Mark Freda officially began his term as Princeton’s mayor Monday evening after being sworn in by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman at Princeton Council’s annual reorganization meeting.
Council members Leticia Fraga and David Cohen took the oath of office for their second terms, and Fraga was named new Council president for 2021. Several professional contracts, boards, and commissions were approved at the meeting.
Familiar in local politics from his years serving on the former Borough Council, Freda focused in his remarks on creating opportunities for people at all economic levels, improving listening skills, sharing information, and treating each other with respect and decency.
“There are many issues for us ahead including COVID-19 and all of its impacts on the community,” he said. “These impacts will most likely persist for years. During those years, new challenges and new issues will arise, and they will require resilience, agility, and effort from all of us to address them.”
Freda spoke of making efforts to improve speed and efficiency in digesting information and making decisions. “This past year has amplified the need for a consistent and ongoing effort to support everyone in our community to the best of our abilities, to create partnerships, and to question the way things are done as we look to improve services and how they are delivered,” he said.
He also touched on growing the tax base, creating job opportunities, providing services within a reasonable municipal budget, and working with the public school system and Mercer County on shared services. Praising those who have worked during the past year to address the challenges of the pandemic, Freda said those efforts will continue.
“We have so many resources in this town,” he said. “We have so many opportunities in this town. We have the ability to move forward on so many fronts. I am eager to work with all of you to move forward together.”
Instead of delivering remarks one at a time, which is customary, Council members took turns reading from a “2020 Year in Review” that they wrote together. Each read sections about issues on which they
had individually focused. They began by thanking former Mayor Liz Lempert, Health Officer Jeff Grosser, Board of Health Chair George DiFerdinando, and the Office of Emergency Management for their work during the past year of the pandemic.
On the topic of racial justice, Fraga mentioned Council’s approval of a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis, and the adoption of a racial equity toolkit that the Civil Rights Commission developed in collaboration with community partners. “The toolkit is part of a multipronged effort to ensure that our government and its processes reflect the diversity of our community,” she said.
Councilwoman Mia Sacks spoke of the approval of Princeton’s settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center and the task of meeting the town’s compliance requirements. “We met regularly with property owners, developers, objectors, interested parties, and hundreds of residents as well as working with the school district to address its concerns,” she said, adding, “In November, Princeton received a Judgment of Compliance and Repose from Judge Jacobson for the efforts undertaken by Princeton to meet its third-round affordable housing compliance requirements.”
Councilman Dwaine Williamson spoke of the Affirmative Marketing Plan and creation of a financial counseling subcommittee to help eliminate obstacles to housing including low credit, no credit, and no social security number.
Councilwoman Eve Niedergang mentioned forward steps in the area of environmental sustainability. “We launched an initiative to encourage more sustainable and environmentally friendly landscaping practices and, in anticipation of that effort, our departments of Public Works and Recreation each acquired a battery-powered leaf blower to assess their use in grounds maintenance,” she said.
Also cited by the Council members were the town’s ability to resume regular land use hearings after a COVID-caused hiatus, improvements in stormwater issues, and the fire department’s addition of career firefighters, along with numerous other topics.
“As we emerge from this crisis, we will continue to draw upon the lessons of COVID,” the document concluded, read by Niedergang. “We will continue the fight for racial justice, and we will redouble our efforts to both combat and prepare for the impacts of climate change, always keeping environmental justice in mind; rethink the use of our downtown streets and how to make them safe and attractive places for all people and not just cars; strengthen the ties of community among all Princetonians; and hold onto the truth that, even after the pandemic is over, we are all in this together.”
Council meetings will now be held on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. instead of Mondays.