The following State of the Township address was delivered by newly sworn-in Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee at the Township Committee’s annual Reorganization Meeting on January 1, 2020:
STATE OF THE TOWNSHIP ADDRESS
Happy New Year Maplewood and Thank you again for attending today.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to my colleagues on the Maplewood Township Committee for electing me unanimously as your Mayor. Over the last three years, we’ve collaborated and worked diligently to achieve results which will only enhance our community.
I also want to recognize all the staff or as I like to say the Maplewood Township Team. These individuals are the heartbeat of our town’s operations. From Public Works to Fire to Recreation and Human Services to Engineering and Health, 225 full-time and 179 part-time employees who are dedicated to The Township of Maplewood. Please join me in recognizing the team that is here today.
I also want to recognize our Town Clerk Liz Fritzen who could not be with us today due to a broken wrist. Liz has been a pillar for our township for 40 years. I know that she wishes that she could be here and is likely watching at home. Liz, we are praying for your speedy and healthy recovery.
Our township administrator Sonia Alves-Viveiros and her team have made significant progress with reorganizing multiple departments, empowering department heads, and negotiating collective bargaining agreements with our fire, public works, library, and other labor unions. These are critical initiatives that will have a direct impact on operations and budgeting for years to come. Thank you, Ms. Viveiros, for your leadership.
Roger Desiderio, our town attorney: Thank you for your 26 years of dedication to your township. Your counsel has been invaluable. And thank you for stepping in today on Liz’s behalf.
Three years ago when I was elected into office on the Maplewood Township Committee, it was the same night that our current president was elected into office. With a new administration in the White House, there was a lot of uncertainty both nationally and around the world about what was to become of the state of our union. There was and continues to be so much at stake …..women’s rights, immigration rights, climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, Black lives, criminal justice reform, equity in education, common sense gun laws and affordable healthcare. We are living in extremely challenging times. But here’s what I know for sure…Maplewood is resilient and as a community, we continue to show the nation and the world who we are.
So who are we?
Maplewood is a welcoming community. In my first month in office, my colleagues and I on the Maplewood Township Committee passed Resolution 3-17 to express Maplewood’s commitment to equal, respectful and dignified treatment of all people regardless of their immigration status. Since then, we have established “rainbow crosswalks.” We have also raised the pride, transgender and Haitian flags. But this is not about what we on the Township Committee are doing, it’s about what YOU are doing! Folks like Maplewood resident Alan Stephenson, who upon learning about the Women’s March in Washington DC in January 2017, sprang into action and reserved two buses to transport fellow neighbors and friends from our community to and from Washington DC so that they could participate. Or what about the time that Natalie and Javier Farfan hosted a dinner at their home for Syrian refugees? We will continue to collaborate with local organizations dedicated to celebrate our differences and provide venues for open dialogue.
So who are we?
Maplewood is a community that is committed to sustainability. We continue to be recognized by Sustainable Jersey as one of the leading municipalities in the state and Maplewood was awarded again with Silver Certification. Only 53 out of 565 municipalities have earned this recognition, that puts Maplewood in the top 9% in the state. In 2019 we banned single use plastic bags. We joined 5 other municipalities to form the Sustainable Essex Alliance and launched Community Energy Aggregation and although we have experienced a minor bump in the rollout, the program will provide cleaner and cheaper energy for months to come. We also installed an Electric Charging Station at The Woodland, and held our first Electric Vehicle Car Show at the Maplewood Pool parking lot.
In 2020, we will look to enhance our commitment to rid our environment of other plastics and materials such as straws, stirrers, and containers that are harmful to our planet. We will move forward with an Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP) for Town Hall and explore other township buildings in the future.
But when I think of sustainability and Maplewood, the person who immediately comes to mind is Tracey Woods. Tracey, a long-time resident, is the chair of the Maplewood Green Team. She also works for Sustainable Jersey. Tracey is committed to Maplewood and our environment. She has organized nearly every sustainability event in our town. From Green Day to Biketopia, she is the ultimate Maplewood ambassador and advocate for educating residents on reducing their environmental impact. She participates in marches and student led Climate Crisis teach ins acting with a sense of urgency. With her Husband Rich, she is raising two extraordinary children. Recently, Tracey and her sister Kelly, also a Maplewood resident and volunteer with MEND, lost their mom, Pamela, our prayers are with you and your family. Tracey, Thank you for making Maplewood strong on Sustainability.
