Read this Article as it originally appeared in TAPintoWestfield.
Art Exhibits. Butterflies. Rainbow Crosswalks. Murals. Holiday decor. A large spotlight shines on the way Councilwoman Dawn Mackey engenders town pride amongst our residents and fosters economic development for our local businesses. While these worthy efforts take center stage, it is time to shine a light on the unseen work that makes Councilwoman Mackey worthy of your vote on November 2. Let’s pull back the curtain and take a peek.
After learning newly paved roads were frequently torn up due to teardowns and utility work, Councilwoman Dawn actively researched and adopted a road protection ordinance that changed the law. Let me be clear — Dawn did not just vote to put this law into place. She made the law happen. Are you grateful for the 47 miles of newly paved roads? Mackey made it happen.
After years of antiquated rules that discouraged businesses from opening in Westfield, Dawn spearheaded changes to our Town codes that allowed for a craft brewery, rooftop dining, a maker's space, doggie daycare, enhanced promotional opportunities for merchants, and much more. Other local towns made these changes long ago and their merchants have reaped the benefits. Are you seeing changes that encourage businesses to invest in Westfield? Mackey made it happen.
In addition to the big changes Dawn has enacted for Westfield, there are also more subtle efforts that add up to a big difference. Did you know that Dawn Mackey was instrumental in expanding outdoor dining for local businesses? Did you know that Tamaques Park did not have ADA compliant picnic tables until Dawn Mackey put them there?
And did you know that Dawn spends countless hours advocating on behalf of residents on topics big and small? From creating a super-sized send off for a Make-a-Wish recipient to truly listening to and advocating for residents on hot topic issues like the Edison fields, Mackey makes it happen.
From spotlight-grabbing events to behind-the-scenes yet massively impactful work, Dawn Mackey makes a lot happen for residents and businesses in Westfield. Now it is OUR turn to make her re-election happen. Join me in voting for Councilwoman Dawn Mackey for Ward 4 on November 2.
During my reelection campaign, I've received a lot of questions about the town’s financial management. This is a topic I'm more than happy to talk about. I serve on the town’s Finance Committee and I am proud of our fiscal management during the past four years. Here are some highlights:
1) Reduced municipal tax increases by 44% during 2018-2021 vs the prior four years under the previous administration. The average tax increase for the past four years was only 1.1% vs 2.0% between 2014-2017 and our track record included the town’s first-ever 0% tax increase in 2019.
2) Reduced municipal spending nearly five-fold from 2018-2021. Our average annual appropriations increase was only 0.7%, compared to 3.5%, which occurred during the previous administration. This is remarkable considering the pandemic's impact on revenues and that more than half of the town’s expenditures are non-discretionary.
3) Maintained the town’s AAA bond rating.
4) Maintained a robust surplus that is appropriately sized for our town’s budget.
I helped achieve these results as Finance Committee Vice Chair and member alongside Committee Chair and Ward 1 Councilwoman Linda Habgood. We scrutinized every line item in the budget every year. The committee spent dozens of hours meeting with every Department Head, challenging every spending request, pushing for additional cost savings and exploring new revenue opportunities.
As a result of this detailed approach, we uncovered an “off the books,” $1 million account the police department accumulated under the previous administration. We closed this account and moved the revenue moved back into the budget to help defray the tax burden on residents. We also moved the town’s cash from an online savings account earning a paltry 0.25% to money market accounts earning more than 1%, a move that generated more than $100,000 in incremental interest income in the first year.
Additionally, we right-sized the town’s surplus or rainy-day fund, based on advice from the town’s independent auditor and bond counsel. They recommended maintaining a surplus that that was equal to 15-20% of the town’s budget, or between $7 million-$9 million instead of the bloated $14 million surplus we inherited, an amount equal to a whopping 31% of the town’s budget. We put these excess surplus funds to work, investing in much needed equipment, infrastructure, technology and town-wide events while lowering municipal taxes, all the while
maintaining a healthy surplus of $9.6 million at the end of 2020.
