SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - Sheena Collum had already made history before her term as South Orange Village President even began, as she is the first woman to hold this position in the Village's history.
Collum was elected Village President in May, 2015, having previously served on the Board of Trustees since May, 2013.
Prior to becoming the first female Village President in South Orange, Collum explained that she “didn’t really understand the significance of it," stating that she didn’t want to be compared to others based upon her youth or being a woman. Collum added, "I felt I could go head to head with anybody. I didn’t want to promote myself in that fashion."
However, after being elected, Collum said she became aware of the significance of her having broken the gender barrier from the reaction both of younger women, including local girl scouts who told her that they also aspire to be the Village President, and from older women, such as one who had just turned 100 years old and marveled at Collum's accomplishments at such a young age.
Collum, who said she works about 40 to 50 hours in her capacity as Village President, attributes her achievements during her first year-and-half in office to having "a very good team." Collum said, "I'm only as good as the team around me," which includes volunteer boards, advisory committees, the governing board, and professional staff.
Collum shared that some of the projects she is most proud of are:
- Baird building renovation to become ADA compliant (a full renovation of the Baird is also planned, including of the tennis courts).
- The Centennial Celebration of the South Orange train station, which raised $20,000, plus a $10,000 match from the South Orange Village Center Alliance. These funds will be used for beautification of the station, including lighting upgrades and murals.
- South Orange Police Department realignment, which had made it possible to provide better safety coverage for residents, while saving money with a reduction in overtime.
- New radio communications equipment for the police, which was made possible through the efforts of South Orange Village Trustees Howard Levison and Jeff DuBowy, and the Safety Committee.
- Sale of Village Hall, which saved the Village money and will result in a new, upscale restaurant occupying the space.
- Redevelopment projects, including the Orange Lawn Tennis Club and the upcoming 4th & Valley development.
Collum, who has lived in South Orange since she was a student at Seton Hall University, has also made strengthening the Village's relationship with Seton Hall a priority. While at Seton Hall, Collum was president of the Student Government Association, founded the Village Liaisons Committee, helped create the SHUFLY shuttle service with stops throughout campus and South Orange, and started the Pirates Gold Card which helps students spend money at South Orange businesses.
Collum graduated summa cum laude from Seton Hall, with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and a Masters Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in public policy. Collum was Seton Hall University Alumni of the Year in 2006.
Collum feels that the relationship between Seton Hall and South Orange continues to improve, noting that she sees a lot of collaboration from Seton Hall student leaders, and that students "show up whenever help is needed," including fraternity and sorority service projects when students have raked leaves and provided snow removal to South Orange seniors.
Despite the challenges of the job, Collum said that being South Orange Village President is the "most amazing thing in the entire world," adding that her favorite thing about being Village President is that ”every day I get to meet somebody new."
Collum added, "even on controversial issues, I love seeing the passion and dedication people have about making the community a better place. It’s a great feeling to do this."
Looking ahead, Collum thinks it's possible that South Orange and Maplewood might merge one day, pointing out that the two towns already share a school district and a court room, and are looking into sharing fire and animal control services in the near future.
Collum added that between the two towns, "we’ve got three train stations, we have a major university [Seton Hall] that’s doing incredibly well and a state of the art performing arts center [SOPAC]… Maplewood has a brand new police headquarters, that’s absolutely beautiful that cost them over $20 million, we have a new fire department that cost us significantly. Both towns are lean on staff, so there’s no major funds to save in that area, but coordination of development and infrastructure is why it’s worth looking at it right away."
"We work better together then separately," said Collum.