To the Editor:
In an era where public opinion polls show confidence in elected officials at or near all-time lows, it is refreshing to find situations where those who serve us deliver outstanding results. Our Princeton Council has done just that.
To the great long-term benefit of the Princeton municipality, the Princeton Council recently entered into a seven year agreement with Princeton University whereby the university will: (a) provide a secure and ever-increasing stream of revenues for the municipality through 2020; and (b) shoulder a significant share of the financial burden of specific projects of importance to both the municipality and Princeton University. Furthermore, the agreement contains a make-whole provision, should Princeton University ever decide to remove from the tax rolls certain properties that the university currently voluntarily keeps on the rolls.
I had the pleasure of serving as an unpaid advisor to the Princeton Council on these town-gown discussions, as the council developed its substantive positions, settled on negotiating strategy, and engaged in the give-and-take typical of such conversations.
Led by the negotiating team comprised of Council President Bernie Miller, Councilperson Patrick Simon and Princeton Administrator Bob Bruschi, the Princeton Council came away with a deal that is in the long term interest of the municipality. Of course the negotiators did not get everything the Princeton Council wanted (what negotiator does?), but all in all the negotiating team showed remarkably good judgment: they were creative, persistent and reasonable and came away with a very good deal for the citizens of Princeton.
Councilmembers Butler, Crumiller and Liverman each offered thoughtful comments throughout the process and threw their support behind the agreement, so that the council spoke as one on this important matter.
It was not a foregone conclusion that the negotiations would be so successful. Some of the recent history of town-gown relations in Princeton, under different leadership, has exposed significant rifts and bad blood. Other local governments, such as that in Providence, Rhode Island, have had acrimonious negotiations with local universities. Fortunately, in the case of Princeton, both the university and the municipality, at the very highest levels, made it clear from the start that this could and should be a series of discussions based on mutual respect and shared interests.
Finally, Mayor Liz Lempert and Councilperson Heather Howard are to be commended for voluntarily recusing themselves from the entire process leading to the town-gown agreement, so as to avoid any assertion that their actions were tainted by a conflict of interest. Such a recusal was a sign of good government practices that should serve as a model for future decision-making by the Princeton Council, as well as other jurisdictions throughout the state.
Frequently we read in both electronic and print media about differences in style and substance among our elected officials. But the town-gown negotiations and recent agreement showed a set of dedicated public officials who crafted an understanding with the university that should serve our town well for the next seven years.