The last editorial I wrote about the current council election connected to my concerns surrounding political monopoly (see link at end of the article) and I wanted to wait until after the debate to discuss the candidates in this election from the perspective of positions and approach.  The last debate was telling and for me, it was summed up nicely in the response to the question posed to candidates on police in schools.

I feel all the candidates missed the mark in deferring the issue to the Board of Education. The truth is that the Town Council is where the program started via ordinance and they have significant leverage on the issue of ensuring parental involvement and oversight on this issue.  In fact, last year in response to a question I posed to the democratic candidates:

“"......If elected, we will work to improve coordination and communication with the Board of Education on policy areas where we have overlapping responsibilities, including the use of SROs in our schools.

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We will carefully evaluate actions the Mayor and Township Council may be asked to take on policies like these, including seeking input from the public. That is part of the due diligence public officials should demonstrate while in office, and is also part of the commitment to open-minded, responsible government that we have made. Once again, thank you for asking us for our opinions on the questions you raised."

Contrast that with Julie and Rina’s response to the issue during the debate last night.

The responses were not just a handoff to the BOE but strongly implied that any decision made by the BOE or Police on this issue was above reproach.  As if residents’ concerns did not matter. As if the research demonstrating the potential harm these programs caused did not matter. We should just “trust the experts”.  

I felt this response was a slap in the face to parents who are concerned about security theatre in our school.  I think yoga and hiking trails are great things and are in fact the business of government, but I think a program as potentially impactful as the SRO program deserves a bit more time and consideration.  These were the same candidates that, a few weeks ago, were calling for a plastic bag ban. 

Plastic bag bans?

Plastic bag bans did not come up during the debates after it was made clear in discussions throughout the community that these bans were not only ineffective but could harm the environment even more while hurting small businesses. 

I am really left wondering what the guiding principle to the democratic platform is this year other than “continuing the progress.  What happened to the local democratic party I supported during the last two years? The narrative of inclusive and accountable government?  The focus on serious issues?

Manny at least acknowledged the research and resident concerns surrounding SRO’s; he at least communicated a proper level of skepticism in his response.  Gentiana took it a step further and expressed concerns about expanding the program, finally a nod to the town council’s role. 

These are not subtle differences, they are meaningful NOT ONLY in how each candidate approaches the issue of SRO’s but in how they would approach their work on the council.

One side “trusts the experts”; the other side is willing to do the hard work of applying scrutiny to the systems that affect residents and their children.

I remain firm in my support of Manny and Gentiana.

Link to prior article: https://www.tapinto.net/towns/berkeley-heights/categories/letters-to-the-editor/articles/political-monopolies-are-terrible-in-any-color