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East Orange General's Slavin Accepts CEO Position at St. Joseph's Healthcare System

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EOGH moving ahead to transition to new leadership and prepare for much-anticipated partnership with Prospect Medical Holdings

Kevin Slavin, president and CEO of East Orange General Hospital, has accepted an offer to become President and CEO of St. Joseph's Healthcare System in Paterson, the largest Catholic healthcare system in the state. East Orange General Hospital is moving ahead immediately to prepare for a transition to new leadership and its much-anticipated partnership with Prospect Medical Holdings.

"Our Board has already begun the search for an interim president and CEO who is an experienced leader and knowledgeable of the many challenges that hospitals face," said Leonard Murray II, chairman of East Orange General's Board of Trustees. "That person will soon join our outstanding team of physicians, employees and volunteers in an ongoing commitment to our patients and the communities we serve, and will help guide our transition to Prospect."

In May of this year, the hospital announced that it entered into a definitive agreement to partner with Prospect Medical Holdings, an innovative healthcare services company that owns 13 hospitals throughout the country. That agreement is pending state approvals and will enhance healthcare services in the region for years to come, according to hospital officials.

Murray added, "For nearly a decade, Kevin Slavin's thoughtful, innovative and confident leadership have worked to guide East Orange General through challenging economic times and transform us into the successful community hospital and healthcare resource we are today." Murray said. "We wish him well in his new position."

Slavin, who will depart at the end of the year, has overseen a 10-year transformation and growth of the only independent, acute-care hospital in Essex County. Along with strengthening service lines in such areas as emergency care, behavioral health, diagnostic services and cardiac and physical rehabilitation, Slavin has led an effort to seek a partner to join the hospital in responding to a rapidly changing healthcare environment.

Slavin said, "My years at East Orange General have been productive and fulfilling, both professionally and personally. I have been blessed with the good fortune of working with such a dedicated team of professionals at every level and I am confident that East Orange General will thrive in partnership with Prospect."

Sam Lee, CEO of Prospect Medical Holdings, said, "We also wish Kevin well and look forward to working closely with the new CEO selected by the East Orange General Hospital governing board. We remain fully committed to welcoming East Orange General into our growing family of hospitals nationwide as we await the beginning of the formal approval process."

EOWC Commissioner Testifies in Expulsion Hearing

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"You have heard witnesses from the city for five hours," declared East Orange Water Commissioner Darryl C. Walls here in the City Hall Council Chamber at about 11:15 p.m. Nov. 5. "I think you ought to hear my testimony for the next hour. I want to rest my head on my pillow tonight, knowing that I've done my best."

Walls - before defense attorney John Spinnella, City Attorney Khalifah Shabazz, the eight council members present and a chamber gallery of 13 - then read into evidence a letter of his accomplishments while on the EOWC that he sent to Mayor Lester Taylor III last June.

Shabazz was about to start cross-examining Walls when presiding officer Arline Cunningham called for an adjournment at about 12:50 a.m. All present had heard testimony, cross-examinations and redirected questions from three plaintiff witnesses, with a 13-minute break, since 6:10 p.m.

Cunningham, who was serving as the hearing's equivalent of a judge, then conferred with Shabazz, Spinnella, Commissioner Khalid Wright - who was representing himself - and Council President Quilla Talmadge. She had hoped to bring the hearing to at least the council's deliberation in a single Wednesday night session.

All parties have agreed to resume the city's disciplinary hearing against commissioners Walls and Wright in the council chamber 5:30 p.m. Nov. 24. The council, between that day's long-scheduled committee and regular meetings, may then vote to approve or stay Taylor's expulsion of Walls and/or Wright.

Taylor is seeking the council's approval to oust Walls and Wright from the water commission. The mayor, citing "gross mismanagement and neglect of supervision," asked for the resignation of four of the five commissioners on or before June 20. The mayor appoints the commissioners with council confirmation.

Taylor received resignation letters from Roger R. Rucks and R. Greg Ward. Ward and Rucks, in published reports, said they resigned under protest.

