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Potential Harrison Reforms


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As a new Harrison resident, I've been appalled by governmental mismanagement and corruption (real and perceived - both are damaging) and lack of dispassionate debate on potential town improvements. I find most "discussion" has been completely vapid, filled with vitriol and hatred against individuals (sometimes justified, sometimes not; but hatred of an individual doesn't solve underlying problems), and largely unrealistic. Unfortunately I believe that not a single one of my potential reforms will or could be implemented (so I fit in the largely unrealistic category), because each one significantly negatively impacts groups with powerful vested interests (public employees, teachers, school administrators, elected officials), while the reforms taken together would only benefit all stakeholders (but to a lesser degree than they could negatively impact a small, but vocal, group). In general the electorate is not engaged and nearly completely apathetic - the people that go out to vote have powerful vested interests in getting their individual elected.

Rather than merely list a diatribe of town problem areas (it seems people talk about the problems all the time, they seem to be largely agreed upon), I wanted to offer possible improvements (it is important to note that these are possible "improvements" not necessarily "solutions"). In any event, to foster discussion, here’s my list of reforms:

Establish elected office term limits (e.g. two for Mayor and Council). Everyone is replaceable and to suggest otherwise is hubris. Entrenched politicians are near impossible to unseat and more prone to corruption and inappropriate patronage usage.

Prohibit multiple office holding (elected and appointed). For example, no one should be both Town Councilman and School Superintendent. Who will watch the watchmen?

Establish an elected Board of Education. This provides readier accountability to residents and decreases opportunity for unmeritocratic Mayoral patronage appointments.

Implement administrative pay reductions. With substantial discussion of inflated teacher compensation, leaders must lead by example: pay reductions in-line with our neighbors (for example approximate Superintendent 2009 salaries: Harrison - $217K, Kearny - $195K, Lyndhurst – 186K, Rutherford – 180K, East Rutherford – 170K).

Adjust public employee compensation (teachers too). To control spiraling costs, employees make larger medical expense contributions, retirement age raised and linked to life expectancy, implement a new employee 401K-style retirement plan with matching contributions, and prohibit “sick days” from being “banked.”

Provide better school information. Publish school report cards and a table of organization of teachers and administrators. Help residents participate in deciding educational priorities.

Reform the Fire Department. Save substantial money and create greater efficiency by merging with other local departments (e.g. Kearny) or becoming volunteer-based (e.g. North Arlington).

Merge Harrison, East Newark, and Kearny . Pool services, reduce overhead, create efficiencies, better coordinate planning.

Thoughts?

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Guest *Anonymous*

sign the ...... enter your name box....or be banished to....the full of shit box....

nothing Anonymous is worth a second look ....it means nothing

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Guest BlueTideBacker
As a new Harrison resident, I've been appalled by governmental mismanagement and corruption (real and perceived - both are damaging) and lack of dispassionate debate on potential town improvements. I find most "discussion" has been completely vapid, filled with vitriol and hatred against individuals (sometimes justified, sometimes not; but hatred of an individual doesn't solve underlying problems), and largely unrealistic. Unfortunately I believe that not a single one of my potential reforms will or could be implemented (so I fit in the largely unrealistic category), because each one significantly negatively impacts groups with powerful vested interests (public employees, teachers, school administrators, elected officials), while the reforms taken together would only benefit all stakeholders (but to a lesser degree than they could negatively impact a small, but vocal, group). In general the electorate is not engaged and nearly completely apathetic - the people that go out to vote have powerful vested interests in getting their individual elected.

Rather than merely list a diatribe of town problem areas (it seems people talk about the problems all the time, they seem to be largely agreed upon), I wanted to offer possible improvements (it is important to note that these are possible "improvements" not necessarily "solutions"). In any event, to foster discussion, here’s my list of reforms:

Establish elected office term limits (e.g. two for Mayor and Council). Everyone is replaceable and to suggest otherwise is hubris. Entrenched politicians are near impossible to unseat and more prone to corruption and inappropriate patronage usage.

Prohibit multiple office holding (elected and appointed). For example, no one should be both Town Councilman and School Superintendent. Who will watch the watchmen?

Establish an elected Board of Education. This provides readier accountability to residents and decreases opportunity for unmeritocratic Mayoral patronage appointments.

Implement administrative pay reductions. With substantial discussion of inflated teacher compensation, leaders must lead by example: pay reductions in-line with our neighbors (for example approximate Superintendent 2009 salaries: Harrison - $217K, Kearny - $195K, Lyndhurst – 186K, Rutherford – 180K, East Rutherford – 170K).

Adjust public employee compensation (teachers too). To control spiraling costs, employees make larger medical expense contributions, retirement age raised and linked to life expectancy, implement a new employee 401K-style retirement plan with matching contributions, and prohibit “sick days” from being “banked.”

Provide better school information. Publish school report cards and a table of organization of teachers and administrators. Help residents participate in deciding educational priorities.

Reform the Fire Department. Save substantial money and create greater efficiency by merging with other local departments (e.g. Kearny) or becoming volunteer-based (e.g. North Arlington).

Merge Harrison, East Newark, and Kearny . Pool services, reduce overhead, create efficiencies, better coordinate planning.

Thoughts?

While I agree with everything you said, these issues are not strictly Harrison issues, they're state and national issues that need to be addressed on those levels. Nation-wide, public pension systems are seriously under-funded and getting worse. Consider this one mind-boggling fact: A cop or fireman hired at age 20, puts in 25 years and retire at age 45 at 65% of his salary plus free healthcare for the rest of his life (and if his wife outlives him, she'll get 50% of his pension until her death). During the 25 years on the job, he may contribute 150,000 + or - toward his pension but when he retires, if he lives to 80 he'll collect a pension for 35 years that will be worth 2.5 million + or -, not counting the cost of the free health care. You don't need to be an actuary to recognize this is unsustainable. Throw in the vacation days and sick days that were banked during the 25 years and this is why municipal budgets nation-wide are millions in the hole. Police and Firefighters in one California city I'm aware of can retire with 90% of their salaries.

Adding to all this are school administators that are given $200,000+ starting salaries in small school districts.

While I support cops and FF's and whatever pensions they get, the reality is the status quo can't continue, that's why Christie was elected.

