An attorney, mother and, soon, one of the newest members of the Verona Town Council, Cynthia Holland is all about substance over style, practicality and pragmatism over glitz and glamor, and the intensive and often unthanked work of a public servant.
While Holland currently holds a daytime position as counsel for the Atlantic City Electric Company, one of New Jersey’s many public utilities, she spent the bulk of her career working in New Jersey state government as both a lawyer and a policy director. She was one of New Jersey’s planners-in-chief regarding energy, infrastructure, and the environment; her job wasn’t to build the infrastructure of today, but to create the outline for the infrastructure of tomorrow.
That might sound modest enough, but it’s notoriously difficult to get people to care about the issues of the future that might affect them down the line, as opposed to the immediate and tangible of the present. The New Jersey Energy Master Plan is a mammoth document outlining how the state plans to transition to clean energy by 2050, and it’s full of technical details on increasing off-shore wind production, decreasing emissions at airports, and creating economic incentives to support clean energy development. Others might have looked away from the enormous challenge of creating guidelines to help confront the existential challenge of climate change. But precision and planning is Holland’s specialty — and now, she intends to bring her forward-thinking pragmatism to local government.
“I’m a policy wonk, really,” Holland says. “I’m into the details. And I saw that in the Town Council election, I brought a set of skills to the table that maybe the other candidates didn’t have, and that might benefit Verona.” Holland’s main campaign talking point was Verona’s outdated Master Plan and crucial need for improved infrastructure, and she notes with satisfaction that while infrastructure wasn’t talked about on the campaign trail at first, by the end, every candidate had something to say about preparing Verona for the future.
Infrastructure was the lynchpin of the Holland campaign, and she’s quick to point out exactly how Verona needs to prepare itself for the future. “We need to manage our water treatment plants, ensure that there isn’t a water main break that causes a water shortage in the middle of August,” Holland says. “No one wants to have a flooded basement, no one wants sewer water to get mixed up with storm water and overflow from the treatment plant. But we need to think about these things, because if we don’t, the costs down the line will be far greater than what they are now.”
Water main breaks, sewer treatment, fixing storm drains: None of this is particularly sexy work, which Holland acknowledges with a laugh. These foundational issues are, however, what truly matters in government.
Verona’s next Master Plan will be written by the Planning Board and a consultant that it hires, and Holland hopes that will be soon. “2025 is a landmark year for our zoning and affordable housing needs,” she says. “2030 is a crucial year regarding climate change. It’s 2021 now. We’re running out of time to get our planning in order, and we need to act.”
Holland mentions the word “sustainability” quite a bit, and her voice rises as she describes exactly what a sustainable future means for Verona — especially when considering concerns about paying for future improvements. “Sustainability isn’t only about the environment,” she says. “Sustainability is about ensuring that Verona remains a great place to live for all the families here. It’s about making sure that future generations are able to stay here, that the town is affordable and prepared.” She believes that there are numerous opportunities for municipalities to get state and federal grants in improving their infrastructure. “It’s about planning smart, and it means that Verona residents might not notice anything having to do with their tax dollars while we upgrade our infrastructure.”
Holland may have laid the infrastructure for her infrastructure plans in her campaign for Council: To meet voters and hear their concerns, she walked the town and knocked on 1,400 doors. “I guess my reasons for serving could be called hokey,” she says. “I just want to make sure our town runs well, and see our government work for our people.”
Beyond a sense of civic duty, though, Holland’s motivations for running in the election are also quite personal. “I want to be a role model for my girls,” she says. “I had to sit down with them, explain that I might be able to spend less time with them because of this position. But, it’s an important job, and I want to lend my skills to the town.”