Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series six profiles that TAPinto Summit will be publishing on candidates vying for local office in the upcoming November 7 Election. The candidates each were sent, and responded to, identical questions and their answers are being published verbatim.
David Dietze, Republican Candidate - Summit Common Council, At-Large
Biography / Background
- Married 21 years to wife Claire
- Summit resident 22 years
- Son, Billy, K-12 at Summit public schools, now college sophomore
- Daughter, Betsy, K-12, now SHS senior
Volunteer / Civic / Charitable
- Summit Board of Education, including as President and Chair of: Operations (2x), Negotiations, Education, and Policy
- Summit Board of School Estimate (3x)
- YMCA Board, including Finance and Investment Committees’ Chairs
- Overlook Board, including Planning and Budget Committee Chair
- Summit Area Public Foundation Board, including VP and Investment Committee Chair
- Rotary Club, including as President
- Summit Downtown Club, including as President
- Summit Tennis Club, including as President
- Dartmouth Club of Suburban NJ, including as President
- Dartmouth College's Class of 1978, including as Head Agent
- Dartmouth College’s Alumni Council
- University of Chicago Law School Class of 1982, including as a member of the Executive Reunion Committee (2x)
- Mtn. Lakes Alumni Assoc., including on its Advisory Board
- Summit Education Foundation / Liaison and Major
- PTO/Presidents Council Liaison
- Dartmouth Lawyers Association
- Donor/Supporter: Visual Arts of NJ; SAGE; Family Promise; Moms Helping Moms; Summit Speech School; HomeTowne TV; Morristown’s Neighborhood House; Reeves-Reed Arboretum; Community Foundation of NJ; March of Dimes; The Connection for Women; Red Cross; Summit First Aid Squad: New Eyes for the Needy; Boy Scouts
- Calvary Church Member
- Canoe Brook/Elks Member
- Founder / President / Strategist of Financial Planning Firm
- Local Downtown Business Owner for 22 years
- Ranked #5 in Country by CNBC
- Frequent National/International Media Guest
- Attorney, White & Case, NYC for 10+ years, including Jakarta and London
- Attorney, Crowell & Moring, Washington, DC
- Dartmouth College, AB, Economics (Honors), Phi Beta Kappa, Magna cum Laude, Rufus Choate Scholar, five Citations, Football
- Yale University, Graduate Studies, Classics / Political Philosophy
- Law School of the University of Chicago, JD
- Bar Admissions: NJ / NY / DC
- Chartered Financial Analyst
- Certified Financial Planner (CFP)
- Mtn. Lakes HS (NJ), Football (3 varsity letters, All Conference, All Morris County), Tennis
- Inaugural Member of Mtn. Lakes (NJ) HS Hall of Fame for community, charitable, professional accomplishments
- Boy Scouts of America Good Scout Awardee as an exemplary role model for the youth of our community
- Distinguished Citizen of the Year, Suburban Chamber of Commerce
What inspired you to pursue a role in public office?
- The opportunity to stay very involved and make even better the city where I have lived and operated a business for the last 22 years
- As my two terms end on the Board of Education and our daughter gets ready to go to college, I seek a new challenge.
- Intellectual challenge and opportunity to interact with fellow residents and neighbors. I found I very much enjoyed working on a collaborative and bipartisan basis with my fellow Board of Education members, administrators, and neighbors, and seek to continue in a different forum
- Belief in giving back. I recognize that my legal / financial skill set, deep ties with important institutions in the City like the Board of Education, and longevity in Summit as both a resident and downtown business owner, made me a natural fit for Council.
What are the three biggest challenges facing Summit?
- Affordability: We live in one of the most expensive areas of the country. If proposed new NJ taxes, coupled with DC proposals to eliminate the deduction for state and local taxes, materialize, our residents’ financial ability to remain in Summit will be at a crossroads. I am committed to stabilize taxes for young families, seniors, indeed all Summit residents so we can remain as diverse as possible.
- Education: Preparing our children for a 21st century global and digital world is both necessary and right. Over the last six years we have made great progress in our media rankings, PARCC scores, college acceptance rates and extracurriculars, all while exercising great fiscal discipline, keeping annual budget increases well below 2% annually. Despite this great progress we must continue to set the bar higher for student achievement. Yet, at the same time we don’t have a blank check on costs and must continue to be fiscally prudent.
- Downtown: Many of us moved to Summit because of its downtown charm. Given threats from enhancements to other cities’ downtowns and the Internet, we must provide an even greater downtown environment to promote the greatest vibrancy possible.
How would you -- in your role as an elected official -- effectuate progress and positive change relative to those challenges?
- Communication: We must continue to seek input from our residents on exactly what they want us to do.
