In our borough, 2007 marks the time to vamp up democracy, which has not had the best run this year or during the majority of the current administration's term. This town needs regime change. We need elected officials that welcome public criticism and questioning rather than feel threatened by them. We need a government that will allow the people to decide via referendum whether we want to permanently preclude the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment. We need leaders who actively work with local businesses without imposing an excessive assessment burden on them that then goes to fund patronage for public relations firms, event planners, and consultants totaling thousands of dollars. We need to restore borough government and Main Street to the volunteers who are the key stakeholders in Highland Park, who want to participate as a labor of love rather than as outsiders seeking expensive contracts.
Highland Park needs responsible budgeting to curb the astronomical tax increases of the last eight years, including a possible state audit of our budgets during that time. Highland Park needs leaders who will take responsibility when tax dollars are lost and say, the buck stops here, instead of trying to protect employees who engage in misconduct. We need a welcome, open environment for borough employees instead of one characterized by innuendo, suspicion, and unjust terminations of people who have worked long and hard for our town. We need economic development that focuses on keeping this town affordable for all residents and businesses, that rejects gentrification, that protects the small "mom and pop" shops that make our borough what it is instead of seeking huge increases in retail rents that make the town affordable only to chain stores.
And we need political parties that are representative of a broad spectrum of viewpoints rather than those that are diverse on the outside but require faith in one vision--that of the mayor--in order to welcome citizen participation. We need parties that will hold open meetings at least once a year, which the current Democratic Committee has refused to do for the better part of a decade.
Public service, both at the appointed and elected levels, must be open to anyone willing to work hard instead of what it too often is now--restricted to a select few who are loyal to the mayor. We cheat ourselves by excluding those who think differently. Innovation in public policy and vision is something that should be welcomed, not feared. And loyalty should be centered on dedication to our town rather than on dedication to any one person.
Three Board of Education seats, the mayor's seat, two council seats, and 26 seats on the Democratic Municipal Committee will all be up for grabs in this coming year. If we are to truly make democracy work, we must assure that each and every one of these seats is contested. The Democratic Committee does not have a monopoly on "choosing" people to represent it in Highland Park's 13 districts. There is no such concept as, "they already have someone for that job." These are elected positions, meaning they are chosen by the people, and anyone can and should contest for them, the more the better.
Recently, a former borough resident published a letter to the editor in The Home News Tribune criticizing borough officials for being rude to me at a meeting and maintaining an attitude that discourages people from questioning their policies. He wrote this letter on his own without any input from me though I thank him for it. However, I would like to make clear that the attitude of the mayor and council do not and will not have any influence on my continuing to question their choices and should not deter anyone else from doing so as well. I will not go away, no matter how I am treated. And instead of going or staying away, more people should come to meetings and take their rightful role in being decision makers and determinants of public policy. After all, it's our money that runs this borough. The mayor and council work for us. We are their bosses, not the other way around.
And so, for 2007, I urge all in a call to action, a call to participation, a call to democracy. Get involved, question, criticize government when necessary and yes, praise it when appropriate. Most importantly, run for office; contest for those many elected positions that will be up for grabs. The concept that one "cannot fight City Hall" is false. We not only can fight City Hall; we can win and take it over for the people--for all the people, not just a privileged few.
Thomas Paine, one of the few Founding Fathers who was not a wealthy landowner but a poor writer, once said, "We have the power to begin the world over again." Not those traditionally considered to be "in power," but we, the citizens, in a democracy, have the power and should never let anyone disempower us by convincing us otherwise.
2007 dawns and with it, change for Highland Park. The time is now.
Happy New Year