It was quite disheartening to see re-election politics appear so early in the year as it did during the Scotch Plains Council re-organization meeting on January 7th. With the Democrats in control 3 to 2, Deputy Mayor Josh Losardo flexed his political muscle knowing he had the votes to replace the current Affordable Housing and Redevelopment attorney Jeffrey Lehrer, as well as Hatch Mott MacDonald, the current township engineering firm that has served this town well for many years.
Yes, this is to be expected when one party is in control. However, in the past, I remember keeping contracts with the opposition’s firms if they had shown exemplary performance or the township was at a critical juncture where it was judged to be more efficient and prudent to keep continuity in seeing through various projects.
In the case of Mr. Lehrer, who had been appointed three years ago to help Scotch Plains through our Redevelopment process, replacing him at this time seems very imprudent and potentially puts the hard work and progress accomplished to date in jeopardy. Mr. Lehrer has a long history with Scotch Plains, not just the past three years.
Jeffrey Lehrer, besides being a renowned attorney in land use, affordable housing and redevelopment, had been a resident of Scotch Plains for several years. But his knowledge of Scotch Plains extended beyond his residency to handling the town’s legal affairs as a former Township attorney and also attorney to the Planning Board. Besides his excellent reputation and qualifications, his unique and valuable knowledge of Scotch Plains gave us confidence that he knew the pulse of our town. With his appointment three years ago, the township was confident that Mr. Lehrer had the experience and knowledge to competently and responsibly lead us through the quagmire foisted upon us by developers’ lawsuits and court mandates to incorporate some of our obligation with our downtown redevelopment.
I find his dismissal at this time extremely questionable in view of the fact that the Mayor and Council are in the midst of negotiations with the Lidl/Pantagis proposal and are awaiting the presentation by Advance Realty with PS&S Engineering for the initial stages of downtown redevelopment sometime next month. Replacing Mr. Lehrer with another firm could not only cost us valuable time in a review process but will introduce a new attorney to the relationship that was established between the negotiating parties. Even Mr. Losardo could not come up with a good explanation to replace Mr. Lehrer at this important time.
The redevelopment process has been set up to meet deadlines set by the court, which we have been able to do because of the diligence and hard work of Mr. Lehrer in conjunction with our Professional Planner. For the past three years they have worked hand in hand and are in sync with achieving the best results for Scotch Plains. We are on target. Why switch horses in mid-stream?
The only answer, I believe, is that our Democrat council members are taking their orders from Elizabeth and Democrat county leaders like Senator Nick Scutari. This past year we saw Sen. Scutari, chairman of the county Democrats, mettle in Fanwood’s political affairs as he tried to replace members of the Fanwood Democrat party who were loyal to Mayor Colleen Mahr with committee people who would be loyal to him and the county machine. Fortunately, Mayor Mahr was able to meet that challenge and do what she believed was in the best interests of her constituents and at the voting booth they agreed.
Are we seeing the Union County Democrats eyeing Scotch Plains in a similar manner? Are the county Democrats and local committee looking to replace current good professionals with vendors who have deep ties to the Democrats without considering what is in the best interests of Scotch Plains? One can only wonder what is in store for Scotch Plains as the Union County Democrat machine marches forward to get another town under its control. One can only wonder.
Former Councilwoman and Deputy Mayor
Present Planning Board Member and past Chair
Member of the Scotch Plains Downtown Redevelopment Committee