RED BANK: PENNEY Q&A

Council candidate Jonathan Maciel Penney. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

In the November 8 election, Red Bank voters will pick three members of the municipal government –  the mayor and two council members – for terms that begin January 1.

But the winners may be in office for only six months, depending on the outcome of a ballot referendum on whether to change the town’s form of government. Adoption would trigger another election in May, 2023, for mayor and all six council seats.

To learn their views of the referendum and other issues, redbankgreen recently sent a set of questions to each of the candidates: mayoral contender Billy Portman, who is running unopposed; and council candidates John Jackson, Angela Mirandi, Jonathan Maciel Penney and Mark Taylor.

Here’s what Penney had to say.

Name & age: Jonathan Maciel Penney, 38 years old

Address: 55 Prospect Avenue, Red Bank NJ

Where did you grow up?I have lived in Red Bank since 2015. I grew up in Lincroft.

Where did you go to high school? St. Andrew’s School

If you hold college or graduate degrees, where did you earn them, and in what areas of study?I have a BA in History from Northeastern University and a J.D. from the Ave Maria School of Law. I am barred in both NJ & NY

Have you served in the military? If so, which branch and when? N/A

How long have you been a resident of Red Bank? Seven Years

Do you own your home or rent? Rent

What do you do for a living? What if anything about your work makes you particularly suited to serve on the borough council?

I am currently an insurance defense attorney for a major national insurance carrier. I have been an attorney for 11 years and also have experience as a real estate and family law attorney as well. While I believe my knowledge of complex insurance and real estate issues makes me ideally suited for the council, I believe it is my skill and experience as a legal advocate which I will draw on most. My job as councilman will be no different than my job as a lawyer: namely, to use my power and knowledge to pursue the will of the people.

Please tell us a little bit about your community involvement efforts, if any.

My service efforts in Red Bank go all the way back to my teenage years when I used to tutor children in the summer at the Count Basie Learning Center.

If I’m elected to council I hope to use my position as a councilman to create initiatives for bringing people together from all over Red Bank. When I ran in 2019 I was vocal about celebrating the borough’s Hispanic heritage, and this year Red Bank was able to launch its first ever Hispanic Heritage month festival. I hope to continue working on these kinds of efforts in the future.

Party affiliation:

How important is party affiliation to you? What does it mean to you to be a member of your party?

I am running as a Republican. My wife is a Democrat. My brother is a Democrat. My parents are Republicans. What does that tell you about any of us? I would daresay close to nothing. I think Ed Zipprich has hidden behind party affiliation for too long. That is why I am 100% publicly in favor of voting “Yes” on ballot question 1. I believe that people should choose candidates who are best qualified to serve the borough and not on party affiliations.

Who won the U.S. presidential election in 2020?

Unlike my opponents, who improperly and incompetently signed a disqualified petition for an independent mayoral candidate after theirs failed, I accept the results of elections.

Why are you running for office?

Red Bank politics is broken. This has never been more clear than in the past year. In truth, it was at one point very likely that the Red Bank Republican party would not candidates. However, after the chaos of the primaries, I felt it was my duty to run myself if for no other reason than to give Red Bank voters a competent alternative to another pair of Ed Zipprich cronies. Fortunately, I am not running alone and have former Mark Taylor as my running mate. He is a good man and I’m proud to be running with him.

What are the most pressing issues facing the town, and how do you plan to address them?

For me, the most pressing issue in town is to pass the charter review referendum on the ballot. When it passes, my biggest duty will be to use my six-month term to intelligently steward the borough into its new form of government. There will be a lot to accomplish in a short period and I will want Red Bank poised to be off and running with the new form of government immediately.

What if any specific initiatives can voters expect from you if you are elected?

In continuation of the last question, I believe Question 1 will pass. And as a result, I believe it would be dishonest of me to promise any grand initiatives within the six month transition period. That being said, I will use that time to make the Red Bank government more transparent. If there is anything fundamentally wrong under the hood, I will make sure the public is aware and any issues are brought into the discourse.

Do you support or oppose the November 8 referendum to change Red Bank’s government from a borough form to council-manager form, and to hold nonpartisan elections, as recommended by the Charter Study Commission? Please explain.

I support the referendum 100%. I believe I have already made that clear and have nothing else to add other than I believe our opponents should make their positions known publicly.

Do you believe the council meetings in recent years have been unnecessarily rancorous? If so, what specifically should residents expect from you to address the situation?

Yes. Anyone who has been to meetings (which isn’t many) can attest to this. The best way to fix this is vote “yes” on Question 1. Once that referendum passes, I intend to work with everyone and anyone who wants to do the right thing helping Red Bank move forward.

Is Red Bank doing all it can to keep the municipal portion of the tax rate in check? If not, what should be done?

No. Spending has always been an issue in Red Bank. We have a council that has spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on consultants and grand plans, yet we have several major undertakings in this town which need to be tackled that have sat dormant. I also believe this council has not been transparent with the town’s finances nor has it operated the budge intelligently. The new form of government with a borough manager should solve several of those issues immediately.

Do you support the Kimley-Horn proposal for redesigning Marine Park, including the relocation of the parking lot to the former site of tennis courts?

