Monday, October 3, 2011

Bergen LEADS teaches how BERGEN LEADS!

Submitted by Tom Colwell
The newly-minted Class of 2012 met this week for our opening retreat with two solidly packed days of meeting, greeting and Bergen County.
After an early breakfast, we became acquainted with our new best friends…Ms Spoon-on-her- keychain, the AFLAC Duck Guy, Mr Flag Shirt, Ms Boat Prism, Mr Picture of Daughter - and the list goes on! Oh don’t let me forget that woman – the one whose grandmother named her – we wouldn’t have remembered she was late except she pulled a microphone out of her bag!!!! (and yes Caffie - we also think Amanda’s e-mail said 8:30am!) See Lynne, your exercise worked for good or bad - we remembered all our new best friends!
The first order of business was to have us stop and think – Leaders need to be aware! Great Leaders look beyond themselves! Those that had watches moved them to their other wrist so that when they looked where it always is and was no longer there – we would stop and think what else is different? (amazing how many people do NOT wear watches anymore? Can this exercise start to include cell phones?) What is your wedge of consciousness? Are we aware of what is around us? Are we operating in a bubble? Do we stop and look around at how we work, teach, share and pay attention to the world around us?
We were educated in the art of BLAME it on Bergen Leads. Hopefully we will all take Lynne’s advice and step out of our comfort zone to call or meet someone in Bergen County to talk about issues. Let’s cause trouble for ourselves and others and Blame it on Bergen Leads!
In an atmosphere where people are constantly confronted with Corporate Greed, political leaders who are crooks (although not all – actually not most) we are reminded that many of the leaders in the news are there for selfish reasons. The “True Leaders” are behind the scenes – making positive change for others in addition to themselves. Leaders are looking beyond themselves for a greater good.
At this point, we broke up into teams and were sent on a scavenger hunt around our designated area of Bergen County. (It was rumored that someone saw the Aflac Duck man racing through the County before 7:30am trying to find our meeting spot – apparently Amanda’s email was wrong again!) There were great stories of new-found treasures, historical sites, restaurants, playgrounds, farms (with really good donuts), and places we want to go back to with our families. But we have to wait until tomorrow to debrief.
From the early rumors, the best part of our trips was the lunch we each shared with different non-profits in Bergen County. We met face to face with REAL BERGEN COUNTY LEADERS. Each of them looking beyond themselves and making a real difference in our society – they are all agents for growth. This exercise was quintessential BERGEN LEADS!!! Local groups, under the public radar that are making real impacts on people’s lives that in turn benefit all residents of Bergen County.
Our next order of business was a great presentation by Professor Phil Dolce of Bergen Community College. He taught by example showing us how leaders are giving, humble and not afraid to acknowledge what they do not know. We learned about Suburbia – how it was set up and that parents are the cause of yet another problem in society. Apparently, parents were supposed to move back to the city after raising children – leaving Suburbia to the growing families. Well, parents liked it so much that they stayed. (I wonder if parents realize that IF they went back to that small apartment in the city – us kids would not have moved back in after college and stayed until we were 35!). I hope this blog isn’t responsible for another real estate bubble when the parents realize this.
Professor Dolce led us to look at the opportunity around us - not the liabilities. We should focus on building communities, not just buildings. We should look at shared services and convince our communities that shared services is not all bad – look at water and power. Our leaders should be smart and not try to sell shared services with hot button services – ie Police and Fire. Let’s start with something small and build on it.
Bergen County should be meeting with Fairfield county, Westchester County and other large suburban counties to discuss similar issues and learn from each other. The US Congress has an Urban Caucus and a Rural Caucus, but there is no Suburban Caucus. Why Not??? How come Community Colleges are not operating as think tanks for the Counties? This could and should be the place where Bergen learns, educates and LEADS!
In a very educated way, by quoting the Greek (?) meaning - we were advised by Professor Dolce not to spectators in our communities or we will turn into Suburban Idiots!
From here we went to New Bridge Landing for an unbelievable history lesson (although, we think Pat was eying up another bridge for a toll!).
Kevin Wright, past BCHS President, met us on the front porch of the Steuben House. We lucked out with a beautiful day, (Hurricane Irene had flooded the first level and the floor was still drying out!) so we could really appreciate the talk he gave looking directly at the river and imagining a time past. Having grown up less than 3 miles from here and not realizing the importance of this place – I was quickly reminded of being a Suburban Idiot – Thank you Professor Dolce!
