Last month, the Jersey City organization Civic JC, along with the Citizens’ Campaign (a branch of the Edison-based Center for Civic Responsibility), announced the results of a new survey that calls for improving civic participation in Jersey City.
The survey, known as the Citizens’ Rights and Responsibilities Survey, evaluates 16 areas of the city’s civic infrastructure based in three different structures: city government, the city’s school system and the structure of the Democratic and Republican parties in Jersey City.
The results of the survey found four of the 16 areas to be positive, nine lacking, and three in need of improvement.
The survey is the culmination of work that took nearly a year of research and obtaining public records done by several Civic JC members.
The survey was formed based on previous surveys formulated by the Citizens’ Campaign that was conducted in several other New Jersey municipalities including Newark, Paterson, Plainfield, Trenton, and Hamilton.
Civic JC is a nonpartisan, Jersey City community-based group that over the past two years has pushed for more open government.
It helped City Councilman Steven Fulop to draft one referendum to ban contractors and developers doing business with the city from making political contributions to local candidates for one year after their contract begins. The other referendum that Fulop is promoting would prevent local elected officials and government employees from collecting more than one taxpayer-financed salary. Civic JC is also collecting petitions to place the referenda on the November general election ballot.Conveying a survey
Several members of Civic JC along with representatives for Citizens’ Campaign gathered on Feb. 20 in the City Council Caucus room of City Hall in Jersey City to discuss the survey.
The survey looked at a variety of issues including political parties, appointed government positions, direct citizen engagement in local politics, and civic education.
The four positives in their survey was citizen input at Jersey City public meetings; the city’s municipal website listing up-to-date information for the council, planning board, and zoning board meetings; the city’s Board of Education website containing updated information on their monthly meetings; and the schools offering civics classes for their students.
The negatives from the survey are: Jersey City has no ban on political fund raising; no city requirement for developers to disclose political contributions; no regulation on public contracting regarding “pay-to-play” practices (where someone makes campaign contributions to politicians for political or financial benefit); no regulation to protect redevelopment in the city against “pay-to-play” abuse; no city ban on political fund raising in government offices; Jersey City political parties lack local party constitutions and bylaws for elected committee people; local party constitutions do not provide for platform committees and guarantee neighborhood party representatives’ voting rights on party endorsements and platforms; a public directory of appointed citizen positions is not maintained; no formal and open application process exists for citizens to apply for positions on boards, commissions, and authorities; and adult civics education classes on local government, local political parties, citizen’s rights and opportunities for participation are not offered.
Three civic areas in Jersey City found in need of strengthening were reducing the number of vacancies in Democratic and Republican political party committees; controlling levels of campaign spending for local elections to bring them within the reach of coalitions of average citizens, and reducing the number of vacancies in citizen positions on boards, commissions, and authorities within the municipal government. A survey of their thoughts
Downtown resident Dan Levin was one of the Civic JC members who worked on the survey. He pointed out that the survey was originally called the Civic Health Survey but instead was changed to its current name.
“This survey is about objectively evaluating how to have a clean and transparent government and encourage more citizen participation,” Levin said.
Levin said the survey came out of discussions with Citizens’ Campaign after City Councilman Steven Fulop proposed legislation to ban “pay-to-play” on the city level, which was voted down by the City Council in January 2007.
With the help of Civic JC, that rejection led Fulop to turn the council legislation into a referendum.
Jersey City Heights resident Norrice Raymaker, who is associated with Citizens’ Campaign, said the work she did for the survey was a “challenge” but was “ultimately rewarding.”
Andrew Hubsch, another Civic JC member, also confirmed the challenge involved in doing the research work for the survey, but he offered praise for the various city officials who helped them get access to the documents for the survey, particularly City Clerk Robert Byrne.
Cristina Maria Rojas, Citizens’ Campaign Hudson County chair, and Heather Taylor, also with Citizens’ Campaign, both confirmed that there are plans for forums to take place in different neighborhoods in Jersey City to discuss the survey further. Both also commended the Jersey City team for their work on the survey. For more on the survey, visit www.civicjc.org. Comments on this story can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org