The following is a transcript of prepared remarks by Maplewood Township Committee member Greg Lembrich upon his swearing-in for his second term on the TC today. It should be noted that Lembrich amended his remarks to observe that his wife Alex had surprised him by showing up for the ceremony despite recent surgery.
Happy New Year to everyone! I’d like to begin by thanking our wonderful Clerk Liz Fritzen and her team for organizing this wonderful event as always. Thanks as well to the Boy Scouts and all of the musical performers and religious leaders participating in this ceremony. After first being sworn in to the Township Committee three years ago today, I am still honored and humbled by this opportunity to serve Maplewood as a member of the governing body, and I’m grateful for the trust and faith that the community continues to place in me.
Thank you to my wife Alex (who is home today recovering from recent foot surgery), our daughter Caroline, and all of our family and friends for their support. Thank you to Ian Grodman, Garnet Hall, and all of the members of the Maplewood Democratic Committee for your hard work during the campaign. Thanks as well to the campaign team, including our Treasurer Tom Carlson, Dave Pressel, Fred Profeta, David Huemer, Amy Simon, and Barbara Heisler. Thanks also to all of the volunteers who passed out literature, made calls, knocked on doors, put campaign signs on your lawns, and persuaded and pestered their neighbors to get out the vote. Thank you to our great team of representatives in Trenton, Senator Codey and Assembly Members John McKeon and Mila Jasey. Thank you to my colleagues on the Township Committee. Frank, Vic, Nancy, and Dean, it is an honor and pleasure to work with such a dedicated team of leaders committed to serving and improving Maplewood. And thanks to all of our Township employees, especially Sonia Viveiros, Roger Desiderio, Liz Fritzen, Glenn Michalowski, Chief DeVaul, Chief Dingelstedt, and all of our Department heads, for serving our town so well each day.
Finally, thank you to the residents of Maplewood for not only coming out in November to re-elect Nancy and me, but turning out to vote in such overwhelming numbers for a midterm election. Much though Nancy and I would like to think the record-shattering turnout was due to enthusiasm for our re-election, we know that the message our residents wanted to send extends far beyond our town. In the 12 years I have lived in Maplewood, we have always been an engaged and active community, but it has truly been inspiring to see the rise in activism and civic participation in these last two years. In addition to voting in record numbers this past year, our residents worked all over New Jersey and beyond to help campaigns, and played a significant role in districts outside of our own. We took it to the next level, and achieved incredible results. 2017 and 2018 have been memorable years, including many things we might wish to forget, but we have also seen strong reminders of hope and humanity, particularly right here in our town.
This is an important moment for local government, and an exciting time to be a part of it. Our federal government in Washington is not only figuratively broken, but literally shut down. Even worse, America is suffering from a failure of education and community morals. On a near daily basis, we face assaults on our values, the principles we thought we shared as Americans. Civil discourse, equality, decency. We see humanitarian crises turned into national security issues, public health emergencies treated as crimes, climate change dismissed as fake news, and racism treated as just another opinion. Many of us have the privilege to bemoan that America has changed, but some among us know all too well that it has not. The darker parts of our nation’s soul merely have been given permission to come out of the shadows. It is up to us to punch holes in the darkness and to ensure that sunlight, which Justice Brandeis called our best disinfectant, still shines. We are in the midst of a tempest, but there is no one I would rather struggle through this storm with than my neighbors here in Maplewood.
Over the past three years that I have been a member of this Committee, we have faced difficulties that have caused us to clearly realize that Maplewood is not immune to many of the problems impacting our larger society. I hope that we have emerged scarred but smarter, reminded that we cannot rest on our laurels or reputation, and that we must live our principles and not just proclaim them. As your elected officials, we may not always succeed, but I can promise you that we are struggling along with the rest of you, and are always striving to make our community better.