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Guest Mama Mia
As a new Harrison resident, I've been appalled by governmental mismanagement and corruption (real and perceived - both are damaging) and lack of dispassionate debate on potential town improvements. I find most "discussion" has been completely vapid, filled with vitriol and hatred against individuals (sometimes justified, sometimes not; but hatred of an individual doesn't solve underlying problems), and largely unrealistic. Unfortunately I believe that not a single one of my potential reforms will or could be implemented (so I fit in the largely unrealistic category), because each one significantly negatively impacts groups with powerful vested interests (public employees, teachers, school administrators, elected officials), while the reforms taken together would only benefit all stakeholders (but to a lesser degree than they could negatively impact a small, but vocal, group). In general the electorate is not engaged and nearly completely apathetic - the people that go out to vote have powerful vested interests in getting their individual elected.

Rather than merely list a diatribe of town problem areas (it seems people talk about the problems all the time, they seem to be largely agreed upon), I wanted to offer possible improvements (it is important to note that these are possible "improvements" not necessarily "solutions"). In any event, to foster discussion, here’s my list of reforms:

Establish elected office term limits (e.g. two for Mayor and Council). Everyone is replaceable and to suggest otherwise is hubris. Entrenched politicians are near impossible to unseat and more prone to corruption and inappropriate patronage usage.

Prohibit multiple office holding (elected and appointed). For example, no one should be both Town Councilman and School Superintendent. Who will watch the watchmen?

Establish an elected Board of Education. This provides readier accountability to residents and decreases opportunity for unmeritocratic Mayoral patronage appointments.

Implement administrative pay reductions. With substantial discussion of inflated teacher compensation, leaders must lead by example: pay reductions in-line with our neighbors (for example approximate Superintendent 2009 salaries: Harrison - $217K, Kearny - $195K, Lyndhurst – 186K, Rutherford – 180K, East Rutherford – 170K).

Adjust public employee compensation (teachers too). To control spiraling costs, employees make larger medical expense contributions, retirement age raised and linked to life expectancy, implement a new employee 401K-style retirement plan with matching contributions, and prohibit “sick days” from being “banked.”

Provide better school information. Publish school report cards and a table of organization of teachers and administrators. Help residents participate in deciding educational priorities.

Reform the Fire Department. Save substantial money and create greater efficiency by merging with other local departments (e.g. Kearny) or becoming volunteer-based (e.g. North Arlington).

Merge Harrison, East Newark, and Kearny . Pool services, reduce overhead, create efficiencies, better coordinate planning.

Thoughts?

Excellent suggestions, all of them but I can't even begin to imagine how they could be implemented in Harrison. I would absolutely vote for you if you ran on a platform that included these planks and had a realistic plan for putting them in place. Most are just common sense. Go for it, it is exactly the kind of reform and fresh thinking that could breathe life back into our town.

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Guest Guest
As a new Harrison resident, I've been appalled by governmental mismanagement and corruption (real and perceived - both are damaging) and lack of dispassionate debate on potential town improvements. I find most "discussion" has been completely vapid, filled with vitriol and hatred against individuals (sometimes justified, sometimes not; but hatred of an individual doesn't solve underlying problems), and largely unrealistic. Unfortunately I believe that not a single one of my potential reforms will or could be implemented (so I fit in the largely unrealistic category), because each one significantly negatively impacts groups with powerful vested interests (public employees, teachers, school administrators, elected officials), while the reforms taken together would only benefit all stakeholders (but to a lesser degree than they could negatively impact a small, but vocal, group). In general the electorate is not engaged and nearly completely apathetic - the people that go out to vote have powerful vested interests in getting their individual elected.

Rather than merely list a diatribe of town problem areas (it seems people talk about the problems all the time, they seem to be largely agreed upon), I wanted to offer possible improvements (it is important to note that these are possible "improvements" not necessarily "solutions"). In any event, to foster discussion, here’s my list of reforms:

Establish elected office term limits (e.g. two for Mayor and Council). Everyone is replaceable and to suggest otherwise is hubris. Entrenched politicians are near impossible to unseat and more prone to corruption and inappropriate patronage usage.

Prohibit multiple office holding (elected and appointed). For example, no one should be both Town Councilman and School Superintendent. Who will watch the watchmen?

Establish an elected Board of Education. This provides readier accountability to residents and decreases opportunity for unmeritocratic Mayoral patronage appointments.

Implement administrative pay reductions. With substantial discussion of inflated teacher compensation, leaders must lead by example: pay reductions in-line with our neighbors (for example approximate Superintendent 2009 salaries: Harrison - $217K, Kearny - $195K, Lyndhurst – 186K, Rutherford – 180K, East Rutherford – 170K).

Adjust public employee compensation (teachers too). To control spiraling costs, employees make larger medical expense contributions, retirement age raised and linked to life expectancy, implement a new employee 401K-style retirement plan with matching contributions, and prohibit “sick days” from being “banked.”

Provide better school information. Publish school report cards and a table of organization of teachers and administrators. Help residents participate in deciding educational priorities.

Reform the Fire Department. Save substantial money and create greater efficiency by merging with other local departments (e.g. Kearny) or becoming volunteer-based (e.g. North Arlington).

Merge Harrison, East Newark, and Kearny . Pool services, reduce overhead, create efficiencies, better coordinate planning.

Thoughts?

You are as new as Stevie boy, or John Pinho; tell the truth and sign the post.

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Guest Guest

In my original post I commented that I believed that not a single one of the reforms I suggested could be implemented for a variety of reasons (those that I listed: electorate apathy and resistance from entrenched vested interests). A subsequent poster correctly (in my opinion) noted that the underlying problems are manifest nationwide in municipalities and states and at the federal level. And that in some cases the problems require action not at a local level, but rather the state. I agree completely.

Despite that, I wanted to go back and look at each of the reforms I suggested and see how and at what level they could be implemented (I don’t want us to say “Well the problems are everywhere, but we can’t do anything about it.”) I admit I do not have a public policy degree, nor am an expert on the NJ constitution or the town code, so the below is an educated assumption (if I am wrong and it requires more than a town code change, it doesn’t mean we should wring our hands in frustration, but rather: 1. correct my error, and 2. seek reform at the correct level). My intent is to demonstrate that many of the reforms are very local and could be handled within the municipality, rather than waiting for a statewide or national solution. So:

Establish elected office term limits. I believe these are more important at municipal and State level than the federal level. To begin with, the town code could be amended (by simple vote of the council, signed by the mayor) to place term limits for the positions of Mayor, Councilman, Board of Education representative, and planning/redevelopment board representative. I believe the State constitution should be amended to impose term limits for State Senator and State Assemblyman, but doubt that it could happen (although according to the group “US Term Limits” – admittedly a group that is pushing for term limits – 15 States do have term limits for their state legislators).

