To the Editor:
I am not sure how many people tuned into the Chatham Township Candidate Forum this past Thursday night on YouTube, but I found it very helpful in making my choices for the current township committee election. I will be casting my vote for Ashley Felice and Mark Hamilton and I implore you all to do the same. They were the clear standouts in this forum. They had a command of the issues facing the Township, reminded me of all they have done for the residents of our community in a volunteer capacity over the last year, and clearly articulated the leadership that they would bring as Committee members. On the contrary, their opponents seemed uninformed and repeated canned, prepared lines that appeared to have been fed to them by the current Democrats who already form a majority of the Committee. We don’t need more of the same.
Ashley and Mark pointed out that, in the end, virtually all of the Township’s revenue comes from property taxes levied on homeowners and that past committees had recognized that stewardship over these funds was their most important function and had done an excellent job managing spending. That is a key factor in protecting home values and ensuring that Chatham Township continues to be an attractive place to live. “Looking for new revenue” - a favorite phrase that was used repeatedly by the opposing candidates - is code for “raising taxes” and Mark did a great job of pointing that out. Candidate Phil Ankel reiterated a theme of his campaign materials by implying that the 12.6% increase levied this year alone in the one tax that is completely within the Committee’s control was not a big deal in the context of all the taxes New Jersey residents already pay. But Ashley was quick to stand up for the taxpayers – particularly our seniors – by noting that any tax increase inflicts pain on the many Township residents living on fixed incomes. I was particularly impressed by the number of times Ashley and Mark stood up for our seniors, and we should all agree with them that maintaining stable taxes and conservative spending in the only way to ensure that our friends and neighbors who have already raised their families here will be able to enjoy their retirement years right here in Chatham Township.
Ashley and Mark were the most active voices in the community in opposing both the disastrous plan to give away the Municipal Building and the equally bad and environmentally destructive plan for River Rd. – so I was not surprised to see that they fully understood the complexity of the affordable housing issue. Ms. Shah and Mr. Ankel seem like competent enough people, but they clearly were playing catch-up on this issue and had little to add beyond parroting the current Committee’s fear-mongering and repeating the inaccurate claim that Ashley and Mark had advocated for an affordable housing strategy that involved a waiver of the Township’s immunity from so-called “builder's remedy” litigation. Not being an attorney myself, I appreciated Ashley and Mark setting the record straight on this complicated issue. When the majority of the current Committee tried to ram through the Municipal Building plan (almost a year ago), their purported justification was that there was no possibility of continued negotiations regarding the 2018 affordable housing settlement and that even requesting an extension of the deadline would result in the Township being stripped of its immunity.
They told the hundreds of township residents who showed up at the meeting when this plan was suddenly announced that the only options were to either accept and move forward with the Municipal Building giveaway plan, or surrender to a builder’s remedy suit. Ashley and Mark stood up to the Committee and called their bluff. Being experienced lawyers they didn’t believe that would happen and implored the Committee to keep working for a better solution. They rejected the idea that the mere threat of a potential lawsuit justified the adoption of a horrible plan, and the community applauded. Thankfully, for the whole Township’s sake, Ashley and Mark were right. The court did allow us more time, we didn’t lose our immunity from builder's remedy suits, and now, almost a year after to Committee told us that we could not get any more time, a better location for the affordable housing development has been identified – thanks in large part to Ashley and Mark.
It is clear from the Candidate Forum that a vote for Ashley and Mark will be a vote for thoughtful debate on the Committee and not a rubber stamp of the current majority. Chatham Township deserves this kind of debate, and Ashley and Mark have been leaders in standing up for the community. I salute Ms. Shah and Mr. Ankel for getting involved and volunteering to serve, and I appreciated the civil tone of the debate. But the choice regarding who we need on the Committee right now was clear. I will proudly be marking my ballot for Ashley Felice and Mark Hamilton for Chatham Township Committee, we need their voices.
Van Houton Ave.