CRANFORD, NJ – The Cranford Planning Board meeting became combative on Wednesday evening after Cranford resident Jim Carvalho questioned campaign funds donated to Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley and Commissioner Mary O’Connor during the 2016 election.
Carvalho previously attended the planning board meeting on Jan. 10 and Tuesday night’s township committee meeting, which both focused on the North Avenue Redevelopment Study. During those meetings, he questioned campaign contributions from Harbor Consulting and Maser Consulting to both Dooley and O’Connor during the 2016 election.
Dooley’s campaign received a $1,000 donation from Harbor Consulting and O’Connor’s received an $800 donation. O’Connor’s campaign also received a $500 contribution from Maser Consulting, according to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
On Tuesday, Carvalho said the residents of Cranford deserve to know that both commissioners received donations and that the township committee later awarded a no-bid contract to Harbor Consulting and has employed Maser Consulting on multiple occasions.
“I won’t deny that because we file our election reports so they become part of public record so people know who donate to our campaigns,” O’Connor said at that meeting. “We frequently ask professionals to help with our campaign costs. These are local campaigns and it costs a lot of money and that’s what happens. I don’t have any problem with that. I’m proud of the work I’ve done with this town.”
At the planning board meeting, Carvalho questioned whether residents can place their trust in the governing officials based on their disclosure.
“Last night, my colleague was challenged on her campaign contributions,” Dooley responded. “When I ran for township committee in the fall of 2016, I ran against Commissioner O’Connor. One of the biggest points of contention between us was whether we should return to a township engineer in-house model or continue the outsourced engineering model, which had been utilized since 2013 and which I disagreed with strenuously. It was the major purpose and focus of my campaign. Maser Consultants was that outsourced engineer. Mary and I went head to head on this publicly. I’m aware Mary received $500. Never once did it occur to me that that’s why Maser Consultant was an outsourced engineer for this town.”
“Mary O’Connor has lived in this town since she was a child,” Dooley continued. “It would never occur to me that Mary O’Connor would sell our town out for $500. Mary believed very strenuously in the outsourced engineering model. I took exception to the challenge to Mary’s integrity last night. So I’m speaking to everyone who’s here. There’s no one on the township committee or the planning board or the zoning board that I question even the tiniest bit as to their integrity, their service to the community, and I certainly don’t believe Mary O’Connor could be bought for $500, nor do I believe that she could be influenced a centimeter. I take exception to what has been said. I do not take exception to what citizens like Mr. Carvalho bring to our attention. He’s absolutely right to do what he did tonight, but I’m going to push back on it. It was wrong. I’ll defend her to the hilt. I hope that sort of thing does not continue.”
“No one attacked Ms. O’Connor’s integrity,” Carvalho replied. “It’s a public record and this citizen feels its noteworthy that the other citizens know it.”
“Some things are tiny, insignificant and don’t have a logical connection to the end point you’re trying to reach,” Dooley said.
“You’re going back to the trust issue,” Carvalho said.
“I’m going back to person in Cranford who’s willing to publicly serve,” Dooley responded. “Mary’s in her fourth or fifth year now and she’s served in many, many different ways before that. You have to take a giant leap to go from $500 to assume that Mary is being influenced.”
“Who said I assumed anything?” Carvalho answered. “Don’t put words in my mouth. I never used the word assume. I’m revealing a publicly published fact concerning a public official taking campaign contributions and awarding contracts to the contributors, as you have also done, Ms. Dooley. No one attacked your integrity. A person in this town reported a fact and I brought the evidence with me.”
“The fact clearly was meant to hang out there and to implicate her integrity,” Dooley said. “And that I take exception to. There’s no other reason for doing that.”
“The reason why I did it was because I said the same thing to you previously, and I don’t say things to people unless I’m facing them,” Carvalho said. “So you broached it this way. You said that I assumed and that I attacked. I did neither assume nor attack. I stated a fact courteously, quietly and presented the evidence to prove it was a fact.”
Following the exchange, resident Eric Rubinson approached the microphone to discuss the attitude that residents have towards the government officials, calling it an “absolute freaking witch hunt.”
“We need to stop focusing all of this energy and attention on these matters and start working together on a plan to get this town on good shape for affordable housing,” he continued.
Rubinson also said he agreed with Dooley’s ‘no’ vote to the resolution that removed most properties from the study and excluded the use of eminent domain. Dooley voted against the resolution because she felt the use of eminent domain should remain available to use on Swan Cleaners, she said.
“I’m concerned about the environment that created the situation where you felt compelled to pass that resolution,” Rubinson continued. “Because the powers of eminent domain, I don’t think anybody takes those lightly. It’s like a nuclear bomb. What causes concern for me is that the public’s perception of that language was met with such negative intent, which is fueled by conversations that we see happening at the podium, insinuating that all of you are trying to do something negative to this town for a small compensation at the end. I’d like to ask the people watching to change the tone before it’s too late.”
Following the meeting, TAPinto Cranford reached out to O’Connor, who was not in attendance and is not on the planning board. She is unable to further comment at this time.
There was only one application on the planning board’s agenda, which was adjourned at the applicant’s request.