WESTFIELD, NJ — Some 150 people packed Town Hall to see new council members sworn in and dozens of volunteers for boards and commissions recognized Tuesday.
Three new Town Council members and one incumbent elected in the November election took the oath of office during the municipality’s reorganization meeting at which Mayor Shelley Brindle made appointments to a new public arts commission and a reinvigorated housing commission.
Democratic council members James Boyes, Mark Parmelee and Scott Katz took the oath of office along with the incumbent Republican Mark LoGrippo. Brindle named Councilwoman Linda Habgood acting mayor and Councilwoman Dawn Mackey the alternate acting mayor.
“The state of our town is very strong,” said Brindle, who detailed the prior year’s accomplishments before laying out plans for this year. “We have an immensely bright future, which is a result of the many town employees and volunteers who are here tonight.”
Brindle, a Democrat who ousted longtime Republican Mayor Andy Skibitsky in 2017, sat on the dais surrounded for the first time by a majority of Democrats.
She noted plans for a significant celebration of the municipality’s 300th anniversary, hopes for the future of the now vacant Westfield Rialto Theatre and intentions for improving local commerce through changes at the Downtown Westfield Corporation, the government entity managing the town’s special improvement district.
Brindle said she favors a proactive approach to addressing change.
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“We’re going to create new open spaces, public meeting places and culture and arts opportunities while continuing to drive discussion about the Rialto’s future and its hopeful reopening as a performing arts center,” Brindle said, noting findings from recently approved planning report derived from extensive public feedback.
The new public arts commission includes nine members, who are slated to serve for the year. The commission is intended create vision for public arts in the town while also managing funding, including donations for the arts projects, according to Brindle.
A previously dormant housing commission, which is charged with overseeing affordable housing in the municipality, saw the appointment of five members.
“We’re going to diversify our housing stock through zoning changes that enable more downtown housing options for young couples, downsizers and seniors,” Brindle said.
Among the dozens of professionals appointed was a new municipal prosecutor. Howard Egenberg will serve a one-year term, replacing Yvette Gibbons. Former mayor Tom Jardim remains town’s general legal counsel under a one-year contract, which the town has to the option to renew for two additional years, under the approved resolution.
All the appointments on the agenda passed by a unanimous vote of the council. No members of the public spoke during the public comment time.
The Downtown Westfield Corporation is anticipated to hire a new executive director, Brindle said.
The DWC’s interim executive director, Kathleen Miller Prunty, who is now Cranford’s deputy mayor, was appointed for a six-month term that ends in February.
“For those worried about the state of our downtown, change hasn’t been happening fast enough,” Brindle said. “For others, when it comes to areas like development, change is happening too abruptly. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, we can all agree that change is hard and inevitable. It’s how we decide to address it that will define us.”
Brindle called on residents to remain engaged in public discourse.
“I also ask that you continue holding us accountable, and approach this year with an open mind and a heart full of gratitude,” she added.
State Sen. Tom Kean and Republican Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, both residents of Westfield, were in attendance, along with Sen. Nicholas Scutari, among other dignitaries. Bramnick said Westfield is special not just because of its downtown and people but because of its politics.
“We show that politics does not have to be toxic,” he said. “God bless and have a happy New Year.”
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