Now, you may hear from our opponents and their supporters that the surplus level at the end of April was "only" $5.8 million. While this is true, it is also highly, and probably, intentionally misleading. The town generates incremental surplus throughout the year via higher tax collections, lower costs, and/or higher miscellaneous revenues than budgeted. In fact, since 2014, the Town has generated an average of $3.3 million in incremental surplus including $2.5mm during 2020 and we project that by the end of 2021, the surplus will be $9.8 million (for those who like math, this is calculated by starting with $5.8mm, adding $2.5mm plus another $1.5mm which is the town’s first tranche of the federal CARES act funding). This $9.8mm projected surplus level is robust and above the level recommended by our town’s independent financial experts.
In short, Westfield's finances are in great shape and we look forward to maintaining our record of strong fiscal management -- lower taxes, an AAA bond rating, continued investment in equipment and infrastructure, and a right-sized budget surplus. This is a record I am proud to run on.
David Contract, Ward 3 Councilman
I know I’ve written previously about how I helped overhaul road paving in Westfield. I decided to write again about this topic because it’s a great example of the kind of proactive leadership I bring to the Council as I work with Mayor Brindle and my Westfield Together Council-and-running mates on behalf of Ward 3 residents.
The primary reason I ran for Council four years ago was my concern about the conditions of Westfield’s roads. Grove Street is a great example. I live around the corner from Grove. It troubled me that, like many other streets in town, it remained in poor condition while other roads in much better shape were being paved.
When I took over as Chair of the Public Works Committee, it became clear why. To determine its paving program, the town was using anecdotal input from employees as well as suggestions from Council members. And residents could also petition the Council to have their streets paved, a process with too much opportunity for political influence.
I also learned why so many roads resembled lumpy, patchworks of new, old, and really old asphalt. Utilities doing street openings for necessary work only did patchwork street repairs. As many of you know, these patches quickly crack, potholes ensue, more patches are added and the next thing you know, your street is an uneven, bumpy mess.
I immediately set about working with my fellow Westfield Together Council colleagues, especially Code Committee chair and Ward 4 Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, to establish and implement an entirely new approach to road paving. This included the following steps:
- Implement an analytical approach to paving decisions. The town hired a third-party engineering firm to assess every road in Westfield so the town could objectively build paving plans on a "worst-to-first" basis. The results of this assessment are on the town website at https://www.westfieldnj.gov/454/Road-Assessment-Program
- Better protect our roads with new road opening ordinances that require utilities that open up roads to repave them "curb-to-curb" for 50 feet in either direction of the opening.
- Significantly increase annual investment in road paving.
- Partner with utilities to coordinate their infrastructure upgrade plans for Westfield with the town so we can develop more efficient paving plans covering entire neighborhoods
The net results of this road paving overhaul represent a significant achievement. From 2018-2021, the town tripled road paving compared to the prior four years. A total of 47 miles of roads -- nearly half of the roads in town -- were paved. And because of the new ordinances, half of these roads were paved by utilities at no cost to taxpayers, saving the town and taxpayers millions of dollars -- a huge win/win for residents. And for the first time in town history, the town has published a three-year paving plan based on the analytical road assessment so residents know where their streets are in the paving schedule.
This is a great example of the kind of proactive leadership I bring to the Council: Gaining a full understanding of an issue and then working closely with town officials and Council colleagues to identify the right short- and long-term solutions that deliver real results. I'm asking for your support on Nov. 2 so I can continue doing this for the next four years!
Thanks. Let me know if you’d like to discuss further.
David Contract, Ward 3 Councilman
Read this Article as it originally appeared in TAPintoWestfield.
Letter: Dawn Mackey is the Megaphone for the Heart of Westfield
To the Editor:
Dawn Mackey, Westfield Ward 4 Councilwoman, has had a great impact on me and on our Westfield community. Dawn is one of the most compassionate people I know. She has a keen ability to observe and identify the needs of those around her. She then utilizes her wonderful creativity and drive to make visions come to life. These skills have clearly become vital to the community of Westfield.
From spearheading the display of beautiful butterflies around town during quarantine to AddamsFest to making sure that neighborhood trees were replaced around town, Dawn has sustained and deepened the heartwarming experience of living in Westfield.
