This is a questionnaire (below) submitted to all the local candidates by the Montclair NAACP—and the responses from all the candidates. It's lengthy, but includes a lot of information. Also, the NAACP would like to invite residents to a candidates' forum being held by the Montclair NAACP on Monday, April 30 at 7 p.m. at the Crawford Crews, American Legion Post 251, 210 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair.
Robert David Jackson (candidate for Mayor)
Rich McMahon (candidate for At-Large Councilor)
Robert (Bob) Russo (candidate for At-Large Councilor)
Richard Murnick (candidate for 1st Ward Councilor)
Robin Schlager (candidate for 2nd Ward Councilor)
Sean Spiller (candidate for 3rd Ward Councilor)
- How long have you lived in Montclair?
Robert Jackson: Montclair native
Richard McMahon: I'm am the 4th generation of my family to live in Montclair and have been a homeowner for 25 years.
Robert Russo: 24 years
Richard Murnick: Moved to Montclair 1996. My wife Susan is born and raised here, and she attended Edgemont, Mt Hebron and graduated Montclair high ‘86.
Robin Schlager: Resident for 20 years. I am the Assoc. Director of Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) for the past 12 years.
Sean Spiller: Approximately seven years
- Are your children or did your children attend Private or Public School?
Robert Jackson: Four children, all public schools: one finished, three now in.
Richard McMahon: two are out of college and one is a Junior at the University of Maryland.
Robert Russo: No children
Richard Murnick: All four of my kids attended Montclair Community Pre-K, they are all in the public schools right now... two in MHS, one in Glenfield and one still in Bradford.
Robin Schlager: I have two children, both of whom are in the Montclair Public Schools. Nishuane, Hilliside, Glenfield, MHS
Sean Spiller: I currently do not have any children. As a public school teacher and champion, my children will attend public schools.
- What community groups do you have a current active involvement in?
Montclair Public Library
I am Vice President of the Montclair Ambulance Unit. I am a trustee of St Patrick's Guard of Honor. I also work with Mercier Club, the 4th of July Parade committee, the Montclair 100 Club, and The Ray Festa Memorial Foundation
President of Consumers League of New Jersey. Member of the following groups: Montclair NAACP; Montclair League of Women Voters; BlueWave NJ; Sierra Club; Montclair Art Museum; Giblin Association; Essex Running Club.
1st Ward Councilman (2008 to present)
I was PTA president for three years at Nishuane and PTA President for two years at HillsideI sit on the School Action Team at Montclair High School & head up the School Pride Committee. I work with the Booster Club of the Mountie’s Girls Softball Varsity team at MHS. Co-chair of Project Graduation for this year, 2012.
Donor to the Montclair Library. Member of BlueWaveNJ (Montclair-based).
- Additional information you would like to share (family, occupation, etc):
Married to Cheryl Stephenson who is a multi-generational native. Cheryl is a GSA Troop Leader and former Northeast School PTA President.
Professsion: Real Estate Development
I am married to Anne Marie Ward who was born and raised in Montclair.
She is a teacher/administrator at the Parkside Montessori School, a pre-school in Montclair.
I am an attorney by trade with my office in Montclair.
Former Montclair Mayor and Councilmember
Current Adjunct Professor of American Government and Public Administration at Rutgers and Montclair State Universities.
Former Director New Jersey Consumer Affairs, Lemon Law
Former President of Montclair State University Adjunct Faculty Union, Local 6025, AFTNJ
Married to Christine for 23 years
I have been a financial planner since 1991, own my own firm on Bellevue Ave in the center of the first ward.
I sit on numerous boards, committees, coach 3 teams, Run my firm, and visit my constituents on a daily basis.
I sat on the council as 2nd ward rep from 2004 – 2008.
Son of a wonderful biracial couple, with one brother. Proud graduate of NJ public schools/colleges (Montville, Rutgers, Ramapo).
Harvey Susswein (candidate for Mayor)
Timothy Barr (candidate for At-Large Councilor)
William Hurlock (candidate for 1st Ward Councilor)
Walter Springer (candidate for 2nd Ward Councilor)
Jeffrey Jacobson (candidate for 3rd Ward Councilor)
- How long have you lived in Montclair?
Harvey Susswein (35 years)
Timothy Barr (20 years)
William Hurlock (12 years)
Walter Springer (22 years)
Jeffrey Jacobson (five years)
- Are your children or did your children attend Private or Public School?
Harvey Susswein (adult children who attended public schools)
Timothy Barr (one public school graduate, two children in public schools)
William Hurlock (two children in public schools)
Walter Springer (one kid in public school, the other currently in private school)
Jeffrey Jacobson (one 3 year-old, one child in MKA kindergarten)
- What community groups do you have a current active involvement in?
Zoning Board (2001-2011) - Resigned to run for office
Montclair Arts Council - former board member
Board of Education - 2011 Revenue Working Group Chair
Congregation Bnai Keshet - Past president and treasurer; member Finance Committee
Montclair Celebrates…which I co-founded is focused on raising funds to save our July 4th Celebration as well as First Night. I have also been on the July 4th committee for several years and serve as the parade announcer. My family and I also volunteer to help with First Night activities. I am also active in Montclair United Soccer and Montclair Town Baseball – both as a coach and with MUSC as the coordinator of Futsal at the Northeast School location. Until recently, I was also a member of the board of the Montclair Community Pre-K.
I am a board of trustee member of Outpost in the Burbs and the vice chair for the board of trustees for the Newark Presbytery (which serves part of Montclair). I also serve as an Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair. At PCUM I participate in several community related projects with HomeCorp, Habitat for Humanity, the Interfaith Hospitality Network and the Montclair Human Needs Food Pantry.
