SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Springfield resident Bruce Bergen holds one of the most powerful political positions in Union County. On January 8, he was selected Chairman of the Board of the Union County Freeholders for the second year in a row. He has been on the Freeholder board since 2013. A practicing attorney, he served as Springfield Township attorney for 17 years. He says his experience has put him “…in the trenches of municipal government.”
At the reorganization meeting, Bergen announced his “Connecting our Community” initiatives for 2017. They are included at the end of this article and they tie to his views about how county government can best serve its constituents.
His two guides for governing at the county level include first “Do what cannot be done by municipal government”. In most cities that includes services like the administrative services of municipal government, police and fire as well as the schools. He feels the County should “Do what municipalities cannot do and when possible provide what is not otherwise available.”
Two examples he gave of activities Union County provides for its residents that are not available at the municipal level are skating rinks and the Watchung Stables.
Union County currently provides one rink and it is at the Warinanco Skating Rink located in Roselle. It is undergoing a $7 million renovation to be completed in 2017 that is expected to double the size of the space of the complex. Another rink is expected to be built at Oak Ridge in Clark. Combined these rinks are expected to help better support the demand for rink time of the many high school programs in Union County while reducing the need for very early morning practice times.
The Watchung Stable was part of the County Parks system when it was started in 1925. The Freeholders announced a major $2.3 million renovation and expansion of the stables in September 2015 to include a new indoor riding ring for year-round use and better heated stables. The announcement included this, “Along with golf, tennis, swimming and other facilities in County parks, Watchung Stable was established to provide all County resident with access to a popular activity that would otherwise require membership in private clubs and riding facilities.”
For Springfield, Bergen has served as the Township attorney and is currently Springfield’s attorney for their housing litigation. He is also a partner of law firm of Krevsky, Silber & Bergen, a Cranford law firm.
From his perspective as a resident, he feels, “Springfield people are friendly; they really care for each other and are always willing to help out.” Some of the local charities he highlighted that reflect that attitude include Springfield H.O.P.E., veterans and Springfield Rotary.
He is hopeful there will continue to be more development along the Morris Avenue corridor. He noted he worked on the original underpinnings for the effort about eight years and that now some progress is being made. One source of improvement is expected to be the moving of the DPW away from downtown and out of the old Hershey Building on Morris Avenue. That building is expected to be redeveloped.
Changing the structure of government is not something he recommends. He noted that all of the three prior studies recommended staying with the status quo. To him, the most important factor in government is the quality of the people serving. In his opinion, “Springfield’s government works fine.”
When we discussed areas where the county and Township worked together, he had a lot to say. Springfield does receive infrastructure grants from the county. In 2016 the grants were used for paving and in 2017 they will be available again.
A product the county developed and made available to its municipalities is a GIS program that allows the user to chart roads and properties as well floor plans. It should help improve protection preparedness according to Bergen. He noted most municipalities are already using it.
One program he felt was not getting much attention is the shuttle along Route 22, which is used primarily by those working there. Transportation in Springfield suffers from lack of a train station, he supports the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition’s efforts to improve rail service (http://www.raritanvalleyrail.com/). He also feels continued attention should be given to remediate flooding along the Rahway River.
A source of frustration for Bergen has been what he feels is a lack of State support for much of its reforms because he believes “…it does not spread the cost of government fairly”. Instead, he feels the burden has been pushed to the county and municipal level and creating fiscal pressures that may result in higher taxes or painful cuts.
An issue at the state level he highlighted was bail reform. Major changes to the state’s bail system are taking effect in 2017 and Bergen sides with the position of the New Jersey Association of Counties that insufficient funds have been made available from the state to make the changes. He said the state was providing none of the estimated $1.8 million needed to accomplish the bail reform in Union County.
“Union County born and bred…” Bruce Bergen’s mom was born in Newark and his dad was born in Jersey City. He grew up in Cranford, which is where his dad’s business was located. Bruce was born in Union County and aside from college has always lived in Union County. A long time resident of Springfield, Bergen and his wife raised their son and daughter here.
A graduate of Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, Bergen majored in Sociology and Psychology. He got his law degree from Seton Hall University. He is a partner in the Cranford Law Firm of Krevsky, Silber & Bergen and has worked there for over 36 years.
His interest in politics started with the 1968 presidential election and his support of the Democrat’s candidate Hubert Humphrey. At the time he lived in Cranford, and at the time there were a lot more republicans registered to vote.
His interest in politics continued during his time in Cleveland. He worked on the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of Arnold Pinckney who was trying to unseat the Republican Mayor of Cleveland Ralph Perk. It was that experience that gave him an “insider’s view” of the workings of campaigns. When he returned to New Jersey, Bergen got involved in the Democratic Party in Cranford. He is now one of the senior members of the Democratic Party in Union County.
