East Windsor township council candidates sparred Tuesday over transparency, attracting businesses and whether or not having mixed representation would improve the government at Tuesday’s forum.
The League of Women Voters held the forum at the . Candidates explained their views on issues facing East Windsor. Nicole Plett, from the League of Women Voters in Lawrenceville, moderated.
The eight candidates vying for four open slots on the East Windsor Township Council include Democrat incumbents Marc Lippman, Janice Mironov and Peter Yeager, along with newcomer John Zoller. Republican challengers, TJ Berdzik, Steve Commer, Bob Ertel and John Guarniere, are all newcomers on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Each candidate had a minute and a half prepared opening statement, one minute to answer each question and a minute closing statement.
Responses to the question, “Do you think that having a mixture of both republicans and democrats on East Windsor town council would improve the government of East Windsor?” drew laughter from the audience.
“Absolutely! That’s exactly why I’m here. We need a few republicans, we certainly do,” Guarniere said.
Lippman said he doesn’t think having a mixed party council would make a difference. Mironov and Yeager agreed.
But Berdzik disagreed, saying the current council does not discuss issues and said 255 out of the 256 votes last year were unanimous.
“The sunshine law stipulates that the town council is supposed to discuss pressing issues in the eyes of the public,” Berdzik said. “This is one thing that a split council is going to give us. We’re going to have a multitude of opinions and people that are independent of any local political machine.”
All of the democratic candidates said the town has excellent communication with residents and the council is transparent.
Mironov said the council prides itself on communication and outreach to the community, and residents have “direct and personal access” to councilmembers. Yeager agreed, adding televised meetings would be costly, in response to part of the question.
The republican candidates said improvements could be made.
“I think East Windsor could do a much better job regarding transparency,” Guarniere said.
Berdzik said no one comes to council meetings so televising the meetings and posting non-privileged documents online may improve communications with the public. Commer agreed, saying televised meetings will help residents who work late and can’t make it to a meeting.
The Republican and Democratic candidates disagreed about how candidates would attract new business to the township.
Guarniere suggested lowering East Windsor’s tax rate would help attract businesses to East Windsor verse other surrounding towns.
Lippman called East Windsor a “business friendly town” and Zoller said the Township’s economic development committee is responsible for presenting the township to prospective companies.
Mironov listed numerous businesses that recently moved into town or expanded existing ones.
One resident asked about possible consolidation with Hightstown.
Berdzik said a 2009 consolidation study identified potential cost savings. One example he gave was sharing a court with Hightstown and Robbinsville.
Commer said East Windsor would get “the short end of the stick” by consolidating its police department, but said he is willing to look at other options. Ertel agreed the township should look into all options.
Guarniere advocates for short term shared services, but in the long term a merger with Hightstown, which lies at the center of East Windsor, should be considered.
Democratic candidates said the township is already looking into consolidation and shared services.
Lippman said the township would continue to explore consolidation options that are advantageous to East Windsor residents. He also mentioned existing shared services, including with the senior center, animal shelter and daytime EMS.
Mironov agreed, saying discussions with Hightstown have been ongoing for two years about the possibility of combining the courts.
Yeager said he supports shared services as long as East Windsor residents benefit. He said East Windsor can’t force other towns to share services.
Zoller agreed that any negotiations have to be a “win-win.”
A broadcast of the full forum will be shown on Verizon channel 38 and Comcast channel 27 on Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. until Election Day on Nov. 8.