The new governing body for the united Princeton, which the voters approved as the borough form of government, was sworn in Jan. 1 after the consolidation celebration at the Princeton municipal building.
Bernie Miller, the top vote getter in the November council election, was unanimously elected president of the new council.
The six elected officials serving on the council picked numbers out of a hat determine how long their terms would be, because terms must be staggered and state law calls for them to be determined by lot when new governments are formed. Lance Liverman and Heather Howard drew three-year terms, Jo Butler and Bernie Miller drew two-year terms, and Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon drew one-year terms.
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert was sworn in by lawyer Dick Woodbridge, the Republican challenger in November in the mayor’s race.
At the earlier consolidation celebration Lempert said Princeton could become a model of good governance for the state and the nation.
“All eyes are on us,” she said. “Today is a day to celebrate with an extra dose of civic pride. We are in a strong fiscal position. We can bring together the best of both municipal traditions. Princeton’s best days lie ahead.”
In her speech during the reorganization meeting, Lempert said the day was about jointing together, regardless of political persuasion.
“Today is the day when we start to build a unified future as Princetonians,” she said. “When we come together and support one another we can do great things. We can turn a page and start a new chapter. What will be the story of that new chapter? Will it be a cautionary tale, or will we be a model for consolidation? There can only be one answer to that question. We will succeed.”
Lempert said there would be challenges, but that Princeton is up to the challenge. She also promised that even though consolidation came with substantial one-time transition costs, the municipality will put together a budget with no tax increase for 2013.
She said she would meet with the Princeton University board of trustees later this month to discuss town-gown relations, and that the new University president would address the council this fall.
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said the new Princeton has several important issues to address like the former hospital site, the town’s public works facilities, and the search for a new town administrator when Bob Bruschi decides to retire. She promised to always study the issues, do her homework and listen to all sides with an open mind before making any decisions.
When the council reviewed professional appointments and committee and commission assignments, Crumiller and Butler objected to voting on the professional contract for lawyer Ed Schmierer, noting that none of the contracts were included in the information provided to the elected officials before the vote.
“I’m reluctant to vote on anything when the scope of work has not been defined,” Crumiller said. “I just pledged to the voters that I would do my homework. I’m very uncomfortable voting, and I’m surprised not to see the contracts.”
“There are no details on the rates or anything included in our information,” Butler said. “I don’t know how we can pass things without the information.”
Butler and Crumiller pointed out that it is standard practice for elected officials to be provided with copies of the contracts or agreements they will be voting on.
Administrator Bob Bruschi said he didn’t make copies of the contracts or agreements for the elected officials’ agenda packets because the packets would have been about 500 pages thick. He said the proposals from lawyers who applied for the municipal attorney position included information about proposed fees.
“I know you have some concerns about how legal services are administered,” Bruschi said. “I’ve already met with Ed Schmierer to go over cost savings measures and methodology changes. I’m comfortable with the agreements and appointments.”
Bruschi said the council can terminate any professionals, including the lawyer, by giving them 30 days notice. He said $100,000 has been budget for the lawyer in the temporary budget for the first quarter of the year.
Butler said she is concerned about the contract for the lawyer because of costs. The former Township’s legal budget last year was about $400,000, she said, while the Borough’s budget was about $175,000.
“We reduced employees and there are plans for more reductions,” Butler said. “At the same time we are talking about adding a parks director. We should be doing our due diligence in all areas, including legal fees.”
Councilman Lance Liverman said Schmierer has worked for Princeton Township for years and years, and officials never had any problems regarding legal concerns.
Liverman then called the question, and the Council voted 4-2 to approve all the professional contracts, including the contract for Schmierer, with Butler and Crumiller casting the two no votes.
Butler then questioned the wording of committee assignments for elected officials and asked about ex officio designations for the mayor. Lempert assigned herself to committees as an ex officio (non-voting) member.
“Typically the mayor is ex officio to every committee,” Lempert claimed.
Butler also proposed that the new council create two more committees, one for town and gown relations, and the other to monitor legal costs. Other council members said the committees could be created later in the year.
Butler also questioned how it was that Miller was already listed on the agenda for the meeting as council president when the voted had not taken place yet. Miller was already listed on page 39 of the agenda for the meeting as begin authorized to sign checks as council president.
“This also reflects the issue of consent agendas,” Butler said. “The only way this happened is that there was a little politicking and head counting going on before the meeting. I’d just like to caution all of us that this is a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. We have to be careful going forward, even if this is a formality.”
During public comment, former Borough Mayor Yina Moore urged the new council to make consolidation work for citizens, and asked the council to take up some of the issues the Borough governing body did not finish, but to not move too quickly on issues like whether to allow the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce to take over the kiosks on Nassau Street and put advertising on them.
Former Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes urged the new council to govern with humility, integrity and transparency.
Resident Hendricks Davis said the new Princeton should tap into more people for leadership instead of the same people all the time “Many qualified people are standing on the sidelines and have not been asked to the dance,” he said.
Kate Warren, who led the opposition to consolidation, urged leaders to make the united Princeton the best it can be.
“I’ll be watching and keeping tabs on you,” she said.