Monday, August 26, 2019

Am I Normal?


This article has nothing to do about the operations of the municipal government or an issue of major importance to our community.  It’s just a gushy (yes, that is a word…I think?) personal reflection.  So if you have no interest, just CLICK “close”and you are free!

                I hope I am normal.  I guess I will find out by some of the comments I receive from this.  Last week, as I have done many times over my career, I was having an intense "internal" discussion with myself while doing some yard work.  These "conversations" are not visible to anyone else, but there are times when my wife will look at me funny and say, "What's wrong, you are making a weird face?"  And I respond (like any husband would), "Nothing, I'm not making a face."  Well, it had been a particularly rough couple of weeks at work (like I am sure we all have now and again) and I was going over some conversations I have had and revising my responses.   You know….like when someone says something rude to you…and you kind of let it go but then later on when you are alone deep in thought you come back with some real zingers…to yourself.  Well, I was going through multiple conversations and situations and thinking what I should have or could have said or done differently.  Regretfully, there was a lot of yard work that day.  I also threw in the occasional, “Why I am doing this job?” or “Is this all really worth it and maybe I am not cut out for “public” life?”   I find when I am doing yard work, I do some of my  best and worst thinking.  The grass is always greener effect hits me hard in those moments.   

                Anyway, I was having an epic internal "session" and the side that was winning was the one that wasn’t……positive.  It was the one saying “I don’t need this [insert adult word here]!”  Just then, a car pulls into my driveway.  It was a husband and wife seemingly out for a nice drive in a very cool car.  They are residents that I have met before, and who I know to be good people that care about our community.  I have never socialized with them, but the gentleman has come to my office in the past and we have had nice chats about all things “Lawrence” and “family.” 

                I curiously approached the car not knowing what to expect.  I steadied myself ready for some question about the food store in the LSC or, worse, the brush program!  As I reached the car, I saw they had a bouquet of freshly picked flowers that they had grown themselves.  They had posted a picture of the flowers in their backyard a while back on FaceBook and I commented that they were “awesome,” because…they were!  They extended the flowers to me and said that they thought my wife and I may enjoy them since I commented about them on FaceBook.   What??????  I know you all may be thinking to yourself, "Are these people real or are they also a part of Kevin’s weird “internal” brain function?" But I am happy to report they were real (the people…and the flowers), and they appeared at a moment when I was having some serious doubts about things.  Instantly, my faith in people and the community was restored!  There are way too many kind, thoughtful and respectful people in our Town than there are rude, underhanded and disrespectful…..by a wide margin.  The “struggle” is to remind ourselves of this, and just do the best we can with the best intentions.  None of us can control what others choose to do, but we can control what we do and how we do it.

                So THANK YOU to the nice couple who took the time out of their day to do something nice for no reason than to be nice.  It is something that will stay with me for a long, long time.  If we can all do a little more of this….how great would that be?    See, it was gushy…   Peace out Everyone!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Volunteerism



DISCLAIMER:  This article is intended to shine a light on Lawrence Township’s volunteer firefighters.  It is not steeped in facts and data, and will most likely disappoint some people because it omitted certain information (about people, organizations, etc.) that a reader may feel should have been included in it.  For these reasons, my apology is offered even before you read it!  It’s my hope that the readers accept this article for how it was intended and not for what it omits.

“What is the essence of life?  To serve others and to do good.”

Aristotle (2300 years ago)

                It has been awhile since my last article.  I have considered several topics but landed on one that highlights incredibly important people in our community, and discusses one of our most difficult challenges we face as a community.  Volunteering is defined as “the policy or practice of giving one’s time or talents for charitable, educational or other worthwhile activities, especially in one’s community.”  When you add “willing to leave your home and family at all hours of the night and early morning at a moment’s notice and risk your life to save others,” that would be the definition of a volunteer firefighter.    

                In present day all the way back to the founding of our Township in 1697, we have been blessed with residents who have given their time, effort and talents to our community in a variety of ways.  These people are difference makers.  They are the secret ingredient that makes Lawrence a special place to live.   You know who you are, and you are appreciated.  But, to be honest, the volunteer firefighter is the one community volunteer that rises above all others and serves the community day in and day out without fanfare or with the appreciation they truly deserve.

                We have three volunteer fire companies in our town: Slackwood Fire Company (Station #21) (www.slackwoodfirecompany.org) was founded on November 1, 1906; Lawrence Road Fire Company (Station #22) (www.lawrenceroadfire.com) was founded on May 1, 1914; and Lawrenceville Fire Company (www.lawrencevillefire.org) was founded on May 3, 1915.  For more than 100 years now,  firefighters from each of these companies (mostly residents) have been doing the “work”(without pay) responding to calls for service providing assistance and risking personal safety, at times, for us.  In current times, our town does have career firefighters (i.e. paid) that provide protection to us Monday through Friday for the day-time shift, and the volunteers cover the evening and early morning hours during the week and all day and night on weekends. 

