UNION, NJ – Each week, Tapinto Union will be running a series called “Meet the Leaders”.  The objective is to provide our readers an opportunity to hear from Township leaders in government, public safety, education, houses of worship and other areas, regarding Union’s present and future outlook.  

Each ‘leader’ was asked to share a little information about their background and personal life.  Additional questions varied by job title.  The answers will be published unedited. 

Today, Township Committeewoman Michele Delisfort is featured:

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Tapinto Union:  Tell us a little about your background.

Committeewoman Delisfort:  I am 46 years old and a Haitian-American. My husband George and I have two children, Ahmael (age16) and Chase (age 16).  I am a licensed Professional Planner with over 20 years of experience.  I received a BA in Political Science from Rutgers University and a Masters Degree in City and Regional Planning from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy at Rutgers University. 

My parents moved to Vauxhall when I was a month old.  After college, I lived in Middlesex County (New Brunswick, Edison, Woodbridge) and Essex County (West Orange).  My hobbies include weight training, jogging, reading and traveling.  My favorite sport is tennis.  I’m very happy with Serina Williams’ successes (especially at the recent Australian Open!!)

I am an active member of my church.  Family is a major priority in my life.  I am a small business owner of a Planning consulting firm and I am interested in real estate development and international planning.  I am a former Adjunct Professor at the Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy at Rutgers University and authored the NJ American Planning Association (APA-NJ) Chapter Redevelopment Policy Guide (a guide that articulates recommendations to improve upon key redevelopment concepts and legislative regulations throughout the State).  I am a Class IV Member of the Union Planning Board for 10 years.  I have a love of learning and am solution-oriented.  I enjoy using professional and personal skill-sets to help others.

Tapinto Union:  How long have you been on the Committee?  What other positions have you held?  Why did you run for office?

Committeewoman Delisfort:  I have been on the Township Committee for one year (January 2016-present).  I have held the position of Police Commissioner and have overseen the Traffic, Parking & Transportation Departments.  I am currently the Fire Commissioner and I oversee the Economic Development Advisory Committee, American with Disabilities Act Committee and continue to serve as a member of the Townships Planning Board. 

The reason I ran for office was because I am very proud of the Township of Union and wanted to assist in furthering its accomplishments by offering my knowledge, professional experience and skill-sets to the Township in order to promote sound planning practices through enhanced & equitable policy decisions.  My intentions are to be strategic about development initiatives, responsive to residents and the business community and thoughtful and proactive about addressing quality of life issues in Union Township.

Tapinto Union:  What have you learned during your tenure as a Committee person?

Committeewoman Delisfort:  I’d say that I have gained a genuine and deep appreciation for the dedication of both the municipal workers and the governing body. The passion for my hometown is matched by my colleagues on the Committee and the men and women that report to work every day to serve the citizens of this great community.  I’ve learned that Union Township truly operates as a Team.

Tapinto Union:  Can you outline the departments you oversee and the responsibilities therein?

Committeewoman Delisfort: I oversee the Fire, Purchasing and Building departments. In this capacity I am the liaison between the aforementioned departments and the Township Committee and am also responsible for informing the residents, stakeholders and the general public about the current initiatives and policy decisions undertaken within the respective departments.

More specifically:

Fire Department:  Inform the public about fire prevention, operation and inspection activities.  Oversee the initiatives of the 106-member fire department and its Special Operations training team (i.e. Confined space rescue).

Building Department: Report to the Township Committee and residents on programs and activities such as the new credit card payment policy that allows contractors, vendors and homeowners to pay for service via credit card in addition to check and money orders. Other notable services offered by the department include the Homeowner Renovation  & Inspection service and the Rental Property inspection program.  

