January 16, 2013

New Princeton Government Should Reset Priorities, Put Them With the Residents

To the Editor:

I attended the January 3 open meeting of the new Princeton municipality. The meeting was advertised as setting priorities. For the first hour, Joseph Stefko of the consulting firm, Center for Government Research, gave a generic textbook lecture about setting priorities. The only specific he mentioned was a pie chart representing the answers to a survey of council and staff members, ranking the importance to them of various issues. The largest slice of pie showed that 47 percent ranked as most important the category called, “Preferences.” In other words, 47 percent had ranked the quotidian details of life as most important. Without any further specifics available, I thought, “Yes, they’ve got that right. Preferences are about the individual quality of life issues around town.”

Then Mr. Stefko disparaged that 47 percent by downgrading “Preferences” to bottom priority in importance. He urged the Council members and Mayor Lempert to shelve those “preference” items in favor of larger policy issues.

During his talk, Mr. Stefko repeatedly stressed tackling the large, overwhelming policy issues first and letting the simple, easily resolved problems fall to bottom priority.

He strenuously advocated listening without acting on the citizens’ concerns as a way to rob them of their urgency. At that moment I felt the hopes of the citizens in the room deflate as if pricked by a very sharp pin.

When the microphone was opened to the public, we heard about storm debris blocking side streets, frequent power outages, and the eruption of an unwanted cell booster tower in a residential area. These are the so‑called smaller issues, those “preferences” that affect the daily lives of the citizens.

In contrast to Mr Stefko’s admonitions, during 25 years running my own business, I learned that taking care of the small problems clears the deck for then dealing with the large ones. And from the sum of those myriad decisions will emerge the long‑term vision of the new Princeton government.

While it is important to set priorities, we think the new Princeton government has been advised to set them the wrong way. On behalf of its citizens, I urge the new government to put its priorities where its initial instincts lay — with the residents.

A longtime Princeton resident,

NL Tatz

Snowden Lane