Mayor Michael Wildes ' State of the City
January 6, 2009
Before I begin, I would like to wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year and
and congratulate Dr. Ken Rosenzweig and Scott Reddin on their re-election to the City
Council. I am looking forward to working with both of you as we navigate together through serious and difficult times in the City. I strongly hope to push to the limits what we can do for the residents of our community.
Citizens of Englewood , I would like to welcome all of you and thank you for being here. As I look around the room I see many familiar faces, people who are here because they care about our City and have taken the time tonight and on many other evenings to come out to support us and to let us know what issues they care about. An active citizen is a valuable one. Taking a role in your government is playing out the intended design of the founding fathers when they established this democratic nation. For making this effort and being so committed, I commend each and every one of you. I especially want to thank my wife, Amy, our four children, Raquel, Josh, Lauren and Jaclyn, my father and law partner, Leon Wildes and the other members of my family for supporting me throughout my career in public service.
Tonight marks my fifth Charter-mandated State of the City address. I am proud that the three core principles which I pledged to make my priorities when I took office in 2003 are still at the forefront of our council's mind as well as mine. My promise to focus on
education, taxes and the government's perspective remain spotlighted even now as I continue to work for your best interests. Those objectives have experienced significant progress and I pledge to continue to keep them at the forefront so that our City can continue to grow and prosper. I would like to dedicate this address to Former Police Chief David Bowman, who retired this year after 37 successful years committed to our fine city. Thank you Chief, for your devotion to the welfare of the citizens of Englewood . I congratulate our new chief Arthur O'Keefe whose exemplary professionalism stands testimony to his continued ability to serve. I wish him and the entire department much success.
THE PAST YEAR
This past year was an unfortunate one: across the nation and here in our community we were struck with financial hardship and economic woes. Nevertheless, we also realized many longtime dreams this year, achievements which put our city in better shape to move forward. Together this year we have seen the fruits of the renaissance in our schools and requested and received the assistance of the State government to strengthen our roads, and since then work was completed on Route 4 and Knickerbocker Rd.; we also began a trolley with the help of the State, so that public transportation is a viable and successful option in our city. In our community, we facilitated as Habitat for Humanity led us in providing for the less fortunate and we began a Food Service Program, providing meals to children under 18 who come out to be healthy and active in a safe environment. All of these accomplishments are important steps toward becoming the best city we hope to be.
I will always work for you and with you as pledged, taking an active part in every aspect of the community's growth. This year I participated in several gallery walks; cancer drives, health fairs and reading programs. I proudly represented our city at various forums and venues and sadly attend the funerals of those leaders whose legacy we honor. From delivering proclamations to performing scores of weddings at city hall to standing in solidarity with our neighbors at my annual 9-11 Memorial: these chronicled events are indeed the duty of a mayor; however, I do them because I find joy in listening, lecturing, walking and talking to those with whom I share the privilege of residing in our lovely city.
Schools and Recreation: Current Growth
Last year I spoke of the priority of quality schools and I am still involved and invested in our children's education. This year I participated in many school events, graduations, school plays and projects and I continue to support and participate in “Read Across America.”, athletic events and am proud to be a sponsor of the Championship Raiders whose fine program should be a model for youth athletics. As a parent: I am committed to providing the best education we can. We must never relent in ensuring that our children receive every conceivable opportunity. Anything holding us back from that end must be dealt with expeditiously. Therefore to handle the disposition of the liberty school building, whose debt service is choking us, my planning board will meet in public hearing on January 8 th . Fortunately, our other schools are doing great. They are well-populated with children eager to learn, as I have seen firsthand. And our children achieve there, as our district's scores rank higher within the state. With the opening of the new
Dr. John Greico Elementary School building, we have even more excellent facilities to match our incredible programs. Even as our schools continue to develop and improve, I wish to draw your attention to the advancement of our children's after school activities.
Many of our schools, both public and private already have school teams, clubs and more. Furthering the provision of such industrious activities, I humbly leave to the schools themselves. We have an extraordinary human resource in the citizenry of our city who want to create safe, healthy and fun environments outside of the schools' domain encouraging healthy athletic activity for as many of Englewood 's youth as possible.
