New Year’s Day Message from Mayor Conley
January 1, 2016
Before I start my comments, let us take a few minutes to reflect and remember those who we have lost over the past year. Councilman Bill Primus, the first African-American to serve with the Fire Department and on the Borough Council. We also lost former Fire Chief Thomas Kiernan, who served Madison as a volunteer and then career firefighter for 30 years. We lost two long-time Borough committee volunteers in Bob Beaman and Ron Poeter. Bob served on the Environmental Commission along with spending countless hours volunteering with Madison’s Boy Scouts. Ron served on the Utilities Committee, Historic Preservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Adjustment. In November, we lost two who changed the business landscape; one, Peter Coviello, literally through his garden store and landscaping business. Just look at the train station for an example of his work. And Darwin Chang, who opened Four Seas, Madison’s first Chinese restaurant, which has evolved to Shanghai Jazz, a world renowned jazz club now run by his daughter and son-in-law.
And just before Christmas, we lost a Madison Hero, Police Captain Joe Cirella, a hero in a quiet way. It will be forever etched in my mind the day I had the honor to swear Joe in as Captain. There was not a dry eye in the room as Joe said “Two weeks ago I was in a hospital bed thinking I would never wear this uniform again. Today, I am ready to serve as Madison’s Police Captain.” Regretfully, as determined as Captain Cirella was, he couldn’t fight cancer. But fight he did to the end. In his final days when the nurse asked Joe if he needed anything, he didn’t ask for something for the pain, nor water, no Joe said, “I just want to go back to work.” We will miss you Captain Cirella but let it be a challenge to all of us to serve just as Joe Cirella served Madison, with pride, love and a big smile.
Let us take a moment to reflect on the life of Captain Joseph Cirella and others we have lost this past year.
Welcome Assemblyman John McKeon and our other distinguished guests Florham Park Mayor Mark Taylor and Chatham Borough Mayor Bruce Harris, the Baillie-Kimball and Wolkowitz families, friends, volunteers and residents of Madison.
Thank you to Pastor Craig Dunne of the First Baptist Church for your invocation and for the Grace Church Youth Choir for our National Anthem and the Boy Scouts for leading our Pledge of Allegiance.
Astri Baillie and Ben Wolkowitz it is great to have you back in your seats, continuing to work so hard for the residents of Madison. Welcome back to our other returning Council members, Rob Catalanello, Carmela Vitale, Bob Landrigan and Pat Rowe. For the second year in a row, we are all returning. I am honored to be the first Mayor since Betty Baumgartner in 1984 to be delivering a message kicking off a second term. Yes, I’m proud to have been given a second term but this says much more about the team we have in place and the staff and leadership working for Madison. And it’s a reminder that we cannot sit back and just hope for the best.
Through strategic planning with capital, our utilities, finances and communications we have laid a path to the future, albeit a path that will have some surprise twists and turns. It is a path that will bring us to an important crossroads, one that must be navigated.
We all know we live in a special town. There is the sense of community as demonstrated on Wednesday with Main Street lined with those giving Captain Cirella a proper farewell. I don’t think anyone can compete with Madison’s sense of community but when you ask families why they choose Madison we almost always hear it is our schools, the Downtown and the character of our neighborhoods.
Our schools do not fall to this body to supervise, but working together we will make them stronger. Much of my first term involved the redevelopment and sale of the Green Village Road School. By working with the Board of Education, we maximized the value of the property and ensured a funding stream through a shared PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). In December, we closed on the sale with KRE with the Board of Education receiving $11 million to reinvest in our schools and the Borough receiving $1 million to reduce our short term debt on the turf fields (one of the goals I stated four years ago). With this sale and the leadership of the Board of Education, the schools future is in good hands. This leaves us with our Downtown and the character of our neighborhoods.
Crescent, Pomeroy, Greenwood, Ridgedale all have recently lost (or are about to lose) historic homes; all have streetscapes that are forever changed. We have an interesting challenge – people are attracted to Madison because of the character of our neighborhoods and because Madison is a desirable community to live; developers are also attracted to Madison. Historic homes then come down to squeeze a few more houses and we lose the character that attracted families to Madison in the first place. We cannot save all the older homes but to sit back and do nothing is not an option. In the next few months with the assistance of Jeff Gertler and Astri Baillie, I will be pulling together a town hall meeting to address this issue. We will look at what is working in other towns, we will look at our zoning laws, which may stand in the way of preservation and yes, we will look at striking the balance between property rights and historic preservation.
As I talk about historic preservation and the character of Madison, our great Downtown certainly and literally is front and center. Thankfully through the work of the DDC, our elected officials, and staff dedicated to downtown development, Madison has avoided many of the challenges that have plagued Main Street USA, but we are at a crossroads. Some storefronts have had extended vacancies, others turnover all too often, and recently we have been hit with Blue Ridge Mountain Sports ceasing operations in all of their locations including in the historic James Building and a “For Sale” sign on the movie theatre. We are indeed at a crossroads.
I recently attended a workshop on revitalizing downtowns; the number one success tool is putting residents in town, as it was stated, “Everyone wants a bakery in their downtown but when it opens no one shows up. Put residents around the bakery and you have a success story.” Certainly in the redevelopment of the former Green Village Road School providing 135 housing units in a location that encourages a “leave your car at home” lifestyle will help feed our downtown businesses but this is just one step towards a stronger downtown. We need a town center with the right mix of businesses. Landlords need to be given the tools to succeed and businesses must be able to open without excessive red tape. The Downtown Development Commission and the Planning Board have already begun to work on the challenge but as discussed at our December Council meeting we need professional support to guide us. I have asked our Strategic Planning Guru, Ben Wolkowitz to lead a group that will be tasked with defining our needs related to downtown development, leading to an RFP on the street within the first quarter. Area malls and Amazon cannot be an excuse for vacant store fronts. They are a challenge for us to redefine our downtown and become the thriving community center that Madison deserves.
Four years ago, I set forth a lofty agenda of work, much has been accomplished. We now have our new work orders and we are up to the task.
And now to all a Happy and Healthy New Year!