SOMA Action — a South Orange-Maplewood based activist group — has released the South Orange municipal candidates’ responses to a series of questions under six topic areas: Policing, Affordable Housing, the U.S. Census, Environment, Transparency and Effective Government, and County Issues.
In a Facebook post, SOMA Action member Kelly Quirk wrote, “As the South Orange Municipal Election heats up, we encourage all members to read the candidates responses to SOMA Action’s Questionnaire! (Then join us on Sunday the 28th at Congregation Beth El at 2pm with all your follow up questions).”
SOMA ACTION S.O. 2019 QUESTIONNAIRE
TO: All Candidates for Village President & Board of Trustee in the May 14, 2019 Municipal Election
SOMA Action is an organization of over 1,000 members from South Orange, Maplewood, and surrounding communities committed to a progressive agenda of social and environmental justice, transparency in government, and the value of a diverse and inclusive community. We fight for a progressive agenda at all levels of government: municipal, county, state and federal. Our members not only vote, but many are activists who donate, ring doorbells, make phone calls and demonstrate.
We wish to educate our membership and the public about the positions of the candidates for South Orange Village President and Village Trustees through their responses to this survey below.
Responses are compiled below in the order they were received back by candidates/tickets. SOMA Action Questions are indicated below in regular text, candidate responses are indicated in italics and Initials for clarity.
SC = Sheena Collum (Current Village President), Candidate for Village President
SOF = South Orange Forward; Deborah Davis Ford (Current Trustee), Candidate for Village President; Stacey Borden, Ed Grossi and Matt Wonski, Candidates for Trustee
PTT = Plan Thrive Together; Bobby Brown, Toshie Davis and Ed Moore, Candidates for Trustee
YVOV = Your Voice, Our Village; Bob Zuckerman, Donna Coallier and Summer Jones, Candidates for Trustee
1. Fair and Bias Free Community Policing:
The Use of Force Report as well as the Police Chiefs report to the community showed glaring disparities in the rates of use of force on people of color, especially youth of color, and significant racial disparities in the arrest rates of youths of color. As a diverse community all residents and visitors deserve to know they will be treated fairly and equally in law enforcement’s eyes. As the creation of the South Orange Community Police Collaborative moves forward, we ask the following questions.
A. What have you done in your prior 4 years in public office or as a private citizen to address issues concerning biased policing in systemic ways (not simply on a case by case basis)?
SC – During my term as Village President, I’ve worked closely with Police Chief Kyle Kroll on identifying training initiatives relating to the Attorney General’s CLEAR Institute, implicit bias training, de-escalation training and diversity and cultural awareness training. In addition, members of our department are also going through training led by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (“Noble”). I’m proud to say that during my term, 11 of our past 16 hires have been people of color.
Prior to assuming the role of Village President, I worked on a variety of community relations functions that I thought would be beneficial to the community. Coffee with a Cop was launched and held at places of worship, Positive Behavior Citations were given to youth and each year, I coordinate our town’s National Night Out. I also initiated the first police/community barbeque. While these are often seen as more “warm and fuzzy”, I do believe in the need to bring residents and law enforcement together in various settings. I also was proud to participate in workshops led by the Community Coalition on Race that also involved officers.
Prior to being involved as an elected official, I created the first Citizens Public Safety Committee which brought residents to the table with all public safety agencies to understand data, trends and ask tough questions as residents who wanted the best for our community. I worked frequently with our Neighborhood Watch Program and we frequently distributed information out to residents of policing in our community.
SOF – Deborah Davis Ford helped draft and pass a resolution declaring South Orange a sanctuary city. We held community meetings and listened to feedback, positions, concerns, especially from those with direct experience and across multiple backgrounds. Also advocated for greater diversity in hiring, implicit bias training and community policing.
PTT – The shock of the Use of Force Report was a primary catalyst in bringing together Bobby Brown, Ed Moore and Toshie Davis on the Think Plan Thrive Together team. Bobby and Ed serve together on the Police Review Committee (PRC), and Bobby has been building a civil rights legal practice as his law firm to help address the sorts of injustices spelled out in the report. Bobby has been working with Dean Dafis, who helped but together Maplewood’s community review board, on the “Protect and Serve” initiative. The goal is to engage parents and police officers in an open and ongoing dialogue and establish common ground that recognizes parents’ obligations to protect and serve their children as well as the police force’s need to protect and serve the community.
YVOV- As private citizens, we applaud the Community Coalition on Race, SOMa Action and SOMa Justice for hosting the Morrow Church event on January 9, 2019. This well attended and diverse forum allowed our community members to hear from the journalists, town leaders and others in our community to openly discuss what most of us consider a serious problem. Like many people, we are appalled by the disparities in the force use and arrest rates for people of color. We are dismayed that our local landscape mirrors similar nationwide systemic issues.
