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W♥V ISSUE: Part III of a Series on Pay-to-Play Reform: 

The Outcome of the Civic Health Survey as Reported by Actual Findings  

The Survey's findings for Newark are detailed below.  How well would Ventnor fare, if examined by these criteria? WeLoveVentnor, Inc. invites any readers who would be interested in participating in a Ventnor Civic Health Survey to contact us at WeLoveVentnor@gmail.com.

NEWARK'S REPORT.   This survey evaluates civic health in Newark in 15 separate areas.  The purpose is to assess current civic infrastructure conditions and to discover opportunities for increasing citizen empowerment and participation in local government. By discovering which components of a healthy civic community are in place and which are currently missing or could be strengthened, citizens are empowered to improve their city.

The survey was conducted by 11 Newark citizens with the support of the Citizens’ Campaign, headquartered at the Center for Civic Responsibility.  Several employees of the City of Newark, particularly in the Clerk’s office, and employees at the Newark Public Schools were very cooperative in helping to secure the information needed to complete the survey.

The survey covers areas under the control of four distinct entities: the City of Newark, the Newark Public Schools and the Newark Democratic and Republican Parties.  It reveals that Newark is doing a good job on two of the most essential components of civic health, is lacking eight components and needs to strengthen an additional five.

It is important to note that Newark is not alone in this state of affairs, as civic infrastructure has been in decline for many years across the nation.  What is important is that the opportunities for civic renovation be identified and addressed so that Newark may set an example of civic renaissance which will both challenge other cities and enhance Newark’s emerging economic renaissance.

Survey Results

Two positive civic attributes of Newark are: (1) the City of Newark’s website lists and keeps updated meeting dates and times for council, planning board and zoning board meetings and provides a year and a half of council agendas and (2)  The Newark Public Schools Advisory Board offers high school civics classes that include the rights of citizens to participate in local government and local political parties.

Eight components of optimal civic health are missing in Newark.  They include: (1) Newark political parties lack local party constitutions and bylaws that give representative power to the elected committee people; (2) local party constitutions do not provide for platform committees and guarantee neighborhood party representatives’ voting rights on party endorsements and platforms; (3) there is no city ban on political fundraising in government offices; (4) there is no municipal requirement for developers to disclose political contributions; (5) there is no regulation of public contracting to protect against “pay-to-play” practices; (6) a public directory of appointed citizen positions is not maintained; (7) no formal and open application process exists for citizens to apply for positions on boards, commissions and authorities; and (8) adult civics education classes on local government, local political parties, citizen’s rights and opportunities for participation are not offered .

Five areas of civic health in Newark exist but need strengthening.  Needed improvements include:  (1)  reducing the number of vacancies in Democratic and Republican political party committees; (2)  controlling levels of campaign spending for local elections to bring them within the reach of coalitions of average citizens; (3)  reducing the number of vacancies in citizen positions on boards, commissions and authorities within the municipal government; (4) improving the municipal council procedure designed to facilitate citizen input at full council meetings;  (5) improving the School District website so that it provides the information needed by parents and the public to best access the school system and increase opportunities for participation.

Conclusion

There is clearly a great deal of civic organization and dedication both within Newark’s government and in local neighborhoods and communities.   The City of Newark, the Newark Public Schools Board of Advisors and the Newark Democratic and Republican parties now have a great opportunity to work with established and emerging citizen leaders to address inadequate civic health components.  

This is the fifth Civic Health Survey performed in New Jersey by local citizen volunteers coordinated by the Center for Civic Responsibility and the Citizens’ Campaign.  Trenton, Plainfield, Hamilton, and Morristown also completed Surveys. The 15 components of civic health were developed by the Center for Civic Responsibility with input from top academics, legal experts and citizens concerned about improving the civic health of their communities.  The survey is continually being revised based on comments and suggestions from local volunteers.