Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Re-Org 2014
Remarks of Chairman Christopher Hudak
January 5, 2014
STRONG GOVERNMENT AND STRONG SERVICES
Members of the Clergy, Judge Cassidy, Judge Marshall, members of the Freeholder Board, elected officials, friends, family, and citizens of Union County— thank you for joining us as we celebrate the arrival of 2014.
I would like to begin by thanking my family for their love and support: my wife, Terri, who is my biggest supporter, my sounding board, and my best friend, and my daughter Catie. When I come home at night, close the front door, and hear the word “daddy!” it makes even the toughest day a better one.
I also thank my father John and my mother, Sue, who instilled in me the honor of a life in public service. I am a proud resident of the City of Linden, and this day would not have been possible for me without the support of many friends and mentors, including the late Senator Joe Suliga, our current Senator Nick Scutari, Senator Ray Lesniak, and our City Clerk, Joe Bodek.
I would like to thank our Democratic Chairman, Assemblyman Jerry Green, for his leadership and confidence, and I thank my colleagues on the Board for their support in selecting me as Chairman. It is an honor.
Helping me to lead the team is our new Vice Chairman, Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh. He has served Union County with distinction for his two terms.
I also wish to congratulate my colleagues Linda Carter, Bette Jane Kowalski and Sergio Granados, as well as America’s Sheriff, Ralph Froehlich on their installations today.
Outgoing Chairman Linda Carter deserves a round of applause for her tireless effort in leading this board through a challenging but successful year for county government.
Working through Chairman Carter and County Manager Al Faella, we made progress on a number of important issues last year, including Runnells Hospital and the County Jail. We will continue to examine further efficiencies this year.
As per Runnells, the Union County Improvement Authority continues to scrutinize responses to the RFP regarding its operation. Within the next year, we will strive to take action that will secure the future of a facility that cares for our most vulnerable residents. This is a crucial decision as the facility continues to face financial hardship and reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
A highlight of 2013 was the implementation of the UC STEP program. Under Chairman Carter’s leadership, the Board launched UC STEP, a unique program that promoted positive youth development through topics such as leadership, personal growth, and civic engagement.
Participants were charged with developing a community service campaign to be undertaken at high schools throughout Union County in 2014.
With more than 4,600 votes cast, I am pleased to announce that Support 4 Soldiers was the winner.
Let me tell you what they did: Support 4 Soldiers will set up collection points at High Schools throughout the County and other locations to collect supplies to send to active military personnel. This is a fantastic idea, and I am pleased to announce that we will make this part of our County initiatives for 2014.
With us today are members of the team who developed the winning concept.
I have asked Freeholder Carter to continue leading our efforts to further expand UCSTEP. We will also continue previous Freeholder initiatives including the Sensory Friendly Theater offered at UC PAC, and Union County Means Business.
As we gather here today in the midst of a national recovery, there are still many who need our help and much left to accomplish. As the theme of our initiatives for 2014, we pledge to provide “Strong Government and Strong Services” needed to keep Union County moving forward.
As my first initiative, we will focus on new economic development projects that will contribute to the vitality of Union County. These projects will create over 150 new construction jobs this year, and add to the economic impacts in their communities.
The projects include:
- the new Family Courthouse in Elizabeth scheduled to open in 2015;
- the expansion/renovation of facilities at Union County College in Cranford and Plainfield,
- and an expansion of the Vocational Technical Schools, adding new classrooms, science labs and athletic facilities.
We will break ground on both Union County College and Vo Tech School projects later this year.
Sustaining our economic growth requires planning, “if we fail to plan, we plan to fail.” The second half of this initiative, titled “Union County 2030” addresses the necessity to develop a blueprint for the future.
We are putting together a regional planning effort with groups such as the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, the Heldrich Center at Rutgers University, and others.
We will focus on creating jobs, and developing plans and surveys dealing with sustainable development, transportation, and economic competitiveness. We will push the expansion of the Raritan Valley Midtown Direct Service as a critical economic development component.
And we will address Post Sandy planning by focusing on identifying and storm vulnerabilities and fixing them. With strategic planning Union County will be “stronger than the next storm.”
We also have big plans for our parks system this year. Our second initiative “Turf and Build” announces several new turf field installations and recreational improvements in Rahway, Elizabeth, and Roselle.
Over the past several years, the County has enjoyed great success with turf field installations at Rizzuto Park, Snyder Avenue field, Glenside Avenue field, and Wheeler Park field.
Turf fields, a synthetic grass surface consisting of a mixture of rubber and sand underneath, allows for playing fields to endure intense usage. It requires less maintenance, saves money and manpower hours, and is safe for our children to compete on.
We have identified four new turf, track and light projects that will be rolled in over the course of the next few years. The locations are at Warinanco Park in Roselle; Mattano Park in Elizabeth; Madison Avenue and Rahway River parks in Rahway.
One of the larger projects at Warinanco Park will see a ground breaking in the Fall. It will involve the reconstruction of the track and former stadium area to include a field, lights, and new track area. And we are also proud to have the City of Rahway as a partner with us in improving the Rahway River Park, which is also scheduled for a groundbreaking this year. This project will include a grandstand, football field, lighting, and track.
Along with improving and increasing recreational opportunities, we will also be encouraging and rewarding healthy habits. My third initiative—Union County Knows HOW—Health, Opportunity and Wellness—is aimed at increasing health awareness Countywide.
