LIVINGSTON, NJ — Meet Brandon Minde, a 13-year Livingston resident running for Livingston Township Council in the upcoming election on Nov. 5.
Brandon Minde, a lawyer at Dughi, Hewit & Domalewski, P.C., in Cranford, grew up in neighboring West Orange and is a product of the West Orange Public Schools system. He also attended Muhlenberg College and George Washington University Law School.
Minde and his wife, Claudia (Greenman), who grew up in South Orange, met when they were 13 years old while participating in the JCC Metrowest Maccabi Games. Together, they have three daughters: Madelyn (9), Joslyn (7) and Evelyn (2). Mady and Joss currently attend Collins Elementary School in Livingston.
Q: Why are you running for township council?
A: I’m running for Town Council because there are things we can accomplish now to start building the community we want. How do I run for a seat with a term of just one year? With specific ideas. Here’s my plan: Without a natural gathering space, like a downtown, where families can come together and people can participate in the community–we have to build our own. Here are three ways we start doing it immediately, while encouraging business development and retaining the character of our town-one that is ideal for families!
First, let’s start Livingston Race Day. My idea is an annual 5K race that will create town pride, fun, and an opportunity to raise proceeds for local causes. It’ll offer sponsorships for local businesses, providing a chance to build the connections that make people want to shop and support locally and let local businesses thrive.
Second, let’s start the L-Town Pop Up. My idea is a local vendors’ market that’s going to be a place to try new things and meet new people. People who sell things independently, work from home, and local businesses can come together once a month in one spot. It’s an opportunity to get out and build business and community.
Third, let’s start the Livingston Bike Academy. My idea is to develop a collaborative effort between the town, our police and schools to educate our children and the public on the rules of the road for bike safety.
I’ll have one year to get things done. To focus on creating walkable spaces with places to go. To put together a plan to break the isolation. To give families things to do. To create a synergy between our children and seniors. Because the health of our residents is directly tied to the health of our community.
Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job? What qualifies you for it?
A: Although this is my first venture into politics, I’m no stranger to public service. I will bring a broad range of valuable professional experience to our Council. I fought crime and government corruption as an Essex County Assistant Prosecutor. In the Corruption Unit, I managed investigations and conducted prosecutions of corruption, fraud, waste and government misconduct. I received training in economic crimes and financial investigations from the National White Collar Crime Center, and cyber-crime and computer forensics from the National Computer Forensics Institute. I was appointed a Special Deputy NJ Attorney General to lead a joint investigation into Essex County election fraud through absentee voter ballots, which resulted in several convictions.
I served as Executive Director of the NJ Government Records Council, the independent state agency that adjudicates complaints filed under the Open Public Records Act concerning denials of access to government records, offers a mediation program for the resolution of disputes, issues advisory opinions as to disclosure of public records, prepares guidelines for use in complying with the law, and provides training on OPRA law to government officials and the public. I also served as Assistant Counsel to the Governor, where I enforced regulations to protect taxpayers and guided major State independent agencies, including in efforts to identify and eliminate wasteful spending.
I have experience serving on boards, including the NJ Sales and Use Tax Review Commission, and the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority. I’m a member of the NJ Anti-Defamation League Advisory Board. I know what it takes to bring people together to achieve an overall goal.
Everyone gives back to the community in their own ways. I’ve been fortunate to have time to volunteer in town as a youth basketball and soccer coach. I decided with my wife that I would watch the little ones in the stands as she volunteered to coach softball and swimming. You get to know residents, and what they want from their local government, by talking to people when coaching their children, spending time with them watching our kids play games or at school events, or playing sports with them, as I do, at the town basketball courts and adult Geezer soccer league.
I’m invested in Livingston. I will bring the right professional experience and community involvement to add a needed perspective to Livingston’s Town Council.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election?
A: I believe the majority of Livingston residents, myself included, find ourselves in the moderate middle as socially liberal and fiscally responsible. Anyone who knows me knows I’m guided not by any party ideology, but by independent thought, common sense and facts.
