Task Force needs to re-invent government

Roger Martindell, Member, Princeton Borough Council
To the editor:
The newly appointed Consolidation Transition Task Force has the opportunity to do more than merely smooth the way to a consolidated Princeton. It has the chance to re-invent how Princeton delivers municipal services. We residents and taxpayers should ask no less and should enthusiastically support that effort.
   There are three main groups of leaders who will influence the course of municipal consolidation before it occurs on Jan. 1, 2013. But the Task Force serves as the linchpin.
   First, there are the two municipal staffs. They will forge consolidation because that’s what they are employed to do. But they also have understandable incentives to protect the status quo and their own jobs and perquisites. For that reason, they cannot serve as the architects for re-inventing local government.
   Second, there are the two existing municipal governing bodies. But governing body members have relationships with staff and personal and parochial interests.
   The third group, the Task Force, is a 15-member panel, the core of which is comprised of volunteer residents. In that body, lies the best hope for making long-term structural changes to reinvent local government.
   If consolidation were only a question of mechanically joining together two governments (e.g., who will become the new police chief), the Task Force would not be needed.
   But the Task Force has a far more important responsibility to consider: long-term structural change. The Task Force expires on Jan. 1, 2013, and therefore should not be constrained by the prospect of a job or future office in how creatively it approaches its work.
   For example, each of the two Princetons has 30 police officers. Should the new Princeton retain all 60, or reduce that number, and by how many? As the police budget is the largest departmental budget, meaningful reduction in local taxes can be achieved only by substantial cuts in police personnel. The Task Force is better suited to considering those cuts than current office holders.
   Should the new Princeton retain both municipal buildings? The Task Force might ask: did Princetonians vote for consolidation with the expectation of not reducing the size of the municipal footprint?
   Indeed, the re-invention of local government will depend more on the Task Force, not the other two players in the drama. Residents and taxpayers must actively encourage the Task Force to aggressively re-invent local government and, in addition, provide the Task Force with all the support it needs to accomplish that goal. A brighter Princeton future depends on it.
Roger Martindell
Member, Princeton Borough Council 