The Madison Mayor and Council’s annual Reorganization Meeting took place on Sunday, Jan. 5. and Mayor Bob Conley was sworn in for his third term, Councilwoman Maureen Byrne for her second term and Councilwoman Rachel Ehrlich for her first term. Conducting the swearing in was New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.
The following is the full text of Madison Mayor Robert Conley’s address:
Thank you to Reverend Kate Hillis, the lead pastor for Madison Methodist Church, for your invocation. Thank you to our Police Honor Guard for the presentation of colors, our Patriotic Celebrations Committee for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance. I want to thank the Patriotic Celebrations for their work in making sure we give our veterans the recognition they deserve and that we never forget those who gave their lives for our Country. I also want to thank you for your service to our Country; the volunteers for this committee represent all the branches of military service. Moreover, thank you to Rose City Songsters for the singing of our National Anthem and a song setting the right tone for the New Year.
Welcome to the families and friends of Pat, Maureen and Rachel (outgoing Councilman Patrick Rowe; Councilwoman Maureen Byrne, beginning her second term; and new Councilwoman Rachel Ehrlich). Maureen, welcome to your second term serving the residents of Madison. Welcome to Rachel Erhlich; you were an invaluable member of the Planning Board, and we all look forward to you joining the Council. Welcome back to our returning Council members Carmela Vitale, Astri Baillie, John Hoover and Deb Coen.
I can’t forget my family, my wife Titi; Chris in Burlington, Vt., and Jack in Fiji are here in spirit. My honorary mother, Dolores Smith, in the front row. In addition, thank you to my siblings that were able to make it, Anne, Betsy, Bill and A.J. Counting me, we only have five of the eleven; short of a quorum so there will be no business conducted for Conley Town today. I want to thank our parents; my father, always very supportive, was here 14 years ago when I took the oath for Council and eight years ago when I became Mayor; and my mother who got me involved in my first political campaign at the age of 12. Our parents, no longer with us, instilled in us a true sense of service to others. And, welcome to our Legislative team led by (state Senator) former Governor Dick Codey, Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (all D-Morris/Essex), the best partners to have in Trenton. I also want to welcome and recognize those from the County and neighboring towns, including Morris County Freeholder Deputy Director Stephen Shaw; Chatham Borough Mayor Thaddeus J. Kobylarz, who I look forward to swearing into office tomorrow; Chatham Township Mayor Michael Kelly; Morris Township Mayor Jeffrey Grayzel; Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano; Pequannock Township Councilwoman Melissa Florance-Lynch; former Mayor and BPU Commissioner Mary-Anna Holden; and Morris County Democratic Chair Chip Robinson.
In addition, thank you Kellie Doucette for delivering congratulations from Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill. Welcome to our residents, Department Heads and all Borough staff in attendance.
I want to welcome and thank my friend, Governor Phil Murphy, for taking the time in his busy schedule to come to Madison to administer the oaths of office to not only myself, but also Maureen and Rachel. You have made for a very special day.
As you know Madison was named the number one place to live in New Jersey. Governor Murphy, you have made a commitment to make sure New Jersey is the best place to raise families, to be a young professional and to enjoy your later years. We will never have the lowest cost of living in the Country, but we have the greatest quality of life, and the governor’s commitment to make that the highest priority. Thank you!
Each year I like to remember a few of the cherished residents who we lost in the past year. I want to mention three who left their mark and taught us to be better people.
Gene Zipper: Except for when he was in Florida, Gene attended every Council meeting with his wife Rose at his side. He was never without a suggestion on how we could do better. He always did it with respect and the same opening line, “I’m Gene Zipper and I have lived on Greenwood Ave for a few years;” it was actually 70 years!
Ernie Nash: Ernie was a proud veteran who served our Country in the Korean War. His blue trucks adorned with the American Flag showing his pride. He quietly would help those in need; elderly residents who were struggling to maintain their homes would claim that a dead tree was removed by an angel. That angel was Ernie Nash, a great example of the quiet generosity that is here in Madison.
Ben Wolkowitz: Ben wasn’t a longtime resident like Gene or Ernie, but his work will be appreciated for years to come. Ben served six years on this Council, and even when he stepped down due to health reasons, he continued to serve by leading our Committee review process and the analysis of our surplus levels. Whenever Ben spoke, we all gave him our undivided attention, as he was the Professor, teaching us. Ben, we miss you so much.
Let us take a moment to remember Ben, Ernie and Gene and the others who we lost in 2019.
Two of the many lessons from my father were, “Don’t let a captive audience leave without a message.” So, I will give you a message, but rest assured the other message was “Don’t overstay your welcome.” Therefore, I will strive to be brief.
There is the debate as to whether 2020 is the end of the decade or the start a new one. Well it is January 5 and the New England Patriot’s season is over, providing definitive proof that this truly is a new decade. So, as we enter this decade we recognize a few milestones. One, the Borough of Madison celebrating its 130th Birthday on December 27 — 130 years of being the best place to live in New Jersey.
And, today I become the longest-serving Mayor since Madison’s first Mayor, James Albright. Let us be clear that this does not make me any better than the 30 Mayors who served Madison in between; it just means that I am the right person for the job at this moment in time. For the next four years, I pledge to set the tone with the same positive leadership that I have given Madison for the past eight years.
As we talk about history, we just recognized Connie Stober for her service on the Board of Health. It was 48 years ago on January 1, 1972 that Connie took the oath of office to become the first woman to hold office in Madison. Connie had to work so hard to break that barrier; we have come a long way, as for the first time five of the six Council members are women. Connie, thank you for your decades of service to Madison; as you can see we are in great hands.
Today marks the first time in 20 years that the Mayor and Council are represented by one party. I say this not to brag but to remind all that this raises the bar for us who serve. While each walk into this room with the filter that comes with our political beliefs, we must check the party label at the door. We must never forget that if we make decisions based on political parties, we will fail in our job to serve Madison. We have taken the oath to do the best for all Madison residents.
As we enter this new decade, it is with the burden of worries. Our thoughts are with the people of Australia. First, the fires must be put under control and next they must get the support needed to recover. This is a dire reminder that the clock is ticking on climate change; the world must pull together to save our planet before it is too late.
I know, we are only 4 square miles and 16,000 residents in this vast world, but that does not mean we cannot do our share to make a difference.
This past fall we demonstrated that we can make a difference, and we did it by working together. While there are 565 municipalities in New Jersey, there should be one common goal, caring for our environment. By coordinating with the Chathams and Morris Township, we were able to put in effect a regional ban on single-use plastic bags. This ban goes into effect in March and will help us do our part for a better world. We can now use this relationship to work as a region to make a positive impact on our world.
Southeast Morris County is one of the most desirable areas to live in the Country. That creates a challenge as municipalities develop locally with the impact felt regionally. We must work together to minimize the impact of over-development. We should be proud to be one of the first communities to have an Open Space Fund, established to protect our aquifer and preserve the great character of Madison. We must remain committed to the balance between growth and preservation.
So many factors make Madison the best to live in New Jersey: our thriving downtown, great neighborhoods, schools, strong sense of community. We must not forget economic diversity. Since the 1980s Madison has made it a moral obligation to provide affordable housing; we are now under a legal obligation to provide 40 units. Do not view this as a burden; it is another piece that makes this town so great: Housing for veterans, for friends of our children, volunteers in the community and employees for our businesses. Let us come together to make this a reality to keep Madison the number one place to live for all.
Thank you all for coming today. Thank you Governor Murphy and all our elected officials who have stepped forward.
And to all a Happy and Healthy New Year.