It’s been a rollercoaster of a week, as we enter the stretch run leading up to Election Day. While I thought I might be sharing more about the people I have met while canvassing, I felt it was of far greater importance to address the void in providing our residents with the information they have been deprived of with issues like East County Park, the Mini-Cell Towers in Greenwood Meadows, and the affordable housing resolutions recently approved to potentially allow 170 new units of affordable housing in town. I had desired that all the Candidates would participate in a Candidates Forum, because it was an excellent opportunity for public education wherein the community could learn more about the candidates and the issues. When it became clear to me that Messrs. Lazo’s and Marion’s participation in a Candidates Forum was not their priority, it became mine. Even though a location was secured and a neutral moderator from the League of Women Voters (LWV) was available, the incumbents declined to respond, and did not have the courtesy of contacting me or other interested residents. I am disappointed that they, who tout their wishes to be more transparent with the public, would do such a disservice to our electorate. Their priorities on openness need to change.
I reached out via email to the Messrs. Lazo and Marion on October 14th, noting I had secured the assistance of the LWV to hold a neutral format forum with a moderator, and requested their agreement. After not hearing back for days, I finally was able to very briefly speak with Marion on the phone who was aware of my request, but indicated he needed to discuss it with his Committee and "they" would get back to me. I was disappointed that Marion would not readily accept or refuse participation in the Forum on his own. To date, I have not received a response from Messrs. Lazo or Marion. Rather than be transparent, both men have gone into hiding (avoiding answering their phones or answering emails) and have chosen not to respond to numerous requests from their constituents. This issue is emblematic of the lack of transparency and forthrightness leading to issues such as in the East County Park Petition (residents surprised by spending over $3.5M changing the character of the park) and the Mini-Cell Tower Issues (where residents had to hire their own counsel to oppose the Verizon application). Our residents are hungry for information regarding these issues, as well as, affordable housing, historic preservation and open space among others, and Messrs. Lazoand Marion do not advance the cause of full citizen participation. Residents feel uninformed because they are. Reactions like sending out an E-Blast at that this late juncture to residents about the East County Park still does not answer their questions about Phases 3 and 4 nor does it address their recent concerns. Verizon’s recent removal of their applications for the three Mini-Cell Towers sites in Greenwood Meadows may solve the most recent round of activity, but does not fully address residents’ continuing concerns about this issue, possibly being revived at a later time or elsewhere in town.
Another case in point, at the October 5th Township Committee meeting, the Township Committee quietly adopted Ordinances No. 17-18, No 17-20 and No. 17-21 designating such parcels known as the Lindberg Avenue (all 125 affordable housing units), Flag Plaza (20 affordable housing units), and Mt. Bethel(25 affordable housing units) areas as areas in need of redevelopment. These three ordinances are in place to demonstrate to the court that the town is moving forward with affordable housing (a sum of 170 affordable units) and although not cast in concrete (they can be amended) still do not provide the number of affordable units that will be required. Although I asked questions about said ordinances at the Township Committee meeting on October 5th, this type of detailed information was not shared openly nor explicitly at the meeting. Rather, the Township Committee deferred to the township attorney to address my question for more information, and the township attorney mentioned very little, caching his answersneeded to be limited, given the ongoing settlement discussions. Messrs. Lazo and Marion have draped themselves with the cloak of COAH experience protecting our town, yet any experience they share with the other members of the committeebegins and ends with them, as they often have such discussions in executive sessions, which are not open to the public. They have chosen to keep the town residents on edge and in fear versus informed. The Township Committee can do more to keep the residents informed and have us participate in the decision process on one of the most the important issues facing our town. But to do so, residents need to be informed in aneasy-to-understand, practical and transparent way, even if what the Committee is considering might not be popular with some residents while an election is pending.
The current Township Committee is informing the electorate with minimum effort. That's not in line with the standards of Warren residents, who strive to beat the average in everything they do. Government needs to be inclusive and transparent. Wouldn't it be a proud moment for ALL of us, if Warren is ranked as "#1 in Government Participation and Transparency?” That's a distinction that I want for our town, but simply isn't on the radar of Messrs. Lazo and Marion. If elected, I will work to see that the Warren Township Committee does more to keep the residents informed. I know we can do better: diversity of thought and open discussion (vs "fall in line" deferral and reaction) produces better decisions, and an informed electorate,and a transparent government fosters accountability. My canvassing activity confirms that many of our residents feel these principles are lacking, and have been lacking for many years. It's time to promote a change and allow for an independent thinker to serve on the Township Committee.
Which brings me full circle and back to the issue of a Candidates Forum. Again, the residents of Warren should be permitted to "size up" the candidates individually and independently, not as a "slate" and not behind the other members of the Township Committee which, Messrs. Lazo and Marion recently touted "embraced" them in the recent Echoes-Sentinelarticle. Independence is an important quality as a member of the Township Committee. Residents are concerned it is lacking, and Messrs. Lazo’s and Marion’s refusal to prioritize and readily participate in a neutral forum is both disappointing and unfortunate, and a disservice to our residents. Many neighboring towns, such as Berkeley Heights, have held a Candidates Forum sponsored by the LWV-NJ this election season, and its residents were afforded such a privilege. Their community access channel even covered it and rebroadcasted it. You can read about it herehttps://www.tapinto.net/towns/berkeley-heights/categories/news/articles/berkeley-heights-township-council-candidates-disc It is so ironic that the first question asked at the Berkeley Heights Candidates Forum involved transparency, and what it means to the candidates. It’s truly ironic that Messrs. Lazo and Marion tout their desire for more transparency, yet won’t even respond to multiple requests from myself and residents in our community. Why won’t Messrs. Lazo and Marion, who are public servants, respond to citizen’s calls and emails about their participation in a Candidates Forum? If Messrs. Lazo and Marion truly believe in transparency, why are they hiding? It’s easy to “talk the talk” but not to “walk the walk.” I want to express my thanks to the LWV-NJ, who has been extraordinary to hold the availability of a moderator open, the various media who are supportive and to the special residents who worked hard and truly supported efforts to hold a Candidates Forum. I still remain hopeful and willing to participate in a Candidates Forum should Messrs. Lazo and Marion respond affirmatively. Please visit my web page at www.depinhoforwarren.com and also like my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/depinhoforwarren