Prof Wright (Honorary degree compliments of Bergen Leads) taught us that you cannot predict the future based on the past but you can certainly learn from the past and that will have an effect on the future!
Tourism is NJ’s Second Largest Industry and not enough credit is given to Bergen County or to its History. Two-thirds of the US Revolution was fought in NJ with most of the fighting done right here in Bergen County. The New Bridge was the only crossing except for the “Little Ferry” that only ran when the captain of the boat felt it necessary.
We learned that George Washington became the first Commander-in-Chief in Hackensack NJ. This is where he took control of the American Garrison of Fort Lee, called all the soldiers back from the Palisades to west of the river and delayed British and German forces from taking control. (And all we thought Washington did in Bergen County was sleep in a lot of different houses.)
We were reminded (although a good number of us probably didn’t know or remember) that on November 20, 1776 this was the only Democracy in the World. AMAZING! And Bergen County was the first Multicultural Democratic Society. AMAZING! The majority of the population were Dutch, but there we African Americans, German, Scots-Irish and others that all lived in this area. (And how come we did not remember this? Or better yet – why doesn’t everyone know this?)
Where we were standing was a beach just 60 years ago. Hard for us to imagine, but if it was still beach, would Snookie and the Situation be on location at Historic New Bridge Landing (although maybe in Colonial Dress!)? Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky.
The architecture of the Steuben House – one story gabled roof - thought to be Dutch – is actually home grown right here in Northern NJ and Southern NY.  Professor Wright said “Any architecture student (of any worth that is) would look at picture of this house and say that the design could be traced to Bergen County and a few other counties in close proximity.” Who says NJ doesn’t have culture!
Bergen County was a major producer of cereal grain - only to be put out of business in the short period of 10 years after the opening of the Erie Canal. In the 1820’s Bergen County was known for its Strawberries while the 1870’s highlighted basket making as a very prominent profession. Bergen County was a major supplier of wood to NYC and bricks from Bergen County clay were a commodity from about 1853 to 1929. Wow – think of how our local environment adapted to the cultures and the economy of the times.
Another locality, Paramus, was known as the Celery Capital of the world. In the 1950’s the Garden State Parkway and Garden State Plaza arrived, replacing the celery in Paramus with shopping malls. Hello Suburbia! Bergen is the premier suburban county in the USA.
Bergen County has always been a suburb – even before there were suburbs. This land was always a mix between commuters to NYC and local farmers. As with any diverse population - competing interests was news of the day. One particular issue, education, seems to still be a topic for discussion in Bergen County 150 years later. (Sound familiar? - I think Prof Wright was right - maybe we can learn something from the past.)
The issue of education - What curriculum? Who goes to what school? Who will pay? Makes you think a newspaper article from this time could be reprinted in the Bergen Record with a few changes to occupation and nobody would be the wiser. Commuters to NYC want a high level of education for their children while farmers are more concerned with an agriculture education and help on the farm. Well then what did they do? Each group set up their own school and funded the operation of paying for teachers and heat, etc which is why there are so many school districts in Bergen County.
How many of our friends and neighbors wonder why each municipality has its own school board?
We learned that this set-up led to disagreements and legal battles – not unlike what happens today. Oradell drew their municipal boundary to include the water company property because it was the largest taxpayer in the area. Petesburgh (currently the borough of New Milford) sued Oradell and lost.
This resulted in The Township Consolidation School Act of 1894.  This act provided the basis for school board and munipality boundaries to match. In one year, 46 boroughs were founded as a result of this law. Where was the planning? Where was Bergen Leads at the time? 
After a tour of the second floor of the Steuben House, Bergen LEADS marched like revolutionaries (hungry for food, not freedom) across New Bridge to Sanzari’s New Bridge Inn for great conversation and an excellent meal! (NB: the author of this blog has a degree in Marketing – not History, so please take any and all errors or embellishments into perspective. Please direct all friends and neighbors to Bergencountyhistory.org)

3 comments:

Gwen Keeble said...

Class of 2012 - congratulations and welcome to Bergen Leads! I hope you are ready for an action packed year. No, I am sure you are ready. Enjoy. I will be very interested in your progress.

Gwen Keeble (BL Class of 2011)

Lisa Gladwell said...

It sounds like the Opening Retreat was a great start to a year of internal and external exploration! Excellent blog Tom!

Synetek Solutions said...

Enjoyed reading the post Class of 2012. Feels like our opening retreat was yesterday. Keep them coming.