Purchasing Department: Report to Township Committee and residents about major purchases related to Capital Improvement projects, such as the purchases related to the programs articulated in the Mayor’s Capital Project Initiatives (which was announced at the 2017 Reorganization Meeting).  Some of these projects, include but are not limited to:

  • Springfield Avenue and Union Center Streetscape Projects
  • Former Vauxhall Library Community Project
  • Redevelopment initiatives
  • Road improvement projects 
  • Union Center Wi-Fi
  • The Main library Renovation project

Tapinto Union:  What do you see as challenge(s) for Committee members?

Committeewoman Delisfort:  Community Outreach. As you are aware, the Township of Union is 9.09 square miles with a population of 58,128 residents.  While the Township has a small town feeling, its growing population makes it difficult for the Committee members to consistently communicate with ALL of its residents.  The Township Committee members are very committed to ensuring that the concerns of our residents and stakeholders are heard and addressed in a sufficient and timely matter.  We encourage all members of the Township to attend the bi-monthly Township meetings and conference sessions and remain very transparent via social media, township website, etc. We are also consistently identifying ways to increase our personal connections with community members because nothing takes the place of face to face contact.

Tapinto Union:  What do you see as challenge(s) for Union?

Committeewoman Delisfort:  Maintaining our quality of life.  We are so fortunate to have a diverse community with great services.  Arguably, we are the envy of so many other communities.  Our challenge has establish innovative ways to: (a) maintain the excellent caliber of municipal services (b) maintain the diversity and sense of community (c) develop/grow responsibly and without detracting from the character that has made Union so attractive to residents, businesses, and visitors.

Tapinto Union:  Are there any new programs/events/initiatives you'd like to discuss?

Committeewoman Delisfort:

  • Springfield Avenue & Union Center Streetscape Project(s):

As a Professional Planner, I recognize that streets are not just places for motor vehicle travel but are also areas where people engage in various activities.  Streetscapes are an important component of the public realm.  They help define a community’s aesthetic quality, identity, economic activity, health, social cohesion and opportunity, not just its mobility.  This is evident in the various activities, programs and events that occur in our Township on an annual basis.  I’m fortunate to be part of a Township Committee that was very receptive to this streetscaping concept and felt it appropriate to apply to the Springfield Avenue and Stuyvesant Avenue corridor(s). The project will include changes to select road cross sections, traffic management, sidewalk conditions, landscaping and street furniture (utility poles, benches, garbage cans, etc.). It also involves improving signage. It is my expectation that Union Center and Springfield Avenue Streetscape improvements expectation that Union Center and Springfield Avenue Streetscape improvements can provide a variety of economic, social and environmental benefits to residents and patrons of our Township.

  • Redevelopment Projects:

I am very excited about the upcoming and existing redevelopment initiatives such as Seabra, Stowe Street, former Merk site and DRA. The aforementioned development activity is expected to generate increased economic and pedestrian activity in Union Center and in the area surrounding the train station. It is also anticipated that these projects can attract retailors that respond to consumer interests.  The positive effects of redevelopment that extend outside the project areas include:

  • More job opportunities (retail, service, office jobs);
  • Construction jobs created by the development of new buildings and new infrastructure and the remodeling of existing buildings;
  • New shopping, and recreation opportunities within the community;
  • Modern dollars flowing into the Townships budget as a result of redevelopment activities in order to provide greater public safety and services;
  • Improvement of the area without increasing an individual's property taxes;
  • Improving the safety and environment of adjacent areas; and
  • The restoration of community pride.

The Township will be sponsoring a host of events throughout 2017. Throughout the month of February, in celebration of Black History Month, the Township will host a film festival showcasing great African American movies like Hidden Figures, Southside with You, Journey of Henry “Box” Brown and more.  The movies will be shown at various locations throughout the town (i.e.  Jefferson School, Vauxhall Public Library, Union Public Library and Union Theater).  Furthermore, there is an MLK Jr. Essay Contest underway! Submissions are due on 2/14 and the contest winner(s) announcement will be made during the 2/28 Township Committee meeting at Town Hall at 7:30PM. Also, throughout the month of March, the Township will host a series of events to honor Women’s History Month! For more details about upcoming events, please visit the Township website at www.uniontownship.com.