CRANBURY: Township Committee candidates makes their cases

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Township Committee in the upcoming election next week.
Incumbent Democrats James M. Taylor and David W. Cook will be facing Republican newcoomers Fran McGovern and Sean Deverin on Nov. 3 to fill the two, three-year terms on the Township Committee.
Mayor James Taylor said he is completing his sixth year on the Cranbury Township Committee where he said he has had the privilege of serving as mayor this past year.
“I grew up living first on Main Street in the house next to where I currently live, and then on Scottsdale Court in Shadow Oaks where my parents still live, he said.
He has been married for 12 years to wife Kristen. They have a 6-year-old daughter, Gracie, in the first grade at Cranbury School, and twin, one-year-old boys, Jake and James, he said.
“In my professional life, I am a principal with Mercer Consulting and work out of its Princeton office,” he said. “In my role, I advise large multinational companies regarding their non-U.S. pension and employee benefit strategies including governance protocols and policies, mergers and acquisitions activities and provide support during complex union negotiations for their operations outside of the U.S.”
Committeeman Cook has lived in Cranbury since he was 4 years old. He has two children, Jackson, a 19-year-old freshman in college and Olivia, 17, a senior in high school.
“I have spent most of my career in the financial industry,” he said.
He is a Managing Director Third Party Distribution at StoneToro Asset Management. He is the managing director and founder of Factor Investment Solutions 2000 and was vice president at Merrill Lynch Asset Management in 1994.
He has a Bachelors of Arts degree from Curry College in Milton, MA with a major in management.
Mr. Deverin is married with three boys.
“We are so thankful to be able to raise them in this special community and to live in the same town as my parents, brother and sister-in-law,” he said.
He said in his professional life, he negotiates large, complex solutions (automation, IT and clinical) for some of the largest problems facing the fastest evolving healthcare providers.
“I rely on my analytical foundation from my B.S. and M.S. in biochemistry along with business discipline from an M.B.A. from Boston College to be data driven, but to also think critically and question assumptions for ideal outcomes,” he said.
Candidates were asked why they chose to run for the Township Committee and what particular skill set they would bring to the job.
“We have a number of issues that are in play at the moment such as affordable housing and the continuing need to bring in rateables to relieve the financial pressure on our residents,” Mayor Taylor said. “The potential downside of these issues is substantial for the town.
“In looking at the issues before us and what is on the horizon, I felt that the continuity of an experienced committee who works well together was key to ensuring Cranbury remains the town we know and call home,” he said.
“My business background is centered on an analytical approach to the tough issues, but also requires a strong ability to compromise and negotiate,” he said. “All are skills that have proven beneficial over the past six years as we faced a declining tax base and increasing unfunded state mandates.”
He said that six years later his business background is now married with indepth experience dealing with issues that are only faced by a township such as how to cut operating expenses without impacting the community values and characteristics that make Cranbury.
Committeeman Cook said has chosen to run again because he is committed to the issues that still face Cranbury and will take more time to complete.
“We have been battling the issue of affordable housing for many years now and I have made it a key issue of my last two terms in office,” he said. “Right now we are in the final stages of a complete solution that I and my fellow committee members are in the process of presenting to the county board on affordable housing.”
He said that it is conceivable that after all the years of struggle with this issue, that by the end of the year or the first quarter of next year, Cranbury will have settled on a solution of its obligation on affordable housing.
“I am also running to follow through with the controlled commercial development of the east side of Route 130,” he said. “It is critical for Cranbury’s financial health that we have commercial rateables that generate revenue to fund the town’s annual budget.”
He said what is currently being built and what has been approved for construction in the near future can get Cranbury closer to a stable tax base and help fully fund Cranbury’s budget.
“One of the skills I believe I bring to the table is that I know that Cranbury can’t be Cranbury by being isolated from is surroundings,” he said. “I have worked directly with county and state representatives on various subjects, be it critical issues such as our bridge and dam restoration and affordable housing to, as mayor of Cranbury in 2012, the coordination of emergency services during super storm Sandy.”
In addition, Cranbury has been given a lot of help from county Freeholders on various township initiatives like farmland preservation funding, he said.
“That is one of the skills and benefits I bring to the Township committee,” he said.
Mr. McGovern said he believes that a diversity of opinion is required in government; that domination of a governmental body by one party for an extended period of time is detrimental.
“I chose to run for council because no Republicans were running and I was asked to run,” he said. “My candidacy has already influenced the current committee to enhance transparency and provide more opportunities for resident input.