Ever since I first met Dawn volunteering at the Westfield Fun Club with refugee families, I knew that she was an empathic and caring person. She clearly wants to understand the people around her and lift them up. For me, Dawn has been a warm hug at the farmers market, a meal from the mealtrain, a planner of beautiful life events, and someone that I can count on to listen and help achieve what I thought was impossible.
If I call Dawn for help, the issue is resolved before I know it and in a way I never imagined. I know that Dawn brings this same energy to all that she does and that Westfield is all the better from her service of the last 4 years.
I feel privileged to have had Dawn represent me on the town council these past four 4 years and am thrilled to help her campaign for another four. I am confident that Dawn will continue to be the megaphone of the heart of Westfield.
Westfield Ward 4 resident
Art Takes Flight in Westfield. And so Does Hope, Light and Love.
As the Town Council liaison to the newly formed Westfield Public Arts Commission, I was thrilled to participate in the decision to commission 30 butterfly sculptures as our first public art exhibit, a decision made in advance of the global pandemic. It was serendipitous that we chose “butterflies” as our subject, not knowing that we would eventually all be cocooning. Painted by local artists, each three-foot butterfly sculpture represented a decade of Westfield’s 300 years as a gift to the community on our 300th anniversary.
As the reality of the pandemic settled in, the PAC contemplated postponing until 2021 to complete the project as many hurdles ensued, including supply disruptions and labor shortages. But recognizing that the community could benefit from a safe, joyful, outdoor experience, and that artists, in particular, were suffering hardship, we forged ahead. The collaboration between the PAC, artists, and the town resulted in outstanding and unique works of art scattered throughout our downtown and Mindowaskin Park.
The exhibit enchanted residents, brought visitors from neighboring towns and sparked outreach by other municipalities who wished to replicate our success. But I’d like to share the experience of one particular resident which best captures the spirit of the exhibit and this community.
Soon after the launch, I answered a call from an unknown number and a man’s voice introduced himself as Rob, a former resident, now living in Scotch Plains. Fully expecting a constituent concern, I took out my pen prepared to help. But instead, Rob shared that he was the father of a non-verbal, special needs adult and wanted us to know she had responded wonderfully to the butterflies which then became a frequent destination on their summer walks.
“Art is so important,” he said, “especially right now,” and then asked if they would be for sale, so I informed him of the impending auction. Rob kept in touch and shared photos of Caroline with her favorite butterfly, Flutter Vision, painted by 14-year-old Clara Owens. He gave me permission to share our conversation with the Commission, so they could know how their work had deeply touched this family. There were other similar stories from residents, including one whose butterfly expressed the remembrance of a loved one, and another woman who wanted a specific butterfly as a tribute to her sister for her upcoming memorial.
With the auction approaching, my last call with Rob included his private admission that he was about to have “a very big surgery in January” and he really wanted Caroline to have a butterfly she could touch and remember him by, “just in case.” For most of the week, there were only two bids, one of which was his. The night of the auction I was on a text chain with volunteers watching the bid activity spike on all 17 butterflies. It was very exciting to know that the sculptures were so valued and well-received, and that we would be able to fund more public art projects as a result of the more than $25,000 raised by the auction.
Unfortunately, Rob was quickly outbid on Caroline’s favorite butterfly, and I realized his months- long wish was fading. Someone questioned another volunteer and said, “Did you bid on Flutter Vision? You’re the winner.” And she replied, “Yes. I’m going to give it to the dad with the special needs daughter.”
This year has been a rough one. Our community, along with the world, has suffered incredible loss. But, as this story reveals, the Christmas spirit is alive and well in Westfield.
With glee, I called Rob the next morning. He was speechless for a long time. “Is this real?” he asked. “Did someone who doesn’t even know us choose to show us love?” Indeed, they had.
He explained that he really wanted his daughter to have the butterfly, but as the cost crept up, he had to choose between that gift and the therapy she needed. “I knew I had to be responsible,” he said and paused again. “This has turned my whole year around.” Then he cried. And I cried. (And maybe now you are, too?)