The mayor replaced them on July 3 with EOWC President Michele Antley, Vice President Melinda Hawkins Taylor and Secretary Ayeshia Govin. They joined Acting Executive Director/Public Works Director Christopher Coke - Taylor's earlier appointment - on the commission.

Walls and Wright, however, declined to resign. Taylor, on July 23, suspended the two commissioners, filed five complaints against them and sought a disciplinary hearing. Walls, through attorney Spinella, and Wright, asked for a hearing be public. (Cunningham, at 6:15 p.m., explained to the audience that they are not to ask questions but may comment before the matter goes to council deliberation.)

Shabazz is attempting to prove that Walls and Wright failed to properly manage or supervise the commission, its assets and operations, its financial obligations and its employees. The five counts pertain to the commission awarding a project contract without the availability of funds, approving a water contract with the Newark Watershed before bringing remediated wells back on line, failing to allocate contingency funds during their tax appeal against Livingston and failing to provide monthly financial reports.

Taylor, upon his July 1 succession from Mayor Robert Bowser, made EOWC reform a priority. The commission had been under state Attorney General investigation when it was learned that then Executive Director Harry Lee Mansmann and Assistant Director/Engineer William Mowell had capped two contaminated wells, channeled their contents into the Passaic River and falsified their water quality reports to the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2010-11.

Mansmann and Mowell were indicted Feb. 12, 2013 for hiding the elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene in the water supply. Mowell, 52, of Wyckoff, plead guilty to second degree conspiracy before State Superior Court Judge Carolyn Wright in Newark July 25, 2014. Charges against Mansmann, 59, of Lawrenceville, were dropped after his March 24 death.

The 111-year-old commission, according to its own 2008 data, serves 71,500 customers in East Orange and 17,000 South Orange customers with up to 10.75 million gallons of water daily. It draws water from 18 artesian wells flanking the Passaic in Livingston, Millburn and Florham Park. The City of East Orange had to make up the commission's $2 million deficit in 2012, however, after paying the City of Newark for temporarily drawing four million daily gallons from its watershed and paying $400,000 monthly DEP contamination fines.

Coke, former administrative assistant Kelly Fields and hired accountant Steve Wielkotz were the plaintiff's witnesses.

Wielkotz, whose Pompton Lakes firm was hired by the EOWC last February, said that he was unable to find a certificate of available funds for a $1.2 million contract to Sawyer and Harris to replace water mains under the bridges above the Garden State Parkway. (That project is continuing: temporary above-ground mains are visible along the Parkway's Central Avenue and Park Avenue bridges.)

Both Coke and Wielkotz said that the commission appealed Livingston's 2008 property re-evaluation that raised its property taxes. The EOWC continued to pay the township at the old tax rate until it eventually lost its appeal at the state level in 2012.

Fields said that she found herself drawing up the commission's monthly financial reports for three months and the 2014 budget when Mansmann left under indictment. Mansmann had personally drafted previous budgets and reports.

Fields said that she did not receive help until Commissioner Walls volunteered. Walls supplied budgeting software and doubled as "a spiritual guide."

Walls, in his letter and testimony, confirmed his spiritual guide service. The commissioner explained that he was working to boost morale among the commission's office and field staff.
That morale improvement was among the 12 points Walls indicated to Taylor in his letter of his EOWC contributions. Other contributions included:

- Talks with customer service, office, administrative and field service staff
- Create an internship program for high school-age city residents
- Draft an employee handbook and employee dress code
- Elevating collection rates on past-due accounts from 70 percent to 90-plus
- A management analysis plan
- Conduct a permanent Executive Director search

Regarding the last two points, Walls said that the commission was conducting a director's search in early 2014 and were down to two candidates for interview, "before we were told to stand down in June."

Walls said that, based on the management analysis report, that the new director would be at the commission's helm until an outside company or administrative team was hired.

"There are so many problems at the commission that it would need outside intervention to right the ship," said Walls. "We were looking for a management team that has knowledge and experience with running a water supplier. It could be from an existing utility or authority."

Walls said that he and Wright were appointed by Bowser in 2012 - before the 2008-11 contamination issue happened. He added that he and his fellow commissioners were dealing with that issue's fallout.