“As a community association lawyer, I spend many nights of the year listening to residents’ concerns and working with managers and professionals to formulate solutions,” he said. “As a small business owner, I own and manage a small law firm with 23 employees, I am especially sensitive to issues such as financial management, personnel administration, policy creation, risk management, etc. As a community association mediator, I am experienced at moving disputes to resolution without litigation.”
He said as a father, he believes he deals with the stresses many families experience.
Mr. Deverin said his involvement in representing the needs of his neighbors began a few years ago when his block wanted to make sure commercial traffic was not added to their residentially zoned street in a development project.
“We accomplished our goal and I realized that activism is important to achieve optimal results,” he said.
He said he was asked to serve on the Zoning Board, which he has enjoyed over the past few years.
“When asked to run for Township Committee, I saw it as an opportunity to increase my contribution to the community by offering unique abilities to solve problems with leadership, critical thinking and negotiation,” he said.
Candidates were asked what is it is about Cranbury that made them want to call the town home.
Mayor Taylor said he doesn’t know how people can choose to live anywhere else if given the option of living in Cranbury.
“Like my, Dad I was raised in Cranbury and went to the Cranbury School,” he said. “Growing up in Cranbury I was a Cub Ccout, in Little League, and 4-H. When I got in trouble as a child, it was certain that someone who knew one of my parents or my grandparents was not that far away and would inform mom or dad, so by the time I got home the punishment was already in place.”
He said in college he worked at the hardware store and Cranbury Recreation Summer camp.
“After my wife and I were married at the Presbyterian Church, it took us two seconds to realize that we wanted our future children to benefit from the same small town atmosphere that I had while growing up,” he said.
In other words, the community of Cranbury had an impact at all stages of his life, he added.
“Now, I benefit every day as I walk my daughter to school, have dinner at Teddy’s where you know everyone and they know you, and ice cream at Gil and Bert’s,” he said.
Committeeman Cook said he wants to be in Cranbury because it has retained all of the wonderful feel and spirit that he remembers and experienced growing up here.
“Being a member of the Township Committee, I join a long lineage of committee members before me who had the insight to begin the process of preserving Cranbury the way it is today,” he said. “Over the last 30 years, Cranbury has preserved more than 2,000 acres of farmland. It has controlled commercial building primarily to the east side of Route 130 keeping the west side of town intact.”
It has been a conscious decision not to have Cranbury consumed and losing its identity by becoming suburban sprawl, he added.
Mr. McGovern said he enjoys Central Jersey’s access to New York, Philadelphia, the beaches and the mountains.
“Prior to living in Cranbury, I lived in New Brunswick for nine years and Princeton for four years,” he said. “As for Cranbury in particular, when Jill and I decided to start a family, Cranbury had a unique ‘Mayberry’ feel.”
The people were engaging and interested in promoting a community-centered family life via such Cranbury institutions as the Cranbury Presbyterian Nursery School, the Cranbury Swim Club and the Cranbury School, he said.
“Eight years and four children since coming to Cranbury, Jill and I are in the thick of Cranbury’s community-centered family life. We have two kids in the Cranbury School and two kids in CPNS (Cranbury Presbyterian Nursery School),” he said.
Mr. Deverin said the people and the feel of the community is what attracted him.
“When I purchased what became our first home in 2003, it was initially intended to be an investment,” he said. “I knew the value of the town, but quickly learned the quality of our people, school and history. Kate and I feel blessed to raise our boys in a place that is beautiful, safe and communal,” he said. “We understand and appreciate the importance that Cranbury residents place on preserving the town’s charm and cannot imagine ever living anywhere else.”
Another question candidates were asked were what are the two biggest issues being raised by the Cranbury residents and how they responded to them.
Mayor Taylor said the taxes and affordable housing are always a focus. He said that 2014 was the first year the town did not see a substantial drop in their tax base since 2008 and this year they had a slight improvement.
“The other issue, and perhaps more significant given it’s implications, is our affordable housing situation,” he said. “Since 2009 when I was first elected, we have cut our debt by almost $6 million, reduced our budget below the 2009 level and we have worked to bring in new commercial development to help offset our tax base.”
He said that the town currently has $9 million square feet of warehouse space permitted and hope to see the financial benefit in 2017.
Affordable Housing is an unfunded state mandate that can impact the town on many levels, he added.
“Since I was elected we have seen our obligation be over 500 homes to be built to the current 20 percent of housing,” he said. “This is a very complicated issue and if not handled correctly can result in a Builders Remedy suit that would result in five market rate homes for every affordable unit.”
