UNION, NJ – Tapinto Union’s “Meet the Leaders” series continues with a conversation with Deputy Mayor Joseph Florio.
The objective of the series 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 are published unedited.
Tapinto Union: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
Deputy Mayor Florio: I have resided in Union since 1969. I grew up in Newark and spent a few years in Bloomfield before moving to Union. I attended Rutgers and Farleigh Dickenson University. I have three married children all of whom went through Union School systems. I also have three remarkable grandchildren ages 6, 8, 9. They are probably my greatest passion today. I enjoy spending time with them, watching them participate in sports and one is even active in dancing and acting. I have been married 50 years to my wife Terry who I give credit to for having to accommodate the many long days when I worked as an Information Technology Senior Director at UPS and, of course, maybe the hardest- being the wife of an elected official over the past 21 years.
I have spent almost all of my career in the field of Information Technology. The last 21 years of my career were at UPS where I worked my way up to assume Senior Director over as many as 450 Information Technology professionals. To play a major part in growing UPS, who at the time had total staff of 400, to a company that is now considered one of the most advanced tech companies with a staff of over 5,000 when I retired, was challenging and exciting to say the least.
The important things I learned there were the value of hard work (10- to12-hour days were common), the importance of being accountable for your work and your people, the importance of ethics in business and your personal actions, and the need to put customer needs first in any of your endeavors. I have always tried to bring forward these important traits in my years on the Township Committee.
I have always been a sports enthusiast. I played baseball and basketball when I was in school and actually had a tryout with then Milwaukee Braves. I played many years after that in club leagues until one too many injuries forced me to retire.
I love working with and coaching young people. Myself and few other men started the first instructional basketball clinic here in Union. I also spent 10 years coaching in our little league program. An experience I will always remember was when I coached our all-star team and they advanced to the State finals. That team still holds the recognition today as the second team in Little league history to go that far.
My favorite spectator sport now is pro football. My favorite team is the New York Jets. That has been a painful journey.
Tapinto Union: How long have you been on the Committee? What other positions have you held?
Deputy Mayor Florio: I’ve served on the Township Committee for more than 20 years. In that time, I have served as liaison to almost every department. I currently serve as liaison to the Senior Center and Department of Recreation. I’ve also served four terms as Mayor.
I have lived in Union for 48 years and have a long history of service to the community including serving as a member of the Planning Board, Board of Adjustment and as co-chairman of the Study Commission for the Board of Education Adult Advisory Committee.
As for the age old question of why I ran for office, I think it’s rather simple. You always want the best for the community that you choose to raise your family in. You want to reside somewhere clean, safe and in an area that thrives. You want good schools, services and programs for your children and grandchildren. As the years pass, friends and neighbors become family and you want the same for them and their loved ones. So, as a resident there is no other way to make sure that your community continues to move in the right direction than to become civically engaged.
Tapinto Union: What have you learned during your tenure as a Committeeperson?
Deputy Mayor Florio: The most important thing that I have learned is the importance of trust, personal communication, and relationship building. Even in today’s era of internet, email and social media, I find that most people tend to appreciate (now more than ever) a personal visit or phone call, just to make sure that they are doing well and they’re happy with the services we are providing. That’s not to discount the importance of digital communication but rather to remind people that there is still relevance in shaking someone’s hand in person and letting them know that you care about them and the community.
My 20 + years have been a non-stop learning experience. In addition to the importance of communication, I’ve learned that one’s town is only as good as the services they provide. That’s why I have made it a priority to make sure that we are top notch in the areas of public safety, public works, and recreation, for both children and adults. We have built soccer fields, softball leagues, invested in new playground equipment, and included programs like lego engineering for kids, superhero creation workshops, field hockey clinics and more.
In line with that is the importance of smart development that coincides with our economic needs and the needs of our residents. As such, I was instrumental in bringing in major businesses to Union like Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, Lowes, Whole Foods and Bed Bath and Beyond. I also played a major role in residential development such as Avalon Bay and the Hovnanian projects. Most of these areas were previously abandoned and blighted industrial sites, the redevelopment of these areas and influx of these businesses has created thousands of jobs for Union and area residents.
I have also sought to take the lead to make sure our first responders continue to be equipped with the latest in equipment and training.
Tapinto Union: Can you outline the departments you oversee and the responsibilities therein?
Deputy Mayor Florio: Right now, I am the liaison to the Recreation Department and the Sr. Center where the idea is to make sure that we continue to provide excellence where it pertains to our traditional programs, but also look for new and exciting programs to meet the constantly changing needs of our residents. As I mentioned previously, our Recreation Department has added a number of new programs, but our Senior Center continues to thrive especially with their latest addition- the Baby Boomers Café.
They also recently received a new vehicle from the County of Union, as part of their “Seniors in Motion” program, which will help with transportation, and trips.
Tapinto Union: What do you see as challenge(s) for Committee members? What do you see as challenge(s) for Union?
Deputy Mayor Florio: I think one of the changes that has been most challenging has been simply how and where people live, shop, and how they get their information.
The fact of the matter is that when I began my career in public service, the definition of the American dream was very simple. You would find a good job, and settle down there and think of your career as long term. You would buy a house in a nice neighborhood and live out the rest of your life in one place. You shop local and invested local. You read your local newspaper to find out what was going on around town. Nowadays our resident's needs are as diverse as they, themselves.
By that same token, the government of the Township of Union has always been very proactive and responsive in these areas and for quite some time we have been working on advancements and developments to diversify our housing options, bring in new business, and provide convenient transit services the get our residents anywhere they need to go.
We have also taken on the challenges that changing technology have brought forth in terms of communication. We’ve increased the number of channels of communication and have actively begun to use our CodeRed notification system, Facebook, and even Instagram to connect with our residents.
Tapinto Union: Are there any new programs/events/initiatives you'd like to discuss?
Deputy Mayor Florio: There is so much going on in Union that I could go on and on, but for the sake of our readers, I’ll touch on a few of my favorites. First and foremost, our Property Tax Rewards Program is continuing to grow and give back to those who choose to shop local.
This is also another exciting season at our Recreation Department where we’ve seen the addition of a 1st tee golf program, a rugby program, and so much more.
Lastly, we are looking forward to major changes within Union Center, with new retail and residential models coming soon as well as a streetscape program that I think will change the way residents, visitors and businesses see the heart of Union.
All of this is means to make Union a more desirable place to live work and play.