March 14, 2012

Joint Meeting Looks at Task Force Progress

“You’re significantly there from where I sit today,” said Center for Governmental Research (CGR) consultant Joe Stefko at Monday’s joint Township Borough meeting, where he talked about the transition process that will lead to consolidation.

Mr. Stefko, who was also a key advisor to the Consolidation and Shared Studies Commission, said that his presentation was meant to “look out over the horizon for the next three to four months to give you a sense of priorities.”

Using slides to “walk through”Кa “few of the high points regarding the process to date,” Mr. Stefko suggested that the detailed research done by the Commission prior to their recommendation to consolidate provides a “high level context” from which the Transition Task Force and its subcommittees can proceed.

Noting that the baseline study leading up to consolidation began in the fall of 2010, Mr. Stefko acknowledged that some circumstances С particularly a lower number of Township police at present С have changed and would need to be tweaked, and that figures cited are only estimates. He noted, however, that the Commission’s “options report” does not simply provide recommendations; it describes several potential possibilities and how the Commission chose among them. It’s a “very helpful context,”КMr. Stefko said. More than once he pointed to the Commission’s final report as a good “point of departure,” describing it as the “single most valuable resource” at “every level” for the Task Force to use as a blueprint. He spoke of the dangers of “mission creep,” and its capacity to stymie the consolidation process.

Those who did not seem to share Mr. Stefko’s sentiments included Borough Council member Roger Martindell, who was a member of the Consolidation Commission, and Transition Task Force member Jim Levine. Mr. Martindell pointed to consolidation as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and said that aspects of it should be subject to further exploration. Mr. Levine wanted Borough Council and Township Committee members to provide directives for or against such additional research. On a more conciliatory note, Task Force Chair Mark Freda spoke of the “flexibility” that should characterize any decision-making.

Township Mayor Chad Goerner and Committee member Bernie Miller, who were both on the Consolidation Commission and are now serving on the Transition Task Force, also spoke of the amount of work already accomplished by the Commission. The role of the Task Force, they said, is to serve as an “oversight body” implementing consolidation by, for example, establishing reasonable timelines and assigning responsibility, while continuing to share information with the public. Mr. Miller suggested that the Task Force would be “remiss” if it ventured off course to explore other options at this point.

Comparing the process to childbirth, Mr. Stefko emphasized the pragmatic nature of the Task Force’s work, and the necessity of identifying primary and secondary priorities. At this point, he observed, a parent wouldn’t decide what musical instrument their child will be playing in the ninth grade. They would, however, decide what hospital they wanted to go to for the delivery and, perhaps, pack a bag.

Mr. Stefko also noted that decision-making now does not preclude changes in the future. In 2013 the new government won’t look like the ones that will exist in 2018 or 2025.