Walls confirmed that commissioners are not involved with personnel decisions and that he was not on the personnel committee. He said that he started drafting a handbook after he talked with the then-executive director after a worker had borrowed a staff pickup truck over the weekend.

"That to me was a capital offense," said Walls. "The director wanted to suspend the employee three days. We agreed on a five-day suspension.

"I was working in commission property for up to 18 hours a day," said Walls. "It got to where I received a note asking me to reduce my hours."

Wright, who did not call any witnesses, rested without testifying on his own behalf. He has reserved the right for making closing arguments.

Eldridge Hawkins Takes Clear Win at West Orange Mayoral Debate

rsz_dsc_1890On Monday, October 13, 2014, West Orange High School hosted a debate with the city's four mayoral candidates. The debate started right on time as declared at 7:00 pm. Incumbent Mayor Robert Parisi, former Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins, Jr., West Orange Councilman Joe Krakoviak, and Rodolfo Rodriguez all answered questions on how they would lead the town.

Mayor Parisi said that since he took office, he cut down the budget, and cut 52 employees while keeping the same service the people deserve.

Joe Krakoviak said that since he has been on the council, the majority of the resolutions pass with 4 to 1 against him, except if it is otherwise a good resolution. He talked about wasteful spending, especially about the Edison Factory site and police substation, which has an expense of over $400,000 that opened next to the substation's lease site of $3,600 per year, and he repeated not month but per year.

Hawkins said, "Crime has gone up as high as about 53% in the first year of Parisi's administration, and they (residents) were looking all these problems and I asked them, 'why do you want me to consider running for mayor?' They simply stated that the best chance of getting change is by having someone who is experienced. So I would love the opportunity to bring that experience back to my hometown and to make a difference in their lives."

Rodolfo Rodriguez said, "I am running for mayor because I want this town back to the 90s. I worked as a manager for so many years in the food serving industry. My management skills is more than 21 years...We see what's going on in the downtown area, and we have decided to run for mayor."

On working with the board of education, all of the candidates said that the control of the board lies in the hands of the school board. The four of them felt that the mayor should work with the schools and the board. Hawkins, however, said that as a mayor he could use his resources to bring more money to the schools and reduce taxes that way.

"Sometimes the perspective of how we look at issues is different," said Hawkins on compromising and working with others. "One of the instances where I had to compromise and was successful was when I was mayor and we suffered about a $6 million loss in funding. It had us staring down the barrel of a 20 percent tax increase. We unfortunately had to engage in layoffs. While it was necessary, that doesn't mean we stopped there. We had to negotiate and keep compromising to bring people back to the table. In the initial layoffs we lost about 12 firemen and the closure of one firehouse. In the negotiations, we got those 12 firemen back. We also got a $1.3 million grant from FEMA to hire 12 more firefighters...Ultimately for the residents, we were able to get them a stronger fire department at a lower cost."

"I believe that every candidate who runs in the state of New Jersey runs on taxes," said Rodriguez in regards to what he felt was the biggest issue in West Orange. "The way I would reduce taxes in West Orange is to be more business friendly. I said it before and I say it now, each student costs us more than $21,000. Businesses do not send kids to school. If you go to any town in the area, you get to bring what you sell out to the sidewalks. You don't see that in West Orange. I believe we need to encourage businesses to come to West Orange to invest in West Orange, and by investing in West Orange, we can definitely lower taxes."

When asked how he would reduce crime, Krakoviak said, "My plan would include hiring more police and cutting down on forced overtime. We need to have enough police so that when we have problems in town, we have a sufficient force to address a specific problem and leave them there until the problem is fixed. We have to put more priority on public safety because the crime is too much."

In response, Hawkins suggested a more community-based approach rather than being reactive by hiring more police. He also suggested improving the town not just socioeconomically, but also physically, as it would be a factor in lowering crime and boosting job growth.

Mayor Parisi countered that he proposed more police in two budget proposals, but it was shot down by the council. He specifically pointed out Councilman Krakoviak for being against the proposal. "Economically, you cannot put 500 police officers on the street," Parisi said.

