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Mercer County Freeholder Candidates 2015

Mercer County Freeholder Candidates Answer League Questions

November 3, 2015 General Election Day
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are the verbatim responses of the candidates for Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders to questions presented by The League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area in cooperation with The Princeton Packet. 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 three (three-year term)

Ann M. Cannon (incumbent) – Democrat, Retired

Pasquale A. “Pat” Colavita, Jr. (incumbent) – Democrat, Retired Speech and Language Therapist

Anthony “Tony” Davis – Republican, Manager of Environmental Justice Bureau, New Jersey Department of Transportation. Website: www.votemercer.com

Jason Lee DeFrancesco – Republican, Intellectual Property Attorney. Website: www.tmlawworldwide.com 

Samuel T. Frisby, Sr. (incumbent) – Democrat

Ira Marks – Republican, CPA, CFP. Website: www.votemercer.com and www.newjerseycpa.com

What do you consider the most important challenges facing Mercer County? What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for addressing these challenges?

Ms. Cannon:
Mercer County residents have always expected us, as elected officials, to keep their best interests in mind. We strive every year to ensure that we are able to reduce spending while still providing the high level of service that Mercer County is nationally known for. I'm proud to say that I have been serving the people of Mercer County for 25 years and have a proven record of achieving those very goals. In addition to being a freeholder, my positions on the board of the Mercer County Board of Social Services and Interfaith Caregivers assures that every resident of Mercer County has an advocate working on their behalf.

Mr. Colavita:
Managing to stimulate economic development and growth while maintaining the best quality of life for Mercer County residents all while operating under the 2% cap.

First of all I grew up in a home that fostered giving backing to the community. Professionally my love of children led me to a 40 year career as a Speech and Language Therapist in the Hamilton Township School District. Combining my interest in public service with my involvement in education inspired my first public office serving 9 years on Lawrence Township’s Board of Education. I then served on Lawrence Township’s Town Council for 4 years, 2 years as Mayor and 2 years as Deputy Mayor. At the same time I worked with a wide variety of non-profit organizations and served on different boards. This is where I also gained insights and practical knowledge helpful in addressing the challenges that face running the County. I have been a Freeholder for 12 years.

Mr. Davis:
Mercer County has one of the worst roadway systems in the state and the county transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. Transportation infrastructure is critical to the county’s economic growth and vitality. I will utilize my education as an industrial engineer and my 28 years of experience in the transportation industry to rebuild the transportation infrastructure system in this county. Also, there has not been any real effort by the county administration or the freeholder board to invest in the redevelopment of the county’s cities and townships, particularly the capital city. Investment in the redevelopment of our towns and cities would encourage private investment and create more jobs for the residents. I have served 14 years on the Board of the Mercer County Improvement Authority and I will use that experience to form a redevelopment plan for towns and cities of this county.

Mr. DeFrancesco:
The most important challenge is correcting errors of the past administrations.

I reviewed every proposed resolution and proposed ordinance in the past year. Every single one has been allowed. Rather than appropriating money to better quality of life, education or small businesses, the spending focus has been on political interests, which include out-of-county contractors, sweetheart deals and legal fees for mismanagement. As a result, the airport continues to lose money, the parks continue to lose money and Trenton (former capital of the United States) continues to increase the number of residents below the poverty line.

The wool needs to be removed. The current system is broke.

Unlike current Freeholders, I am a licensed attorney bound by a code of ethics which I swore upon to be a public servant and uphold the laws of the country. My duties to the county cannot be affected by local politics and greed, otherwise I jeopardize my law license and my ability to provide for my family. My goal is to take political strife out of the minds of Mercer County residents. Fairness and ethics should be a guaranteed given, not a hope.

Mr. Frisby:
No response by deadline.

Mr. Marks:
Mercer County government has seven Freeholders and one County Executive, with none having any significant financial experience. They are managing a $ 325 million budget. It is unthinkable that any company with a $ 325 million budget would not have the appropriate financial expertise to manage it. I am a CPA with over 30 years public and private experience and was recognized in NJ Monthly magazine ( Jan 2015) as one of the top CPA’s in the state of NJ. My election would be “just what the doctor ordered” so to speak.

What priorities would you like to see in the budget proposed in January, 2016, for the County?

Ms. Cannon:
The evaluation and approval of the budget is our most important task and, as with every year, we look forward to the budget that we receive from the administration. From there, our duty and priority has always been to meet with every department head and director to assure that the hard-earned dollars provided to us by our fellow citizens is spent in a transparent and judicious manner.