                Before I took over as Municipal Manager, I sat down with my predecessor (Richard Krawczun) and discussed some of the challenges I would be facing.  He told me that my number one challenge will be providing effective fire service to the community with a combination of a career firefighters and our volunteer fire companies.   Our town (just like many others throughout the country) is experiencing a significant decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters.  Simply put, the new generation of young men and women no longer seek to serve their community in this way (for reasons we can all debate at some other time) and, as a result, those that still meet the calling to serve are asked to give more.  And the decreasing numbers present concerns that persist and must be substantively addressed.   

                To say that our volunteer fire companies are a community “asset” is an understatement I cannot adequately stress enough.  Crunching the numbers, I asked our CFO (Peter Kiriakatis) to estimate for me what it would cost our taxpayers if we had to transition from our current 1/3 career 2/3 volunteer shift coverage to completely career firefighters.  He told me that it would be somewhere in the range of $2.5 million to start[1] and it would only grow from there.  Let’s take that number back for the past 20 years…can you imagine how much these volunteer fire companies have saved our town financially?  In a post a while back, I set forth a list of all of the services that a resident taxpayer receives from our municipal government to show how much one actually receives for the amount you pay in MUNICIPAL taxes (not school tax or county tax).  I included in the services, 24 hour fire protection.  Someone responded and challenged my list by saying that she thought fire protection was by volunteers, and that she had no idea that fire service was a part of our municipal budget.  Well, of course it is.  Our town owns and maintains the fire company buildings, the fire apparatus, the equipment used by all of our firefighters, and pays for their training.  But thankfully, the cost to our taxpayers is greatly reduced by the existence of our volunteer companies.

                Since I took over as Municipal Manager, I have made clear to all that I firmly support and respect our volunteer fire companies and firefighters.  With the green light from our elected officials, I have taken a variety of steps that show this support in the hope that we maintain and can grow the volunteer membership, and to let them know we appreciate them always.  In addition to our recent purchase of two fire apparatus at a cost of more than one million dollars, our 2019 budget dedicated $300,000 towards renovations within the fire company building that will directly benefit the membership to improve their surroundings when they are in the building and away from their families.  To give them a sense of pride and comfort.  We are also starting a “pay-per-call” program that will provide each firefighter with a small stipend to be paid to them in June and December of each year for each call they respond to…..to name a couple of things.

                With the renovation money budgeted, we also hope to improve the halls for the fire companies[2] so they can be used by our community (for a fee that goes to the fundraising efforts of the fire company) like years past.  These are the community’s buildings and we should open them to the community again to support our volunteer fire companies.  The interaction between residents with our volunteers would be priceless; and maybe prompt residents to become a member.  Growing up in Lawrence, I have very fond memories of going to the fire house halls for events both charitable and private.  Who remembers the pancake breakfasts?  We can and should bring this back…and we are working on doing this with the support of our elected officials.

                There may come a day when the town has to transition to a full-time career firefighting department.  But that day is not today.  For now, though, we will do all we can to grow membership in our volunteer companies and we can all support them.   To be candid, the volunteer membership and I have had our differences along the way over what is and isn’t “supporting them”…and I am realistic enough to know and understand that it will probably occur in the future too.  My fiduciary responsibility is to the entirety of the community and, at times, that doesn’t coincide well with the fire company’s views and objectives.  But make no mistake about it, I respect each and every one of them for what they do for our community, and I will always make decisions in good faith and after careful consideration. 

                I encourage you to visit the websites of these fire companies and see their history and view the photos of their calls to service.  If you have an interest in becoming a member, do not hesitate to contact one of the three fire companies and arrange for meeting and visit the fire house.   

