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Safety First

Tonight, I delivered the following remarks to Newark City Council:

" The issue of our safety forces has come up on numerous occasions in the past year since I started attending these meetings regularly. Each time that something involving our police officers or firefighters has emerged, the debate has been contentious, and appropriately so. From the fire station to our dispatchers, the city has had a lot to consider and there is still much to discuss as the year progresses. We, the people of Newark, deserve nothing less than a prolonged debate about how best to improve safety. Of course, the key is a transparent and lengthy exchange of ideas and concerns as opposed to a hastily-concocted, opaque set of measures forced through with little regard for the consequences beyond what the numbers tell us.

Providing for the public’s safety is a top priority for any community; second only to the issue of job creation. Isn’t it best to listen to what our safety forces have to say about the policies which affect their jobs? Do we not owe it to them - the men and women putting their lives on the line for all of us - to ensure that they are properly equipped, adequately paid, and that they have all the help that we can possibly give? Lest we forget, these people aren’t merely public servants, but are citizens with concerns all the same. If anything, their dual role as an officer or firefighter and a citizen should make their input all the more valuable when considering any change in policy. Or, do they cease to be a relevant member of society once they offer themselves to a life of public servitude?

Yes, resources are limited, and we must utilize them responsibly. Then again, how responsible is it to trim the number of available firefighters while devoting funds to building a new fire station? Could we not have just made improvements to the current structure? How responsible is it to outsource city services to the county despite the warnings we are hearing from the union entrusted to represent the concerns of our officers? If all of our decisions must be guided purely by the goal of saving money – irrespective of any consequences -, why not just outsource all of our services to the less-accountable county level of government?

That would be easier, am I right? Just contract everything out to our three comfortable, seemingly politically-invincible County Commissioners. Perhaps handing over the responsibility of paving our roads to them should be done as well, since we find it so difficult to wrestle with the tough question of whether or not to sacrifice at all in the interest of making our roadways safe for travel. Yes, outsourcing is an easy answer, and so is ignoring the pleas of our safety forces. While the easy path is tempting, our blind subservience to efficiency and avoiding asking the people to contribute anything more to the greater good is crippling this community and making us less safe in the process.

No, we can’t afford – as things currently stand – to make all the needed improvements, but it is this government’s sacred obligation to protect the citizenry as best as you can. Simply stated, unless each elected official here is tirelessly working with our officers, firefighters, their unions, their superiors, and the community as a whole to find the best course of action then you are being derelict in your sworn responsibilities. Partisanship matters not, ideology matters not, all that matters is your oath of office and the fact that each of you is first and foremost a servant to we the people. All I ask here is that you listen, with a truly open mind, to the valuable input of the people we entrust with protecting us and our loved ones."

For the first time in quite a while, my remarks evoked a reaction from at least one member of Council; Councilman Marmie. Given that finances are his primary issue, he was sure to - respectfully - remind me that we have limited resources (which I acknowledged in my comments, as you can plainly see) and that we can't operate with a debt. He also wanted to be sure to point out that each member of our City Government cares about public safety (which I never seriously doubted) and that none of our safety forces are going to drop their career in serving us because of how they are treated (not sure why this point was necessary, as - again - I have no doubt as to the integrity of each man and woman serving us). When the meeting was adjourned, a couple members of the Hall administration politely approached me and encouraged me to engage them for information about our city's budget (which I intend to do). To put it lightly, I felt that it was a nice exchange of thoughts, and hopefully the beginning of a productive relationship.

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