Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June, July, August, or September???

When Mayor Frank first announced in March of this year that she was going to resign to take a job as US representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, she did not set a date for her resignation even though she began the latter job on March 2. A few days after the initial announcement, Frank said she would resign in June, allowing three months to facilitate "a smooth transition."

But unlike former Governor Jim McGreevey, who in his resignation speech set a specific date for leaving office, Frank never did so. In fact, as June approached, she changed her resignation date to July. Subsquently, she said she would resign when the borough's 2009 budget is adopted on final reading.

That could very well postpone her resignation until August. Last year, political conflict over the state budget resulted in that budget being adopted later than the June 30 state-mandated deadline. This led to a delay in the allocation of state aid for municipalities. Since municipalities do not adopt their budgets until they have a definite number regarding the amount of state aid to be received that year, last year, most municipalities on calendar year budgets, including Highland Park, did not adopt a final budget until August. Home and property owners had to be given extensions on their tax bills because of this delay.

Many may ask, what difference does Frank's resignation date make? The answer is, it could make a huge difference. It could mean the difference between the borough holding a special election this November to replace her versus having to wait a year for that election with a mayor chosen not by the people but solely by the 26 members of the Municipal Democratic Committee.

According to state law, if a municipal elected official resigns 51 days or more before the day of the General Election (this year, that date is November 3, 2009), a special election must be held to fill that vacancy. In other words, the Municipal Democratic Committee can choose the person they want to replace Frank, but that person would still have to run for election in November, and anyone else interested in the mayor's position would have the option of running against the party candidate as an independent.

However, if Frank resigns later than 51 days before the General Election, state law mandates the special mayoral election be postponed until the next November (2010 in this case). That means whoever is selected by the Municipal Democratic Committee--someone likely to have Frank's stamp of approval--would have an entire year to serve as mayor before facing an electoral challenge.

Fifty-one days before Election Day comes out to be Sunday, September 13. Because that falls on a weekend, Frank must submit her formal resignation by Friday, September 11; if she fails to do so, there will be no special election until November 2010, and Highland Park residents will be forced to go an entire year with a mayor we didn't elect.

Many politicians around the state have, in the past, manipulated the calendar and deadlines to give their allies an additional year in power and thereby circumvent the will of the public. It is absolutely essential that this not be allowed to happen in Highland Park.

If the final budget is not adopted until August, the following scenario is very plausible: the mayor could claim that too many council members were away on vacation in August as a justification for postponing her resignation until September. At that point, there is little time left. If a council meeting lacks a quorum or must be postponed in those first 11 September days, the voters lose the chance to select our next mayor for another year.

What is scary right now is that few people are even aware that we will have to hold a special election for mayor. The Star Ledger, as stated in an earlier post, erroneously reported that the next mayor will be chosen solely from a pool of three names to be considered by the Municipal Democratic Committee. That may very well be what Frank and her supporters want the public to believe. But it is not the truth.

With or without a stamp of approval from the Municipal Democratic Committee, any borough resident who is a citizen and 18 or older can seek election as Highland Park's next mayor. Potential candidates must obtain petitions from the Middlesex County Clerk's office and are required to obtain the signatures of 50 registered voters in town. Those voters can be of any party affiliation. These petitions must be submitted to the Middlesex County Clerk's office by 4 PM on Friday, September 11.

This is a golden opportunity for anyone interested in serving our borough and bringing new leadership to this community. Members of the public have the right to know that this opportunity will exist.

If you or anyone you know is interested in running for mayor, don't wait for a resignation announcement because if it comes at the last minute, you won't have enough time to get the required petition signatures. Instead, get a copy of the petition now and start gathering the signatures, with the assumption that we will have a special election for mayor. The County Clerk's office has vouched that doing this is perfectly legal.

At the same time, it is important for as many citizens as possible to publicly demand that Frank resign before the September 11 deadline and give the people of our community the chance to choose our next mayor. We must make it clear that deliberately manipulating deadlines to assure another year of political control is a disservice to the public and to democracy and will not be tolerated.