                The following is the list of active volunteer firefighters serving our community:  SLACKWOOD FIRE COMPANY – Steve Bezkorovavnyy, Ed Budzinski, Mike Burzachiello, Sandy Caraccio, Sam Carlese, Chris DeFelice, Donquae Douglas, Ron Dziminski, Ken Fisher, Mike Girard, Jim Gorski, Sr, Matt Haenni, Jim Hogan, Bryan Jannell, Ehrin Jannell, Ken Johnson, Rich Johnson, Ray Jolly, Sr., Ken Kandrac, Jack Kontura, Joey Lenarski, Mark Lenarski, Jr., Mark Lenarski Jr., Todd Lenarski, Dave MacEllis, Mary MacEllis, Ferdi Mather, Shawn McLauglin, Tim Megargle, Ken Mitchell, Vik Modi, John Newborn, Jr., John Newborn, Sr., Mike Oakley, Greg Palotas, Chris Pangaldi, Sam Pangaldi, Mike Restuccia, John Rodriquez, Albert Rolan, Marty Sudol, Brigid Tevis Dan Tomalin, Sean Willever.  LAWRENCE ROAD FIRE COMPANY: Steve Adzima, Mike Byrd, Charlie Commini, Sr., Charlie Commini, Jr., Chris Dlabik, Ryan Dlabik, Joe Dlabik, Shaun Dlabik, John Fleming, Matt Farletta, Wayne Hannon, Jr.,  Pat Kent, David Moore, Shris Radmonovich, Andrew Summers, Radek Szaja, David Tersian, John Xenos, Chris Laird, James Gorski, Mike Henderson, Dan Tomalin, William Torres, Evan Gramajo, Ted Clemons.  LAWRENCEVILLE FIRE COMPANY: Michael Filandro, Raymond Nagy, David Burns, Michael Henderson, matthew Azrolan, Jay Lenarski, Gary Wasko, Joe Flynn, Kelly Lenarski, Nicole Henderson, herb Seeburger, Charles Morreale, Jacob Riesser, Alex Arementi, Jane Henderson, Peter Moschberger, Joseph Huber, Joe Dlabik, Jr., Ronnie Krzos, Dan Arena, Michael Hammond.

If you see any one of these fine people mentioned above when you are out and about in town, make sure you say “thank you”…..maybe buy them a cup of coffee too!   Now I have to sneak into Dunkin Donuts each day!  I’m kidding, everybody just calm down!



     



               



[1] Salaries, benefits, training, equipment, etc.
[2] We may need more money to accomplish this, but we will address that issue once we have a better sense of the costs for the renovations.

Friday, June 28, 2019

It's All About The Brush.....


Recently I have been on FB participating in discussions about our Brush Pick-Up Program.  There are some that reject my opinion that our Brush Pick-Up program is more than reasonable.  So I decided to do just a little research on brush programs from other towns to see where Lawrence Township fits in with providing this service to its residents.  The following are summaries of the programs of other towns.  NOTE:  Please feel free to visit the website for these towns to get a full picture if you are uncomfortable relying on my summary.
Ewing:  Provides curbside brush pick up for 2 months in the spring for residents.  Leaves and yard waste are required to be put in bags or tied and bundled as appropriate.  Branches and limbs should be cut in 4’ lengths and tied in bundles with a total weight not exceeding 50 pounds.

Hamilton:  Brush and branches pick up monthly except for November, December and January.  Placed curbside brush and branches are to be cut in 4’ lengths, tied and bundled or in containers and must be no more than 50lbs.  No stumps.
Princeton:  Brush, logs and leaves picked up March through November (except June) once a month.  Piles limited to 3’ x 3’, branches not more than 6” in diameter.  It looks like leaves must be bagged but I can’t tell from the website. 

Hopewell:  Brush is picked up 2 times a year (once in May and once in Sep/Oct). Brush pile size is 4’ wide by 4’ high by 15’ long.   Brush may NOT be left in the street, but on property near curb (but not on the sidewalk) and in the front of the property.  Limbs and brush must be placed with all butts (6” in diameter max) facing the road.  Small twigs must be bagged.  No tree stumps, trunks and limbs in excess of 6” will be collected. 
West Windsor:  Brush, leaves and yard debris (collected together) may not be placed out on street more than 7 days before pick up.  Tree trunks and logs not exceed 6” in width and 18” in length.  Size not more than 5’ in length.  No collection in January & February. 

Plainsboro:  Brush is picked up 4 times per year between March and October.  It does NOT include leaves, roots, stumps, tree logs.  If the brush pile contains any of these items, the pile will NOT be collected.   Branches not longer than 6’ and no more than 5” in diameter.  Must not be put out on street more than 7 days before the zone pick up date.
East Windsor:  Brush is collected once a month.  Limbs or branches not more than ½” to 6” in diameter but may be any length.  Pile (with no maximum length) must be placed between sidewalk and curb, not on roadways.  Chipping should be placed butt (thickest) end to the left when observed from the road looking toward the home.  Piles laid in parallel and not in tangled heaps.  Vines, briars, thorns and other vegetative waste with stem size less than ½” in diameter or less than 3’ in length must be tied in bundles and placed with household trash.  PW will not pick up any chipping that is improperly put at curbside or contains non-chipping items.  NOTE:  There are much more requirements, but I am running out of space here!!!

