The world has changed in ways we never would have predicted a year ago, and most would agree that dealing with uncertainty—in so many areas of life—is the new normal. One thing the past six months have made clear to me is that in a crisis as well as during long periods of uncertainty, experience makes a difference. 

When my first term on Summit Common Council began, I was in a “listen-and-learn” mode: on-boarding meetings with city employees, required courses on ethics, budgeting and more, meeting with members of my Summit Committees, and just learning the nuts and bolts of how the City runs. I loved it! Still, I didn’t yet realize how well this learning period would serve me.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, hitting New Jersey and New York hardest in the nation. Watching the national news back in February, I remarked to Mayor Radest, “I am sensing that we better fasten our seatbelts and get ready for a real rollercoaster of a ride.” As chair of the Safety and Health Committee, I had to move quickly into action and leadership. I was keenly aware of how decades of experience in business and local service had prepared me for the current moment. For once, I was grateful for the gray hair that accompanies years of acquiring varied skills.

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For example, overseeing complex system and process transformation at the Ford Foundation enhanced my ability to manage large amounts of changing information, to listen for diverse and sometimes competing needs from teams, and to solve problems with complex interdependencies. I know how to scan a changing situation and guide outcomes that can flex to fit new circumstances. I know how to use data to enhance a team’s decision-making, and how to tap the expertise of specialists. My experience on the Board of Education gave me clarity on the complicated decisions our current BoE faced in transitioning to online learning. My role as Commissioner for the Union County Board of Taxation enabled me to be nimble in assessing how State budget decisions would impact our tax revenue and changing local budget requirements.  Making tough decisions that have broad impact is not uncommon for me. Through work experience and various board positions, I have a strong understanding of what makes for good governance. 

One job of a leader is to elevate the voice of a particular expert at the right time, in the right way. Our Health Officer Megan Avallone was one such voice. Megan is a highly knowledgeable public health specialist who serves not only Summit but seven other New Jersey towns. She is the current President of the New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials (NJACCHO). She helped to create protocols across New Jersey during the H1N1 pandemic. Megan’s guidance is reliably informed, thoughtful and practical. And, once the pandemic hit, Megan—like all of our country’s local health officers—was stretched thin.

My job as a leader on the Safety and Health Committee gave me the right platform to make sure Megan’s counsel was heard, along with our Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Police and Fire Chiefs as we made decisions concerning closures, EMT protocols, support for local hospital workers, etc. Summit’s commendable COVID-19 results reflect a supportive, engaged citizenry—and also outstanding leadership from our Mayor and Council President, as well as Council members working together with highly experienced city staff and others— like Megan Avallone. In other words, our crisis management worked because of the extensive experience of leaders, experts, and staff, collaborating toward a common goal. I am deeply gratified that I have been able to bring my own broad experience to serve Summit—my home town and the city I love—through these extraordinary challenges.

In the coming weeks, I’ll write about where I stand on other Summit issues and what I bring to Council. Whether you’re a Summit resident, business owner, leader of a local organization, or other stakeholder, you deserve to know my qualifications and views before the November election. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me!   

Susan Hairston - Candidate Summit Common Council, Ward 1