Our community has varied levels of involvement, understanding and comfort when it comes to biased policing, as does our team. We each have played a role in combating racial inequities and other discriminatory behavior. While we may not have been involved in any formal organization to specifically address bias in policing, we have been out there telling our truths and making a difference. One of those truths is preparing the kids in our family for potential discrimination. This includes what to expect, how to act and what should be done in an encounter with the police. This need to prepare children is a sad reality but one that can have dire consequences if ignored. Additionally, Donna served as the Chief Diversity Officer in her business unit at PwC and led programs designed to raise awareness within the white community on these and other similarly discriminatory experiences faced by people of color, women, and LGTBQ minorities. As a black woman, Summer has had real-life personal experiences with biased policing. Over the years, she has participated in local protests, attended forums, and held informal discussions with family members that are police officers. As an openly gay, married man, Bob can also relate to discrimination and so has strived to incorporate diversity measures into the business development activities that he led at SOVCA and in his previous roles.
B. What metrics would you look at as benchmarks by which to establish progress in terms of reducing bias in policing, and what would you put in place to help achieve these?
SC – South Orange has invested heavily in records management and I think it’s important that we look more comprehensively at year to year trends. I believe the establishment of a Community Review Board with the proper expertise can provide use guidance on best practices in metrics that are quantitative but also “listening” to experiences from residents which is the qualitative. One of the deficiencies we have is understanding the “experience” of our residents which we can get, particularly by our black and brown neighbors, but reaching out more. Just because something doesn’t make it into a force report or police blotter doesn’t mean there aren’t experiences that need to be learned from.
SOF – The South Orange Forward team would look to implement training that helps our women and men in uniform keep us safe, while reducing the effects of influence of implicit bias by police officers as they administer the law. Findings such as the ones listed in the Force Report are a good start, but we need to dig deeper to understand the different layers of affected communities and support efforts that educate us about the shift from bias-based to evidence based practices.
PTT – We need to achieve a measurable reduction in the disproportionate ratio of uses of force against people of color. That will require agreement on a more continuous review of police interactions, with standardized data to ensure the trend line is normalizing. We need to reduce the number of calls that would qualify as problematic or inherently biased. One way to help] achieve this is by implementing random review of routine traffic stops with an eye toward increased transparency. A key concern in these matters is that the process be collaborative — with the police and community working together through efforts such as the Protect and Serve initiative. While the cops-walking-the-beat model of Community Policing may not fit our suburban environment, we need to adopt programs that promote communion.
YVOV- Peter Drucker was right when he wrote: “What gets measured gets managed.” The Force Report data, while helpful, represents only self-reported use of force by our police, and so would not address other forms of bias encountered in our community. As further described below, we support creating a venue for those that feel unfair, or indeed criminal, mistreatment by our police or other public officials to report those grievances so they can be addressed. In addition to the data available and shared in the Force Report, we would seek to formally track and ultimately reduce all forms of reported bias.
C. What do you believe you will need to do as a leader to repair the damage done to the relationship between the police and the community as a result of the report?
SC – One of the things I have been working on is getting a better grasp on my own privilege which will better enable me to lead. While I am bi-racial and Korean-American, I will never experience nor have I ever experiences the fear associated with any type of law enforcement encounter. Leadership first begins with being able to understand other people’s experiences and not become defensive. I continue to work on this in ways that will hopefully make me a better leader both for residents and successfully being able to communicate effectively with our officers.
Additionally, I am firm on discipline and that will not change. Due to the nature of my position I cannot comment on specifics but know that I am 100% behind ensuring fair and equal policing is a must. As mentioned during the Force Report presentation, I ask a series of questions of officer during interviews related to race and bias in policing and I need to be very comfortable that the hires and promotions we make reflect the values of our community.
SOF – We need to utilize the newly established Community Police Collaborative Committee to broaden the relationship between police, government, and citizens to help address concerns, build trust, and increase transparency.
PTT – The use of force report didn’t so much “damage” the relationship as reveal its problems: It exposed the rift between police and people of color in this town. The report presents an opportunity to build a bridge to a new reality where people of color and police officers trust and believe in one another. The empirical data forced all residents to recognize the fundamental disconnect in our “diverse” town. The Think Plan Thrive Together team believes in seizing this opportunity as a reset moment.
YVOV – We would observe that the report itself is not the source of the damage to the relationship between the police and the community – there is behavior that underlies the Force Report data that has inflicted the damage. The good news is that the rich diversity that we enjoy in our Village affords us the opportunity to combat racial bias, every day, via positive intergroup contact with neighbors, business owners, and community leaders. The Community Coalition on Race is already playing a role in reducing bias in our community and we would publicize CCR events even more to further engage those not already involved. But, as amplified by the statistics cited in the “Force Report”, many people of color in and around our community do not feel the same level of comfort with police encounters as our white population does. We feel that the current Trustees have taken the right first step by acknowledging that there is an issue and establishing the Community Police Collaborative (“CPC”). To repair the damage, the community needs to see results from this collaborative.
Under our leadership, we will:
- Establish achievable, measurable metrics that can be tracked and publicly communicated;
- Improve collaboration with local community leaders and impacted groups;
- Deploy more diversity and bias training for our police, government officials, businesses, schools and other members of our community;
- Establish better outreach to members of the community that do not feel welcome;
- Establish a Community Board on Police similar to that deployed in Maplewood that would provide citizen assessment and feedback with respect to police relations in our Village; and
- Ensure full transparency for Village and CPC/Community Board meetings and actions.
D. Do you believe in restorative justice? And if yes, what would restorative justice look like in South Orange now and in the future?
SC – I absolutely believe in restorative justice and my primary focus is on youth and diversion programs that keep our kids out of the criminal justice system. This is a big priority for me and I have discussed it at length with our Police Chief and would like to discuss further with community members who join the Community Police Collaborative.
