In 2018, Angie Devanney and Team Purple ran for Mayor and Council to bring about Change We Can Agree On: bringing our community together to move Berkeley Heights in a better direction. Angie, Alvaro Medeiros and Stephen Yellin ran a clean campaign as promised, running on the facts and the issues. Meanwhile the Berkeley Heights Republicans ran a campaign that twisted the truth again and again in attack pieces against Angie. Berkeley Heights had rightfully had enough of this kind of politics and voted instead for change.

It seems the local Republican Party hasn’t listened to what our residents said last year, however – because they’re right back at it again, sending out attack pieces on behalf of Councilman Manny Couto and Gentiana Brahimaj. Not only do these pieces violate Couto and Brahimaj’s Rules of Engagement Pledge made in April to run a clean, positive campaign[1] but they show that the Republican campaign team is once again going low to try and win – by attacking many of the very same decisions Couto voted for!

Let’s talk about what they said – and what the facts are.

Sign Up for Berkeley Heights Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Claim: The attack piece would seem to indicate that Couto was against the spending increase in this year’s budget.

Facts:  All 3 Republicans on the Township Council – including Councilman Couto - voted for the 2019 Municipal budget[2] after the Council worked collaboratively on the final product. Despite non-discretionary spending increasing (such as pensions and a 142% increase in the recycling budget), we delivered a budget with a 3.15% tax increase in 2019 – lower than the increase of 3.65% from the previous year.  What’s more, the budget passed unanimously in the end.

Claim: The Municipal Complex project is not being managed responsibly. The attack piece implies Couto and Brahimaj are against how the project has been managed.

Facts: In 2018, Councilman Couto voted to hike the cost of the project from $28 to $32 million after his colleagues promised not to do so. Not one member of Team Purple voted for that increase[3]. Also in 2018, the former Township Council voted to pull the approximate $950,000 in shared savings out the project approximately; in 2019, $800,000 of those funds were used to pay for the removal of the unsuitable soils found at the construction site; another $150,000 went toward an underslab drainage system that was not factored in to the original budget. Councilman Couto voted to accept all payments to pay for these services and related changes on all but 1 occasion. This year, Mayor Devanney pulled several resolutions from the August 20th meeting for further payments to vendors – demanding more accountability from the developer and professionals on the project – a fiscally responsible decision which Councilman Couto also supported[4].

Claim: In 2019, the Township has implemented Shared Service Agreements with Union County that “favor Union County and not Berkeley Heights.”

Fact: The 2 Shared Service Agreements – one for sharing the salt dome, the other for our Director of Public Works – have not only saved the taxpayers $70,000 a year in a DPW salary, but it also formally generates $1 million in revenue for the township for the next 20 years. These shared services are so good, even Councilman Couto voted for both of them[5]!

To summarize: Rather than working with all of us to bring our community together and make more positive changes, Couto and Brahimaj’s campaign has chosen to go negative – by attacking decisions Couto himself voted for! Berkeley Heights residents deserve better than 6 more weeks of this kind of politics. Couto and Brahimaj should stick to their campaign pledge and run a positive, issues-driven campaign – just as Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino have been doing from Day 1.

Alvaro Medeiros - Council President

Susan Poage - Council Vice-President

Stephen Yellin - Council Member

[1] Couto and Brahimaj pledged to run a campaign that included the following goals: “Focus on the positive.

Concentrate on the facts.” See https://berkeleyheightsfirst.com/rules-of-engagement?fbclid=IwAR1UAHb-gI21nDBlix7nSuuUFOvD-fpy9vkRxZ4m3sAW1e30zb8AAm8eN48

[2] Minutes of May 29, 2019 Council meeting, Pages 12-13. https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/_05292019-526

[3] Minutes of July 10, 2018 Council meeting, Page 10. Councilwoman Poage, then the only Team Purple member elected to the governing body voted No to the $4 million increase. https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/_07102018-376

[4] See Page 2 of the August 20, 2019 Council meeting: https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/_08202019-546

[5] For the Public Works Director vote, see Page 5 of the April 23, 2019 Council meeting (Resolution 5): https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/_04232019-516

For the Salt Dome vote, see Page 4 of the May 7, 2019 Council meeting: https://www.berkeleyheights.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/_05072019-522