Robbinsville:  Brush picked up curbside once a month from April through November 11. All brush cut to a maximum length of 6’ and a maximum diameter of 6”.  Small twigs must be placed in open buckets and containers near the brush piles.  Logs, stumps, evergreen with roots or debris from land as well as commercial trimmings will NOT be collected with brush.   If you hire a tree company or landscaper to remove a tree, they are responsible to remove debris, including branches, trunks and stumps.  PW will NOT collect the voluminous amount of brush created by tree removal.   Brush piles placed in an orderly manner with all butts 6” max in diameter facing roadside.   The brush pile may not be greater than 4’. high and 15’ wide and is limited to one pile.   Must be place at curb not more than 2 days before scheduled pick up. 
Freehold (just because it makes Lawrence look great! ...shameless):  Brush collection 1 time per year.  Brush placed at curb (not in the street) by 6 AM on the first day of the scheduled week.  No call backs.  Maximum length of 8’ and maximum diameter of 8” and should not exceed 8 cubic yards (approximately the size of a mid-size automobile).  Grass, rocks, leaves, stumps, construction debris, fence posts as well as commercial trimmings will not be collected.  Brush pile put out not more than 2 days scheduled pick up.  

Lawrence:  Brush collection monthly from April through November. Brush pile placed on street curbside in front of the property.  Tree trunks and limbs in excess of 6” in diameter will not be collected.    Limbs should be cut to 3’ or less in length. Brush pile not larger than 3’ high and not more than 12’ in length.  All tree stumps are property owner’s responsibility.  Leave piles placed on street curbside in front of property in separate pile.  Brush piles should be put out the Saturday or Sunday immediately preceding the week of the scheduled zone collection.

I will leave it to the reader to decide where Lawrence is situated among the towns providing the service to their residents. 




Friday, June 21, 2019

Odds and Ends as Summer 2019 Officially Begins!

The following is a brief report on some things a brewin’ in the Township.

1.       The Pit Stop property – Yaaaaaasssss! I received a letter issued from the NJ DEP and the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund (HDSRF) confirming that our application for funding has been completed and the Department found the proposal to be “technically” eligible.   What this actually means is that our application has been approved for completion of Remedial Investigation activities in the amount of $239,524 (subject to final approval by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority or NJEDA).   What this actually means (yes, I used the same words to begin this sentence as I did the last sentence….I have had better writing moments but speed writing is a dangerous game) the building is coming down and what is under the building will finally be investigated to determine what further clean-up efforts are necessary.  I repeat, the building is coming down!  The scuttlebutt in the NJDEP hallways is that final action by the NJEDA is a formality so we are looking good for future demolition work and contemporaneous partying while the building is taken out!  “What’s the time-frame you ask?”  Who knows?…..so far this has all taken a solid year of work and waiting to get this far.  But my sense is we are pretty close.  Stay tuned.  As I receive more, so will you.


 2.       Lawrence Road and Eggerts Crossing Road – A group of 4th Graders from Lawrence Intermediate School appeared before members of council at our public meeting this week and provided a “Walk This Way” report of the perils they observed on the roadway and sidewalks leading to their school off of Eggerts Crossing Road.   These kids were really amazing (and at times intimidating) in their delivery of the information and demands.  Which, upon reflection, were well thought out and made sense.  The primary issue was the lack of blinking school zone lights at the crosswalks.  This is a designated school zone intersection and should have these types of warning lights.  As I began to explain the Township’s efforts in working with the NJDOT (the State owns, controls and maintains Route 206), and that recently it appeared that these lights were going to be installed, Andrew Tunnard – the Assistant Commission for Operations of the NJDOT, dramatically came to the front of the meeting room to announce that the installation of those lights was in the works.  It was an immediate victory for the 4th Graders and all of the students who walk or ride their bikes to LIS.  Such a great civic lesson.    

 3.        Princeton Pike and Fackler Road – Anyone traveling Princeton Pike (northern section of town) near the intersection with Fackler Rd during the morning or late afternoon knows that this is a major traffic situation that needs to be addressed.  Yes, we live in the most densely populated state in the Country, and our population is not decreasing.   This translates into certain facts like roads that were once lightly travelled are now more intensely travelled.  Some call it progress, but more accurately it is simply human kind increasing in numbers.  This, of course, makes fixing traffic related problems extremely difficult and most often very expensive.  In order to try and solve this problem, the Council approved funding for a complete engineering/traffic study of this location to determine options to best address this public safety issue.  Some may reflexive say that installing a traffic light will solve the problem.  Ohhh…if things were that easy.  The installation of a traffic light in one location directly impacts the flow of traffic in the surrounding areas.  The study will look at the present configuration of the intersection and problem solve from there. 
4.       Fire Apparatus Purchase -  Lawrence Road Fire House, Slackwood Fire House and our Career Fire Staff have patiently waited for the moment that happened at our last council meeting; the acceptance of a bid for purchase of two custom built “pumpers” to provide service to the community out of those two fire houses.  It has been a very long process that included the valuable input by the Fire Companies, our Emergency Management Director, Jack Oakley, and our Chief Mechanic of PW, Clyde D’Angelo.  The lowest responsible bidder was Absolute Fire Protection Company, Inc. and the cost totals $1,177,027 ($588,513.50 each).  They will take approximately one year to build and deliver to our community, and will replace two vehicles that are very much ready for retirement!

