democratic council CandidatE
Assistant Director of Finance for an Independent Authority with the State of New Jersey
What do you think is the best way for newer residents to learn about the community?
First, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank "This is Rutherford" for giving the candidates the opportunity to answer these important questions. Your hard work and dedication providing our residents news about the Borough should be commended. Thank you.
When I first moved to Rutherford over ten years ago with my fiance', now wife, I had an advantage of knowing a great deal about the community because my wife was born and raised here. I recognize not everyone who moves to Rutherford has this same advantage. Some people may move here because they know someone who recommended the town to them, others may move here because they did research on their own and decided that Rutherford was the place they wanted to make their home.
I believe the Borough has a responsibility to provide as much information to our residents, especially new ones, as possible. I would welcome new residents to visit our Borough's website. Over the past several years we have continued to work on improvements to the Borough website to help streamline the way we deliver information to the community. I would recommend that new residents begin by looking under the "Resident Information" section of the Borough website (https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/resident-info/). Here, new residents will find information about many of the programs and services the Borough offers. Information about transportation, utilities, and houses of worship are also included on this page. I would also suggest new residents visit the "Departments" and "Elected Officials" section of our website (https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/departments/
and https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/government/mayor-council/). Here, new residents can find the contact information of our various department heads as well as the Mayor and Council. We are all here to serve the residents of Rutherford and all residents, both new or old, are welcome to contact us about any question or concern they may have. I would also point new residents to the "Committees" section of our website (https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/committees/). It is here that a new resident can learn about the different committees and commissions that exist within the Borough. A new resident may find a group or groups that they are interested in joining and can then reach out to the Borough to volunteer their time.
Additionally, I would also advise new residents to seek out advice and ask questions of their neighbors by joining one of the many Borough centric Facebook groups (Rutherford Recommends, Rutherford RIOT Group, I Grew Up in Rutherford). Although these groups are not officially sanctioned by the Borough, new residents are welcome to ask questions and seek recommendations from their neighbors about topics such as places to eat, places to shop, local contractors, electricians, plumbers, etc. Some of the best information regarding any community is gotten via word of mouth and these Facebook groups are a quick and easy way to gather information about a wide range of topics. I would also like to take a moment to thank those residents who administer and moderate the many different Facebook groups. They are engaged in an important service to our community and their time and efforts should be acknowledged.
I would also advise new residents to visit two Rutherford centric websites, namely ThisIsRutherford.com and Rutherford365.com. Again, although not sponsored by the Borough, both of these sites provide residents with information relating to town events while also providing additional news about things happening in and around town. The creators of these sites should also be commended for their commitment and dedication to our community.
New residents should also seek out and join one of our many civic organizations. Whether it be the Elks, Masons, Lions Club, Womens Club, Junior Womens Club, Boy and Girl Scouts, these organizations offer opportunities for both social interaction and community service and are a valauble asset to Rutherford.
Although we have made great strides in the way that we deliver information to residents, especially new ones, we can always improve. I would like us to continue working on improvements to our website. I want us to include information about the history of Rutherford. I think all residents, both new and old, would enjoy learning about how Rutherford came to be. I would also like us to add information about the many civic organizations that are active in our community. Organizations such as those mentioned above who do so much good for Rutherford deserve a place on our Borough website. This will not only give them the recognition they deserve, but it will also help them recruit new members, which would be a benefit to both the organization and the Borough. Additionally, with the hiring of a new Recreation Director, we have plans to expand the programming offered to the children in our community. It is our intention to begin offering programming focused on the arts, STEM and STEAM education. As we expand our programming we will add information about these programs to our website.
I would also like to see the creation of Borough centric social media accounts. The Borough must adapt to a world that is consistently looking to social media more and more to gather news and information. Creation of Borough centric social media accounts will allow us to deliver information about projects and initiatives to our residents. We recognize that not all residents can make our council meetings. Implementation of Borough centric social media accounts will provide another avenue with which to deliver information.
Lastly, the creation of a "New Resident Package" containing information about the Borough that can be given to new residents through realtors and landlords and the implementation of a "New Resident Night," a once per month meeting that would allow new residents to meet each other and community leaders are other ways we can help new residents learn about the Borough.
As with all relationships, especially new ones, communication is key, this is no different as it pertains to the relationship between the Borough and our residents, especially our new ones. As always, we are always open to suggestions on how to improve the way we deliver information and welcome any and all feedback.
2. Do you think there is any way to reconfigure parking better in the downtown to make parking more convenient for shoppers?
Growing up in Hoboken and living two blocks off of Washington Street, which is the main
shopping and dining street, I can remember my father saying that he put more miles on his car looking for a parking space than he did actually driving. Parking in any Northern New Jersey community, especially one with a vibrant downtown is an issue, and Rutherford is no different. It is an issue that must be addressed and we fully intend on addressing it.
