BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Five candidates for Township Council answered questions, two originating with members of the League of Women Voters and another six submitted by audience members. Students from Governor Livingston High School recorded the forum and it will be shown on Fios Channel 47, Comcast Channel 34 and on YouTube at GLHSTV
At the end of the forum on Thursday, Oct. 19, representatives of each of the three groups of candidates seeking the two available seats on the Township Council said they felt their candidates did well in the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum.
Of the five candidates, only one is an incumbent, Jeanne Kingsley. She is running with John Sincaglia on the Republican line. On the Democrat line are Susan Poage and Alvaro Medeiros. Running on the Libertarian line is Edmund “Tom” Maciejewski.
Each candidate began with an opening statement.
Sincaglia, a former teacher and school district business administrator, served 12 years on the Board of Education and helped craft the annual district budget. He said, “I am ever mindful of the community’s ability to pay.” He concluded “I am not beholden to anyone. I will do what I believe is right for our town and that means listening to you” before making a decision.
Kingsley, a CPA and a finance professional, said that during her six years on the council “Together we have worked hard to implement a long-term vision for our town,” as well as “maintain its affordability,” update the aging infrastructure and facilities and “create policies and programs that position us for the future.” Working together, “we can continue the positive momentum,” that has been achieved.
Maciejewski said his campaign has “three main pillars, honesty, transparency in communication and being the only fiscal conservative … I believe people prefer to make their own decisions on how to spend their hard-earned money without being forced to allow someone else to make those decisions … It’s the town’s role to do for the town what wouldn’t make sense for the people to do for themselves.”
Medeiros, an Assistant Vice President at AT&T and volunteer with Boy Scouts Troop 368 and Quartermaster for the GL Marching Band, said, “Leadership matters and decisions made by leaders have an impact on us all. Government can be a force for good.” He wants to develop public-private partnerships in the downtown … to emulate the success of neighboring towns and improve the “quality of life” for residents.
Poage a teacher for 16 years in the district, said she served on the negotiation team, won “$20,000 in grant money,” is a STEM Institute Master Teacher, and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science teaching. “These experiences have provided me with exceptional opportunity to work with others for a common goal.” She said she worries if town “services, schools and roads” will keep up with all the development.
The first question from the League involved transparency, and what it means to the candidates.
Kingsley said “Transparency is a critical component of trust,” and that a “well-informed public is in the township’s best interest.” The Communication Committee updated the township website, provided eAlterts, SWIFT911 Alerts, a Township Facebook Page, Live Streaming of meetings and BH BE Heard. The “19 (public) meetings in 3.5 years,” on the Municipal Complex “before a decision was made” was an example of successful transparency, she said.
Maciejewski listed his “accomplishments” in the area of transparency: He wrote and plans to submit to the council prior to the election an ordinance, the “Berkeley Heights Sunshine Act; … Pioneered live streaming of town council and other public meetings proving it could be done cheaply and easily;” and created an outlet for “open political discussion on Facebook.”
Medeiros said, “Transparency in government is the essence of good government.” He called for the return of the township newsletter, whether as a monthly email or snail mail “and electronic signage to be sure as much of the community is informed in ways that as many people in town are comfortable with.”
Poage said, “We need to get into the 21st Century and using social media and use Facebook, Twitter.”
She remembers the newsletter, but there is not enough “push out communications. It’s too much of the residents having to go to the website.” She said the Mayor’s Roundtable is “not a two-way communication,” and recommends weekend Town Hall meetings.
Sincaglia said transparency in government means “Strict adherence to the Open Public Meetings Act,” which provides exceptions for “contract negotiations, security and safety matters, litigation,” and a few other matters. He said the “significant outreach” by the council when it first began consideration of a new municipal building,” resulted in significant changes in the plan and was successful.
The second League generated question involved PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) plans – candidates were asked whether they supported or opposed PILOT plans.
Maciejewski said he opposed these “tax abatements,” which is “essentially giving away the farm.”
Medeiros said, “I support them,” provided they are “carefully negotiated to benefit the township,” and are transparent.
Poage said she supported them, provided they are “used properly,” but since no money goes to the schools, she worries, “What happens when school age children move in?”
Sincaglia supports them, noting PILOT agreements “prevent tax appeals.” If the schools need more funding because of increased enrollment, he said he would support providing money from the PILOT to the schools.
Kingsley said she supports them. They are not “back room deals,” and allow the township to control the density, and look of the homes. Without PILOTS, there would be “greater density” of less “quality.”
Candidates then answered six questions submitted to residents.
What special skills, qualifications and experience makes you the best candidate?
What steps would you take to revitalize the downtown?
What would you do to increase the safety of pedestrians in town?
How would you support the township volunteers?
How do you feel about Chapter 78, which requires employees to contribute to health care?
When the library is moved to the Municipal Complex it will be virtually invisible. What is your reaction?
Candidates gave a final statement and the debate, which lasted not quite 90 minutes, was over.
Their answers to these questions and closing statements, as well as the entire forum, can be seen on Fios Channel 47 or Comcast Channel 34 or on YouTube at GLHSTV.