On the topic of the budget, Parisi said, "What's important to one neighborhood isn't as important to another. If you hire a lot of police officers, then you sacrifice recreation, you sacrifice the health department. Those are tough decisions to make. We found ways over the last four years to cut spending, to cut jobs, through attrition and unfortunately through layoffs, to stabilize our municipal budget over a four and five year period. It's impossible to predict what we will raise the budget to next year or what we will cut because governing is no different than you operating your home."

The issue about the Edison Battery Factory seemed to be very debatable. However, there was not any hot crossfire between the candidates, so the debate was very smooth, even though the points presented to the 100-plus audience were different to them.

Krakoviak said that in eight years, the project has not even been truly started. He said that the proposal of many apartments would bring many children and it goes back to the taxpayers.
Rodriguez said that if we bring apartments, we have to pay taxes for the children's education. But, if the administration brings commercial businesses, then they have no children, but they pay taxes, and that way taxes can go down.

Parisi said that most of the units were one bedroom apartments, and that the town would not have any problems with children. Hawkins countered that the town should bring commercial units to bring revenue. He added that if there are 300 apartments with two children, that would mean $5 to $6 million must be allotted for their education in West Orange, which would increase taxes. Hawkins also spoke on the $6.3 million bond that helps the developers, but not the taxpayers.

Overall, the debate organizer and moderator did a very good job. While the crowd seemed to be pro-Parisi, as every now and then he would make an entertaining comment to gain some applause, the reality was that Hawkins had the most solutions that were actually feasible, and that can be effective for the short term and long term to help the residents of West Orange

Interview with West Orange Mayoral Candidate Joe Krakoviak

West_Orange_Councilman_Joe_KrakoviakLast week, Local Talk began its series of interviews with West Orange’s mayoral candidates with Eldridge Hawkins, Jr. and Rodolfo Rodriguez. This week we interviewed current West Orange councilman Joe Krakoviak. We reached out to Mayor Robert Parisi for an interview, but he did not honor our request.

Dhiren Shah: Why have you decided to run for mayor of West Orange?

Joe Krakoviak: I’ve been on the council for four years, and I think I’ve driven a huge increase in transparency. So people know a lot more now about what their government is doing with their tax dollars. If you follow West Orange government, you know that on all of these, what I would call wasteful spending plans, I was regularly outvoted 4-1. I get up at the council meetings and explain to everyone why we shouldn’t be doing this, and yet I still lose 4-1. Even when I tried to introduce legislation that has been shown to reduce costs significantly in other municipalities and school districts, like for insurance procurement, I can’t even get a second to my motion to introduce. The other four councilpeople vote somewhere between 99 to 100 percent of the time with the mayor. I still vote with him on things that make sense, but I don’t vote with him on things that don’t make sense. But, being outvoted 4-1, is not why I’m in government. I’m here to make West Orange better for people, and the only way to do that from what I see is to become mayor and not propose the wasteful spending in the first place.

DS: If you become mayor and the council is against you, how will you proceed?

JK: You do have a supposition that the council won’t change. You also have a supposition that the council would not recognize that the majority of the voters in town want a significant change in their government. So, I am expecting that once I become mayor I will be able to work with this council, whether it’s the two incumbents that win the council elections or if two of the competitors running the council elections in November win.

DS: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a councilman?

JK: My greatest accomplishment has been transparency. When I first got involved in local government affairs, I discovered that there was a huge issue with transparency. It started out with the downtown redevelopment project, which was essentially a black hole of useful easily understandable information. I used my journalism skills, research skills, municipal finance skills to figure out what was going on with redevelopment. I started a website to try and explain to people what was going on. I have to take at least part of the credit for the council not approving redevelopment six years ago. That’s because transparency, as you know as a journalist, one of your main goals in being in this business is to give people the information they need to make informed decisions about important aspects of their lives. I did that as a journalist, and now I’m trying to do that with the government.

For example, they know that Prism, the designated redeveloper for downtown, is more than $700,000 delinquent in their property taxes. They know because of me that is an event of default, and they can be defaulted out of their designation anytime we want. They know because of me that Prism hasn’t paid their mortgage on the CVS property on Main Street for multiple years, and that they’re actually trying to sell that property, which doesn’t make any sense. You’re the designated redeveloper, and you have prime Main Street property. Why are you trying to sell it?