I am former PTA secretary at Northeast Elementary School, a former PTA president at Mount Hebron Middle School, am presently the SAT liaison at Mount Hebron MS, and continue to serve as chair or co-chair of numerous school events. I’ve been extremely active in seeking creative funding sources for school programs in addition to the BOE operating budget. I currently serve as a board member of the Montclair Junior Bulldogs Football & Little Scholars and consult to the Montclair High School Gridiron Club. I’m an active member of the Saint Cassian RC Church, serving as a Eucharistic Minister and Usher.
My wife and I moved to Montclair in 2006 with one toddler and our second daughter arrived in 2009. I hope the parents reading this will understand that I've had my hands full as a father (and active preschool and now kindergarten volunteer). Now that my daughters are 6 and 3, I have their and my wife's enthusiastic support to become much more involved with the community they and we have come to love. When my wife and I lived on the Upper West Side, I was elected vice president of our 84-unit condominium's board after just a year in-residence, and the other new board members and I turned around a building that was not being well-managed, financially or otherwise. I hope to have the opportunity to do the same in our new home, where my family and I intend to stay for a long, long time.
- Additional information you would like to share (family, occupation, etc):
Jane and I have lived in the same Montclair house for 36 years. Jane is a former member of the Montclair Board of Education and a co-founder of the Montclair Community Pre-K. Our daughter Hilary is a teacher at Renaissance Middle School.
I am a former Naval officer and a Vietnam veteran.
Professionally, I retired after a 30-year career with American Management Systems. AMS helped leading governments and corporations become more successful and efficient through the use of information technology. I joined AMS as a start-up and helped build the firm into a world-wide enterprise with thousands of professional employees when I retired as a senior executive in 2000.
I hold a BA and MA from Fordham University. My Masters is in Public Administration. I am the Vice President for Development at St. Joseph’s Healthcare System in Paterson, NJ. I have spent my career working in the not for profit sector where we strive to always use best practices and the most effective and efficient operational methods. In not for profits, we need to be creative and do more with modest resources – which is similar to good government. My wife and I have lived in town for over 20 years and have three children who are products of the Montclair Public Schools. Our oldest son is a college freshman, our daughter is a freshman at MHS and our youngest son is a fourth grader at Bradford School. Our younger children both attended the MCPK.
My wife Alison and I have lived in Montclair for over 12 years. We are proud of the fact that our children attend Montclair’s public school system. I am a Partner in the law firm of Seiger Gfeller Laurie where I have offices in New Jersey and New York. I also serve as an adjunct Professor at Seton Hall Law School. I am a former federal prosecutor and worked for a United States Congressman and a member of British Parliament. I served as an advisory member to the Federal Homeland Security Foundation. My wife is a former president and treasurer of the Northeast PTA. We have hosted MFEE fundraisers. I also served for four years on the Capital Finance Committee and coached t-ball and soccer in the Montclair youth recreation leagues. We have been very active in our community and are honored to call Montclair our home.
I have been fortunate to live in our community for the last twenty-two years. During this time I have been blessed enough to marry, purchase a home, begin raising two children and immerse myself in the Montclair community. My wife Liza and I chose Montclair over New York City, Westchester County, and Connecticut. We chose Montclair for many reasons; the proximity to New York City, a strong and unique school system, the diversity of our neighbors, and the great Montclair business community.
I have a master's degree in government administration (basically an MBA for public-sector management) from the University of Pennsylvania, which I earned while working full-time for the Philadelphia Streets Department as the department's public spokesperson, liaison to the mayor's office and City Council, and an assistant to the commissioner for implementing budget initiatives. I then graduated Columbia Law School with honors in 1996 and, after a short stint in Washington, have been with the firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in NYC since 1997. I'm now an equity partner in the firm, mostly handling the defense of complex class action cases and corporate internal investigations. My wife Janice was a theatrical company manager for several Broadway shows before our older daughter was born in 2005 and now is a full-time mom to our two wonderful girls. I grew up in South Orange, my dad grew up in Maplewood and his dad grew up in Newark, so my girls are fifth-generation Essex County. We are very glad we have settled in Montclair.
Real Progress Montclair:
Karen Turner (candidate for Mayor)
LeeAnn Carlson (candidate for At-Large Councilor)
Peter Zorich (candidate for At-Large Councilor)
Chris Swenson (candidate for 3rd Ward Councilor)
- How long have you lived in Montclair:
I moved to Montclair in 1995 with my husband, Chris Turner, who grew up here and introduced me to the town before we were married. I immediately fell in love with the diversity and energy of the community. While we first lived in Manhattan, there was no doubt we would move to Montclair to settle down and start a family. Both of our children were born at Mountainside Hospital.
I have lived in Montclair with my husband and two kids for nine years.
I have lived on Montclair all my life and attended the public schools (MHS 86’).
19 years as of May. My parents were originally from Montclair.
- Are your children or did your children attend Private or Public School?
I'm a proud graduate of a public school system and my husband graduated from Edgemont, Mt. Hebron, and attended Nishuane and Montclair High School. He was part of the first group of students to be bussed as part of the integration program.
Our two daughters attend the Montclair Kimberley Academy. Although my husband and I made a personal decision to send our daughters to MKA, our commitment to the public schools is unquestionable.
We have been strong supporters of the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence for many years and have supported Montclair Rocks since its inception. Rather, the decision to enroll our daughter at MKA was a choice we made because we thought it was best at the time she started Pre-k.
My daughter is a freshman at Montclair High School and my son is a junior at the Lawrenceville School, in Lawrenceville, NJ.
My two daughters both go to the Montclair public schools (Glenfield/Hillside)
Two sons graduated from Montclair High School, 2005 and 2008. Daughter graduated from Glenfield School in 2009. She currently attends private school in Livingston, NJ.
