Questions for the Freeholder Candidates at the 2015 Forum

Published On October 2, 2015 » 635 Views» By Charles Powers » Non-Partisan Bergen Freeholder Candidate Forum Information
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Ten days before the BGR Forum, the eight 2015 Freeholder candidates were given an initial list of example Forum question areas that were developed by the Bergen Grassroots Steering Committee. Then just before the Forum itself, on Thursday October 15, the Candidates drew from a bowl of 7 of these questions – and in the Forum each was given 2 minutes to address the question he/she had drawn.  After those two minutes, that same question could also be addressed by any or all the other candidates. See segment 2 of the Forum video to see how this process operated in the Forum itself. click here

Here are the questions originally provided to the candidates as examples:

The current Freeholders unanimously passed a 2015 budget that was more than $22+ million higher than in 2014.  And yet median home values in Bergen County remain more than 15% lower than at their peak in 2006.  Why was the increase needed? What specific mechanisms do you want Freeholders to use to balance budget control with calls for service increases in 2016. Are there services you would eliminate? Add?

Next fall the County Executive will nominate 5 incumbents or new candidates for the 11-member Board of Bergen County Community College. Freeholders must to consent to those nominees.  What qualifications/characteristics should the Executive consider in making those nominations?  What would cause you to oppose one or several nominees?  For example, is the Board adequately diverse? Once you have confirmed Board members and the College’s budget/bonding should the Freeholders keep hands off BCBC policy or sometimes weigh in?  When?

This year the County has significantly expanded its emergency response equipment and training to address possible rail accidents involving Bakken Oil tank cars in the 11 communities through which a CSX freight line with runs. The County is mandating access to municipal emergency preparedness plans and challenging both state and federal officials to provide both more information and changes in rail safety requirements. How do you rate or rank this threat among County concerns. Is there additional action the Freeholders should take on this key issue?  For example, should it be changing budget priorities?  Should shared County emergency dispatch services be given new resources and priority.

Freeholders this year have voted a series of bond ordinances to cover significant overruns for the County’s new Justice Center and DPW facilities. Are you satisfied with the overrun explanations?  Critics say that this building project is seriously deficient as it does not do what federal facilities are required to do–include LEED’s certification for green construction and sustainability. But as the Freeholders did discuss in June 2013, some sustainability considerations are included.  Should Freeholder’s do more to assure cost effectiveness and improved project cost forecasting? Should there be a Freeholder ordinance requiring LEEDS certification for future County building projects?

Freeholders have long indicated support for more public awareness of its work. Do you support the live broadcast of Freeholder public meetings and work sessions as now occurs in some County municipalities? If not, why not?  If so, should priority be given to Freeholders action on this issue, since it will take investment in new equipment and computer servers to achieve live webcasting and cablecasting? Is this a matter for the Administration to lead or would you introduce a Freeholder resolution to achieve it.

Freeholders recently voted 5-1 to oppose the Pilgrim Pipeline that may cross into the County. They noted that the decision is the State’s. How did you/would you have voted?  Do you support the County’s recent approval of allowing the pipeline company to survey County park property as the company assesses possible routes for its pipeline.   Is that a Freeholder issue or the County Executive’s decision?

There is in Bergen County clearly a health and public safety emergency- some say an epidemic – in heroin addiction. Is it also a law enforcement issue? Is care that effectively addresses this addiction a County government responsibility or is the addiction a matter of personal choice and why? What do you believe the Freeholder Board should be doing about this addiction now? in 2016? As part of decisions about Bergen Regional Medical Center and the scope of its health care work after 2017?  What other health care work should Bergen Regional be doing better or with higher priority?

The County took an active role with federal officials in mandating preparation for Ebola care during that expected crisis. Is care for the heroin addicted different? Only Bergen Regional currently provides care beyond the one-day pharmaceutical intervention? Should the County seek to mandate a change in the scope of heroin-addict care provided by other health care facilities in the County?

As part of a change in the proposed administrative code the County created an office of Inspector General in its law department – reporting to the County Counsel – to provide more specific focus on fraud, waste and abuse. It got near unanimous support from the current Freeholders. Did you support/would you have supported the creation of that office? Is it located appropriately in the County’s Executive or should it be “located” somewhere else?  Are there additional measures needed to assure that county decisions are not inappropriately infected by money or relationships?

Freeholders are constantly asked to take action on decisions made at higher government levels or not made by any government entity. Some examples: Should it take a position on PAC’s and their identification of donors?  On the safety specs of railroad tank cars? On the State’s UCC building codes? On DEP plans to install berms on the Hackensack? Should it have taken a position on the recent nuclear arms deal? On whether GE should dismantle its Hudson River PCB treatment facility? On the height of LG headquarters?  Is there a principle here; or is Freeholder action/non-action where the County has no specific authority simply decided on a case-by-case basis?

At the instigation of the Hackensack Riverkeeper, a month after a new Freeholder Board is sworn in, USEPA is to make known its findings on whether the Hackensack River – from the Meadowlands to the Oradell Dam – should be declared a Superfund site.  If designated, very significant local resources – both public and private – will be required to help pay for the cleanup. Is this decision something the Freeholder Board should address, and at what stage?  How?  If not, why not?

Blue Acres funding to purchase flood-at-risk property got overwhelming support from the County’s voters in 2013. They want the use of Open Space Trust expanded to Blue acres purposes.  But the County has this year and last year supported only projects in Oakland. Should the program’s reach be expanded to other communities? How? If so, should the 25% of the tax approved by taxpayer referendum that the County now appropriates annually be increased?  Is this a Freeholder issue or should the Board await direction from the Executive?

The County Executive is moving to expand programs and amenities in the County’s parks and to do so primarily with funds generated by use and user fees. Do you support the effort?  Is resident involvement in the program’s development adequate? Do you agree with the funding mechanism?

The Open Public Meetings Act which governs Freeholder meeting procedures does not apply directly to activities of many counties entities that are advisory– such as the current task force examining options for the future of Bergen Regional. Several of you serve on that task force and may have to pass on this question.  For the rest, should, as the Record recently editorialized, the public be permitted to witness and/or listen to some aspects of that task force’s work?  Which ones?

What is the most important thing that the Freeholder Board can do in the next several years to increase Bergen County resident job opportunities?  For example, is Bergen Community College adequately balancing the preparation of its students for additional undergraduate education and for immediate vocational employment or internships?  Is deciding that question something on which Freeholders should be doing anything?

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