Chair Rebecca L. Williams was elected to her first full three-year term in November 2019 and is serving her first term as Chair of the Union County Board of Commissioners this year.
Known for an emphasis on constituent outreach, fiscal issues, support for arts and culture initiatives, and quality of life matters, Chair Williams brings a high level of commitment to her service. She advocates for county-local shared services that save tax dollars while improving efficiency and has been in the forefront of LGBTQ advocacy, working with the Union County Office of LGBTQ Affairs to address housing, senior services, education, health, public safety, community engagement, and other areas of concern. In 2018, Chair Williams was honored by Gov. Phil Murphy as a “Champion of Equality” for her LGBTQ advocacy, in addition to receiving other honors from agencies such as the YWCA of Union County, Emerge-NJ, and the United Way of Union County.
In 2021, alongside her colleagues, Williams broke ground on Union County’s first inclusive LGBTQ+ affirming park space, located within Cedar Brook Park. As Chair of the Policy and Administrative Code Committee in 2020 and 2021, she was instrumental in updating ordinances, policies, and codes. She has also served on the Fiscal, Public Safety/Homeland Security, Parks and Programs, and Open Space and Historic Preservation Trust Board Committees, respectively.
Chair Williams prides herself on her openness and accessibility to all constituents. She remains a “grassroots” public servant, reaching out and following up with constituents to ensure their concerns are resolved. A frequent speaker on women’s and LGBTQ+ empowerment, Commissioner Williams has served on panels for The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers’s Eagleton Institute, The National Council of Negro Women, and Garden State Equality among many other organizations. Prior to her election to the Union County Commissioner Board, Williams served two terms on the Plainfield City Council in support of a progressive agenda and economic development, contributing to Plainfield’s revitalization.
In addition to her legislative work, Chair Williams is also a full-time faculty member of the Humanities Division at Essex County College in Newark, where she teaches American Literature, African American Literature, Effective Speech, English Composition, and Women’s Literature. She currently serves on the College Curriculum Committee, as Chair of the 2022 Essex County College Humanities Conference, and as co-faculty advisor to the college’s Gay/Straight Alliance.
“Connecting Our Community” Initiatives
“Technology & Infrastructure: “Being Connected Matters” Union County is currently in the process of developing an all-inclusive countywide fiber ring. Funded through dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, this fiber ring will be completed in three phases. Phases 1 & 2 are set to begin early in 2022. Connectivity between County buildings and our parks system will be addressed in these first two phases. Phase 3 will add municipal buildings and police departments to the network. Once complete, the life expectancy of this fiber network is 20 years, and will aid to bridge the digital divide to better ensure public safety and overall network reliability.
“Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing”: Chair Williams will work with the Department of Human Services on additional programs and services in reference to the mental health of the County community.
“Connections through Cultural Enrichment and Recreation” & “Connecting & Engaging Residents”: A series of programs will be introduced that will not only help define and express who Union County is as a community, but also helps significantly contribute and enrich its ever-changing environment. From the creation of an Arts and Cultural Drama Development program for emerging playwrights to the opening of the all-inclusive park at Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield and an Intergenerational Community Engagement program, where young people can work with senior citizens on different projects, the County of Union will continue to infuse arts, culture and recreation within its fabric, helping to lead the way of a place of distinction.
“Connecting Our Community”
- Good evening everyone and thank you for joining me at this year’s 2022 Re-Organization Meeting.
- And while you see that this is not our traditional Reorganization meeting, due to the surge in positive Covid cases – I am still very happy to be here – in person at the first meeting of the New Year. Public safety is one of our top priorities and we will continue to make the necessary decisions to keep us as healthy as possible.
- Before I begin, I would like to take a moment of silence in remembrance of our longtime County Surrogate Jim LaCorte – our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends – may he rest in peace.
- Congratulations to Commissioners Mirabella and Palmieri-Mouded on their successful election and a special welcome to our newest elected Commissioner, James Baker, as well as those who won their elections in Legislative Districts 20, 21 and 22, across Union County and especially to Governor Murphy and Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver in winning their reelection.
- I would also like to recognize Judge Walsh who is here with us today and congratulate Senator Nick Scutari as the new Senate President Designee. Your previous work demonstrates what a strong advocate you have been for all in New Jersey and this designation will bring so much to Union County. I am looking forward in seeing what’s to come.
- It is with great honor to stand before you for the first time as the Chair for 2022.
- In 2021, our theme was Union County Rising — and despite the circumstances, we did rise – thanks to former Chairman Al Mirabella. It takes a great leader to guide us during a time of uncertainty – and it was his ability to adapt and change direction as needed that took us to new heights.
- Al’s management and dedication over the past two years is why we were able face this difficult and tragic time and rise through some very, very dark days.
- I would also be remiss if I did not thank the rest of the Board of Commissioners as well as all of the staff, partners and volunteers for their unconditional support.
- The unparalleled magnitude of the horrors wrought by this pandemic caused many of us to pause and reflect on how we measure the important aspects of our lives. And even as we continue to work to build back our economy from the devastating effects of the pandemic – I would like to recognize that while it was not easy to get there – our Board of Commissioners was able to provide all the services, programs and help our residents needed – at a zero percent tax increase for the last two years.