Yes, unlike my opponent, Councilwoman Mirandi, I am committed to the proposed redesign of Marine Park that we already paid for. This park was once the centerpiece of this town, and unfortunately it is no longer the jewel it once was. The council has already wasted too much money on consultants and wasteful spending twiddling their thumbs on this project. I think the time for action on its redesign and reconstruction is now.

Do you agree that the former landfill at the western end of Sunset Avenue should be redeveloped as a park?

I would be interested to speak with the residents who live in and around that area before giving the green light to any project. The health, safety, and environmental concerns of our residents is our number one priority. And if it doesn’t seem like they believe its safe, I will advocate for the wishes of the residents in that vicinity.

What would you do as a council member to provide more outdoor recreation for residents, particularly those who live on the West Side?

While the West Side surely deserves the same level of open space as all residents of Red Bank, I would like to do more to bring all the sides of Red Bank together, East Side, West Side, Downtown. I believe there are times where we can celebrate our town as a whole together, rather than constantly separating ourselves. For instance, could we bring the whole town together for one tree lighting? Could we bring the Hispanic Heritage month celebration into Marine Park for all to enjoy? I think this is something we should ask and strive for.

Do you agree that the municipal public works yard needs to be rehabilitated?

Yes. The public works is one of the major neglected projects I referenced earlier. Off the top of my head three other key projects are the Senior Center, Borough Hall, and Marine Park. There have become such a backlog of major capital projects that it’s almost hard to know how to take the first step in taking them on. I believe a full-time borough manager, which will take place in the new form of government will be able to guide us as to the best economic order of finally getting those projects done.

How should the borough prioritize its needs for large capital projects, such as those identified above?

Again, it would be a bit disingenuous to promise tackling any of these projects during what will likely be a transition period. But I will certainly do what I can as a council member to finally get these projects done in a manner that makes best economical sense for the Borough.

Who should have the lead role in guiding those projects?

I believe that the members of council should always lead from the front and fight for the will of the voters. I would use my seat as a means to do everything I can to positively tackle these large undertakings. However, the day-to-day detail oriented planning of these projects will hopefully be completed by our new borough manager.

Was the disbanding of the Redevelopment Agency earlier this year the right decision?

No. The Redevelopment Agency was supposed to be a way to promote businesses in Red Bank in a non-partisan way via a non-partisan entity. Unfortunately, Councilman Zipprich quickly made the Agency a political weapon. Once he did that it became so ineffectual that it all but required disbandment. This is just one example of the myriad ways Councilman Zipprich and his allies have politicized everything to the detriment of the Borough.

Is the borough doing enough to safeguard pedestrians and bicyclists? What additional measures, if any, do you think are needed?

I think generally the downtown area is safe for residents-which is good. But I know on the West Side things can be a little treacherous as well as some major “cut through” areas like Bergen and Branch on the East side and Leighton on the West Side. I think better traffic violation enforcement will go a long way. I also think-although I wouldn’t want to waste money on yet another ineffectual study-we can use this time to reexamine traffic and parking to help better facilitate a positive walking and biking culture.

Should Broadwalk be permitted to return in 2023? Should it be an annually recurring feature? Should any changes be implemented?

Absolutely. Broadwalk has become a big success and has improved Red Bank as a summer destination which at times it has lost out to the shore towns as a place for summer dining. Ultimately Red Bank is a destination and cultural capital. We should always embrace this.

Do you believe hybrid council meetings, allowing for both in-person and remote participation, should be made a permanent feature?

While certainly, I encourage more ease of access for council meeting participation via video conference, I would ideally like to make meetings a more welcoming space in-person. I think councilmembers should hang around and speak to their constituents. I think there should be coffee and donuts at meetings. I think there should be interpreting services available for those who may not speak English as a first language. Considering meetings are only twice monthly, I don’t think this is too much to ask of a public servant.

Please add anything you’d like here:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you believe Red Bank is being mismanaged then voting for our opponents who are Ed Zipprich puppets is insanity. Mr. Zipprich has led this town for too many years with his backroom deals down the wrong path. If you want change you have to vote for change and that is what Mark Taylor and I are offering.

***** ELECTION GUIDE ***** 

• Find the Red Bank ballot here.

• Votes may be cast three difference ways: by mail; in-person during an early voting period described below; or in-person on election day at the polling station in the district in which the  voter is registered.

• To vote by mail, see the Monmouth County Clerk’s webpage on how to apply for and submit a mail-in ballot. Voters using vote-by-mail have the option of dropping their ballots off at any designated dropbox in Monmouth County. Red Bank has a box outside the main entrance to borough hall, at 90 Monmouth Street.

The county’s ballot-tracking system allows voters to keep tabs on the status of their mail-in ballots.

Early, in-person voting begins Saturday, October 29, and allows registered voters to cast their ballots, on machines, for a nine-day period leading up to the election. Voters may do so at any of 10 designated polling places in Monmouth County, regardless of the municipality they call home.

The polling place nearest to Red Bank is at the Women’s Club of Little Silver, 111 Church Street. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• In-person, election day voting will take place at the Red Bank polling stations shown below. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

• Finally, here’s a video on using Monmouth County’s digital voting machines, which employ touchscreen technology familiar to users of smartphones and tablets:

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