They know that Prism did not pay their mortgage on the Barton Press property on Lakeview Avenue for years. It went through foreclosure, and now they own the property because no one wanted the property because Prism is the designated redeveloper, and no one else can develop in the area. They know all of that because of me.

We now know that we spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on 11 surveillance cameras - proprietary technology - that are not watched at the police station, and have never figured in any arrests let alone any conviction. We’re spending $400,000 to refurbish an abandoned gas station on Mitchell and Valley Streets for a police substation for the traffic bureau, when right next door we already have that traffic bureau on an annual lease of $3,600. We’re spending $3,600 a year on lease property, and instead of that, we’re spending $400,000 on the abandoned gas station, including $12,000 for signage and $15,000 to redo the paving for the parking.

DS: What is the main issue in West Orange?

JK: There are four main issues in our township. Number one is transparency. The more you as a voter know about what’s going on in the government, the more you can make an informed decision. Transparency also serves accountability. If you are the government, and you know someone is watching you, the more you are willing to do the right thing. Transparency also gives voters and residents more confidence in their government so they’re not so cynical. They’re more likely to believe you because you have proven yourself to be trustworthy through transparency.

The second issue is rising municipal property taxes, wasteful spending, and our increasing problems with debt. They’re all financial issues. The third thing is our support for law enforcement. Law enforcement is the single most important thing local governments can provide to their residents. That’s something we can do a better job of doing. The fourth thing is economic development. In a town like West Orange where there is a relatively high percentage of residential property that’s being taxed, you have to do everything you can to make the commercial ratables as valuable as you can.

DS: The council approved the $6.3 million bonding for the developer for the site. What was your vote on that?

JK: I was on the council when this happened, and I lost by a 4-1 vote. Prism, as a private entity can borrow money, but they borrow at a much higher interest rate than a municipality. So West Orange can borrow money long term at maybe 4 percent, whereas Prism can borrow at 10 percent, maybe more. So providing Prism $6.3 million in 30 year bonds saves them millions of dollars over the life of the project. That goes right into their pocket.

The theory behind redevelopment and the theory behind the bonds is that you have to subsidize a redeveloper in order to induce them to develop in the area, generate economic activity, and long term, it will be a net positive for the township. That’s the argument why we had to give them $6.3 million to make all their numbers work.

Half of the money is going to be paid by West Orange taxpayers. And the other half, theoretically, is going to be paid back by Prism, or its successor. The half that goes to Prism is going to be secured by a lien on the property. Whoever owns that property will be required to pay it back.

The counterargument is that, we shouldn’t be giving them all of this subsidy. They should be able to make their project work with all the other subsidies we’re giving them. We’re offering them a tax abatement. The real issue with this is that a great number of people in town don’t agree with providing the $6.3 million and requested that is be brought to a vote by the voters, a referendum on whether we should do this or not. The mayor and council members who made the vote have fought this as hard as they can. This is an issue of whether or not the residents of a town have the right to help make major decisions about the future of their town. Adding $6.3 million to their debt load is a major issue for me.

DS: Prism is planning to build 600 apartments. How will they handle the additional children in the school system, traffic, policing, parking, etc.?

JK: I look at it in two different ways. I look at whether Prism’s ever going to be able to move the project forward, and then I look at the implications of that. For all intents and purposes, Prism could start construction today. They’ve had eight years of exclusive right to redevelop the area. They haven’t done it.

DS: Eight years?

JK: They’ve done some site preparation work, but they haven’t done anything in years. It’s a terrible eyesore in the middle of downtown.

DS: If they default, do they have to pay it back?

JK: Real estate development is a high risk, high reward. If it works out, you make a lot of money. If it doesn’t work out, you lose the money. What Prism has invested in is to acquire the property in the redevelopment and to invest in their development costs. So what they default on is the redevelopment agreement. They don’t default on any payments to the town. The town doesn’t own the property, and we can’t force them to do anything with the property. It’s not like they have a mortgage where they owe the town.

