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RED BANK: FLEMING Q&A

erin-fleming-041123-500x378-3500084On the ballot May 9: Red Bank council candidate Erin Fleming. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

election-2023_qa-220x189-1779922Red Bank voters will have 13 candidates to choose from when they elect six council members May 9.

Here’s what candidate Erin Fleming said in response to a questionnaire sent to all by redbankgreen.

Name and age: Erin Fleming, 55

Street address: 284 River Road, Red Bank, NJ

Where did you grow up? Born in Red Bank. Raised in Hazlet and Brick

Where did you go to high school? Brick, NJ

If you hold college or graduate degrees, where did you earn them, and in what areas of study?

BA Film Production, Penn State University
MA Communication, Monmouth University

Have you served in the military? If so, which branch and when? No

How long have you been a resident of Red Bank? Resident in the 90’s as a renter and again since 2017 as a home owner

Do you own your home? Yes.

What do you do for a living, and who is your employer?

Director/Producer of a production company at Monmouth University

What, if anything, about your work makes you particularly suited to serve as an elected official?

Experience conducting extensive journalistic research with a focus on balance, accuracy and completeness in communicating information. The ability to listen to all stakeholders from all backgrounds and remove bias from decision making. Experience managing budgets. Understanding of the importance of bringing together both anecdotal and expert voices. Adept at messaging content to all groups inclusive of race, gender, education, and social/economic backgrounds.

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

Community service has always been integral to my life. Every year, I have attempted to use my skill as a storyteller to produce communication content for underrepresented voices throughout the world. As a volunteer I’ve worked in Africa, S.E. Asia, Europe and for many local non-profits including; HABcore, SPCA, and EarthShare. The ability to help out organizations that are lacking in budget is a rewarding way to utilize your talents in the service of others.

Your party affiliation, if any: Unaffiliated

Is party affiliation important to you?

Change is a part of every system in the world. As an independent, unhampered by an overly structured and rigid system, I’m able to adapt to the changing needs of our democracy and vote for a person that is also adapting to paradigm shifts and seems ready to pivot. The conduct during this campaign has entrenched my views even further.

Why are you running for office?

When you realize that complaining about issues in town is counterproductive and you have the bandwidth to become invested in steering the town to the future, you run for office.

What are the most pressing issues facing the town, and what specific initiatives can voters expect from you if you are elected?

Many small towns across the country have experienced a recent dramatic shift. The pandemic resulted in explosive population growth in many towns. While Red Bank population numbers have remained relatively consistent since the 1930s there is pressure toward seeing those numbers increase in the form of a transit village. I’d prefer to see our energy and tax dollars spent on improving our aging infrastructure and services for our town as it exists today. Our downtown is currently functioning very well and improvement to our side streets, lighting and sidewalks in residential areas, upgrading communication systems, things of this nature, should take precedence over building new structures. I’d like to see our river town become a leader in implementing sidewalk zones beneficial to pedestrians, bikes, and greenery before it becomes a transit town with outrageously priced apartments that are owned by an out-of-town landlord.

Do you expect the change to a council-manager form of government starting July 1 to improve the governance of Red Bank over the existing borough form? Please explain.

One of the most egregious actions of the previous administration is that taxpayers are paying for one person to perform two top-level positions in our government. Our police chief should not be tasked to perform two full time critical positions. The borough administrator must be a qualified candidate dedicated to developing, promoting and implementing administrative and personnel practices and procedures. The must be able to serve under the Mayor and Council and undergo a yearly performance review and evaluation.

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

It all comes down to the simple fact of group dynamics. The council meetings are acrimonious due to the fact that the council is functioning as a group and not as a team. The shared goal for the team is to make decisions that benefit the residents, businesses, employees, and future of the town. Bringing diverse ideas together will help to make forward reaching decisions. If someone’s idea is not utilized it is still important to acknowledge the effort. When there is descension, the leader (mayor) must be strong enough to manage. What I have witnessed at meetings is the mayor siding with the minority voice, even when the majority come to a complete conclusion. This is a breakdown of our strong council/weak mayor structure. The voters elected the council and when the majority reach a conclusion it is up to the mayor to uphold that decision. The best way to address the situation is to remain calm, credible and professional. Then remind the disruptor that every action is in the interest of the residents and not the council and the power it yields.