Prohibit multiple office holding. Within the municipality the town code could be amended to prevent a person holding a senior appointed position (say, the head of public works or School Superintendent) and an elected position (say Councilman), etc. The town could stop this within the town. A broader State constitutional amendment would be needed to prevent this behavior beyond the town limits (can’t be both a Mayor and Assemblyman, etc.). There are several pushes in the State Legislature to adjust this practice, although my guess is a broader ban using a constitutional amendment would be required to fully implement it. It is worth debating whether this should only be for salaried appointed positions and elected office or all appointed positions. Bottom line, within the town limits, the council could easily reform this.

Establish an elected Board of Education (BOE). Again, I believe this could be done through a town code adjustment (Mayor + Council).

Administrative Pay Reductions. To my understanding this could be implemented by the board of education in conjunction with the current school administration team. Assuming the salaries of administrative personnel are covered through an administrators’ union contract, a “side-bar agreement” could be reached to lower these salaries to be in line with neighboring districts (if they are individual contracts, the process should be even easier). Again, leaders lead by example – they could take the initiative and ask the BOE to vote for this reform at the next meeting. (Of note: I am all for paying for the position – and these administrative jobs are absolutely difficult – however, that pay should be in line with what the market pays for that position – as demonstrated by our neighboring districts.)

Adjust public employee compensation. This is the probably the most difficult, first because it is a political minefield with the largest vested interests and it involves an overlap of municipal and State laws. While the State will muddle through the different proposals this summer and our town is limited by union contracts that do not soon expire, some action could still be taken. Namely, through “side-bar agreements” – actually already proposed by the Schools Superintendent - that would adjust current contracts to make them less costly (1.5% on health benefits, etc.). Town officials should know to take a harder stand during the next round of contract negotiations to bring benefits in line with what the town can reasonably afford to pay.

Provide Better School Information. This is probably the easiest of all reforms. Presumably the district already has a table of organization or organizational chart for all teaching positions and administrative (and non-teaching) positions. Publish it. Without names. Organizational decisions should be debated and made based on the area of need, not the individual. (The questions should be: “Should x number of elementary education teachers, y number of HS level science teachers, z number of inclusion teachers…” not “Should we keep Teacher X or Teacher Y?”) If there isn’t some sort of table of organization, make one – nearly every organization has one (particularly one with around 200 employees). Further, publish a “school report card.” This is routinely done by numerous other districts and the relevant information is almost certainly already compiled – What are the district school scores on mandatory state tests? How many students are going to two-year and four-year colleges? Etc. We have a (very nice) district website, put some more useful information on it. Very easy to (quickly) implement without legislation – administrators just publish these documents.

Reform the fire department. A touchy subject regardless of the type of reform. Bottom line: It is a critical service. However, would it be more efficient to merge with other districts? The Councils and Mayors of Harrison, Kearny, and East Newark would all have to be on board with it and there would almost certainly be contractual issues to overcome. Why not have a tri-town commission (say Mayors, 1 or 2 Councilman from each, and the fire chief from each town) to figure out how to do it and over what period of time? As for a volunteer department, let the commission figure out if that makes more sense and how to implement (over a longer term period, with buyouts for current paid members, etc.). The difficulty comes with who puts the commission together? Mayors should be more than simple administrators – they should be leaders. Leaders can pick up the telephone and arrange a meeting to discuss ways to improve those they represent, serve, and lead.

Merge Municipalities. My guess is this would require more than just the Councils and Mayors. Probably town referendums and state legislative action (to incorporate as a new municipality). This would be difficult. Although it would almost certainly save money, would residents of Kearny want Harrison residents and vice versa? Reason/logic would probably be trumped by a combination of vested interest lobbying/votes and illogical dislike of other towns. Regardless, a commission of senior elected and appointed officials could figure out how, over what time period, etc. to attempt a merging. (Maybe the merge could be incremental: with some simpler services done first with costs shared based off the latest census figures? Then move to different departments, town codes, etc.)

To sum up: Some reforms could be executed at the town level with support from the town council and mayor, more through council, mayor, and residential support within Kearny, E. Newark, and Harrison, and even more could be done with statewide constitutional changes. Do I expect any of this? Still no. Even a reforming individual Mayor would need a majority of the Council to push through reforms and the likelihood our neighboring town also have that at the same time is even more unlikely. I think the current politicians would need to support these reforms for them to happen.

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Guest sonny blue
In my original post I commented that I believed that not a single one of the reforms I suggested could be implemented for a variety of reasons (those that I listed: electorate apathy and resistance from entrenched vested interests). A subsequent poster correctly (in my opinion) noted that the underlying problems are manifest nationwide in municipalities and states and at the federal level. And that in some cases the problems require action not at a local level, but rather the state. I agree completely.

Despite that, I wanted to go back and look at each of the reforms I suggested and see how and at what level they could be implemented (I don’t want us to say “Well the problems are everywhere, but we can’t do anything about it.”) I admit I do not have a public policy degree, nor am an expert on the NJ constitution or the town code, so the below is an educated assumption (if I am wrong and it requires more than a town code change, it doesn’t mean we should wring our hands in frustration, but rather: 1. correct my error, and 2. seek reform at the correct level). My intent is to demonstrate that many of the reforms are very local and could be handled within the municipality, rather than waiting for a statewide or national solution. So:

Establish elected office term limits. I believe these are more important at municipal and State level than the federal level. To begin with, the town code could be amended (by simple vote of the council, signed by the mayor) to place term limits for the positions of Mayor, Councilman, Board of Education representative, and planning/redevelopment board representative. I believe the State constitution should be amended to impose term limits for State Senator and State Assemblyman, but doubt that it could happen (although according to the group “US Term Limits” – admittedly a group that is pushing for term limits – 15 States do have term limits for their state legislators).