- What community groups do you have a current active involvement in?
I have been very involved in the Junior League of Montclair-Newark. I worked directly with many nonprofits in the community through this work. My favorite projects included the LINK School in Newark, the Neighborhood Childcare Center and with the GEPA tutoring for standardized tests at Glenfield School. Soon after I joined the JLMN to do hands on volunteer work, I was pulled into leadership roles of the group. These roles included Vice President of Finance, Vice President of the Endowment Fund, Treasurer and finance positions for multiple fundraisers. During my year as President of JLMN, over 6,000 volunteer hours were devoted to the Montclair community to help children at risk and to close the achievement gap. I was proud to serve in a leadership role of this organization. I have also served on the board of the Mountainside Hospital Foundation, as fundraising chair for the Van Vleck House and Garden’s, and Treasurer positions with MKA’s parent association.
I have been a volunteer at my kids various schools for many years. A favorite project was for Glenfield Middle School, where I worked on a ‘Fountains of Wayne’ concert to raise money to outfit two houses with Apple laptops, printers and iPod Touch’s. I am also an active member of the Garden Club of Montclair and have worked on projects to raise money and plant gardens at the Montclair’s schools and downtown areas. I am interested in finding a way to introduce a community garden in Montclair to bring residents together and also provide a source of fresh fruit and vegetables.
I was a founding member of Concerned Citizens of Montclair (CCM), where I focused on finding innovative ways to improve municipal services while reducing cost. Municipalities across the country are introducing more modern and efficient operating models, with measurable success.
Commonwealth Club of Montclair member
Montclair Lacrosse Alumni Association Board member
Montclair 100 Club member
Former member of the Montclair Arts Council
Former member of the United Way Financial Stability Committee
I am the founder and past president and still a board member of the Montclair Baseball and Softball Club, running its TeeBall and Coach Pitch Programs. Until the campaign began I served on the BOE Budget Working Group and also last year on the BOE Revenue Committee. In 2009 I received a Community Service Award from Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation. I co-chaired the Third Ward Action Committee which successfully fought over development on Llewellyn St. I run the Montclair Community Tutoring Project in which MHS students tutor elementary school kids. I am involved with the MHS Football Booster Club as a donor and a tutor.
- Additional information you would like to share (family, occupation, etc):
I am from a humble background. I started working at an early age and held two jobs during summer months throughout high school and during college to pay for my education. I am a hard worker, empathetic and care deeply about providing a platform for success for families and children at a disadvantage. I moved to Montclair to raise my children because of the diverse population and the community’s commitment to its values.
But recently, I’ve come to realize that our town has been placed in a tenuous financial situation by the status quo. Our debt now consumes 24% of our annual expenses and has crippled our ability to keep the community affordable for people of every class and race. A lack of fiscal planning and heavy reliance on debt and bonding has made it difficult to maintain funding for pre-k scholarships, libraries, and other programs that many in the community have relied on and been accustomed to. Without a commitment to change, innovation, and greater efficiencies, these problems will only get worse. Because I believe a simple commitment to priorities and a willingness to do the heavy lifting, I can give the voters confidence in a sustainable future. I have assembled a core team of running mates who are committed to these objectives. On behalf of them, I ask for your vote and your support.
I am an Engineer with 10 years professional experience with Andersen Consulting and IBM. I am experienced at finding inefficiencies in companies and markets, and then developing solutions to address those inefficiencies and improve operations. My work with CCM has made me realize that I have a skill set that can help put Montclair on a more sustainable path --- and that I feel passionately about our town and want to help keep it healthy for all our residents.
My parents, former longtime Montclair residents Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich, were founding members of “The Whole Theater,” an award-winning theater company that served the Montclair community and region for twenty years.
Professionally I have been one of the country’s top media professionals for the past two decades reaching the highest levels of the television news industry as a Senior Producer at major cable news networks including CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and Bloomberg at the forefront of planning and executing some of the most highly rated political talk shows. I currently run my own media consulting company helping political figures, business executives and thought leaders with media strategy.
When I was 18 years old, I worked for a year as for Community Service Society as a case worker aide in Harlem and the West Side of Manhattan. I graduated from Yale University in 1975 with a BA and from the Yale School of Management with a Masters in Public and Private Management. I worked on Bill Bradley’s Senate Staff and two of his Senate races. As a member of his Senate staff I assisted NJ municipalities with grants and federal contracts. I worked as an investment banker on Wall Street in corporate finance, mostly with technology companies, assisting them in raising capital, going public, etc. I left Wall Street and since then I have run, as a CFO, COO or CEO, a number of venture capital backed companies, including a software company, an Internet marketing company and a publishing company. One of the companies was named NJ Tech Council’s startup company of the year and I was twice awarded the NJ Press Association award for Public Service for weekly newspapers. Until the campaign began I owned and operated the Montclair Tutoring Club on Grove Street.
- How would improve the relations between Montclair PD and the community?
Montclair 2012: Revitalize Community Watch program. Encourage the hiring of more Montclair residents on the MPD. Regular community/MPD dialogue meetings in each ward.
For Montclair: We sense no unwillingness on the part of the Montclair Police Department to meet with any community groups. As we will address below, however, we believe that our police officers need greater training in community policing tactics. We also have discussed adding a third monthly Council meeting in order to allow us to (among other things) meet more regularly with department heads, including the police chief, and let residents express their views about public safety issues.
