The balance of political power is at stake in the November 3 election in Red Bank, which features four candidates for two three-year seats on the borough council. All four have indicated they’ll participate in the West Side Community Group’s annual candidates’ forum at the River Street Commons at 7 p.m. on Thursday, October 1. For more information about the event, take it here.
To help voters compare the contenders in terms of personal background and positions on key issues, redbankgreen emailed them identical sets of questions late last week. Here’s what Michael Whelan had to say in response.
Name: Michael Whelan
Age: Will be 24 on October 30th
Address: 69 Maple Ave
Where did you grow up? My parents divorced when I was younger. I lived in a few different towns throughout New Jersey before moving to Red Bank when I was 15
How long have you been a resident of Red Bank? Since May of 2008 with my family, and as of this past summer I now rent with three roommates.
Do you own real estate in town? I am currently renting, but have every intention of buying property once property taxes get under control and some other issues – such as water rates – get resolved.
Did you graduate from college? If so, which school, with what degree? Yes, Manhattan College (Jaspers) with a Political Science degree.
Have your served in the military? If so, which branch and when? No, but I always wanted to be a Marine growing up. I have the utmost respect for our service members.
What do you do for a living? (Title, employer, brief description of your responsibilities): Account Executive: Global Indemnity Insurance Agency. Property & Casualty Insurance; Commercial & Personal lines.
Party affiliation: Republican
How important is party affiliation to you? What does it mean to you to be a member of your party?
Party affiliation is completely different on a national level than a local level. At the local level politics is about people; not party. With that said I am a proud Republican who believes in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the power of free markets over government intrusion. Local government’s role should be centered around maintaining infrastructure, keeping costs for constituents as low as possible, and above all else focus on enriching the lives and experiences of the town’s citizens, not themselves as politicians.
Do you have a role model in public life? Who and why?
My Mother – she has followed impossible dreams her entire life and has been an underdog in almost every situation, continuously overcoming obstacles with humility and grace. I would not be half the man I am without her.
Why are you seeking a seat on the Red Bank council?
Am I naïve to say I am running because I care? That is what politics has lost and why people are frustrated with every level of government. I want to start a family in Red Bank and buy my home here, but Red Bank does not do a good job at attracting new families and does a worse job at keeping the ones we currently have. The entrenched political forces in the town have become complacent and a meaningful changing of the guard is required. When the current council members keep winning despite the lack of progress on the most crucial issues, there is little incentive to aggressively fight for their constituents. I become heartbroken when I knock on doors and people tell me they cannot go into town because they have been priced out and cannot afford to shop or eat. This needs to change.
What should Red Bank residents expect of a council member?
Plain and simple… A voice for the people. My voting record/policies will be derived strictly from the people who elected me. I vow to be to the most accessible and approachable representative Red Bank has ever seen.
How do you describe your approach to fiscal issues such as budgeting, taxes and debt?
My approach when handling budgeting would be Zero Based Budgeting which is starting a budget with $0 and then see what we absolutely need and analyze every dollar as we go up. Taxes are a necessary evil and we must never forget whose money it is that we are actually spending. It’s not our money as political leaders, it’s the hardworking men and women of Red Bank’s money and it deserves to be treated as such. It is impossible to lower taxes when we borrow recklessly and have our debt compound to the level where 20% of our budget is dedicated to merely servicing our existing debt.
Are there any borough operations or services you think should be reduced or eliminated?
I think the borough did a great job in selling the garbage utility. We saved money and no one was fired and can move the men to other facets of DPW to address needs such as improved roadwork. I think we need to have an operational review of the water utility to explore options along a similar vein.
What are the primary criteria you have used or would use in deciding whether to vote in favor of a tax increase?
It will be very hard for me to vote for a tax increase. I see how hard people work for their money and to take more from them when they already give up an arm and a leg would be against my morals. Could a situation arise where a tax hike is absolutely unavoidable? Perhaps, but there are always alternatives, which I will certainly fight my hardest to avoid raising taxes.
Red Bank has a large number of charities that don’t pay property taxes, accounting for ownership of an estimated16 percent of the borough’s aggregate valuation, far more than nearby towns. What if anything should be done to address this?
