EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange 2nd Ward City Council partners Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson and Councilman Chris Awe hosted their first community meeting in the East Orange Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 12, as part of the governing body’s ongoing effort to bring city government to the people.
Also present were police Chief Phyllis Bindi, fire Chief Andre Williams, Dan Jennings from Policy and Planning, a Code Enforcement employee and Department of Public Works Director Chris Coke, who also serves as the executive director of the East Orange Water Committee.
“We’re having our first committee meeting of this calendar year and we found that, on Saturdays, we get more people than we do during the week,” said Johnson on Saturday, Jan. 12. “I know we have to bring other people out, but I think we still had over 30 people out today and they had good questions. So now we have scheduled one for next month, on Feb. 23, at 10 a.m. at the library, where we will take their questions and concerns and have a Q&A with the people who can give them the right answers. If they email us and we can bring in information, then we will. But out thing right now is to give them a voice.”
This community meeting was Awe’s first since he won the special election in November to finish out the remaining three years of former 2nd Ward Councilman Romal Bullock’s term. He and Johnson agreed that working on behalf of their constituents is nothing new.
“This is my first community meeting as a councilman,” said Awe. “The 2nd Ward residents are a special group, a passionate group, so it was great. There was a lot of information. I’m thankful to all of our city employees, our police chief, our fire chief, our director of Public Works, our director of Planning. The representative from Property Maintenance gave our residents a wealth of information. We have a few issues, we were able to address them and I’m just happy.”
“I’m pleased with the attendance, I’m pleased with the participation and engagement,” Awe continued. “We’re pushed. We’re motivated now.”
Johnson agreed with Awe and said she believes they’re a great team, when it comes to representing their constituents.
“The rookie does good. He has no filter sometimes, but the rookie does good,” said Johnson on Saturday, Jan. 11. “I’m the nice person. I’ll help him out. But we’re too close not to make this work.”
Awe said he doesn’t mind being the “not nice one,” when it comes to his refusal to be politically correct regarding real issues affecting real people’s lives.
“I think the truth is the truth,” said Awe. “So maybe I need to be the vinegar to get things done. She can be the honey to attract the flies and I’ll be the vinegar where need be.”
Both Johnson and Awe said they hope all their constituents who attended the meeting would benefit from it.
“I think we gave them something to think about by having another meeting,” said Johnson. “We’ll just do a Q&A. The staff is going to send them out an email, for them to send in their concerns, and we’ll do it where we don’t have all these presentations. We’ll have people here who can answer some of the questions, because I’m sure there’s other people. And then we’ll send something out — maybe a newsletter or something — as to what happened.”
Awe agreed with Johnson, adding that he hopes the meeting inspired their constituents and reassured them that their elected officials are on the job and working hard to represent them.
“I want them to be able to see that they have accessible government, responsive government, that they can have a question get it answered, have an issue get it addressed right away,” said Awe. “For them to see that it’s possible for us to bring government to them is a good asset. I think they’ve seen that, I think they’ll utilize that and that will be part of what moves East Orange forward.”