William Michelson, Rebecca Williams
Republican William Michelson and incumbent Democrat Rebecca Williams, candidates for the Second & Third Ward at-large City Council seat, took part in the League of Women Voters forum Tuesday. Plaintalker posted some of their responses to audience questions yesterday and here are more:
- On how they will work with other council members to resolve issues, Michelson said "pretty much the same" as he has done in his 30-year law practice. He said he thinks he can be "more dignified and professional" than the current council and will rely on "give and take" methods.
Williams said if a measure was "truly in the interest of the city," she would support it and do her best to convince her colleagues to support it.
- Regarding how to deal with communications in case of another disaster (such as Superstorm Sandy), Williams recounted how she went during that emergency to a Dunkin Donuts to use wi-fi and her smartphone for constituent service, calling in downed wires and such. She said an emergency communications systems advocated by some council members was never put in place until the administration changed and put in a Nixle system.
Michelson said he was not going to pretend there would have been a solution to that emergency, when the phones went out. He said PMUA and city Public`Works staff performed beyond their ability in the storm, which he said had no precedent.
- On how to make the PMUA more accountable, Michelson said he was not opposed to the PMUA in its early days but later on objected to such things as the "golden parachute" for executives. He said he wants to get rid of the PMUA's law firm of 20 years, for what he believes is "legal malpractice." He mentioned the council's failure to appoint commissioners and said the PMUA used to be pretty good and there's no reason it can't be again.
Williams called PMUA costs "incredibly expensive" and saw waste in contracts. She said the authority could probably get rid of an "entire layer of middle managers" to help get rates down to comparable operations.
- To reduce taxes, Williams suggested the city needs a wider variety of businesses, including light manufacturing in the light industrial corridor and in the West End. Michelson said high taxes are "systemic" throughout New Jersey.
"The problem is what we are getting for it," he said.
Michelson said there are too many people in certain departments and he feels the city should leave the civil service system. Also, the city needs "not just development, but redevelopment" and must improve its image.
- In response to a question on blog comments "denigrating" the East Second Street neighborhood, Michelson said the Neighborhood Commercial district was "not viable."
He said when compared to a map where crime occurs, "the correlation is frightening."
Williamson said she has spoken to a number of residents in the district and looked at sidewalks and lighting. Though named as an area in need of development, it will "take more than the city has."
- On revitalization of the Netherwood area, Williams noted a proposal for residential development and said she understands many of the homeowners in the Transit-Oriented Development area are in favor of selling their property to a developer. Michelson said no one wants apartments by the train station as they would be too noisy. Criticizing what he called a "willy-nilly" approach to development, he said one building is being demolished and will not have any parking.
- Regarding road repair, Michelson said it is really a budgetary issue, but the problem is that when people complain about a particular street, "nothing happens." He said he thinks he could "pester" Public Works into making repairs. Williams said road repairs depend on weather and the budget, but she said some "significant roads" have been repaired. An original assessment of road conditions might be subject to "changing conditions" and the city has to depend on its engineers, she said.
- On what precludes giving contracts to local businesses, Williams said she didn't think anything precluded it if they comply with state regulations. Michelson said nothing precludes use of local contractors but cited "cronyism" as an issue.
In closing statements, Williams, who is seeking re-election to a second term, said she didn't go into politics to be a politician but hoped to make a change. She named constituent service as a strength, saying, "People reach out to me and I reach back." In addition, she said she has been a fiscal watchdog and fostered a pay-to-play ordinance. As someone with an independent job, she said, she will not be beholden to anyone. Williams urged voters to support three public questions that are on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Michelson said he agreed with Williams about supporting the three public questions. He said he "probably comes across as a technocrat."
"Maybe I lose people sometimes," he said, but added "I think I have a lot to offer."
"Vociferousness is a bit dangerous and may not be constructive," he said.
Michelson said he loses his temper "about every two years" and thinks he can add a dignity and professionalism to the council.
"I deserve a try," he said, reminding people they can split their ticket in the Nov. 4 election.
Two other council seats are on the ballot. Democrat Diane Toliver is unopposed in the First Ward. Democratic appointee Gloria Taylor is running for the unexpired Third Ward term and is opposed by Republican Randy Bullock.
Any registered voter may take part in the general election. The only restriction for council elections is that you must live in the ward(s) up for council seats. Polls are open on Nov. 4 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sample ballots should have been received and voters should familiarize themselves with the choices, including the three public questions and candidates for school board at the bottom. Polling places and voting instructions are included.