Two candidates are vying for one seat on the Maplewood Township Committee on election day, November 8, 2016: Democrat Frank McGehee and Republican Mike Summersgill. We asked both candidates to answer a series of questions. Below is Frank McGehee’s Q&A:
Name: Frank McGehee
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Chicago. I am the oldest of three boys. My parents, both educators, constantly stressed the importance of education and community service as avenues toward leading productive lives. I attended the University of Notre Dame and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy. After some years in the working world, I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business as a consortium fellow, earning a full academic scholarship. I graduated with an MBA, concentrating in Brand Management.
What brought you to Maplewood?
Marie. I met my wife while we were both attending business school at the University of Wisconsin. From the start, we were partners with the mutual respect and understanding that our professional careers mattered equally. When she received a career opportunity in the area, I went in search of a new job and we went in search for a new community – relocating from Boston. No town gave us the vibe that we felt in Maplewood. Fast forward to today, we are deeply rooted in the community. We love the local businesses, organizations, the annual festivals – MayFest, Pride, Green Day, Maplewoodstock, XRoots, the Halloween parade – and the local arts programs. We have THE BEST elementary, middle school and high school shows in America. The diverse community is unparalleled. We are fortunate to raise our daughter in a community where we are not the only family of color, and where she has the opportunity to interact with kids who look like her and kids who do not. We are proud to call our fellow Maplewoodians, who hail from all walks of life, our neighbors and friends.
How did you first get civically engaged in the town? What civic roles have you worked in?
I have been actively involved in civic engagement and community service my entire life. My initial foray serving Maplewood was in 2013 through the Tuscan Elementary School PTA. I enjoyed making a difference in the overall quality of school life, not only for our daughter, but for the entire student body and their families. I have also served the Maplewood community in many other capacities including committee positions on the 2014 and 2015 Board of Education campaigns for Elizabeth Baker, Maureen Jones, Chris Sabin and Anne Marie Maini respectively. I was part of the Greg Lembrich Township Committee campaign, as well as the Greg Lembrich and Nancy Adams campaign. In addition, I have been actively involved with the South Orange-Maplewood Coalition on Race, The Maplewood Memorial Library Foundation Board, Moms Demand Action, Senior Share, the Achieve Foundation’s “Maker Madness” event, the Village Keepers, and the Father’s Auxiliary of Jack and Jill of America-Greater Essex County.
For me, working with these organizations and other leaders is about being engaged, listening to others, generating new ideas and implementing them with transparency and wide support to make Maplewood even more livable, sustainable and resilient. In doing so, I’ve championed new initiatives such as a proposal to restructure the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, a Block Buddy program so that our seniors have the additional support that they need, and a kid jamboree hosted by our Maplewood Memorial Library Foundation Board to continue to support our local libraries.
You have Haitian connections and our town has a Haitian population. How do you plan on leveraging your connections and knowledge to reach out to that community?
My grandmother on my mother’s side was Haitian. My wife was born in Haiti and emigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was three years old. While we are very fortunate to live in Maplewood, a thriving and diverse community, we’ve also seen that Maplewood is not immune to racial and ethnic disparity both in our schools and in the community at large. As I continue to meet residents from all over town, it’s clear that there are members of our community, including Haitians, who feel underrepresented, which has led to some fragmentation.
As a member of the Maplewood Township Committee, I will bring Haitian Maplewoodians, all people of color and the community at large, to the table by providing a regular forum for our residents to provide input and encourage meaningful dialogue and an exchange of ideas. This will include providing greater insight and transparency on the inner workings of our municipal process and creating opportunities for civic engagement on our local committees. I want all residents to know that they matter.
You’re on the board of Village Keepers (and serving as an officer, I believe). Do you plan to maintain that role? The Post Office development was a divisive issue for the town (including the VK’s lawsuit). What is the best way forward for development projects in Maplewood?
I was an active member of the Village Keepers, drawn to the organization because my core platform includes responsible development and increased transparency. The charter of the organization was to ensure that local merchants and residents who opposed the structure had a voice. I was equally concerned about the development’s effect on school enrollment. The Keepers suspended activities and has not operated for nearly a year once it was decided that JMF properties was approved to build.
Going forward, I remain interested in preserving the village and would like to see us move toward obtaining historic district status. And my focus is not just the village, it includes all of Maplewood. When we approve new developments, we must consider the impact on our schools and local businesses while also ensuring that we have more units allocated toward affordable housing. I will proactively work with developers, residents and merchants to help ensure that new developments enhance and complement our existing landscape and that everyone continues to have a voice.
What do you see as the top priorities for you as a TC member should you be elected?
Responsible development, pedestrian safety and shared services are top issues. They affect our well-being and ability to keep Maplewood as an affordable place to live, work and raise our families.
Pedestrian safety has been a long-standing issue for me. We have an epidemic all over town where people are driving entirely too fast. As a member of the Township Committee, I will push for better law enforcement of speed limits, especially in the morning when many of our children are walking to school and in the evening, when commuters are rushing home. In addition, I will work with our town engineer to take quick action on evaluating and changing crosswalks at intersections or adding stop signs when identified by residents as an issue. Finally, I will work to make Maplewoodians aware of steps that they can take to protect themselves as pedestrians.
Regarding shared services, creatively identifying ways to combine resources with South Orange or other abutting towns to help streamline costs has to be considered.
I have proposed a new property tax reward program as a pilot, which provides an incentive for residents to shop local. In effect, a percentage of our residents’ local spend would be allocated toward their annual tax bill. I have presented this concept to town leaders, some of our local merchants and residents and there is initial interest.
You have a daughter in the school district. Do you see a need for the town to work more closely with the school district? How can our town help our school district?
Our schools are a microcosm of our town. I think both can learn from each other to drive participation and improve decision-making. With a daughter who attends school in-district, having served on the campaigns for some of our current Board of Education Members and Township Committee Members, and regularly attending school board meetings and Township Committee meetings – I have a holistic understanding of the main issues. In my view, key opportunities for increased collaboration and sharing of best practices include public safety, resources, communications, community engagement and success metrics. Due to the strong relationships that I have established with parents, teachers, administrators, Board of Education members, and Township Committee leaders, as well as our community at-large, I believe that I can be an effective channel for building stronger synergies.
For example, earlier this year I started an initiative with other community leaders to explore ways to help some of our at-risk students gain access to additional local resources once their after school program concludes during the week.
Name your top three favorite things about Maplewood.
The people. I love my neighbors and the overall neighborhood vibe. All across town, neighbors have impromptu BBQs or simply congregate in their yards or on the street while their kids play. I also love talking with teachers, parents and families before school on the black top.
Our local businesses. It’s getting a cup of coffee from Julie, Thomas and the crew at the Able Baker, saying hello to Peter and grabbing brunch at the Park Wood Diner after Sunday service, listening to Seamus’ book recommendation at Words or a asking Mark for a slice of pizza at Village Trattoria. My wife loves chatting with Amy and checking out cool finds at Salvage Style. Dean and Liz’s Performers Theatre Workshop (PTW) is fantastic for performing arts education and it’s our daughter’s home away from home.
Diversity. It’s a big reason why we chose Maplewood and it has largely become a metaphor for how we want our daughter and other children to experience the world. Regardless of race, socio-economic class, sexual orientation or religious beliefs, in Maplewood our differences are what make this great community unique. And through these differences, together we will continue to bridge gaps to ensure that everyone feels valued – not build walls.
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