Restorative justice also needs to address the digital world. Last week, a resident forwarded me a news broadcast of a mother discussing how her son was arrested for possession of marijuana several years ago. It took thousands of dollars to try and get his name scrubbed from the internet and it adversely impacted him in every step of his life. I cannot tell you what the answer is to this but it is very concerning to me how, even when “justice” is served, it can follow one throughout their lives. The future, as you say, addresses this concern as well.
SOF – South Orange Forward’s motto is One Village For All. We are supportive of restorative justice policies that help build bridges of greater transparency and collaboration in our community.
PTT – Restorative justice can be a solution to criminal reform when the resources necessary to make it work are in place. A smaller town such as South Orange is the perfect environment for these measures. We want to establish community court sessions in which to examine rehabilitation of offender through reconciliation with victims and the broader community.
YVOV – Restorative justice is a powerful tool being used effectively in a variety of ways. As has been widely covered by the media, we’ve seen restorative justice deployed in South Africa to help right the wrongs of apartheid, and in recent international cases of genocide. Restorative justice also has deep spiritual roots in Jewish culture and Talmudic teachings. On a more local and perhaps more basic level, restorative justice can and is being used effectively in schools here in the States – helping the perpetrators of inappropriate behavior understand their impact on victims through group discussion and consensus on appropriate restorative action. So yes, we do believe in restorative justice. Restorative justice could and should be similarly deployed here in South Orange in our schools and as part of our judicial system. The goal would be to help perpetrators of inappropriate and criminal behavior see the impact of their actions on others and to come to group consensus on recommended courses of action. Another interesting angle: restorative justice principles could be built into the tools we use to combat police bias – providing a venue for those that feel wronged by our police or other public officials to address those grievances. Action on this front would require expert training and change management – to really build these practices into the culture across all of our government services and into the community at large. Ultimately, we want to work better as a community to try to resolve issues before they flare into inappropriate or criminal behavior and to create more safe spaces for people to talk about and find solutions for economic distress, mental health issues, and other points of community friction.
E. Are you in favor of releasing data given the use of force report?
SC – Yes, absolutely and I would like to have any Use of Force reports posted and noted in our blotter.
SOF – Yes, as stated previously, the South Orange Forward team invites greater transparency and dialogue between citizens, government, and police.
PTT – Yes. Transparency is currency. However, the use of force report also showed that most townships follow individual policies for reporting. Before we can release the data and rely on its accuracy we should agree on standardized reporting.
YVOV – We are in favor of full transparency with respect to these and other South Orange Village governance matters. We commend the work that the journalists put into the Force Report data collection and results reporting. It is very important work and the information that came out of it is informative. We feel this data should be compiled and analyzed here in South Orange on a real time basis as a metric for tracking our progress in this regard. We are in favor of digitizing use of force reporting to facilitate the periodic analysis.
F. What will you do to ensure there is more transparency and accountability between the police and the public?
SC – When it comes to information, more is more. I believe at a committee level, representatives who serve as volunteers should be provided as much information as legally permissible and make ongoing recommendations to the department and governing body. As previously mentioned, we also need to take a better look at year over year trends to see how the programs and initiatives we’re putting into place are working or need improvement.
SOF – South Orange residents will benefit from the newly established Community Police Collaborative Committee. Its function, among many, will be to broaden the relationship between police, government, and citizens to help address concerns, build trust, and increase transparency.
PTT – As noted above, random review of traffic stops would be a great step toward transparency.
YVOV – As addressed above, we support creating a venue for those that feel unfair, or indeed criminal, mistreatment by our police or other public officials to report and address those grievances. In addition to the data available and shared in the Force Report, we would seek to formally track and ultimately reduce reported bias by our police and other public officials.
G. Do you support a Civilian Board similar to Maplewood?
SC – Yes, and my biggest regret is that New Jersey does not allow more powers to be granted to civilians. Each day, citizens of this country have the privilege of being able to serve as jurors and yet there is concern that citizens cannot impartially judge the actions of law enforcement in carrying out their duties? That, in my opinion, doesn’t quite make sense.
SOF – We have established a new Community Police Collaborative Committee between police, government, and citizens right here in South Orange, separate from Maplewood.
PTT – Yes.
YVOV – We are in support of a Civilian Board that would review police use of force reporting. We give full details in Question C.
2. Affordable Housing
Income inequality is one of the greatest challenges facing our society. It has produced gentrification and the proliferation of luxury housing on the one hand and a terrible shortage of affordable housing on the other. Racial and national origin discrimination compounds the problem. South Orange should contribute to the solution to the affordable housing crisis.
A. South Orange has not negotiated an agreement concerning our obligations to provide affordable housing under the Mount Laurel decision. Maplewood has reached agreement. What are the impediments to South Orange providing sufficient affordable housing?
