Monmouth County freeholder candidates fielded questions on job creation, renewable energy and ethics during a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV) Wednesday night. Freeholder Lillian Burry, R; Freeholder Amy Mallet, D; Gary Rich, R; William Shea, D; and Patrick Noble, I, participated in the forum held at in Manalapan. Independent candidate Tom Markowski did not attend.
The candidates are vying for two three-year Monmouth County Board of Freeholders terms that up for election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Economic concerns were at the forefront of the debate, with two of the LWV’s prepared questions asking candidates how they would support the county’s equine industry and draw new business to compensate for the loss of Fort Monmouth.
Rich, a Spring Lake councilman who works as an account executive in the computer industry, said he would like to see regulations lifted off small businesses to encourage new growth.
“We have to put some certainty back into the business community. It’s very difficult out there. The main thing we need to do is have communication between the county freeholders and our state legislators. What we need for them to do is take some of the regulations off businesses to attract them to our area,” Rich said.
Shea, a retired New Jersey State Trooper who resides in Howell, said he believes the Fort Monmouth campus is suited for communication and technology companies. He explained that number of private sector jobs at businesses surrounding the fort provide opportunities for public-private partnership and economic growth in the region.
Mallet, a Fair Haven resident completing her first term on the freeholder board, explained that the county’s location and the skill set of the workforce positions the area for revitalization.
“We have a great opportunity here in Monmouth County because of our location. We are equidistant from New York and Philadelphia. We have tremendous talent at home. We need to continue the research and development that has gone on at Fort Monmouth because the resources are there. We need to tap into it and use it,” said Mallet, the owner of marketing company based in Neptune.
Burry, a two-term member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders and resident of Colts Neck, said there are a number of revitalization efforts underway at the fort. She noted an acute care facility and Brookdale Community College will occupy space at the site. Burry, who owns a real estate business in Colts Neck, has served on the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority.
Noble, a Red Bank resident running on the Socialist Party ticket, said rather than attract larger companies, he would like to see more small businesses in the county. He would like to see more area businesses adopt models that allow more control by the workers.
While all candidates support utilizing renewable energy, they struck nuanced positions on how to implement and encourage its use.
Burry said some buildings at Fort Monmouth have geothermal properties to efficiently heat and cool the structures, and she would like to see that possibility explored with new buildings. However, she said she is strongly opposed to the proposal to install a wind turbine in Union Beach.
“Three-hundred and fifty feet in height—would you want that next door to your home? I don’t think so. And there is a constant noise. As far as polluting the environment, I can tell you they pollute the immediate environment. It’s an inappropriate location,” Burry said.
Noble said funds should be allocated for the installation of solar panels on county buildings, but said he opposes wind turbines along the Jersey Shore.
Rich said he was not sure solar and wind were the most cost efficient way to produce energy because of the government subsidies attached. He suggested exploring using natural gas in the trigeneration to create electricity for heating and cooling needs.
Mallet noted that she was a strong advocate of the installation of solar panels on county buildings and parking lot canopies.
“I encourage everybody here to head toward Kozloski Road and see a major project that’s under construction right now. We’re constructing canopies over large parking lots that receive a lot of sunlight. We have so many opportunities and we are creating clean energy and creating jobs,” she said.
Mallet said New Jersey needs a master plan to explore where the best locations for wind turbines would be and that turbines need not be long-blade structures.
Shea said he was supportive of renewable energy but, as a former Keansburg resident, was strongly against the Bayshore wind turbine proposal, calling it “a monstrosity.”
The only heated moments of the debate arose in response to questions of ethical considerations.
One audience question, seemingly addressed at Shea, asked if the candidates believed someone should collect a freeholder salary and a disability salary at the same time. Shea said he did not believe there was an ethical conflict with his collecting his retirement benefits from his job as a trooper and taking a freeholder salary.
“I was retired from my job. What would you have me do at 32—sit at home, collect social security and tax you even harder or get back in the game? I’m continuing my public service. I was hurt twice doing my job and I’m back out here doing what I need to do. There is no conflict. I’ve already gone on record—yes, I would take the (freeholder) salary provided to me but I would not take the benefits or pensions. Now that’s feeding at the trough,” Shea said.
Another audience question asked whether volunteers appointed by the freeholder board should be subject to term limits. Mallet, the lone Democrat on the Board of Chosen Freeholders, advocated term limits after it was discovered former Brookdale Community College President Peter Burnham received a housing allowance, a new car and had his country club membership paid for through a contract approved by the volunteer members on the board of trustees. Mallet said she could not receive a second motion from another freeholder to bring the term limits proposal for a vote before the governing body.
Mallet said some autonomous boards have members that have served for over 50 years. She said term limits would make room for new members and prevent political patronage.
Rich disagreed with the need for term limits for volunteer positions.
“It always seems one thing happens and we try to legislate everything. We can’t overreach—we need to be careful. Do we need to go back and maybe do better oversight? I would agree with that,” he said.
The candidates also addressed a question on whether or not an ethical advisory board was necessary at the county level.
“If there appears to be a need for ethics reform, absolutely. There is an ethics board at the state level that we have the ability to appeal to if we feel there is cause to do so,” Burry said. “We as a freeholder board put forth the toughest pay-to-play bill in the state of New Jersey. I think we do a very fine job at policing ourselves as a board. I have yet to see any serious infraction of an ethics situation,” Burry said.