In 2019, we must continue the important work of getting our police force back where it should be. The events of July 5, 2016 and the issues laid out in recent media reports about use of force have shown us that improvements are needed. With changes in leadership, increased and expanded training, and the creation of the Maplewood Community Board on Police, we have taken steps in the right direction, but hard work remains to be done to rebuild public confidence in our Township, reform our Police Department, and restore trust in our law enforcement. The road ahead will be hard but it is crucial that it be done.
We will continue to partner with the Board of Education and our school district on capital improvements to our school facilities and the rezoning of our schools. Our schools are in desperate need of an infrastructure overhaul, and we need to insure that it is done right to make our schools the best they can be for next generation and beyond and also keep Maplewood an attractive town for all types of families. We also need to address racial and economic segregation in our schools through rezoning. We can’t just say that we are for diversity, integration, and equality. We need to walk the talk and back it up with our actions.
I sincerely hope that 2019 is the year that Maplewood and South Orange are able to successfully merge our fire departments. By doing so, we can save costs in the short-term and achieve even more savings in the long-term, with no decline in services and no increase in response time for emergencies. We can also make an important breakthrough for shared services in our state, one of the few available options to bring about true property tax relief.
We must also continue our work to create more affordable and senior housing in our town. Building on our landmark agreement with Fair Share Housing, our broader goal must be to provide places for our community’s diversity, including generational diversity, to thrive.
I will also make it a priority to continue to expand and improve Maplewood’s recreational facilities and our community pool. I hope that this year we can move forward with the proposed new basketball court facility at DeHart Park, giving our basketball players of all ages another place to play in town. We are also developing a capital plan for our community pool, forming a long-term vision rather than just getting by year to year. I will also devote more effort to fundraising for our Pool Pals and rec scholarship programs to make our programs and facilities more accessible to everyone in town.
We will continue our efforts to improve New Jersey Transit, which so many of our residents rely on each day to get to work and that provides so much economic life blood to our region.
We will also work towards tax relief at all levels. We will continue to push for the restoration of full deductibility for state and local taxes. We will keep up our fight for fair and equitable education funding based on current enrollment and needs, not outdated historic paradigms. We will also lobby our Governor to put the interests of our state’s municipalities above special interests and reinstate the 2% arbitration cap. It has proven to be a necessary tool to avoid runaway budgets and/or having to cut other township departments and programs in order to afford safe communities. We cannot keep our spending in line with a 2% budget cap if our largest expenses are allowed to spiral out of control.
We must also continue to take positions of moral leadership. On guns, healthcare, immigration, we must collectively resist the Trump agenda. We need to be vocal and, when warranted, defiant in defense of Maplewood and our progressive principles. We shall remain a welcoming community, standing up for our Haitian neighbors, Latino neighbors, our African-American neighbors, and our LGBTQ neighbors. We will stand in solidarity with our fellow cities and towns in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty to declare that we still lift our lamps beside the golden door.
Today we honor our SOMA youth with a dedication and proclamation. I too want to take a moment to recognize them and all of our community groups, of all ages, that have worked hard over this past year to raise awareness of important issues and take action to protect our neighbors and preserve our values. Their efforts have made a difference. And, as the father of an 8 year old daughter, I know that our kids are watching. So, on a personal level, thank you to the many youth in our towns who are serving as excellent role models to the next generation.
Those of us up here know that it is not the governing body that makes Maplewood a great place to live. It is and always will be our people. Our business owners, students, teachers, coaches, cultural and religious leaders, musicians, activists, and artists. Those who organize our community events. Those who donate their time, talents, and money to helping those less fortunate. Our makers, our helpers, our dreamers.
So I urge all Maplewoodians to keep being good neighbors, active parents, positive role models, and informed, engaged citizens. Please keep teaching, learning, volunteering, organizing, standing up for our community’s values, and speaking up for our town and everyone in it. If we do that, the state of our Township will always be strong.
Happy 2019 to all of you; let’s work together this year to shine the light on the good and the bad, to preserve our best, and evolve and improve these works in progress (America, New Jersey, and Maplewood) that we proudly call home. Thank you.