SC – There are absolutely no impediments except for lack of political will. Over the past two years, I have worked to redo our entire affordable housing compliance agreement undoing years of unrealistic zoning that would have never actually constructed affordable units. What has occurred in South Orange is a disgrace and has contributed to the segregation that exists throughout New Jersey. I have introduced ordinances that will require 1 in every 5 units developed to be for moderate and lower-income families. I also quadrupled payments for developers to construct units “off-site” with a required 10% on-site in any new development. I am also proud to share that South Orange has not used a Vacant Land Adjustment in negotiating its fair share obligation. We were given a number and accepted it. I have laid out a path for this governing body and future governing bodies to actually hit numbers. This is an area during my term I am most proud of. Affordable housing advocates throughout the state frequently request my presence on panels and speaking engagement to take about our collective responsibilities as towns – particularly affluent towns – to make New Jersey more equitable. Housing is where it all starts. It will dictate access to transportation, quality government services, job opportunities, education, etc. Housing segregation and exclusionary zoning has created an absolute mess in this state and I will continue doing my role at the local, county, state and national levels as an advocate for affordable housing.
SOF – We have reached a tentative agreement to provide affordable housing under the Mount Laurel decision.
PTT – It’s instructive to note that Maplewood hired a respected consultant (Community Grants, Planning & Housing) that helped the town reach a relatively quick and manageable agreement. Given the issue’s complexity, we believe that retaining an expert would be the right approach and would advocate for that on the BOT.
As-yet unanswered in this are our specific requirements, both in terms of units and a time for delivering them. The town currently deals with this on a project-by-project basis, asking developers to include affordable units in new building and contribute to our Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) as part of the part of the back and forth over zoning, taxes and other concessions. It has delivered a small number of units, but it’s hard to see how this method can scale up if we need to deliver a large number of units in short order.
YVOV – Based on our understanding, Resolution 2019-113 is slated for vote on April 22, 2019 and will authorize the execution of a settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center. A major impediment to affordable housing is getting residents to agree on how to support redevelopment with inclusionary housing. We fully support the Master Plan process as one way to gain that needed consensus. As we understand it, South Orange is one of only a few towns that have accepted and embraced the number of affordable housing units stipulated by the Fair Share Housing Committee. We support the approach that has been spelled out to get a minimum of 100 units built by 2025 for moderate and low-income households.
B. How do you propose to provide adequate affordable housing in South Orange?
SC – As mentioned above, I have already introduced the mechanism that will hit a 20% threshold on new development or market-to-affordable buy downs. The financial mechanisms in place such as “PILOTs” and tax incentives make projects viable for developers as they will be responsible for construction and deed restrictions for the following 30 years. Project finance and viability are necessary to achieve our affordable housing milestones and without the proper tools in place, construction will not occur. It is why I introduced the town-wide rehabilitation designation and will continue with redevelopment studies that give us the financial tools to get these units online.
SOF – All developers are now required to provide 20% affordable housing units. We also have a Memorandum of Understanding with Jespy House on an affordable housing project that will provide affordable housing for low-income families and their own clients.
PTT – In order to meet our Mount Laurel obligations, we would continue to work with developers to include affordable units in new buildings, and use resources from our AHTF to provide affordable housing. But in the longer-term perspective we need to revise zoning laws to move us away from treating affordable housing on a case-by-case basis. We also need to consider the challenges of seniors and empty nesters looking to age in place, which means considering new options in the single-family zones. That could mean two-family homes or auxiliary dwelling units (carriage houses, tiny homes) that could help maintain economic and generational diversity in our community.
YVOV – We are all strong advocates of affordable housing, and we support smart development which includes incorporating affordable housing units into new development. The Village has been operating under an agreement that any new developments must provide 1 unit for every 5 units constructed. Based on the upcoming projects in town, this will provide significantly more housing options than all past projects in our town combined. We will continue to support the current agreement.
How does smart development look? Today’s research and best thinking says that affordable housing is most successful when designed and developed with certain features in mind, such as architectural consistency with surrounding neighborhoods, careful attention to landscaping and aesthetics, close cooperation between managers and residents, access to onsite after-school programs, organization of a town watch, and close collaboration with municipal officials. We would seek similar features as we build out additional affordable housing here in South Orange.
C. What have you done in the last four years in a public or private capacity to address the affordable housing crisis?
SC – In my role as Village President, I took the measures outlined in A and B. Professionally, I’m the Executive Director of the American Planning Association in New Jersey where one of our focuses is the affordable housing crisis. We have been involved with courts holding towns accountable for gap periods and urging the legislature to take necessary measures to ensure EVERY town is meeting their obligation. To be frank, this is not just an issue of income inequality it is an issue of “race”. Predominantly white and affluent towns have battled in the courts to lower their numbers or eliminate them all together. On the other side of that conversation will be me and other affordable housing advocates statewide. I also regularly recruit authors and social justice advocates to speak to planners and elected officials about affordable housing. I run the state’s largest last conference annually in my professional capacity and this year I brought in Richard Rothstein, author of the “Color of Law”.
South Orange has an ageing population. As people age & become less vigorous they also become “empty nesters:” living in homes with three, four or more bedrooms which they have difficulty maintaining and paying for. One way for seniors to stay in South Orange is to make arrangements to share their homes with others.
SOF – As a Trustee, Deborah Davis Ford, has supported policies to address the affordable housing crisis and has seen the affordable housing trust fund grow to over $500K over the past few years.
PTT – As engaged residents, we’ve watched the trend lines you’ve noted, and joined in meaningful discussions for ways to address them. Turning that into positive actions is among the reasons we’re running for the BOT.