So who are we?
Maplewood is a thriving business community. In the last year alone, we’ve welcomed several new restaurants like Ani Ramen, Freetown Kitchen, Picketts and Luna Stella. I love hearing residents rave about new businesses on Springfield Avenue and in the Village like the General Store Cooperative, Maker + Muse and City Workshop. And we’re just getting started. In 2020 we will continue to attract even more businesses with openings planned on Springfield Ave in locations that have been vacant for many years.
Our town is blessed to have business owners who are committed not only to growing and enhancing their business, but also their community. Business owners like Julie and Thomas Pauly of the Able Baker. The Paulys have selflessly dedicated and contributed baked goods, money and an infinite amount of time to charitable events and causes. As my wife likes to say, the Able Baker is “one of the most woke bakeries around AND they make great coffee.” And to Pete and Fifi Kikianis owners of the Park Wood Diner, thank you for always putting community first.
Fred Shandler not only owns the thriving Arturo’s in Maplewood Village but the equally amazing Bread Stand on Boyden Ave. Fred’s Bread Stand has answered the call of investing in an area in our Maplewood community which has largely been ignored, but has great potential. Thank you, Fred, for your forward-thinking vision.
Deborah Engel and Amy Howlett, founders of the General Store Cooperative, designed to enable local makers and indie businesses to collaborate and allow our residents to shop-local and invest in our community. Thank you Deborah and Amy for giving our local entrepreneurs an outlet where residents can interact and support their fellow neighbors.
So who are we?
Maplewood is a great place to live. Average median home list prices are up year-over-year and appreciation rates for our homes have been tracking above national average according to industry data and our town ranks in the top 30% nationwide. Also, the days that a home is on the market is down year-over-year. Year-to-date more than 480 homes have been sold over 7% of our residential housing stock.
Still, we have not lost sight on ensuring that Maplewood remains home for our seniors and residents who span all socio economic demographics. And I look forward to working with my colleagues and with residents to identify viable affordable housing solutions. In the meantime, our Maplewood Housing Rehabilitation Program is available to assist eligible households with making repairs with $20,000 in forgivable loans.
So who are we?
Maplewood demands commuter-friendly transportation. The Morris Essex and Gladstone NJ Transit lines must be reliable modes of transportation. Commuters should not need to have to take a train several hours earlier out of fear that their regular train will be canceled or delayed which causes a lot of stress particularly on our families who are balancing child care or caring for elderly parents. To mitigate this, we will continue to offer bus service to the city for our morning commuters. And we will continue to push NJ Transit to provide the customer experience that our residents and surrounding communities deserve!
So who are we?
We are a safe and healthy community. Through the first three quarters of 2019, major crimes in Maplewood are down or flat across all major categories. Assaults, motor vehicle thefts, burglaries are down 40%, 58% and 9% respectively and in 2019 robberies are flat from 2018 with a total of 10. And speaking of safety, let’s not lose sight of the progress we’ve made when it comes to pedestrian safety. Our Traffic Bureau has written over 3,400 moving violations and 7,400 parking violations during that period. Thank you to our police department.
Our Fire Department wears many hats as first responders from EMS to fire to conducting safety inspections. The department is well run from training to maintenance to execution. They are a family and consider the residents of Maplewood to be their extended family. Currently, with the help of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, we are negotiating with South Orange the consolidation of our two fire departments. This is an extremely complicated undertaking, where the focus is on creating an enhanced department serving our two towns. I want to thank our fire department for being constant professionals throughout this process, with unwavering dedication to the community.
Our Board of Health promotes wellness in our community and The Municipal Alliance advocates for the mental, social and physical health of our youth and an environment that is free of the abuse of alcohol, vaping and other illicit drugs. In 2019, we held Drug Take Back Days to dispose of all expired or unused medication, we raised over $2,700 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk. In 2020 we will continue to support CHS Midnight Madness and educate our youth about tobacco, vaping and mental health. Thank you to Bob Roe who retired just yesterday as our Health Officer and spent 47 years in public health. We look forward to the leadership of Candice Davenport as our new Health Officer.
