I won't be here forever and I want them to strive to take this seat and I'm going to do all I can to get them there.
MN. So what's next for Tracy?
TB. When I retire from the City I'm going to spend lots of time with my family, I have three grandchildren. I'm a Jehovah's Witness so spending time on my ministry. Traveling with my girlfriends. Retirement isn't immediate but it's coming and it's only fair to give someone else the opportunity I had. I don't want to stay here and never leave but I love it and love the residents here, they are the best bar none. It's been a great ride.