FLEMINGTON, NJ - At the conclusion of the longest public comment period in recent memory at the Jan. 19 meeting of Hunterdon County’s governing body, the four elected officials serving alongside county director Susan Soloway stood up for her and offered their statements on what has transpired in her choice to attend the rally Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
The full board was made aware of a petition on Change.org calling for Soloway’s resignation that has garnered close to 3,000 signatures as of Jan. 20. On top of that, public comments offered in real-time during the meeting in Flemington, both by attendees at the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse and by residents of the county calling in during the meeting were reflected on and referenced by Soloway’s fellow Hunterdon County-level government officials.
County commissioner Zach Rich said the bottom line is every Hunterdon County commissioner and the collective group of five has a job to do, is delivering results and addressing the tasks at hand for Hunterdon County.
“I fully expect you Director Soloway, all our colleagues and county employees to be rolling up our sleeves and working hard,” he said. “I expect we will continue making sure that this organization is working like a well-oiled machine and everyone is on-point with their responsibilities, so I look forward to making that happen this year and moving forward.”
Deputy director John Lanza offered a headline by stating that “Cancel culture has come to the Historic County Courthouse.”
“I think it comes here because a lot of people who called and who protested outside here today, as is their right, are conflating two completely separate things from two completely different groups of people,” he said. “You have people who went to Washington, D.C. to make a statement, a statement which many of us may not agree with. Then you had another group of people who went to Washington to begin an insurrection. You had a group of people who went to Washington to express an opinion, those who wanted to say something. You had another group of people who wanted to do something, including those people who breached the Capitol. The first group of people I refer to are modest people who simply were there to make a statement. They are honest people with whom I disagree, that went there to say something, and they weren’t there to do something. There were people who went to D.C. to do something lawful, something protected, whether you like it or not.”
“There were bad people who breached the Capitol that went there to do something, to do something illegal and do something that was an act of terrorism,” he added. “Then there were bad people who did quite the opposite and who deserve every bad thing that’s coming to them, because they did try to stop our democratic process and cops, innocent people got killed because of their mayhem and because of their domestic terrorism.”
Lanza continued to state differences between the two groups, urging those listening to the meeting that “we have got to stop with the conflation of the two different types of people who went to D.C.”
Lanza scrutinized several comments made by county residents during the meeting, and said there was much “mind-reading” with people chiming in that they believe Soloway knew more about what would happen at the rally and at the U.S. Capitol.
“A lot of people over the phone said Director Soloway was there to overturn an election result, how?” he said. “How were they there to overturn an election, they were making a statement. They did not physically breach the Capitol and they did not engage in anything that was going to stop the process from going forward. They were there expressing a view that you may not like and that you may not agree with, and that is what the First Amendment, and what the Constitution is about.”
He noted that the Constitution, after being referenced many times on Tuesday, is not about the people who committed acts of violence.
“This mind-reading is absolutely ridiculous, and I know Sue Soloway,” he said. “She is nothing if not honest. But she’s made her statements and she has told you why she was there. You may not like where she stands and you may not like what she said. But what she says is from the heart and it is honest. She is nothing if not truthful, dedicated and honest. I can vouch for that, for whatever that is worth to you. I am proud of Sue Soloway, proud of the fact that she’s the director and proud of this board. She is not going anywhere and we are going to accomplish some great things this year, especially when all this political opportunity and all this political posturing goes by the wayside. By the end of this year and by the time Sue finishes her term as the county director, she is going to be a success, and I am confident in that.”
He asked for the people listening and watching the meeting to think of the premise that people who disagree with others are not inherently bad.
“This is the thing we have got to stop,” he said. “Whether you voted for President Trump or President Biden, it does not make you better than somebody else, and it does not make your opinion more worthy than anyone else’s, and it does not disqualify you from serving in office.”
He referenced the protest that took place at 4 p.m. Tuesday outside on Flemington’s Main Street, in front of the Hunterdon County Board of Elections’ office and adjacent to the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse, reiterating that it is within the people’s rights to protest honestly and peacefully.
County commissioner Shaun Van Doren reflected on his cordial interactions with Soloway from their time as fellow municipal-level government officials in Hunterdon County before joining the commission.
Van Doren said he knows her to be “a decent, honest and caring individual.”