DS: The money is gone.

JK: Exactly. The money is spent, and it’s gone. However, the investors in the project want to get their money back, so they’re trying to figure out what kind of project would generate enough profit to pay them back. That’s the core of the problem. They could figure out the numbers in 2006, but it doesn’t work in 2014. That’s the bottom line.

The default is in the redevelopment agreement, and what we can do is say you defaulted on the redevelopment agreement, and yon are no longer our redeveloper. Then, we go out and find a new project and a new redeveloper. Prism would be sitting on all of this property they own, but they can’t do anything with it because they’re no longer the redeveloper. They no longer have the exclusive right to redevelop in the area. They can hold that property as long as they want, but they have to pay the taxes, and they can’t do anything with it. They have a huge incentive to sell the property at whatever price the new redeveloper wants. That’s how it works all over the state.

DS: What is your take on the mayor addressing education?

JK: Everyone in town shares the commitment and belief that the community has to provide the best education possible for our children that we can afford. We need to look at where we can share services and purchasing to reduce the costs. We need to look at where we can work to generate revenue; it could be sponsorships, advertising, and grants. When we work together, both the municipality and the school district, we’re much more attractive to an advertiser than if we do it separately.

We also need to push for accountability. What has happened over the last decade is that the school district has repeatedly sidestepped the state laws that requires any bonding by a school district to go for voter approval. They’ve used a separate law called shared services to set up sharing agreements with the municipality. That allows the township to borrow money without voter approval. By doing that we have spent roughly $8 million in borrowed money solely for the high school athletic facilities. We should let the people decide how they want their money spent on the school system.

Another issue is crime. Some of our young people in town have been implicated in some horrific crimes in town in the last few years. We as a community need to recognize that we need to do everything we can to make our children grown up as responsible and productive citizens in our township. We need to make sure our recreation and child care is as good as it can be.

DS: Using your financial background, how will you lower taxes for the residents?

JK: The first thing you have to do is to stop all of this wasteful spending. We’re spending at least $60,000 to improve the sightline of the third base bleachers on the high school football field. Now put aside the fact that we shouldn’t be spending money on school board property. We’re going to have to build a retaining wall to actually build the foundation because the field slopes down about thirty feet to the tennis courts.

I have a son who plays on that field. You know what we do? We bought $15 chairs, moved down the third base line and now we can see everything. People should not have to pay $60,000 to do that.

Another thing we’ve done is that we’ve just given $575,000 to the Llewellyn Park Property owners - the wealthiest people in town - to cover the cost overruns of their sewer and road project. We don’t have to give them a penny because they’re a private community.

DS: How can you reduce crime?

JK: There’s no question we need to hire more police. We need to stop the practice under this mayor of allowing police positions to be left open during the year. For example, let’s say we as a council budget for 92 positions at the beginning of the year, but let’s say six people leave during the first six months of the year. The mayor has left those positions open for the rest of the year. There’s a significant increase in forced overtime. A police officer serves an eight hour shift, but he has to take on the next eight hour shift because the police can’t find someone to take that spot. It is very bad for morale, and it needs to stop.

DS: What can you offer the people of West Orange that the other candidates cannot?

JK: My commitment to transparency, fiscal responsibility, and better government. I base that on my background as a journalist, as someone with a background in municipal finance, and someone who is focused on fiscal responsibility in our town. It’s a great town, but it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable, especially for seniors on fixed incomes, with the rising taxes. I’ve shown that I do understand how to do that.

Interview with West Orange Mayoral Candidate Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.

Caption_-_Eldridge_HawkinsFour people are seeking to be the mayor of West Orange in the township’s recently moved November election. This includes incumbent mayor Robert Parisi, current Councilman Joe Krakoviak, Rodolfo Rodriguez, and our interviewee Eldridge Hawkins, Jr., the former mayor of Orange.

Dhiren Shah: When you were last on the political scene, you lost the Orange municipal election. Now, you are running for mayor of West Orange. When did you change your residency, and why are you running for mayor in West Orange?

