Little Silver Mayor Candidate Profile: Robert C. Neff Jr.
Neff answers Patch's questions.
Name: Robert C. Neff Jr.
Why are you running for mayor?
I am dedicated to serving Little Silver, and have the experience, work ethic, and ability to serve as mayor. My background includes two months as mayor, four years on the Borough Council, three years on the Planning Board, and 15 years on the state Tidelands Resource Council.
I have defended towns as a lawyer, and spent four years as a newspaper reporter covering municipalities and the courts. I enjoy reaching out to surrounding towns, our county government, and our state legislators to lead Little Silver in economically challenging times and to protect our town's character.
In my short time as mayor, I have attended Two Rivers Council of Mayors meetings and a Shared Services Summit. I have spoken to mayors and administrators in surrounding towns to better understand how we can work together, whether it be through shared services or shared knowledge.
Our three state legislators have endorsed me, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with them to benefit Little Silver. I have a solid relationship with all of Little Silver's department heads and employees after four years as personnel chairman. I am energized by the prospect of working for and with all our citizens, and with leaders of all political stripes during a four-year term.
What makes you a Republican?
I am very conservative financially, and believe that small government, and government that intrudes into our lives as little as possible, is good government. I am a firm believer in personal intiative and volunteerism. Those are traditional Republican values.
I was, however, an Independent for many years, stemming from my four-year stint as a local newspaper reporter in the 1980s, a job requiring impartiality and an understanding of all sides of an issue. In local government, the ability to work with Independents, Republicans, and Democrats is indispensable, and political alliances have never had anything to do with debate or decisions by the Council.
I have voted with Democrats and Independents, as well as Republicans, and there has never been any such thing as a voting bloc defined by a particular party. Any suggestion to the contrary is fanciful. One of the great things about our town, and many small towns, is that major party interests don't effect local decision making. As Fiorello LaGuardia said, there isn't a Republican way or Democratic way to clean the streets.
What's your specialty? How can it help the borough?
I have been an attorney for 20 years, and before that a newspaper reporter. The incredible regulatory and statutory requirements foisted upon the workings of local government require a broad knowledge of the law, which I have. In addition, as a litigation attorney, I understand the value of preparation, attention to detail, and adherence to legal and ethical requirements.
I have also developed something of a specialty in public employment matters, having served four years as chairman of the Personnel Committee. I was able to use the position to pare down our staff, fix or abolish costly past employment practices, and rework the staffing of Borough Hall, saving money while continuing to provide services that our residents need.
My background as a newspaper reporter taught me never to fear openness in government. I have used that to lead the revamping and revitalization of the Borough's website, making it timely, informative, and in cases of emergency such as Hurricane Irene, extraordinarily useful in bringing critical, accurate, information and news to our residents.
What do you believe is the #1 issue in Little Silver right now, and what should be done about it?
I believe there are two competing "number one" issues: combatting the tax burden, and maintaining our quality of life. The two sometimes conflict. For instance, our Public Works department is working now with fewer employees, and at less cost, then it was four years ago. That constantly has to be monitored to make sure we continue to provide services to the public, and through the excellent work of our guys in that department, we've been able to do so.
One way to handle both issues at once is to engage in shared services agreements, which we currently do. After attending the Shared Services Summit, however, I believe we need to establish a standing committee that focuses solely on potential shared services opportunities, and at our last meeting proposed the creation of just such a committee.
(Sent in from a Patch reader) Candidates: What would you do to slow down traffic (especially large truck traffic) that passes through the center of town? What about the issue of making traffic stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk-specifically the dangerous crosswalk in front of the Wells Fargo Bank?
Unfortunately, it's impossible to legislate basic courtesy, which seems at times to be at a premium these days. However, the downtown intersections are well marked (although the painted lines are somewhat worn) and signed, and in fact cars do have to stop, not just slow down, for pedestrians in a cross walk. I have made our new and enthusiastic police chief, Dan Shaffery, aware of this question, and have asked him to determine whether there are any additional measures that the town can take. I know the Traffic and Safety Committee is also aware of this issue, and continually works to improve the situation.
