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Getting ‘good people’ involved in politics Call to Service encourages employees to take active role in government

By , - Last modified: March 2, 2011 at 3:41 PM

Verizon New Jersey President Dennis Bone wants more of his employees to get involved in local government — whether they run for mayor or build a new playground.

“As an observer of what goes on in New Jersey, and seeing a lot of corruption, it’s very clear that one of the antidotes is to get good people involved, all throughout the system,” Bone said.

Business and labor leaders around the state are jumping on board the Jersey Call to Service bandwagon, including, from left, Dennis Bone, president of Verizon New Jersey; Raymond Pocino, national eastern vice president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America; and Harry Pozycki, head of the Citizens’ Campaign, pictured at Verizon New Jersey’s offices in Newark. [Christina Mazza]
Which is why Bone is among the leaders supporting the nonpartisan Jersey Call to Service summit, sponsored by the Citizens’ Campaign. On June 9, this free, grassroots event may draw 1,000 New Jerseyans to New Brunswick’s Hyatt Regency for workshops on topics like: how to lower property taxes and reduce government waste; how to get elected to the largely invisible party committees that make key decisions; and how to get appointed to local commissions or boards, or get elected to town council.

Camille Frazier, a Verizon service manager, took the New Jersey Citizens’ Campaign class and organized an environmental project in her hometown of Voorhees. Working with the town’s parks department and experts from Rutgers University, she is planting a “rain garden” with native plants and shrubs to “create a natural filtration system that keeps dirt and debris out of the sewers.”

Next, Frazier plans to tackle the problem of how to cut property taxes without slashing essential services: “What are the good budget cuts we can make? We have to be smart and save money before we start headcount chopping.”

Former Gov. Tom Kean is the honorary chairman, while former Gov. Brendan Byrne will be among the speakers.

“We don’t teach your grandfather’s civics,” said Harry Pozycki, who in 2004 co-founded the Citizens’ Campaign, whose workshops have taught 1,000 Jerseyans the intricacies of local government — with the goal of reaching 50,000 people in the next three years.

The Citizens’ Campaign grew out of the Center for Civic Responsibility, which Pozycki, a former Metuchen councilman and Middlesex freeholder, co-founded 10 years ago. “New Jersey has the most educated citizenry in the country, and there is no one who will deny that we have attitude,” he said. “My theory is if you can combine our brains and our attitude with some basic knowledge of how government works, we can be the first state out of the recession, and we can lead the nation in creating a culture of service.”

Cooper University Hospital Foundation CEO Susan Bass Levin, whose public service resume includes mayor of Cherry Hill and commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, said, “Things only happen if you work hard for them, and that means speaking out, spending time and getting involved. America is built on people who speak out and speak up.”

Among the leaders backing the Call to Service is Raymond Pocino, national eastern vice president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “Business and labor have a common interest in New Jersey — being viewed by business as a good place to come and do business. Our reputation now is for having a culture of corruption and waste. I’d like to see that replaced by a reputation for service and frugality,” he said.

Bone wrote to Verizon’s 18,000 employees, encouraging them to attend the June 9 summit; about 100 Verizon employees now serve in local government, and he’d like that number to rise. The Citizens’ Campaign has trained 100 instructors who go out to businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, foundations, Rotary clubs, YMCAs, colleges — any venue that can raise a crowd of democracy-minded Jerseyans.

Wayne Richardson, president of Local 55 of the Laborers’ union, is a Citizens’ Campaign graduate who in February was appointed to the Central Planning Board of the city of Newark. He said his construction background makes the planning board a good fit. “We deal with everything, from a new 220-unit residential development to somebody who wants to renovate his house.”

The planning board is a major commitment, he said: “There’s a lot of reading, and I go out and look at the site before the meeting. I want to be as familiar with the project as I can be. This isn’t a ribbon-cutting job; this is a true commitment and a lot of work.”

To register for the summit, visit www.jointhecampaign.com.

­E-mail to bfitzgerald@njbiz.com

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