Eldridge Hawkins, Jr.: I changed my residency from the City of Orange Township to West Orange somewhere around December 2012. I’ve been back in my hometown of West Orange for almost two years. The reason I’m running is very simple. After I had been out of government for some time, I started missing being able to make a difference and having an impact in my local community. It was perfect timing, because residents approached me and asked me to consider running for mayor of West Orange. When I asked them why, they simply stated they were suffering the seventh highest taxes in the State of New Jersey. There were a lot of increases in crime, burglaries, car thefts, shootings, and an abandoned factory on Main Street. When I asked them why me, they stated that the best chance they have of getting change was someone with experience who’s done it before.

DS: Recently, a case was filed against candidate Parisi that some of his petition signatures to be on the ballot were forged. What was the outcome of that?

EH: As it relates to the petitions, 280 are required to be filed by all of the candidates running for mayor. My campaign delivered over 1,000 signatures for mayor. Parisi barely did the minimum and he delivered approximately 300 petitions, in which the clerk did not count several of them. After looking at his petitions, the clerk only certified 284. Our campaign, after becoming aware that the clerk did not count several of them, had the opportunity to view some of the petitions. It was observed that several of the signatures appeared to be signed by the same individual.

It was at that time that my campaign manager Neil Cohen along with our campaign attorney and Gerald Murphy filed the appropriate paperwork to file objections to Mayor Parisi’s petitions. The clerk then decided to certify the petitions over our objections. We went to court, and for whatever reason the judge decided not to look at the petitions and decided to allow the ballot drawing to continue. Our campaign decided to let the people be the judge. We have nothing to hide. The petitions that looked improper or possibly forged, we’ve put them out in the public domain for the residents and voters to take a look at and make their own judgments. We’ve encouraged the clerk to make public the record so that folks can come in and make their own decision. But they still decide to hide behind attorneys and whatever regulations they can to prevent transparency.

DS: Did you contact one of the people with those suspicious signatures?

EH: Our campaign attorney has sent out communications to those individuals that have suspicious petitions. The exact nature of those response I could not speak to because I’m not aware of what he did and did not get back. But ultimately, at the end of the day, Robert Parisi can resolve all of these issues by allowing public access to the signatures of record so that than can be compared to his petitions. He refusing to do so, so people have to ask why.

DS: What is the main issue in West Orange?

EH: The main issues is taxes, followed by crime and education. Folks want to be safe in their homes, they want to be able to afford their homes, and with a better quality of life. We’re the seventh highest taxed community in the state of New Jersey, and we’re suffering from businesses leaving town, and we have an abandoned factory.

The school system is no longer in the top 100. We’ve had some increases in crime since Parisi’s been in office. Burglaries went up 53 percent in Parisi’s first year, and still up 13 percent in his second year in office. When you compare that to my record, during my first two years as mayor, our burglaries went down 39 percent. If you compare it with South Orange, their burglaries went down 30 percent. There’s been significant spikes in crime since Parisi’s been in office.

The factory has remained abandoned on Main Street, and that factory in particular is an eyesore. It is right in the middle of our downtown, and it’s causing problems with respect to the tax base. We need to broaden our tax base, bring in additional ratables and big business, commercial and retail, that can help reengineer the economics of our town, create jobs, and generate more tax revenue. Instead, Mr. Parisi has decided that he wanted to give a private developer $6.3 million of our community’s tax money in the form of bonding. That is something our residents have to pay back if this project fails.

DS: What will be the impact of the 600 apartments on the community?

EH: When you talk about these residential units the mayor is proposing that we bring in, they are going to come with children. If it’s two children per unit, or whatever number that is, it’s going to bring in more bodies. That’s going to overburden our school system. We already have some schools where classes are taking place in trailers, and anybody that’s paying attention to their tax bill knows that upwards of 60 percent of their tax bill is attached to the school system, so we have to be very sensitive to that.