- Transparency: To build trust and to deal with issues sooner rather than later, we must thoroughly and immediately advise of Council’s plans and issues. This is also the right thing to do, as the City is for all, not just for those on Council.
- Creativity: Develop new plans and ideas, but always be realistic on the costs and risks involved.
- Just Plain Hard Work: To take our City to the next level there will be much study, research, and negotiations. I pledge to bring all of my experience as a lawyer and financial analyst to bear.
What positions and qualifications differentiate you – therefore making you the better choice – from the person opposing you in the November 7 Election?
- Financial Experience: Given how important affordability is, my financial experience provides an overwhelming advantage in being able to hit the ground running:
- 22 years as a financial analyst
- My financial degrees/designations
- Extensive experience on how we spend over half of our tax dollars from serving on the Board of School Estimate (3x), School District Operations Chair (2x), chair of the finances of other large institutions like the YMCA and Overlook
- Board of Education Experience: Over half of each tax dollar raised goes to our School District. Nearly six years’ experience on the Board, including as its President and Chair of nearly every committee provides me with unmatched insight into the issues so critical to how our taxes our spent and our City’s most important asset, our children, are educated.
- Downtown Tenant: Operating a business downtown for over 22 years provides unique insights into how our City can stay as vibrant as possible.
- Legal Experience: My decade plus experience as a practicing attorney in such relevant areas as municipal transactions and project finance will be invaluable to analyze proposed development for the City and to try to reduce costs.
- Greater Involvement in Summit Institutions: Board level responsibility for such large and complex Summit institutions as the YMCA, Overlook, the Summit Area Public Foundation, and others gives me an edge in how these important institutions work.
- Full Time Private Sector Experience: To fully understand issues important to Summit’s landlords, vendors, contractors and potential developers, private sector experience is critical. Work on Council is demanding and will require multi-tasking. I have a track record of successfully serving on the Board of Education and other non-profits while still maintaining a day job.
- Track Record of Collaboration: In my near six years of experience on the Board of Education I have successfully interacted with appointees from three different Mayors (Mayors Glatt and Radest on the Democratic side, Mayor Dickson on the Republican side). We all had different perspectives and backgrounds yet successfully collaborated to make a real difference in our students’ lives. Nearly every vote was unanimous. During my tenure college acceptance rates improved, AP scores advanced, we successfully outperformed others on PARCC, and we instituted FDK.
Quick Hits - where do you stand / what is your opinion on the following 'hot-button' issues:
How Best to Deal with The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Union County Taxes?
- Tactics: Respect and collaboration is always preferred. To the extent our interests are diametrically opposed, like the taxes Summit pays Union County, other negotiating tactics may be necessary. We could develop public support for taxpayers on the western side of Union County and lobby Trenton to restrict Union County overreach. Important change in this country, starting from 1776 and going all the way to the civil rights struggle, was not accomplished simply with a polite request.
- Improve Representation: Currently all Union County Freeholders are voted at large, all are from the same political party, and all are from the eastern portion of the County. Effectively, there is taxation without representation. We need to petition so that our region has at least one elected representative, to have a voice at the table.
- Diversify the Basis for Raising County taxes: Currently, Summit pays more of the County’s taxes (per family) than any other Union County city. The basis for this inequity is that Summit real estate values have grown faster and are greater than other towns. However, this is unfair to seniors and young families, who may have relatively low incomes relative to their real estate. Let’s make the basis for Summit’s tax to Union County more equitable.
- Reduce Union County Spending: We must lobby the County to reduce the amount of spending. Union County spending is too high relative to its population. For example, Morris County spends $100 million less, with a comparable population. Union County spending is rising faster than the annual 2% increases most public bodies are living with. Union County spending is frequently focused on items best left to the private sector (golf clubhouses) or left to the individual towns (resurfacing local tennis courts). We don’t need to pay money to Union County only for it to turn around and resurface, for example, Tatlock tennis courts. There’s no inter municipality factor there or efficiency by having that County handled. We can keep the money in our City and spend it as we see fit, not as the County dictates.
- Increase Union County Grants to Summit: Recently, it’s been calculated that Summit receives back just 11 cents on the dollar for the $40 million it sends to Union County. Obviously, the more we receive back, the better. However, that should not be the centerpiece of our approach. As we demand more, so, too, will other towns, pointing to Summit’s new found goodies, and the County will use that to justify another round of tax increases. Second, it is very inefficient for Summit to plead for grants for Summit specific projects. What is the value add for Union County to grant money to Summit to resurface our tennis courts or plant our trees? That just creates an expensive and circuitous loop for our money to be raised from Summit taxpayers, be sent to Union County, and then have it come back (after bureaucratic expenses deducted) to Summit for Summit specific projects. Can’t we plant our own trees/resurface our own tennis courts?