Bergen has received many honors and worked on many committees, which can be found at this website - http://ucnj.org/departments/clerk-of-the-board/freeholders/chairman-bruce-bergen/. His Facebook page link is https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008996416126&fref=ts.
Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen’s “Connecting our Community” initiatives for 2017
- UC LEAP: Learning, Employment and Arts Programs (for youth):
- In the centerpiece program, the County will partner with the Simon Youth Foundation, the Union County Vo-Tech, the Workforce Development Board and the State Department of Labor to create an Alternative High School for at-risk-youth that will open at the Mills at Jersey Gardens this year.
- In Summit, the County will partner with Overlook Hospital to co-sponsor the Project Search program, which provides employment and training for youth with disabilities. The hospital is one of only four employers state-wide that was selected to host this program.
- In Scotch Plains, the Union County Vocational Technical Schools will offer programs designed to train students for the arts, and high-paying legal and technology careers. This includes the new full time Academy for Law and Justice, opening in September; a Hack-A-thon event, which is a twenty-four hour computer science and engineering competition open to all students of high school age; and a student play at the Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) in Rahway.
- The Freeholder Board will once again sponsor the American Theater Group's second Annual Group Drama Festival at the Hamilton Stage in April, and the third annual Union County Advancing Community Theatre (UCACT) program at UC PAC. Through UCACT, the Freeholder Board sponsors local theatrical groups to bring their productions to the big stage at UCPAC in Rahway.
UC MEANS GREEN II:
- The Freeholders will offer increased funding for another round of grants for local governments, community organizations and non-profits serving hundreds of residents, through the UC Community Gardens grant program which was so successful last year.
- The Department of Public Works will "turn a new leaf" with its composting operations at the Houdaille Quarry, while providing a much needed service to the County's municipalities. The leaf and grass collected countywide will be sold as high-end compost to private companies, producing as much as $500,000 a year in revenues.
- The Board will partner with local veterans groups, including Operation Rebound and the New Jersey Vets Commission in efforts to strengthen the mental and physical well-being of veterans.
- The County will establish the first Veterans Success Center, through the Department of Economic Development. Relying on existing resources, the Center will assist veterans with job placement and training, career advisement, and referrals to health resources.
- The Parks Department will work to refurbish and re-dedicate the existing veterans Memorial Grove in Rahway Park. The Parks Department will replace missing trees, create a new online map, refurbish the area around the memorial marker, and re-dedicate this historic tree grove and marker.
- The "Continuum of Care"---a series of social service announcements for 2017:
- The County will fund beds for a minimum of 25 additional residents who require heroin or other opioid addiction treatment in 2017. The treatment will include up to seven days of DeTox treatment, and up to 28 days of inpatient rehabilitation, per person.
- The Human Services Department will work to create the Union County Nonprofit Consortium Leadership Development program, and fund of a series of management leadership trainings, geared toward top nonprofit management staff.
- The County will explore of the creation of an Office on Volunteer Services.
- The County will continue the "Senior Focus" and "Seniors in Motion" programs. "Senior Focus" funding is being used for equipment for or repairs and rehabilitation of senior center facilities. The vans awarded by the County to the municipalities for the transport of seniors in the "Seniors in Motion" program have begun to roll out, and will be continuing throughout the year.
- The county will be purchasing a Fire Fighting Water Tanker that will bring 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water to a scene for municipal fire fighters, providing an effective means to suppress an active fire in remote areas.
- In an effort to keep first responders in constant communication during a crisis, the County will expand upon last year's "Mutual Aide Radio project," and assist the 17 agencies who use the Union County Dispatch service with compatible radios to ease communication.
- The Bureau of GIS is working with the UC Prosecutor's Office to develop an online Crisis Mitigation Plan including the introduction of a Homeland Security program to scan floor plans of key public facilities into the County GIS, to speed emergency response.
- Working with local law enforcement, floor plans for the County's 230 public and private schools have been added. The County plans on extending this program to capture as many important public facilities as possible.
Other announcements included:
- A second annual performance by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra--- this time at Oak Ridge Park in Clark, with a re-enactment battle of Short Hills which occurred 240 years ago;
- The County will roll out historic signage marking the Crossroads of the Revolution National Heritage Area at revolutionary era sites to raise the public's awareness of history;
- The County will host the first-ever Family Pride CommUNITY Picnic event at Rahway Park in the summer, celebrating marriage equality;
- Updates throughout the Parks system: developing a new spray park for Wheeler Park in Linden; a new multi-use Astroturf field for Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield; and the opening of the new skating facility at Warinanco Park. The public will also be able to access programs and online tickets to popular parks events including the Pumpkin Sail and Harvest Fest.