MICHAEL'S SWEARING-IN SPEECH
I would like to acknowledge my wife Amy and four children, Raquel, Josh, Lauren, and Jaclyn. My father and law partner, Leon Wildes. My brother, Rabbi Mark Wildes. My in-laws, Robert and Susan Messer. I would also like to acknowledge my Uncle John Schoenwalter, my mother's (rest her soul), brother, who traveled from Denver to be with us this evening. I used my grandfather's Chumash/Bible when I was sworn. I am honored to see so many distinguished elected officials; pastors; reverends; rabbis; and dear friends. I am pleased to see that Englewood 's finest and bravest are represented as well.
Thank you all for the honor of electing me to serve you.
And thanks to Kadijah Thomas, the young woman who swore me into office, Kadijah, who brought her parents with her this evening ---represents and typifies the plans, which I have for the future of Englewood. Kadijah is the Valedictorian of the Dwight Morrow High School. Not every student can be a valedictorian, but every student needs a chance to accomplish academically to the best of his or her individual abilities. I hope I am not embarrassing Kadijah, but she is what our public schools are all about: giving everyone the best opportunity possible to learn, contribute, and achieve.
Under the City Charter, Englewood 's Mayor does not have great direct power. However, the Mayor should have enormous influence in articulating a vision for our City and its citizens.
Accordingly, those of us who are newly charged with the stewardship of Englewood , must always remember that our responsibility is not only to those we represent today, but to tomorrow's generations – young people like Kadijah Thomas – who represent our future. I am committed to involving the youth of our community and in encouraging them to take pride in our City.
As I assume my new office, there are three issues I want to discuss: public education, property taxes, and bringing a fresh perspective to government.
First, our public schools. The New Jersey Supreme Court, over twenty-five years ago, mandated that every community in the State has a legal and moral obligation to educate its young in a “thorough and efficient” manner. Since Englewood changed to an elective school board, the Mayor no longer appoints school trustees.
As a new Mayor, I could easily pass responsibility for our schools onto the nine men and women elected as school trustees. But that would not be leadership, and standing in silence is not what the people of Englewood elected me to do.
Englewood has been fortunate to recruit Dr. John Grieco as our new school superintendent. He comes to Englewood from the Bergen County School system, where he has created the highly successful and prestigious Bergen County Academies, including the one in Englewood . I have met on numerous occasions with Dr. Grieco, and I know that he will not settle for anything less than excellence for Englewood 's local public schools.
Dr. Grieco finds that our aging public schools, some of which are approaching 100 years of age, need a physical overhaul. I agree. He has come up with a plan and a program for its funding. The State government has committed to contributing over $14 million for the construction and refurbishment of schools in Englewood, which is available if we act promptly. Englewood taxpayers are being asked to do their share and approve a substantial mortgage to pay the balance of the construction costs over the next twenty years.
This month there will be a referendum, placed before the voters, to approve the mortgage plan to fix our local schools. This offers a window of opportunity to accomplish a long overdue goal to begin truly improving Englewood 's public schools. Today, we have the talent and the commitment for the funding from the state. We cannot count on either one being available tomorrow. We owe it to Kadijah Thomas and future Kadijahs to act. We must not tolerate “business as usual” when it comes to our responsibility to the children of Englewood . We must act as a unified City to pass this referendum on January 27 th .
One should not speak of our responsibility for public education without discussing the second issue we face, and that is our City Council's budget. Englewood is a well-run small City. But nothing is ever as good as it can be, and we cannot rest on our fiscal laurels, especially if my colleagues on the Council also support the school referendum to improve Englewood 's schools. Therefore, we must not only support the school referendum, we must also try to reduce the cost of City government.
Since we will be asking local taxpayers to sacrifice and pay more in property taxes for the betterment of our childrens' future, ---we have an obligation to make our best effort to do more to control or reduce municipal property taxes.
I therefore call upon the Council to form a Blue Ribbon citizens' panel, with funding made available from City surplus funds, to perform a thorough independent review of, and if necessary, an independent audit of Municipal operations. This citizens' panel would have just one responsibility: to find areas where reductions can be made in the cost of Municipal government on every level. Its goal should be finding cost savings that add up to the annual cost of the payments on the proposed school construction. Once the panel's work is done, the City Council can convene public hearings and determine which changes to implement.
With a new Mayor, a majority of three new Councilpersons ---just in the last year, and a new City Manager on the horizon, there will never be a better opportunity to take a fresh look at the efficiency of Englewood Municipal government.
Finally, third, I have taken a new approach in making City board appointments.
Englewood 's Mayor has the greatest direct authority according to the City Charter in making appointments; and I am exercising that power to bring a fresh, professional perspective to our City government.
Therefore, with every gratitude for the dedication and commitment of incumbent board members ---I will be making new appointments. In fact, every seat on every board up for appointment was published in advance and no incumbent member was given preferential treatment.
I carefully evaluated all the applicants and chose those who best reflected a blend of professional competence, community involvement, and above all – independence.
These appointments concern vacancies on the Planning Board, the Board of Adjustment, the Housing Authority, and the Library Board. For all the board terms due to expire, I have appointed new members to every seat on every board. Among my appointees are attorneys, independent real estate experts, community leaders, and other concerned citizens. The challenges they will face, range from controlling the re-development of our City to the policies set at our public library. While these men and women have diverse experiences and backgrounds, they all share a deep and abiding commitment to put the people's interests above political interests.
My appointments this evening, even more than my words, should make clear my resolve to end “business as usual” in Englewood .
Englewood is a City of diversity, but it is also a City of commonality. We all have a common interest in better education for our children. We all have a common interest in keeping Englewood as affordable as possible. We all have a common interest in preserving our City for future generations.
I welcome your being a part of this administration---I will be posting a website tomorrow --MichaelWildes.org-- if anyone has recommendations; suggestions, or comments, please avail yourself of it.
As our nation faces unknown challenges, so does our community. We need the same kind of commitment locally as we do nationally. I shall do my very best to encourage that sentiment. I have always considered public service to be a public trust. Thank you all for entrusting me with the responsibility to speak for Englewood . You may not agree with every decision I make, or every position I take. But more than the oath I have sworn to this evening, as of tonight, next to Amy and our children, the City of Englewood and its citizens' have become my extended family.
Now our work begins. Together. May God Bless Our City and its Citizens. Thank You.
Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer