August 2020

By Peter Jacklin

The recently quarantined 4th of July holiday inspired me to read the Declaration of Independence once again. Few people read the document beyond the famous “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” words. Deeper into the document, the authors list 27 grievances against the king and the British government. The grievances can be categorized as abuses of power, deafness to the people’s wishes and needs, ignoring laws, making public records gathering a fatiguing exercise and abolishing citizen’s representative bodies. These are still with us after 244 years.

To place this in perspective, at that time, the king ascended to the throne from a succession of royal British families, created by inter-marriage with European royalty. He reigned until he either abdicated or passed away. He was influenced by aristocrats, advisers and courtiers. All of this led to a self-serving and citizen-deaf government.

Today, in the City of Orange, we have a succession of the same politicians sitting in office. Mayor Mark Murphy has served in various capacities since he was appointed in 1993, giving musical chairs a new meaning. Mayor pro tem Mike Alvarez has been around since 1996. The other three seats have been graced by a carousel of the same names – Dumitru, Whitaker, Bilodeau, Cavecche, Steiner, to name a few.

To protect and serve
Like the old British Empire, these public servants have failed to listen, have acted inconsistently, and have their “Orange Empire” in a sorry state. The city has been led by developers; is overpopulated; the pension burden is unbearable; the traffic has grown to be monstrous; there are too few parks; affordable housing is nonexistent; homeless wander the streets; and, there is absolutely no vision for the city – except build more houses that cost the city more to service than they generate in revenue.

Who are the current aristocrats, advisers and courtiers? They include favored real estate developers, real estate brokers, the city’s large corporations, and lobbyists. Our city council can be described as indifferent to the public’s needs, mesmerized by mystical sales propaganda and supportive of agenda items of favored friends.

The council hides behind COVID-19 and refuses to allow the public to participate in council meetings. Public comments may be submitted in writing, but they are not read during the council
session. This hinders those who prefer to speak from the heart, in real-time. Petitioning the government no longer exists in our city.

Out of focus
This council has ignored state law and its own municipal ordinances that prohibit the growing pile of toxic waste at the Sully-Miller site in East Orange.

It abstains from its role as administrator of state water rights on Santiago Creek. From time to time, and as the situation allows, the council has appointed favorites to open council seats, preventing Orange citizens from electing their own representatives.

And justice for all
Council members have ignored long-standing land-use planning documents. They act inconsistently in their decision-making, favoring the mighty and wealthy.

Is this how a representative government acts for its citizens? Not at all! What can be done? Our founding fathers show the way.

The Declaration tells us that it is our right and our duty to “throw off such government” that ignores our grievances and becomes despotic in nature and presence. This is not an advocacy for an “Orange revolution” in the streets. Luckily, this royalty can begin to be thrown off this November, in a democratic manner.

Under the new districting provisions, four seats on the council are available. For the first time, each seat in the upcoming election represents district voting, along with the hope of new faces, new and better messages and policies. Change is needed. Change is possible. In the districts, there is a fresh wind favoring change.

The mayor’s position remains elected by the city-at-large every two years. Service as mayor is limited to three terms; Murphy has one more to go. Our current mayor’s policies, beliefs and friends have influenced our city for the better part of his adult life – far too long. The city needs a new vision and direction for the middle of the 21st century. Can Mayor Murphy provide it? We’ll see in the next few months. A fresh wind needs to blow through the mayor’s office as well.

Peter Jacklin serves as a director of the Orange Park Association. The views presented here do not reflect the views of the Association.

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An opportunity too good to miss