Election 2017: Cell Tower Looms Over Little Silver Council Election

October 31, 2017
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By Jenna O’Donnell |

LITTLE SILVER – On Nov. 7 voters will choose from one incumbent and three newcomers to fill two, four-year Borough Council seats.

This year’s slate includes incumbent Republican Dane Mihlon and running mate Michael Holzapfel, an attorney and four-year member of the planning and zoning board, who is making his first run for elected office. Facing them are two first-time Democratic candidates, Christopher Healy and Matthew Cohen, both attorneys. Mihlon is running for a third term for the seat he has held since elected in 2011, while the second seat will be vacated by outgoing councilman, Daniel O’Hern, who is not seeking reelection.

Mihlon, an insurance broker specializing in health insurance, has spent most of his life in Little Silver and is the son of a former Little Silver councilman. During his tenure, he has used his health insurance knowledge to find lower insurance rates for borough employees and retirees to reduce costs for taxpayers. He is a lifelong member of the volunteer fire company and has sat on the Traffic Safety Commission for the past six years. Throughout his decades in the borough, Mihlon said one thing has stayed consistent.

“This is a town that people want to move to,” he said. “It’s a well-run town and it’s always been a place that people want to move to. That hasn’t stopped and there’s no letting up in sight.”

While all four candidates are focused on maintaining the quality of life Little Silver residents value, there are two larger issues candidates have heard about while knocking on doors.

“The first words out of everybody’s mouths are one of two things,” said Cohen. “Either the cell tower, ‘How did this happen and what can we do about it?’ or traffic. A significant number of people want to talk about traffic safety issues. There is concern that Little Silver has become a cut-through town.”

Cohen, whose practice, Two Rivers Title Company, is located in the borough, moved to Little Silver with his wife and two children five years ago. He is a trustee for the Monmouth County Bar Association and he previously ran for a council seat in Fair Haven, where he came up about a dozen votes short in the election. Cohen hopes to use his perspective as a longtime business owner to bring savings to the borough, specifically through the Direct Install Program, an initiative that uses a state grant to pay for electrical upgrades – and has already saved his company $20,000.

This and other goals are shared by running mate, Healy who, with Cohen, has laid out a four-point platform proposing their goals should they be elected to council. Ideas include environmental initiatives that would allow the borough access to more grants, cost-saving initiatives that could reduce energy bills and flood insurance rates for homeowners, and a plan to increase community participation through regular town hall meetings, publically posted minutes and an expanded social media presence.

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“I think we need to do more,” Healy said. “We need to have town hall meetings when there are really big issues facing the community and blast them on social media. Not just telling people what’s going on, but also getting their feedback on what they’d like to see. I think that being out in front of this stuff is really important.”

Healy has lived in Little Silver for five years with his wife Abigail, who grew up in the borough, and their two children. As an associate at Bathgate, Wegener & Wolf in Lakewood, Healy has represented municipalities and other government agencies in areas including taxation, finance, employment and property acquisition. Healy also serves as a trustee for the Education Foundation of Little Silver and is a member of the board of directors of the Parker Homestead-1665, Inc.

As far as living with the cell tower going forward, all four candidates agree that no further nodes should be added to the existing monopole, which Verizon erected at borough hall last summer to the chagrin of many in the community. Borough officials have said they were constrained in fighting the utility provider by federal laws that require them to accommodate utilities that come to town with a need.

“The Telecommunications Act of 1994 is a facto. It’s very difficult to fight a utility provider,” said Holzapfel, who notes that in his law career he has spent a lot of time working in federal court.

Holzapfel, his wife and two sons moved to Little Silver 10 years ago after he worked with outgoing councilman Daniel O’Hern and his late father, Justice Daniel O’Hern Sr. at Becker Meisel LLC in Red Bank. Holzapfel is now a partner and shareholder at Becker LLC in Livingston, where he works on complex litigation across multiple industries, with a focus on ERISA litigation.

“I think it’s one of the things I could bring to the table that could help assuage some fears,” Holzapfel said. “I know how, when, where and why state law gets preempted and would work with our council to put forward pre-emptive measures and help people be comforted that utility companies won’t run roughshod over the municipalities. There are things that we can do better.”

All four candidates are in favor of looking for ways to make Little Silver safer for pedestrians, though approaches vary.

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“Safety is the number one priority of any elected official,” said Mihlon, who notes that during his six years on the Traffic Safety Commission several neighborhoods have evolved and needs have arisen for new stop signs or lights to be installed. “We’ve been proactive trying to work with that. Fortunately we have a lot of people in town who bring these things to our attention.”

Healy and Cohen favor taking on initiatives and passing ordinances to make Little Silver greener, which could help the borough qualify for more grants to replace and install sidewalks across town.

“Sustainable Jersey is a program where the greener you get the more options you have. For example, we could pass an ordinance that prevents idling,” said Healy. “You can get points by doing these environmentally conscious things and get access to grant money that allows you to do things like the Environmental Commission just did, like install refrigerated water bottle fillers at parks.”

All of the candidates were in favor of continuing to improve and expand community participation, through more town hall meetings about large issues, the borough’s existing website, and newly instituted newsletter and social media channels.

“Over the last 10 years Little Silver has become a much younger town,” said Holzapfel, who notes that he would continue to update and maintain a Facebook page to regularly stay in touch with residents if elected. “You’ve seen notices in the paper. They make everyone’s eyes glaze over. There’s a difference between what’s required and what’s practical.”

“Anything that’s out there to communicate better with the town, we are doing it,” said Mihlon. “As society has evolved we are going to evolve with it. The ability to send this out lightning fast is a benefit to the community, there’s no question about it.”

The bottom line for candidates seems to be keeping the quality of life intact for residents and achieving that by exploring every option to keep taxes from getting too high, whether that’s adjusting insurance plans, exploring green energy options or looking into sharing services with neighboring municipalities.

“I love this town,” said Cohen. “I want to make sure this town stays welcoming to everyone. We have to keep taxes under control so we don’t price out people who want to retire but stay near their kids. So that’s the challenge. Keep the quality of life.”

This article was first published in the Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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