January 10, 2024

Urging Mayor, Council to Tread Carefully Before Eliminating Three Key BCCS

To the Editor:

As a member of the Princeton Affordable Housing Board, I am dismayed and troubled by the proposed elimination of three key municipal Boards and Commissions (BCCs) that for decades have been vehicles for civic engagement and citizen participation and contributed to improving the lives of our most underserved residents: the Human Services Commission, the Affordable Housing Board, and the Civil Rights Commission.

That this proposal (Ordinance 2024-01 introduced by Council on Monday, January 8, 2024) was brought out, literally, under the wire without notice or input from the members of the groups in question, or the public in general, make its motives suspect and undermine the lofty language of the ordinance. I urge the mayor and Council to tread carefully before proceeding. This initiative could lead to increasing social tensions, more adversarial relations between municipal government and the public, and further isolation of our most vulnerable residents.

If we are to believe that the intent is truly to “promote social justice, equity, and greater inclusivity in Princeton,” then staff and Council should first engage in an honest and public dialogue that involves the members of the three advisory groups to reach a consensus on how to best achieve the goals of “…more efficient use of volunteer and staff time [and] … greater efficacy.” The incumbent volunteers constitute a cross-section of engaged citizens from all walks of life, a truly inclusive composite of the community, some with long institutional memories, others with new fresh perspectives. It would be unrealistic, and highly undesirable, to consolidate this diversity of perspectives, skill sets, and representative voices into a smaller committee with “a single focus,” as the proposal states. This would be construed as a power play by Council and staff, and rightly so, with the purpose of impeding inquiry, public disclosure, and oversight,

Understandably, managing the sometimes-cacophonous feedback may not be easy or always pleasant, and requires a committed effort on the part of staff and elected officials to value and respect this input for what it is: the voice of the people they serve. That is the American way of government. Messy, contentious, opinionated, but respectful of the rules and open to different ideas, in other words, democracy in action. Let’s not trample on that.

Instead, Council should consider tabling the proposed ordinance and forming a committee with representatives from Council staff, stakeholders, and residents to evaluate the need for, and the possible restructuring of the current BCCs, and/or ways in which these three BCCs can better coordinate their efforts. Dissolving these three BCCs may be the easy way out but the wrong remedy, to the detriment of the very objective it means to address: a more just, equitable, and diverse community.

Maria Juega
Grover Avenue

Juega notes that she is expressing her own opinion and not writing on behalf of the Affordable Housing Board.