- We stayed connected as a county, a state and a nation – and as we continue to come to terms with all of the changes – it is important for us to remember how we came together.
- While we cannot foresee how long the pandemic will last and the final impact it will have on all
– it was our connections and the prompt actions of County personnel and partnerships that we were able get through it.
- Public meetings were held virtually, government services were accessible to residents online or via the phone and communications were increased through our website and social media accounts to maintain a high-level of information flow to our residents.
- In addition, we worked with Public Safety, Human Services and several other departments to make sure the County had the necessary resources to directly reach our residents – and we took action.
- I don’t know anyone who has not suffered tremendous loss throughout the past two years—who hasn’t had to bury a loved one or mourn from a distance via Zoom or standing six feet away from those they love—but that has been dictated by the pandemic to keep us safe.
- To that end, we mobilized the first county-run COVID testing site in the state of New Jersey at Kean University; we secured vaccine sites for our residents at several locations throughout the county, including our Mobile Unit; we made sure those experiencing an overwhelming loss of jobs, family members or friends or just general hardships – had food on their table from our food distribution programs; expanded job fairs and job training programs and we helped provide social services to all of those who needed extra help.
- When the vaccine rolled out, my colleagues on the Board were overwhelmed with phone calls, emails or texts from residents who wanted assistance immediately. And through the tireless efforts of our County Manager Ed Oatman and his team, we were able to meet those needs.
- With our County team on the forefront, we made sure that the proper safety protocols were in place to protect our employees and residents, while still providing the services they deserve.
- There is no more important responsibility to us as commissioners—as a county government— than to keep our residents safe, and to provide ways for them to live, thrive, and succeed.
- So, as we continue to move forward – my Chair initiatives for 2022 are titled “Connecting Our Community.” As an educator teaching by way of Zoom for three semesters, I know firsthand the struggles my students had trying to access WIFI. I have a goal of ensuring that we remain connected – and as we expand our ways that we communicate with residents and them to connect with us – we will continue to provide them with ways to do so.
- My first initiative will be called “Technology & Infrastructure: “Being Connected Matters.”
- We normally think of infrastructure as electricity, water systems or transit. But in recent years and a generational shift, we are seeing that a communication infrastructure matters.
- So, one of the most important initiatives we will be undertaking this year is getting our County more connected – we are currently in the process of developing an all-inclusive countywide fiber ring.
- Funded through dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, this fiber ring will be completed in three phases. Phases 1 & 2 are set to begin early in 2022. Connectivity between County buildings and our parks system will be addressed in these first two phases.
- Phase 3 will add municipal buildings and police departments to the network. Once complete, the life expectancy of this fiber network is 20 years, and will aid to bridge the digital divide to better ensure public safety and overall network reliability.
- One of the biggest concerns that was highlighted even more during the pandemic was the social isolation that many residents faced after having to quarantine.
- My next initiative is called “Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing.”
- Many experienced stress, anxiety or grief after not being able to report to work, visit their loved ones, friends and neighbors or just seeing friendly faces in public.
- The mental and emotional wellbeing of our residents is of utmost importance as we move forward into the New Year and I am going to focus on exploring and adding to the mental health services that we already offer in Union County.
- From providing community education and a connection to our programs to developing new strategies and ways to reach our residents – I will work the Department of Human Services to continue to ensure our constituents know they are not alone.
- Strong connections to the arts, culture, education and recreation are essential characteristics of a community that values everyone’s quality of life.
- My next two initiatives: “Connections through Cultural Enrichment and Recreation” and “Connecting & Engaging Residents,” introduces a series of programs that will not only help define and express who Union County is as a community, but also helps significantly contribute and enrich our ever-changing environment.
- I will develop an Arts and Cultural Drama Development program, which would be specifically open for emerging playwrights to develop their work in funding staged readings, hiring actors, renting facilities such as UCPAC and more.
- Infusing arts, culture and recreation within our county’s fabric, it will continue to lead us as a place of distinction.
- From the creation of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs to flag raisings and monthly empowerment conversations, Union County has made great strides in making sure everyone feels included.
- And this year, we will cut the ribbon on the new inclusive park at Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield, which was designed with the idea to make all residents feel included and accepted. It will feature a playground with intergenerational attractions, traditional playground equipment and auditory and musical expression and the first meditation maze in Union County.
- Continuing with the theme of everyone feeling connected and involved, I am creating an Intergenerational Community Engagement program, in which young people can work with senior citizens on different projects.
- Social connectedness for those who are especially shut in, is extremely important for the health of our senior population. And as I mentioned earlier, throughout the pandemic, I recognized the importance of maintaining relationships and not being isolated.
- The simplest things such as phone calls, writing cards, virtual hospital or home visits could change the mental health of someone and this project would be great in including our most vulnerable population.
- The challenges we faced were countless. They were not always easy to solve. But we had the opportunity and the resources to face them head-on.
- Our Union County team was available and prepared to work together during a year of hardship and loss – and we owe it to those who elected us – to build a county that is truly heathier, connected and stronger.
- I am so honored and committed to serve all of you as Chair in 2022 and I am certain that if we stay connected and work together as one Union County – our future will be bright.
- May you know that I am here for you, we are here for you and we will get through anything together. Thank you.