As with any issue, to address it we must first recognize the root cause of the issue. I believe that one of the main causes of the parking issue in our business districts (both Park Avenue and West End) is that the business owners and employees must park in spaces that we would generally want business patrons to use. This is frustrating to our business owners, not only because they are forced to find parking, but they are also forced to feed meters and move their cars every few hours. More frustrated are our food service businesses that offer delivery services. These businesses have cars that are constantly moving. If a car is out on a delivery and comes back and cannot find parking they will either have to double park which increases congestion or look for a parking space which delays other deliveries. I have spoken with a number of business owners who perceive feeding meters and paying parking tickets as part of the cost of doing business in Rutherford. This should not be the case.
There are a number of potential solutions that we are currently exploring to address this issue. First, we are evaluating our usage of the KIP garage. We are currently exploring the way we rent spaces to determine whether or not we can reconfigure our usage to provide for additional spaces. We are also looking into adding another deck to the KIP garage, as it is currently zoned for an additional level of parking. Second, we are looking into forming partnerships with some of the banks and businesses in town that have parking lots to determine whether there is an opportunity for the Borough to make use of unused space. Third, we are also exploring options to create a parking deck on the Ettrick Terrace parking lot. Lastly, we are in the process of securing sponsorship for a pilot program for an evening and weekend shuttle bus which would shuttle patrons who park in a specified area to our business districts. We will continue to work together
to explore all options to improve parking and quality of life in our business districts.
However, before we engage in a comprehensive overhaul to our business district parking plans, I believe that it is imperative that two necessary actions are taken: First, we must engage in a dialogue with our business owners. To make decisions about parking without the input of those who are impacted by it every day would be unwise. To that end I propose that we hold a business owner forum. This would give the Mayor and Council the opportunity to hear the concerns of and gather suggestions from all of our business owners. This open discussion would allow us to brainstorm ideas about how to address the parking issue and any other concerns or suggestions that they may have to improve our business districts. Second, I believe that as we engage in conversations regarding how to improve parking in our downtown we must also be mindful of potential redevelopment projects and how they will impact our business districts. One of the main topics that the Mayor and Council discusses with potential redevelopers is how their project will impact parking. As we move forward with potential redevelopment projects at both Agnew Place and the Williams Center, two projects that will have an impact on our Park Avenue
business district, we must be cognizant of how those projects will impact parking and explore ways those projects could potentially help our parking situation. As we negotiate these agreements, we have a duty to do what is best for Rutherford, and that means advancing projects that will help us financially via additional revenue for the Borough and additional foot traffic for our businesses, but we must also seek ways to address other issues that we are facing, such as parking. To that end, we are committed to ensuring that a parking plan is included in all redevelopment plans.
We recognize that parking in our business districts is an issue that needs to be addressed. We want our business owners to succeed and we want their success to attract other businesses to Rutherford. We also want our residents and others who look to Rutherford as a destination for a night out to be able to frequent our business districts without the frustration of not being able to find parking. But we would do ourselves a disservice by implementing a new comprehensive parking plan without first engaging in a dialogue with our business owners and also evaluating the impact and potential solutions that can come from advancing redevelopment projects.
Implementing a plan and then having to change it in reaction to something that could have been addressed by taking these necessary first two steps would cause more trouble than good.
3.What do you consider to be the most effective mode of communication to share news with the residents? How would you communicate news and events to the community if elected?
As I stated in my response to the first question communication is key as it pertains to the relationship between the Borough and our residents. As the American psychologist Rollo May once said, "Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing." I will not go back into detail about what we have done relating to improved communication (continued improvements to the Borough website) and what we plan to do (additional information to be added to the Borough website and Borough centric social media accounts), but I do want to point out some other initiatives we have taken to improve communication with residents.
When I first decided to run, improved communication was one of the platforms that I ran on. Beyond what has already been discussed regarding website improvements, many of the members of the governing body have also taken the initiative of creating their own Council Facebook and Twitter pages. It is through these pages that we have taken the initiative of communicating with residents about different events, projects and other initiatives that the Borough is engaging in. Many of us have also taken the time to respond to social media posts that pose questions about things happening in the Borough. As I discussed before, in today's world people look more and more to social media for information. There have been many instances where residents have posed a general question about an event or a project, or a concern they have on a Rutherford centric social media page. Many of us take the time respond to those posts and answer the questions that have been asked. There have also been instances where a resident needs assistance with a particular issue and seeks help or guidance via a social media post. Many of us have stepped in and responded and offered to help the resident with their issue or concern. This has lead to residents tagging us in social media posts asking questions and seeking guidance. We welcome this, it is our job to help, it is what we were elected to do. We must recognize and use the power of social media to be able to communicate with our residents.
Additionally, we recognize that not all residents can make our meetings, but I want to take a moment to point out that our agendas are available online (https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/departments/borough-clerk/minutes-and-agendas/mayor-and-council/), our meetings are recorded (audio recordings) and are posted on our website (https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/departments/borough-clerk/minutes-and-agendas/audio-recordings/) and the minutes of our meetings are also taken and posted on our website (https://www.rutherfordboronj.com/departments/borough-clerk/minutes-and-agendas/audio-recordings/). Because we are a governmental entity we are bound by law to be open and transparent about every decision we make. And, as mentioned above, if a resident has a question about a particular item we welcome those questions, whether they be by phone, email, or social media.
