An initiative that has empowered dozens of citizens to find solutions to problems will be expanded statewide after pilot programs in Trenton and Perth Amboy found success.
The Citizens Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group that has led efforts to pass state and municipal pay-to-play rules, launched the Civic Trustee initiative as a way for residents to work together and address issues facing their cities.
Trenton was the first municipality, with Perth Amboy and Newark following suit. But starting in the fall, all residents will have an opportunity to become a civic trustee.
"It takes away all the agita that is often associated with government today and gets citizens who wanted to give serious service and pragmatic mindset a place to come together and improve their city," said Harry Pozycki, chair of The Citizens Campaign.
The trustees pledge not to raise a problem unless they commit themselves to finding a solution, he said. The solutions must be cost-effective, evidence-based and beneficial to the entire city.
Pozycki said the groups meet monthly to prioritize issues and research solutions that have proven successful elsewhere.
"They're based on evidence of success, not on ideology or theory," he said.
The residents then work with the Citizens Campaign's government, legal and urban policy experts to draft a resolution, ordinance or executive order where necessary.
Trenton activist and civic trustee Darren "Freedom" Green said the group of about 30 residents doesn't point fingers, but educates itself on the process and develops an idea from start to finish.
"If you come into a room, get up for five minutes and say everything that's wrong, you think you've done something," he said. "You just pointed out what's wrong. You haven't done anything."
The trustees voice their ideas, but then pore over research and budgets to come up with practical, doable solutions.
"We meet on particular topics and issues that have been in play but haven't been moved to the finish line because the legwork hasn't been done," he said.
In one of their first initiatives, the civic trustees proposed a series of recommendations that would address flood control for building projects and redevelopment. The resolution was approved by the planning board in February.
They are also working with Police Director Ernest Parrey, Jr. on an auxiliary police force that would draw on volunteers to serve as a link between the police and the community and assist in public safety tasks.
Green pointed to the chain-reaction crash that involved four cars on Monday as an example of when it would have been good to have auxiliary officers to answer residents' questions.
"In the midst of the police doing what they're doing and the EMTs doing what they're doing, I envision having auxiliary people ... who would calm the craziness and help to bring about resolutions in a hectic solution," he said. "Police mean well but some of their responses are cold, cut and callous."