When Highland Park Borough Clerk Joan Hullings gets a letter from a resident, it usually concerns a complaint about a pothole, garbage pickup, sidewalk repair, or tax bill. Last week, however, she got a letter that was complimentary about the borough administration, but nonetheless failed to make her – or her borough colleagues – happy. The letter announced the resignation of Borough Council member Matthew Hersh from council, effective immediately.
Matthew Hersh’s new job as director of communications for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities within the Murphy Administration precludes him serving as an elected official in state or local government. Even though he is stepping down from his official council duties, he intends to remain a volunteer giving back to the community that has given him so much.
“I am so grateful to you, staff, the mayor and council, and the residents of Highland Park for giving me the opportunity to serve in this capacity for nearly two years. I don’t take that for granted and considered every meeting a gift – an opportunity to make a difference in our little town. I look forward to serving the borough in other ways following this immensely rewarding stint in public life…. Simply put, it has been and will continue to be among the greatest honors of my life to serve Highland Park,” said Matthew.
He also acknowledged his gratitude to the residents, who, even though not members of the governing body, have been involved and engaged in the governance of the town. Citizen activism serves to move the council agenda forward, while also serving as an important check on council’s policies, he said. The public is “an equal in town governance,” and the elected officials should never miss an opportunity to remind residents of that and to encourage and engage them every single day.”
In his resignation letter, Matthew did highlight five pressing community issues that he hopes council members and the residents will address.
- Community policing. “Our wonderful police department enjoys gratitude and popularity town wide,” but we have to address the fact that “there are residents who feel marginalized and intimidated by law enforcement, either by way of personal interactions, because of the national climate, or both.”
- Downtown development. “The mayor and council are working hard” to achieve Highland Park’s downtown development goals. “I would just encourage the governing body to be even more aggressive when it comes to….(removing) obstacles that stand in the way of our realizing the best way to create a truly sustainable economy.”
- First Aid Squad. “The Highland Park First Aid Squad deserves our deep gratitude and admiration,” but the current fiscal infrastructure of providing squad services is unworkable. “While I fundamentally support a robust and fully funded volunteer squad that can provide free service, that reality is virtually unattainable in Highland Park in 2018. The HPFAS’ refusal to bill for service and simply rely on the Borough for equipment, police resources, and more is not sustainable.”
- Highland Park Municipal ID Program. “I hope the Council continues to promote this program, in order to mainstream it. The idea is to provide photo IDs for all residents, regardless of immigration status, so all residents have access to municipal services.”
- Downtown parking. “We must have metered parking and parking enforcement. Without it, we are losing out on an enormous revenue source” from which other towns and their taxpayers benefit