That means 200 affordable units would be built with 1,000 market rate homes effectively doubling the size of the town, he said.
“On the committee, I have worked hard on the housing sub-committee and as mayor to ensure Cranbury is not subject to a suit,” he said. “We’re presently before the courts and working on a solution that to date has been received favorably and would ensure we avoid the impact of a Builder’s Remedy suit.”
Committeeman Cook said that the two biggest issues he is hearing from Cranbury residents are affordable housing and speeding.
“As for affordable housing, I have been actively involved with the state and county since 2009,” he said. “The rules and conditions have changed three times since then. But as I have said earlier, Cranbury may as early as the end of this year, have an agreement with the county court who now has jurisdiction on Cranbury’s affordable housing obligation.”
This agreement would render Cranbury compliant in the state’s eyes and should relieve Cranbury of any litigation as it concerns affordable housing with the state, he added.
“Speeding is being addressed by constant communication with law enforcement and the re-balancing of police resources,” he said. “As development of the surrounding towns and suburbs has increased so has traffic and speeding.”
He said as a result they have redirected more time to enforcing speed limit laws but have also reduced speed limits on key roads leading into town.
“We have deduced speed limits on Plainsboro Road, Cranbury Neck Road and Station Road,” he said. This would also include Old Trenton Road a few years ago, he added.
“Speeding is an ongoing struggle but we are aware of it and taking action on it as well,” he said.
Mr. McGovern said the two issues he hears the most are: “How can Cranbury’s culture be preserved?” and “How can we try to control speeding without dramatically increasing our policing expenses?”
“Cranbury’s culture can be preserved by slow and thoughtful development, resisting pressure to consolidate with neighboring municipalities and school districts and engaging community members of diverse cultural, racial, religious and socio-economic backgrounds,” he said.
He said that speeding is a challenging issue in most communities.
“Managing the issue involves policing policy, municipal court function, public awareness, traffic control type and placement as well as the design and construction of the community’s roadways,” he said.
He said with respect to design and construction, through-streets should be discouraged as they become thoroughfares for non-local traffic traveling the area’s regional and national highway systems.
With respect to short-term fixes, he would like to test “removable speed bumps” on Main Street, he said.
Mr. Deverin said affordable housing and infrastructure have been on the top of people’s minds and have been foreshadowed in Township Committee meetings to present significant financial stresses to Cranbury in the near future.
“The potential financial impact of these is currently understood to be a broad range of very large numbers,” he said. “Most of these projects involve matters of development, which I have first-hand experience in as an investor in real estate and through my time serving Cranbury on the Zoning Board and Development Review Committee.”
He said that his approach would be to identify the key factors that contribute to the expense variability and to then look for opportunities to manage these over time so as to avoid amassing bigger obligations down the road.
“I see opportunity to involve people in the simple yet meaningful ways that have contributed to our successes to date,” he said.
For example, actively seeking input from CHA in all critical land development planning, not just those deemed affordable housing projects, and involving impacted residents earlier in the planning processes to meet their needs while optimizing our position, he said.
“Unfortunately, these are not multiple choice problems that we face and we cannot always expect clear direction from the state,” he said. “With inclusive execution of our comprehensive strategy, we can control more of our future and negotiate better outcomes by partnering with, but not being driven by, developers and those that do not live here.”
To use a baseball analogy, he said he would be looking at every turn to find opportunities for bunt singles to avoid needing grand slam home runs in the future.
The candidates discussed their campaigning and how it has been low-key.
“I think this year is a classic example of how campaigns should be run by the candidates. All of the candidates are friends,” Mayor Taylor said. “Sean, Fran and I have children in the first grade together, so we are friends first and foremost.”
He said when they found out they were all running they agreed to run respectful campaigns and agreed that signs were not in the interest of anyone or the town.
“During the campaign we’ve all spoken with each other because we’re all friends regardless of the election,” he said.
Cranbury is about the residents, he said.
“So my individual approach is to meet people and understand the issues that concern them throughout the year,” he said, adding then try and walk through town and meet residents.”
Committeeman Cook said that his approach has been very similar to the first time he ran for Township Committee.
“You have to get into the township literally by knocking on doors or participating in local functions like the Lions Club or Cranbury Day,” he said.
It was a decision not to put up signs because residents have said that the clutter of campaign signs is unsightly and would rather not see them so I respect that, he said.
Mr. McGovern said he and his wife, Jill, are often out and about in the community with their children.
