Learning to fly involves study of the weather - in particular rain and fog. A successful flight includes planning the route from your origin to your destination, having enough gas, and the willingness to change your plans but not to compromise your safety.
The rain approached Haddonfield yesterday in a way that betrayed a low-pressure system overtaking high-pressure. The gentle but constant force of the low pressure system moves moisture on top of the cap of high-pressure and gently slides it away. The rain begins slowly and accumulates as one system takes over another. Ultimately, the rain and low-pressure yeild to another high-pressure system that returns us to cleansed air and bountiful sunshine.
Governor Christie's message yesterday was essentially that it was raining pretty hard in New Jersey, figuratively, when he was elected. His election itself resembled the slowly accumulating force of discontent with Trenton and the inability of prior Governor's to stabilize the State's finances. On this, his 83rd town hall meeting since his election, I woke up the next day to the cleansed air of a public meeting where the elected official spoke bluntly and passionately about what he believes and his conviction to move New Jersey forward.
Yes, I voted for Christie in the last election. That is not what this blog is about. It is more about style than substance; and style is what Haddonfield could use a bit more of.
After speaking for less time than I expected about his legislative priorities, Christie turned the program over to Q&A (Questions and Answers). He put forward four rules, three of which we observe in our Commission meetings here in Haddonfield.
First, don't shout out, raise your hand and I will call on you. Second, wait for the mic and state your name and where you are from. Third, ignore the feeling of elation you get from holding the mic and focus on your question, not the speech you have prepared. Fourth, "We're all from New Jersey" meaning if you are going to give it then you are going to get it back.
The fourth rule of Christie's Town Hall is mitigated in Haddonfield by the ordinance which allows the Commissioners to essentially censor anyone who they believe is not communicating in a civil manner. The ordinance allows the police to eject anyone from a meeting at the direction of the Commissioners and has been wagged at the public on at least one occasion that I have witnessed by our Mayor.
I believe this has a chilling effect on dialog. No, I don't want to see chaos at public forums, but I do know that some people seeking cures for injustices may be a bit agitated or emotional at times. Our elected leaders may not have as thick skin as Christie does (I think they do) but surely they can preside over a much smaller meeting without the need for legal enforcement of good manners. Maybe the thought of calling a constituent an idiot and seeing the headline in the paper is too big a price to pay. Let's get this law off of our books.
Like any politician, Christie acknowledged that there was more work to be done, especially in the next 18 days. I'll plug his call to lean on Lou Greenwald to move forward with tax relief for State residents. Many states are pushing for reduced income tax rates to remain competitive in employment. He also acknowledged the failure of urban public schools despite the massive funding allocated to them, as well as the transfer of wealth away from Haddonfield based on the Supreme Court Abbott decision.
What really struck me was his response, however, to the last question of the day. A local merchant stood up and stated that she ran a small business in town. First to arrive and last to leave, she was continually bombarded with taxes, insurance, licenses, and regulation. "Everything I sell in my shop is recycled" she stated. But if she wanted to sell a bag of peanuts to a customer, every March she has to send in her "litter control fee" to the State. "Every March when I send in the fee I write you a letter" she told the Governor, but she had never heard back.
Christie was as amused as he was incensed. Having earlier declared that the Trenton Bridge slogan "Trenton Makes, the World Takes" referred to the fact that Trenton makes 'stupid ideas' and 'forces towns and cities around the state to impose them' on the public, he nailed that fact that this 'litter control fee' was instituted in the 2003-2004 time frame and shook his head over the whole McGreevey era.
He then directed his Director of Constituent Affairs to exchange contacts with the merchant and looked almost gleeful about the prospect of abolishing one more nonsensical regulation that he had never heard of before. With that he ended the meeting with a personal tale of conviction and his mission which is a legacy of his parents (his Mom's) dying declaration to him in the hospital of "Go to work Christopher. There's nothing you can do and there is nothing unsaid between us".
A few months back when the BID hosted an open forum I was one of the few non-merchants to attend. Guy Elzey excoriated the Executive Director of the BID for being ineffective. The owner of "The Running Store" made it clear that his success was driven by his own efforts while subsidies were handed to restaurants that routinely failed, or worse, failed and refused to pay back the loan.
When asked for a practical business strategy of promoting and maintaining the downtown area, the BID board seemed to appear as deer do in the proverbial headlights, often passing the buck (no pun intended) to the Boro and disclaiming responsibility for the appearance of downtown. By now it is readily apparent that BID funds are directed primarily at King's Highway while other commercial entities rely on their own devices.
The contrast between Christie's eagerness to fix what is wrong with the seeming intransigence or inability of the BID to quantify success, adhere to its' mission, and respond to the entire business district is like day and night, or more to the point, like sunshine and rain.
The BID needs a destination. Something other than the Mayor's response to me during the original passage that "We'll know in five years if the BID has been successful or not". It has the financial fuel to reach its destination, but lacks the engine of full support of the merchants and landlords, as well as the Boro Commissioners. And while not compromising its mission, it should surely change its flight plan and at least evaluate the ability of its pilot and crew to accomplish the mission.
I saw the Mayor and Commissioner Kasko at the event yesterday. If Commissioner Borden was not in attendance perhaps the other two can pass the message along to him.