What qualities will you prioritize in selecting a borough administrator?

We will hire someone with a proven track record. This person must be adept at managing the business of a municipality. They need to possess outstanding leadership qualities. We should also bring in all stakeholders to assure that we are hiring a person that can work with our employees and someone that they respect. They will manage the business operations of the town and be able to work in conjunction with the mayor and council who are the representatives for the residents. Lastly, the will have limited power or at least a system of checks and balances will be put in place and results will be analyzed and adjusted where needed.

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

I do believe more can be done. NJ has 564 municipalities. Almost all municipalities were inaugurated before the 1920s. Much has changed since then in terms of demographics but not much in terms of town structure. Sharing services with other municipalities is a potential solution. We need to take a look at “special districts”, the manner in which a town provides basic services such as sewer, water, sanitation and fire protection as much of this system is antiquated. Our tax bill has 6 such “special districts”. There needs to be transparency as to what each of these is for and whether or not they are necessary in today’s environment.

Can Red Bank afford and manage to simultaneously take on the rehabilitation of the municipal public works yard and borough hall; the contamination cleanup at the former landfill; and the redesign of Marine Park?

The truth is, previous administrations have burdened the town with debt. A well-run town would require us to initially address balancing the budget and then seeking federal grants and other avenues of funding to address projects that fall outside of the balanced budget agenda items. We want to avoid kicking the can down the road and pushing Red Bank into another dark period. Balance the budget and work to prioritize and tackle the issues that need to be addressed.

Who should have the lead role in guiding large-scale capital projects?

The borough manager and the mayor/council should work together under the advisement of the borough engineer and planner.

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?

Paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Absolutely not. Marine Park should be just that…a green space. We have limited park area on the river let’s not destroy another space with an impervious surface. Also the price tag for this project at a proposed $10 million (5 years ago) is excessive. This money would be better spent elsewhere and solutions for the park could be achieved at a much lower cost.

Should the former landfill at the western end of Sunset Avenue be redeveloped as a park?

I’m currently working on a documentary involving a superfund site, the NJDEP, and the local community in Ocean County and it is clear that residents need to keep insisting on transparency, testing, and inclusion in the decision making. Properties like our landfill require thorough investigation before exposing residents to threats. The issues surrounding a site that needs to be capped and tested must be addressed before a discussion about parks or development can be started. Only after there is a complete understanding of the hazards can solutions be realized.

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

Enforcement is an issue that surfaces often at town meetings. Last year, my neighbors and I started a grassroots movement to curb speeding on our street. This was prompted by a speeder that flipped over and landed in front of our houses upside down. Keep in mind, our street features a park where children play soccer and baseball. With our own resources we purchased signs, set up meetings with the Police chief and remained vigilant to achieve a reduction in speeding incidents on our street. Alternate solutions can be achieved, more violations hand out, speed bumps installed, etc.

We must keep in mind that Red Bank was not designed for cars. Trying to fit, cars, bikes, walking, and parking all on one street may be asking too much of our river town. Solutions worldwide are constantly surfacing to address these infrastructure issues. We should revisit the 2019 complete streets plan as a starting point but also look to the latest design and engineering solutions for ways to achieve a comprehensive solution that fits the needs of our town.

Should Broadwalk be an annually recurring feature? Should any changes be implemented?

A form of Broadwalk should exist in town. I hear some people refer to Europe when they speak of Broadwalk. I lived in Europe for 5 years and I can say, they do not close down a main street for 6 months. They may close for a week but these types of features exist in squares or parks. We should come to a compromise and locate this space somewhere that works for all businesses and not just the few that face the current location. Many residents do not want it to last 7 days a week for 6 months. No one was polled and yet part of their roadway system was taken away. I suggest an unbiased poll be taken in town and not only for the businesses, but also for the residents so that they can decide what/where Broadwalk should be. Take a look at the comments listed on the AP article about Broadwalk and you can see the majority do not like the current setup. If it continues going as it has (an inability to compromise) it could lead to its own demise.

