Mayor of Denville New Jersey
(Continued from the August issue of The Pulse of Denville)
The tragic devastation of Hurricane Irene has been well documented. When the storm that was called a once-in-a-hundred-years flood hit New Jersey on August 27, 2011, many lives were changed forever. Unfortunately, for some, that was the end of an era. For Denville Mayor Tom Andes, it was just the beginning.
Since they first moved into Denville, Tom and his wife, Sharon have raised their family of five children and have lived in the same home for 35 years. At the closing of his home, he was recruited to volunteer for Saint Clare’s Harvest Festival. He was on his way as a volunteer in Denville, where he served on the town council for over a decade, until being elected mayor in 2011.
During his tenure of public service, Tom has had a leadership position in building ten playgrounds. As a councilman, he voted for conservative fiscal planning. As mayor, through sound financial management, he placed a moratorium on letting utility companies dig up newly paved streets, eliminated municipal take-home vehicles by six autos, and has paid down Denville’s debt. Most recently, Tom has worked to get Denville’s bond rating upgraded to AA1 (Moody’s second highest rating).
Mayor Andes was kind enough to meet with The Pulse of Denville to discuss his previous record of public service, and his vision for the future of Denville.
After several months of dealing with the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene, you were officially sworn in as Mayor on January 1st, 2012. What was your plan of action for Denville?
I was ready to get to work on the continued clean-up of Denville, as well as many other projects, and see what aid was available to the town. Denville was lucky that it had had such a conservative plan in place and had saved money for so many years that we could cope with such an emergency. We actually had funds available to be able to move forward. Many towns in New Jersey, and elsewhere throughout the country, spend so frivolously and wouldn’t have been so fortunate.
So, our immediate agenda was: Pay for the cleanup, rebuild the firehouse (a $1 million project, of which we recouped $360,000 from FEMA), perform affordable and achievable flood mitigation of the Rockaway River (such as constant monitoring and de-snagging of the river by our Rivers & Streams Committee), install new flap valves and rubber gaskets on selected manhole covers, utilize a one-time, county-level grant from The Christie Administration to dredge the Rockaway River, and get funding from the Army Corps of Engineers for a major flood mitigation project for Denville. Our final immediate agenda item was to reclaim our downtown and make it better than ever. With the help of three Federal Grants administered by the state, we have now received $1.5 million in grants to upgrade our downtown, which you have seen on Broadway and will soon be seeing on First Ave.
Slowly but surely the downtown got back on its feet, and soon the business community wanted to operate as a group, like Main Street New Jersey, the state sponsored program that tries to assist towns in revitalizing their business districts and neighborhoods. One of the funding options in that program allows the town to pay one-third, the business membership to pay one-third, and then raise the final third of the cost by fundraising. That is a tenuous way to fund anything, because fundraising is never guaranteed. The other method is imposing a tax on the business community, which neither the Council nor I wanted to enact without their consent.
So, it was the business community that came to the township to collectivize, and, after it was clear that the vast majority of the business community looked favorably on its creation, it was then that the Council and I agreed to establish BID (Business Improvement District).
It has been eight years since Hurricane Irene and overall, the town has returned to, and even exceeded, its vibrancy and vitality. The Executive Director of Downtown Denville, Ryan Gleason and the Board of Directors hold monthly meetings, recruit volunteers, and promote the Downtown Denville events. They just received a Main Street New jersey Grant for $25,000 that they will match to put toward improvements to the Bloomfield Avenue parking lot. With the talent and hard work of the Denville Beautification Committee, our downtown has never looked better.
Those are important achievements and accomplishments. What are you most proud of, both personally and publicly?
On a personal level, I am most proud of working with the Boy Scouts, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, and being Chairman of The Boy Scouts. Being in the Boy Scouts of America for my entire life has made me the person I am today, and has helped me be an effective government official.
As a public servant of Denville, I would say I am most proud of building ten playgrounds (including Gardner Field) in the last 25 years, and our Open Space. As a Councilman, I was part of preserving hundreds of acres of open space, and, as Mayor, I negotiated with The Diocese of Paterson to purchase their property on Cooper Road adjacent to the Knuth Farm.
Moving The Board of Education into the municipal building was a big achievement. We only charge them $1.00 in rent, which saves them $60,000 a year. It’s all the same tax dollar, so why make them pay rent and spend tax money unnecessarily? It’s also efficient having The Board of Education, the Police Department, the Township Administrator and the Mayor all in one building.