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy holidays! And especially, Happy and Healthy New Year. And may you continue to bring light and love to those around you.
Read this Letter to the Editor as it originally appeared Sept 25, 2021 on TAPintoWestfield.
I have known Mike Dardia for close to 10 years and I still remember the first time I heard his name. My husband had just come home from my oldest son’s first travel lacrosse tournament playing on a new team. The tournament weekend also happened to be on my son’s birthday. When my husband got home Sunday night he said to me, “I met the nicest people — Mike and Meredith Dardia. They were so kind, they barely knew Dylan and they came with a birthday cake for him so the team could celebrate.”
Needless to say that I was so touched by this act and from that grew a wonderful friendship.
In all the years I have known Mike, that is what I have seen each and every time. I have spent many years on the sidelines with him, and I have never seen him be anything but a positive, kind and supportive person to both fellow parents and kids.
I Endorse David Contract For Ward 3 Councilman, By Gesine Ehlers, Westfield Senior & Ward 3 Resident
I wanted to let everyone in Ward 3 know that I, along with my fellow Westfield Seniors, enthusiastically endorse Councilman David Contract for re-election to Ward 3 Council. I have lived in Westfield for 8 years and David Contract has definitely been my best Councilman ever!!
I first met David when he was campaigning for Ward 3 Councilman back in the summer of 2017. I was visiting with a good friend of mine then and when I told David that I lived in Westfield Senior Housing, he asked a series of questions about the senior housing. He wanted to find out about my experience living there since campaigning is not allowed on the property of the housing complex. He asked me if I would introduce him to some of my neighbors to become more familiar with issues facing seniors living in senior housing, which is located in Ward 3. I was happy that he showed so much sincere desire to understand the tenants in the senior housing and made sure that seniors would not be forgotten should he win. Not only has David followed through, but he's exceeded my expectations of him as a councilman.
Firstly, I would like to state he really has been the most communicative councilman I have known. His regular, almost daily email messages, have kept me informed about all happenings in Westfield. Moreover, during Covid I was looking forward to his continuous information on the latest science, health and safety news. I must say that his tone was always upbeat and hopeful and may even include something unexpected that would make me smile.
Also, I feel that David has done even more than I expected to help seniors. He created a Lifelong Westfield which is the town’s first-ever group focused on the needs of Westfield’s seniors. The group started in 2018 and has held countless events to inform seniors about the services and programs available to them in our area including educational seminars on protecting us all against scams, Covid vaccine safety and other health and wellness topics. Also , emails and newsletters were sent out regularly to ensure continuous information.
And lastly, I would like to mention David is very responsive. Whenever I have emailed him with a question or even a thank you, he answered me immediately. If there was a question he was unable to answer, he would find out and was back to me with his response.
I hope David wins the re-election because he’s done an incredible job for me, for Westfield's seniors, and all of the Ward 3 residents. No one could have been more effective for our town's council than David Contract.
Gesine Ehlers, Westfield
Read this Letter to the Editor as it originally appeared Sept 15, 2021 on TAPintoWestfield.
As a Westfield Ward 2 resident for more than 40 years, I’d like to take this opportunity to voice my strong support for the re-election of Mike Dardia to the town council. Mike has been a diligent council member and public servant over the last nearly four years, serving both the needs of his constituents and the community as a whole in a non-partisan way. He is truly here to help everyone.
For 33 years, I have pursued my passion of bringing better financing solutions to the world. I received my undergrad degree from the College of William and Mary in International Political Economy (a major I designed to help me advance my goals) and an MBA with a concentration in Finance from the Wharton School.
Letter published in The Westfield Leader on September 16, 2021
Over the last three years I have watched my daughter, Nyah take a deep interest in history and government. Topics of conversation among her close friend group revolve around current events, politics and social justice issues. It was no surprise to me when she expressed interest in volunteering on a campaign and asked me to reach out to Mayor Brindle on her behalf. As per usual, the Mayor responded to me immediately and with great enthusiasm as she invites us to her campaign kick-off. When we arrived, Nyah was welcomed with open arms and signed up for the internship program.