YVOV – Our respective roles and experiences as private citizens have not yet afforded us a platform to address affordable housing issues here in South Orange. That said, Donna has worked with a charity called “Hour Children”. Hour Children’s mission is to keep children of incarcerated Moms connected while the mother is serving her time and to support the family once the mother is released from prison. Hour Children owns residential real estate serving to provide housing to 75 – 80 families who would otherwise struggle to find affordable housing, or any housing at all, given their incarceration history. Summer has been struggling with affordable housing issues at it relates to her own mother. When the rental rates began to increase in Jersey City, she looked to the housing lottery in Jersey City, South Orange “3rd & Valley” and Orange without success. With the limited number of units available in each town, the number of lottery entries grossly exceeds the available units. Bob has always supported the affordable housing mandate as a member of the Development committee. South Orange has an ageing population. As people age & become less vigorous they also become “empty nesters:” living in homes with three, four or more bedrooms which they have difficulty maintaining and paying for. One way for seniors to stay in South Orange is to make arrangements to share their homes with others.
D. How should the proposed South Orange master plan accommodate seniors in South Orange who have lived in the Village for years and wish to “age in place?”
SC – First, I will note that I was one of the originators of SOMA Two Towns for All Ages having attended the grant workshops and reached out to Maplewood to partner. To date, we’ve received close to $250,000 which is just a start. Aging in Place does not just address housing but also addresses modes of transportation, access to government services, opportunities to be “a part” of the community and not isolated, and be an active participant in all civic activities. The Master Plan will address this very comprehensively and specifically engaged seniors on all elements. Aging in place is never one component of something we need to do better, it’s infused in every service we deliver. One example, we started providing handicap parking at our Summer Concerts and a tent and chairs for seniors with mobility challenges. The same note is made on block party applications. Timing of street lights also need to reflect sufficient time for passage. Our biggest challenge to truly allow residents to age in place are our taxes and our lack of inventory of owner-occupied housing that isn’t just single-family homes such as condos. Our demand is high and our supply is low. These types of housing options should be prioritized for tax incentives otherwise the market will continue to redirect us to market rate apartments. Steering the market in another direction requires government incentives and ones that can and should be utilized to get desired outcomes. Diversity in our community also means age diversity. The loss of our senior population is a loss for our town.
SOF – We need to find affordable ways for seniors to stay in South Orange by exploring incentives. For starters we can improve awareness and utilization of the diversity of services already in place to enhance quality of life for seniors. For example there is a comprehensive program at the county (Division of Senior Services) and state level (Division of Aging Services, DoAS). In addition, the Master Plan should promote the development and construction of affordable downsizing options for senior citizens.
PTT – In a nutshell, the master plan needs to accommodate more options for seniors.
YVOV – By accommodating and planning for mixed-use development in our major commercial corridors, we can use the Master Plan to advocate for a more diverse housing stock, which will provide more options for our seniors to age in place. The key is to maintain flexibility – some seniors will want to age in place in their homes and can afford to do so or may seek to share their homes with renting travelers or “roommates”. Others will want to move to apartments or condos that are easier to maintain and could be more affordable. Still others may look to live with or near their children who may be starting their own families, in multi-family structures or homes that have available space to be used for “in-law suites”. All of these options can and should be available to our seniors and we would promote policies and zoning to permit and encourage their use.
E. What changes in our zoning code can be made to promote communal living by seniors who need to share their homes with others in order to be able to “age in place”?
SC – Zoning already permits an owner to bring in renters. The next step will be looking at accessory dwelling units. I also feel there is a “stigma” associated with adults who board together. It’s a completely acceptable practice for younger adults but studies will show that past a certain age, there are feeling of embarrassment or shame with needing to share a home with someone other than family. This community can and should be able to accept and promote that there are different styles of living for different people at different stages in their lives.
SOF – It’s not a matter of changing our zoning code, it’s a matter of making seniors aware of the current law that allows seniors to participate in shared housing and communal living. South Orange Forward is against any proposal that allows for increased density in residential neighborhoods. Changes in the zoning laws for these residential neighborhoods could have adverse and unforeseen consequences that fundamentally alter the character of our historic Village. We must look for solutions that move us forward while preserving our rich history.
PTT – Ed Moore and his wife Tonia live on the first floor of a two-family home on Clark St., while their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live upstairs. It’s a tremendously functional and, in South Orange, too-rare arrangement. Under current zoning, home owners are not allowed to convert their single-family homes to two-family units.
Communal living is allowed under current zoning laws, as is the option of a homeowner taking in up to three boarders. But this would be a much more attractive option for people if they could maintain degrees of privacy within the residence — to share a roof but not necessarily a breakfast table and bathroom.
YVOV- See details in Question 2 D above.
3. Ensuring An Accurate Census
New Jersey is gearing up for the 2020 decennial Census. Ensuring an accurate count is important so that our state, county, and towns receive our full share of representation and public funding.
A. What plans would you put in place to ensure that every South Orange resident is counted in the Census, especially with regard to those who are at risk of being undercounted, like immigrants and the undocumented, renters, people with low incomes, ethnic minorities, and young children?
SC – Rather than make something up, the truth is I haven’t contemplated this. If reelected, I would welcome the opportunity to partner with SOMA Action on a game plan. I also know someone in our town who works for the Census Bureau and would seek his advice on what steps we should take.