Mr. Colavita:
Some of the budget priorities for 2016 would be open space, senior citizen services, infrastructure, public safety and recreational development.

Mr. Davis:
Repair of county roads and bridges, cut government waste to reduce county taxes, and bring back vocational education under the control of local boards of education.

Mr. DeFrancesco:
Based on my review of the budget, an example that should sour residents is one where several hundreds of dollars was allowed by the current Freeholders to be appropriated in the budget to maintain one single fax machine. (Yes, a fax machine.) We all know that a new fax machine costs less than $100. Residents need to take a stand. When you think your current county leaders are dealing in your best interest, think fax machine. Then think again.

Mr. Frisby:
No response by deadline.

Mr. Marks:
We need to strive to accomplish the twin goals of providing tax revenues from sources other than property tax collections, (to reduce county residents’ tax bills) and upholding quality of life for all County residents. The current elected officials have trampled on the quality of life of Mercer County citizens in a number of instances, such as expansion of the airport at a time when Frontier Airlines is reducing the number of flights, expansion of the County ampitheatre program from 9 to 30 concerts in one year ( including some hard rock concerts that run until midnight), the way the solar panels at MCCC were created which has resulted in flooding issues for residents, etc. We also need an independent voice in the creation of the 2016 budget, not a group of Freeholders who rubber stamp anything that Brian Hughes has decided to do.

The agenda for the Formal Meetings held on Thursdays is prepared at an Agenda Meeting held on Tuesday and then published online on Wednesday afternoon. Unless citizens attend the Agenda Meeting in person, they have no idea what items were considered or rejected for the Formal Meeting, and they have just 24 hours notice - and sometimes less - in which to read the agenda for the Formal Meeting. To get minutes one must file an OPRA request and pay. A citizen seeking information about how Mercer County's $300 million budget is expended must read through a pdf file of 84 pages. What are your thoughts about the effect of these practices on citizen participation and transparency?

Ms. Cannon:
Since my first year on the board in 1995 and up through today, I have seen a positive sea change in governmental transparency. I and my fellow colleagues, including then-Freeholder Brian Hughes, worked tirelessly in the late 90's to change the culture of secrecy. That cause is still championed to this day and we recognize that improvements to the State's OPRA law are still necessary. However, despite OPRA's cumbersome nature, we have an excellently staffed clerk's office that is intent upon assisting constituents to provide them with the records they need in a timely and affordable manner.

Mr. Colavita:
I pride myself and the board on our commitment to transparency. I believe citizen participating is crucial to good government. All Agenda and Formal meetings are open to the public and both feature public comment sections. Our Meeting schedule is published in January of each year and all upcoming meetings are advertised in our county’s major media outlets. This past year we had 13 budget meetings; most counties in our state have only three budge meetings. During these 13 meetings we spoke to each Department Head, and in detail went over their budgets. All 13 of these 13 meetings were open to the public. With all that said, as technology continues to advance I am open to any new avenues that can provide residents with information more quickly and more affordably.

Mr. Davis:
First of all I think the county should be more transparent; the citizens in this county pay taxes to pay for all county services and they should be entitled to transparency on how the county spends their money. If elected I would make all agenda items available to citizen on-line a week ahead of any scheduled board meeting and allow the citizens to send questions via-email regarding any agenda item. The county budget should also be broken down in layperson terminology (like a family budget); this will make it easier for citizens to understand how the county is spending their money and allow them to prepare appropriate questions.

Mr. DeFrancesco:
The County publishes the resolutions and ordinances online. These are free. It is the duty of the Freeholders to bring to the attention of the taxpayers all matters beforehand. Residents have families, jobs and their life to deal with. They elect representatives to inform them, not hide behind a 24-hour notice referendum.

To repeat, it is the duty of the Freeholders to advise the public of upcoming matters, not the other way around. I will correct this. Three hundred million dollars is a lot of money.

Mr. Frisby:
No response by deadline.

Mr. Marks:
I can tell you from personal experience that the OPRA process does not work effectively. I reviewed the 2015 County budget and found $3.6 million in unexplained, large increases versus the prior year. The County government’s chief counsel refused to answer 95% of these questions, citing OPRA restrictions. Therefore, if elected I would strive to make the budget results a more open process in which citizens in Mercer County don’t have to jump through hoops to get answers. When I was managing the Lawrence Township school board budget ( 1992-1998) we always presented an easy to understand budget and allowed all citizens to view it . I would strive to create such a document during budget time.


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 LWV-Princeton Area website.

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