EAST ORANGE, NJ — The East Orange City Council welcomed in the new year with its annual reorganization meeting Monday, Jan. 2, in Council Chambers.
Third Ward Councilman Ted Green and 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock were re-elected by their peers to serve as chairman and 1st vice chairman, respectively, in 2017.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany and current New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy surprised some attendees by showing up at the meeting unannounced; he kept his remarks brief and thanked Green, who he addressed as “Mr. President,” for giving him the opportunity to attend.
“God Bless you to you and the first lady,” Murphy said to Mayor Lester Taylor and his wife, Bibi, who attended the meeting with their two children. “Thank you for having me.”
Green, on the other hand, did have a lot to say.
“I am very proud and honored to serve the City Council as chairman for another year,” Green said Tuesday, Jan. 3. “I am passionate about not only being the council chairman, but about what we have done in the last year. We have done some remarkable things on council and we set a new standard for how we operate and how we do things.”
Green said he believes he and his council colleagues are part of a “movement” in line with Mayor Lester Taylor’s visions of urban excellence and making East Orange a true destination city. Bullock agreed and attributed the recent gains in public safety, code enforcement, public works, recreation and other areas to teamwork.
“Basically, my role, as I see it, is just to support the chairman,” said Bullock on Monday, Jan. 2. “Of course, the official role is to substitute in conducting the meetings when the chairman is unavailable; that’s happened I think twice. Other than that, it’s a good thing to be able to support this chairman in particular, because Ted Green has been a wonderful councilman for many years and he’s doing a great job leading. Given a chance to lead, he’s leading, he’s doing a great job and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
Bullock, who is an attorney, described himself and the other council members as “citizen servants,” saying, “While it helps to be able to bring different areas of expertise to bear, I think that, frankly, anyone of us on this council can operate in a leadership capacity and I think they all demonstrate that everyday, regardless.”
That concept will be put to the challenge this year, since there are a number of new committee assignments for council members, including 5th Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, who has been reassigned as chairwoman of the council’s Law and Legislation Committee; she had previously been the Public Safety Committee chairwoman.
“I will serve wherever I am needed and in whatever capacity I am asked to serve,” said Holman on Monday, Jan. 2, during the portion of the reorganization meeting set aside for comments from council members. “This is my 12th year sitting on the council. In my 12 years of serving, I have been proud and satisfied to see things and projects and ideas come off the drawing board and get done and I look forward to seeing that positive trend continue.”
Holman bid farewell to her former committee at the meeting, but said she isn’t worried about continuity in the newly created Public Safety Department or the revamped Police and Fire divisions, because she knows she’s leaving them in good hands with Public Safety Director Sheilah Coley and acting police Chief Phyllis Bindi.
“On behalf of my constituents, I want to say: Thank you to Chief Bindi, our first female police chief, and Director Coley, our first female Public Safety director,” said Holman. “To our mayor: We’ve spent the last four years building the city by leaps and bounds, on the way to achieving your dream of urban excellence. I’m here and I will continue to work toward that. We’re going to have a great East Orange in 2017.”
First Ward Councilwoman Amy Lewis was equally gracious in her remarks Monday, Jan. 2, noting, “Whenever I call on Chief Bindi or Director Coley, they are always available and helpful.” She and many of the other council members also thanked Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders for the work he and his staff have done helping to clean up East Orange.
“I also want to thank our police officers that some think are harassing, but what they’re really doing is keeping our city safe,” Lewis said. “Our firefighters are on the line and they have some very challenging things to do. I had the chance to see them work firsthand on Midland Avenue last year during that terrible fatal fire, and they did a wonderful, professional job.”
During his address to the council, the mayor thanked all the council members for working with his administration to achieve the successes of his first four years in office and said he is looking forward to working with them even more closely in the years to come.
The positions of Taylor, Green, Holman and a number of other current council members, including 1st Ward Councilman Chris James, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Jacquelyn Johnson and 4th Ward Councilwoman Tyshammie Cooper, will expire in 2017. East Orange has a unique 10-member council with two elected representatives from each of the city’s five wards serving in overlapping four-year terms, designed to create and encourage continuity in city government, instead of the typical single ward and multiple at-large council structure used by most municipal governments.
East Orange is also a predominantly Democratic town, so whoever wins that party’s primary is likely to win in an election, empowering city Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones, as noted by Taylor.
“Leadership, tolerance, sensitivity; these are things that all public servants have to have … I look forward, Leroy, hopefully, to growing into the type of leader that you think I can be and I thank you for this opportunity to serve,” Taylor said Monday, Jan. 2. “To all the clergy, elected official, dignitaries in attendance; to our employees and, most importantly, to the 65,000 residents who call East Orange home: Thank you for giving myself and this great team you see assembled before you the opportunity to serve you in this great city.”