January 8, 2014

As the Snow Falls, Princeton Council Gets Down to Business

Following a celebration honoring Princeton municipal staff for their efforts during the first year of consolidation, Mayor Liz Lempert and Princeton Council got down to business last Thursday evening at the first Council meeting of the year. By the time the gathering drew to a close, just as snow began blanketing the parking lot of Witherspoon Hall, the governing body had sworn in incumbents Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon and re-elected Bernie Miller to the post of Council president. 

Addressing the crowd of staff members, officials, and municipal workers during the party, which included a large cake donated by McCaffrey’s market, Ms. Lempert described the consolidation of the Borough and Township as “a little like throwing together two rival football teams.” She added, “This year has been a challenge as we’ve had to adjust to new roles and responsibilities, and to new faces.”

Ms. Lempert also thanked volunteers from the community and acknowledged honors and awards given to Princeton during the year, from such organizations as the League of American Bicyclists, the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, and the American Library Association. She concluded by mentioning the town’s earning of a AAA bond rating, which recognizes good fiscal management.

At the Council meeting, each member was given an opportunity to speak. Ms. Crumiller noted that 2014 will include the replacement of administrator Bob Bruschi, who will retire at the end of the year.

“We will have to decide whether to finally build a cold storage garage for our heavy machinery or continue to allow expensive equipment to rust and deteriorate ahead of its time from exposure to the elements,” she said. “It looks like we’ll face a controversial request from the University for rezoning lower Alexander Road.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler noted that almost all of the municipal staff has experienced significant change during the year. She thanked Princeton University, the State, Mercer County, and the Department of Community Affairs for their financial contributions to consolidation. Councilman Lance Liverman praised Princeton Police Captain Nick Sutter and Corner House director Gary DiBlasio for their efforts during the year.

Councilwoman Heather Howard cited savings and improved services in public safety as a positive result of consolidation, but recognized difficulties that were encountered. “Let’s be clear — there’s no doubt that the police department faced challenges earlier in the year, but it has responded under Captain Sutter’s leadership and worked tirelessly to strengthen relations with the community,” she said.

Ms. Lempert’s remarks at the meeting focused on the successes of consolidation, both direct and indirect. “Consolidation has also jolted us out of autopilot and forced us to re-examine all our practices and develop a fresh set of operating procedures,” she said. “This year saw us adopt a new personnel manual and a new conflict of interest policy. We adopted a police ordinance, and laid the groundwork for accreditation of the new department. We negotiated a three year contract with the police union, and we balanced fairness to employees and consideration of the taxpayers while harmonizing salaries.”

Among other highlights of the year cited by the mayor were better collaboration among agencies that provide public and affordable housing, a formal agreement between the police department and the University’s public safety department, and a revised plan for a rental community at the old hospital site by the developer AvalonBay. Ms. Lempert acknowledged the grass roots groups Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods and the Princeton Ridge Coalition for their advocacy regarding AvalonBay and the expansion of the Transco pipeline, respectively.

She cited Assemblyman Jack Ciatterelli, who was present at the meeting, and the New Jersey League of Municipalities for work in opposing Assembly Bill 2586, which would have exempted Princeton University and other educational institutions from the town’s land use regulations.

The mayor praised Councilwoman Howard and her work with the town’s Health Department for making it possible for same sex couples to wed within hours of the legalization of same sex marriage. “That allowed our residents to not wait a second longer for their equal rights, and allowed Princeton to be the first town in Mercer County and among the first in New Jersey to host a same sex marriage,” said Ms. Lempert, who performed the weddings.

She concluded her remarks by comparing consolidation to a marriage saying, “Now that we’re hitched, after decades of dating, I’m happy to say we’re enjoying the fruits of our union.”