Further advancing both our seniors and children's recreational opportunities by enhancing facilities and supplementing equipment is also a priority. Safe, fun places to hang out with people their own age means one more positive influence in our community's lives, one more time every week we can rest assured that they're secure and out of harm's way. Among all that is going on economically, a topic I will address next, we must still know where we can and can't afford to spend a few dollars. If stretching ourselves even a little bit could mean keeping children protected and in productive environments for a few more hours each week, it is an obligation we owe to assure our future.
Other Vital Issues
In addition to recreation there are a number of issues perpetually facing our government and citizens. First is the vital security concern. Today, more than ever, following the recent attacks in Mumbai, we must take a hard look at every aspect of our community, particularly our houses of worship. As parents, educators, councilmen and community leaders, we must constantly ask ourselves “Are we doing all we can to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens?” Deputy Police Chief, Arthur O'Keefe and I met recently with Richard Canas, Director of Homeland Security for the State of NJ Office of Homeland Security at City Hall to discuss Englewood 's preparedness in the event of a major calamity. He informed us that Englewood is located in the nation's highest risk area. We reviewed the security of the school district and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center . Most pertinently, we discussed the city's houses of worship and their vulnerabilities. Both the Chief and I shared our concerns and outlined plans for securing and appraising our law enforcement resources, funding, and on-the-job education capability. A constant goal of the joint efforts of our Police Department and City Council is refining and enhancing the security of our city.
A matter related to safety is the crucial issue of stacking in our apartment complexes and housing. After the horrible deaths in an Englewood building fire: landlords; superintendents and management companies must be ever-vigilant of maintaining our fire codes and protecting their tenants. If it demands new legislation or harsher consequence for violation of existing laws, than those steps will be taken. I have every confidence in our Police and Fire Departments: they will do what is necessary to prevent further accidents from taking more lives. I was similarly honored to be appointed and serve on Governor Corzine's Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigration where I had the privilege of travelling the state: to really study these crucial issues and meet with many interested parties; government experts; and colleagues throughout the Garden State and really understand how immigration affects our city and state.
I believe our community must also relentlessly work on environmental sustainability. As new businesses open and older establishments make further developments, let us push the green envelope. Let's make our investments long term endeavors, mindful of the futures of our children and our nation.
Our City Budget, Tax, Economic issues; Reestablishing Trust Between our Citizens and our City
Making good investment decisions is not just a metaphor for addressing our environmental impact. It actually translates rather literally to our spending policies. Prioritizing our expenditures is the key to developing a good economic policy. As this year we have faced great fiscal tribulation, I wish to address my concerns and goals for the city as we move forward to what we can only pray will be a better year.
Our nation, our state, our city and our community have recently faced awful times. First, I extend my heartfelt condolences to everyone, here and across the nation, who was affected by the horrible lies and forgeries which have just come to light. In addition to the great loss so many suffered in these scams, our economy and stock market struggle relentlessly with no end in sight. Like a season of overcast skies with no sign of the sun breaking through, our economy does not promise any quick solution to the bad we are experiencing. I take comfort, as we all should, in knowing that the resolve of the American people is great; the doctrine of our people has no guidelines for surrender. I have no doubt that we will only grow stronger from today's challenges.
To meet these economic challenges, we must (1) ensure that our spending is fiscally responsible while being careful to (2) maximize what funds we have from our citizens--reducing their tax burden wherever possible rather than increasing it. I am sorry to say it, but in a time of economic decline, when many are losing their jobs at record rates, we can not afford to raise salaries. This year, more than once, I was forced to use my power of veto. I blocked Ordinance 8-11 to prevent the council from raising the remuneration of some City officials at a time when we should be doing everything in their power to cut expenses. I also vetoed laws which promised extra strain on our citizens like Ordinance 8-15 which attempted to raise fees for recreational services (targeting citizens who couldn't afford them).
