Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver Speaks to NJMMA on the Importance of Customer-Facing Government

Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Y. Oliver served as the keynote speaker at NJMMA’s recent Spring Conference in Red Bank. A former local government employee herself, Oliver took the oath of office to become New Jersey’s 2nd Lieutenant Governor in January 2018.

“Good government is good politics and the service delivery aspect of local government is the best part of the job,” said Oliver addressing her work as both Lieutenant Governor, Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner, and her jobs working in local and county government. “The politics will always be there,” she said, “but it is important to recognize that the obligation is to the constituency you are serving, and that's where my attention has always been laser-focused.”

Oliver told members that she loves solving problems for people. Although she is a member of the Democratic Party, every time she was hired in county government, she was hired by a Republican. “It’s a testament to the power of good government being good politics,” she said.

During her time as the Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, she would often surprise constituents by answering the phone in her office and speaking with them. This simple level of customer service often went a long way with constituents and reinforced her priorities. Many people want to sit in the big chair of government, she related, but it is the career professionals in local government, like those municipal management professionals in attendance, who take responsibility and get the important work of local government done.

Shortly after their election victory, Oliver told a story about then Governor-Elect Murphy calling her and offering an appointment to be the Commissioner for the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). Oliver said she gladly accepted and relished the opportunity to be back where the action was, and to be in a position that offered the work for which she was so familiar.

Before her administration took over, the DCA had lost a significant number of staff. Following a year of status quo, they are beginning to start to swell their ranks back to previous levels, including the Local Government Services department.  As commissioner, Oliver has continued to focus on serving her constituents and on the customer service aspect of her position, reforming the department to reflect her values and passion to serve. She believes it is important for her office to work with all stakeholders – government, private sector and non-profits.

“I don't believe any one of us should singularly drive the bus,” she said, “but I think we should seek to have some consensus and collaboration with all of the stakeholders.”

Serving in the governor’s cabinet, Oliver said that the many years serving in the legislature has given her the best perspective for her voice. Many years in the Assembly has helped her understand the best ways to navigate the large bureaucracy that exists.

A 40-year resident of East Orange and a native of Newark, Oliver began her local government career as the Director of the Office of Youth Services and Special Projects for the City of Newark. She then went on to serve as an Essex County Freeholder and as Assistant Essex County Administrator until 2018. She is the first woman of color to serve in statewide elected office in New Jersey history.