Sussex County Republican Freeholder Candidates. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Sussex County Republican Freeholder Candidates. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Donald Ploetner. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Helen Wilson Le Frois. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Dennis Mudrick. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Gail Phoebus. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Chris Kelly. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Toni Zimmer, head of the League of Women Voters. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Democratic Candidate Jim Tighe. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Democratic Candidate Susan Williams. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Moderator Louise Davis of the League of Women Voters of Mountain Lakes. Credits: Jennifer Jean Miller
Freeholder Candidates Discuss The Issues At Debate
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 • 12:03am
NEWTON, NJ – The five Republican freeholder candidates debated their positions at an event at the Newton Theatre tonight.
Dennis Mudrick, Gail Phoebus, Helen Wilson Le Frois, Donald Ploetner, and Chris Kelly participated in the debate, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, and New Jersey Herald.
Democratic candidates Jim Tighe, and Susan Williams, did not participate in the debate since they are running unopposed in their party, yet had a moment at the podium, and will simply run in the election in November.
For the other five candidates, they will head to the primaries next Tuesday, June 5, to decide who will be eligible to run for the two open freeholder seats.
Toni Zimmer of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, introduced the candidates, and then Louise Davis of the League of Women Voters of Mountain Lakes, acted as the moderator.
Prior to the question and answer session, each candidate was allowed a two-minute time slot to make a statement, then had two minutes at the end for a closing statement.
Zimmer told the audience the event would be streamed live, and, questions would be welcome from those at the event, as well as via email by the audience watching the live stream simulcast. During the evening, Zimmer did run a few questions up to Davis at the podium.
Tighe was the first to speak, and introduced himself as a 20 year resident, who graduated from Vernon Township High School in 1999, then Sussex County Community College, followed by William Paterson University.
“I believe in public service, this county has given so much to me, and this is a way for me to give back,” said Tighe. “I will go line item by line item for the people of Sussex County.”
“I am a newcomer to politics, and I see this as a strength,” said Williams, promoting her perspective as a fresh one.
Kelly told the crowd he is a lifetime resident, three-term council member for Hambur, and described himself as the only candidate out for saving the Sussex County Homestead.
“A lot of what you hear will be buzzwords,” Kelly said. “I will give you facts.”
“I just have to think of my own children, and their future in this wonderful county,” said Mudrick. “I have a personal admiration of the present members of the freeholder board.”
Le Frois, Newton’s current mayor, reiterated the growth in the Town of Newton, and said of her running mate, “Gail and I have a business perspective instead of a union perspective. We have taken good values, and applied them to strong fiscal management. I am sure we can apply them to Sussex County.”
“I am extremely excited to be running for freeholder,” said Phoebus. She described her strengths, including the ability to read a budget, and being a business owner in the restaurant industry for 30 years. She is also Andover Township’s Deputy Mayor, a position she has held several times, as well as Mayor.
Ploetner said he is a 2003 graduate of Fairfield University, and always had had an interest in politics. In 2010, he became the Vice-Chair of Municipal Affairs for the Sussex GOP. He proposed revitalization of infrastructure, encouraging new business and ratables, and “holding the line on taxes.”
“We need to keep people in their homes,” Ploetner said.
During the question and answer segment, the candidates were asked a variety of questions, and each asked to answer.
When asked if the candidates were in favor of selling the Sussex County Homestead, the answers varied.
“Yes I do favor reducing the footprint of government,” said Mudrick. He said the sale of it would reduce the amount of government workers, and in turn, the tax burden.
Phoebus acknowledged it was a touchy issue, and Andover Township voted on the resolution to have the question placed on the November ballot. Le Frois indicated the same.
Ploetner agreed about the sale. “I believe the freeholders have done the best the can for the interests of the residents as a whole.”
Kelly was the only one opposed, after working at the Homestead for 20 years, and indicating it will lessen federal and state monies returning to the county.
Another question asked if freeholders should use their influence to push or oppose things happening at the school level. All candidates disagreed, except for Kelly.
The countywide dispatch center came with mixed remarks from the candidates.
For Le Frois, with Newton having one of the largest dispatch centers in the county already, she questioned how many there would be.
Ploetner said, “I would support a countywide support center, we need to consolidate.”
Kelly offered to support if the cost was fair, and would save the municipalities money. He recalled how in the past when it was proposed, the cost was exorbitant.
Mudrick suggested running the question by Sheriff Michael Strada and Undersheriff Keith Armstrong. “Public safety is paramount in this decision,” he said.
Phoebus supported the idea. “It’s a large line item on our budget,” said Phoebus. She is concerned the burden for municipalities to keep up with the latest technologies will be high.
They were also asked if municipalities should participate in helping with job creation.
All candidates shared their views.
Le Frois said in Newton the town worked on a redevelopment plan, and brought in industry such as Thorlabs, and Meadowbrook.
Kelly took a stab at Le Frois and Newton for their pilot program for the business, indicating taxes were not paid.
“I would encourage Mr. Kelly to get his facts straight, they’re not not paying taxes,” Le Frois replied, indicating part of the program allowed Thorlabs for example, to proceed with construction, and now plans to further expand.
“Rather than criticize, we should be encouraging how to do it,” Phoebus interjected. “The D.E.P. has hit us hard.” She said many difficulties for expanding business are as a result of restrictions on sewer.
The candidates were then instructed to pick another candidate, and ask them a question.
Kelly turned to Ploetner. “What makes you think with no government experience you’re qualified?”
“My experience is I’m not an elected official, and I have no baggage, and no biases,” he said. I’ve been looking at every angle. I have attended every freeholder meeting. I have listened and gotten to know people.,” Ploetner stated.
Mudrick asked Kelly about his stance with keeping the Homestead open, when people are struggling with taxes.
“It’s been there since 1832, Frankford is used to it by now,” Kelly replied.
Phoebus asked Mudrick about his view on the growth plan, and its affect on the county, and Mudrick disagreed with restrictions on the county budget.
Le Frois asked Mudrick and Kelly how they could be impartial when dealing with union issues as both union employees. She was told she could only ask the question to one person, and chose Kelly. Kelly said as a long-standing union member, his affiliation did not relate to county issues.
Ploetner questioned Le Frois about the vacancies in Newton storefronts, and how she can influence growth in the county based on it.
“We have many success stories,” Le Frois replied. She discussed the Spring Board Shoppes, which is a Spring Street business incubator. And also what she described as a “residual effect” on the efforts in progress, including the approval of the new housing development, Grande Villagio, on a tract that has been vacant for 30 years.
Each candidate was questions about the Highlands Act, and all recognized the impact it has on property owners,
When asked about the possibility of a public police force, most recognized the difficulties it would present for municipalities, and they understand best how to protect their own towns.
One question posed was how each was set apart from the other.
Mudrick said he was “uniquely qualified”, and spent time attending meetings in different municipalities throughout the county, and was able to understand all of the issues at hand.
Both Phoebus and Le Frois said their service to their local government, volunteerism, and business background help.
“I come to the table with a new fresh look at ideas,” said Ploetner. “I have been going around the county and listening to the issues.”
The issue of funding cut to Sussex County Community College, and Sussex Tech was another question. All the candidates but Kelly disagreed funding should be cut. Kelly instead focused on what he said was a decreased enrollment, and, funding could increase once enrollment did.