Photo by civic engagement storyteller Xavier Boone.

Come on down to city hall and be heard!

In order for one to stay informed of happenings in the town or of upcoming city council meetings, one must have an interest in city council. The meeting announcement doesn’t make it onto the “For You” or “Explore” tabs in the well-known social media apps. 

Scrolling through Instagram like any 20-something-year-old would, put an ordinance on my radar, and with a little due diligence to confirm the content of the social media post to be true, I discovered a motorist fine of $175 that would be discussed at the upcoming meeting. 

After sharing the post and adding a text box for my followers to respond, the majority responding were a demographic of 20-something-year-old city natives with opinions stemming from all angles from cyclist, pedestrians and drivers alike.

One response embodied the general attitude of–what I’ve found to be–most natives’: “The people in charge are going to do what they want.”

Cities are guaranteed to change, but how? 

That’s decided at city council meetings. The first city council meeting of the year was Jan. 10 and as a first time attendee, it was overwhelming to say the least.

Picture for a second: you lace up your kicks, grab your bike lock and traverse the streets to Grove. You lock your bike outside City Hall and follow signs to the entrance or you walk up every flight of stairs outside the building until you find the singular operating entrance on Montgomery Street.

Get past the metal detectors, take the elevator up and walk through the giant doors in front of the hole in the floor and boom… 

Welcome To The Council Meeting 

Local government officials are voted in to represent the interests of their communities and those who voted for them. 

Hudson County is jam packed with cities poised with prime real estate. With inevitable change coming, one must ask themselves how can I get involved?

City Councilmember Frank Gilmore has provided the public with a landing page “Everythingwardf.com.”

It’s a platform “designed to help Ward F constituents stay informed and aware of events concerning the Ward F CommUNITY. Find Resources, Learn about Block Associations, Participate in Caucus Meetings & More!” 

The platform puts all interests that may present themselves within the community and the corresponding links inform people about ways to volunteer and housing applications. 

There is also a corresponding social media page on both Instagram and Facebook: @everythingwardf.

The People

Attending a city council meeting as a fly on the wall is a task that one may find hard to do if they’d like to have a say in the matters at hand.

Suggestions for changes to infrastructure, fines, public issues and finance management of municipal funds can be brought to the table by anyone that takes time out of their day to be heard.

When asked about the contents of the agenda Keshawn Smalls, a Caribbean-American and life-time city resident told Slice of Culture, “I know what an ordinance is but why doesn’t it just use the word law?” and continued to critique the verbiage calling it “very wordy.”

In attendance were groups of individuals that showed up to support the changes they’d like to see.

The council opens the floor to the public to be heard, but for specific ordinances with respect to its process. If you’d like to be heard and voice your concerns one must register with the county clerk. 

Residents voiced concerns from all parts of Jersey City, there was an attendant from Hoboken making an appearance to voice suggestions. 

Tenants of multiple apartment buildings from Downtown have joined forces and brought their concerns at the forefront of the local government. The group has fought for rent control at their downtown apartment and have won their battle for an ordinance in October of 2023 thanks to City Council.

Amongst the large group of tenants was Judith Rodgers, a seven-year tenant of 100 Montgomery Street, who has been making appearances all year. Alleged black mold, water in the walls, and water pouring from electrical outlets are some of the issues that manifest themselves within the apartment. 

The building’s owners are also being accused of hiding the building’s information like apartment availability, applications and its affordable housing opportunities.

Rodgers told Slice of Culture that all of her service requests or anything related to the building went unanswered and ignored “until I started talking to the right people.”

“You have to apply in person, and I’ve gotten a studio apartment within six months of applying while others have been on the waitlist for years.” She added. “I’m on my way out, but this is for the families that are still in the building and want to sign their apartments to their children or family. Should the kids feel like they don’t deserve to live downtown?”

100 Montgomery Street in Jersey City. (Xavier Boone / SOC Images)

I or Nay 

The council unanimously approved a $175 parking fine to combat the New Jersey Driver attitude in fashion that seemed to lack any form of push back or adjustment to the ordinance at hand.

One woman shared her perspective as a pedestrian requesting any form of cyclist road and sidewalk regulation, which, so far, seems to have gone unheard.

Three councilmembers brought up points; slowing down traffic also slows down emergency vehicles and cyclists also require some form of regulation or an attitude reform to keep everyone safe. 

Among the 20-somethings that replied to the Instagram story, Shar Parrenas provided input, “I’m for it. But I can justify $175 because illegal parking for cars is $50-75.” She also goes on to share a story of her near-miss with a cyclist late at night. 

“I had a green light. I was ready to go and make a left turn. 

This cyclist coming from my left blew the red light diagonally.

And it was dark.

Luckily I always watch out for them because I know they don’t follow rules

So I didnt hit him.”

She continued to expressed that she’d be–probably–guilty before an investigation is executed if the collision did take place. She goes on to stress that both motorists and cyclists must communicate with one another more.

Rossman Agbanlog, another 20-something year-old, shared the post with his branch of the cyclist community and the chat went “brazy.”

“The bike lanes are way more dangerous than the roads. And as a fixed gear rider I am always in the street because knowingly in bike lanes there’s too much going on,  that’s why I avoid it,” Agbanlog said.

He goes on to detail an accident that took place within the bike lane between him and a speeding electric cyclist, “There were no signs of horns, lights or any signs of attention.”

Feeling Invisible?

Some don’t show up because they are busy at work, and others and believe that “The people in charge are going to do what they want.” The reason for a lack in attendance is a lack in interest in government at any level, with that comes a lack of awareness, education or faith.

When asked about the initial interest in local government, Greg Williams said “my dad had to pay a landlord, I see my dad go to work every day and this guy just comes to collect, at the time I didn’t understand but it was all about your position.” 

“Shaking Glenn D. Cunningham’s hand, the first Black mayor of Jersey City changed the way I see things,” Williams continued. “When he passed, the emotions came, and you could only relate if you were growing up here.” 

Williams told SOC there are places in the state that he’d feel guilty throwing trash on the ground, but when he’s in Jersey City, it feels natural pointing out that Mallory Avenue only has one public garbage can. 

He asks, “We want a cleaner city but where do I put my trash? If you want to charge the people before improving public transportation then every Jersey City resident should be provided a free bike or citi bike membership.”

He then goes on to share information he’s received through the grapevine: “If you want to see things change all you need is a petition.”

Deandre Frazier, another lifetime resident, admits to being “preoccupied with other things” synonymous to being a developing inner-city kid but President Barack Obama’s 2008 election changed things for him. 

Those that understand the power in local government and the importance in attending the council meetings can show up and make a difference.

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