I will do everything in my power to ensure that citizens do not feel unnecessary pressure until I'm certain we've made every possible reduction in spending. The successes of our investments in our industrial corridor and our effort in controlled development are curtailed by the incessant spending of taxpayer dollars. We must therefore make those tax monies more meaningful in their disbursement. I insist that this year we look at our spending from a new angle, see what services are essential, which we can afford to cut and which costs may be defrayed by consolidating expenses with neighboring towns. We must be more fiscally careful than ever, watch not only every dollar spent but even those monies available for appropriation. I will work with the council to achieve better balance in their budget. Let it be known: the tax payers of Englewood are not a bottomless cash pit to be mined as needed!
To that end, I have looked to outside sources to raise money for events for residents without having to use their tax dollars. Examples of projects which I have continually hosted without using even a penny of taxpayer money include our annual Resident's Day, held this year at Zeytinia, a new business in our downtown; our annual 4 th of July Fireworks and Concert; our annual 9/11 Memorial event; and our holiday gift-giving for our seniors. I also supported Englewood Creates which was a gala art exhibition at Dwight Morrow High School presented by gifted Englewood artists as well as fundraising for many charitable causes within our city limits and much needed equipment for the Englewood Raiders. I have no vote on the Municipal Budget, but I will continue to persevere to provide for these and other activities without using a penny of taxpayer money while working to ensure that the budget is fiscally responsible.
Now, as regards the current economic crisis, we must take it upon ourselves to do whatever is within our power to protect ourselves from further exposure. It is my opinion that in times of trouble, worry and need, a union working towards growth and forward-progress is distinguished primarily by one characteristic: TRUST. As the first step toward getting our city back where we were financially before this all started, I believe that above all we must reestablish trust between government and our citizens, a trust which will allow us to move forward together and build Englewood to her fullest potential.
As an example, our city's infrastructure is strengthened by our roads and jobs are created through the work done on these projects; they are therefore a valuable asset in which to invest. Likewise, transportation is a worthwhile investment which keeps our city relevant and projects which enhance our children's programs are important investments for our future. But we must be careful at every turn and with every proposal that what our council attempts to accomplish is both affordable and beneficial for our city today and for years to come.
To that end, I would like to reintroduce and fully support an item from an open letter sent to the City Council by Raphael Benaroya. First of all, thank you to Raphael for writing a much needed and very appropriate letter to members of our City Council and citizens of this city. In the letter he proposes many plausible and worthy guidelines for the City Council, but the one which is most pertinent to our conversation tonight is the recommendation to make public the city checkbook and budget fully and with supporting worksheets. The council should also develop a system whereby the budget is not just available online, but is truly accounting for every dollar spent by our city and further, through which the taxpayers may watch their dollars at work.
Genuine transparency will hold the city responsible for every cent spent. There will be nothing hidden from sight: including smaller amounts which may even legally evade public scrutiny. Inappropriate or unnecessary uses of funds will be open and known. Second, it will allow taxpayers a more active role in their city's progress. Why should those funding our projects not watch the cash-allotments necessary to arrive at our goals? By being more involved in how and where our money is spent, we will all be more invested in the growth of our community. The pride which will inevitably result from this involvement should lead to a more vigorous and aware community.
The Special need For Community Participation:
Of course, like any action in a democracy, I am powerless if I move toward these lofty goals on my own. I am in regular communication with city officials to ensure that we are always on the same page, regardless of politics and personal views. We must work together to bring you the most fiscally aware and productive government at a time when our city needs it most.
I am proud to be an elected official for a community committed to its own well being, concerned with the activity of their government and dedicated to protecting its legacy.
Finally, I extend my best wishes on behalf of our city for success to President Elect Barack Obama, as we enter a truly historic period in American history. Since I was a young child I have been influenced by two dreamers, the first Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose dream came closer to realization. When I was growing up I met another dreamer, John Lennon, who was a close friend of my parents after my father challenged the Nixon administration which sought to deport him for the expression of his dream. He called on us to IMAGINE a world where there was peace and love. I wish that the coming year brings those dreams closer to fruition.
I thank you all for being here. May God bless our extraordinary city and watch over each of us. Good evening and thank you.
Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes For Mayor, Assemblyman Arnold Brown, Treasurer
250 Allison Court, Englewood, NJ 07631