Consolidating Princeton boards and commissions will hurt efforts to build more equitable and just community

I am dismayed by the proposed consolidation of three key municipal boards and commissions (BCCs) which, for decades, have contributed to improving the lives of our most underserved residents: the Human Services Commission, the Affordable Housing Board, and the Civil Rights Commission.

This proposal (Ordinance 2024-01 introduced by Council on Monday, Jan 8,2024) was brought out without notice or input from the members of the advisory groups in question. It was clearly initiated in a vacuum, and without taking into account dissenting opinions. I fear it could lead to increasing social tensions, more adversarial relations between the municipality and the public, and further isolation of our most marginalized residents.

The incumbents are a cross-section of engaged volunteers from all walks of life, a truly inclusive composite of the community, some with long institutional memories, others with fresh perspectives. It would be unrealistic, and highly undesirable, to consolidate this diversity of perspectives, skill sets and representative voices into a smaller committee with “a single focus”, as the proposal states.

Managing the ongoing, sometimes-cacophonous feedback may not always be pleasant and requires a committed effort on the part of staff and elected officials to value and respect the voice of the people they serve. Harmony may come but at the expense of representation.

A committee of members of council, staff, stakeholders, and residents should evaluate the need for restructuring the current BCC’s and whether to establish term limits to ensure a healthy rotation and membership renewal. Dissolving these BCCs may be the easy way out but the wrong remedy, to the detriment of the very objective it means to address: a better functioning, more just, equitable and diverse community.

Maria Juega

Princeton NJ

The writer is a member of the Princeton Affordable Housing Board but is only expressing her own personal opinion and not writing on behalf of the Board.