WESTFIELD, NJ - Every so often, Jerome Pereira wishes New Jersey government would mind its own business.
Doing nothing about -- what he believed – was a burdensome quarterly tax filing requirement placed on his small electronic medical records company in Fanwood, wasn’t exactly his cup of tea.
So, Pereira woke up this week and smelled the coffee, instead.
“I found this to be extremely helpful,” said Pereira, who joined other local small business owners for what was dubbed a meet-and-greet with Republican lawmakers Wednesday at the Rockn’ Joe coffeehouse and bistro, in Westfield. “And the positive attitudes of the public servants here were encouraging, too.”
Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-21), Rep. Jon Bramnick (R-21) and Rep. Nancy Munoz (R-21) sat on stools and fielded questions from a dining area full of small business owners about creating jobs and some of the obstacles they face in the marketplace.
“There are things that block small business owners from working productively,” said Munoz. “These are the kinds of things that we have to be aware of. Unless people tell us these things, we can’t do anything about changing them.”
George Kraemer, a certified home energy auditor and contractor, operates US ENERGY Renovations in Westfield, where he has seen his share of residential foreclosures. He was eager to speak up.
“I’d never been to a forum like this before,” he said. “My intent is to take some action. We can’t wait five or so years. We need action now.”
Kraemer was discussing business with Christopher Devine, a financial advisor for Wells Fargo and a member of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce.
“I live in town,” said Devine. “I use these businesses. I want to make sure places like Rockn’ Joe is here so that I can get my coffee all the time.”
Devine said he often runs into Bramnick during the morning hours at the coffeehouse.
The four-term assemblyman addressed specific topics from concerned business owners about processes involving workers compensation, unemployment and payroll. Bramnick then pointed out where they might find help and what legislation might be drafted to facilitate efficiency.
“I’m walking away with more information than I normally encounter,” said Bramnick. “These are complicated business issues where a person doesn’t know where to turn. And we’re saying, ‘You can call me.’ That’s not a bad start.”
Jay Tintle has been running Jay’s Cycle Center in Westfield since 1979, when his father, “Big Jay,” suffered a stroke and could work only in a limited capacity. In 1984, the business moved to a larger location on North Avenue, where it continues some 50-plus years of service in the community.
“I feel a lot more confident just knowing how accessible these (legislators) are,” said Tintle, a past chamber of commerce chairperson. “They should do this more often.”
Mitchell Beinhaker, Esq., present chairperson of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and a partner in the BeinhakerMiller Law Firm, LLC, couldn’t agree more.
“I think these town meetings are good not just for the politicians, but it allows people to get things off their chests,” he said.
Kean said the number of citizens who attended the meet-and-greet was impressive, yet equally important was its content.
“A good part of this dialogue is to cut through the malarkey,” said the senate minority leader. “People are starting to say, ‘Stop.’”
Even after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Lance Marvin “didn’t know anything about New Jersey,” but decided to move across the river to open up Rockn’ Joe and find out for himself.
“I grew up hearing of all the terrible stories about New Jersey,” said Marvin, who stood alongside the counter area listening intently during the forum while continuing to entertain regular customers. “I have to say the perception of New Jersey is all wrong.”
Marvin said he struggles just as much as anyone else and is not naive to the current business climate.
“We pay an enormous amount in property taxes,” he said later near the entrance of the storefront at 20 Prospect Street. “We do our best to hire people and keep them employed. I think today was very encouraging. There’s a long way to go, but with these folks in here today, it’s encouraging.”