Morris County Freeholder Elections: Five Questions With Candidate John Von Achen

John Von Achen Credits: Courtesy of John Von Achen

TAP into Montville recently asked the 12 Morris County Freeholder candidates five questions, similar to those posed at the debate held in Montville recently. Their answers will appear in a series. The following answers are from Democratic candidate John Von Achen.

1. Opening statement: describe your background and why you are running.

I grew up in the middle of the middle class in Clifton, New Jersey. My father spent years in sales and marketing before starting his own marketing consulting business. My mother is a teacher in the Nutley School system; she is a fourth-generation New Jersey teacher, and my sister became the fifth. I also have a brother who moved down to North Carolina for his career in medical research. In my youth, I earned my Eagle Scout and actively participated with the Boy Scouts, an organization I look forward to volunteering with again as my son grows up. I also was a member of the Clifton Mustang Marching Band, one of the premiere high school band programs in the country, led by a premiere band director, Robert Morgan. I earned my B.S. in Finance from William Paterson University and got right to work. In 2006, I married my wife Kendra and we moved to Denville. Ten years later, we now have two kids and last year we moved into our dream house in Parsippany. We look forward to staying here for many years to come.

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Over the last 15 years, I have built a career in Supply Chain and Operations Planning. In those years I have worked for several Fortune 500 companies including LG Electronics and Toys R Us. Over these years, I have had the pleasure to travel globally, negotiating with suppliers and customers here in North America, across South America, Europe and Asia. My work has focused on open collaboration, improving forecasting accuracy, and streamlining distribution channels. For these efforts, and with thanks to the great teams with whom I have worked, I have been promoted through the years to the level of Senior Director.

These skills make me well suited to take on the challenges of the Freeholder position. I expect my negotiating skills and analytical mind will serve as an asset to this position. I come into this contest as a citizen, business person and problem solver. I look at the counties around us improving their services and offering a better return on the tax payer dollars, while Morris County seems to be pushing more and more of the responsibility to the townships who are already overburdened with budget challenges. It’s no wonder many voters think our Freeholders seem more like freeloaders. I see a way we can do things better and that is why I’m running for Freeholder.

2.  How do you think the heroin problem in Morris County discussed by the Sheriff candidates should be addressed by the Freeholder Board?

As a father and a friend of teachers in Morris County, I have heard about the developing problems with heroin and with all opioids. I am glad the Sheriff candidates are taking this issue so seriously. However, this is an issue in which law enforcement is limited in their ability to solve the problem. Based on my business background, I know when there is a demand for something the supply will find a way. In order to help the Sherriff’s department focus on the supply side of the problem, I want to seek out ways to provide treatment options to reduce demand, reduce incarcerations, promote recovery, and empower those effected by addiction to become productive members of our community. I will seek out federal, state, and private grants to help fund this program which will eventually result in lower costs and allow law enforcement to focus more resources on criminal actions.

3. Imagine the board finds a 10% windfall (of approximately $34M) in the county budget. How would you approach these funds?

I am not seeking to grow our budget, but the first question I would ask is “what have we neglected?” This year we have a windfall, where have we cut and scraped by in the past? Where do we need to make up for past failings? Year after year, we find large capital projects taking priority over the basic maintenance and replacement of our existing systems. We live in an old county; this isn’t California or Texas where they have land to spare. The Revolutionary War was fought on our turf in the most literal sense. Our roads, bridges, water pipes, electrical, and other infrastructure need regular repair and replacement to provide adequate service to the residents of Morris County.

We all know about the lead water issues in Flint; some of us may be aware we have similar issues here in New Jersey. Clifton, Newark and Parsippany are among the first towns to have discovered lead in the water. I am certain they will not be the last. A few months ago, my fellow candidate, Mitch Horn, asked the Freeholders what they planned to do in reaction to the water issue in Flint. Their response was that it is not part of their jurisdiction. To me this is passing the buck. When Parsippany’s schools tested positive, the town passed the buck to the school district. I don’t look at jurisdictions in this way. While I can delegate the administration of a service to the municipalities, such as water, I still maintain the responsibility to ensure every citizen is getting an acceptable quality of service.

If such a windfall came about, I would work with John Bonanni, the County Administrator, to identify the programs which have experienced frequent neglect from cost cutting and make sure they are corrected. Maintenance doesn’t get fancy plaques and photo ops, but it gets the job done. While infrastructure is first on my mind, the County College of Morris and our other county schools are a close second.

4. What is your position on an Apprentice Program resolution, requiring contractor-bidders to have an apprentice program?

I think apprenticeships are important, our trades and the on-service training of future tradesmen are an essential part of our economy. However, I’m concerned when governments impose more requirements into the bidding process. These requirements, while they may seem good on the surface, can very easily be forms of political corruption being used to eliminate competition from the bidding process. Before I gave this issue my full support, I would need to 1) examine what percentage of companies already have apprenticeship programs, 2) understand how difficult is it to create an apprenticeship program, and 3) establish a fair ramp-up period so that projects in the pre-bid process are not adversely affected in a move which may be a whitewash of political corruption.

5. What other issues do you think are important, that voters need to know about?

Morris County has long been a high performer in education. Our school districts do a great job, but more is needed. Counties like Monmouth and Somerset are using Magnet schools to make sure the needs of both gifted and special needs students are met. These are services beyond the ability of most school districts and our county need to continue to improve in this area.

The combination of education and proximity to New York City attracts some of the largest businesses in the world. These businesses bring jobs and income to the people of Morris County and those people spend their income on the products and services which provide them with one of the highest standards of living in the country. All of this is great, but more and more frequently we are seeing chain stores taking the place of small businesses, making it difficult on entrepreneurs. These businesses are providing the services in demand and at a cost advantage, but a substantial chunk of their profits goes out of the county. I want to do more to support our local businesses small and large. I want to cut their costs so they can continue to keep our economy churning. This doesn’t mean a free ride, but businesses that are headquartered and do a large percentage of their business in Morris County will be rewarded in an open and transparent way.

One last issue needing remedy is the reporting of our county finances. Our budget reporting needs massive reforms; they are made intentionally difficult to read and far from what any CEO would demand. I would like to see a business analytics solution employed which could report year over year budget changes, near real-time performance, and to provide these metrics on the web site. If someone wants to find out if the education budget has changed, the website would show the changes over the last 3 years. This is true transparency. One of my favorite quotes by a recent politician is, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” – Joe Biden.

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