Also, I am extremely proud of our Class 3 Officer program. Former Police Chief Christopher Wagner and Superintendent Steve Forte worked very closely with Senator Tony Bucco to get legislation passed to allow retired police officers to work in schools at reduced rates, and without benefits. Once it became law, it took everyone – the Police Department, the Board of Education, and the Township – to work together so that we could place retired police officers with the rank sergeant or higher into all of our schools. The kids and teachers love having the officers there, and so do the parents. We have agreements in place for a School Resource Officer or SRO in Morris Knolls and Morris County Vocational High Schools. The schools have never been safer.
Speaking of the Police, as Mayor, how was the recent transition from former Chief Christopher Wagner, to Denville’s new Chief of Police, Frank Perna?
The transition was smooth and seamless, and very easy. It could not have been better. Chief Perna was the right man for the job, and he has my full support. He is a leader. I also appreciate Frank’s involvement in and dedication to Denville’s Class 3 Officer and SRO programs.
What message do you have for the residents of Denville, and why should they vote for you in the upcoming election?
Well, it has been an honor and a privilege to be the Mayor of Denville, and I hope to be your Mayor again, because there’s much more to do. We need to continue to improve the infrastructure, and continue to try and control our taxes.
We’ve worked with The Army Corps of Engineers (which has a pre-approved $10 million in funds). They are currently studying Denville’s floodway plan application at a cost to them of $1.2 million. If they deem the plan to be viable, it should become implemented since the money has already been allocated. So, there is hope, and we remain diligent in our efforts.
I also believe in getting as much Federal, State and local tax money back as we can, from grant applications or any other monies that are allotted to New Jersey or Morris County. We are also working diligently to get the most difficult of grants – for transportation – for Denville, but it takes persistence and patience.
And, we don’t give up, like so many other towns do, just because of the frustration of dealing with so much red tape. All in all we received $9.6 million dollars over the last eight years in grants and FEMA reimbursements.
If elected to another term, our team is planning to make more flood mitigation improvements, continue to increase paving the roads, put in another ball field at Veterans Field, complete every street in our Downtown Streetscape Project, and put in new trees on Main Street and on Diamond Spring Road. And, to do so as conservatively as possible, I am still striving to reach a perfect AAA bond rating for Denville.
I am very happy to be running with Councilman John Murphy, Angie Cote and Harry Fahrer. John has worked very closely with making the downtown BID a reality. Angie volunteers on the Recreation Committee, and Harry is a member of the Board of Adjustment. They will be great additions to the governing body.
Over the last 25 years, I have displayed the ability to work with people, the vision to make the necessary and proper improvements for Denville, and shown diligence and patience to get the downtown improvement grants. I have shown consistent dedication, commitment and leadership to get these jobs done.
Also, I’m a regular guy, and I am very approachable and accessible. My office door is always open, and if you see me at church, in the supermarket, or walking downtown or anywhere, and you have an idea or a suggestion, please let me know. I’d love to hear it, and I’m here to help. I am really just a volunteer, and I work for all the residents of Denville.
- B.A. in Business Administration, William Patterson College
- Municipal Elected Officials Certificate, Rutgers University
- Management Labor Relations Certificate, NJ Dept. of Labor
- Mayor of Denville, 2012-current
- Former Denville Town Council 2000-2011
- Three time Denville Town Council President 2007, 2008 & 2010
- Denville PRIDE member
- Denville Republican Committee member
- Morris County League of Municipalities Board Member & Current President
- Knights of Columbus member
- Simon Alexander Award, Celebrate the Children,2018
- Outstanding Public Official Award, Morris County Park Alliance, 2018
- Eagle Scout Hall of Fame, Patriots Path Council, BSA, 2018
- Public Service Award, New Jersey Park & Recreation, 2012
- President’s Plate, Kiwanis International, 2012
- Hurricane Hero, St. Clare’s Health System, 2012
- Good Scout Award, Boy Scouts of America, 2000
- Mini Bowl, St. Clare’s Hospital, 2000
- Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Denville Rotary Club, 1997
- Eagle Scout, Boy Scouts of America, 1974
Andes, T., and Ward, S. Surviving and Thriving After Hurricane Irene. New Jersey Municipalities. May, 2012.
Roche, M. The Smiling Face of Denville: Mayor Tom Andes. My Life Publications. September 18, 2018.