Do you support the effort to revise the 2021 cannabis zoning ordinance? Why or why not?

Yes, because it is what the residents want. Limiting the number of licenses and maintaining predetermined distances from schools, parks, houses of worship is what the taxpayers are asking for. We are not saying no to retail establishments, only that we want to be cautious.

Do you support the short-term rental ordinance adopted by the council in February? Why or why not?

Interestingly, the Airbnb CEO was on a financial news show touting their new business model…going back to renting single rooms in homes. Why do we think this is occurring? Perhaps because overwhelming society is trending against STRs in their towns. Disruptor initiatives like STRs often take time to play out what works and what doesn’t in their business models. It is evident that for STRs the model requires revision. It is only because towns like Sedona, Arizona, shore towns, and cities like NYC, Boston, London have started to push back that the companies are adjusting their approach. Our residents want a peaceful property and they don’t want our town catering to out of town owners that just want to make money off of our neighborhoods.

Should the council rank the recommendations of the new Master Plan for action? If so, which recommendations would you put at the top of the list?

The Master Plan is a planning tool, not a mandatory blueprint for Red Bank’s future. Priorities must be established using our yet to be completed vision and strategic plan as a guide to establish long-range financial planning, funding and implementation goals.

Do you favor a transit village designation for the area around the train station, as recommended in the 2023 Master Plan? Why or why not?

Many small towns across the country have experienced a recent dramatic shift. The pandemic resulted in explosive population growth in many towns. While Red Bank population numbers have remained relatively consistent since the 1930s there is pressure toward seeing those numbers increase in the form of a transit village. I’d prefer to see our energy and tax dollars spent on improving our aging infrastructure and services for our town as it exists today. Our downtown is currently functioning very well and improvement to our side streets, lighting and sidewalks in residential areas, upgrading communication systems, things of this nature, should take precedence over building new structures. I’d like to see our river town become a leader in implementing sidewalk zones beneficial to pedestrians, bikes, and greenery before it becomes a transit town with outrageously priced apartments that are owned by an out-of-town landlord.

What if anything should Red Bank’s government do to create opportunities for new, affordable housing?

Our first responsibility is to ensure the affordable housing we have in place is properly maintained and upgraded with regard to safety, income and disability requirements. Council members Ballard and Sturdivant are working to close the gap in Red Bank’s affordable/senior housing inventory and are actively exploring new opportunities by working closely with the Red Bank Housing Authority. Affordable housing,as well as senior housing, in my view, is a moral issue. The Red Bank Together team strongly believes that successfully addressing these housing needs will help keep Red Bank the diverse, vibrant and welcoming community we all cherish. There are opportunities to work with developers to offset our affordable housing deficit, and I support examining the current affordable housing requirements in new development and adjusting the percentages of affordable housing per project to create greater availability of new construction for low income senior residents.

Are there any reasons for Red Bank residents to be concerned about Tim Hogan serving as mayor in light of his role as president and chief executive officer of Riverview Medical Center? Why or why not?

I find the wording of this question versus the next as problematic. Why aren’t we concerned that Billy runs a construction company? I can see a conflict of interest in that fact also. Tim Hogan is a hard worker, proven leader, and wonderful neighbor. The hospital saved my mother’s life. I was born there. It is state of the art and I don’t see a problem with its presence at all. Now if a conflict was to arise, I would be the first to ask Tim to step aside, especially if it had a negative result for our town.

Are there any reasons for Red Bank residents to be concerned about Billy Portman serving as mayor? Why or why not?

Billy Portman is a likeable person. I just don’t see in the meetings and also on this campaign a person that has the skill to manage a team. In all instances he seems in over his head. That being said, if he is elected, I would work with him to achieve all that is possible for our town.

*****

ELECTION NOTES

• Find the Red Bank sample ballot here.

• Early, in-person voting will be available at borough hall (90 Monmouth Street) from Friday, May 5, through Sunday, May 7. The hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. No other polling stations will be open for early, in-person voting.

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

Note that in-person, election day voting for residents of the 1st and 8th districts will take place at borough hall (90 Monmouth Street).

red-bank-voting-district-map-2021-500x320-6021294

• 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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