Officials Debate Formation of Consolidation Transition Team

Some officials argue that establishing a transition team as planned to help implement the merger of the two Princetons is unnecessary and would only add an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process that would bog it down, but others disagree.

At the joint consolidation commission meeting tonight, Borough Councilman David Goldfarb and Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman, who will both be leaving the commission at the end of the year and will be replaced by two other elected borough officials, said a separate transition team is not necessary.

“The consolidation commission should be the transition team,” Goldfarb said. “We should use the resumes of people who have applied for the transition team for subcommittees and assign specialties to the subcommittees.”

Trotman agreed, saying the Borough Council discussed the issue the previous night and will talk it over with the Township Committee to decide how to move forward.

“The concern is, we really have some good momentum going with department heads, we’ve been in discussions and we have a road map,” Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi said. “you guys gave us a road map. I am all in favor of as much citizen involvement as is needed and I am comfortable with as much citizen input as you want. Things could be done in addition to the commission’s recommendations to achieve significant further savings. But there is so much to be done that we can not in any way slow down the momentum we’ve obtained to bring people up to speed who would want to get knowledge to base their decisions on. If I had a preference, you should have subcommittees and not add another layer.”

But Anton Lahnston, the head of the consolidation commission, opposed the idea of scrapping the separate transition team.

“I would be strongly opposed to a limited amount of citizen involvement in the process of creating the transition. It is critical,” Lahnston said.  “We have a bunch of bright citizens, and residents need to be involved in the process. It should be, in fact, a staff, administrative and resident joint effort with key input from the residents. I would be very disappointed if we didn’t go that way.”

Commission member Bill Metro said a lot of work has to be done by employees.

“They have to do a lot of the work under someone’s direction,” Metro said. “There are many layers and it is cumbersome. There is no clear definition of how it is going to happen.”

“It almost seems like maybe you don’t need this layer called the transition team,” commission member Carol Golden said. “You just need the subcommittees. Can they not be made up of the police and citizens?”

“I’m always concerned in these kind of situations when a change is being done only by the people inside the tent,” Lahnston said. “I’m very strongly opposed to that. It real concerns me.”

“Do you consider your selves inside the tent?” Bruschi said.

Lahnston said no, and Bruschi said the commission could be used as the transition group. He added that he is fine with the transition meetings being held in public, but that re-educating newcomers on a new committee about where things stand would slow things down.

Township Committeeman Bernie Miller, who serves on the commission, said he things oversight of the process is necessary and that a separate group would bring expertise to that process.

“The two governing bodies have already embarked in publicly asking residents to submit their qualifications,” Miller said. “We have them, and we’ve done some vetting. To back out now would be virtually impossible.”

Township Administrator Jim Pascale said Princeton is lucky that  everyone wants in” the process, but that it can’t be a free for all.

“We embrace public input, but it needs to be done in an orderly manner,” he said. “Our plan was to meet in a Noah’s Ark fashion with the two police chiefs, the two public works directors…to take a look at the two buildings in the township and borough…to figure out what other reductions we can make. The process can be overseen, but needs to be an orderly process.”

During public comment, Borough Resident Peter Wolanin said he supports having a transition team.

“Rather than being an extra layer, is can be a place where a lot of decisions are made and delegated to the appropriate authority,” he said.

“The governing bodies have all the information and opinions from us to move forward and make a decision,” Lahnston said.

The consolidation commission report developed before the consolidation vote suggested a transition team be appointed in January if consolidation passed. But it did not outline in detail how the process would work.

After consolidation passed, officials decided a transition team would be created that would include three residents plus one alternate from each municipality, and two elected officials from each municipality. Officials solicited applications from residents, and several residents have sent the borough and township their resumes.