Hightstown Swears in New Mayor, Elects New Council President
Mayor Steve Kirson and Council President Isabel McGinty usher the borough into 2011.
It was standing room only at Hightstown Borough Hall Saturday as a crowd of about 75 residents came to the borough reorganization to watch a new administration take over local governance.
Mayor Steve Kirson, a Democrat, began his first four-year term, and Councilwoman Isabel McGinty, also a Democrat, was elected council president from among her fellow council members at the New Year's Day meeting. Mayor Kirson pledged to work to begin work on a budget that will stabilize the municipal tax rate, but he said with the borough only responsbile for about 27 percent of the taxes on residents' bills, it will be up to the county and the state to keep New Jersey affordable.
"If there's any one message that I want people to know, it's that I did listen, and we know how tough it is for everyone here in the borough, and we do want to make that better," he said of the lessons he learned on the campaign trail.
Mayor Kirson highlighted the need to consolidate services, ideally on a county level, and to minimize the large amount of government in the state. If New Jersey were a business, he said, "we'd be out of business."
The mayor also said he would push to further enforce borough code, which has been an issue of contention in the last year amidst reports of illegal apartments and dangerously overcrowded boarding houses. Specifically, he said he would look into hiring another part-time code enforcement officer.
"No one wants to have the house next to theirs converted to rooming houses. We will work this year to eliminate and prevent these situations from occurring," he said.
The new mayor said he also hoped to improve Hightstown's image and attract new residents by pointing out its convenient location, historic homes and classic downtown. "We don't sing enough of those great things about our community," he said.
The other officials sworn in at the meeting were Republican Coucilwomen Lynne Woods and Selena Bibens. They replaced Democrats Walter Sikorski and Jeff Bond, the latter of whom was absent from the meeting.
"I'm excited about beginning this new journey; it's not something to be taken lightly," Woods said. "I love a challenge, and I know over the next three years I will face many challenges, but I will not be facing them alone, and I believe this council and the mayor will work together as a dignified team and we will accomplish great things for Hightstown."
"Thank you for your confidence and your support," Bibens said. "Have patience. We're learning, we'll do the best we can. We're not planning to change the world—that was never my intent—just to improve on what we have."
The new council voted 5-0 to elect McGinty council president. McGinty herself abstained from the vote.
"This is a tremendous responsibility, and not one that I would have sought, and I also recognize there will be many daunting challenges in the year ahead," McGinty said, adding she intends to serve as president for one year only.
In 2011, McGinty said the council will focus on financial responsibility, such as overtime costs, code enforcement and keeping the lines of communication open between the borough and its residents.
Several audience members remarked on the majority of women now on the council, an apparent first for the borough. "I've never had so many 'misses' to say!" Borough Clerk Debra Sopronyi exclaimed after the first roll call with the new council. Some residents during public comment even said the new makeup of the council was "historic."
"Really, in 2011, it should not be historic," McGinty said. "I hope that we are not remembered as a council that had so many women; I hope we are remembered for the confidence and responsibility with which we address the issues."
In his invocation, Chaplain Joseph Primo, a borough resident, wished for the borough's wise governance in the new year.
"We are a small town, but we make up for our size with our committed residents, strong opinions, and diversity. As we move forward in our quest for progress and economic stability, may Steve's leadership inspire us to remember that there is room for love and compassion in politics, and may our government make decisions based on the inherent worth of all of Hightstown's residents, including the young and the aging, the wealthy and the poor," he said.
"We are a stronger community when our government is just and fair, when its people care for each other, and when those elected to office persevere through hardships, reflect instead of react, and choose integrity over future elections. May our community support our new leaders, demonstrate patience when we yearn for immediacy, and offer hopefulness when our economic or political challenges offer frustration and conflict."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly counted the vote to elect McGinty council president as 4-0 and misspelled Bibens' name.