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VOTE411 Voter Guide

Chatham Township Committee

CHOOSE TWO CANDIDATES FROM BELOW TO COMPARE
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    Stacey Ewald (Dem) Non-Profit Management

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    Michael J. Kelly (Rep) Retired Journalist

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    Tracy Ness (Dem) Realtor, Town & Country Properties

  • Karen M. Swartz (Rep)

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Biographical Information

What do you consider the most important challenge(s) facing your town and how would plan to address it/them?

What in you personal and/or professional experience prepares you for this office?

Current Elected Position Candidate for Chatham Township Committee
The most important challenges are affordable housing (AH) and the ongoing growth of our town, i.e., growth in development and our student population due to our successful public schools. With respect to AH, we need to plan ahead and get residents input early on. Currently, the Township is looking at an AH development of 24 units at the Skate Park which would go hand in hand with 54 luxury townhome units at the Dixiedale Farm on Hillside. The problem is, while these two linked transactions may be a “good deal”, we’re evaluating them in a vacuum. We don’t know our overall AH obligation and we’re not planning ahead should the requirement be greater than the 24 units. We also need to weigh other options for meeting our AH obligation like converting market rate inventory.

Regarding the growth of our town, our population has risen 10 to 15% over the last 15 years but the school population has doubled! The knock down and rebuilds are a source of revenue, resulting in an annual surplus to the municipality but the pressure on traffic, pedestrian safety and schools is a problem. I will work to preserve the beautiful setting of our town, while supporting initiatives that help to keep our children and seniors safe. For example, the safe-routes-to-school committee has done a wonderful job securing grant money for sidewalks but the projects are stalled. We also need to look at traffic flow around our schools to find solutions to congestion and safety issues.
As a former financial services internal auditor, I am skilled at looking at financial, operational and compliance processes and issues, drilling down to the key components and risks and coming up with creative solutions. As we negotiate our Affordable Housing obligation and work to fend off the Pilgrim Pipeline, we’ll need people on the Committee who are willing to drill down into the details and come up with creative solutions.

My husband and I have lived in Chatham Township for over 20 years and we’ve raised our two children here. We love the bucolic setting of the town and we appreciate the way our excellent schools are a cornerstone for a community that is educated, dedicated and involved. I have served in many community leadership roles – President and Executive Committee member of the Chatham Education Foundation, PTO President, PTO Character Education Coordinator, SBS Enrichment Chair, etc. In these roles, I have had great success rallying and managing volunteers for the betterment of our community. I want to apply these same leadership and communication skills to engage residents in our municipal process, work more effectively with our neighboring towns and bring community-wide gatherings back to our town.
Current Elected Position Chatham Township Committee member
Chatham Township is a wonderful community, and the top priority of any Township Committee person is to keep it that way. The single best way to do this is to keep taxes affordable while delivering necessary services. As a member of the Finance Committee, I am proud that the Township Committee has kept the municipal tax rate unchanged since 2007. Few, if any, towns in New Jersey can claim 10 years with no increase in their municipal tax rate. No list of important challenges would be complete without a discussion of Affordable Housing. The township's Affordable Housing plan, which awaits the court's approval, includes extending affordability controls on 73 existing units at Vernon Grove and the possible construction of affordable apartments on a portion of the township-owned Skate Park property on Southern Boulevard. The Township Committee needs to schedule a dedicated public discussion of the overall Affordable Housing plan as soon as possible to answer public questions and listen to public feedback. The Pilgrim Pipeline is an environmental threat and must be opposed. Chatham Township was one of the first of the affected communities to adopt a zoning ordinance outlawing transmission pipelines. We help finance the coalition's attorney fighting the pipeline. And the Township Committee is currently drafting a new zoning amendment to strengthen our pipeline defenses. I ask for your vote for a second three-year term to resolve some of these important issues.
Few careers better prepare anyone for local elected office than my journalistic experience at The Independent Press. As executive editor, I worked with reporters and editors covering eight local communities including Chatham Township. I attended countless municipal meetings, interviewed hundreds of municipal officials, and saw examples of good and bad government. My involvement with public service in Chatham Township began after Hurricane Sandy when I attended a meeting of the Environmental Commission to ask if they had any advice about replacing trees damaged or destroyed by the storm. They asked me to join the Commission and to organize a tree replacement project. The result was the Sapling Sale, which provided township residents with 350 trees at very reasonable prices. During my three-year term on the Township Committee, my assignments have included the Finance Committee, the Communications Committee, the Open Space Committee, the Public Works Committee, and I have served as liaison to the Community Garden and the Municipal Alliance. In previous years I have served as president of the Chamber of Commerce, president of the Rotary Club, and president of the Parish Council at St. Teresa of Avila Church. For two years I was co-chairperson of First Night Summit, the New Years Eve celebration of the arts. I ask the voters to allow me to bring my professional and personal experience in community service to a second three-year term on the Township Committee.
I believe we have several challenges facing our town. First would be the development of Dixiedale Farm and Skate Park properties and creating a short and long term plan for meeting our afforable housing obligation. Since we don't have a long range plan, i would wait to find out what our obligation is and then determine the right strategy. We are putting the cart before the horse right now. I would like to bring back a community space, like our old gazebo, and multi generational activities. When you look at Chatham Borough, Madison, New Providence and Berkeley Heights, they all have a community public space and programs that enrich residents experience. We have lost them. And I would like to strengthen our relationship with towns we share services with and work collaboratively on providing better services. Chatham Borough is working on long range planning for a new train station and parking decks. We need to be offering support in working with the NJDOT for commuting solutions. Why not a boxcar stop in the township? We should be proactive not reactive. Finally I want to involve residents in decision making. We found out that we no longer had a dedicated rec director, that the camp was being shut down after the fact, the recent mtg about the Dixiedale redevelopment was not publicized. Events affecting our community should be widely publicized and public comment encouraged, and that is not happening. Chatham Township is a wonderful place but we can do better!
I have lived in the Township for 23 years and currently work in the community as a realtor. I covered the Township Committee for 11 years writing for the Independent Press. From open space to sidewalks, side yard set backs, annual budgets, parking issues, development and recreation, i have researched, interviewed and wrote about it. We need someone who is present and working in the community on the committee. I have volunteered in the community for many years in the schools, PTO, and most recently ending my term as President of the Chatham Athletic Boosters. We fund coaches, scholsrships and provide financial help to expand opportunities for student athletes like adding girls ice hockey, paddle tennis and sailing taking close $90,000 off the school budget. Leading volunteer fundraising organizations teaches you how to do a lot with a little, how to work cooperatively with different groups, and work together toward a common goal. I was surprised at the level of partisanship that is now on the board, the divide amongst the members, the lack of desire to create a dialogue with residents, and feel that we have stagnated as a community. And after a few interactions with the Committee concerning the "Chatham Pride Day" proclamation, losing our summer camp among others, I decided now was the time to run. We need to pay attention to the people in our community not partisanship!
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