WESTFIELD — Westfield kicked off the new year by officially swearing in its four newest council members during the town’s annual reorganization meeting on Tuesday.
Representative Tom Kean, Jr. (NJ07) joined the council on the dais to administer the oaths of office to Todd Saunders (Ward 1), Michael Armento (Ward 2) and Michal Domogala (Ward 3).
David Kiefer (Ward 4), meanwhile, was sworn in by James Bayard Smith, Esq., a personal-injury lawyer from Smith and Williams on Central Avenue.
The four Republican council members, who ran on a collective platform of responsible development and governmental transparency, won their seats this past November and will each serve a four-year term.
“I’d like to officially welcome our new council members tonight and reiterate that we are committed to collegially working together in the best interest of Westfield,” Mayor Shelley Brindle said, adding that the new bi-partisan governing body closely resembles the one that she was first elected to in 2017.
Councilwomen Dawn Mackey and Linda Habgood were named as this year’s acting mayor and alternate acting mayor, respectively.
Elected officials from around the region — including Senator Jon Bramnick, Assemblywomen Michele Matsikoudis and Nancy Muñoz and, among others, former council members Mark LoGrippo and Sam Della Ferra — joined the community at Town Hall on Tuesday to help congratulate the council’s new members.
This year’s invocation was delivered by Rabbi Ethan Prosnit of Temple Emanu-El.
The new council’s first series of official votes were somewhat split along party lines on Tuesday when Mr. Kiefer, Mr. Armento, Mr. Saunders and Mr. Domogala voiced their opposition to re-hiring Town Attorney Tom Jardim based on his opinion that the residents of Westfield were not entitled to a nonbinding referendum in relation to the One Westfield Place redevelopment plan.
“I don’t believe he adequately discharged his responsibilities to this town,” said Mr. Kiefer, “and to be clear, his duties should be to this whole town, not just to the mayor and a few select council members.”
The four returning council members and Mayor Brindle voted to approve Mr. Jardim’s re-appointment.
The four new council members also either voted against or abstained from weighing in on two resolutions from the Public Safety, Transportation and Parking Committee pertaining to the appointments of a redevelopment traffic consultant and a redevelopment parking consultant.
In her annual state of the town address, Mayor Brindle recounted some of last year’s highlights, listing “a historically- low tax rate; major investments in public safety; ordinances addressing storm water runoff, historic preservation, pedestrian and traffic safety; progress on our affordable-housing obligations, including housing for at risk veterans; and laying the groundwork for an exciting future for our downtown that will ensure a vibrant, safe and affordable community for future generations,” as some of the council’s most important accomplishments of the past 12 months.
Looking to the new year, Mayor Brindle said she and the council will work to “maintain exceptional fiscal oversight,” by continuing to seek out new sources of potential revenue for the town, “conservatively managing” debt levels and utilizing development revenue, including PILOT funds, to “accelerate capital projects and school district priorities” without adding any undue burden to local taxpayers.
In speaking to public safety, Mayor Brindle said the town will accelerate the immediate purchase of 10 additional License Plate Readers to supplement the 15 scanners that were installed in 2023 and support the local police department in its continued efforts to combat home break-ins and car thefts. The council also will introduce a new neighborhood lighting initiative over the coming weeks, Mayor Brindle said, that will “address all street-light outages with PSE&G by July 1 and identify pedestrian crossings where enhanced lighting is needed.”
Other goals for 2024, Mayor Brindle said, include plans to pave 15 more miles of municipally-owned roads, convert Quimby Street into a “permanent one-way, flexible festival street,” and advance discussions that began in 2015 to construct a new main firehouse on Central Avenue.
Mayor Brindle also provided residents with updates on One Westfield Place (HBC|Streetworks) development, which will be going before the planning board for site-plan approval in the first quarter, at which time the redevelopers will be providing updated renderings and architectural details.
Further, the mayor announced that, “We will be establishing a new working committee to devise a recreation plan for Tamaques Park, comprised of representatives from the Recreation Commission, sports leagues, Lifelong Westfield, and Tamaques neighbors, in order to fully inform decisions around parking, safety, access, amenities, circulation and lighting — including assessing the potential for permanent relocation of the Westfield Ice Rink and field improvements.”
The next regular meeting of the Westfield mayor and council will be held at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 16, in the town hall.