“We also socialize with other Cranbury couples,” he said. “To the extent you could call it a “campaign” it has been based on personal discussions at places like, Township meetings, Bounce-U, the T-Ball fields, kids’ birthday parties, etc.”
He said he doesn’t see people in town as Democrats or Republicans, he see them as the Old Guard, the Empty Nesters, the How are We Going to Pay for College? the Young Families and the Newcomers.
“Each group has its particular concerns but all support a community-centered family life,” he said.
Mr. Deverin said it’s true that his campaign has been low key from an advertisement perspective.
“Instead, I have spent my time and energy seeking meaningful interactions with people on critical town matters,” he said. “By using the campaign opportunity to knock on doors and by maintaining high involvement at meetings and keeping up with published minutes, I understand the issues we face and I am prepared to add greater value to Cranbury by serving on our Township Committee.”
Candidates were asked wow would they or the council help lower or to keep the taxes stable for Cranbury.
“The Township Committee must focus on financial well being if the town is to be successful,” Mayor Taylor. “Over the past six years we have been focused on financial wellness.
Faced with declining property values and declining tax income from 2008 to 2014, we made substantial cuts to our budget without sacrificing services or our values as a community, he said.
“Despite inflation and increased state mandates, our budget is lower than 2009 when I was elected and our debt is almost 6 million less,” he said.
He said to grow the tax base and relieve pressure for residents they brought in new rateables with 9 million more square feet of warehouses anticipated to come on line by 2017.
“This year as mayor I modified our budget process and we were able to further decrease our budget without impacting residents,” he said. “This budget decrease helped to support the overall decrease our residents saw in the property tax bills this year.
Committeeman Cook said to keep taxes stable in Cranbury is a constant process.
“It involves many different components working together at once,” he said. “The Township Committee has used a process of constant vigilance of the current budget and making sure that all aspects of the township which includes the police department, Public Works and Town Hall are using their budgets efficiently.”
Our 2015 budget is actually lower than the 2009 budget, he added.
“The other way we may be able to lower taxes is through commercial development east of Route 130,” he said. “The approved amount of warehouse space that will be going up on Station Road, Brickyard Road and Half Acre Road will generate a sizable amount of revenue that will fund over 40 percent of Cranbury’s budget in the next few years.”
Mr. McGovern said Cranbury is not Monroe, Plainsboro or East Windsor.
“Its population and financial resources are far smaller,” he said. “Therefore, we cannot expect to have the same amenities as those communities without paying an unacceptably high price.”
He said he would moderate taxes and support property values by continuing to advocate education spending and accountability, fighting unrealistic and unfunded public housing construction mandates and supporting community-based, non-governmental organizations such as the Women’s Club, the Lions Club, the Boy Scouts etc.
“I would also attempt to manage the expectations of those who have moved here from larger communities with larger tax bases and resist adding overhead costs that could drive many from the community due to the associated tax burdens,” she said.
He said also have a “pay as you go” philosophy and he is averse to building municipal debt unless sound reasons can be articulated.
“An example might be debt to fund a significant capital replacement project with a multi-generational useful life,” he said. “Debt otherwise passes the buck to future generations while generating interest, transaction fees and professional expenses.”
Mr. Deverin said there are several commercial development projects underway or planned that can have a positive impact to our taxes.
“Some of these, however, carry their own future or deferred expenses (warehouses and Liberty Way, for example),” he said. “It’s therefore critical that we effectively plan and manage these and our contribution to affordable housing and infrastructure year by year so as to minimize the future impact of these looming needs to our bottom line.”
He plans to be active in communicating the shared regional and state needs and values for these improvements so as to solve them with help from our neighboring communities as well as from the county and state, he said.
Mayor Taylor said that he would ike to see Cranbury continue to be the same town they have protected for generations and ensure that his children have the same sense of pride in town that he has.
“This year we had a tremendous volunteer turnout with all Township Boards and Commissions fully staffed,” he said.
“I’d like to see that continue as the volunteers are integral to the community,” he said. “My parents instilled in me through their own volunteer activities a sense of belief that volunteering and bettering the community starts at home.
“I am hopeful to do the same with my own children,” he said. “Therefore, aside from the Township Committee I have been on the Historical Society Finance Committee for seven years and a member of the Cranbury Fire Company for four years.”
He said that he also served on the Historical Society Board and Cranbury Presbyterian Nursery School Board.
Committeeman Cook said the direction I would like to see Cranbury go is in the one its going in now.
“I want to see Cranbury retain its small town feel by truly remaining a small town,” he said.