Sidestepping Politics, Mayor Adapts Business Practices to Administration

Traveling 342 miles by auto can get a person to Pittsburgh, PA from Jefferson Township. By car, Boston is some 244 miles from the township, while Montreal is 366 miles; Baltimore, 214; and Killington, VT, 265 miles from Jefferson.

But a road trip around the entirety of 42-square-mile Jefferson Township would take 380 miles. By traveling the speed limit – of course – which ranges between 25 and 45 mph, it could take a person some 15 hours at 25 mph, or a bit over 8 hours driving time at 45 mph to travel every road in Jefferson.

Seriously.

Three hundred eighty miles is quite the road trip. And it is quite the job in time, labor and money to keep the township’s major and minor thoroughfares, as well as its side streets, fit for a “road trip,” let alone daily commuting, getting kids to and from school by bus, and more.

The condition of local roads was just one of the hot topics addressed by township Mayor Eric Wilsusen during a Jefferson Township Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting last week. No surprise; especially to the mayor who admitted condition of the township’s roads always ranks high on residential complaint lists.

Eric Wilsusen speaks to business owners at the Jefferson Township Chamber of Commerce Breakfast with the Mayor event. (Photo by Maria Weiskott)

Wilsusen, Jefferson’s first new mayor in two decades, this month began year two of a four-year term. He said that there had been “underspending on infrastructure,” over the past several years, a situation he said his administration intends to remedy with long-term planning.

Wilsusen told the group plans for road rehabilitation included using asphalt for only major thoroughfares and other materials–less expensive, but substantial compounds–to resurface lesser-traveled streets in the township.

But the condition of roads was just one of the topics the mayor addressed during the hour-plus meeting at J-Towne Tavern.

New Vision

 The mayor emphasized that he had run successfully on the platform of a “New Vision” and change for Jefferson. “I have no higher political aspirations,” the mayor said, adding he did not run for mayor for political reasons, but for business reasons. His new vision includes:

  • Long-term fiscal, strategic, and organizational planning,
  • Improved communication, and
  • Considering the township as a business.

Wilsusen asserted that he did not want in any way to disparage prior administrations but noted that “things were done year to year” in the past, seemingly without long-term plan.

He pointed out, for example, that in 2009 a referendum was approved to merge the planning and zoning boards but was never executed until last year, during his first as mayor.

Some the of mayor’s first actions to fulfill his vision for change was to hire Debra Milikin– one of 20 experienced applicants–as township administrator following the retirement of longtime administrator James Leach. He also hired a new township attorney, replacing an attorney who had a 37-year tenure with Jefferson. He also added administration of fire and rescue squads under the umbrella of Jefferson’s Office of Emergency Management.

Wilsusen explained that to help build a solid new administration, he and his administrative team closed up shop for a full day to conduct a SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – workshop to analyze the township. The mayor enthused about the workshop, noting that a solid vision and long-term plan of action for township maintenance and growth is being established.

 Priorities: Improvement and Growth

Some actions being taken to facilitate the Jefferson Township administration’s vision include

  • A newly installed Economic Development Advisory Board is assessing the township’s unique challenges to attracting new development, namely that about 80 percent of the township is comprised of preserved land and wetlands. The board’s goal, however, is to find ways to attract new business to the community.
  • An upgraded township website – https://www.jeffersontownship.net/ was launched. Information is still being loaded on to the site but it can be accessed. Along with the new website, the township is increasing visibility and communications through Twitter (https://twitter.com/Twp_Jefferson) and Instagram #jeffersontownshipnj accounts, as well as a new Jefferson Township Facebook page. Presence on the three social media channels will be informative, with interaction by residents particularly available on Facebook, where the mayor also has a separate page.
  • New municipal management software that will tie in all departments is being installed for the sake of efficiency.
  • A new emergency notification system – RAVE – is now available to the township. The system provides an array of notification choices and permits users to select what type of notifications they want to receive.

“I’m not in this for any political gain,” Wilsusen told the chamber members, adding politics “is not in my playbook.” A lifelong resident, the mayor said, “I love my community. I love service to my community,” recalling that he joined the fire department when he turned 18 years old.

“We have to look at our municipality as a business.” And with a year under his belt, it appears Wilsusen is getting down to it.

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at maria.weiskott@thejeffersonchronicle.com.