WEST ORANGE, NJ — Meet Cindy Matute-Brown, an 18-year resident of West Orange running for township council on Nov. 6.
Matute-Brown has spent the last 18 years working in education, and is currently a consultant for NJEA as well as chair of the Public Charter Schools Members Work Group; Minority Leadership Training Cadre Member and member of the National Education Association’s Women's Issues Committee. She graduated high school in Jersey City before attending Rutgers University, where she earned degrees in Criminal Justice, Women and Gender Studies and English. She and her husband, Stephen, have three children, now young adults, who attended St. Cloud, Edison, Roosevelt and West Orange High School.
Q: Why are you running for township council?
A: I’m running for town council because we deserve an accountable and transparent government with sound fiscal policy. We need responsible redevelopment with programs that will help our local government represent and reflect the people who live here. I will work to unite us on local and national issues to ensure we create an inclusive, affordable and sustainable environment and work to strengthen our school systems for generations to come.
We need our elected officials and municipal government to be clearly transparent to our residents and I will advocate for the creation of a strong Ethics Board that will require disclosure of all financial interests and potential conflicts of interest. State law in New Jersey specifically authorizes municipalities to create such requirements, yet West Orange has not taken steps to require full transparency and accountability from our elected officials. Having an ethics board would help create those requirements and will help all of our residents have more confidence in our leaders.
Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job? What qualifies you for it?
A: I am a lifelong advocate who has always focused on community and the needs of others. I speak out against injustice and stand up for individuals in need. Having attended council, zoning and board meetings, it became increasingly evident that the voice of the community must have a place in the policy-making decisions that affect our daily lives. My work in the labor movement has garnered a strong belief in the importance of sustaining a working middle-class society in the stabilization of our democracy. My advocacy work in our town and participation with community and grassroots organizations have provided insight into the diversity of needs of our residents and given me a perspective that does not currently exist in any meaningful way on the Council. It is paramount for elected officials to not only recognize this diversity but understand how policymaking decisions affect residents individually. Policies that our town adopts have the capacity to impact our residents more than those adopted at the state or national level and I believe that we empower voices in our community to make a more meaningful contribution in municipal government.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: Taxes are always a major concern with residents and this election is no different. But the fundamental problem that causes ever-rising property taxes and ever-tightening budgets is a lack of a cohesive, proactive vision for our town. Development and redevelopment are pursued in a seemingly ad hoc way and we see no real plan for attracting significant business investment in town. Only when our leaders present a cohesive, proactive vision will we begin to realize what a sustainable and vibrant West Orange could be.
A cohesive, proactive vision must include all of West Orange and would best be defined with the assistance of a professional, full-time town planner who has a proven record of innovation and expertise in business development. Cohesive vision with the integration of our Complete Streets plan would optimize the development of the many different areas in West Orange where we can attract business. One that includes redevelopment plans that encourage and attract new industry to improve opportunity for our residents and diversify the tax base. The vision for our town should include protection of our green spaces and expand on the community aggregation program to ensure we not only offer savings but clean the grid to enhance environmental sustainability.
Q: What other issues are important?
A: I believe that our town can save significant funds by changing the way we insure municipal employees. Today we engage the same insurance broker and pay a significant broker’s fee to arrange insurance for our employees with no bidding process. We have better options than simply continuing along the same path. Our town could, for example, open the process to competitive bidding by insurance brokers, explore teaming up with a nearby town to ensure we are procuring good coverage at the lowest cost. Further, our town allows no-bid contracts for critical services. We need to have an open process that is transparent to our residents. Right now, we do not have enough visibility into how our town spends our tax dollars.
It is critical that we work to include our residents in a meaningful way in our town government. We see disillusionment with the leadership and we hear about rubber stamping by the current Council with no meaningful input from residents. Official designation of a senior citizens’ advisory board would help facilitate a formal channel of communication between our seniors and the Council and Mayor’s office. Beyond a seniors advisory board, I believe that the Council should more proactively reach out to people in different neighborhoods to open up access and communication between residents and their municipal government.
Q: What else would you like to say about West Orange? (The governing body, school system, business community, or otherwise?)
A: We chose to move our family here because of the diversity, great public schools and the rich history that we found here. Our children have benefited so much from the great public schools and communities, and we have friends who will be with us for the rest of our lives. I want our town to maintain that sense of community and I want to make sure that we prioritize our schools and our residents’ long-term well being before we undertake any initiative.
In West Orange, we find ourselves at a critical moment. We have wonderful schools that are bursting at the seams, but because of the teachers and school administrators, are successfully preparing our children for a bright global future. We have residents who are engaged like never before and are ready to make sure that our future is as bright as West Orange's rich past. We need leaders in our municipal government who will not only engage and represent all of our residents but do so with a focus on vision and value to help us become an affordable and sustainable town that our residents love and want to live in for generations to come. Our community is calling for change and I am listening. I believe when we bring communities together, solutions are born. I am looking forward to working with and on behalf of all of West Orange residents as together, we lead the change towards a brighter and more vibrant West Orange.
Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of articles to be published on each of the council candidates over the next week.