CALDWELL, NJ — Meet Caldwell Borough Council candidate Jonathan Lace.
Lace is a six-year Caldwell resident currently working as a teacher at Seton Hall Preparatory School and as an Independent App Developer. He lives with his wife, Melissa, and his two daughters, Aubrey (a student at Washington School) and Josie. His education includes the United States Air Force, University of Arkansas and Emory University.
Q: Why are you running for borough council? (Again, if incumbent?)
A: I am running for Borough Council because I believe that ordinary residents have an obligation to ensure that local government reflects their values and expectations. I believe Caldwell can be better in 3 main areas: government accountability, economic development, and public safety.
Q: Why do you feel you deserve the job? What qualifies you for it?
A: As a computer programmer, I know the value of critical feedback in decision making, of attention to detailed project planning, of the required discipline for solving problems, and have a substantial amount of experience in finding and eliminating inefficiencies, which often reside in the minutia of code. I have acquired those skills and experience both in the United States Air Force and independently as a self-taught, published app developer. As an educator, I have been trained to always debate in good faith and appreciate other points of view, especially within a disagreement. I have taught social concerns in the classroom for 10 1/2 years and have a deep-seated conviction that every local decision ultimately relates to justice for residents. I believe these two skill sets of computer programming and educational formation lend themselves naturally to public service.
Q: What do you believe is the most important issue in this local election? How would you change it?
A: Let me state first, that I believe all of the current Borough Council members are people who want the best for Caldwell and its residents. I simply disagree with some of their votes and actions in the past. I believe the most important issue in this election is better government accountability. For example, the Borough Council members compose the sewer commission, but that commission has not been publicly appointed at the reorganization meeting (along with other boards and commissions) since 2008. As a result, most residents don’t even know of the existence or membership of the sewer commission. Also, in 2015, the Borough Council voted to effectively give themselves a 52% pay raise by increasing the sewer commissioner budget line item, but they never disclosed the fact that they themselves were the beneficiaries at any time during regular public council meetings and only two members actually disclosed that additional line item payment on their state-mandated financial disclosure forms. If the council has not been transparent about increasing their own pay by 52% and accurately disclosing it, it raises questions about their ability to practice transparency. The Borough Council has also repeatedly given contracts to a company owned by the Mayor’s brother. I believe those contracts present a conflict of interest which raises questions about the kind of ethics we want in local government. I would bring greater accountability to local government by calling on other members to support an ordinance which prohibited council pay raises, directly or indirectly, without a specific ballot measure as well as the creation of an ethics committee to oversee any council decisions which compromise the public interest. A better local government should promote progress, not pay raises.
Q: What other issues are important?
A: I believe that we are living in unprecedented times, politically. The after-effects of the 2016 election continue to affect local communities, including our own. I know of 5 separate instances of racial harassment of children and even adults right here in Caldwell since this past May; one involving swastikas defacing playground equipment at Lincoln Elementary School. Some parents have actually had to take their children to professional counselors in order to help them just make it through the school year. We need leadership on the Borough Council that will explicitly speak out against bigotry and racism and declare that hate has no home in Caldwell. We also need leadership that will stand up for decency in government. Whenever a council member publicly insults a resident (e.g. like the episode on October 6, 2015), that council member must be called out for his inappropriate behavior by other members of the council. Whether its blatant acts of racism in the borough or insults by one of its council members, we need people on the Borough Council who will stand up for our best ideals as Americans and for the principles of good citizenship and civic decency at the level of local government.
Q: How do you feel about property taxes in Caldwell? Please explain.
A: Property taxes in NJ are the highest in the nation as a percentage of home value. There are many reasons for this, but two which stand out are 1) the failure of the state to adequately fund public education and 2) the fact that NJ has 565 separate municipalities, most with their own police and fire departments. When the state doesn’t pay its fair share of educational funding, local taxpayers are forced to make up the difference. Voters can make a difference in that regard in the gubernatorial race. One concrete thing that can be done at the local level is creating policies that reduce unnecessary property taxes. I believe that one area in which additional tax dollars can be saved is more shared services with West Caldwell, beginning with the Department of Public Works. Our two communities already share a school district, 911 dispatch, and other services. Shared public works services would be an initial step toward saving additional taxpayer revenue. In addition, the more the Borough supports local shopping in a sustained and effective way, the better it will be for property taxes in the long run. We really need more creativity from the Borough Council in this regard, and I hope to be able to offer additional suggestions.