5.       Colonial Lake/Acquisition of the Sheft Property – We have completed the due diligence period and have performed a Phase I Environmental Study of that portion of the Sheft Property that we intend to purchase.  Our environmental consultant has confirmed that there is no contamination concern that should cause the Town to abandon this acquisition.  As a result, Mayor Chris Bobbitt did sign the Agreement of Sale (the Shefts previously signed) creating a binding legal obligation between both parties for the transfer of title from the Shefts to the Township.  I expect the closing to take place in the next couple of months.  Some details you may be interested in:  5.9+ Acres of land for a total of $3.65 million with contributions from the County ($1,470,000) and the State ($211,132).  At closing $2.65 million will be paid to Seller and then 2 annual payments of $500,000.  Extending the payments over three years will allow the Township to apply for other grant opportunities and hopefully reduce our contribution from the Open Space fund.  Also, the agreement provides that the Township has the right of first refusal should the Shefts wish to sell the Colonial Bowling & Entertainment.  This could give us an opportunity to expand upon the recreational site.

6.       Brush Pick-Up Program – Ugh….  Just an FYI to all, Council Members and I are considering modifying some of the regulations in the ordinance to address resident concerns.  We are considering making the brush piles bigger for the months of April/May/June (to 20ft), suspending pick up in July/August and then starting up again with current size for brush and unlimited leaf pick up during Sept/Oct/Nov.  Our Public Works Director Greg Whitehead will be appearing before council at the July meeting to discuss the current status of the program.  Suspending pick up will allow our PW Department to address the other needs in the community (maintenance of parks, recreational fields and roads).

           I have been called stupid, an idiot, my decision making asinine as a result of the changes made to the program….you name it, I along with our PW people have been called it.   They tell me this all a part of the job…..but I don’t think it should be.  Common decency should be the standard way we address each other, but I digress.   Trust me when I tell you I don't sit in my office and try to come up with ways to anger people so they lash out me!  The one thing I will tell everyone in this community is that decisions are not made in a vacuum.   I have tried…I guess unsuccessfully to some….to explain the reasons for the need to now enforce the brush pick-up guidelines in order to save this service for the community. 

          There are those that believe it is the municipal government’s obligation to pick up and discard brush waste that comes from private residential property owners.  No.  It is not a governmental obligation.  This is a service that this Town has chosen to provide to its residents.   A government obligation is providing police protection, fire protection, health protection, construction regulation, etc.    Many towns do not provide this service because they have done the analysis about how costly it is in terms of manpower, equipment and disposal.  Whether you know it or not….and you probably don’t….we have serious needs to increase our police force and our fire department.  By State law, a municipality cannot increase its municipal budget by more than 2% each year.  On January 1 of every year for the past couple, we are at approximately 1.5  % without adding anything.  This is just from contractual obligations relating to cost of living increases etc.  So when people call and complain that our parks and playing fields are not being maintained properly or inspections are not being done fast enough by our construction department, or ask where is police enforcement of speeders on the roads ?, or how long does it take to respond to a fire by our volunteers or career staff?.... I simply ask all of you to think about these things while you demand that the Town continue the non-regulated brush pick-up service (i.e., the good ol’ days when you could dump anything you wanted on the road any time most convenient for you).  Setting aside the financial aspects of this, there are legitimate public safety (for pedestrians and cyclists) and environmental concerns (storm water management and flooding) when large piles of brush are allowed to remain on our streets for extended periods of time.    We have to set and follow rules in our community.  If the regulations don't meet your particular circumstance completely, it is unfortunate...I agree.  But the idea that the municipal government must solve your individual problem for you, is something I just don't agree with.   Let the hate begin.   I live at an intersection with nowhere to put brush for pick-up so I have to haul it myself or have a landscaper remove it and drop it off at the Township's ecological center (where it is accepted for free).    It's a bummer for me.  It's not convenient.  But it is my situation and I have to deal with it.   

           There is no doubt that the brush pick-up program is a valued program in our community.  It is also a strain on our resources.  It just is.  I see if from my vantage point.  You may focus on how this all affects you personally, but I along with the elected officials have a fiduciary obligation to focus on what is in the best interests of our community.  There is more to consider.  And the answer isn’t just to hire more PW employees and buy more PW vehicles and pick it all up!  That is not a financially prudent decision based upon all of the concerns we have to address as a community.  Despite all of this, our elected officials are committed to providing this very valued service in a responsible manner.  We have to make difficult decisions, withstand the firestorm of push back but also be willing to listen and make the adjustments we can that address concerns and allow for the service to continue.  That is the dance.....  I promise we have heard you and will be as responsive as we can. 

DISCLAIMER – These are my personal reflections on the brush issue, not our elected officials who may or may not share my opinions. 

I wish everyone a very happy Summer!