Prohibit multiple office holding. Within the municipality the town code could be amended to prevent a person holding a senior appointed position (say, the head of public works or School Superintendent) and an elected position (say Councilman), etc. The town could stop this within the town. A broader State constitutional amendment would be needed to prevent this behavior beyond the town limits (can’t be both a Mayor and Assemblyman, etc.). There are several pushes in the State Legislature to adjust this practice, although my guess is a broader ban using a constitutional amendment would be required to fully implement it. It is worth debating whether this should only be for salaried appointed positions and elected office or all appointed positions. Bottom line, within the town limits, the council could easily reform this.

Establish an elected Board of Education (BOE). Again, I believe this could be done through a town code adjustment (Mayor + Council).

Administrative Pay Reductions. To my understanding this could be implemented by the board of education in conjunction with the current school administration team. Assuming the salaries of administrative personnel are covered through an administrators’ union contract, a “side-bar agreement” could be reached to lower these salaries to be in line with neighboring districts (if they are individual contracts, the process should be even easier). Again, leaders lead by example – they could take the initiative and ask the BOE to vote for this reform at the next meeting. (Of note: I am all for paying for the position – and these administrative jobs are absolutely difficult – however, that pay should be in line with what the market pays for that position – as demonstrated by our neighboring districts.)

Adjust public employee compensation. This is the probably the most difficult, first because it is a political minefield with the largest vested interests and it involves an overlap of municipal and State laws. While the State will muddle through the different proposals this summer and our town is limited by union contracts that do not soon expire, some action could still be taken. Namely, through “side-bar agreements” – actually already proposed by the Schools Superintendent - that would adjust current contracts to make them less costly (1.5% on health benefits, etc.). Town officials should know to take a harder stand during the next round of contract negotiations to bring benefits in line with what the town can reasonably afford to pay.

Provide Better School Information. This is probably the easiest of all reforms. Presumably the district already has a table of organization or organizational chart for all teaching positions and administrative (and non-teaching) positions. Publish it. Without names. Organizational decisions should be debated and made based on the area of need, not the individual. (The questions should be: “Should x number of elementary education teachers, y number of HS level science teachers, z number of inclusion teachers…” not “Should we keep Teacher X or Teacher Y?”) If there isn’t some sort of table of organization, make one – nearly every organization has one (particularly one with around 200 employees). Further, publish a “school report card.” This is routinely done by numerous other districts and the relevant information is almost certainly already compiled – What are the district school scores on mandatory state tests? How many students are going to two-year and four-year colleges? Etc. We have a (very nice) district website, put some more useful information on it. Very easy to (quickly) implement without legislation – administrators just publish these documents.

Reform the fire department. A touchy subject regardless of the type of reform. Bottom line: It is a critical service. However, would it be more efficient to merge with other districts? The Councils and Mayors of Harrison, Kearny, and East Newark would all have to be on board with it and there would almost certainly be contractual issues to overcome. Why not have a tri-town commission (say Mayors, 1 or 2 Councilman from each, and the fire chief from each town) to figure out how to do it and over what period of time? As for a volunteer department, let the commission figure out if that makes more sense and how to implement (over a longer term period, with buyouts for current paid members, etc.). The difficulty comes with who puts the commission together? Mayors should be more than simple administrators – they should be leaders. Leaders can pick up the telephone and arrange a meeting to discuss ways to improve those they represent, serve, and lead.

Merge Municipalities. My guess is this would require more than just the Councils and Mayors. Probably town referendums and state legislative action (to incorporate as a new municipality). This would be difficult. Although it would almost certainly save money, would residents of Kearny want Harrison residents and vice versa? Reason/logic would probably be trumped by a combination of vested interest lobbying/votes and illogical dislike of other towns. Regardless, a commission of senior elected and appointed officials could figure out how, over what time period, etc. to attempt a merging. (Maybe the merge could be incremental: with some simpler services done first with costs shared based off the latest census figures? Then move to different departments, town codes, etc.)

To sum up: Some reforms could be executed at the town level with support from the town council and mayor, more through council, mayor, and residential support within Kearny, E. Newark, and Harrison, and even more could be done with statewide constitutional changes. Do I expect any of this? Still no. Even a reforming individual Mayor would need a majority of the Council to push through reforms and the likelihood our neighboring town also have that at the same time is even more unlikely. I think the current politicians would need to support these reforms for them to happen.

Do you know that you come off as a pompous a$$ !!!!!

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Guest Poppy
In my original post I commented that I believed that not a single one of the reforms I suggested could be implemented for a variety of reasons (those that I listed: electorate apathy and resistance from entrenched vested interests). A subsequent poster correctly (in my opinion) noted that the underlying problems are manifest nationwide in municipalities and states and at the federal level. And that in some cases the problems require action not at a local level, but rather the state. I agree completely.

Despite that, I wanted to go back and look at each of the reforms I suggested and see how and at what level they could be implemented (I don’t want us to say “Well the problems are everywhere, but we can’t do anything about it.”) I admit I do not have a public policy degree, nor am an expert on the NJ constitution or the town code, so the below is an educated assumption (if I am wrong and it requires more than a town code change, it doesn’t mean we should wring our hands in frustration, but rather: 1. correct my error, and 2. seek reform at the correct level). My intent is to demonstrate that many of the reforms are very local and could be handled within the municipality, rather than waiting for a statewide or national solution. So:

Establish elected office term limits. I believe these are more important at municipal and State level than the federal level. To begin with, the town code could be amended (by simple vote of the council, signed by the mayor) to place term limits for the positions of Mayor, Councilman, Board of Education representative, and planning/redevelopment board representative. I believe the State constitution should be amended to impose term limits for State Senator and State Assemblyman, but doubt that it could happen (although according to the group “US Term Limits” – admittedly a group that is pushing for term limits – 15 States do have term limits for their state legislators).

Prohibit multiple office holding. Within the municipality the town code could be amended to prevent a person holding a senior appointed position (say, the head of public works or School Superintendent) and an elected position (say Councilman), etc. The town could stop this within the town. A broader State constitutional amendment would be needed to prevent this behavior beyond the town limits (can’t be both a Mayor and Assemblyman, etc.). There are several pushes in the State Legislature to adjust this practice, although my guess is a broader ban using a constitutional amendment would be required to fully implement it. It is worth debating whether this should only be for salaried appointed positions and elected office or all appointed positions. Bottom line, within the town limits, the council could easily reform this.