This is a tough/sensitive issue. Technically these entities do not have to pay any property tax which is the law so municipalities come over with PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) which makes up for lost tax revenue. I would love the council to show how these numbers are figured out so we can take a harder look at what they are paying and what they CAN pay. When nonprofits keep buying real estate which was taxable and now we lose that revenue something has to be done.
Should the borough maintain ownership of its water utility, or should it be sold?
We need a full operation review of the water utility. I am in favor of anything that will benefit Red Bank in the long term. Every option needs to be looked at multiple times so people don’t have to pay rates higher than every neighboring town. If Red Bank does a review and it does not make sense to sell the water utility then I would vote against it, but I need every option in front of my eyes to make the best decision. I have heard too many people say their water bill has become out of control and if selling it enables us to reduce the monthly expenses on the average Red Bank citizen, then it is certainly an option to be taken very seriously.
The water utility generates surpluses that have been used in the past to bolster the general fund, thereby limiting tax increases. Is this a positive or a negative for taxpayers?
I would first say that the surplus itself is a tax that has gone up over time and does not limit tax increases. You cannot deduct water/sewer bills on your federal returns so the argument it lowers taxes is a moot point and we take the surpluses and plug other holes in the budget. The residents don’t see any direct benefit in a form of reduced taxes from the water rate, which is ultimately a negative for taxpayers. If we are making money then why are our water rates so high?
What is your view of the borough’s permitting and licensing of new businesses and existing businesses that wish to expand? Is the process business-friendly?
I have talked to many business owners and most, unfortunately, can provide endless nightmare stories with government red tape and how long it takes for anything to get done. There is no reason Red Bank should not be a haven for businesses. I do believe permitting new businesses is amazing if you know someone in the town, which is the petty politics we have in Red Bank. If a business can’t open due to a long strenuous process then we are doing a horrible job at creating a business-friendly environment.
Do you agree or disagree that Red Bank is becoming over-developed? If you agree, what should be done in response?
Agree. We are called a “cool little town” and every year it seems that title is changing towards “expensive big town”. When you first enter Red Bank you see Garmany, Tiffany’s, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch… is this 5th Ave in Manhattan or Red Bank? Of course we want upscale businesses in our town, but to price people out is morally wrong. Look what happens to every mom and pop shop that has ever opened. To make matters worse our infrastructure can’t maintain these new apartments and complexes that are growing at a rapid pace. When is enough… enough?
Does Red Bank need a downtown parking garage to secure its economic future?
There are many factors that play into securing Red Bank’s economic future, which start with the relationship between businesses and the municipality and making it easy and not hard to do business in this town.
With that said I believe we need a garage, but it needs to be built/maintained/operated in the correct way. We don’t need to use all of White street lot for a garage… we can use half or any dimension most suitable. There is new modern green technology that is eco-friendly, which we can build a garden rooftop instead of an ugly giant eye sore.
Would you vote for a garage that was not paid for by private investment?
No. The residents should not pay a single dollar for a garage. River Center should contribute a large portion along with the other businesses in town who will benefit greatly. I don’t believe the residents who walk into town should pay for something they will never use. I think the possibilities are endless, but I am not an expert in this. I will bring in the right people to make this happen economically and environmentally.
How well does Red Bank RiverCenter do in its mission of attracting businesses and visitors to central business district?
I believe River Center is extremely vital in being the liaison between the businesses’ and the community, as well as visitors. RiverCenter does a fantastic job promoting and pushing events, such as sidewalk sales, street fairs, music festivals, which contribute to Red Bank’s success. I think the app created as well as their social media platforms have been a success. I am a person who believes there is always more someone or something can do and I would love to work with them to advance their methods in creating a business-friendly environment.
How do you rate the borough government’s commitment to conservation and environmental protection?
I think Red Bank does a decent job at addressing environmental and conservation issues, but seems we never take the initiative. I believe we wait for problems and then fix them, which usually cost more and become more difficult to resolve. I have to applaud Cindy Burnham and a motivated group of citizens for what they have done with Maple Cove. A few weeks ago I attended “Paddle the Navesink” day and hundreds came out. That does not happen without Cindy and is something the council could have advocated on their own. Cindy also helped push for the community garden, which has been a huge success and would love the opportunity to work with her increasing environmental awareness along with recreational activity.
