Local mayors attend conference in Atlantic City

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ATLANTIC CITY — Thousands of municipal employees and elected officials from New Jersey’s 565 municipalities connected at the 2019 League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, which kicked off on Tuesday, Nov. 19, and concluded Thursday, Nov. 21.

The state League of Municipalities is a voluntary association created to help communities do a better job of self-government through pooling information resources and brain power. Authorized by state statute in 1915, all 565 municipalities are members of the league. More than 560 mayors and 13,000 elected and appointed officials of member municipalities are entitled to all of the services and privileges of the league.

Throughout the year, the league hosts many activities, but the highlight is the annual November conference in Atlantic City. Attended by stakeholders representing every sector of municipal government, the conference provides an opportunity for municipalities and its employees to exchange ideas and best practices while addressing key issues that are impacting towns, such as downtown revitalization, sustainability and community-police relations.

This year’s conference theme, “Igniting Local Engagement,” meshed with the goals of East Orange Mayor Ted Green, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren and Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, who are working to re-engage residents, landlords and business owners in making their respective towns great places to live, work and play.

Green said he hosted a meeting with the members of the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association. The organization, established in 1991, works with state and federal lawmakers and officials to develop appropriate and effective public policy measures that benefit the state’s urban centers and help lawmakers understand how public policy affects New Jersey’s cities and municipalities. The meeting addressed a variety of topics, such as social justice reform, the importance of the 2020 Census, Opportunity Zones and other policy measures that affect urban cities.

“Collectively, we have issues and challenges that impact us all,” said Green, referring to his fellow urban mayors in a quote sent to the Record-Transcript after the event on Monday, Nov. 25. “Working together and demonstrating a unified front strengthens our ability to be more proactive and enact policies that benefit our citizens.”

“I really enjoy going to the conference each year,” Vauss told the Irvington Herald on Saturday, Nov. 23. “The conference is an invaluable learning experience, which yields benefits throughout the year. Delegates have the opportunity to learn and ask questions at more than 1,000 panels, clinics, workshops and other sessions conducted by the league and the 21 associations of technical and professional employees allied with it. As I do each year, I look at much-needed equipment for my town to keep up with our mandate of being clean and safe.”

“Another productive League of Municipalities Convention,” Warren said in a quote sent to the Record-Transcript after the event on Sunday, Nov. 24. “I served as a panelist for a seminar on Opportunity Zones.”

“I attended seminars on women empowerment, transportation and other issues,” he continued. “I was a conferee at an important meeting with Urban Mayors around the state on strategies to maximize our count in the upcoming census. I was happy to observe that many of our Orange officials were engaged in becoming informed and engaged in pursuing ways to improve the delivery of service to Orange residents.”

Dan Jennings, director of policy, planning and development for East Orange, also served on a panel to discuss how Trenton’s downtown revitalization policies impact New Jersey cities. He was joined by Sheena Collum, the South Orange Village president; Steve Santola, vice president and chief counsel for Woodmont Properties; and Erin Law, partner in McManimon, Scotland & Bauman.

The conference highlighted the changes impacting each town with regard to revitalization, sustainability and community-police relations, and the mayors of Irvington, Orange and East Orange took the opportunity to focus on the ways in which their municipalities are addressing these issues.

Irvington’s unveiling of the new Madison Avenue Elementary School, at an estimated cost of $38.6 million, served as a prime example of revitalization as the school was built using a design-build approach. In Irvington alone, the New Jersey Schools Development Authority has invested more than $151 million into completed projects since the inception of its school-construction program.

Orange’s recently unveiled Colgate Skate Park is that city’s foray into revitalization. The multi-million-dollar project was built on a plot of land with environmental issues that was cleaned up in an effort to utilize already existing property while remedying a problem area. The former building at the site was demolished, and soil was removed and replaced before the skate park was installed.

At the League of Municipalities Conference, Jennings thanked Gov. Phil Murphy for re-establishing key Department of Community Affairs programs, such as the Main Street New Jersey and Neighborhood Revitalization Programs. The latter recently awarded East Orange a $150,000 grant to improve the streetscape of a portion of Central Avenue near the Newark borderline.

Jennings discussed how revitalization is happening in all five wards of East Orange through more than $1 billion in redevelopment. An upcoming $400 million project is anticipated to significantly transform the downtown area of East Orange anchored by Brick Church Plaza.

Photos Courtesy of Tony Vauss.