Establish an elected Board of Education (BOE). Again, I believe this could be done through a town code adjustment (Mayor + Council).

Administrative Pay Reductions. To my understanding this could be implemented by the board of education in conjunction with the current school administration team. Assuming the salaries of administrative personnel are covered through an administrators’ union contract, a “side-bar agreement” could be reached to lower these salaries to be in line with neighboring districts (if they are individual contracts, the process should be even easier). Again, leaders lead by example – they could take the initiative and ask the BOE to vote for this reform at the next meeting. (Of note: I am all for paying for the position – and these administrative jobs are absolutely difficult – however, that pay should be in line with what the market pays for that position – as demonstrated by our neighboring districts.)

Adjust public employee compensation. This is the probably the most difficult, first because it is a political minefield with the largest vested interests and it involves an overlap of municipal and State laws. While the State will muddle through the different proposals this summer and our town is limited by union contracts that do not soon expire, some action could still be taken. Namely, through “side-bar agreements” – actually already proposed by the Schools Superintendent - that would adjust current contracts to make them less costly (1.5% on health benefits, etc.). Town officials should know to take a harder stand during the next round of contract negotiations to bring benefits in line with what the town can reasonably afford to pay.

Provide Better School Information. This is probably the easiest of all reforms. Presumably the district already has a table of organization or organizational chart for all teaching positions and administrative (and non-teaching) positions. Publish it. Without names. Organizational decisions should be debated and made based on the area of need, not the individual. (The questions should be: “Should x number of elementary education teachers, y number of HS level science teachers, z number of inclusion teachers…” not “Should we keep Teacher X or Teacher Y?”) If there isn’t some sort of table of organization, make one – nearly every organization has one (particularly one with around 200 employees). Further, publish a “school report card.” This is routinely done by numerous other districts and the relevant information is almost certainly already compiled – What are the district school scores on mandatory state tests? How many students are going to two-year and four-year colleges? Etc. We have a (very nice) district website, put some more useful information on it. Very easy to (quickly) implement without legislation – administrators just publish these documents.

Reform the fire department. A touchy subject regardless of the type of reform. Bottom line: It is a critical service. However, would it be more efficient to merge with other districts? The Councils and Mayors of Harrison, Kearny, and East Newark would all have to be on board with it and there would almost certainly be contractual issues to overcome. Why not have a tri-town commission (say Mayors, 1 or 2 Councilman from each, and the fire chief from each town) to figure out how to do it and over what period of time? As for a volunteer department, let the commission figure out if that makes more sense and how to implement (over a longer term period, with buyouts for current paid members, etc.). The difficulty comes with who puts the commission together? Mayors should be more than simple administrators – they should be leaders. Leaders can pick up the telephone and arrange a meeting to discuss ways to improve those they represent, serve, and lead.

Merge Municipalities. My guess is this would require more than just the Councils and Mayors. Probably town referendums and state legislative action (to incorporate as a new municipality). This would be difficult. Although it would almost certainly save money, would residents of Kearny want Harrison residents and vice versa? Reason/logic would probably be trumped by a combination of vested interest lobbying/votes and illogical dislike of other towns. Regardless, a commission of senior elected and appointed officials could figure out how, over what time period, etc. to attempt a merging. (Maybe the merge could be incremental: with some simpler services done first with costs shared based off the latest census figures? Then move to different departments, town codes, etc.)

To sum up: Some reforms could be executed at the town level with support from the town council and mayor, more through council, mayor, and residential support within Kearny, E. Newark, and Harrison, and even more could be done with statewide constitutional changes. Do I expect any of this? Still no. Even a reforming individual Mayor would need a majority of the Council to push through reforms and the likelihood our neighboring town also have that at the same time is even more unlikely. I think the current politicians would need to support these reforms for them to happen.

THESE ideas makes so much sense I don't see how anyone could put up an argument against them. Best of luck to you - very nice to see someone who cares enough to put this kind of thought into it.

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Guest Guest

I have not been to any public meetings since becoming a Harrison resident, and am not an expert on the town’s organization (departments and boards), so correct me if I make a mistake on the following: Harrison has 1 elected and 7 appointed boards/agencies/authorities? (Elected: Town Council; Appointed: Redevelopment Agency, Planning Board, Housing Authority, Zoning Board, Board of Health, Board of Public Library Trustees, and Board of Education)

After seeing this and seeing the list of current members (links to information below), I wanted to add to the original list of town reforms and make a further case for some already listed.

Current board members (minus the BOE, which for some reason I cannot find anywhere), as listed on the town website: http://www.townofharrison.com/boards.html

A list of “affiliations” of different board members as related to other people in town, from a political website (read: obviously biased). I do not necessarily agree with the website’s message or the implications that just because someone is related to another person they cannot serve in some capacity in the town (what if you had a town where the Mayor’s nephew was appointed the Superintendent of Schools, but held a doctorate from Columbia Teacher’s College, worked with Teach For America, successfully held numerous high level teacher/administration positions, was obviously well qualified, etc. – would you still begrudge him that position? The answer is maybe yes, because the relationship creates the impression of nepotism and it implies that he will not be held accountable). Anyway: http://www.harrisonmeetings.com/BoardMembers.html

Back to the reforms:

Prohibit multiple office holding. I was surprised by how prevalent the overlap in positions, with individuals serving on multiple boards or boards and elected office. A reform I’ve already noted, but didn’t think it was as big an issue as it probably is.

Prevent nepotism appointments. As I indicated above, sometimes there may be an impression of nepotism being the main/only reason for an appointment, even when someone is well qualified. This isn’t something that I think there is (or should be) a legislative fix for. Bottom line, this is a leadership issue. Leaders need to know to not make appointments based off nepotism and to fully address/explain appointments that do give an appearance of nepotism.

Provide better town information (through town website). Update the town website to list more information for all the boards and eliminate outdated information. The website doesn’t have to be all encompassing, but what is on it must be consistently kept up-to-date (especially the calendar) and presented in a logical manner (e.g. a listing of all the town boards should probably be its own subpage vice a link on the “News” subpage). Explain what each board/department does (probably including a mission statement and key tasks). Bottom line: simple but up-to-date.

