WEST ORANGE, NJ — Councilman Victor Cirilo is poised to begin his second nonconsecutive term as the West Orange Township Council president after being elected Dec. 15 at the final council meeting of 2015.
Cirilo, who previously served in the position from 2012 into 2013, was granted another yearlong term by a 4-1 vote after being nominated by outgoing Council President Jerry Guarino and Councilwoman Susan McCartney. Councilman Joe Krakoviak was the only council member who did not vote in Cirilo’s favor, having voted for himself after his own self-nomination was seconded by Councilwoman Michelle Casalino.
And although he has held the title before, Cirilo told the West Orange Chronicle that being reappointed is a tremendous honor for which he is grateful.
“It’s a privilege to be considered by the rest of the council members for that position,” Cirilo said in a Dec. 17 phone interview. “That faith that they put in me is something that is unique, and I really appreciate it. It’s very humbling.”
According to the West Orange municipal code book, the duties of the council president include appointing residents to special committees, presiding over all council meetings, stating the question and announcing the result for all voting matters, ruling on all questions of order, and signing all adopted ordinances and resolutions.
But Cirilo knows that heading up the township’s policy-making body is an even bigger responsibility than those tasks let on. As a result, while he does not start the job until January,he said he already has several goals in mind for the coming year — starting with crafting a budget that is in the best interests of residents.
“It’s always been very important to me to make sure that we are very keen on our expenditures and we keep the property taxpayers in mind when we formulate the budget,” Cirilo said, adding that it is also vital to make sure the police department and township services continue to receive the funding they need to be successful. “Going into the fiscal year, that’s the first priority — a responsible budget that doesn’t continue to tax our revenue.”
Another priority for Cirilo is establishing a strong economic development commission to attract businesses to town. He explained that gathering an effective group who can use their talents to market the community will go a long way in finding people to set up shop in West Orange. Once they do, he said that will stimulate the local real estate market and bring home values up.
As for the Edison Village development — arguably the most controversial council topic — Cirilo said he plans to use his knowledge of the real estate process that he has accumulated since joining the council to help the administration push harder to bringing about the project’s conclusion. He said he hopes to see at least the first phase of construction completed by the time his year is up.
Until then, the new council president said he does not think defaulting on the redevelopment agreement with Prism Capital Partners, due to its continued lateness with property tax payments, is a good idea, since Prism has always eventually paid up with 18-percent interest. However, he said termination of the agreement should be a possibility if Prism does not move forward with construction or if financing for the project should fall through.
“I think that we have to start looking at all options,” Cirilo said.
Guarino said he has full confidence that Cirilo will handle all of these issues effectively, which is why he nominated him as
his replacement. The outgoing council president said he admires Cirilo’s positivity and the prior work he has done in service to the township. Guarino said his only advice would be to lead the council in the same direction it has gone over the past year.
But while pleased to see Cirilo take over as council president, Guarino admitted he is sorry his his own term has come to an end. The past 12 months have been “very rewarding,” he said, adding that he is proud to have accomplished so much in a relatively short period of time as council president. He listed establishing the pedestrian safety advisory board, working with the Pleasant Valley Way Traffic and Safety Commission to make progress on a number of traffic issues and generally keeping the council together as a cohesive unit as among his most meaningful achievements during his tenure.
At his final meeting as council president, Guarino was awarded with a plaque for his service in the role. Yet he said what really touched him were the kind words he received from some of his fellow council members, who praised his dedication to the community.
“It’s very humbling to know that your colleagues think of you that way,” Guarino told the Chronicle in a Dec. 17 phone interview. “Their words meant more to me than any plaque could say.”
Meanwhile, Krakoviak said he also feels that Cirilo will do an able job as council president once again, but added that he wishes he could occupy the seat for once, as he is the longest-serving council member never to have held the position.
Krakoviak stressed that the council president’s role is not a political one, so he should not be overlooked by his colleagues just because he disagrees with a majority of them on township issues. And considering that several residents have spoken out at past council meetings in favor of him assuming the seat, as well as the fact that he has shown a clear understanding of the municipal code, he said he does not understand why the other council members will not give him a chance.
“For as long as I can remember, it’s been the practice to give each council member a turn at the presidency,” Krakoviak told the Chronicle in a Dec. 20 email. “It’s unfortunate that other council members don’t follow tradition and the wishes of constituents. I believe I have demonstrated the ability to handle this task, and I see no harm that could come to the council or residents from me serving in this capacity. The selection of the council president should not be political or personal, which are the only other reasons left for not supporting me.”
Yet Guarino disagreed with Krakoviak’s view that every council member should get a turn as council president, pointing out that the municipal code does not state that everyone is entitled to a term. He said he voted for the person he felt had earned the position, explaining that Cirilo demonstrated a necessary ability to work cohesively with his colleagues.
Cirilo added that choosing a council president certainly is a political decision, stressing that politics plays a role in policy-making within local government, and all the way to Congress. Like Guarino, the new council president said it takes more than a desire to serve to get elected to the position.
“You don’t become a Congress speaker just because you want to,” Cirilo said. “It takes working together as a team.”