Positive experiences color year as mayor
Weisberg's term comes to end midnight Dec. 31Ask outgoing Mayor Doris Weisberg to describe this past year, and she answers the question in one word extraordinary.
"It has been the most extraordinary year of my life," said Mayor Weisberg, whose one-year term as the titular head of Lawrence Township ends at the stroke of midnight Dec. 31.
"It just opened up such experiences meeting with people, finding out what people think and what goes on in town," she said. "I never realized how many different groups there are."
Mayor Weisberg found herself interacting with the members of the Baha'i faith and the Sikhs, as well as representatives of Adath Israel Congregation, St. Ann's Church and other groups, on the newly-formed Human Relations Committee.
The Human Relations Committee, which is an advisory committee to Township Council, was formed at the behest of Mayor Weisberg. In the days following last year's terror attacks, there was much misunderstanding of people who appeared to be different, she said.
"I was appalled," Mayor Weisberg said. "People were being attacked because they looked different, because they wore a turban or looked like Osama bin Laden. There were no incidents in Lawrence, but it could have happened. That's what propelled the idea to bring everyone together."
The result was the Human Relations Committee, which is still getting organized, she said. The group is currently writing its mission statement.
While Mayor Weisberg is ecstatic about the Human Relations Committee, she is equally excited about the redevelopment effort in the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood. The area is located off Eggert Crossing Road, between Drift Avenue and the Ewing Township border.
Harold Vereen, who is a former Township Councilman and the president of the Eggerts Crossing Civic League, approached township officials to help revitalize the neighborhood. He went to the Growth and Redevelopment Committee and the Planning Board, and then finally to Township Council last spring.
Township Council agreed to turn over the redevelopment planning to Township Planning Consultant Philip Caton and to allow architect Robin Murray to assist him. A group of Rutgers University graduate students prepared a redevelopment proposal for the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood for a class project.
"I am proud to be able to push it forward," Mayor Weisberg said.
While Mayor Weisberg was instrumental in forming the Human Relations Committee, she is quick to point out that under the council/manager form of government that is in place in Lawrence, the mayor does not wield any more power than any other Township Council member.
"With our form of government, it's a collaborative (effort)," she said. "The mayor has no more power than the other four council members. Being mayor is a way to take the lead for a year, but nothing gets down without the rest of Township Council's encouragement and cooperation.
"Because we change mayors every year, you get credit for things that were started years ago," Mayor Weisberg said. "I can't tell you how many people have thanked me for getting rid of the Trent Motel. But that process began the year (1999) that I ran for Township Council. People should not lose sight of the fact that it takes time (to accomplish goals)."
The Trent Motel on Brunswick Pike, which was acquired by the township earlier this year, was demolished this month. In 1999, township officials announced plans to acquire the motel which was used as a shelter for the homeless by Mercer County and other nonprofit groups and demolish it. The township wants to build age-restricted affordable housing on the site.
However, the mayor does have the power to implement initiatives, Mayor Weisberg said.
"We all have our own focuses," she said. "Pam Mount's was open space, which was a natural fit for her, and Greg Puliti's was the Route 1 redevelopment area. I saw my role with the senior citizens and with the Human Relations Committee the social services end. We all have a year to shine the spotlight on our focus."
Ms. Mount, who owns Terhune Orchard with her husband, Gary Mount, has been active in the open space preservation movement. They sold the development rights to their farm to Mercer County. Mr. Puliti lives on Bunker Hill Avenue, off Route 1 in the southern end of the township.
In addition to shining the light on one's special area of interest, the mayor has the chance to attend many functions and meet many interesting people, she said. Attending dedications and ribbon-cuttings also falls to the mayor. One of those dedications occurred when the new Police Department and Municipal Court building was formally dedicated earlier this year.
"What is nice is to have my name on the new police and municipal court building," Mayor Weisberg said. "To me, it's wonderful for my grandchildren (who live in Lawrence) to see my name on the (dedication) plaque. It's just serendipity (that I was mayor this year).
"It takes a lot of time to be the mayor," she said. "I think people like (former mayors) Pam Mount, Gretel Gatterdam, Gloria Teti, Carl Kreger and myself are more visible because they don't have 9 to 5 jobs and we can commit more time (to attend events)."
But perhaps the most time-consuming aspect of being mayor is the reading that is required, Mayor Weisberg said. There is an extraordinary amount of paperwork that is associated with government, and unless one is a speed-reader or just plain likes to read, it can be overwhelming, she said.
"I am used to reading legislation," Mayor Weisberg said, pointing to her years of involvement with the Lawrence chapter of the League of Women Voters. Still, she said, she spent the first couple of months of her term as mayor learning to sort through the paperwork that comes with the job.
"You need to skim it all, but (determining) what needs your immediate reaction or attention that was the hardest part for me," she said. "There are time-sensitive things that have to be signed right away."
When Mayor Weisberg was asked what she liked most about the job, she paused before responding. It's a hard question to answer, she said.
"Marrying people," she said, after a few moments' thought. "By the time this year is over, I will have performed 38 weddings. I never realized how many people get married in a civil ceremony.
"Weddings are really the most fun," she said. "Everybody is so 'up' and so happy. You don't hear one complaint. It's a great occasion. It's really the bright spot in my day."
Of course, the job of mayor does come with its share of frustrations, she said. People ask the mayor to take care of an issue, but oftentimes it's impossible to resolve because of the myriad rules and regulations imposed on municipal officials by state law, she said.
"It's tough to convince people that as much as we (township officials) agree with them, we can't do it," Mayor Weisberg said. "Getting over the frustration level was the toughest thing the aspect I liked least. Generally, anything that was in our power, we would work out with people. When we are not hampered by state law, we do a great job."
Looking back on the past 12 months, it was "absolutely" a great year, Mayor Weisberg said despite the aggravation and frustration of not being able to do as much as one would have liked as a result of being "hogtied" by state rules and regulations.
"The good outweighed the bad, by far," she said. "I was able to see things through. Maybe you didn't finish everything you started, but it will be finished. Just because you are not the mayor, it doesn't mean your ideas don't get moved forward. It's a collaborative effort."
©Copyright 2003, The Lawrence Ledger (NJ, USA)
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