With our busy schedules and an increasingly toxic political landscape, I know it can be difficult for a lot of us to find the time and enthusiasm to participate in local government. What’s more, the self-aggrandizing and misleading behavior in politics—from the local level all the way to Washington—severely turns people off. And it’s a shame because we need people to pay attention and participate.
I made the decision to run for Township Council for many reasons, but the two most important are very much tied together. First, I have strong financial experience greatly needed with the intricate budgetary planning and redevelopment going on in town. Second, I truly believe in being transparent and honest with our community. I’m ready to work with my fellow Council members and Mayor Devanney to tackle big challenges and help continue to steer Berkeley Heights toward financial stability and responsible development.
Last Tuesday night was like many others for me recently: A family dinner at 5:30pm followed by working with my son, Josh, on his bike riding and a three-inning simulated softball game with my daughter, Aly. We wrapped up at 7pm, I grabbed the Zoom link and my headphones and listened to the Township Council meeting.
During this important discussion, our Council tackled an agenda with imminent financial consequences for our town and its residents. And once again, the discussion involved the Municipal Complex project. The $28-million-turned-$32-million expenditure, which was supposed to open this month, remains behind schedule and is now projected to cost a few million more than even the current price tag. Between bidding out a project based on 80 percent drawings, signing a contract having the Township responsible for all the bad soil (despite knowing the land is a historic dumping ground in town) and then slashing the contingencies against the recommendation of experts, it’s no wonder we are still having issues getting the building done for its already outlandish price.
Unfortunately, that Tuesday meeting also signaled the beginning of the irresponsible behavior we’re going to be subjected to during the 2020 political race in our town.
It started during the public comments with a particular Council candidate reading off what sounded like a scripted advertisement detailing boastful and purposely vague personal accomplishments in an attempt to show how he could fix all that ails this complicated and long-standing issue. He then further cemented it as a political “look-at-me” act by publishing an open letter to the Mayor and members of Council, all while standing alongside his running-mate, who was one of the driving forces behind all the decisions that got us underwater with the Municipal Complex in the first place.
A new candidate entrenched with the prior administration pointing fingers at the current administration—one that is doing a lot of great work steering the equivalent of a damaged ship to shore—is not what the residents and taxpayers of Berkeley Heights need. We don’t need more overconfidence and false representation. That is how this project ended up where it currently is; doubling down on those same characteristics will neither help us fix it nor prevent the next project from heading down this same path.
As an employee of one of the world’s largest financial firms and the leader of a small business, I’ve had plenty of preparation for the challenges that await as a member of Council. When I have to make difficult decisions, such as reevaluating projects that are underperforming expectations or prioritizing competing costs on a fixed budget, I understand that the best approach is one that incorporates both collaboration and preparation. Strong working relationships with my team members, from senior leaders to subject matter experts, are integral because their knowledge and feedback help me stay better informed and allow us to make smarter choices together. If given the opportunity, I look forward to fostering that spirit of cooperation with both my fellow members of government and with our community as a whole.
The most important thing we can do going forward is to use this as a clear reminder that the people we elect to represent Berkeley Heights need to be able to do their fiduciary duty and not lead the town and its taxpayers into more untenable situations. As a candidate for Town Council, I promise not to let politics interfere with these responsibilities, just as Susan and I already promised last month not to exploit the acts of our frontline workers and first responders in campaigning. It is easier to kick the can down the road than to have an open and honest conversation with taxpayers, and we need more Council members willing to do the latter and refuse the former. If our representatives are not fiscally responsible, we all foot the bill for their lapses in judgment.