MAPLEWOOD, NJ -- About 50 local voters gathered at the DeHart Community Center on Thursday night, Sept. 22, to hear a Candidate’s Forum between the two contenders seeking election to the Maplewood Township Committee.
The Candidates Forum was hosted by the Hilton Neighborhood Association,and moderated by Carol Buchanan, the association’s president. Maplewood Township Committee candidates Frank McGehee (D) and Michael Summersgill (R) responded to both scripted topics and questions posed by audience members.
McGehee and Summersgill are vying for the seat on the Township Committee which was left by Marlon Brownlee earlier this year and is currently filled by Ian Grodman, who was appointed at the Township Committee meeting on Sept. 6. The term begins as of January 1 and will last for three years.
This forum was the first opportunity for the community to hear both candidates side-by-side and take stock of their personal objectives if elected.
The most widely debated topics of the night were taxes and municipal spending. A self-described "financial conservative," Michael Summersgill criticized several of the Maplewood Township Committee’s recent spending decisions in regard to the annual limit. He cited $675,000 in township funds being spent outside of the annual budget, for things such as property tax adjustments ($411,000) and a flue pipe replacement in the Maplewood Municipal Courthouse ($250,000). Since these emergency costs are not calculated into the yearly budget for Maplewood, Summersgill claimed they have a huge influence of the coming property tax increases. “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves,” he said.
“Shop local” tax reduction perks, which have been previously suggested at Maplewood Township Committee meetings, were also an issue where the candidates disagreed. McGehee strongly supported the idea of rewarding residents with tax reductions for shopping locally. McGehee also proposed other spending decreases, such as a combined police and fire services for Maplewood and South Orange. Summersgill denied any real benefit from a shop local tax reduction service, and expressed that schools and public spaces would suffer funding loss if such a program were implemented.
Both candidates also spoke about their personal objectives. McGehee expressed his disappointment about the lack of green technologies in local neighborhoods, and he also spoke about funding library renovations and improving public services.
Summersgill said that he largely agrees with the Township Committee’s decisions, but he feels that he could help reduce spending and increase the committee’s efficiency. Summersgill also referenced long-term budget plans to offset future emergency spending measures.
Both candidates agreed that they are not necessarily beholden to the values of their respective parties, with each candidate emphasizing they have their own beliefs and goals if elected that aren’t necessarily along party lines. Summersgill stated that voting down the party line isn't in the best interest of the community.
Despite differences, both candidates were in agreement in stating their desire to serve the Maplewood community if elected.