Mayor's update, town council opening remarks, Jan. 15, 2019.

Good evening everyone. I hope your new year is off to a great start. We are diving right into the new year and I would like to give you an update on a few initiatives.

But first I would like to congratulate Westfield resident Kimberly Palmieri Mouded on her swearing in as a Freeholder which I had the great pleasure of witnessing at the County reorg meeting last weekend.

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I’d also like to thank Councilpersons Dardia and Neylan for joining me this morning to send off 8-year-old Wilson student and leukemia patient Gavin Callow for his Make a Wish trip to Australia where he will fulfill his dream of being a zookeeper for a day. Special thanks to police Chief Battiloro and Officers Paul Neri and Chris Santangelo for providing a police escort to the airport for Gavin and his family to give him an extra special sendoff.

Volunteer Application Process

I wanted to once again thank all of the volunteers who were appointed to various Boards and Commissions at the reorganization meeting. With so much to celebrate that evening, I didn’t have the chance to comment on the application process that led to the appointments. In the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, allow me to provide some insight into how those appointments were determined.

Replicating last year’s model when we introduced the Town’s first-ever open call for volunteers on our website, we had 85 volunteers apply through our open application process, some of whom applied for specific boards and some for general volunteer service. My goal was to find residents with additive skills or experience that could bring value or perspective to existing boards.

I first consulted with the council chairs of each of our four subcommittees to review the applications, and then ultimately consulted with each respective commission or board chairperson to make the appointments.

Priority was given to residents that had never served before. It was also important to ensure that each board be gender diverse, and that the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment, in particular, had representation from each ward.

Residents who were on boards serving one year terms were reappointed if they wanted to stay, such as the Green Team, Transportation Advisory Board etc., as they were just getting acclimated and gaining traction.

As a result of this process, the Planning Board will now get the benefit of the experience of a new alternate that is a Starbucks operating executive, whose background will be valuable as the Board sees more commercial development applications.

The BOA had little to no representation from wards 3 and 4 and historically few women, with the exception of the two I appointed last year. After consulting with the BOA Chairman, I appointed a land use attorney from ward 3 and a geothermal engineer from ward 4, and as alternates a commercial real estate exec and a former Verizon ops manager that I thought could help identify ways to streamline the cumbersome application process. The end result is a BOA makeup of highly skilled and relevant professionals from every ward with 5 men and four women represented.

For Board of Health appointments, I deferred to the expertise of our Regional Health Director Megan Avallone to make those recommendations, and I’m proud to say that we added a Nursing PHD who teaches at Kean, a school nurse from the Westfield School District, and as an alternate a PHD who specializes in criminal psychology.

We appointed a tech savvy Maplewood librarian to our Library board to help identify best practices for libraries in a digital age.

For the Recreation Commission, I deferred to Chairman Gary Fox who recommended a ward 4 resident who had voluntary been attending every recommission meeting to make sure she stayed abreast of Tamaques Park developments, and a tech savvy ward 1 resident.

For the Historic Preservation Commission, I deferred to Chairman Kelly Kessler’s recommendations and reappointed those who reapplied while adding additional folks with expertise in planning, preservation and real estate.

You should be very proud and confident of the volunteers who are representing you on the Boards and Commissions. They are committed, passionate, and talented. For me, having never met many of these residents before appointing them, it was a great affirmation of the application process and my belief that Westfield’s greatest asset is in the intellectual capital and talent of our residents.

Mental Health Council

I had the great privilege of kicking off one of my most important initiatives, the Westfield Mental Health Council, in collaboration with School Superintendent Margaret Dolan and Regional Health Director Megan Avallone. The Council, comprised of 10 residents including Council representative Linda Habgood, were energized by the opportunities ahead and committed to the mission of providing a comprehensive mental health support system for the Westfield community that promotes lifelong mental wellness, educates the public, ensures access to available resources and strives to make Westfield a stigma free community.

Senior Advisory Council

Congrats to the newly formed Senior Advisory Council who sponsored an event for seniors to learn about the tax revaluation process with 125 seniors in attendance. It was such an affirmation of the desire and need for this Council.

Property Revaluation

Speaking of revaluation, I’ll just reiterate what Jim has already mentioned and ask residents to please make sure you read your letter promptly since you have five days after receipt to schedule an informal hearing with Realty Appraisal to ask questions about your valuation. We have posted updated resources on our website, including FAQ, a video explaining the process, a sample letter and a link to an estimated tax calculator. You can find these details at www.westfieldnj.gov/revaluation.

Parks Plan

The Steering Committee for the Parks Strategic Plan is having their kick off meeting tomorrow night. Information will be forthcoming about the public participation process that will be taking place in the coming months.

Peak One Seat Ride

As Co-chair of the RVL Mayors Alliance, I am incredibly disappointed that NJ Transit is unable to confirm when the off peak one seat ride will be restored, in spite of originally being promised that it would be February. The Alliance sent a letter to the DOT, NJT, and our State Senators expressing our disappointment and asking for answers. Stay tuned.

Lord and Taylor Parking Lots

As a reminder, Lord and Taylor is no longer allowing commuters to park in their private employee lots after a directive from their parent company Hudson’s Bay, who expressed liability concerns. I have been in conversations with Hudson’s Bay about these lots since last summer, including proposing a Town leasing arrangement for parking, so their decision wasn’t a complete surprise. We are engaging in larger conversations with them regarding the development potential of these properties which is another reason why they don’t want to make any type of short term commitment. I can only say that Hudson’s Bay has every intention to be a collaborative partner and significant investor in our community so please do not read into their decision to reclaim their own lots as anything more than a prudent decision.

To alleviate some of the shortage, we are selling additional $5 daily passes in lot 3 and for the first time in lot 6, which is the Watterson Street lot. All passes are sold from lot 3 beginning at 6:30am. The past two days, however, there were only six passes sold each day which may reflect that the majority of those using the Lord and Taylor lots were not Westfield residents and/or unwilling to pay for parking.

Cannabis

I was in Trenton today attending Gov Murphy’s State of the State address where marijuana legalization was a big topic. There still remains a significant amount of uncertainty about what will be in the final bill, primarily around tax and oversight, and it remains to be seen what the timeline will be for a potential vote. Once a path forward becomes clear, we will establish a Westfield Cannabis Council to gather facts and get community input in order to make an informed recommendation to myself and the Council regarding what makes sense for our community.

In closing I’d like to remind everyone that today is Martin Luther King Jr’s 90th birthday, and to commemorate, the MLK Association will be hosting its annual service on Monday beginning with a brief service at the MLK Memorial at 12:30, followed by a walk to the First Congregational Church for the service which will begin approximately at 1 p.m. All are invited and I hope to see many of you there.