Real Progress Montclair: We will seek a closer working relationship with our police department, residents, and community leaders to find ways to increase police street presence in high-crime neighborhoods. The Montclair Police Department and residents can both benefit from organized and committed neighborhood watch programs and ‘feet on the street’ initiatives in neighborhoods throughout town. We also believe it is essential to develop a department with real ties to the community. To that end, we will aggressively cultivate and recruit new hires from within the community and encourage them to make Montclair their home as well as their beat.
- What are your top three priorities to deal with the growing crime issues in Montclair?
Montclair 2012: Clear lines of accountability. Increase police presence through technology and community policing. Positive alternative pursuits for youth and young adults.
For Montclair: First, we think patrol staffing levels are too low. We want to increase the number of patrol officers and believe we can find the money to do so by reducing the number of patrol supervisors. We have 33 supervisors overseeing fewer than 80 patrol officers and detectives. We also will explore hiring off-duty officers from neighboring towns to augment our patrol staffing during times of peak need. Second, we must improve lighting in areas known for drug trafficking. Finally, although we will never be able to prevent all burglaries, we will, through the Township Manager, strongly urge the police chief to add resources to burglary prevention and investigation.
Real Progress Montclair: Neighborhoods that suffer a disproportionate share of crime have also suffered from an unequal delivery of services. This has produced an unfair crime gap that we must be committed to reducing. RPM will: 1. improve lighting throughout town, especially in high crime areas, downtown areas, and corners with cross walks; 2. reallocate police resources to increase street presence in higher crime areas and use nonuniform personnel rather than uniformed personnel to supervise utility and road-work projects. We support the Police Chief’s use of CompStat to ensure that officers are deployed as efficiently as possible and that civilians are used to staff office and support positions as much as possible so that officers can fulfill prioritized public safety rolls in areas most in need; 3. place a greater emphasis on deterrence and an increased use of technology to increase the reach of our police force. For example, use of cameras that connect to the internet empower residents to help monitor their own streets. This approach is being used very successfully in East Orange, where it is credited with a 40-60% reduction in crime. These cameras could be an effective way to facilitate partnerships between neighborhood watch groups and the Police Department.
- What is your opinion of Community Policing?
Montclair 2012: Favorable. Given staffing constraints it must be supplemented with technology to be most effective.
For Montclair: Community-oriented policing tactics are essential in Montclair. To us, this means, among other things, (a) assigning more officers and supervisors as liaisons to community groups, (b) ensuring that we receive all available grants for police personnel to receive community policing training; and (c) where grants are not available, but where Chief Sabagh advises that training is essential, finding those resources in the budget.
Real Progress Montclair: We need a renewed commitment to Community Policing. We see this as a critical path to safer neighborhoods. Our officers should be a regular presence on our streets, especially in high-crime areas. The officers should know who lives on the street, and who is from out of town.
- How would you address the safety and drug issues in the Mission Street area? Glenfield Park?
Montclair 2012: Joint operations with the Sheriff and NJ Transit Police. Lighting. New technology.
For Montclair: These are issues we will want to discuss in detail first with the Township Manager we select and, through the Manager, with Chief Sabagh. Chief Sabagh is one of the most highly-regarded police commanders in New Jersey; we will do everything we can to give him the resources he tells us he needs to address the safety and drug issues in the Mission Street area, Glenfield Park and other areas that need greater police attention. We believe that our plan to increase the patrol staffing available to Chief Sabagh will help.
Real Progress Montclair: We think these two areas should be given status as “areas in need of added police presence”. The strategies above can be used to address safety issues in these areas. We also have to acknowledge that other departments of government can impact public safety. For example, as the vacant property at the intersection of Mission Street and Bloomfield Avenue is developed, all will benefit if quick and streamlined access to zoning, planning, and construction officials is available so that the project is not needlessly delayed and the neighborhood is enhanced.
- Would you approve the closing of the Nishuane Fire House as a budget saving measure?
Montclair 2012: No.
For Montclair: We would not approve the closing of the Nishuane Fire House unless we enter into a shared services agreement with a southern neighbor that would provide adequate fire coverage to the south end of town. We believe that Montclair and surrounding towns would improve both public safety and the budgetary bottom-line by entering into a comprehensive shared-services agreement for fire coverage and we will work tirelessly during our term to reach such a deal.
Real Progress Montclair: All costs and services in all departments must be reviewed for the good of the whole community. We must be willing to research any and all options for providing current, equivalent or even improved services. Core public safety should not be compromised for short-term fiscal gain so consideration of the closure of Nishuane Fire House would not be undertaken lightly.
- Would you vote for a budget that reduced Police or Fire Resources for Montclair?
Montclair 2012: Very difficult to address in the abstract, however, our philosophy is not to reduce public safety resources. If Essex County police departments are merged, for example, there obviously would be opportunities to reduce resources without affecting public safety.
For Montclair: As explained above, we would not vote for a budget that reduces police patrol staffing. We plan to increase police patrol staffing, paying for this by eliminating supervisory positions. We also oppose reductions in the fire resources available to Montclair residents, but we certainly will explore whether those resources can be provided safely and efficiently as part of a regional shared-services agreement.
Real Progress Montclair: As stated above, all costs and services in all departments must be reviewed for the good of the whole community. We must be willing to research any and all options for providing current, equivalent or even improved services. Core public safety should not be compromised for shortterm fiscal gain but we must not be afraid to identify and implement efficiencies, partnerships and savings that better serve the community as a whole.
- In your role on the Board of Estimates, would you approve a Board of Education budget that eliminated the magnet school System in Montclair? Would you eliminate or reduce the school busing system?
Montclair 2012: No. No.
For Montclair: Our slate strongly supports the magnet school system in Montclair. We would preserve it. If it is possible to preserve the current magnet system while also reducing the cost of busing students, we will pursue those alternatives. A committee appointed by the Board of Education is looking at that issue, as well as whether the schools’ magnet themes can be improved, and we will study their report and consider their recommendations.
