“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way –“ Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities”
Yes, my term as Trustee for the past four years has at times felt much like a Dickens novel. It was often the best of times and there was great wisdom, and yet I spent much of the time in the winter of despair, in darkness and witnessing a whole lot of foolishness.
From “this is a great job”, to “what act of insanity compelled me to do this?”, from some pretty nice accomplishments, to complete and utter frustration, to coming up with numerous brilliant ideas met with blank stares…. my term as a South Orange Trustee was truly Dickensonian.
Before I was elected to the BOT, I had no idea how complicated getting things done would be, because frankly it looks really simple from the outside. Really easy. But most everything is incredibly complicated. What should be really simple, something like putting up a banner is complicated. Want a banner on the train trestle? Contact New Jersey Transit. Want to change the timing of the traffic light at the corner of Scotland and Montrose? Call Essex County and wait for a response. Even simple issues are not simple.
If those seemingly easy issues are time consuming and complicated, imagine policy decisions regarding something that really is complex, like financing options for SOPAC or trying to make your way through contract negotiations with the unions. Each issue is like the cliché of peeling back an onion--the more you peel, the more layers there are to understand and consider.
And of course it’s not an autocracy—that would have made things a lot easier for me. Policy decisions begin at the committee level (well at least they are suppose to start there), and then go to the BOT for final votes. Working among a diverse group of individuals, and trying to understand their motivation and thought patterns, was always a challenge.
So with that I am incredibly proud of what I have accomplished as Trustee, in light of how difficult making changes, even small ones, turned out to be. I’ve studied, analyzed and voted on countless resolutions and ordinances—way too many to mention here. I’ve studied and thought about countless issues. I want to highlight the accomplishments I’m most satisfied with below.
The formation of the Special Improvement District, South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA), was a huge accomplishment for me personally and for the BOT as a whole. I believe this organization will help to make real change in the downtown and is a huge win for the Village. I was a member of the SOVCA Board (and a member of the Executive Committee) at its inception and have watched the wonderful, energetic group of Board members begin to “get stuff done”. The Village is incredibly lucky to have Matt Glass as the Board’s chair—he is an amazing leader for the Board and a huge asset to South Orange. Lisa Hackett, the newly hired Executive Director, is also a valuable addition to this organization and the Village, and I am proud to be part of the committee that selected and recommended Ms. Hackett for her current position.
Prior to my tenure on the BOT, many of our development contracts were badly mishandled. So one of my goals when joining the BOT was to push for Special Redevelopment Counsel to handle our complicated development deals. We hired McManimon, Scotland and Baumann for this role. They have worked on development agreements for the former Beifus site and the Third and Valley site, as well as other special projects. I am pleased with their work to date and trust this will help the Village to avoid the costly and time consuming mistakes of earlier administrations.
When I joined the BOT, I had a desire to see SOPAC take on a more active role in community programming. It seemed to me that the Baird and SOPAC were adversarial in their work on cultural programming. I worked hard during my tenure to transfer the management of the Giants of Jazz and Jazz at the Baird from the Baird to SOPAC. The Baird also turned over the programming of the summer concerts to SOPAC. This gives the Village an appropriate venue for both the Giants of Jazz and Jazz at SOPAC (at the Loft), has our experts in musical affairs managing musical events, and helps SOPAC to be more engaged with our community. I am enormously proud of this and my work as SOPAC’s liaison to the BOT for the past few years.
Through my work as liaison to Youthnet, I have learned first hand about the incredible work of this organization. I am proud of my role as their liaison and have worked with them on their service level agreement with South Orange. Diane Malloy, Youthnet’s Executive Director, makes the organization the success it is on very little capital. It has been an honor working with her.
I have chaired the South Orange Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee for the past four years. That work has been deeply satisfying. I am particularly delighted to have started Adult Night at the Pool and am beyond excited about the pool’s early opening this year on Memorial Day weekend.
Which leads me to all the people I’d like to thank for making this job “the best of times”. Kate Schmidt, Sandy Martiny, Diane Travers and Pete Travers at the Baird. These four do an incredible job running programs for thousands of children and adults, with very limited resources. All have been terrific to work with.
I have also sat on the Public Safety Committee for the past few years, and have enjoyed working with both Chief Markey from our Fire Department and Chief Chelel from the Police Department. Both work hard to keep the town safe and it has been an honor working with them.
On the Planning and Zoning Committee I worked with both our Village Engineer Sal Renda and our Code Enforcement head Tony Grenci. These two gentlemen were always professional and helpful to me, and I thank them for that.
I have spent many an hour discussing flowers and plants with Tommy Michetti from Public Works. Despite my constant nagging, “so Tommy this year the planters are going to live, right?, should I go out and water them myself, someone give me the keys to the truck with the water on it” , he is helpful and responsive. Thanks Tommy! (And those planters better contain living plants this summer…)
A huge thank you to our Village Clerk Robin Kline. I have received thousands of emails and documents since taking office, and don’t always have information at my fingertips. Robin has answered countless questions from me, told me dozens of times where to find the agenda form, and found documents too numerous to count when I’ve had questions on issues. Without Robin there would have been no way to be effective as a Trustee.
To former Village President Doug Newman for appointing me to the Planning Board many years ago, and for his leadership and guidance during the two years we overlapped on the governing body, I thank you as well.
I must also thank fellow Trustee Michael Goldberg for his support throughout the past four years. Michael was always there to discuss complicated issues with me. We didn’t agree on every vote, but he was extremely respectful of my opinions. I leave office with tremendous respect for Michael. He worked with incredible dedication, motivated only by his desire to do “right” for South Orange.
Also, a huge thank you to my husband Paul, who spent way too many nights over the past four years eating dinner alone, and way too much time listening to torrid Trustee tales. He has been unconditionally supportive during these years and I can’t thank him enough.
And a thank you to the residents of South Orange. You have been wonderful to work with and it has been an honor being your representative to the BOT. You also made this job “the best of times”.
And finally, back to the “incredulity and foolishness” of Dickensonian South Orange. I had hoped to read these remarks at tonight’s previously scheduled BOT meeting. It is customary to allow outgoing Trustees to make some closing remarks, and say thank you and farewell. I really had wanted to do that. Take in the room one more time, sit in executive session for one final update.
I have worked tirelessly at this job. Countless hours spent at countless meetings. I have always tried to make votes and decisions that I truly believed were in the best interest of the residents of the Village. I know that not all of my actions were perfect, but I did the best I could and worked very, very hard. And tried to do it in a professional and dignified fashion.
Which is why I am so saddened by the cancelation of tonight’s meeting. Even if a quorum is not available, the right thing to do would be to let the meeting go on without any official action taken. Let the three departing trustees have a few minutes at the microphone and bring closure to our years in office. Canceling the meeting is at best a cowardly and childish act, and at worst shockingly mean spirited. I am terribly disappointed that my final words will have to go viral…
Tomorrow is Election Day and elections do matter. Before you go to the polls carefully look at the candidates and their positions. If you own property you owe it to yourself to understand the candidates and get out and vote. For me the decision is, does the individual candidate really understand what it is to hold a job, pay a mortgage, pay taxes, maintain a home, and raise a family in South Orange? Does the candidate truly understand the tax burden and how best to spend precious resources? I hope my “replacement” will vote like I did—considering all of these issues and with the best interest of the residents in mind.
I’ll be leaving the BOT but I’ll not lose interest in the political life of the Village. I’ll be writing a monthly column for the Alternative Press (and other online forums), discussing issues, good and bad, wise and foolish. Until then…