Mayor Brooks Talks Of Teaneck's Future
(From: Teaneck News, December 15, 1982)
EDITOR'S NOTE: In July of this year, Bernard Brooks became the first black mayor of Teaneck, selected on the second ballot by his colleagues on the Township Council. At the end of his first four months in office - a period during which he dealt with nearly all areas of township business, politics and crises - he discussed his role as mayor, his feelings about being a black mayor, his practical and idealistic goals, and his hopes for the future of the community with Teaneck News Staff Writer Mike Cleveland. Cleveland reports:
In a perfect world, we would think of Bernard Brooks merely as the mayor, not as a black mayor. In this world, however, that is impossible. This is specially true because he is the first black mayor Teaneck has had. Certainly he will not be the last and one can but hope that when the second black man or woman is named to the post, there will be no need to ask a question relating to color.
This is one of the idealistic goals Mayor Brooks has set for Teaneck, one he doubts he will see achieved in his lifetime, but one which he is convinced will be reached some day in Teaneck. While he would prefer that the color of the person holding his office not be an issue, he does not shy away from it. Rather he confronts it, as he has confronted every issue during his tenure as mayor, in a straight-forward and, one can't but help believe after speaking with him, completely honest manner.
I found him to be a most pleasant host, one willing to discuss music, as well as township business, but a man who likes to get straight to the point and who would prefer that persons with whom he deals do the same. This is a businesslike trait which he exhibits at council meetings, especially during the Good and Welfare portion of said meetings, when the public is allowed to speak on any, and perhaps every, subject: Keep it short. keep it to the point and don't give speeches.
The discussion we had early in December at the mayor's home was a general one, revolving around the goals he has set for himself and the township. Some are practical, some are quite lofty. All make good sense.
CLEVELAND: The basic question that I want to start off with, which I think is the obvious one, is why did you want to he the mayor?
BROOKS: I thought I could provide a sense of leadership to the council. And I thought that with my business experience that I could offer something different than the other council people.
CLEVELAND: Did you have any specific goals in mind?
BROOKS: Yes. I did and I still do. I suppose the most burning desire is to see that we get more productivity in the town. And one of the things that we've done -- three of us: Brad Menkes. Peter Zeleny and I -- is we've sat and we've drafted a set of objectives for the manager. They're really council objectives but to be executed by the manager and his department heads. And these objectives have been reviewed by the manager and they will soon be reviewed by the council and approved by. The council and they'll become like measurement tools for the effectiveness of the manager and department heads.
I think this is something a little different than what we've done in the past. In the past, everything's been kind of subjective. The only indication that the manager's had in so far as what the council is thinking was what we put in the budget. And the budget is more driven by the department people than it is driven by the council, so by setting a series of objectives, at least we are now letting the administration know what it is that we're interested in, and what are the things we'd like to see get done. We can measure the administration on that. I think that's going to be very useful.
CLEVELAND: Any other particular goals?
BROOKS: I think that's the primary goal. And then when we talk about these objectives, of course, they are fairly wide-ranging.
One objective relates to public safety. There are times -- for example, when the high school gets out -- that there are certain areas of the community where people feel intimidated. Kids cross the bridge into the plaza area in large numbers and the shopkeepers and homeowners feel as though they're intimidated. I believe that we can't continue to let that happen and just say, well, this is a fact of life. I think that we've had enough of that and we ought to take care of that. There are certain areas of the town during summer where kids congregate and people intimidated, It used to be the corner, across from Rocklin's. Certain hours of the day people, especially seniors , felt very uncomfortable walking in that area because the kids kind of took over. We've got to do something about that. I think that it's inappropriate to let something like that happen.
CLEVELAND: Anything else?
BROOKS: We've got a court system, for example, that has a backlog in following up on summonses. A lot of this was caused not by Teaneck, but by the county and the state moving certain offenses into the municipal court. My belief is, even though the initiation of this situation did not occur because of our action, we can't let it go on. If somebody gets a traffic ticket and they get a summons, they ought to get a follow-up very, very shortly, or else they'll have total disrespect for the law. They'll say, you know, in Teaneck, I can get a traffic ticket and ignore it because if I don't pay they're not going to catch me for a long, long time. I'm concerned about that.
One of the other goals that I'm concerned about is the fact that we can't measure what it costs to do any particular program or project in the town. For example, we have, in the summer, certain recreation programs; in the winter we have certain programs, we have different programs. We don't know what it costs us to provide a specific program and, in turn, we don't know what the benefit is to the town. We may be spending money on, let's say 10 programs and program number five is used by, let's say, 20 people, but all of the other programs might be used by 200 people. I would eliminate program number five because I think what we should try to do, since we're in a situation of limited funds, is provide those programs that the public says, this is what I really need.