Lastly, we must also recognize that not all residents use social media or the internet to gather their news. Some residents prefer getting their news from traditional sources, such as newspapers. We must make an effort to develop a plan to make use of this form of communication as well. Whether it is developing relationships with reporters or sending news briefs to various newspapers. We cannot ignore one form of communication to the benefit of others, our plan must be comprehensive and include all communication outlets.
We, as elected officials, also recognize that governing and service to the public doesn't happen only within the four walls of the Council Chambers, nor does it happen only within the four walls of Borough Hall, being a public servant and communicating with our residents happens at concerts in the park, street fairs, sporting events, plays, sometimes even while grocery shopping. We have a duty to make ourselves available to residents whether it be by a phone call, online communication, or face to face conversations. Residents should feel comfortable reaching out to us to ask us questions or share a concern. We, as a Borough, can always improve how we communicate to our residents and our residents should know they can always reach out to us as well. We all want what is best for Rutherford, and open and honest communication is vital to achieving what is best. As a governing body we must be committed to continuing to explore and embrace all avenues of communication available to us.
4.Do you think elected officials and appointed committee members should be required to follow a code of conduct when online and on social media?
The Borough currently has a social media policy that is included in its employee handbook. This applies solely to employees and not to elected officials or committee and commission members. When I was first elected, I was part of a small group that was tasked with drafting a Borough social media policy that would have applied to employees, elected officials and committee and commission members. Part of the policy included the requirement that all Borough associated social media accounts and websites be brought under one umbrella and maintained and monitored by the Borough. The discussion relating to the policy was put on hold because of concerns regarding implementation of the above-mentioned item. I believe it is time we revisit this policy, begin discussions again, and determine how to move forward with implementation.
The ultimate goal of having all Borough social media accounts and websites under the umbrella of the Borough would serve the best interests of not only the Borough, but the residents as well. Currently, if information is communicated on the website or Facebook page of a Borough committee or commission, there is no way of knowing whether or not that communication was approved by the Borough. Information could potentially be disseminated that is incorrect and could ultimately confuse residents about the facts surrounding a particular situation. This is not to say those residents who currently maintain the sites have disseminated incorrect information, but the Borough currently has no oversight over what is communicated. By bringing all of these accounts and sites under one umbrella the Borough would have the ability to monitor and approve what information is disseminated to the public. I would like to see residents have the ability to go to the Borough website, click on our committees section, and ultimately have the ability to go to a particular committee or commission website or social media page directly from our Borough website. I would like to see this with elected officials as well. Residents should be able to go to the Borough website, go to the elected officials section and have the ability to access the social media page of that elected official from the Borough website.
As it pertains to the conduct of elected officials and committee and commission members on Borough sponsored social media, the policy would have to address that as well. When representing the Borough individuals should be held to a higher standard of conduct. Posts or responses to posts should be factual and aimed at disseminating information pertinent to a particular event or initiative. Let me be clear, it is not the intention of our policy to infringe on the first amendment rights of any individual. This point, and how it is implimented via the language of the policy is one that must be discussed and decided upon. We should not allow the language of our policy or its implementation in any way inhibit an individual’s ability to freely express their views. However, as stated before, when representing the Borough, an individual should be held to a higher standard of conduct. It is not an easy balance but a balance that is essential to an effective and well thought out social media policy.
5. How would you mitigate traffic and pedestrian concerns around town, especially in and around school zones?
Pedestrian safety in and around town is an area of primary concern of not only the governing body but the community as a whole. These issues have come up recently regarding speeding along Park Avenue, West Passaic Avenue, Jackson Avenue, Orient Way and around our schools. We have all worked closely with Councilman Nunziato, Councilman Mullahey and the Rutherford Police Department to implement initiatives to increase pedestrian safety throughout town. For example, a pilot program was implemented along West Passaic Avenue wherein flashing yield signs and red slate crosswalks were installed to help notify drivers about pedestrians trying to cross. Unfortunately, the installation of the crosswalks was flawed but will be replaced in the near future at no cost to the Borough. We have also engaged PSE&G regarding making the street lights brighter on Orient Way. Recently, a resident delivered a petition to the Mayor and Council asking us to address the intersection of Jackson and West Erie Avenues. In response, we asked our Borough Engineer to reach out to Bergen County, as Jackson Avenue is a County Road, to assist the Borough in implementing traffic calming initiatives at that intersection.
As it pertains to the schools, we have increased patrols during drop off and pick-up times and plan on installing additional four way stop signs to assist with traffic calming.
The Borough, in partnership with the Rutherford Police Department, will continue to monitor and evaluate high traffic and pedestrian locations throughout town. As we continue to pinpoint those areas, we will make use of additional traffic signs and equipment that will assist in maneuvering traffic in a safe and orderly fashion.
As always, if a resident is concerned about a particular location, they should always feel free to reach out to the Rutherford Police Department or any member of the governing body so we may take the necessary steps to evaluate and implement safety equipment and initiatives.