Real Progress Montclair: No. All candidates on the RPM slate are strong, unequivocal supporters of Montclair’s magnet school system. The magnet school system offers one of the best, most diverse and most creative learning environments in the entire country. Our busing system is essential to maintaining the magnet system, we would not eliminate it. The BOE Transportation Working Group has already studied possible changes to our busing program and concluded that the savings would not justify the disruption. However, the BOE Working Group has begun studying more innovative ways to transport our students, using NJ Transit buses and trains, for example. Those options might allow us to reduce our busing costs without reducing service to our students.
- Do you support the Charter application for the Quest School in Montclair?
Montclair 2012: No.
For Montclair: We know that Charter schools have greatly benefited students in some communities, and as such, we appreciate their utility in limited circumstances. We also appreciate the fact that certain families feel a sense of frustration and concern with regards to the high school. While a charter school may or may not be the best course of action to address this concern, some have used this process as an outlet to express their frustration at the status quo. We believe it is important to address these concerns. Having said that, we believe that approving a charter school in Montclair, given that it will divert money from the BOE operating budget, should be the last resort to address problems and not the first. If we are fortunate enough to be elected, we want to work closely with the BOE to address these issues. On this issue, as with the citizens of Montclair, our slate has varying opinions on the best course to implement a common solution to alleviate these concerns. While we may or may not agree with the current application as drafted, we recognize that the current charter application process is a result of the need to address a greater underlying issue – one that we are committed to address.
Real Progress Montclair: No. A charter school would drain millions of dollars away from our entire school system, negatively impacting ALL 6,600 general education and special education students from grades K- 12, not just those at the high school. The charter school model is most frequently used in urban environments with schools that are underperforming and not applicable to a district like Montclair where the concept of choice is already embedded in the community’s magnet system and additional “small learning communities” are being developed within Montclair High School.
- Did you support the Appointed or Elected School Board position on the recent ballot initiative?
Montclair 2012: Appointed.
For Montclair: Members of our slate took different positions with respect to the elected board initiative. The question went to the voters and those who wanted to retain an appointed board prevailed, though narrowly. Undoubtedly, this issue will arise again, but our slate is united in opposing town dollars being spent on another ballot initiative within the next few years. Although we recognize that those who want an elected board may not be satisfied with any compromise, we are pleased that our Mayoral candidate, Harvey Susswein, has pledged both to solicit broad community input before nominating candidates to serve on the Board of Education and, more importantly, to submit his choices to a ratification vote by the full Council.
Real Progress Montclair: Appointed. The appointed system has been preserved by Montclair voters at the polls by wide margins for nearly four decades because it has served our unique school system very, very well.
- What are the three most pressing Educational issues facing Montclair Public Schools? As a member of the Town Council what would you do to address these issues?
Montclair 2012: Next iteration of the magnet system. Superintendent Search. Assure quality programming and opportunities in an era of funding uncertainty
For Montclair: The candidates of For Montclair are strong supporters of education in Montclair. Collectively, our candidates have devoted decades of hard work toward improving our public schools. We have a former Board of Education member and a past school PTA president on our slate. The children of four of our five candidates attend or graduated from the public schools. We also have had extensive involvement with early education in Montclair and with the Montclair Adult School. We believe that every Montclair child is entitled to a quality education, provided in a manner that maximizes each child's learning capacity and supports his or her learning style. Council members do not directly control education policy in Montclair, but we will be vigorous advocates for our schools.
Montclair High School is in need of additional focus and resources to continue its progress toward state-wide prominence. Principal James Earle has done a tremendous job in restoring order to the high school. He is respected by the teachers, students and parents and by all accounts is doing a great job. By expanding opportunities for students to participate in more clubs and after school activities – from the Fed Challenge to Robotics; Fencing to Football, Montclair High School is the cornerstone of our educational program. Curriculum is set at the High School level so that the prerequisite classes can be taught in the elementary and middle school levels. Small Learning Communities like the CGI and CSJ are delivering education in an innovative manner, while the development of STEM, and BELA additional Small Learning Communities continue to provide opportunities for students with special interest. Continued support for the guidance program to ensure that students have a clear and achievable next step beyond high school, and extracurricular, internships programs as well as hands on job opportunities that support the academics are crucial to continued success at the high school.
Special Education represents approximately 25% of the Board of Education’s budget. With additional space in the schools, Montclair needs to find ways (where logical) to bring back more of these students into the district. Not only would this be a less expensive means of educating special needs students but it would provide the inclusion experience in the community where these students live. By focusing these programs and resources back to Montclair we are creating an educational mechanism that will be better for our students, our teachers and our tax base.
It is a fact that pre-school education is an important component to a student’s education. Early education not only prepares young children for the curriculum of kindergarten, but also provides the necessary socialization skills necessary for a good start in school. More importantly, it enables early identification of learning issues that, if recognized during these pre-k years, enables teachers and counselors the opportunity to work with the student and parents to develop a plan that can address issues more effectively resulting in a smoother transition to kindergarten. For Montclair advocates a committee to review the pre-K options in town and determine how best to address early childhood education with a model that meets the needs of our children and is sustainable for the long term success of the program.
Real Progress Montclair: 1) Although the minority achievement gap has been reduced, we should push hard to eliminate it altogether.
2) We need to introduce more technology-based learning that will allow for more focused assessments and more individualized and targeted curriculum that addresses specific needs for individual students. We are starting to fall behind other districts in the use of technology to better educate our children.
3) We need to ensure that all 11 schools are equally strong. We need to re-look at magnet school themes to make sure they are still as relevant and vital for our students and determine where these themes can be strengthened.
