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New League President Arthur R. Ondish - Together We Can Craft Innovative Solutions

Why did you first become involved in your town’s government?
I first became involved in Mount Arlington’s government due to the fact that I was concerned about the future of our borough. I had been involved as a member of our local Republican club for years, helping candidates during the election period. I became of an age where I thought I should get involved and give back to the community.

I first ran for the Council seat of a councilman who had passed away. This was a one year appointment, so I thought I would try it out and see if I liked it. I was elected and at the end of the year I decided I did like it and ran for the remainder of that term, two years. From there I ran for another three year term. When our mayor decided she was not going to run again, I decided to run for mayor. That was nine years ago; I have been elected mayor for three terms.

 

What are the most significant challenges facing local governments?
The most significant challenge facing local governments is the need to provide the services we always have, but in a more economical way. We can not afford to continue to raise taxes. This is not helped by the state continuing to try to balance its budget by taking away from the local government. Our aid is constantly being reduced. Our energy tax money has been diverted for state use.

Another challenge is keeping a very scared and confused public calm during these economically challenging times.

How would you describe your style of leadership?
My style of leadership is not to dictate, but to lead. I believe very strongly in working as a team. I believe in the people we employ. I give them the tools they need to do their jobs and then encourage when necessary. I believe in making them understand that the resident is their customer and they are to treat the customer with the utmost respect and serve them to the best of their ability. I ask them to not be afraid to ask questions and understand why things happen the way they do.

I encourage them to not be afraid to offer alternatives that may better the way we do business. Suggestions are always welcome on how we can do things better and serve our people in a more effective way both from a customer service standpoint and also to achieve better efficiency.

What do citizens want from their local government and has it changed?
I believe the demands on local government have changed. More is expected without an increase in taxes to pay for it. We need to think out of the box as much as possible and to share ideas and information through organizations like the League of Municipalities. There is so much information available.

Municipalities are wonderful incubators for new ideas and ways to accomplish goals. There are many creative leaders around this state and across the nation, and that creativity should be shared. That information needs to be shared because why have to reinvent the wheel when it may already exist somewhere else? When we come up with new ways of doing things, I believe in sharing it with others, as I like them to share with us.

What advice would you give to newly elected officials?
My advice would be to network with other experienced elected officials as much as you can. Get to know the leadership in your neighboring municipalities. Listen to those who offer feedback. The trick is learning who is there to offer good feedback and who is there to just complain.

Also, ask for help if you do not understand something. Don’t feel like you will be looked upon negatively if you don’t know the answer. Be honest and tell those who ask tough questions that you don’t know but will find out and get back to them. Seek out people who know more than you so you can learn from them.

What are the biggest legislative challenges facing municipalities?
I believe the biggest legislative challenge facing municipalities is how the legislators are going to balance the state budget without rising taxes on local municipalities. With unfunded mandates now being rejected, how can the legislators fund additional promises without finding ways to pay for them from within the state budget?

The time has come to reexamine all legislation. The state needs to understand that times have changed and some of the old legislation on the books needs to be eliminated. There are programs that need to be reexamined, in terms of how they are managed and whether the promises are delivered. The time has come for the state to be accountable for its actions. That is a very large challenge for a Legislature that has always just passed the buck and kicked the can down the road!

What are your goals as League President?
My most important goal is to be a good leader. I want to team with the Governor and his administration as well as the county leadership to make sure we are all focused on similar issues. We can accomplish much more working together than individually. Of course we will have different ideas, but that is the way to find common ground and solve problems together.

I also hope to support the continued good work of the League of Municipalities and try to establish some new ways to make it even better.

Put a focus on economic recovery. I have some ideas on how we can make communication between Mayors and developers easier and more conducive to mutual interests.

Being a charter member of the Mayors Committee for a Green Future, I would like to put a larger focus on greening our municipalities. That includes alternative fueled vehicles and working with the Clean Cities Coalition. I would also like to focus on reducing our energy consumption through a myriad of conservation methods.

