A Former Mayor Looks Back In Book About Consolidation
RECONSIDERING CONSOLIDATION: Former Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner, whose book on Princeton’s historic consolidation has been recently released, is shown here delivering the keynote speech at the New York State Local Government Innovation Conference last November.
By the time consolidation of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough was officially put into effect four years ago, Chad Goerner was no longer in public office. But Mr. Goerner, who served as mayor of the former Township from 2006 until opting not to run for re-election in 2012, remained actively involved in making the historic merger a reality.
The author of the original proposal for the towns to develop a consolidation and shared services study commission, Mr. Goerner helped guide the process by serving on the Transition Task Force. Now, he has written a book about the experience. A Tale of Two Tigers: Princeton’s Historic Consolidation, was published in January and is available from amazon.com.
“I did it to memorialize the history of consolidation. From my perspective, what we did was pretty unique and special,” said Mr. Goerner, who is First Vice President — Wealth Management at UBS FInancial Services Inc. “I wanted to go back and look at the history of consolidation, in detail, and figure out what went right this time and what went wrong in previous attempts. It really kind of became a story in and of itself.”
Previous efforts to merge the two Princetons date back to the 1950s and beyond. “There was an attempt by the town to incorporate as a Borough back in the early 1800s, mainly due to the fact that they were concerned about the African American population, and suppressing that,” Mr. Goerner said. “It was basically racism.”
Doing his research, Mr. Goerner was surprised to learn of an 1894 school law that allowed the towns to incorporate in order to control their own school district. “But what was most surprising were the themes that were in favor of or against consolidation were consistent throughout,” he said. “A lot of elected officials started out hesitant to look at consolidating because they were concerned about control over their own community. But after they served for a period of time, they realized how inefficient things really were, and changed their minds.”
The book looks at various issues including the controversy over moving the Dinky train station, the “cultural” differences between the Township and the Borough, the perceived effect of consolidation on police departments, and the response to Hurricane Sandy (after consolidation) in comparison to Hurricane Irene (pre-consolidation).
“The response to Irene and Sandy was like night and day,” Mr. Goerner said. “I think a lot of people still don’t understand that even though we consolidated and have great savings, the facts are that Princeton has had one of the lowest municipal tax growth rates of any town in Mercer County. that is due specifically to consolidation.”
The second part of the book is designed as a kind of template for other towns considering consolidation. “It’s a little bit of a handbook for other elected officials,” Mr. Goerner said. “It’s about why they should consider looking at shared services and consolidation at the same time.”
Graphics in the book include flyers that were created during the years leading up to the vote on whether to merge. One from 1996, advocating staying separate, pictures Napoleon and Hitler (“History Shows That Once You Start Consolidating, It’s Hard To Stop … The More Power You Have, The More Power You Want”). Another, in favor, is undated (“Don’t be Myth-Led! Consolidation is a win for the Borough and our entire Community”).
So how would Mr. Goerner rate consolidation in its fourth year?
“I think it’s gone very well so far,” he said. “One of the things, from my perspective, is that as time goes on, the question of whether it was right or not will be really moot,” he said. “Most people will not understand why we were two separate municipalities. But because it was such a long attempt, there will always be lingering animosity for those who were against it and have been for decades. The reality is that it certainly was successful.”