This 2017 Republican primary election is particularly vital for our township. If you've had the time to pay attention, you can see that there is evidence that our local government hasn't been functioning properly. Our campaign - our desire to save Berkeley Heights - was borne of the lack of leadership in our local government evident through the actions of the council that left our residents in a state of confusion and conflict. Now, in the final push of this election, the incumbent campaign attempts to undermine our progress by further confusing details of developments and municipal complexes that, honestly, no one has absolute data on yet because of a total failure of communication.
There is no due diligence, which our leadership owes us. Whenever ordinances are introduced there is never public discussion amongst the Council. This suggests the details of major ordinances are often discussed out of public view and commonly (and as far as I've seen, always) agreed upon. No one says no. When residents with healthy skepticism do stand up to ask the questions that should have been raised among the council the resident is ushered into silence. This failure in government to be transparent yields further problems.
In the very last town council public meeting alone, we witnessed a law firm representing Watchung submit their public opposition to the Connell Drive mixed residence development. Coupled with the misinformation among our own residents, this move by our neighbor proved that our town council has not been communicating with affected stakeholders which has opened themselves up to potential lawsuits, scrutiny, and naturally a town-wide opposition (count the Leo/Foregger signs. It's a fraction of the frustration with this failure).
In the nearly 300 NJ towns with similar affordable housing litigations (see Montvale.org/affordable-housing), residents have had access to information and were made aware of all proceedings leading to the potential development since the Order had been passed. That was in 2015. Most of what we know today had been painstakingly sought by candidates and campaign support groups in monotonous attempts to clarify facts during an election year. This does not reflect well on current leadership because they’ve left our community open to misinformation and rumors. They have communicated per law only meaning posting meeting agendas and later on meeting minutes. However when most of the contracts with developers and bonding of the municipal building were initiated in 2015 and 2016 those minutes only recently became available disallowing the public to see outcomes of executive sessions. When compared to other towns, leadership has failed in their obligation to communicate several (not just one) massive undertakings in our town with their primary stakeholders.
Aside from transparency, constituents will also vote for fiscally responsible candidates who will maintain services. The problem is that the past actions of this town council has yielded suspicion towards any of its spending so we can't even be sure that every dollar of what we spend goes to its true intent. The incumbents campaign had implied that the challengers, on our platform of fiscal conservatism, would let services like our community pool go unfunded or ignore needs for upkeep. This simply isn't true nor are cuts to services even necessary to get us on a sustainable track again. Our vision of fiscal responsibility is that your tax monies be spent responsibly, efficiently and solely towards the services that benefit the community.
If this defunct governing policy continues, first our seniors, then, slowly, our families will be burdened with an unprecedented township debt decreasing our townships ability to borrow, requiring further property tax increases with zero benefit, and put us in a regressive tax situation where the new development owners will enjoy tax breaks for up to 30 years (likely similar to the first tax abatement agreement of 13% of revenue only for the first 15 contracted years) while families will pay 100% of their assessed property values. The infrastructure will continue to be burdened by increases in traffic requiring more tax increases to pay for the increased rate of repairs. To worsen it, downtown risks becoming increasingly vacant because total township commercial space will increase with new development but our ability to create a welcoming small business environment, and hence increase private capital, will never be addressed because it hasn't been a priority (see my TapInto Meet the Candidates Week 4 response here). https://www.tapinto.net/towns/berkeley-heights/articles/get-to-know-berkeley-heights-township-council-can-17
Voting in our primaries is the one functioning part of government remaining to ensure we keep government in check and our town heading in a sustainable direction. A strong message from constituents on June 6th is the only way to tell government to stop the damaging contracts, stop handouts to developers and stop burdening the taxpayer for projects we don't want or need. There is a lot of rhetoric and emotion. I strongly believe that if the rhetoric is ignored, the facts support our campaign and reveal that our promises are simple and achievable. Vote in the primary for the promise that you are voting for two responsible citizens that will speak for no one else but the residents.