Mercer County Democratic Freeholder Candidates Answer League Questions
June 7, 2016 Primary Election Day
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.
NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the Democratic candidates for Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders to three (3) questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area. The candidates were allowed to vary the length of their answers to the three questions but were given a word limit for the total.
Candidates – Vote for two (three-year term)
George Dusichka, Director of Talent Acquisition
Party/Slate: Democratic/Slated with Sen. Bernie Sanders
Andrew Koontz, Teacher, Hightstown High School, Incumbent
Alex Calix Rodriguez, Student/Political Activist facebook.com/alexx.calixrodriguez
Party/Slate: Democratic/Slated with Sen. Bernie Sanders
Anthony Verrelli, Senior Council Representative and Team Leader for the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters
What do you consider the most important challenges facing Mercer County? What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for addressing these challenges?
I feel the most important challenges facing Mercer County are gun violence in and around Trenton, the over-prescription of narcotic painkillers which lead to many county residents getting hooked on $3/deck smack, and corruption in local government. As I understand it, some of our elected officials have scads of friends and family members on the payroll. Some of whom have been convicted of crimes, no less. I didn’t believe it when I heard it, but when I researched it, I found it to be true. I am running as a freeholder, not a freeloader. If I am elected to office, no friends or relatives of mine will be employed by the county as this is a direct conflict of interest and a betrayal of the public trust. And be certain that no friends or relatives of mine who have been convicted of crimes will be on the county payroll.
The top challenge facing Mercer County continues to be providing a high level of service while keeping property taxes in check. To meet this challenge, the Freeholders must continue to provide the disciplined and thorough budget oversight that has been a hallmark of the Board for many years. My experience with both municipal budgets and my past 5 years of service on the Freeholder Board has prepared me well to meet this challenge.
Mercer County also needs to build upon the strong economic opportunities created by the success of Trenton Mercer Airport. I believe that as we move to create a new, state of the art terminal that better meets our 21st century transportation needs, the Freeholders need to ensure that this project is undertaken in the most cost effective way possible.
Alex Calix Rodriguez:
Today's biggest challenge is our education system. It is failing our children because of layoffs and poorly run government. All the good teachers and talented administrative personnel are losing their jobs because of corruption and lack of community run city offices. The closing of schools and programs is becoming detrimental to our children, particularly children with special needs. Without the ability to obtain a good education leads our young to a life of crime. This puts our older population at risk of robberies and spreads violence throughout our neighborhoods. I have reached out to my community many times because I survived this bad path of crime. I want the young to have better opportunities for a more decent life. My family has always considered me to be a quick thinker and encourages me to help the people in my community. This is one of the reasons that I decided to run for office. Growing up in Trenton, I've witnessed the lack of support from the municipality. I would like to change things and make a difference with this one issue. The declining economy has not help. The rising cost of real estate taxes seems to stifle efforts to better our schools. I would like to do an assessment of our budget and see where we can make a difference for the good people of Trenton. I’m 32 years of age and have many ideas on how we can change and accomplish daily tasks in a very effective way. I relate to young people well and like to listen to their dreams and hopes for a better society. This often drives me to become a more rational person in order to help others. I truly believe there should be a natural balance of transparency between our Municipal, our Budgets, and the needs of the citizens of Mercer County.
Job creation and expanding economic opportunities are two of the most important challenges facing Mercer County. As Freeholder, I will make them my top priorities and I am fully prepared to address them effectively. I have deep roots in Mercer County. I was born in Trenton, grew up in Lawrence, moved to Ewing, and now live in Hopewell Township with my wife Donna and our daughter. I know our County well, and understand the challenges faced by our residents.
In addition to my work experience of fighting for the rights of working men and women, I currently serve as Vice Chairman of the Mercer County Improvement Authority. The MCIA has been very effective in its many important roles that support the growth of economic opportunities. This experience has helped to prepare me for the vital work of the Freeholder Board. I love our County, and as a Freeholder, I will fight to make it an even better place to raise a family, get an education and find work opportunities.
What priorities would you like to see in the next budget received from the County Executive next January, 2017, for the County? Is there any specific department or agency that you consider particularly in need of your attention; and if so, why and what would you do? Please specify particular areas in need of oversight or funding (such as the Vocational Technical School, Mercer County Community College, County Geriatric Center, County Correctional facilities, County Board of Social Services, County Park Commission, County Improvement Authority, or County Library systems).
We should spend county taxpayer dollars in an honest, efficient, and accountable manner. Our military veterans should be taken care of with job training and housing assistance. None of them should be sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters. If it is too expensive to care for our veterans, we must stop sending them to occupy other nations in order to enrich companies like Halliburton. The poor and weak need protection, opportunity, and education. Health care should be a right of every resident as it is in Canada and every other civilized modern democracy throughout the developed world. I am an avid user of the Mercer County Library System and strongly believe in supporting it for the benefit of all county residents.
