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.

My Deepest Apologies to Rich and Frankie and their families.

On the front page of the Trentonian newspaper today there was an extremely odd and poorly written article that was intended solely to dispar...