We will speak out on larger educational issues in the community, but the BOE is where the details are discussed and decided, and that is as it should be. Through responsible budgeting, the Council can take pressure off the schools to bear the brunt of spending cuts that cripple their ability to fund programs designed to address these challenges. We feel three areas of importance are continued enhancement of our high school programs, special education, and early education. All three of these areas, if addressed coherently and consistently, will be a major factor in closing the achievement gap that has been a concern for so long.
- What is your position on Pre-K in Montclair? Would you restore funding to Montclair Pre-K organizations? Would you approve a resolution forgiving the debt to the Montclair Community Pre-K ?
Montclair 2012: Yes. No.
For Montclair: We believe that Montclair should have a vibrant, diverse Community Pre-K that is open to all Montclair residents and affordable by every family. As soon as possible, we will reach an agreement with the Pre-K board as to the level of municipal funding (whether from the Township or the Board of Education budget) that the Pre-K can count on receiving from Montclair during the four years of our term, so that the Pre-K can engage in both short- and long-term planning necessary for its sustainability. We will work during our term to find a long-term solution for the Pre-K that will wean it from its need for annual municipal appropriations, while supporting its mission to provide an early education to Montclair children regardless of a family’s ability to pay. We expect that forgiveness of the Township loan may need to be part of that long-term solution and we will look at this issue closely.
Real Progress Montclair: For a community as diverse as Montclair, affordable Pre-K education is essential. It is tied fundamentally to the closure of the achievement gap. Real Progress Montclair will review all Pre-K options provided in town and evaluate whether there is a better use of township scholarship funds to best close the educational gap in a more financially sustainable way. RPM supports continued funding for the Montclair Community Pre-K (MCPK) at the level they have requested for 2012-2013 as a stop-gap measure ($125,000). We will freeze that level of funding from the town until a broader solution is determined and implemented. While the founding of the MCPK as a private-public partnership was done with good intentions, the process was devoid of transparency and we now know that the planning needed to ensure its long-term viability was never done.
We will seek an agreement and arrangement that respects the communities commitment to early childhood education, acknowledges the satisfaction that so many parents have had with the MCPK, recognizes that the MCPK is not the only Pre-K in the community deserving of support and assistance and does not reward the status quo politicians who negotiated a loan that they never intended to collect or repay. If that common good agreement must include the partial forgiveness of the loan, we will consider that option in negotiations.
- Question for candidates for Mayor: What would be your process for selecting and appointing members of the Board of Education?
Montclair 2012: The most important job responsibility of the Mayor. Advice from all corners of Montclair would be sought including Council members, BOE members, parents, administrators, etc. The selection process would include factors such as academic/professional expertise, demonstrated interest, and “connection” to the schools i.e. elementary, middle, high school.
For Montclair: Our mayoral candidate, Harvey Susswein, will continue to use a committee appointed by the township council to identify qualified school board candidates for the mayor's consideration. In addition, Harvey has pledged to submit his choice(s) to the full town council for approval, even though he is not required to do so by statute.
Real Progress Montclair: If elected mayor, Karen Turner will continue to use the current BOE Advisory Committee to publicly solicit applicants, review them, and recommend candidates to serve on the BOE.
Quality of Life Issues
- What is the number one civil rights issue facing Montclair today? What would you do during your first year in office to address this issue?
Montclair 2012: Affordable housing. Adopt an Affordable Housing Strategic Plan. Control property taxes.
For Montclair: We believe that the top issues facing Montclair overall also happen to be the top civil rights issues: the tax burden, school quality and the achievement gap, and the availability of affordable housing. We need to ensure that Montclair has a school system strong and diverse enough to attract families to Montclair, that our taxes don’t drive those same families away, and that middle class working families can afford to live in Montclair.
By demonstrating that we are serious about finding savings in the budget without affecting service levels or the quality of life in Montclair, we believe that we can quickly dispel the perception that Montclair is ungovernable and unaffordable and that it cannot get its budget and taxes under control. As the perceptions and the financial realities change, the features that attracted all of us to live in Montclair will both keep our current residents in their homes and attract the new families we need to sustain Montclair’s diversity.
Real Progress Montclair: The high cost of living that is forcing out working class residents of every color and background, destroying the diversity we cherish and leading to the growth of a predominantly white, wealthy, and homogenous town.
- What is your position on after-school community programs and youth services such as sports, tutoring and guidance programs? Would you approve the funding required to provide additional services thru PRCA or a Montclair non-profit?
Montclair 2012: Our youth need positive alternative activities and these programs certainly fit the bill. We have to find the funds (public and/or private) to provide these opportunities.
For Montclair: Montclair is known for its community outreach and provision of services for youth. However we can't answer the question of what additional services are needed until we answer two more fundamental questions: a) What is currently being provided, and b) What is the need?
Simply budgeting more money won't necessarily result in a noticeable gain in services. There are many programs trying to provide the same or similar services, often at the County or Federal level. At times some of these well-meaning providers will even clash with one another.
We will, working with citizens and community advocacy groups, determine exactly what we have, decide what is needed, and decide what to fund and how to fund it. Keep in mind that some of these services are a "natural" for sharing with other communities.
Real Progress Montclair: We support them. A thorough analysis must be done to ensure the best possible programs are delivered as efficiently as possible, targeted to those most in need, and properly incentivized to maximize integration after the school day ends.
- How would you improve Services for Senior Residents in Montclair? Name three programs that you would support?