With more commercial and common sense retail development, we can create jobs, more foot traffic, there’s more individuals who can support the mom and pop shops. All of that needs an anchor on Main Street, and I believe that the Edison battery factory project. My concept is to create a science incubator attached to the Edison Museum. I think Thomas Edison and I see electricity, light bulbs, so that makes me think science, technology, engineering, mathematics, some type of public-private partnership with a corporation or a school to have an incubator there for that purpose to really allow youth and even adults to dive into this science and create new things. Attached to that, we’ll have commercial business and retail or whatever other business we can recruit there.

DS: Do you have the power to undo the contract between the mayor and developer?

EH: That is a very fair question. Anytime that you enter into a contract, there are responsibilities that both parties must uphold. If one party does not uphold their end of the bargain, then they would be in breach. So, we would be looking at this developer and if they are in breach, we could use that as an opportunity to unwind their redeveloper agreement and go in a different direction. But I’m not here to create problems or have any personal animosity toward the developer. They have a project that the old administration wanted to move forward on. I would like to sit them down and say, ‘Hey, this is the new direction we want to move in. This is what the people wanted me to do. This is what I ran on, and we would like to take the project in this direction.’ If they are unwilling, then it would be my responsibility to help bring in a developer that could acquire the property from them.

DS: Was the $6.3 million approved through a referendum on the ballot or the council?

EH: It was approved by the council, and that’s been a sticking point for residents of West Orange. There’s a variety of residents that have gotten together to sue the administration. I’m not a party to the suit. These are private citizens that have gotten together and said, ‘You are not going to gamble with our tax dollars.’ They decided to file a lawsuit presently in the state Supreme Court. The cornerstone of their argument is that the bond issue should have been brought to the voters by referendum issue.

DS: What is your take on the mayor addressing education?

EH: The board of education is separate from the mayor and government. That doesn’t mean that we cannot participate to build partnerships, create relationships, and if need be, work with the residents to hold the board of education accountable. The residents should be holding them accountable just like they hold the mayor and council accountable. I leveraged relationships with Seton Hall University to bring high schoolers there as part of a junior MBA program.

I believe that just because the mayor doesn’t have direct power to do something, doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t fight to make a change. Should I be the mayor of West Orange, I am the voice of that constituency. I should be in Trenton lobbying the legislature to find different way to fund the school system and to provide relief for our residents. If not the mayor, then who?

DS: Pleasant Valley Way had 138 accidents last year. How can you improve that corridor?

EH: We can have additional officers on patrol, walking or doing traffic control. We can have speed traps where officers are using radar, or those speed radar machines to create awareness of your speed. We can speak with the county to impact traffic signals. There’s a variety of things we can do, but we have to recognize that sometimes we have to partner with other agencies because not every street here is controlled by West Orange. We have county roads.

DS: How can you reduce crime?

EH: I don’t believe in just being reactive. The cornerstone of our success in law enforcement outside of the men and women doing the job was finding proactive measures to combat crime. Whether it was recreation to keep kids off the streets or creating jobs to construction or redevelopment projects to get them off the street and working. Some people don’t realize there is a socioeconomic component to crime. If people are unable to survive and unable to provide for their families, and they’re hungry, then they are more likely to commit crimes. Or idle hands being the devil’s workshop, like a 17 year old kid that has a choice of being on the street versus in a store working. We need to keep them busy doing something productive

DS: What can you offer the people of West Orange that the other candidates cannot?

EH: One of the things I believe that separates me from the other candidates is that I was born and raised in town, I have experience governing as mayor with a track record of success to move the township forward. Out of all those individuals running, I’m the only one that has successfully, from a governmental position, spurred redevelopment. I have reduced crime and stabilized taxes.

DS: If you are elected, where do you see West Orange five years from now?

EH: I see West Orange with a bustling downtown. A vibrant, exciting place to be that looks like someplace we want to go shop, eat, work, and spend money. I get tired of hearing from residents that we have to shop in South Orange or Montclair or Maplewood or the Ironbound or Millburn. I want them to shop on Main Street. But there are other streets besides Main Street. When I was mayor before (in Orange) I created the Arts District. That was a partnership between West Orange and Orange at the time. I want to make it so that people up the hill say I want to go down the hill to see a play or have dinner. My vision is to have a destination municipality, something we can be proud of. A beautiful place to live, work, and raise a family.

 

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