Merge/eliminate boards. This may not be necessary. As I do not fully know their remits, I cannot fully determine if it would be necessary at all or if there is better way to do it. But I have to question the need for a zoning and planning boards, a redevelopment agency, and a housing authority in a town the size of Harrison. What does the Housing Authority do? What do the planning and zoning boards do? Could some of these be combined or possibly merged into an existing department? Would it make more sense to have a single “Zoning Board” that handles the previous work of zoning/planning/housing authority with a “Redevelopment Agency” that handles only certain areas of the town (old industrial sites, areas we have already designated for redevelopment)?

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:):):lol::lol:

sign the name box coward.

most could figure this out except your potenial supporters and morons.

And your name, sir/madam?

So you have figured all of this out (presumably years ago) and have done nothing. Who is the real coward?

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I wish others would further this discussion with ideas...here's another recommendation in my attempt to continue it:

Increase use of eminent domain to clean up and revitalize blighted areas and plots of land. Allow the redevelopment agency (or planning board) to purchase condemned and abandoned properties and revitalize the plot of land by either cleaning up the property to prepare it for resale at a later date, converting it into a public park, etc. (Potentially with greater coordination with the State and Federal EPA Brownfield programs.)

In general I am very skeptical of government intervention (regulatory or otherwise) to solve problems and even more skeptical of spending public money to create ostensibly beneficial public programs. (A problem with this is that you eventually run out of other people’s money to spend on all the run-away “good ideas.”) But occasionally the market can’t or won’t solve a problem (at least in a timely manner or one that won’t cause undue harm) and governments can step in (at present in this case, too slowly). This is where I feel we are in Harrison (and East Newark and Kearny) when it comes to some abandoned, condemned, and contaminated properties.

The redevelopment agency could use eminent domain to claim land (if an owner could even be found for some of these properties) and issue bonds to pay for the purchase and clean up of land. Yes this almost certainly would require either a property tax increase or a property tax surcharge. Although, I would argue that having Detroit-style abandoned properties and condemned rust-belt style brown field industrial sites blocks away from your home lowers your property value far more than any marginal property tax increase.

In all likelihood the market will not correct these in the near (or even mid-term) future. New home construction is not likely for single or two-family homes on these areas (developers like volume and larger areas to make it economically efficient), nor is business likely to want to take the risk of reclaiming land in this area, when they can easily purchase cheaper land (or rent the millions of square feet of open office space in the area) without the hassle/cost of an environmental reclamation project and new construction.

Let me give two examples (although we could easily give others). First, on Hamilton Street across from Washington School there is an abandoned/condemned home. It isn’t likely someone will purchase this plot, tear down the house, and build a new one (it has been like this for awhile). Why not allow the town to purchase it, tear it down, and place a bench and a couple trees on the plot of land? Better to have an open plot across from a school than a condemned building, slowly crumbling. Second, at 52 Passaic Avenue (albeit located in Kearny – see my earlier recommendation to merge the towns and redevelopment agencies – Harrison residents: just because this property is 4 blocks outside an arbitrary line doesn’t mean it doesn’t lower your property value), there has been a leftover smoke stack and crumbling building for the last 20 years (clearly this isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon). Let’s let the town reclaim it and put a park there (possibly with the help of the EPA). I for one would be willing to pay a property tax surcharge for the next few years if I knew the money was going to pay to completely reclaim these properties.

Yes this is expensive (maybe prohibitively so), and it goes down the path of run-away government spending (there may be too much to do), but I believe the cost of continued inaction is too great. (We could place a dollar cap on the overall project.) We already have a redevelopment agency: let’s expand its remit to using eminent domain and actually contracting out to clear out blighted areas. Identify all abandoned/blighted properties (some already listed by the State, take a look: http://www.njsitemart.com/sitemart/site/default.asp), prioritize each property, cost reclamation and cleanup, contract out the work.

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I wish others would further this discussion with ideas...here's another recommendation in my attempt to continue it:

Increase use of eminent domain to clean up and revitalize blighted areas and plots of land. Allow the redevelopment agency (or planning board) to purchase condemned and abandoned properties and revitalize the plot of land by either cleaning up the property to prepare it for resale at a later date, converting it into a public park, etc. (Potentially with greater coordination with the State and Federal EPA Brownfield programs.)

In general I am very skeptical of government intervention (regulatory or otherwise) to solve problems and even more skeptical of spending public money to create ostensibly beneficial public programs. (A problem with this is that you eventually run out of other people’s money to spend on all the run-away “good ideas.”) But occasionally the market can’t or won’t solve a problem (at least in a timely manner or one that won’t cause undue harm) and governments can step in (at present in this case, too slowly). This is where I feel we are in Harrison (and East Newark and Kearny) when it comes to some abandoned, condemned, and contaminated properties.

The redevelopment agency could use eminent domain to claim land (if an owner could even be found for some of these properties) and issue bonds to pay for the purchase and clean up of land. Yes this almost certainly would require either a property tax increase or a property tax surcharge. Although, I would argue that having Detroit-style abandoned properties and condemned rust-belt style brown field industrial sites blocks away from your home lowers your property value far more than any marginal property tax increase.

In all likelihood the market will not correct these in the near (or even mid-term) future. New home construction is not likely for single or two-family homes on these areas (developers like volume and larger areas to make it economically efficient), nor is business likely to want to take the risk of reclaiming land in this area, when they can easily purchase cheaper land (or rent the millions of square feet of open office space in the area) without the hassle/cost of an environmental reclamation project and new construction.

Let me give two examples (although we could easily give others). First, on Hamilton Street across from Washington School there is an abandoned/condemned home. It isn’t likely someone will purchase this plot, tear down the house, and build a new one (it has been like this for awhile). Why not allow the town to purchase it, tear it down, and place a bench and a couple trees on the plot of land? Better to have an open plot across from a school than a condemned building, slowly crumbling. Second, at 52 Passaic Avenue (albeit located in Kearny – see my earlier recommendation to merge the towns and redevelopment agencies – Harrison residents: just because this property is 4 blocks outside an arbitrary line doesn’t mean it doesn’t lower your property value), there has been a leftover smoke stack and crumbling building for the last 20 years (clearly this isn’t going to be fixed anytime soon). Let’s let the town reclaim it and put a park there (possibly with the help of the EPA). I for one would be willing to pay a property tax surcharge for the next few years if I knew the money was going to pay to completely reclaim these properties.