Montclair 2012: Seniors Connect: coordinated transportation/mobility initiative
Seniors Help: promote senior volunteering
Seniors Thrive: promote health, cultural opportunities
For Montclair: The fundamental need is for "one stop shopping." There are many services available for seniors and those services go unused because people are unaware of them. People are confused and we can help. Montclair had a Social Services Director but that position was eliminated. We cannot commit to replacing that position, but we can commit to replacing the function provided by that position. This is yet another opportunity to partner with surrounding communities to provide needed social services that is too expensive to be shouldered by each community.
Passaic County has a model for delivery of social services -- "Passaic County Senior Services, Disability, and Veterans Affairs." It provides one point of contact for seniors. It includes everything for Medicaid to Care Management, to Telephone Reassurance to Adult Care, to Property Tax Reimbursement to Adult Care.
We commit to studying the Passaic County model and determining if it is worthwhile to initiate a similar program in Montclair and its surrounding communities.
Real Progress Montclair: 1.The special needs registry;
2. Continued support of the library,
3. Encouragement of cross-generational communication between the youth advisory board and the senior citizens advisory committee.
- Would you support funding for a Community Center for Youth and Senior Services?
Montclair 2012: Concept is good. Impossible to make a judgment without a specific proposal.
For Montclair: Not at this time, unless state, federal or private funding pays for it. Until Montclair substantially reduces its long-term debt, we must resist the temptation to add new debt for significant projects — no matter how worthy — that aren’t necessary for public safety or that won’t quickly pay for themselves.
Real Progress Montclair: The need for such a center has been recognized for decades and it should be considered with respect to a comprehensive analysis as to how to best provide after school programs and senior services. This may involve partnerships with libraries, expanded use of existing facilities like Clary Anderson Arena, or partnerships with private organizations. However, the unfortunate reality is that past councils have indebted the town so much that we simply can't afford the outright purchase of a new facility as was proposed a few years ago.
- What measures would you take to maintain the diversity of Montclair residents?
Montclair 2012: Keeping the cost of government i.e. property taxes as low as possible
For Montclair: We are hesitant to say that there are specific short-term steps the Township Council can take to preserve Montclair’s diversity. All of us on the For Montclair slate chose to live in Montclair specifically because it is a racially and economically diverse community; we trust most, if not all of those who choose Montclair did so for similar reasons. The reality is that without a serious, long-term plan to reduce the tax burden on Montclair’s citizens and without a sustained commitment to support affordable housing in the Township the cost of living here will inevitably make the community more homogenous. This is a complex problem with no easy solution but we are committed to working hard to find the correct balance to preserve this community’s diversity.
Real Progress Montclair: The diversity we will preserve is not simply racial, ethnic, or religious, but includes and is often tied to economic diversity as well. We need to reduce the cost of living that has severely affected traditionally working class neighborhoods, especially the Fourth Ward. Even as more affluent African American families have come to other parts of Montclair, families that have lived in the Fourth Ward for generations have been forced to leave town. High turnover rates are not good for the fabric of our neighborhoods and our community at large.
- What is your position on funding for the Montclair Library? Would you approve more than the required state minimum funding? Would you restore funds for the Bellevue Branch Library?
Montclair 2012: The library should be funded in the $2.8 -$3.0 million range annually in order to provide a minimum level of service, adopt the latest technologies, and maintain its collection. Yes, we would support restoring funds for BAB.
For Montclair: The state minimum library funding is tied to the total assessed value of Montclair’s property. Because the recent reassessment dropped Montclair’s total from $7.2 billion to $5.7 billion, Montclair’s mandatory minimum funding will be much lower next year than it has been. Reducing spending to that level would be devastating to the Library.
Our library is a fantastic resource and we support both of its branches. Our slate has said throughout the campaign that we want the Bellevue Branch to be open on Saturdays and at least two weekdays and we are committed to ensuring budgetary levels are adequate for that purpose.
Real Progress Montclair: RPM understands the important need for the town library and will ensure the library continues to remain open. Because of the severe drop in the town’s assessed property, in order for the main branch to remain open at its current level of operations, next year funding would likely have to be more than the state minimum. We will work with the library board to find partnerships, shared services and new programs that might increase funding with the goal of maintaining the entire system, including the Bellevue Ave. branch.
- What role should the Township of Montclair play in the development of housing that's affordable to all Montclair residents?
Montclair 2012: Controlling property taxes. Encourage inclusionary developments.
For Montclair: Maintaining and expanding the supply of affordable housing in Montclair is key to maintaining the character and diversity of the Township. The Township must proactively seek out and maximize whatever county, state, and federal funding is available for affordable housing and must partner with local affordable housing organizations such as HOMECorp to ensure that available funds are utilized to maximize the number of affordable units created each year. Existing local ordinances such as the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance (IZO) should be actively monitored to ensure that development money flows into the fund for affordable units.
Real Progress Montclair: Montclair needs to strive to make living affordable for all of its current citizens. Montclair's goals, initiatives for affordable housing for low and moderate-income earners have been very commendable and we are a leader in the state for doing this. Our diversity is one of our strengths and that's a draw for young families to locate into Montclair. However, Montclair's population is not immune to today's economic problems and challenges individually or as a community. The dramatic increase in property tax burden from 2000-2012 is approximately 80% (including the increase in municipal, school and county tax levy & sewer billings). Our debt has increased 198% in these 12 years. These increases are unsustainable for any citizen of all income levels and are driving many people away from our town. We have seen a drop in the African-American population of approximately 20% over these years. Montclair needs to work hard to reverse this trend and live within its means, while supporting strong schools and an environment for diversity, before taking on any new major projects. RPM supports the state guidelines for inclusionary zoning of requiring 10% of units to be developed to be designated as low and affordable units using Montclair's current size and design recommendations for affordable housing. RPM would also like to see an inventory of all affordable housing units taken and a focus given to rehabilitating these homes where needed using the existing affordable housing trust fund. When Montclair is back on a sustainable track, we would seek to review the affordable housing goals and look to move back to Montclair's current inclusionary zoning requirements.