There might be some special reason to provide a program that only appeals to 20 people because these 20 people might be very special people. They might be handicapped, or whatever the case may be. But if you're talking about the general public, then I would be curtailing some of this stuff or reallocating the funds. So, insofar as managing the whole process of Teaneck, I think we can do a better job through setting objectives, through financially following what we do. I don't know what it costs to pick up the leaves, for example.
CLEVELAND: Why don't you know?
BROOKS: Because the accounting is based on state accounting principles and the state accounting principles say that you account for things not necessarily by departments or programs, but by type of function. So if you have equipment, all equipment is lumped in one line which kind of camouflages things. You could have equipment for public safety, for public works, whatever it is, and it kind of gets lost.
CLEVELAND: So it's not specific enough.
BROOKS: It's not specific enough for what I think we need to manage with. Because we can't make choices, we can't choose with, in my mind, enough financial detail to say I think it might be better to give the fire department another fire engine than to give the DPW another truck.
CLEVELAND: You can't break it down that finely.
BROOKS: That's right. Or we can't break it down with sufficient ease. We can do that with a lot of peeling-bake-the-onion, but that's an amortizing process, it's not a very fluid process.
CLEVELAND: Is it possible to set up an accounting system that would work as you want it to?
BROOKS: I think so. It might mean we need two accounting systems. Let's put it this way: I would say that we would only need one accounting system, but we might need a different reporting system, so the system that we based our decisions on might be different from the accounting system, but based on the accounting system.
CLEVELAND: Those are practical goals. What about idealistic goals? Were any of those in your mind when you decided you wanted to be mayor?
BROOKS: I have a very, very warm feeling for Teaneck.
CLEVELAND: How long have you lived here, by the way?
BROOKS: Since 1963. I came to Teaneck not so much by choice as by chance. We lived in Connecticut and I took a job in Paramus. When I first came to the New Jersey area I lived in Englewood for a year, and when I began to look for a house to buy, I really didn't have a lot of options. To be honest with you. I was steered to Teaneck; the realtors kind of brought me to Teaneck. By the way, I'm very much against steering. I think that people should have a .choice. I may have chosen Teaneck just because it might be my lifestyle, but I don't think anyone should have taken away all my other options.
CLEVELAND: Did they steer you because you're black?
BROOKS: Sure. But anyway, I did like the lifestyle. And I think that I would like to see Teaneck not only survive, but prosper. And when I say survive, I'm talking in the sociological sense. I think that, to a lot of people, Teaneck probably is something that they would prefer not to exist because it makes them uncomfortable. And this might of might be people of all walk of life; I'm not saying that they're any special groups. And I think it makes them uncomfortable because many people don't think a Teaneck can work.
CLEVELAND: Are you talking about people in Teaneck or people outside?
BROOKS: I'm talking about, predominantly, people outside of Teaneck. The reason I say that is, you still have realtors who play their tricks, and you still have people who are not realtors who articulate an image of Teaneck that's not real.
I can think of some instances. We had a case, I think about three years ago, I'm not sure, of a family that lived in the West Englewood area, off of Windsor Road. Their house was on fire. This was in the middle of the night or early morning, it was a black family. And a white newsboy sounded the alarm and went out and got a ladder and... This guy wasn't concerned about who lived in the house. He was concerned with the safety of human beings and he took care of it. We had another case where a family, they lived on Palisades Avenue, not too far from Cedar Lane, they were a white. Italian family: their house was wiped out and I think the mother died of a heart attack shortly after. The community go together, and when I say the community, everybody, and raised funds to rebuild that house. I never heard anybody say, we're going to do this for this ethnic group, they just said, here's a family in trouble, let's do something about it. And the community as a whole did something about it.
CLEVELAND: You said that there are people outside of Teaneck who don't believe that this kind of concept or this kind of lifestyle can work. Is it that they don't believe it can or that they would prefer that it didn't-,
BROOKS: I'm not so sure. but maybe the result is the same. You know, if persons conduct themselves in a certain way, irrespective of the motivation, the result's the same.
CLEVELAND: Is it important to you to be the first black mayor?
BROOKS: No. No. I kind of separate the idea of being mayor from being black. My belief is, people will probably judge me on whether or not I'm an adequate mayor, adequate or good. And whether I'm black or not is not going to make that much of a difference. If I'm a fairly decent mayor, they will say, that guy's a fairly decent mayor. If I'm in their minds less than a fairly decent mayor, they're going to say that guy's less than a decent mayor. The blackness might come into play then. They might say, you know, he's inadequate because he's black, but I doubt that. I think people are getting beyond those issues and people are more concerned with the way a person carries himself and the way a person represents the town. And I think they're less concerned, this is my belief, whether that person is black, blue or whatever that person might be.
There is a sense of pride and a sense of achievement on my part and I think that there should be a sense of pride and a sense of achievement insofar as blacks are concerned. But that's kind of a limited thing, you can't just make too much out of this.