                                                                     Sheft Property Purchase





Friday, June 14, 2019

What I know now but didn't know then....


                To all those who only want to read something by me that is Township related, this article is one you may just want to pass on.  This one is more about my personal reflections on how we relate to each other in our community.  It is equal parts reflective, mushy and personal just to give some warning to those curious persons who choose to continue.

                I had a life altering moment happen to me a little more than 5-years ago when my Mom passed away from cancer.  From the onset of what we all thought may have been the flu, to the diagnosis of multiple myeloma, to her death was only several weeks.  She was 79 years old and very much adored by many.  A cool lady.  Anyway, the “life altering” moment was my first experience with the deep pain of a death of a loved one.  Coming from a large family with many aunts, uncles and cousins, over the decades of my life I have lost many members, and felt the sadness that you expect.  But nothing like the loss of my own Mom.   When I reflected on this feeling (that still hasn’t really gone away), I understood for the first time the quiet pain everyone you come across may be feeling or struggling with.  No one walks around with a sign that says, “I have deep sadness because [Fill in the blank] died” or “I am sick, and maybe you can’t see it, but I’m in pain” or “my life has been filled with challenges and tragedy that you can’t possibly understand.”  We just can’t see it, but most of us live our lives with it. 

                This happened at the time I was the Judge for Lawrence Township.  It literally changed the way I viewed everyone that appeared before me that seemed angry, withdrawn, and disrespectful or scared.  Before experiencing what I was going through with the loss of my Mom, I would have engaged these people in a different, less empathetic way….maybe you can say more judgelike.  Demanding respect for the court and taking action that would establish my “control” of the courtroom. Or even meeting anger with anger.   But now I was much more reflective and reserved and consciously made efforts to be empathetic, respectful and compassionate.  Not in dereliction of my responsibilities as a judge, but definitely more aware of being human and understanding the people before me all have a quiet story that I knew nothing about.  I recall times when staff members would say to me that I was “too easy” on that guy because he was so disrespectful to them or me.  And I would just respond that they didn’t know that person’s story, and it’s ok to choose kindness and compassion over revenge or proportionate penalty. 

                For those that are reading this and can relate, you know the feeling that comes and goes when you least expect it.  The roller coaster ride of emotions that only seems to lesson just so slightly over time.  You definitely become part of a silent club when it happens to you.   Think of all of the people who appear perfectly and physically fine but may have had terrible childhoods, who struggle with alcohol or drug addiction, mental illness, have financial troubles they know they can't overcome.  Whatever it is.....we all have something...and we all handle these things differently.  Some better than others through no fault of their own.  

                I am certainly not saying I walk this Earth treating everyone one like I am the Dali Lama.  I certainly have moments that I regret and work hard to make better.   But wouldn’t it be great if we all were a little more aware of this quiet pain we all have?  It would lead to each one of us being more patient with others.  To be more compassionate, respectful and understanding.  When someone is angrier than they should be in a given situation, you may find it helpful to take a quick moment and tell yourself something more is going on with this person, and do what you can to deescalate it.  I think we all come across people that are mean, angry, or disrespectful for reasons that confound us, but my hope with what I’m writing is that we all try to understand there is most likely more “there” than we can ever know.  
                None of this would be a problem or even worthy of note if we all were kind and thoughtful.  That may be too much to expect, but we can all do our part.   Whether it is resident to resident, resident to municipal worker or municipal manager to taxpayer, we can all always choose respect and kindness and still communicate effectively.  Or...we can at least try! Let’s file this blog article away in my “reflections of a 50ish year old man folder.”

Friday, June 7, 2019

Off the Top of My Head report on Lawrence stuff!


An “Off the Top of My Head” report on Lawrence Township stuff!

One of my favorite Lawrence residents (who contributes in many positive ways to our community) emailed me and asked for an update on the Township that she can share with her group that she was reporting to.  Like….what’s happening in my world?  So I riffed off some items that are in the hopper…. and it dawned on me…..I just wrote my next blog article! 

The following are some things that are either topical in the community or things we are working on that may be of interest to you.  Honestly, this is off of the top of my head stuff and is not supported with concrete facts and data.  Read this as if you dropped by my office and asked, “So what’s up on all things Lawrence Township?

1.      Trenton Water Works – I continue to be very confident that TWW is improving in its operations and in its communications with the Township and its customers.  We are working together to add a 911 feature from TWW to its customers should there be any need for emergency notification about the water supply.   This is NOT in anticipation of future problems but an effort to improve lines of communications (a response to a common complaint from customers).

The water line replacement project (i.e., replacing the water lines from the curb to the house) is proceeding and should start in the next couple of months.  The costs to the homeowners will be made directly to the Township Tax Collector (with the payment plan option or in full…customer choice)…but the details of that are being worked out with the State, TWW and the Townships … and information will be shared once it is all firmed up.  TWW recently came to the Township for a community forum, and it was very informative and the reporting was all positive.  Someday soon we will not have to “think” about our water.

