WAYNE, NJ – November 5 is Election Day and all six Wayne Township Ward seats are up for election this cycle. On September 26, the League of Women Voters held their candidates forum at the Wayne Town Hall. During the forum, seven questions were asked of the candidates in attendance. The questions came from the audience in attendance.
This is the first in a series of seven articles summarizing the answers given by each of the candidates in attendance, as well as answers obtained exclusively by TAPinto Wayne from candidates who could not participate at the live event.
Participating at The Forum:
- Republican incumbent, Councilman Al Sadowski
- Democrat challenger, Candidate Dianne Douthat
- Republican incumbent, President of the Council Franco Mazzei
- Democrat challenger, Candidate Karen Dowizc-Haas
- Republican incumbent, Councilman Joe Scuralli
- Democrat challenger, Candidate Ken Tahan
- Budget Hawk challenger, Candidate Christian Smith
- Republican incumbent, Councilman Aileen Rivera
- Democrat challenger, Candidate Fran Ritter
Did Not Participate
Could not attend:
- Ward One Republican incumbent, Councilman Rich Jasterzbski
Not allowed to participate because of League of Women Voter “empty chair debate” rules:
- Ward One Democrat challenger, Candidate Arlene Sullivan
- Ward Six Republican incumbent, Councilman Jonathan Ettman
Though all three candidates who could not participate in the forum were invited to provide answers to the seven questions to TAPinto Wayne, only the Democrat Ward One candidate, Arlene Sullivan, did so. Her answers will be a part of this series.
Question one: Please explain how you will make the council more transparent, and what you will do to make sure you will hear the opinions of the residents of Wayne.
Franco Mazzei from Ward Three went first in answering this question. “That has been a process that has been in place for quite some time. Residents have been active in coming to the council meetings,” said Mazzei. “We have an educated populous. Our residents come to the council meetings having read the support documents, and if they have questions they come to the podium.”
Karen Dowicz-Haas from Ward Three spoke next, saying: “I would move up that portion of the council meeting when the public can talk to the council and have more dialogue, so the public feels heard. I think they’re not treated properly sometimes. It seems disrespectful to me the way it’s been going, and I would like to see that improved.”
“When it comes to transparency,” said Christian Smith from Ward Four when it was his turn to speak, “I always feel open dialogue at the meetings is the most critical of things. Having a difference of opinion and being able to share that difference of opinion among council members can lead to openness and transparency.” Smith also added: “Three things I want to focus on are transparency on debt, transparency on permitting and transparency on partnering with the Board of Ed.”
Joe Scuralli from Ward Four spoke next saying that he felt transparency was very important in both township and county government. He then went on to talk about the availability of township documents, records and both live-broadcast and recorded council meetings are available to anyone online. “I think everything is very open, as it is necessary, not only to the law, but to what the residents of this township demand,” said Scuralli.
The current councilman from Ward Three went on, seemingly addressing both Haas’ and Smith’s comments, explaining the limitations of the council during meetings: “We have a lot of the people’s business to conduct at meetings. We have to pay a tremendous amount of bills, we have to pass ordinances, we have to deal with emerging issues. There is time for the public during the public portion, but the most important thing that we have to do is keep the township going and we accommodate all of those things in our meetings.”
Ken Tahan of Ward Four said: “We have to listen to the concerns of our constituents. We serve them, they don’t serve us.” He agreed with Haas about moving up the public portion of the meetings. “Citizens should be able to express their issues at the front-end of meetings.” Tahan spoke of how both the Pompton Lakes and Little Falls town councils have this early public dialogue format and that he would like to see that adopted in Wayne.
“What seems to be missing at the council meetings is the town,” said Fran Ritter of Ward Five. She spoke forcibly that the format of the town councils has to change, that residents are not allowed to speak until the very end of meetings and that they are refused rebuttal.
Ritter then went on the attack: “And it seems to be a common occurrence that this is a time for certain of our councilmen to use the closing remarks for these meetings in a manner to verbally abuse our residents instead of taking care of the issues of this town, and it’s disgraceful. This council is the face of Wayne and continued disrespect and willful avoidance of issues cannot continue.”
Aileen Rivera from Ward Five defended the current council and the status quo of the meeting format, echoing Scuralli’s points about the availability of documents before meetings. “Whenever any residents have reached out to us,” said Rivera, “we’ve answered their questions or if we don’t have the information, we get back to them, and we are available at any time.”
Al Sadowski from Ward Two spoke next, taking up where Rivera left off: “Council people are available not just at council meetings. My email address and my phone number are available and when I get calls, people are surprised at how quickly I get back to them, to help them with their problems.” He also defended the format of the council meetings, saying that proposed ordinances are read twice at two different meetings and residents have the opportunity to speak any concerns they have about the ordinances both times.
The Ward Two councilman must’ve known what his opponent was going to speak about because he addressed a concern that Douthat brought up after he spoke. “If people think there are back-room deals going on,” said Sadowski, “well I must not be invited to those meetings. Because all the work that I do is done out in the open, right here in this room.”
When Dianne Douthat of Ward Two spoke next, she mentioned that she had spoken to over 1,400 residents and that she heard many concerns about the way the town was run. Douthat mentioned that there are no minutes available online for meetings of both the environmental commission and the economic commission. “People are concerned that there are deals being done in this town without residents’ knowledge or input. That’s a problem.”
Douthat then said: “There are ordinances that some people have problems with, and they seem to only be enforced for some people.” However, she gave no specifics. The Ward Two Candidate also mentioned that the format of the council meetings need to change, talking about how the Lincoln Park Town Council allows cross-dialogue between residents and the council members and she would like to see that put in place in Wayne.
Arlene Sullivan of Ward One was not allowed to participate in the forum because her opponent could not attend. The League of Women Voters rules do not allow an “empty chair debate,” so Sullivan could only watch from the audience. Sullivan emailed her answers to TAPinto Wayne and these answers were in line with the other Democrat Candidates. She mentioned her support for changing the Wayne Council format to allow cross-dialog; and her desire to bring a bi-monthly report of resident’s concerns to the town council for public review. “I feel this would go a long way in people feeling they are being heard and this is something I could initiate,” she wrote.
Sullivan also wrote: “We need to bring back dignity and respect to the council; people who go before the present council to express opinions or ask questions are often ignored or ridiculed.”