HILLSIDE, NJ — In Hillside’s final public meeting of the year on Tuesday, Dec. 15, two outgoing members of the township’s council — including 2nd Ward councilwoman and council president Salonia Saxton — left with words of encouragement for their colleagues in office, saying there’s a lot left to be accomplished in order to move Hillside forward.
Saxton, who recently lost a runoff election against first-time candidate Christopher Mobley, told supporters and opponents alike “God bless all of you, because there are great things to come,” before alluding to upcoming changes of leadership in Hillside.
“I take with me, at this time, fine memories and valuable skills as I promise to remain active and stay involved with the community,” said Saxton, calling attention to 2017, the next mayoral election in Hillside. “The future of Hillside is very important. Therefore, I challenge all of my colleagues to make good on your word and focus on moving Hillside forward. So as 2017 seems right around the corner, I can certainly say there will be a shift in the atmosphere — and, hopefully, for the better.”
After a tight general election where Mobley won a plurality of votes in the 2nd Ward, he and Saxton entered a runoff election on Tuesday, Dec. 8, which Mobley then won by a 2:1 margin.
In a year where the day-to-day operations in Hillside often seemed like a struggle — with the township lacking a business administrator and other key employees, the council engaging in a war of words with the mayor, and millions of dollars in debt being left unpaid — it was Saxton who took the fall in the court of public opinion.
“Although many people that sit here before me, with all of the hatred and evilness that you have your heart, I’m going to ask God to bless you, because hatred is no good,” Saxton told the audience in an emotional closing statement. “When the Lord calls on us, you better be ready. You never know when your day is going to be, but at least you can say ‘I know that I’ve done good.’ So the tears you see are not tears of sadness, they are tears of joy.”
The council made Saxton its president in January 2015, replacing councilman Don DeAugustine. And many of Saxton’s colleagues, among them 4th Ward councilman Gerald Pateesh Freedman, congratulated Saxton on her four years of service to the Hillside community.
“Council president Saxton, politics can be a nasty business at times. I’m sorry that you were vilified as being the cause of everything that seemed to go wrong in Hillside — the streets not being paved, plowing not being done, lawns not being mowed,” said Freedman. “I know how hard you worked, and I know how hard it is to sit in the chair that you’ve been sitting in. I thank you personally, and I think the people of Hillside can appreciate all that you do.”
Roads not being paved was the focus of another outgoing councilwoman, 1st Ward representative Tonia Hobbs, who criticized the lack of action being taken on half-paved roads and unfinished construction projects around Hillside.
It was “a privilege and an honor to serve” the township for the past four years, said Hobbs, and she wished she could have “done more for the community” in that time.
“Believe me, it was not for a lack of effort that things were not done,” said Hobbs, who did not run for re-election. “I’m just hoping that as we go forward, those who are sitting in this place now — and congratulations to the re-elected council members — that we would recognize we are called to be public servants. That’s the reason we do this, we want to see the best for our communities. And anyone who is sitting here for any other reason should not be sitting here.”
Despite the challenges that Hillside faces, everything will work out for the best in the end, said Hobbs, who was also praised by her colleagues for her time on the council.
“Councilwoman Hobbs,” said Freedman. “I think the nicest thing I could say is: Councilwoman, your constituents were well-served.”
Throughout the rest of the meeting, the Hillside Council passed almost all of the items on the agenda. Among them was a resolution which authorizes the council to hold its 2016 “Reorganization Meeting” — the first council meeting for Mobley and 1st Ward councilwoman-elect Andrea Hyatt, who Hobbs strongly backed — in a conference room at Kean University next month.
Another resolution confirmed the hiring of special law enforcement officers for the Hillside Police Department, while the purchase of a $29,000 set of speakers was turned down in a 3-3 deadlock.
The six council members present at the meeting then approved an ordinance giving municipal judges in Hillside a salary hike. But with another narrow, 3-3 vote, they declined an ordinance which would have required dogs making noise after 8 p.m. to be kept inside. An existing ordinance requires such animals to be put indoors after 10 p.m.
The 3-3 vote didn’t sit well with Saxton who, in perhaps her last-ever meeting on the council, called out a member of the audience who had wanted the ordinance to be stricken down and clapped after the vote.
“Councilwoman Murray put this motion up for actual adoption based on the fact that the residents have been complaining about the dogs that are up all night long, barking throughout the night,” said Saxton. “All this motion was asking for was for the time to be changed to 8 p.m., that the dogs — if they were barking — that the owner would have to keep them inside if they were causing a disturbance. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous.”