Yes this is expensive (maybe prohibitively so), and it goes down the path of run-away government spending (there may be too much to do), but I believe the cost of continued inaction is too great. (We could place a dollar cap on the overall project.) We already have a redevelopment agency: let’s expand its remit to using eminent domain and actually contracting out to clear out blighted areas. Identify all abandoned/blighted properties (some already listed by the State, take a look: http://www.njsitemart.com/sitemart/site/default.asp), prioritize each property, cost reclamation and cleanup, contract out the work.

Apparently you are out of touch whit the reality of Harrison's financial situation. The town has already bonded millions to acquire and reclaim contaminated sites. We have built a stadium, housing, and a hotel, We are so indebted because of these ventures we have just laid off more than twenty municipal workers, and are anticipating similar layoffs in the schools. If we do any more redevelopment the town will go broke and many more tax payers will lose their homes because of high taxes. Higher taxes means higher rents. Just look at all the abandon stores in town because businesses can't pay the high rents. That abandon house from the school is probably abandon because the owner couldn't pay the high taxes. Unless you can find a new source of funding, you will have to put your plans on hold.

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Apparently you are out of touch whit the reality of Harrison's financial situation. The town has already bonded millions to acquire and reclaim contaminated sites. We have built a stadium, housing, and a hotel, We are so indebted because of these ventures we have just laid off more than twenty municipal workers, and are anticipating similar layoffs in the schools. If we do any more redevelopment the town will go broke and many more tax payers will lose their homes because of high taxes. Higher taxes means higher rents. Just look at all the abandon stores in town because businesses can't pay the high rents. That abandon house from the school is probably abandon because the owner couldn't pay the high taxes. Unless you can find a new source of funding, you will have to put your plans on hold.

It is probably fair to say that the government finances can't handle increased bonding right now but I am not sure I agree with the underlying causes for Harrison's financial problems.

While there has been increased redevelopment in the town, how much of it was actually built by Harrison? Sure there are infrastructure costs associated with development, but the actual building of new housing, the hotel, stadium, et. al. is borne by the developer. These were private developments. Over the long run, the town will receive increased tax revenue (or PILOT fees) from these sites. I am in favor of development. Better to have a hotel and stadium (even with increased traffic and parking issues) than to have overgrown, polluted lots (that contribute nothing to the tax base and lower everyone's property values). The industries that previously existed in Harrison will never come back (for a variety of reasons, none of which are controlled at the municipal level, and not worth discussing here), the old industrial sites need something else there (private development if the market is there, public development through parts, etc. if the market isn't there). Unfortunately I really believe in Harrison's case the options are either increased town spending to reclaim/redevelop certain areas (with substantial private sector assistance) or living in a Detroit-esque city of abandoned crumbling homes and brownfield sites.

Further, most main streets (particularly in an at best lower middle class neighborhood) are struggling now as small businesses (independent grocers, little drug stores, smaller bakeries, furniture stores) find it difficult to compete with larger (maybe better?) businesses of the world (the huge shopping malls, Walmarts, Costcos, Shoprites, Whole Foods, etc. etc.). Those large businesses want to be able to rent large open boxes and won't move to most small main streets (again, especially in a less affluent area). I don't think the reason Harrison Ave. and Frank E. Rodgers are devoid of significant foot traffic and substantial numbers of successful businesses is an extremely high property tax rate. There are more significant factors at play here besides property taxes - although they are less obvious.

I wish I could have an accurate picture of the town's finances - unfortunately that information (budget, town-level tax receipts, consolidated bonding information) is not placed on the town website. (Another reason the town should rework the information provided to the public, probably through an updated website.)

While I believe the town finances are significantly flawed, I wouldn't entirely place the blame on redevelopment (though that may have been part of it). Diminished business (not necessarily the town's fault - see earlier comments) in the town drives down tax receipts, a poor economy over the last two years hurt economy wide (and particularly hurt the housing market), outside revenue sources from other government agencies dried up, and ever rising health care and pension costs continue to hurt all levels of government. Without broad based pension and health care reform for government workers (teachers too) most towns will continue to struggle to keep budgets and tax hikes in check. The problem is demographics and rising health care costs. Government employees are getting laid off because the total compensation costs (salary, pension contributions, health care, vacation time, etc.) for government workers continues to increase substantially every year while total tax receipts are not increasing. Those compensation costs are largely hidden from public view, so attract very little scrutiny, while major redevelopment costs (new roads, water mains, etc.) typically garner great attention simply because they are literally more visible.

Bottom line, the town financial picture probably is bleak and may temporarily prohibit the use of town funds to redevelop certain areas, but that only strengthens the argument for the far more important reforms listed earlier in this discussion board: merge town services, reform public employee compensation, reform the political systems, etc.

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Corruption and incompetence in Harrison has been going on for decades. Many jobs have had 2 or 3 generations of family members in them. Why do different generation fill these positions? Because they grew up observing what a good paying job with little or no responsibilities or accountability is all about.

Elected officials stay in office because voter turn out is low - the citiizens believe that the incumbents will win anyway so why vote. If people do not like the elected officials, nominate someone that yu do like and then vote.

Instead of building new zones on the periphery of the town, improve the more centrally located existing facilites so more people will use them.

In order to bring new people to live in the town and spark new life to the town there must be something to draw them. There is no movie theater in the town, only a few decent restaurants (not fast food), and the only sizable green grassy public space in the town (the park) is fenced off so people cannot use the lawn. If people want to go to a park to have a picnic, play baseball, or throw a frisbee around and not worry about traffic they have to go to Kearny which have numerous parks including West Hudson Park.

The only real thing Harrison has to offer is as a transportation hub - PATH, NJ Turnpike and Rt 280 to the Parkway.

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Corruption and incompetence in Harrison has been going on for decades. Many jobs have had 2 or 3 generations of family members in them. Why do different generation fill these positions? Because they grew up observing what a good paying job with little or no responsibilities or accountability is all about.

Elected officials stay in office because voter turn out is low - the citiizens believe that the incumbents will win anyway so why vote. If people do not like the elected officials, nominate someone that yu do like and then vote.