What is your assessment of the scope and scale of Summit's parking challenge, and how best to deal with it?
- There’s no questions that parking is an issue. Various consultants have estimated the shortfall in spots in the hundreds, but of course that varies by the time of day. Citizens frequently report they prefer the New Providence Starbucks and CVS to the Summit versions based simply on parking. Non Summit friends report they avoid coming to Summit for lunch or to shop due to parking concerns. Parking issues have frequently arisen on Council as it struggles to make it cheaper and or more plentiful.
- There are two approaches. First, be as creative as possible with the parking we have. This includes better enforcement, reducing abuse, creative pricing to encourage employees to leave valuable close in spots to shoppers, and potentially contracting with private landowners to share space with the public. The other approach is to create a new parking facility. Location is always an issue, as well as cost. Costs should be borne by a developer so as not to burden our taxpayers, with a well-crafted lease designed to ensure that its operation and pricing is reasonable. Any proposals should be as transparent as possible so as to give all stakeholders advance notice and an opportunity to be heard.
Do you support, or are you opposed to, the Beechwood Road Decorative Cobblestone Street Program?
I am supportive of all investments that can add to the “curb appeal” of our downtown, that can help create an environment for success by tenants and enjoyment by patrons. But, those investments must always be cost efficient, clear goals must be established, and waste can’t be tolerated.
Specifically, on the Cobblestone project, this was advanced by the Democrat Richard Sun and had unanimous bipartisan Council support. It was intended as a periodic, budgeted downtown beautification project, to foster an attractive environment.
However, if elected to Council, despite its full Council support, I pledge to scrutinize it and all other investments under those standards.
What is your assessment of the current vitality of Summit's Downtown?
Our downtown is a jewel. But, we should never be complacent. Our competitive position is constantly changing, buffeted by competing downtowns’ improvements, online competition, and cost increases. Few would say the downtown couldn’t be improved, with many citing parking as an issue. However, all great commerce hubs have parking issues. Our patrons must understand that they can’t park right outside the table at their favorite restaurant cost free. I pledge to work hard to make our downtown even more vibrant.
Do you support, or are you opposed to, the establishment of a Free, Universal Full-Day Kindergarten Program in the Summit Public Schools?
As the current Chair of the Education Committee, it would be a breach of ethics to make any comment that somehow could be construed as representing the Board’s thinking on this issue.
Personally, however, I am a big FDK supporter. The more education for all the better. You don’t spend nearly six years on the Board of Education, volunteering a thousand hours or more, if you are not committed to public education.
Right now, it is a tuition based program. I wish we did not have to charge anything to anybody. Tuition defrays teachers’ compensation and related costs.
I am not prepared to call for a tax hike to make it free, to pay for the $5 million+ capital investment required, plus $2 million+ annual operating expenses, or $50 million+ over the next 20 years to Summit’s tax bills. (I remember so vividly the plea from my Ward 2 neighbor struggling on a fixed income of $27K but with property taxes of $15K). Further, I will not cut services that we’ve fought so hard for, like enhanced college guidance counseling, expanded AP courses, and more literacy coaching. I am also not prepared to make FDK mandatory; I respect a family’s right to make the proper choice for their child. I welcome an opportunity to collaborate with all to continue to improve our FDK offering.
I reject action on FDK based on a speculative effect on our property values. Doing the right thing for our children should not be influenced by property values. As an investment professional I can assure that the factors that affect value are extremely difficult to predict. Many of our neighborhoods’ property values are already among the highest in New Jersey.
I am very proud of our FDK record over the last near six years I have served on the Board. On arriving, there was no FDK. I and my fellow Board members developed a plan for universal FDK, which required a multimillion dollar capital expenditure to create more space. That was not approved by Council. We went back to the administration to see what could be done with unused classrooms. Space was found at both Jefferson and Wilson to launch a pilot program. Given budgetary constraints, the actual operating costs were calculated and a tuition based program initiated, with tuition exactly matching the program costs. For the underserved (free and reduced lunch students) the tuition was discounted. Costs this year are, per day based on a 180 day school year, at $39.86 at the regular rate, $11.94 and $3.98 at the discounted rates. All who have signed up have been accommodated for the last two years.
While cost is undoubtedly a factor in choosing to participate, other factors may also play a role. Some families may not believe their child is ready for full day schooling, or believe that much of the value can be captured in just a half day, or prefer private offerings. Anywhere from 10% to perhaps 20% of Summit’s students in later years opt out of free public education in favor of private offerings costing as much as $40K annually.