These are a few of the goals I would like to accomplish but I have learned that there will be many things that will come up, unexpectedly, that will need to be dealt with in conjunction with my goals.

Remarks of the Honerable Arthur R. Ondish

President, New Jersey State League of Municipalities; Mayor, Mount Arlington

President Ondish gave the following address at the League’s Business Meeting
on November 17, 2011 during the 96th Annual League Conference in Atlantic City

What a privilege it is for me to become the president of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. I have the distinct honor of following my good friend Chuck Chiarello. I want to commend Chuck for his leadership over this past year. I was pleased to fill in for him a few times as 1st Vice President but Chuck did a fine job meeting all his commitments. I believe that has made us stronger and I hope to do the same this coming year as your President.

I am also honored to follow in the footsteps of the League’s many past presidents. I hope to strengthen and improve the League, as previous presidents have for almost the past century.

Since I was elected to Borough Council in 1997, I have always admired and respected the League of Municipalities. As time went on and the more experiences I had with Bill Dressel and the staff, the more I realized what a gem the league really is and what a great resource. I was honored to be asked to be on the board of directors a few years ago. Since then, I have only come to respect this organization more. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead, and to use my experience and knowledge to help further the organization.

I would like to take a moment to thank my wife Yvonne for her patience and support. Many a day and night I am out doing things on behalf of Mount Arlington and the League. Public service is not easy on the spouse and family of those who choose to serve. She understands my commitment and respects my desire to volunteer. Thank you, Yvonne.

I would like to also recognize and thank members of my council for being here today and supporting me. I also want to recognize one of my best friends and fellow Mayor Bill Chegwidden. Bill and I have weathered many storms together and learned much from each other. He is the mayor of Wharton.

I am proud to be installed now during these challenging times. I enjoy a challenge and look forward to making a difference working with Bill Dressel and the League staff.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge our fine staff who continue to meet challenges and present timely information that helps all of our municipalities. In these fast changing times it is a challenge to maneuver through all of the many opportunities that are presented. Governor Christie has certainly been a leader making many changes that need to be vetted and information disseminated for all to understand. I believe the staff has done a great job of staying on top of things and presenting excellent bipartisan explanations. I know they will continue to do so and I hope to work closely with them over the next year.

My style of leadership is to team up with smart people and learn from them. I look for feedback from those who are leaders and have experience from diverse backgrounds. I offer anyone an invitation to reach out to me if you have feedback to offer. My phone is always on my belt and I welcome the opportunity to discuss issues with anyone. I would appreciate your reaching out to me if you do not understand something I say or do. I am not shy about sharing my opinions and I would like to hear yours. Please communicate with me so we can work together towards common goals. I need your help--together there isn’t anything we can not accomplish.

I believe I am the first president from Morris County in a long time and definitely the first president from the Borough of Mount Arlington. Mount Arlington may be small, but we face many of the same challenges as larger municipalities. We continue to be leaders in efficiency and are open to doing things differently. We have faced many challenges and we continue to overcome them. I hope to bring that experience to the League.

I have set goals for the upcoming year.

Economic development is a primary goal. There are ways we can help grow the economy in New Jersey and I will be seeking ways for the League to have a role in this.

Being a charter member of the Mayors Committee for a Green Future, Sustainable Jersey has been like a snowball rolling down a hillside. It keeps growing and growing. I am proud to see it flourish and now move toward being its own entity. I know the importance of greening our municipalities. Protecting our environment is important as well as the economic benefit of many programs. I believe there are opportunities for the League to team with other organizations to share information and resources.

Another goal of mine is to enhance the League’s relationship with our military. Our soldiers and families are special people who put themselves in harms way to protect our way of life. Their families are their support system and we should support them as much as we can.

It will be a very humbling experience for me to lead this organization and I want to stand here next year, when I hand the gavel to the next president, with pride for the time I spent being useful and productive.

Thank you again for affording me this great opportunity. I look forward to working with those of you I know as well as the many new friends I hope to meet from all across New Jersey.

Thank you

 

 

 

 

Originally published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 89, Number 1, January 2012

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