- Does Montclair have an effective affordable Living Program? In your first year in office, what, if any, would be your plan to encourage affordable housing in Montclair? Where in town should these units be located?
Montclair 2012: Affordable housing should be located throughout Montclair. We would encourage all developments to be inclusionary or to transfer the development rights to more favorable locations i.e. near services, markets, and public transportation
For Montclair: Assuming that by ‘affordable living’ you mean ‘affordable housing’, Montclair’s commitment to affordable housing and its performance in supporting affordable housing development has been more consistent than most communities in the state. However, that commitment and performance has not been adequate to combat the market forces driving the cost of real estate and housing and therefore has not been adequate to stem the departure of middle class working families from our town.
Within the constraints of the operating and capital budgets we are firmly committed to maximizing development of affordable housing as described above in Question1 above. Affordable housing should be located anywhere in town where property can be acquired at a price that allows affordable development to take place with the grant money available.
Real Progress Montclair: Please refer to 1 above. RPM also recommends that an cost and revenue analysis be done before any major development is undertaken to ensure the council and planning board understand these impacts on our town and schools budgets and the town and schools' infrastructures.
- Do you support the recent decision of the Town Council to build two affordable housing units on Wildwood Avenue?
Montclair 2012: The decision to put affordable housing in all wards, including the First is the right one. We’d like to see the land bids, development plans, and fiscal impact statement.
For Montclair: Regarding Wildwood Avenue, the short answer is ‘no’. It is unclear that the economics for affordable units on the Wildwood plot can work, and we believe that affordable units can be developed elsewhere at lower cost, including in the 1st Ward. Given the budget constraints we are all under, selling Township assets for less than full market value does not make sense, especially if the impact on the supply of affordable housing will be negligible, if not nonexistent.
We are firmly committed to seeing affordable housing developed in all four Wards of the Township and we are firmly committed to making the best use of affordable development funding to maximize the production of affordable units.
Real Progress Montclair: We do not. RPM supports affordable housing throughout the town, but believes property should not be sold at below market rates. We believe Wildwood should remain open green space.
- Assuming you think community partnerships are important to the development of affordable housing, what strategies are you willing to design and implement to make them more efficient?
Montclair 2012: Community partnerships have been a catalyst for affordable housing in Montclair. The role of these partnerships will be included in the Affordable Housing Strategic Plan that our slate will develop in the first year of our term.
For Montclair: We do not, as of yet, have strategies committed to paper, yet we are convinced that a viable strategy for affordable housing is absolutely dependent on working partnerships with community stakeholders and organizations. We are pledged to develop those partnerships and are committed to sit down with affordable housing advocates and organizations to develop both short-term and long-term plans. This will happen within our first 100 days.
Real Progress Montclair: RPM supports the work that HomeCorp has done in Montclair. We would collaborate with this agency and other agencies to provide the best platform for success to all families living in Montclair.
- How strongly do you value providing housing opportunities/choices for Montclair Township employees including but not limited to police, fire and teacher personnel?
Montclair 2012: Very strongly.
For Montclair: We believe it is desirable that Montclair’s teachers and first responders live in town. As explained above, we support the development of affordable housing in all of Montclair’s Wards. We do not anticipate spending Township funds out of the operating budget to provide special housing opportunities for public employees, but as stated above, we are committed to maximizing IZO revenue that can be used for affordable development.
Real Progress Montclair: RPM believes it is critical that municipal employees are able to live in Montclair. Many have left this community due to the rising property taxes. For too long, employees have not been encouraged to live in the community and that is a significant deficiency in a number of ways. The benefit of having police officers and firemen living in our town and our neighborhoods are obvious. The township would enjoy a greater sense of community if more employees lived here, participated in community life, belonged to local clubs and non-profit organizations, etc. Local residency would aid negotiations with municipal worker unions because the effect those agreements on the employees' property tax bills would not be divorced from their demands at the bargaining table.
- All of your platforms focus on fiscal issues. What are the three programs you would cut or reduce funding for in your first budget year and during your first term in office?
Montclair 2012: No “targets” for our slate. We’ll take a look at the numbers close up first. Our slate is focused on generating new revenues to maintain our quality of life not just on drastic cuts that will gut the very essence of Montclair.
For Montclair: We have committed to saving at least $1 million annually by seeking competitive bids for sanitation and other township services. None of us will take health care benefits from the township, as the current Council has done. We also believe that we have too many highly-compensated managers on the township payroll and that some functions can be combined. For that reason, we are going to insist on an accountability review at the outset of our term.
Real Progress Montclair: RPM does not want to reduce services and has no plans to simply cut programs or reduce funding in any area. Rather, we hope to deliver the same or better services with more innovative operations, more accountability, and more transparency. RPM believes a thoughtful and thorough analysis needs to be done of the town’s finances, how services are delivered and how operations are administered. While, this has not been fully possible because of the lack of transparency, it is clear that other municipalities have taken the time to identify and implement innovative solutions, accountability measures and transparency protocols. Montclair should be no different.
- RPM will develop and implement a 5-year budget plan.
- RPM will commit to a moratorium on new debt until a clear plan for reducing our existing debt is implemented
- RPM will pass resolutions requiring operating and capital budget monitoring on a regular basis.
- RPM will require that this information be made available on the township website for transparency.
- Within the first 6 months in office, RPM will require a comprehensive analysis of costs to provide sanitation and recycling services to the town. RFP’s would be issued and an analysis of the town’s current services compared with the RFP responses would be compared.
- RPM will also request and accept help from citizen-led budget g