Instead of building new zones on the periphery of the town, improve the more centrally located existing facilites so more people will use them.

In order to bring new people to live in the town and spark new life to the town there must be something to draw them. There is no movie theater in the town, only a few decent restaurants (not fast food), and the only sizable green grassy public space in the town (the park) is fenced off so people cannot use the lawn. If people want to go to a park to have a picnic, play baseball, or throw a frisbee around and not worry about traffic they have to go to Kearny which have numerous parks including West Hudson Park.

The only real thing Harrison has to offer is as a transportation hub - PATH, NJ Turnpike and Rt 280 to the Parkway.

Go to Kearny? Isn't most of West hudson park in Harrison? The only piece in Kearny is the small part between Kearny Ave and Devon St. The rest is Harrison if I'm not mistaken.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Census_B..._New_Jersey.gif

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The town should adopt a different form of municipal government from the current system, incorporating a borough administrator or manager with most executive power.

I think most people agree that appointments in the town are based off of politics or nepotism, rather than merit, and that most decisions are made for political reasons or to enrich/help current town employees, rather than for the township/citizens as a whole. (At a minimum, many of the decisions give the appearance that this is the case, even if the intentions of the decision-makers are pure.)

Rather than having unqualified individuals administer day-to-day functions, a full-time borough administrator should be hired to handle most town executive powers. The administration of a town is largely technocratic (supervising the budget creation, overseeing tax collection, handling of contracts, overseeing complex redevelopment, etc.), and should be handled by qualified, trained, and educated individuals, rather than elected politicians that lack that type of background. The politicians should set the overall plan (e.g. redevelop area X with mostly commercial development, etc.) while the manager/administrator should oversee to the details (e.g. working out the contracts with private developers, etc.). A full time administrator can supervise the full time department heads, with the mayor can work more closely with the (smaller) council to set town policy. While it is still possible to have an administrator position (and its powers) used for political purposes, it is less likely. Further, with the mayoral position becoming less time-intensive, more candidates would be willing to run for the office, possibly increasing the pool of qualified individuals that could fill the position of mayor.

A listing with some information on different forms of municipal government:

<http://www.njslom.org/types.html>

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The town should adopt a different form of municipal government from the current system, incorporating a borough administrator or manager with most executive power.

I think most people agree that appointments in the town are based off of politics or nepotism, rather than merit, and that most decisions are made for political reasons or to enrich/help current town employees, rather than for the township/citizens as a whole. (At a minimum, many of the decisions give the appearance that this is the case, even if the intentions of the decision-makers are pure.)

Rather than having unqualified individuals administer day-to-day functions, a full-time borough administrator should be hired to handle most town executive powers. The administration of a town is largely technocratic (supervising the budget creation, overseeing tax collection, handling of contracts, overseeing complex redevelopment, etc.), and should be handled by qualified, trained, and educated individuals, rather than elected politicians that lack that type of background. The politicians should set the overall plan (e.g. redevelop area X with mostly commercial development, etc.) while the manager/administrator should oversee to the details (e.g. working out the contracts with private developers, etc.). A full time administrator can supervise the full time department heads, with the mayor can work more closely with the (smaller) council to set town policy. While it is still possible to have an administrator position (and its powers) used for political purposes, it is less likely. Further, with the mayoral position becoming less time-intensive, more candidates would be willing to run for the office, possibly increasing the pool of qualified individuals that could fill the position of mayor.

A listing with some information on different forms of municipal government:

<http://www.njslom.org/types.html>

Sound ideal for this town. We don't neeed a plumber to run Harrison into the toilet! Pardon the pun!

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As a new Harrison resident, I've been appalled by governmental mismanagement and corruption (real and perceived - both are damaging) and lack of dispassionate debate on potential town improvements. I find most "discussion" has been completely vapid, filled with vitriol and hatred against individuals (sometimes justified, sometimes not; but hatred of an individual doesn't solve underlying problems), and largely unrealistic. Unfortunately I believe that not a single one of my potential reforms will or could be implemented (so I fit in the largely unrealistic category), because each one significantly negatively impacts groups with powerful vested interests (public employees, teachers, school administrators, elected officials), while the reforms taken together would only benefit all stakeholders (but to a lesser degree than they could negatively impact a small, but vocal, group). In general the electorate is not engaged and nearly completely apathetic - the people that go out to vote have powerful vested interests in getting their individual elected.

Rather than merely list a diatribe of town problem areas (it seems people talk about the problems all the time, they seem to be largely agreed upon), I wanted to offer possible improvements (it is important to note that these are possible "improvements" not necessarily "solutions"). In any event, to foster discussion, here’s my list of reforms:

Establish elected office term limits (e.g. two for Mayor and Council). Everyone is replaceable and to suggest otherwise is hubris. Entrenched politicians are near impossible to unseat and more prone to corruption and inappropriate patronage usage.

Prohibit multiple office holding (elected and appointed). For example, no one should be both Town Councilman and School Superintendent. Who will watch the watchmen?

Establish an elected Board of Education. This provides readier accountability to residents and decreases opportunity for unmeritocratic Mayoral patronage appointments.

Implement administrative pay reductions. With substantial discussion of inflated teacher compensation, leaders must lead by example: pay reductions in-line with our neighbors (for example approximate Superintendent 2009 salaries: Harrison - $217K, Kearny - $195K, Lyndhurst – 186K, Rutherford – 180K, East Rutherford – 170K).

Adjust public employee compensation (teachers too). To control spiraling costs, employees make larger medical expense contributions, retirement age raised and linked to life expectancy, implement a new employee 401K-style retirement plan with matching contributions, and prohibit “sick days” from being “banked.”

Provide better school information. Publish school report cards and a table of organization of teachers and administrators. Help residents participate in deciding educational priorities.

Reform the Fire Department. Save substantial money and create greater efficiency by merging with other local departments (e.g. Kearny) or becoming volunteer-based (e.g. North Arlington).

Merge Harrison, East Newark, and Kearny . Pool services, reduce overhead, create efficiencies, better coordinate planning.

Thoughts?

Yes, just one, I vote for you!

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Yes, just one, I vote for you!

Just wondering, when is the last time the Town of Harrison Board member list was updated? The info is obsolete, and therefore, incorrect.

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