SOF – South Orange Forward candidates are aware of how important it is to make sure everyone is counted in Census 2020, has a direct effect on congressional apportionment, billions in federal funding, and to plan for the future of our communities. But we’re also aware of the looming uncertainties in the upcoming census; the reduced number of ground resources the agency plans to hire and the political environment around immigrants, especially surrounding the question of an immigrant’s citizenship status. As we prepare for Census 2020, the South Orange Forward team would create a Complete Count Committee that would ensure we are prepared to count everyone in our community.
PTT – An accurate Census is crucial to the Village’s health in the coming decade and beyond. Government guidelines distinguish between “usual residence” and “legal residence” in the process, with boarding Seton Hall students qualifying as the former — even if they qualify as legal residents of their respective hometowns. Naturally, as members of the BOT we would use our platform to educate residents and facilitate a fair and accurate reading of the Village’s population.
YVOV – As trustees, we will work with our local Census Bureau office to create a Complete Count Committee. The Committee will hold workshops to identify South Oranges challenges in the 2010 Census and related proactive measures to deal with those challenges in 2020. The Committee will also promote the 2020 Census to our residents, help recruit Census workers when jobs become available, and closely monitor the Census Bureau to ensure that EVERY South Orange resident is counted. Some ideas that might be worth exploring are pairing people in the neighborhood with a census taker or scheduling information census gathering sessions by neighborhood.
4. Defending Our Environment
SOMA Action and SOMA Justice are working together to reduce the unsustainable amount of waste produced by our towns for both environmental reasons (much of the waste is plastic, is no longer recyclable, and much of it blows into our water ways and parks) and justice reasons (the waste is trucked to the Covanta incinerator and the exhaust released into the air breathed by our neighbors in Newark — but also likely drifts back to contaminate our air).
A. Our current initiative is to ask South Orange to pass an ordinance similar to Maplewood’s to eliminate single-use plastic bags by retailers and to place a fee on single-use paper bags (also a high carbon footprint) and encourage consumers to switch to reusable bags.Will you support such an ordinance?
SC – Absolutely, the comments from SOMA Action and SOMA Justice were very well crafted and welcomed by our Environmental Commission and included in the first reading.
SOF – The South Orange Forward team is supportive of this ordinance. We know that implementing new ordinances requires buy-in and compliance from all parties, which is why we would also want to include businesses in this dialogue to ensure that they would be on board to implement this new policy. We are also pleased to see the enthusiasm shown by many consumers already making the switch to reusable bags.
TPP – The law, which we support, will be in place by the time the new BOT is sworn in.
YVOV – We absolutely support a reusable bag ordinance. Bob Zuckerman is a co-owner of Pet Wants SOMA; Pet Wants SOMA has always successfully operated without using single-use bags. We would also support measures to ease the transition to such an ordinance, both for shop owners and for consumers. For example, to jump start the program, we would support a bulk purchase of South Orange Village branded and sponsored reusable bags to distribute to shops and families receiving Federal or State food assistance. Lastly, we would look to raise other resources such as corporate sponsors to cover these initial expenditures and for ongoing free reusable bag distribution to food assistance recipients.
B. As a future initiative, we would also like to move the take-out retailers, including Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and 7-11, away from single-use plastic containers and straws. Would you be willing to champion such an effort?
SC – This is a bit of a tricky question. A good leader, which I believe I am, supports individuals and volunteers in their efforts. For me, this our Environmental Commission and Green Team. Our true champion on the current Board of Trustees is Walter Clarke. If I serve another term (and even if I don’t) this is an issue I would refer to him and our volunteers who have led all of our most progressive environmental policies to date.
SOF – The South Orange Forward team would support an open dialogue to help identify opportunities that would result in less waste in our landfills. We would help facilitate the dialogue with local businesses to help make South Orange a thriving place to live and do business, while being an environmentally sustainable community.
TPP – We believe it’s essential as a society to move to re-use and away from single use, wherever possible. Targeting a few businesses or types of businesses doesn’t feel like the right approach, though. We need to work together with business owners to find workable solutions that head in the direction of re-use and reducing waste.
We’re especially concerned about the expiring recyclables contract. It comes at a time when our service provider, due to complex market conditions, isn’t even ensuring that our single-stream recyclables are actually being recycled. We must begin preparing for the next phase in our town’s recycling life, assessing prospective service providers and educating the residents.
YVOV – We would be willing to champion an effort to move all take out retailers away from single-use plastic containers and straws. We would also like to move take-out retailers away from styrofoam products, as Dunkin’ Donuts has pledged to do by 2020.
C. We have joined the Empower NJ coalition of environmental groups to advocate for a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects in the state and instead push for renewable sources like wind and solar. The decision-making is mainly in the hands of Governor Murphy and his Department of Environmental Protection. What steps would you be willing to take to support these principles and communicate them to other political leaders in the state?
SC – As has often been done in the past, I would welcome the opportunity to partner with Maplewood (and other communities) to pass a joint resolution and distribute to our legislators and provide testimony at committee hearings. Our strongest asset is our ability to coalesce support and speak as one powerful voice.