I expect a budget from the County Administration that is balanced, maintains surplus to assure the maintenance of the County’s bond rating, and continues to fund needed services while keeping the overall tax levy low. I would like to see a budget that prudently addresses the future of the Mercer County Corrections Center. Our Hopewell Township facility is no longer adequate and I believe the Freeholders and the Administration must use the coming year to plan for the future, whether that includes rehabilitating the old facility, finding a new site in Mercer County, building a new Corrections center in cooperation with other counties, or entering into an agreement with a county with a pre-existing facility. I am confident that a full discussion of our options will lead to the right solution for our County.
Alex Calix Rodriguez:
My main focuses would be, to innovate the improvement of Authority by finding a better way to address citizens, create a diversity training to learn how to handle difficult situations without escalating to violence towards the people they serve providing police officers with body web cams to protect themselves and the citizens.Manage a better budget towards education and social services, bringing back programs of art, music, engineering, and wood shop to give our youth a way to productively enjoy life and have an outlet for daily stressors; teach young citizens to be goal oriented so they can handle the challenges of daily life. Further more, implement necessary training on public services such as, The Board of Social Services to manage the diversity of our communities as well as single and/or young parents. It is vital for our citizens to be well educated on how to bring up a household, financially and morally, specially for single/young parents. Create family programs on how to manage new parenting and children with special needs, to all people of the community, no matter their status in the U.S. Mainly focus on providing people with the tools on how to help their daily situations with the aim that they can be able to support themselves and families with affordable daycare and count on after school programs not having to worry about their children’s welfare, bringing peace of mind and together plan for a better future.
Mercer County's budget is not just a statement of revenues and expenditures for the coming year. Far more than that, our County's budget is the most important expression of our shared values and priorities. It also reflects the reality that there are many demands for County services but it has limited resources.
Because my priorities are to address job creation and promote economic opportunities, we need to ensure that job training and workforce development needs are fully met. We also need to adequately support Mercer County Community College because education is the best way to prepare our residents for jobs and economic opportunity. We also need to address public safety, provide opportunities for veterans, as well as support recreation, open space and investments into our infrastructure.
Working with County Executive Hughes, the Freeholder Board has been successful in responding to the needs of the County while keeping Mercer County's property tax rates within the state-mandated 2% cap. I am committed to continuing this disciplined approach to budgeting.
The Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders on its website says it aims to be “accessible and responsive” to the public. How do you propose to assure that? Please identify if you feel there is any issue or functional area you would emphasize.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact me with any issues or concerns you have about anything in Mercer County and I will do what I can to help resolve your problem. My family name and honor are on the line. I will not embarrass my relatives living or dead by not doing my best as an elected official. I already have issues of speeding on Snowden Lane in Princeton and a ton of potholes and poor efforts of snow removal in Hamilton to address, but my eyes and ears are open to any concerns sent to me by my fellow Mercer County residents.
As a Freeholder, I have been a strong advocate of modernizing the outdated Freeholder website. In my term as Freeholder President, I made the agendas, resolutions, ordinances, and votes of the Board available on our site for the first time. With my full support, we will soon be making our minutes available as well. Through our website and my Freeholder office, the public will continue to be able to contact me on any issue. The Freeholder Board has always placed an emphasis on hearing from the public both at our meetings in Trenton, as well as special Freeholder meetings that we have in the constituent communities of Mercer County.
Alex Calix Rodriguez:
Listening is one of my greatest assets. I believe you get more results when you give things time. I'll make sure to have a time to speak with folks over the phone or one-on-one. I’d like to inform people of the do’s and don’ts of public hearings. Explain to my constituents what the possibilities are and what is not. I would like advise the community how the county can make progress or what is falling behind on due to budgets. If you give the community the uptmost respect, trust and support, you can find a way to work together, build bridges, and try to understand each other. Being able to support and organize functions together, build a web page with full detail to satisfy our citizens, use social media, interact face-to-face, and help them network with others. That way we find answers together. Also, create fundraisers that support Mercer County’s highest priorities and engage citizens as well. I’m surely not here for myself but for the people. The answers will come if we can connect to make our lives better together.
I am committed to openness and transparency in the Freeholder Board. This certainly includes ensuring that the Freeholder Board is accessible and responsive to residents from every part parts of Mercer County. The Freeholder Board has attempted to make its meetings more accessible by holding its meetings in locations throughout Mercer County, and not just at the County Administration Building in Trenton. This is a useful first step. I would go further and seek to have meetings accessible online as a live video stream. In addition, in partnership with the Administration, we should explore the use of technology to develop new tools for public access and participation.
The Freeholder Board works best when people can interact with their representatives to express their opinions and get the information they need when they need it. Technology has the potential to help us be more accessible and responsive, but the commitment to openness and transparency must be expressed through our work as public servants each day.
MISSION STATEMENT: The League of Women Voters®, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
To read the responses of candidates for other offices and to find links to debates, go to the League of Women Voters Princeton Area website at www.lwvprinceton.org.
The Princeton Area League seeks new members (men and women) from Kendall Park, Kingston, Montgomery, Plainsboro, Princeton, Rocky Hill, South Brunswick and West Windsor. To become a member or learn more, click here.