On Tuesday, May 12, South Orange voters will head to the polls to cast their ballots for three seats on the Board of Trustees as well as for Village President.
Recently we asked the three Trustees who are running unopposed for re-election to answer a series of questions. (We also asked the two candidates vying for Village President a separate set of questions to be published shortly.)
Candidate Deborah Davis Ford responds here:
Tell us about yourself: Where are you from? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you do for a living? How long have you lived in South Orange?
My family moved to my beloved South Orange Village in 1994. I grew up in the City of East Orange, NJ and spent my summers in North Carolina and Virginia. I’m married to Rocky Ford, my high school sweetheart and the mother of Rachel Ford. I’m the oldest of four siblings and have an incredible extended family.
I have been active in many organizations. I’m a past member of the Newark Rotary Club (where I served as the first female and African American President from 1993-1994), and served on the Executive Board of North Jersey Jack & Jill, a past member of the Regional Business Partnership, the NJ Transit Advisory Board, the Cancer Care Advisory Board, as well as a past President of the Greater Newark Chamber Small Business Council and past Chairperson of Partners in Education and Quality. I’m also a member of the Essex County Democratic Women and served as Chairwoman.
Professionally, I held the position of Vice President / Partner of Superior Staffing Services (a woman-owned and a startup) that was acquired by Transworld Services. I also held the position of Regional Vice President of Transworld Services Group, and two other prominent staffing services companies. Overall I have 25 plus years of corporate experience in the field of staff augmentation, business development, personnel training/development and client management, having served as a Corporate Client Manager at a large pharmaceutical company and a Director of a professional services firm providing IT staffing/project management and managed services solutions. Currently, I serve as Clerk of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and took the Oath of Office on June 1, 2009.
How long have you served as a Trustee?
I was elected to the South Orange Board of Trustees in May of 2007. Currently, I chair the Legal and Personnel committee as well as being on the Public Works committee and the Recreation and Cultural Affairs committee. I am a board liaison to the Board of Health, the Community Coalition on Race committee, the Seton Village (Irvington Ave.) committee, the Library Board and the Community Relations committee. I also served on the Public Safety committee.
What have been your proudest accomplishments as a member of the Board of Trustees?
I’m proud of how cohesive this board is working collaboratively towards our vision for a better South Orange. We have had many accomplishments over the years and I’m proud of the things we have achieved. A major accomplishment is having a comprehensive Vision Plan for the Village and Downtown. The plan includes improving our downtown and working with developers to bring great developments to South Orange as well as Ashley supermarket. Other accomplishments include the project at 3rd and Valley which will bring about 75 additional parking spaces for our residents (commuters and shoppers), the Gateway on the old Beifus dealership location, the town pool and our robust arts and recreation programs.
In addition, I’m proud of new playgrounds installed at Cameron Park and Farrell Field Park, and the creation of the South Orange Village Center Alliance to support small businesses. We have aggressively pursued grant and shared services opportunities to reduce our dependency on tax increases. I’m proud of the restructuring of the Village staff and the investment in the professional development of the staff to improve efficiencies and customer serve to our residents and businesses. We are rolling out a wellness program for the village employees as a way to create opportunities for better health. I’m so gratified that we have a fully integrated ethnic and gender diverse community.
What have been your biggest challenges as a Trustee? and what do you think are the biggest challenges facing South Orange?
Our biggest challenge is keeping property taxes as stable as possible despite increases in salaries, decreased aid from the state, rising healthcare costs, larger state pension contributions and a greater demand for services. I’m pleased that over the past 5 years we have kept our increases to an average of under 2% while at the same time we have not eliminated any services.
Our infrastructure, sewer system and municipal buildings are in need of extensive renovations. For years, minimum maintenance was done due to tight budgets. A comprehensive assessment is needed to evaluate all our needs and start renovating our buildings.
We must do a better job promoting the great relationship between our public safety officers and our residents — and increase the opportunities for positive interactions — especially with the volatile situations that exist in other municipalities in this nation.
We must address the funding formula for how Maplewood and South Orange portions of school funding is allocated since about 33% of the students are from South Orange but we pay 43% of the split between the two towns.
Where do you see South Orange in four years?
I believe we will continue to improve the South Orange Village over the next four years. I envision that South Orange will be a model transit community that will attract representatives from other municipalities who’ll seek to duplicate our success. The Seton Village section of town is another area that will continue to see new businesses. Our partnership with Seton Hall University will continue to grow with more businesses and landlords investing in our downtown. The demand for our houses will increase due to the ease of commuting to NYC, 20 minutes from the Newark airport and the large number of great houses in wonderful neighborhoods.
What is the best kept secret about South Orange?
The best kept secret of South Orange is that it is a municipality with beautiful and diverse housing stock with a suburban feel, an eclectic downtown with wonderful restaurants, Seton Hall University, South Orange Performing Arts Center and a movie theater. It is a culture with numerous active and engaged volunteers. And a place where many people know your name. I Love South Orange, my Beloved Village.