The air was definitely different at Town Hall on this Tuesday night for the regular agenda meeting. Maybe just metaphorically it was “cleaner”, less stifling, fresher, newer, and invigorating. And that had nothing to do with the cold outside. Inside there was a new attitude. The public was able to speak their mind longer. Instead of blank, dismissive, avoiding stares at the table top, and terse one-minute warning – questions came forth about citizens’ concerns. A cordial and receptive conversation had started about new ideas.
For those of us that grasped what kind of change was taking place – it was really a new day. The CFO had been sent home to spend time with her family after working a full Holiday weekend. The Mayor at the beginning of the meeting, noted she was no longer needed on a regular basis. The Mayor had dismissed himself out of respect for the legislative process. Not that he was avoiding the public, as he also noted that he was determined to have a town hall once a month in every section of town going forward.
For someone like me, having run for Federal office and having the experience of debating my opponent in front of hundreds of people, my very own townhall was an extraordinarily intimidating place, as it was for so many in the past few years. Why? Because those behind the dais had all the power, and didn’t quite wield it with the appropriate humility you’d expect from a public servant. Not at all interested in a reasoned conversation. I had been mocked by the previous mayor for espousing the importance of transparency in a democracy. I was told I was “full of it, Tom” – when noting that this was Jefferson’s dream – that an informed public could be capable of self-governance. I was accused of backhanded partisan deception by a late former councilman for advocating for an ordinance to slow the flow of money that potentially corrupted our government. The same ordinance was dismantled by a currently sitting councilman with the help of the previous attorney. I was denied service to the town on committees for blatant partisan reasons by a former councilman (now freeholder). It wasn’t fun, and at the risk of giving them any satisfaction – I’ll say it was quite humiliating.
So – yes the air had definitely changed in the council chamber.
On Monday – the cameras caught all the excitement of the day as the Governor-Elect, former governor, former mayor and so many other dignitaries and community leaders participated in the change of guard. But in a quieter moment at the end of all the festivities – there was another moment that was missed.
When getting ready to leave, I had warmed up my car and pulled around to the front of the building to pick up my family. I debated whether I should park in the “Reserved Mayor” spot as no car was there. Out of the front door came the new Mayor walking toward me with no overcoat and just a knit cap… and a screwdriver in his hand. He proceeded to dismantle the “Reserved Mayor” sign stating that it was being converted to “Handicapped”. He could walk a little further from now on to give someone a chance to participate in government with just a little less hassle.
Yep – it’s quite a new day at Parsippany Town Hall.