(Shameless) DISCLAIMER:  The Township does not own, control, maintain or is responsible to regulate the TWW….BUT….we do have a fiduciary obligation to advocate for our resident customers of this utility and we do diligently.  We are looking over their shoulder and making sure they meet their obligations as required by law.

2.      Shopping Center – Obviously the fa├žade work is proceeding nicely.  New stores are being added as tenants.  A beautiful new sign will be installed to replace the present sign on US 1.  LA Fitness should be breaking ground shortly.  The food store issue still remains unconfirmed….but as soon as a lease is executed….that information will be shared with all.  If we all have a common interest in seeing the LSC succeed, then we all need to support the stores doing business there!

3.      New Township Website – We continue to work on our new website which will be more user friendly and provide many options for residents to do “township business” online.  We have set up a kiosk with a large computer screen near our construction office that allows residents to use our current website for information and is proving to be very popular.   We also added online payments for taxes recently and residents are using that option more than we anticipated so they must be enjoying the convenience factor.  Our target goal for the new website to go live will be October if not sooner.

4.      Brush Program - Ninety per cent (and possibly more) of our residents have been complying with the new brush program and have experienced no real hardship.  Registering the landscapers that do work in our Town has been very helpful with the enforcement of the new program and they have all been very cooperative.  We do, however, have a very vocal ten per cent (or less) who find enforcement and the new restrictions ……not satisfactory.  A group did come to a local meeting and others have called my office and PW to voice complaints and concerns.  Council and I knew that there would be some push back….and the need to adjust the program to address some resident concerns.  A community conversation is always a good thing.   We have listened and believe that there is an opportunity to further improve the program to address some of the unique situations around town.   We are focusing on making the size of the brush piles bigger in the beginning of the season (April and May), possibly suspending pick up of brush in July and August, and pick up smaller brush piles in October and November while collecting all of the leaves (in separate piles).  Just some ideas to maintain this service because we are not going back to the free for all days of dumping anything and everything at any time you want.  Those days can be fondly remembered by residents (not PW) but we will not be going back to them.  Public safety, effective use of public resources, and community appearance will not be sidelined.

5.      Solar Program -  The municipal building, the police building and the public works building will all have solar panels installed (car port style for the municipal and police buildings and roof style for public works), and once completed it is expected to greatly reduce our carbon footprint and energy costs.  That work will be started in the next couple of months.

6.      Colonial Lake – The preliminary due diligence period has been completed by the Township and the contract for the purchase of the property are being signed by the parties.  The Mayor has already signed for the Township and we are waiting for the Shefts to countersign.  The Survey work has been ordered as well as the title work.  A closing should take place sometime in the fall if not sooner.  Then the cool work to make that lake and park great for all of the residents to use will begin!

7.      Route 206 the entire length of Lawrence Township will be repaved by the State over the next several months with the work occurring at night.  (So I am preparing for the phone calls from residents complaining about the noise at night….).  But the work at night is done to minimize traffic and safety concerns so hopefully the residents along 206 will understand that the noise is temporary, and what we get in return is a pristine roadway.

8.      Eldridge Park – The Township budgeted for, and the preliminary work has been started, to install an electrical panel in the park so that “Movies in the Park” and other activities will have an electrical source.  Homeowners were donating their own electric by long extension cords so this will be a nice addition to the park and its users.   I love that park and it is definitely targeted for more improvements in the future.

9.      Fire Houses – Our 2019 municipal budget provided for the upgrade of our 3 fire houses (Slackwood, Lawrence Road, and Lawrenceville).  The halls will be improved, and eventually we will have them open for more community and resident use.  The volunteer’s member rooms and bunk houses will be renovated as well as a part of a plan to increase membership in our volunteer ranks.  In addition, the Township is starting a Pay-Per-Call program that will provide a small payment (e.g. $5 per call) to volunteers responding to fire calls.  This incentive payment plan will provide volunteers with bi-annual payments.  Our volunteers perform an incredible service to our community and save tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.  These volunteers deserve our full support and appreciation.  We are trying to strengthen their numbers and we believe these efforts will help. 

10.  The Pit Stop – Oh man…. We are so close to a decision from the NJDEP.  We will all rejoice when that building is razed.  Maybe a wine and cheese party (or beer and pretzels…whatever) should be had to watch the building go down.  Thoughts?

11.  Our Police Chief Brian Caloiaro graduates this week from the prestigious FBI Academy for Law Enforcement Officers.  His selection was an honor, and our PD and community will benefit from this additional training.  Lt. Timothy Drew did an awesome job as Acting Chief of Police. 

