HILLSIDE, NJ — At the Hillside Township Council’s reorganization meeting Jan. 9, Andrea Hyatt was chosen as council president, replacing former council President Donald DeAugustine. Hillside Councilman Gerald “Pateesh” Freedman will now serve as vice president, taking Hyatt’s former council position.
Hyatt, who has lived in Hillside since 1999 and is starting her second year on the council, said she felt prepared and excited to serve in the capacity of council president.
“I think there are some things that help you prepare for government,” Hyatt told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “I worked in corporate America for a long, long time, I read a lot and I take classes for elected officials.”
Hyatt said she is currently taking a certified public manager’s course in her quest to be as prepared for public service as possible.
“I want to do the best job possible for the people,” Hyatt said. “That’s my approach to everything, whether it’s service in ministry, community or government, it’s important to be educated in whatever arena you’re in.”
Hyatt, who described herself as a spiritual person, said she felt called to serve.
“I believe that I was spiritually guided to join the council, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that,” she said.
After her year on the council, Hyatt said the experience proved to be very different than what she expected.
“My thoughts of politics was all negative,” Hyatt said. “But what I’ve learned on the council was that it wasn’t nearly as negative as I thought it would be.”
Hyatt said that although the past year has been somewhat rocky in Hillside, she believes things can get better.
“There’s a lot we can do,” Hyatt said. “The problems in Hillside are fixable. I still believe that 100 percent. The challenge is change, and how to get people to understand the benefits of change.”
Hyatt said she wants to focus on policy and procedure in 2017.
“I hope to bring fresh eyes,” Hyatt said. “Reaching goals and establishing procedures and policies is achievable in an environment that seeks progress, and this needs to be an objective of the governing body. Moving forward has to be priority. The priority can’t be, ‘I want to be re-elected,’ or, ‘I want my picture taken.’”
Hyatt said there should be less talk and more action in the township.
“We can’t keep talking about things; we need to start doing things,” Hyatt said. “At some point, we have to use analytical ability and critical thinking. That means change. You have to get to the point of implementation.”
Hyatt said issues that need to be looked at include: property values, ratables, business growth and long-term solutions for economic development. She also touched on other issues plaguing the township.
“Buildings are old and we need equipment,” she said. “We need to figure out how to get the money for what we need, then we need to determine where this funding is available and how to access this funding. It’s not rocket science. Part of my frustration is that it’s all very logical. If you don’t have the tools, go get the tools. If you have the tools, use the tools.”
According to Hyatt, residents must come first.
“We have to start thinking about the residents,” she said. “There are so many things that we need to fix in Hillside. … For 2017 I want us to get to a place of implementation.”
Freedman, who has lived in Hillside since 1987 and has served on the council since 1998, got his start on the council after the Hillside Action Committee sent out flyers seeking to replace many members of boards and committees throughout the township. With his background in health and recreation, Freedman joined the Recreation Committee, and was then asked to serve on the council after the fourth-ward councilman announced he was leaving.
“He lived in a big house in the Westminster section,” Freedman told LocalSource in a phone call. “When I became fourth-ward councilman, I figured I’d get the house, like the governor gets the governor’s mansion. If I would have known that I wouldn’t get the house, I wouldn’t have gotten involved,” he quipped.
Freedman told LocalSource the current council is the best he has served with, saying in a phone interview, “In the past, we weren’t allowed to have discussion or differences of opinion. This council is free to vote as they wish, to vote their conscience. I see good years ahead of us in this form of government, and I see a nice smooth road ahead.”
Hillside, which formerly abided by the commissioner form of government has adopted the Faulkner form of government, which calls for a dynamic of a strong mayor and weaker council. But Freedman noted that with the Faulkner form of government, there must be a solid appointing authority.
“The problem with a strong mayor and weak council is that the mayor has to be a good fit,” Freedman said. “When you have a good mayor, it’s a better form of government. This is an election year. I foresee a mayor who will be able to work with the council, and that should benefit Hillside. I see that for the new election year.”
Freedman, who runs the health and physical education program at Essex County College, said he would like to see professionalism and improved working relationships and conditions in every facet of Town Hall.
According to Freedman, he receives many complaints from Hillside residents regarding the administration’s lack of response to issues in the township. But he said he is hopeful that, with a change in administration, these issues will improve.
“This election year, with a change of administration, we’ll hopefully see a more sympathetic administration to their issues.”
Freedman, who has a strong background in boxing — fighting in the ring, training boxers and acting as referee — said his training prepared him to serve in government.
“It’s my first love,” Freedman, who is trying to bring back Hillside’s boxing program, said. “It trained me for my life as a politician — the backroom deals and the corruption.”
Hillside Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Salters praised former council President DeAugustine for a job well done in a recent email to Localsource.
“First, I want to salute outgoing Council President Donald DeAugustine for his steady leadership. He steered positive ordinances such as parking permits, resolutions such as street paving, and brought issues such as the Central Avenue redevelopment and the hiring of police officers, that were good for Hillside, to the mayor’s desk. Implementation of these matters has been languishing for months,” Salters said. “Action beyond words on these matters would instantly help improve the quality of life for so many Hillside residents.”
Salters also praised Hyatt for her financial prowess and skillful leadership on the council.
“Madame President Andrea Hyatt is very pragmatic and has keen financial insight,” Salters said. “She is very much against wasteful spending in municipal government. Taxpayers should already be proud of her scrutiny of the budget and her valiant effort along with her council colleagues to not increase property taxes in 2017. She is unrelenting in her questioning of hires or lack thereof, such as police, and all aspects of municipal operations, like snow removal and cleanliness, conducted by the administration.”
And Salters also lauded Freedman for his practical for approach and vast knowledge.
“Council Vice President Gerald ‘Pateesh’ Freedman brings great institutional knowledge and practical thinking to his role” Salters said. “He is the ‘conscience’ of the council. His blunt assessment of issues is refreshing. 2017 looks to be a promising year for Hillside.”
Hyatt said she is thrilled to partner with Freedman.
“He has dedicated a lot of years to this township,” she said of Freedman. “He’s not a person that looks for any honor or recognition. He serves the people. I’m so happy that it will be the two of us because this job is about service.”
Freedman said Hyatt will be an effective council president.
“She’s really crackerjack,” he said. “She really knows her stuff.”
Freedman also touched on the leadership of Salters, saying he has raised the status of Hillside.
“Salters has shown a concern with direction, unlike past Democratic leadership, and shares a similar philosophy that the simple things that affect homeowners have to be dealt with,” Freedman said. “Hillside had been a subservient little side-kingdom among other towns. Under Salter’s leadership, that’s changed. I don’t think we got our fair share of the pie, and that’s going to change.”
Fredman also noted that he is nonpartisan and will continue to stay true to his beliefs, saying “I’ve retained that nonpartisanship on the council. I pay my own way, fund my own campaigns, and am not beholden to anybody. This is supposed to be a nonpartisan form of government. I say what the common guy on the street would say.”