SOF – Deborah Davis Ford, candidate for Village President, is positioned with leaders across many municipalities, counties, as well as state and federal government and will help advocate for the transition to renewable energy sources in order to address the immediate threats of climate change. But more locally, the South Orange Forward team would look into implementing plans like Livingston’s recent switch to 100% clean and renewable energy sources, which also help lower energy costs.
TPP – Yes, we support the move away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. As a town we need to together address our willingness to make changes necessary to begin making a difference.
Some things we’d like to discuss include:
- Adding bike lanes on key roadways and making town safer for pedestrians.
- Invest in jitney service, looking expand jitney options by combining services and making it an attractive option to driving downtown.
- Complete the tree inventory and develop a long-term plan to increase and maintain our street-tree population.
- Finish the River Greenway project.
- Set efficiency targets for reducing the amount of gasoline we use in municipal vehicles and ensure that new purchases are electric or hybrid, where possible.
- Purchase our electricity from renewable sources.
YVOV – While we would have no jurisdiction beyond the Village, we would work with the South Orange Environmental Commission to study this matter and help develop a resolution detailing our agreed position as a Village or in partnership with Maplewood and beyond to other municipalities.
D. What other proposals do you support to protect our environment?
SC – From a land-use perspective which is my area of expertise, walkable urbanism. Our overreliance on vehicles rather than “walkability” can be addressed at the local level by making pedestrians feel safe, having proper lighting, providing way finding signage, etc. I am also THRILLED with our current energy aggregation program that will save homeowners money while doubling the amount of renewable energy.
SOF – At a more practical level, we need to invest in keeping the downtown area clean and landscaped in a way that inspires cutting waste and treasuring our environment.
TTP – See Above Suggestions
YVOV – We support more communication around protecting our environment. Climate change is such a big problem that making an impact as a single human being can be daunting. We would support a local communications campaign to detail steps that we each could take that would have greater impact as a group and contribute to our collective duty to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Treaty. The New York Times “Here to Help” series entitled “One Thing You Can Do To Counteract Climate Change” is one such communication campaign detailing tips that we could amplify and deploy together as a community to create local habits that stick.
There are other bigger measures that we support related to the environment; we applaud the work of the South Orange Environmental Commission and the current administration in the progress to date, for example our support for meeting the goals of the Paris Accord, our SO not Plastic Week of awareness, our annual River Day event, our new energy consortium, and more. To meet our Paris Accord goals, we’ll need to look at further opportunities to make a difference – for example converting our jitney service to electric vehicles, looking at solar energy conversions on Village owned buildings and in new development, and encouraging energy audits and remediation of Village owned and private properties. The Climate Alliance plan to inventory our local greenhouse gas footprint and identify specific actions that our government, business owners, and residents can make to ensure that our Paris Accord commitment is met is an absolute imperative.
5. Transparency and Effective Administration
A. Why was the village administrator position open for a year?
SC – The candidate selected by the governing body (who had begun work and was appointed) unfortunately had a family health emergency which prohibited him for continuing. From that point, we had to restart the process of contracts and negotiations which gave us our current (and outstanding) administrator.
SOF – A search was conducted, candidate was identified, and job offer was made. However due to family issues, the candidate rescinded the offer, thereby causing us to restart the search process.
TTP – Our observation is that the decision not to use an outside search firm to hire the new administrator contributed to the delay and was a mistake.
YVOV – A position as important as Village administrator requires a robust search process, which as we understand was undertaken. As private citizens, we can’t comment on the duration of the search process but as Trustees we would seek to fill any open positions with more expediency.
B. What steps will you take to ensure diversity and inclusion in municipal administration?
SC – Continue to broadly promote new positions and invest in the professional development of our existing employees. South Orange has many limitations in this regard due to being “civil service” but diversity in hiring practices can be extended to management and professional services which is something I full support.
SOF – The South Orange Forward team represents a group from diverse backgrounds and values inclusion in order to deliver on the promise of One Village For All. Deborah Davis Ford, completing her 3rd term as Trustee has been instrumental in ensuring that diversity is a key component of the selection process in municipal administration. The South Orange Forward team intends to continue that practice.
TTP – The BOT needs to set specific diversity objectives, and then hold the professional staff accountable for delivering against those objectives.
YVOV – As we noted above, Donna Coallier and Summer Jones have experience administering diversity and inclusion programs in other organizations that they would leverage to make further progress on the diversity front. Primary actions include additional anti-bias training and outreach programs to attract, recruit, and onboard diverse candidates for open Village positions and indeed for the volunteer activities that support Village operations. All three of us have diversity backgrounds and networks that we can leverage to make further progress.
C. What steps do you propose to gain efficiency through shared services? Why haven’t the Maplewood South Orange Fire Departments been merged?
SC – My term in office has been focused on shared services including our Two Towns for All Ages, Tax Collection and currently the fire department which is two years in the making. I am fully supported (and led) the fire department study from the South Orange side and am committed to seeing it through. The “hold-up” is this will be the first shared service of its kind merging a civil-service and non-civil service fire department which has required assistance from the state.
SOF – The South Orange Team is supportive of shared services only if we do not lose governance as a result.
The reason the merger of the Maplewood and South Orange Fire Departments has not occurred is because an agreement has not been reached between the governing bodies.