I don’t know if there is one “most important” issue, but Livingston today faces some very important issues with the potential for the Town to spend tens of millions of dollars. Our failing town pools, and the soon to be constructed Department of Public Works building, are two examples. In order to protect the taxpayers’ pocketbooks, these projects will require a councilman willing to conduct due diligence, speak out for the people against those in power who might benefit financially or politically from these projects, and make sure any taxpayer money is spent responsibly.
We are one of few towns with two municipal pools. Both are failing structurally and financially, leaking water and money. In April of 2017, an engineering company hired by the town estimated a $10 million cost for a “bare bones” fix just to get both pools operational. It also found for the same $10 million the town could demolish both pools and construct a new pool complex. Since then we continue to spend money on Band-Aid fixes and lose money because of falling attendance. The chemical water from the pool is leaking somewhere, an environmental concern I’m sure. As for the new DPW building, let’s make sure we provide a building offering our workers’ needs, but not a cost-overrun Taj Mahal of DPWs.
I fought crime and government corruption as a prosecutor. I enforced regulations to protect taxpayers as assistant counsel to the Governor. I led the state agency that adjudicates disputes between citizens and government regarding public record requests. When faced with these big issues, I’m the candidate with the experience needed to ensure any spending is done responsibly.
Q: Name one item you would reduce or cut in the municipal budget and explain why.
A: It should not be accepted wisdom that taxes must rise every year. I believe in spending money wisely on facilities, resources, infrastructure and programs that make Livingston a wonderful place. I also recognize many families’ concern of going from youngest child’s “Congrats Graduate” sign to “For Sale” sign the next day. For the past several years the Council has operated under the premise that taxes only rise. When the Council says be happy increases are on the lower end, consider this: when that increase occurs annually, percentage adds up. If this Council has been unable to find savings in any of their budgets, they aren’t looking close enough. The past year’s budget benefitted from new ratables totaling $70 million. I’d advocate using some portion of that increase to lower taxes.
We can control taxes with strong fiscal management and forensic reviews of the municipal budget that eliminate wasteful spending and identify greater efficiencies for cost savings. An example of wasteful spending: this Council approved a $65,000 contract to a Tennessee company to develop a community marketing and branding plan. I’d object to such wasteful spending. Instead let’s tap into our educated and talented residents! I’d lead an audit of local government to make sure it’s structured efficiently and using modern technologies to improve customer service and realize cost savings. Making Livingston more business friendly will lead to a vibrant business environment that attracts commercial ratables to help offset reliance on residential property taxes.
As a former prosecutor, I developed the skills and mindset to ask the right questions, and be a trusted watchdog of the taxpayers’ money. As a former assistant counsel in the Governor’s Office, I combed through budgets of NJ’s largest independent authorities to identify wasteful spending. If you’re looking to lower taxes, my experiences and perspective are one to add to the Council.
Q: What else would you like to say about Livingston?
A: As your Town Councilman, I will advocate for accountable government through increased transparency and public access. One of my new ideas: live-streaming all Town Council meetings so residents who cannot make an evening meeting, whether because they are working that night or home with the family, can still easily view meetings live on their computer or smartphone or access them at any later time they choose through a readily accessible webpage archiving every past meeting. Implementing this low cost measure will increase government accountability and make it easier for residents to participate in their government.
I will foster a vibrant business environment by promoting walkable and family friendly business districts that will attract the dining, service and retail destinations our residents desire. Saturday nights we visit neighboring towns and spend money supporting their local businesses. Let’s keep our residents and dollars in Livingston. We need a business-friendly environment and should start by reviewing town ordinances and regulations to eliminate unnecessary red tape and restrictive rules. We should organize town events, like jazz nights, street fairs, and fun gatherings, in business areas to bring people out. These measures send the message to the business community they’re welcome here and we want them to thrive.
I will tap into the ideas, talents and experiences of our residents. Whether creating a Livingston music festival that rivals those of our neighboring towns, or seeking ways to actively display the artistic and other talents of our residents, the Council must ensure that the Livingston experience is second to none.
This article has been published as part of a series of profiles on Livingston Township Council Candidates. Click HERE to read the profile of opposing candidate Michael Vieira.