We will partner with Overlook Medical Center, which is developing its “Healthy Neighbor, Healthy Neighborhood” program. The hospital and County will engage in events that involve free health screenings, inoculations and information distribution. Overlook will also work with community leaders to identify local health needs as part of their overall plan.
We will also work to promote health awareness among our employees, which will not only promote good health, but also help stabilize our insurance costs. The Department of Personnel will introduce an Office weight loss program, conduct a wellness fair, and continue to offer biometrics screenings. We will also be sending a letter to employees to ensure they get their yearly physicals.
My fourth initiative will address the importance of social media and the internet in today’s supercharged information nation. Internet technologies have fundamentally dismantled and reworked how governments distribute information. Social media is the number one online activity and there are more devices connected to the internet than there are people on the entire planet.
In the past five years, we have redesigned our webpage, created UC FIRST Alert, created County Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube accounts in the effort to better inform our residents.
The information nation continues to evolve, and my fourth initiative addresses this evolution in reaching our residents. We will soon complete a revamp of the webpage to allow residents to better navigate the site. We will also encourage web page users to receive or subscribe to informational updates on county services.
Today we have opened an Instagram account to increase social media outreach. As we speak, we are posting real-time pictures of our reorganization and we will continue to post photos of events throughout the year.
I am also proud to announce that as part of this initiative, Union County will begin offering free Wi-Fi service in some of our parks and county facilities.
The Cities of Chicago, New York, and San Francisco have all embarked successfully on Wi-Fi programs. While most of these projects have some cost component, our initial service offerings will be free, but on a smaller, targeted scale with an eye toward future expansion.
We are conducting an analysis and aim to offer the service at the following locations in 2014: Wheeler Pool in Linden and Ulrich Pool in Rahway River park during the Summer months; Warinanco Park Skating Rink in Roselle; the County Clerk’s Office in Westfield; Trailside Nature and Science Center in Mountainside; and possibly part of Nomahegan Park. We already offer free Wi-Fi at the Administration Building, Runnells Hospital, and at the Galloping Hill Clubhouse.
Imagine surfing the web pool side at Wheeler park during those lazy summer days. Posting videos of your child’s first ice skating lesson or hockey game at Warinanco’s skating rink. Checking your email while waiting for your passport picture at the Clerk’s office in Westfield on a Saturday. Using your cell phone at the Trailside Center to explore and get information about the exhibits. All this and much more will be possible as we develop this new initiative and continue to bring residents the services they want and deserve.
My fifth and final initiative addresses public safety.
Overall Union County residents have much to be proud of. The Star Ledger yesterday reported that Union County led the state with the largest decrease in crime—a 12 percent drop in 2012.
The County of Union continues to be a leader in providing shared emergency services.
This includes our fire mutual aid system. Last year, Union County mutual aid played a key role in putting out the Seaside Heights Boardwalk fire through the use of the Neptune pumper system.
Our shared services also include our County Police Dispatch, which continues to expand, saving tax dollars for the towns that use it. And it includes our EMS shared service, which fills a gap and saves lives.
But when it comes to public safety, there continues to one issue that plagues New Jersey, and threatens the safety of our Country. And that is Gun Control.
In Union County, this Board has passed resolutions acknowledging an epidemic of gun violence and calling on the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban. We have lobbied and pleaded yet Congress has failed yet to pass any meaningful reform.
And just this week, the Christie Administration declined to defend two of New Jersey’s toughest gun laws in a high-profile case decided Monday by a state appeals court
In the 13 months since Newtown, more than 35,000 Americans have died from guns, a staggering number of 90 or so a day. Here is another statistic that should shock you even if you aren’t a parent: approximately 7,500 children go to hospitals with gun wounds each year, and at least 500 are killed. In Union County, there were 22 homicides in 2013. The vast majority resulted from gunfire.
Union County residents are tired of waiting for meaningful reform. And so is this Board. This Freeholder Board does not have the authority to regulate firearms. But we do have the ability to do business only with responsible vendors of guns and ammunitions. I am announcing that Union County will become the second governmental agency in the nation to ask vendors who wish to sell guns to our County’s law enforcement agencies socially responsible questions on gun safety.
I wish to acknowledge Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop who is here today for his leadership on this issue.
Union County will ask the following questions:
- What do you do as a vendor to combat illegal gun trafficking and illegal gun crime?
- Do you sell assault weapons for civilian use?
- Do you agree not to sell certain models of firearms for civilian use?
- Do you fund research related to gun violence and smart gun technology?
We need to hold accountable those who sell and those who manufacture guns. We need to transform the thinking about guns, and it starts today in Union County.
As a complement to this, I am announcing we will conduct another gun buyback program. Last year in July, more than 1,000 guns were collected through the Gun buyback conducted in Elizabeth, Linden, and Plainfield. It was one of the most successful buybacks conducted throughout the state in conjunction with the State Attorney General’s Office.
We are striving to have an announcement for the 2014 buyback in time for the Summer.
As you can see, it takes teamwork to provide strong government and strong services. So I call on you to join together–my colleagues, our workers, residents and the many partners and friends in this room today. Any great change or improvement rarely comes as the result of an individual effort.
I thank you for coming today, and I wish all a very Happy and Joyous New Year.