“We sparred politically, to get to our respective county board seats through the political party process,” he said. “When I decided to embarked upon a political career, my father, God rest his soul, said ‘son, politics is dirty, and you are never going to get away from having issues in terms of politics and what people think of you and think they know about you. You still need to do what is right and what is best.’ And I am proud to say that Sue and I both rose above that fray and got here with the support of many people across Hunterdon County. For that I thank her as a friend and two weeks ago we sat here and voted to confirm you as 2021 Director of the board and I have no regrets about that vote. I am proud to have you lead our County and as Commissioner Rich said, I believe we have a job to do. We will continue to do that for all the residents of Hunterdon County, irrespective of politics or political persuasion or opinion.”
He called the process of public participation at the meeting, with people in-person at the courthouse in Flemington, and many calling in over the phone, “Democracy in Action” as many views were expressed.
“That is what makes this country great, and I continue to urge people to speak their opinions,” he said.
Commissioner J. Matthew Holt referenced the roughly 15 years of his position on the county board and prior to that as mayor of Clinton.
“I have put my name on a ballot in five primary and five general elections for county office and prior to that for 10 years serving in the Town of Clinton,” he said. “I love Hunterdon County. My family came here Sept. 1, 1970, and this is our 51st year in the county. I love this job and I would not do it otherwise. It occurs to me as I have campaigned 10 times for this position, a lot of people still don’t understand what county commissioners do. This is not a legislative body and we do not have legislative authority, this is a financial body just to be clear. Our job is to deliver statutory required services and certain services not statutory required because we choose to do so, and we do so in a non-partisan manner that is as efficient and effective financially as we can.”
He noted that when he arrived in his board position, during President George W. Bush’s second term in the Oval Office, and prior to the 2008 recession, Holt found Hunterdon County to be $37 million in debt with a county budget topping $100 million a year. In the first eight years he served as a freeholder, the county paid off that debt, and in the past seven years, Hunterdon County has carried zero debt.
“If we had just raised the budget by 2% every year in the 15 years I have been here, then people would have said we are doing a pretty good job and that would have the budget at $130 million, but instead today the County’s budget is $89 million," he said. “This is a $40 million difference in tax revenue and, on a non-partisan basis, we continue delivering the services county residents require."
Holt said never once among all the different freeholders he worked with in his 15 years has any of those past or present elected officials made any decisions or weighed issues before the board, or services provided, based on their political affiliations.
“I am proud to be here, I am proud of the folks I work with now and all the folks I have worked with,” he said. “I am proud of our county’s team, I am proud of our employees, these are the folks that have helped us deliver this and do it right. In the delivery of services that we are committed to do so, we do well. I support every one of my colleagues to continue on this board.”
At the end of the public comment period Tuesday, Branchburg resident Cathy Callahan, who is Soloway’s colleague on the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women (NJFRW), stood and addressed the board.
“I don’t think we need to reiterate our First Amendment Rights, that is exactly what Sue was doing, and remember this was a rally, but it was not a protest, not a coup, not a riot,” she said. “She had a right to be there, just as we all have the right to gather here today.”
Callahan said the NJFRW is proud of Soloway as she detailed her perception of the events Jan. 6 and thereafter.
“Sue did the right thing by vacating the premises, as well as by leaving when things went wrong,” she said. “She also did the right thing, as an intelligent citizen, by communicating with the FBI and providing them with intelligence and photographs that she had taken with her cell phone, the same cell phone that got her in trouble. There were a lot of other people there, though they did not take pictures of themselves, so we all really do not know who was there. She took a picture, someone captured it and now she is in trouble for it, so she has exercised her First Amendment right, but she is still being bullied. As the FBI is still conducting its investigations over who actually entered the Capitol building and who perpetrated and who was responsible when this tragedy occurred, let’s not jump to conclusions as to who really did what happened at the end of the day."
Callahan thanked Soloway for “upholding her strong convictions.” She added that the NJFRW expects to see “even greater things” in the future from Soloway and the entire Hunterdon County Board of County Commissioners.
“I fully support Sue Soloway and I encourage her to continue exercising her rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “For those imploring the entire board of commissioners to profess their beliefs that the 2020 election result was real, to me that is as bizarre as asking someone if they believe in God or who they voted for. That is nobody’s business, and it is a personal decision that nobody needs to profess publicly. It is insignificant to the subject matter.”