Last week’s election was the first town election in which I have voted. I’ve lived here for 10 years. That said this was also the first local election where I felt like I knew for whom I was voting and why. The only reason for that was because I was at the forum sponsored by MyVeronaNJ the week prior. And finally, the only reason I was there (when I normally would have been at Family Math Night) is because I write for MyVeronaNJ.
If my mother knew all of this, she’d have more than a few words to say. I grew up hearing her mantra, “people died so you can vote.” She’s right, but I’m just too young to appreciate it. I know it’s hard to believe it in 2011, but women have only been able to vote since 1920.
Rarely does our vote count as much as it does in these types of elections where the only vote is the popular vote. Just ask the candidate who won (or lost) by eight votes. But while Verona has 6,000 registered voters, only 1,900 of them vote. What does that say? Have we forgotten what one vote can do? Have we become complacent and accepted things to just “be the way they are?”
I don’t think so, not from what I’m hearing at least. The people I talk to have all sorts of ideas about what Verona could be, especially what new retailers they’d like to see. They say they would give anything for a Trader Joe’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Gap, farmer’s market or a book store in town. Audra Eliot even started a Facebook page announcing she’d give her right arm for a Starbucks in Verona (I think I said I’d give a kidney for a Trader Joe’s).
How do those new businesses come to town? The Town Council we just elected is part of the process. At the May 3 forum, the candidates talked about their desire to make Verona a destination again, not a place you drive through to get some place else. The Council doesn’t recruit businesses but it should be telling the Town Manager—who it hires, by the way—what we want to have here. It should be asking the Town Manager to put a user friendly “Guide to doing business in Verona” or “How to open or start a business in Verona” on the town Web site. If I wanted to open a business tomorrow, let’s just say a bookstore, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Another item discussed a lot at the May 3 forum was making town operations more transparent. That should start with a paragraph on the town Web site that spells out exactly what the town council is supposed to do. There should also be an explanatory paragraph for every town body, committee, commission or board. Perhaps even an online suggestion box.
Better transparency also means better communication–21st century communication. If we can’t attend a town meeting in person, we want to view it on-demand, not puzzle through the VTV schedule. How about the ability to download a podcast of a meeting to listen to on your way to work or while walking around the park? If we elected a forward-thinking Town Council, it should require the Town Manager to use technology to inform the residents of our town.
One vote can actually make a difference especially at the local level. And, over the next three years, if you’re not happy with where the town is going, remember to get to know the candidates next time and exercise your right to vote.
How very refreshing to read your editorial Tracy! Like you, I had an awakening (admittedly post reval), but since then became active in attending meetings and speaking up (and out). I have mentioned almost every item you highlighted here at one point or another to all the Council and Manager ad nauseum (ask any of them) and it has fallen on deaf ears.
Communication and transparency are key… video streaming of meetings, minutes of meetings posted on website, suggestion boxes would help indeed. Maybe if a few more of us would email the Council the message would be clear.
June 6th at 7pm is the next Council meeting and it is the Budget Hearing which should be of interest to many. And it’s quite possible the Budget Review Committee meets tonight 5/24… but of course, that is not posted anywhere. I’ll ask why once again.