By Ron Leir
The newest member of the township governing body was just getting his feet wet but he’d already lined up a three-pronged priority plan of action.
Steven Rogers, 60, who garnered 2,078 votes in the May 8 non-partisan municipal election – good enough to capture the only seat on the five-member Township Commission not reclaimed by incumbents.
“I spent $6,500 on my campaign,” said Rogers, a diehard Republican. That’s hardly a princely sum for election expenses, these days. “I walked in every neighborhood, knocked on every door,” he said. “And the people of Nutley gave me the honor to serve.”
At a township reorganization meeting May 15, Commissioner Alphonse Petracco – topping all candidates with 3,727 votes – was installed as the new mayor of Nutley.
As the new boy on the block, Rogers – a retired Nutley Police lieutenant who served one 4-year term on the Nutley school board – is known as a gadfly but he has pledged to be a sharing partner as a member of his new team.
In his first week on the job, the freshman lawmaker said he’s been impressed by the “passion” shown by employees at the Public Affairs Department (which he oversees) “to serve the common good of the people.”
“It’s an awesome responsibility to be in government,” Rogers said, during a recent interview at his township office. He said he hopes to use the skills he acquired as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer and 38-year police veteran “to help shape the future of Nutley.” To that end, Rogers said he wants to work with his fellow commissioners to achieve three goals in particular.
First, he said, “We’re going to roll out what we believe will be a national model for offering the best possible services to every active and retired member of the military and their families. We want to make this department a one-stop shop for veterans,” whether that involves medical assistance, help with securing veterans’ benefits, etc.
Rogers said he plans to appoint a community member with military background as a volunteer “director of military and veterans’ affairs” to serve as a liaison between the Public Affairs Dept. and every veteran in Nutley. He declined to name the prospective appointee.
“I’m getting a list of every Nutley veteran and they’re going to be getting a personal visit from me during the summer to see what their needs are,” Rogers said. “Our veterans are heroes and the (federal) V.A. (Veterans Administration) is not effective delivering services to our veterans. It needs a top-tobottom reform.”
That’s why action on the local level is required, Rogers said.
Rogers’ expectation is that the Township Commission will be voting on a resolution in June to start the program, which he sees as a one-year pilot, after which the program would be evaluated to determine if it should continue, be tweaked or scrapped.
Second, Rogers is offering a “Meet the Commissioner” opportunity by inviting residents to stop by his office at 149 Chestnut St. “every Saturday,” from 8:30 a.m. to noon, to solicit advice, give suggestions or just chat. He launched the new venture last Saturday.
“I believe in transparency in government,” Rogers said. “So, I’ll be here on the weekend to listen to my constituents, see how my department can offer help or be a conduit to my fellow commissioners if it turns out that their departments can be of help. We’re stressing teamwork in Nutley.”
Third, Rogers said he wants to do his part to help keep a lid on local property taxes by “talking to our county and state representatives about unfunded mandates.” There are instances, Rogers said, where the state and/or federal levels of government dictate that municipalities carry out certain required functions but don’t provide money for staffing and/or equipment that may be needed to satisfy those mandates.
As an example, Rogers said the state requires local police officers to attend periodic domestic violence and firearms training sessions, typically at locations not easily accessible to Nutley cops but provides no reimbursement for travel and related expenses.
Another example, Rogers said, is the state’s directive to local school boards to institute an anti-bullying program as part of the district’s curriculum but, here again, without any state compensation to facilitate the program.
Despite the financial pressures faced by many municipalities in recent years, Rogers said Nutley’s commissioners “have done well in controlling the local tax rate. We’re not as bad off as other communities. Our parks are pristine, our crime rate is low, our schools are in great shape, and our public works department did an extraordinary job with the storm cleanup last year.”
And, while he acknowledges that “we still have a lot to do,” such as upgrading roads and revitalizing the downtown sector through a vehicle like a Small Business & Economic Development Council working with Main St. USA, Rogers said he has faith in Nutley’s future.
“I want to market our township as one of the best places to live and work – an American oasis,” he said.