TTP – We broadly favor shared services that maintain or improve on safety and quality of life in South Orange, and as BOT members would advocate transparent research toward such opportunities. Our detailed assessment of the planned South Orange-Maplewood fire-services merger is available on our website, browndavismooreforbot.com. We feel that if we can effectively implement a merger of the two departments, it can serve as a model for future shared-services agreements.
YVOV – Shared services allow our community to optimize efficiencies and save our heavily burdened taxpayers money. We’re fully supportive of seeking out new shared services opportunities, not just with Maplewood, but also with other neighboring municipalities. We are also fully supportive of merging the South Orange and Maplewood fire departments, provided the plan improves services and brings our taxpayers significant savings as described in the Manitou Report. We commend the current SOMA administrations on their progress to date, in recognition of the complexity of negotiating a complex merger. While some information has been publicized at the Trustees meetings, the timeline has not been shared publicly and so we can’t comment on why the departments are not yet merged.
D. The budget has been released late and leaves little time for residents to analyze. What tools will you implement to ensure that the budget is transparent and open for all to review?
SC – An entirely new budget process was introduced this year with far greater accounting as it relates to subaccounts. The future will entail matching priorities with expenses and year over year reviews for the public that offer explanations to trends and changes. My hope is to provide five-year snap shots for the community and also include a section from the school board and county. While separate taxing authorities, this information can and should be available in one place for the benefit of the public.
SOF – As Village President and Trustees we would commit to greater transparency and communication with our constituents, especially when it comes to our budget and ensuring there is an adequate amount of time. We will implement standards to formulate, review, and release the budget in a timely manner.
TPP – The budget’s lateness was a concern. But more pressing to us was the absence of any meaningful civic mechanism for analyzing its contents. The budget is an expression of our town’s objectives, and the next BOT needs engage residents in analysis of how they defined those objectives. Assuming we’re able to consolidate the South Orange and Maplewood fire departments and achieve the savings discussed by the proposal — between $500,000 and $1.6 million: Shouldn’t residents know how the BOT would plan to use that savings? Toward the
Baird? The Library?
We remain committed to bringing residents into these discussions by continuing the kind of neighborhood meetings that were part of the master-plan process — and regular budget discussions would be a part of that commitment.
YVOV – As private citizens, we are not privy to the processes currently used to develop the Village budget. That said, Summer and Donna have expertise in building efficient financial processes, leveraging the latest technology and project management tools. A budget process is best structured as an ongoing process, whereby department heads update a rolling twelve-month budget, each month or quarter, after assessing that period’s budget to actual results. Then when the annual process is initiated, the lion share of the work has already been completed. We would consider these and other financial management tools to enable an earlier release of the budget for resident review. As SOVCA director, Bob was responsible for creating and managing his organization’s annual budget, delivering the budget on time bringing results in at or under budget.
6. County Issues
The struggles to defend democracy and push back against xenophobia are crucially important in the age of Trump. These fights begin at home. SOMa Action is currently pressing three issues for county government. We seek an end to the contract with ICE to maintain a detention center, which allows county government to profit from xenophobia and horrible conditions for immigrants. We seek reliable, secure and cost effective voting systems–which requires hand marked paper ballots with optical scanners–to ensure an accurate count as required by state law. And we seek an end to the party-line, the mechanism by which party leaders virtually dictate the outcome of primary elections.
A. Will you publicly support our efforts to end the ICE contract?
SC – Yes, South Orange is a Sanctuary City and that initiative was led by SOMa Action. Eliminating the ICE contract would be consistent with what our governing body already passed via resolution.
SOF – As Village Trustee, Deborah Davis Ford, was involved in drafting the ordinance that unanimously voted South Orange as a sanctuary city. We support any efforts that challenge the Trump administration stated policies with ICE and support policies that protect Immigrants rights and create pathways to citizenship.
TPP – We fully support South Orange’s continued status as a Sanctuary City.
YVOV – Most importantly, we need to instill more oversight with respect to the current ICE contract. Deplorable conditions have been reported that are unacceptable and need to be remediated. We applaud Governor Murphy who has pledged $2.1 million toward universal legal representation for detainees. While $2.1 million may only begin to cover needed legal expenditures, our hope is that we will move toward providing appropriate legal representation for the detainees. To fulfill our moral and contractual obligations, we also need to do more to improve the detainee living conditions.
B. Will you publicly support our efforts to obtain voting systems with hand marked paper ballots with optical scanners?
SC – Yes, every vote must be counted!
SOF – Yes.
TTP – We support any vote-tallying system that helps eliminate voter-suppression efforts and safeguard voting rights for all citizens.
YVOV – Absolutely.
C. Will you publicly support our efforts to end the party-line in primary elections?
SC – Absolutely. In fact, at the local level, I opted this year for my own re-election to run independently as oppose to on a “slate”. I have major concerns about party lines and this was my small way of trying to open up the field and encourage people to run. This year, I will be appearing by myself on the ballot and that was done intentionally.
SOF – Deborah Davis Ford is a progressive Democrat who supports the success of grassroots organizations; like SOMA Action, Blue Wave, and NJ 11 for Change. The Democratic committee’s organization in partnership with these group successfully flipped 5 republican seats to democratic seats during the 2018 mid-term elections.
TTP – As an independent campaign relying on grass-roots support, we favor systems that ensure voters fair and unbiased choices among primary candidates.
YVOV – Absolutely.