We asked Nureed Saeed to answer in her own words the following questions.
1. What is motivating you to run?
In the wake of the November election, I went through an emotional process, as many of us did. I was afraid. More afraid than I have ever been in my life. I stayed home and held my children close. I felt myself checking my surroundings. Questioning people when they looked at me. I began thinking of ways to emigrate in order to protect my family from racial and religious persecution. At the same time, I would be angry as to why do I have to leave MY country. Why is this not a place for me and my kids? Then I began to channel that fear, anger and sadness into ways I could participate in engaging my friends and community into this discussion. I started to attend different talks, getting comfortable with sharing my story and being part of the human conversation. Through this process, I realized that I am not alone in my feelings and that I can use my voice to advance the human condition forward.
If we want to make change, we have to participate. I am not a politician. I am a mother of 3 small children who realized if I want a different world for them, I need to engage in the process. I am a small business owner who has experienced first-hand the difficulties of opening a business in South Orange and realized if I want to improve the process for others, I need to engage in the process. I am a proud South Orange village resident who realized if I want to help the town reach its' full potential, then I need to engage in the process. I am a fortunate human being and it is my duty to participate and give a voice for those who cannot. I am running for my family, for my friends, for my community, and for a realization that I have an enormous duty as an American and as a Muslim to play my part in democracy.
2. What is your vision for how to thoughtfully develop South Orange?
South Orange’s downtown has enormous potential to become a vibrant, engaging and fiscally productive epicenter for the village. Much of the recent development has focused on housing for the downtown. I would focus, in partnership with the SOVCA, on how to create a viable mixed used, retail center. How to create more of a gathering and destination center for our village vs. a pass-through center for commuters.
Beyond the downtown, each residential neighborhood in South Orange has a unique make up, some of them historic, adding to the richness of our village. I would partner with the neighborhood associations to look at maintaining the spirit of each neighborhood, with downtown residential development that adds value but also ensures the integrity of South Orange as a sought after location to live.
3. How will your experience in your career translate into helping the town develop?
I have spent 15 years of my career developing retail brands. From mall development to downtown epicenters, I have travelled to, researched and analyzed these developments in order to determine viable retail store formats. In my experience, not only did it matter if the financial draws of a development made sense, but the overall branding of the center was equally important. Leases were treated as partnerships between the development and the retailer, with each party responsible for factors that determine each other’s success. I would work to build more equitable partnerships with developers and landlords and a stronger mixed-use retail branding message for the downtown.
4. What are your thoughts on zoning?
Zoning is important to the overall development of a town. Appropriate zoning laws, enforcing zoning laws and ensuring the zoning of each neighborhood and street in the town meets a consistent branding standard are all key in ensuring the integrity of the development being done helps to bolster our town, not diminish it. If you visit cities in the US where zoning laws did not exist or were not adhered to, you will find what I call a town that lacks a soul. They are confusing mixes that deter from the vision of the town and diminish the value of the surrounding real estate.
5. What do you bring to the table that is different from the other candidates running?
Those who know me well know that I am not one to back down or give up when I believe something is truly right. I can assure the community that, I would have the best interests of the community at heart and voice my individual thoughts without hesitation. I am not a politician. I am a person who is activated by a deep belief in my duty to serve the voices in the community whose thoughts have not been heard or are not properly represented. The current Board is made up of people who have all run together at some point or another. We get our best ideas when people come to solve a problem with their independent skills, perspectives and experiences. I can provide a voice that is not part of the Group Think and challenge us to think critically and expand our vision.
I am the only candidate with an extensive background in retail development. Our downtown has made some gains, but needs a strong brand vision to truly become a vibrant mixed-use retail destination for the community. I believe in creative thinking and innovation in thinking. My motto is there is always a more creative and resourceful way to accomplish our goals. Furthermore, I would be the only member of the Board who is a newer community member and mother of young children. That’s the perspective of a lot of our newer community members whose ideas for what they want out of our town need to be represented. Many of these families have two commuting parents who can’t attend a 9am Planning meeting. They need a voice who will speak up for their needs and ways the town can think outside the box to meet them. Jitney pass kiosks for example would be a great way to ensure residents who are working could meet their needs.
I bring a truly unique perspective just by nature of my story. I am the first born American child to immigrants from Pakistan. My parents left everything to come here and afford me the American dream. I am a product of their no-nonsense work ethic, deep compassion and charitable nature. By nature of my upbringing, inclusion and participation are key factors that drive me. Bringing those ideas to the village, I think would help to not only heal the growing divide in our community, but would allow through that dialogue a fresh inclusion of diverse voices and ideas. Our community is changing. More and more younger families are moving in and more and more millennial voices would like to call this community home. I believe I bring that much needed voice of inclusion and also the future to the table.
6. Describe some examples in which you brought multiple stakeholders together towards a common goal?
In my previous career as the Vice President of Business Development and Licensing for Greg Norman, I was responsible for the fiscal achievement and management of both the domestic and international businesses. I developed, organized, and communicated the branding, business, retail and product strategies for 20 licensees, representing 8 product licenses and 49 countries. Prior to that, I was the Senior Director of Global Licensing at Kenneth Cole. I was responsible for 10 domestic licensees, which represented 25% of the company’s revenue. I was also responsible for the retail store development and management of 45 stores, in 12 countries. On a daily basis, I was required to listen and partner with all of these stakeholders in order to achieve the common goal of growth for the brand. Effectively bringing together that many parties and the listening and partnering that is required to do it, is something I am adept at given my career. Today as an interior designer, I must be able to effectively listen to the needs of my clients for their spaces and merge that with a vision that fits an overall successful end result. Lastly as any mother of multiple children can tell you, I am constantly bringing together these three very different people towards a common goal of family. Listening and actively participating in each other’s ups and downs is core to our success.
7. In what ways do you think South Orange could be more transparent? How would you make that happen?
Access to information and the organization of information is key in transparency. In today’s technological age, South Orange is behind the curve. From easier access to jitney passes to a more content rich website, to the timely availability of Board meeting notes, goals and action points, there are lots of ways we can improve our transparency to the community. The lack of consistency in the posting of Committee agendas and minutes is also concerning because it means residents cannot keep up to date on what is going on in their town Furthermore, there is a lack of communication regarding the key objectives and goals of each committee and department per fiscal year. Any resident should be able to look at each department on the website and see yearly goals, and progress towards them.
8. Why are SMART goals important? What process would you use in setting them?
What are S.M.A.R.T. goals? Smart goals is an acronym many successful businesses use to set goals for the company and for each of its’ employees. Specific. Measurable. Agreed Upon. Realistic. Timely. Setting goals is part of transparency. It’s also how we can feel confident that our town is working for us and working towards objectives that we believe in. One of the best processes in setting SMART goals, is to meet with the key stakeholders and collaborate on them. It would not make sense for the Trustees to make the goals in isolation. These goals need to be worked on with the village administrator, and department heads.
9. Can you lower my taxes?
Given that around 57% of our taxes are used to support the school system and that the school system is running at a deficit, I believe lowering our taxes is unrealistic. The things that could help offset taxes would be large scale retail developments and given space is limited in the village, this is also somewhat unrealistic to achieve. What we can do is request more transparency from our town on where our dollars are going and participate on how they are being spent.
10. Do you support moving the elections for Board of Trustees to November?
Yes. First it will save money for South Orange. Second, our elections will benefit from the increased turn out in November. That means significantly more members of South Orange participating in elections choosing their local representation. I still believe our Board of Trustees must remain non-partisan, but November Elections will benefit our community engagement in democracy.