12.  Brunswick Streetscape – The work on the design/plans for the public streetscape on Brunswick Ave. has begun.  Meetings with the Planner, Mayor and Township Officials have occurred.  A public meeting(s) will be held to share the plans and receive feedback.  What to place in the new round-a-bout will be an interesting challenge!




                                    Photo cred to Unique Harmony Photography, Lawrenceville, NJ 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Brush "Fire"



Brush “Fire”

                Last night at our council meeting a group of residents from a neighborhood in our community expressed their strong dissatisfaction with the revisions to the “Brush Pick-Up” program during public participation.  To summarize, their neighborhood is filled with trees (more than most) and, as a result, it is impossible for them to comply with the parameters set in our current program. 

                As I have said in public and on social media posts and comments, the new guidelines came about after several public meetings that included our Public Works Director detailing the many problems with the program as it existed.  I won’t go over them all again here, but there were many valid concerns that needed to be addressed in order to preserve this service to the residents.  Unfortunately, I don’t think there were more than one or two residents that attended the public council meetings.  And, judging by the amount of calls and emails I have received since we started enforcing the program a month ago, many residents failed to visit our website for the information, read the notice that was included in everyone’s tax bill or read the multiple newspaper articles and social media postings on the changes.  The frustration is shared on both sides because “reaching” residents that don’t want to or are too busy to be reached becomes problematic.  Important community information is not getting to people who need it the most.  Of course, we can’t knock on everyone’s door and have an individual conversation about the program.  And in all honesty, I believe the Town did enough to get the word out.  And those that are violating the ordinance now receive a “notice” explaining why and offering a time-frame to remedy the violation.  

                The phone calls and emails I have received for the most part have to do with an individual’s unique situation that rationalizes why they can’t comply with the new standards.   Some are legitimate and most are more that they can comply but it would be easier not to comply.  The communications with these residents are challenging because they, for the most part, aren’t very concerned about the big picture or how laws can’t be tailored to an individual’s specific circumstance.   They pay taxes, and they don’t want to be restricted on when and how they dispose of their brush onto the street.  This becomes a tough situation to address individually.

                The Public Works Director, the Council Members and I all try to make the best decisions for the greatest number of residents.  Receiving community feedback at a time when council members are making decisions is critical to crafting laws that so directly affect residents.  I do understand the disappointment, frustration and anger residents feel that something they had provided to them and had enjoyed (as a convenience) for so long now is reduced in scope requiring them to adjust.   But, just as important, is our (PW Director, Council Members and myself) ability and willingness to listen to the feedback and complaints no matter that they come after the fact.  Laws are fluid, and can be adjusted. 

                Since we began enforcement of the new program, I have met with our PW Director and the Code Enforcement Officer on multiple occasions to determine what difficulties the residents are facing in complying with the new standards.  Some of the more recurring complaints are:  (1) The time requirement of putting brush out the weekend before pick up of their zone (because it is not always convenient or possible); 2) The height (3ft) and length (12ft) of the piles poses problems for those who have larger lots or more trees; and 3) the location where they discard the brush when it is unsafe or inconvenient to place it in front of their home.

               We knew there would be pushback from some residents, and for sure that has happened by a small but vocal group.  I am told approximately 8 years ago the Town tried enforcement of the brush program but the outrage from residents prompted the effort to be abandoned.  This program cannot continue without a determined effort by the Town to enforce the regulations and the residents to have a willingness to abide by them.  But as important, we have to be open to adjustments to the program to better serve the residents.  And we are.  Public discussions will take place to consider amending the “Brush Pick-Up” program to address some of the major concerns. 

             We will be considering larger brush piles (maybe for the initial zone pick up); extending the time-frame from the weekend before zone pick to the week before; and separating the restrictions of brush pick-up from our leaf pick up program; and possibly reducing the brush pick-up season because we somehow must address and reduce the cost to the Town in terms of manpower, equipment and disposal of the excess brush, and we must maintain our streets in a condition that is safe for pedestrians and cyclists who cross and use our roads.  We simply can’t go back to how it was, but we can always be open to adjusting the program when reasonableness and necessity exist.  Stay tuned (seriously, try to stay tuned….) communication is a two-way street. 

             And I will end with this by telling those who attended the meeting, my apologies to you all when my emotion got the better of me at times.  I am human.  It’s been relentless hearing disparaging comments from members of my community over the past month.  Throw in some difficult things occurring in my life recently, and I performed in a manner that was unacceptable.  You all deserve better.  One of the reasons that I post on social media and make comments about community issues is to let everyone know that township employees (including myself) are human beings dealing with the same life issues as everyone else.  Insults and disparaging comments do hurt (I admit it).  I know I am expected, in fact it is demanded, that I am to remain unemotional and professional at all times when I am acting as the Municipal Manager for the Township of Lawrence.  I will try my best and will always be a work in progress……………..  And I am aware that this is “smushy” but I don’t care.  I am just being real.   #LawrenceNJStrong!






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