(Sent in from a Patch reader... this is a three-parter) As we approach the municipal elections, I'd like to see more coverage of the Little Silver candidates. Specifically, their views on:
Consolidation of services with nearby towns
Supplementing my answers above and below, I acknowledge that sharing or consolidating services is a critical issue. After attending a shared services summit in my second week as mayor, I recommended to the Council formation of a committee that would focus exclusively on identifying additional prospects for shared services.
Two years ago I met with the mayor of Shrewsbury to discuss the possibility of merging our court systems. It did not make financial sense for Little Silver at that time, because under my leadership as personnel chairman, we had eliminated a position (deputy administrator) in that department, and were operating efficiently. Since then, our two court systems, which share the same judge, have identified additional ways to assist each other in order to save costs.
As agreed at the shared services summit, it doesn't work in every instance, but the state and the county can help us figure out when it does make sense. Now that I have those contacts, I anticipate further action in the coming months if I am elected to a full term.
Having council meeting minutes available sooner than 2 months after the meeting
I just checked our website, which I helped revitalize, and in fact our September 12 meeting minutes are posted there. There will always be some delay, because the minutes first need to be transcribed, and then must be approved at the next meeting, before they can be posted. I will ask our very capable clerk, Helen Gormley, to look into even more timely posting.
If you compare us with surrounding towns, we are at least as timely as our neighbors, although there is always room for improvement. A former newspaper reporter, I am a huge fan of getting timely information to our residents and the media, and making minutes available as quickly as possible is part of that.
and a requirement for residents to shovel sidewalks in the winter
The council discussed this issue a year ago, and I took it upon myself to review snow shoveling ordinances in towns across the state. More than 250 towns in New Jersey have ordinances that not only require sidewalks to be promptly shoveled after a snowfall, but that in some instances impose huge fines and even the possibility of jail time for violators.
I would never propose anything so draconian, but I did draft an ordinance that would have required a path to be cleared along sidewalks within 24 hours, with exceptions for emergency situations, such as the major storm last year. The council initially supported the ordinance, and it was unanimously introduced, but some reasonable objections were raised at the final hearing (what if a resident can't afford to shovel the walk, or is physically incapable of doing so, and some others). The proposed ordinance was defeated.
The measure was then sent to the Traffic and Safety Committee for review and revision in an attempt to accomodate some of the objections, and we are awaiting its recommendation. This is more a safety issue than a maintenance issue, and in fact our DPW has for years had a list of sidewalks that it clears when it snows, focusing largely on sidewalks near the schools. This matter is a work in progress.
Patch reader Laraine Villapiano asked: I would like to know where the candidates stand on the recycling program in Little Silver.
Recycling is performed by all towns as required by the county and state, since the process needs to be uniform. Our DPW does an excellent job of regularly collecting all recyclable materials, and is open on Saturday mornings to accept additional material. Details of our program are on our website, and in the newsletter.
Laraine, you told me one concern was the "single stream" in effect at the recycling center, where all materials are placed together in a single truck. Recent innovations made that possible, and all of that material is recycled.
Patch reader Don asked: I'd like to ask the candidates what can be done to make sure COAH doesn't destroy our beautiful town.
COAH (the Council on Affordable Housing) is the state bureacracy that oversees the Supreme Court mandate that each town provide its fair share of low and moderate income housing. By state law, it is something every town has to live with.
The agency puts together requirements for each town, and the towns then work with COAH to come up with an approved plan. COAH approval protects towns from being sued by a developer to allow development without local Planning Board approval, as long as it provides low or moderate income units.
COAH compliance is an ongoing struggle, and an unwelcome burden and expense. I believe the original Supreme Court decision was wrongly decided, and that COAH has failed. I joined with others to call for reform in Trenton on this issue. In the meantime, we are complying with all mandates in order to stave off "builders remedy" lawsuits, and so far have been successful.
Anything else you'd like to share for the good of the borough?
I'd like to send out a call to service. If you are not involved, but have knowledge, education, training, experience, a talent, or just time to give to the town, I would like to hear from you. Our EMS, our firefighters, our fire police - all welcome new members and volunteers. It is incredibly rewarding.
One of our young residents, Ryan McVeety, just spent much of his summer vacation creating an interactive, up to date website for our Library, increasing patron access and options. Service like that is indispensible to any small town.