Editor's Note: This is the third 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.
Matt Gould, Democratic Candidate - Summit Common Council, Ward 1
I’ve lived in Summit for the past nine years, where I’ve become increasingly involved with the community, serving on the Board of Trustees of the Visual Arts Center and as a member of the Summit Public Art Committee.
Professionally, I’ve worked in the media and entertainment industry for twenty years, holding senior executive positions at a range of America’s top publishing and broadcasting companies. I’ve held key programming positions at Discovery Channel, TLC, Travel Channel, The New York Times, and Time Warner.
I’ve also lectured at institutions around the world, including the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada; China Central Television in Beijing; Channel 4 Media in Glasgow, Scotland; The National Association of Television Production Executives in Miami; The Realscreen Summit in Washington, D.C.; Syracuse University, The New School, Colgate University, and Hunter College.
I graduated magna cum laude from Colgate University, and I live in the Washington School District with my wife and our three daughters who attend Summit Public Schools.
What inspired you to pursue a role in public office?
The world around us is changing at a head-spinning rate. We need qualified and motivated people from all walks of life to bring their creativity and passion to local government. I assisted Councilman Naidu with his campaign in 2015, and at that time I gained a deeper understanding of the hard work involved in making Summit the special community that it is. Since then I’ve sought to apply my unique talents to helping Summit.
What are the three biggest challenges facing Summit?
E-commerce is threatening small-town commercial districts around the world. Although Summit’s commercial downtown is faring well, we must be vigilant. The downtown is one of the three pillars of Summit’s high property values (the other two being the schools and the commute) so it is critical that we nurture it.
Property taxes are too high in Summit and our residential taxes account for a larger and larger portion of the pie each year. Twenty years ago, residential taxes were roughly 75% of the total, but today residential taxes account for 82%. This trend is worrying and we must work actively to reverse it.
Safety and connectivity for all our residents. I’ve met many, many parents who wish their children could walk to school but they can’t allow it because of speeding and inattentive drivers. Further, certain roads like Woodland and Beechwood, or intersections like the one at Clark and Broad Streets, feel dangerous to everyone. The Springfield Avenue sidewalk project is such a fantastic step in the right direction. I’d love to see projects like this throughout Summit, and bike lanes all around town as well. I think proper engineering could deliver low-cost, high-value improvements to parking, pedestrian safety, and commutability.
How would you -- in your role as an elected official -- effectuate progress and positive change relative to those challenges?
To help Summit’s downtown thrive, we should create an Economic Development Committee that will allow Council Members to work with City staff, business owners, and other stakeholders to spur more growth in Summit’s downtown. Consolidating this function within one committee will also allow Council to ensure that our tax policies strongly encourage commercial property owners to fill vacancies quickly, and to ensure that our zoning permits the kinds of experiential businesses that can thrive in an e-commerce world.
To alleviate the residential tax burden, we need to increase our commercial rateables by having Council and the Mayor work together to implement careful and thoughtful redevelopment on Broad Street as described in the Master Plan. Bringing new businesses into town will be great for residents as well as for the tax base.
We must also take a different tack with Union County. For years, Common Council has fought with the County about Summit’s contribution. Instead of continuing with this strategy, we need to develop a real plan for rebalancing Summit’s contribution including whether the current equalization ratios should still be applied given the growth of other towns in the county.
Safe and connected streets are all about the three E’s – education, engineering, and enforcement.
What positions and qualifications differentiate you -- therefore making you the better choice -- from the person opposing you in the November 8 Election?
I’ve been a senior television executive for over 20 years. I’ve cultivated an array of skills that I can apply to the challenges I listed above. I’ve worked in 48 states and 15 foreign countries, often embedded with police, firefighters, or EMT units. I have seen creative solutions to the challenges cities face.
I’ve been responsible for multi-million dollar budgets with razor-thin margins and tight delivery schedules. I have worked with some of the most creative, yet difficult, people in the world and I have learned to collaborate with all of them. And I have learned the art of dogged persistence because in television nothing happens unless you move heaven and earth to make it happen. Many of my projects have been seen by tens of millions of people around the world, and I have been personally judged by their Nielsen ratings every day so I can handle the pressure.
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?
Summit is roughly 4% of the population of Union County but is responsible for 10% of the tax revenue. This is not equitable. I suggest a three-pronged approach in our relationship with them:
Keep fighting and encouraging the County to reign in their spending. I believe this encouragement will be more effective when we have a new Governor in place as well.
We need to develop a real plan for rebalancing Summit’s contribution, including whether the current equalization ratios should still be applied given the growth of other towns in the County, as stated above.
Build on Mayor Radest’s success in persuading the County increase their investment in Summit’s projects, like the Community Center and Glenside Fields.
What is your assessment of the scope and scale of Summit's parking challenge, and how best to deal with it?
Safe, stress-free parking is critical to our downtown and our quality of life. We need to make it better than it is with creative solutions. We should look at every idea – a commuter jitney, the Uber pilot program, valet and others – with an eye toward affordability and agility. Driving and parking habits are changing and we need to make sure we can change with them.
Do you support, or are you opposed to, the Beechwood Road Decorative Cobblestone Street Program?
Opposed. I think it’s a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.”
What is your assessment of the current vitality of Summit's Downtown?
Summit’s downtown is strong but could be stronger. More importantly, the world is changing faster than ever before, and as a community we need to be agile and proactive so we don’t fall behind. The downtown is one of the three pillars of our high property values (the other two being the schools and the commute). We must be vigilant with it.
Do you support, or are you opposed to, the establishment of a Free, Universal Full-Day Kindergarten Program in the Summit Public Schools?
I support free, universal full-day kindergarten in the Summit Public Schools. Our current system imposes a middle-class tax on Summit’s citizens, and creates institutional inequality. Every study I’ve read suggests that early education is the most critical phase of a student’s journey.
However, I am vehemently opposed to raising residential property taxes. I believe that if our elected officials and educators are creative and collaborative, we can find a way to provide this necessary service without increasing the budget.