How do you rate the conditions and maintenance of public facilities such as our parks and streets? What if anything needs to be changed?
My rating would be average at best. It’s funny how certain streets get paved right before an election… I think we need public scheduling, which holds everyone accountable. This way it puts well needed pressure on the borough to perform work in a timely manner. There is no excuse for park maintenance becoming an issue. We should take pride in our parks and make sure they are clean and kept beautiful for the residents to enjoy. The main job for local government is maintaining infrastructure and being “average” is not good enough for me.
Is Red Bank government transparent? What if anything might be done to enhance the public’s insight into decision-making?
Red Bank is not transparent. We need to make council email accounts so no council business is conducted on personal emails. We need to live stream council meetings. We need to put council agendas in simpler terms so everyone can understand what is going on. The residents are the one paying for projects and maintenance, and deserve to have all of the information easily attainable. The information should be in a language anyone can understand, since we are using their tax dollars.
Do you agree or disagree that all mayoral/council email correspondence should be conducted in borough email accounts and subject to OPRA requests?
Yes. I cannot think of a single reason why we should not do this…
How would you rate the borough website in terms of effectiveness? Can you identify specific changes that should be implemented?
The funny thing about technology is that it is always changing. If I listed a few things I think the website could update/change they would be outdated the time they are implemented. I do think an online presence is enormous. For businesses and towns to reach out to the people to let them know what is going on and where to find places is crucial. But there is certainly a ton of room for improvement. As mentioned, one of my core platforms is being a true representative of the people and this means making it easy for those whom I intend to represent to voice their opinions. If someone has a comment, suggestion, complaint, or idea that could potentially improve our town there is no reason this should not find its way into the hands of the council.
What if anything might be done to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in town?
There is nothing worse than hearing the elderly say “I am trapped in my home” because they are afraid to walk in our town. Red Bank is a pedestrian town. I think we need more visible signs for cars to slow/stop for people walking and have a better understand for bicyclists and drivers to understand how to share the road. There have been multiple pedestrians hit due to poor signage, which is unacceptable.
What role, if any, should the borough government have in the effort to save the T. Thomas Fortune House?
I know the State has bid on the Thomas Fortune House and am confident they will maintain the history and integrity of the home. The private group who is raising money to save it can now focus their resources on upkeep and can work with the state to ensure a piece of history is treated with respect.
Where do you stand on the question of whether to build a children’s play area and spray park at Bellhaven Nature Area?
I would love to see a play area for the children, but think a spray park is not the right decision. I think passive equipment and a picnic area is perfect, and prevents children from having to cross busy streets to get to other parks. There is nothing better than having the children of Red Bank having a safe environment to have fun in all corners of the town.
What’s your thinking on the future of the clay tennis courts in Marine Park? Should they be restored where they are? Should that site be made available for possible private development?
I think Marine Park has become the biggest issue in Red Bank and I am happy so many people are voicing their opinions. (I wish it happened with more issues) I stated in the TriCity “While I like the forward thinking of the Jetsun proposal, I believe the entirety of Marine Park should be discussed. A comprehensive site plan and possibly reconfiguration will allow for passive use mixed with increased water access and programs for children and seniors.”
Piecemeal development is not the answer and we need to look at the entire park as a whole. I believe we should take a FREE $500,000 and rebuild tennis courts as well as implement water access and picnic areas and other passive activities. I want families to go to Marine Park and be able to spend an entire day there.
But my opinion does not matter, it is what the people want and I think they should play a critical role in the decision of the park.
What if any specific initiatives can voters expect from you if you are elected?
I only want to be a voice for the people. If I could stress one thing only, it would be that. Let me be your voice to challenge the status quo and listen to people’s stories and experiences and ideas and decide what is best for the town we all love.
If there’s anything you’d like to add, please do so here:
I want this because I care and love Red Bank and think it is an amazing town to live in, but it can be better and everyone deserves better. It would be a privilege to become a Councilman and I will always be fair, honest, and available to the people.