Somerset County Democratic Freeholder Candidates 2016
Somerset 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 Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders to 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 one (three-year term)
Lisa A Kazmier, PhD - Former College History Professor, Currently Considered Disabled.
Party/Slate: Democratic/Slated with Sen. Bernie Sanders
Maria L. Rodriguez - Ph.D. in Psychology
What do you consider the most important challenges facing Somerset County? What personal and professional experiences have prepared you for addressing these challenges?
I think the most important challenges facing Somerset County relate to its infrastructure, particularly owing to the loss of taxable properties, especially in my hometown, Manville. Manville has faced several crises in recent years, owing to Hurricanes Floyd, Irene and the creosote issue that turned the Rustic Mall area into a Superfund site. I have witnessed the population of this down drop dramatically over my lifetime, and I believe the rest of the county has ignored this problem to the peril of the future viability of this entire county. My statement includes questioning the role of the Army Corp of Engineers, which having contributed to a weir helping part of Bound Brook, has supposedly claimed (from what I hear) that nothing more can be done. This area has historic value as well as makes a significant funding contribution to the well-being of this county. Both are being ignored, perhaps even willfully. Increasingly, both the historic county seat, Somerville, as well as South Bound Brook face sizable challenges that people who represent other parts of this county will not see – until the financial contributions become paltry from home buyouts. Already, neighbors on the north side of town have had homes sold and razed, not just Lost Valley. My goal is to have this issue re-visited and given the serious consideration it deserves.
Some of the most important challenges facing Somerset County include attracting Millennial’s to live in the county and keeping the county affordable, funding Developmental and Disability programs to the levels needed, and keeping education affordable. The county continues to lower its funding levels to Raritan Valley Community College, moving further away from the one-third level originally intended. As education becomes less affordable, the county is making it more difficult for millennials to afford to stay in Somerset County. As a professor, I see how my students are struggling under increasing levels of debt in order to pay for education. Knowing the struggles of my students helps keep me in touch with the next generation. As a mental health professional, I see the staggering number of people who are on a wait list to receive assistance across all programs. Having an understanding of the services available and the funding needed will help with budget planning annually.
What priorities would you like to see in the next budget for the County? Is there any specific department or agency that you consider particularly in need of attention; and if so, why, and what would you do? Please specify particular areas in need of oversight or funding.
Obviously, my priority concerns hazard mitigation, though it also needs noting that at least part of this issue relates to cultural aspects raised by this concern. I hate to see the Duke Estate or Wallace House lost before anyone pays attention to this problem. In general, it also seems bridges in this country have undergone significant neglect, which as a resident traveling these roads also concerns me greatly. I further question if there does not already exist human resources that our own community could train to address this issue, especially if they can form a partnership with those who are experts at retaining and extending usable land in the face of water, specifically meaning Dutch engineers. Their ability to claim or reclaim arable, inhabitable land from the sea has historical relevance owing to their success. I believe increasingly this county will need to rely on such ingenuity or face grave losses in the coming years.
The priorities that need to be in the next budget for the County are Prevention of Substance abuse and restoring funding to education programs. Substance abuse is a national issue and has been discussed by all of the presidential candidates. The best way to intervene is to start at the local level. Instead of reacting to the issue, we need to prevent it from even being an issue. This can be done through awareness and prevention programs in cooperation with the Sheriff’s Department, something I am working with the Sheriff candidate. It can also be done in cooperation with Raritan Valley Community College and schools throughout the county.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders is committed to transparency with the public. How do you propose to assure that transparency? Please identify any issue or functional area you would emphasize.
The county having open meetings, a website, Facebook and Twitter presence certainly helps with having a presence. Nothing, however, fully replaces human activity when dealing with great challenges, even if it involves the removal of county roadkill. As a resident here during Hurricane Irene (only 12 years after that “500 year storm” Floyd), I saw the National Guard check IDs and heard the governor’s helicopter. Never did I encounter anyone from the county in any capacity. To me, that seems wrong. That lack of visibility gives at least the sense that no one cares and makes me question if this sentiment is accurate. I want to change that, be it just appearance or reality.
Transparency with the public is always an issue when it comes to the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Freeholder meetings should be adjusted to a later time to allow for residents to actually be able to attend. The Freeholders are out of touch with their residents if they feel people can get home from work and to Somerville in time for a 6:30pm meeting. As has been repeatedly recommended by Somerset County Democratic Party endorsed candidates but continually ignored, the meetings should be televised and recorded for the residents to be able to stay informed as to what the county government is doing. Also, the Freeholders should be holding periodic town hall meetings to stay up to date with the concerns of the residents as well as local elected officials.
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.