Freeholder Hopefuls Meet at Forum

November 2, 2018
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By Denise DiStephan |

Monmouth County freeholder candidates running for two available seats expressed views on taxes and shared services at a forum Oct. 24 at the county library in Manalapan.

In the Nov. 6 general election there are four candidates running for one, three-year seat on the Board of Freeholders, which is currently all Republican. John P. Curley, who was elected as a Republican but is now running as an independent, is the only incumbent running for the full term. Democrat Amber Gesslein, Republican Susan M. Kiley and Libertarian Brendan Maroney are also seeking the seat.

Democrat Larry Luttrell is challenging Republican incumbent Gerard P. Scharfenberger for a one-year unexpired term that had been vacated by Republican Serena DiMaso when she became a state Assembly member in January.

In February, the county Republicans chose Scharfenberger, a Middletown Township committeeman and former mayor, to replace DiMaso to fill the unexpired term until it is filled permanently in the Nov. 6 election.

Curley, who lives in Freehold, said he would continue to fight corruption, look for ways to save taxpayer money and to expand transportation and other services for seniors and veterans. For example, he said, the county is now purchasing buses to bring those in need to food pantries to save money, compared to past practice where car services and limousines were sometimes used. He said casino revenue funds were originally available to help pay for county transportation, but that those funds “have shrunk drastically,” prompting the county to look for other ways of providing that service, such as buying buses.

Kiley, a registered nurse and the current deputy mayor of Hazlet, said she hopes to bring her experience in health care and local government to the freeholder level to work on stabilizing the property tax rate and expanding and improving shared services for veterans and other residents.
When asked about how services for senior citizens can be expanded, Kiley said the county already has a lot of senior programs, but that she would like to look into replicating a program that’s been operating in Hazlet. The program, called “Connect” involves high school students teaching senior citizens how to use cell phones and computers.

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Luttrell, an attorney, also said there is a dire need to stabilize property taxes. The Holmdel resident said, after losing two prior runs for elected office, he was not going to try to find out if the third time would be the charm, but he changed his mind after his mother suffered a stroke.

“My mother was in the hospital, crying, and said she had stopped buying her medication so she could pay her taxes,” he said. “We have three wasteful levels of government and it’s unacceptable. We need more shared services.” He also said the county should work on increasing treatment for those struggling with drug addiction.

Luttrell also said the county public works department should handle road maintenance and snow plowing on both municipal and county roads throughout the entire county to save money. Curley said that would actually cost more. Scharfenberger said there are existing partnerships the municipalities have with the county for road maintenance, which saves money.

Maroney, a resident of the Cliffwood section of Aberdeen, said the county should focus more on preventive maintenance of roads, with less emphasis on waiting for emergencies to occur and then reacting. Maroney, a carpenter, also said he wants to work on combatting the widespread problem of heroin and opioid addiction, including more compassionate treatment of those struggling with addiction and helping to reduce the stigma they face.

Gesslein said she wants to bring her experience as an activist, labor organizer, member of a local chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) and daughter of a Vietnam veteran to work in a bipartisan way for more efficient government. The Eatontown resident also said Super Storm Sandy was a “wake-up call” for the county to develop a coastal assessment plan “to have all the towns on the same page.” Similarly, she said, there is also a need for a countywide Complete Streets policy for improvement of roads and infrastructure.

Candidates also talked about voter information in response to a question about how the main county government website provides information about who is running for office, why it had been necessary to file an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to find out who is running and whether there are voter registration forms and absentee ballots in Spanish.

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Curley said those decisions are made by the county clerk, not the freeholders.

Kiley said monmouthcountyvotes.com lists candidates currently running and that there are forms and ballots in Spanish. The main county government website co.monmouth.nj.us has a link in the left column to the Monmouth County Votes site. The link is labeled “10. Election Information.”

“And the county clerk said you can send an email” for candidate and voter information, rather than having to use an official OPRA form, Kiley said.

Maroney said that when he emailed the county for candidate information in July, he was denied the information and told to use an OPRA form. He said there are 40,000 Spanish-speaking residents in the county and that all voting materials should be printed in Spanish as well as English.

Gesslein agreed, saying other languages should also be added. Regarding the lack of candidate information on the main county website, she said, “What is everyone so afraid of? There should be a tab on the county website with that information. To have to fill out an OPRA to see who’s running is crazy.”

Luttrell also said all candidate and voting information should be in other languages and posted on the county website.

Scharfenberger said the county has an app with all that information.

County Clerk Christine Hanlon, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said her office is happy to consider any request for information as long as the request is made through an OPRA form or email. When asked if the link to her election website on the main county site could possibly be made more visible, she said, “I don’t handle the county website. That’s done by the county staff, but I could suggest that.”


This article was first published in the Nov. 1-7, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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