We are a township that embraces change and innovation which will bring Maplewood into the 21st century. Building a 21st Century Library is still a focus for our township. The state issued regulations regarding the $125 million bond and we submitted feedback regarding the draft rules and are asking that the state consider gut reconstruction projects be funded as new construction and to raise the per foot project cost from $350 to $550 to reflect the true cost of site preparation, construction, project overhead, sustainability features, technological upgrades, furniture and equipment and other factors. We remain committed and Thank you to Sarah Lester and her team, The library Board, Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library for their leadership.
The redevelopment of Irvington Avenue will commence and will include two phases. Phase 1 will include lighting upgrades, decorative streetscape furniture, sidewalk reconstruction with enhancements between Prospect Street and Hillcrest Road and a crosswalk at Coolidge Road. Phase 2 will also include lighting upgrades, streetscape, sidewalk reconstruction , trees, signage, crosswalks and intersection enhancements between Hillcrest Road and Florence Avenue. We are also moving forward with a redevelopment study. To the residents of the Borden Park neighborhood, we hear you and look forward to making progress in 2020.
The Pavers in Maplewood Village are complete and now we begin the process of assessing the Maplewood Village Visioning Plan provided by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. The township looks forward to collaborating with stakeholders on the feasibility and a phased implementation.
In June of 2019, we approved a bond to pay for our school district’s $157.4 million capital improvement and integration plan to build additional classroom space, address long-standing maintenance issues, and achieve integration across our community. We look forward to seeing the positive results of this investment under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Ronald Taylor, Mr. Paul Roth, and the Board of Ed.
So who are we?
We are a town where our youth not only have a voice, they have a seat at the table. Since we appointed the Youth Advisory Committee in 2018, they have been busy doing the work for our community and young people. In 2020 look for the rollout of MAPSO safe rides. The 2020 equivalent of a designated driver initiative, MAPSO safe rides is a peer-to-peer volunteer and leadership program designed and led by youth for the purposes of preventing underage exposure to drugs and alcohol and other unsafe or dangerous situations unexpectedly and unwillingly at after school gatherings or other social settings in the community.
So who are we?
We are a town that wants your ideas. Earlier this year we invited residents, community groups and non profit organizations all based in Maplewood to submit ideas that provide a community benefit. The winning project selected was a neighborhood Wifi pilot to help close the digital divide.
So who are we?
We are a community who is not only passionate about the arts, it’s in our DNA. For the second consecutive year, the Springfield Avenue Partnership Public Art Initiative has brought art to Springfield Avenue. Please visit Firehouse two on the corner of Springfield Ave and Boyden Ave to see for yourself.. And this past fall The Maplewood Arts Council unveiled public works of art in the North tunnel of our Maplewood Train Station.
And not only is Maplewood a community where Broadway goes to sleep, it’s where Broadway gives back. Our Broadway stars under the leadership of the Vanessa Pollock Music Initiative are actively working to raise money for the Achieve Foundation so that more students throughout Maplewood and South Orange can get access to music education.
And I hope you will all come out for the second annual SOMA Rocks event at the Woodland on Saturday, January 11, where the proceeds will benefit music programs at Columbia High School.
We are a township that will count and be counted. The 2020 Census is here. From now until the end of July, we will work diligently with the Essex County Census Staff and the SOMA Complete Count Committee to count every single person with an emphasis on children and hard to reach populations. We will distribute leaflets in English, Spanish and Creole and The Maplewood Library will promote Census employment positions and provide computers to allow residents to complete Census questionnaires online; A complete Census count helps Maplewood get more federal and state funding. Everyone counts in Maplewood so remind all your neighbors to BE counted.
So who are we?
We are a township where hate has no home. Where we stand up not only for ourselves but for each other. We are a community that comes together in celebration and in unspeakable grief. We are a community that is willing to have the tough conversations. We are a township where we have appointed women and people of color in top leadership positions. We are a Township that is resilient with a shared vision and purpose heading into 2020, whether it’s enhancing our infrastructure, reducing our carbon footprint, streamlining our operations to be more efficient or investing in our business districts all while ensuring that Maplewood is a safe community to live, work and play. And we’re just getting started!
Thank you, God bless Maplewood and God bless the United States of America.