West Windsor Township Council June 26 selected Jyotika Bahree to fill the vacancy created by the sudden and still-unexplained resignation of former council president Peter Mendonez.
The vote was 3-1, with council vice president Alison Miller, Linda Geevers and Hemant Marathe voting in favor of Bahree and Ayesha Hamilton voting against.
Bahree has served on the township’s zoning board of adjustment and has been involved with the Maurice Hawk PTA. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, and worked in sales and business development before moving to the United States and working as a market research manager at KeyBank.
Since moving to West Windsor in 2007 with her husband, Avinash Agarwal, she has been a stay-at-home mom with three children: Akshat, 13, Arjun, 8, and Amay, 6. Agarwal works and he works in the financial services industry in New York City.
Six candidates submitted applications for the position and were required to appear before the council to make a three to five-minute presentation during the June 26 meeting, Two of the candidates—Corinna Smithson Bisgaier and Marshall Lerner—did not appear and were eliminated from consideration.
Speaking in addition to Bahree were Anthony DeCarlo, a retired a supply chain manager for FMC; Susan Roy, an attorney who specializes in immigration and naturalization; and Patricia Ward Prutzman, the township’s former director of community development, who retired at the end of last year.
After the candidate presentations, it came down to Bahree and Roy as the two finalists. Roy said that her strength as an applicant came from her “connection to the entire community. Whether it’s recent members of the township or those have lived here for 30 years, I’ve collaborated with all of them.” Roy has worked in the past as a reporter for The News.
In her speech to the council, Bahree said that along with her experience in the community, her background would help complement the skills of the other council members.
“When I look at the makeup of council, I see a lawyer, a communications major, a policy expert/planner and an engineer/businessman,” she said. “My skills in data analysis and fact-based analytical thinking complement your individual skills and will make us a stronger unit.”
After the candidates spoke, Hamilton nominated Roy and Marathe nominated Bahree. The council decided to vote by paper ballot so that they did not influence each other’s decisions.
In the first round of voting, Hamilton and Miller voted for Roy, while Marathe and Geevers voted for Bahree, leading to a 2-2 split.
While West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh was present and could have cast a tie-breaking vote, the council members opted to revote because “they wanted this to be a council decision, a council action and not involve the mayor,” Miller said.
Before the next round of voting, Miller urged her fellow council members to consider the importance of cooperation and compromise in the process.
“In nature when you have an immovable object and an unstoppable force, you have an explosion,” she said. “But in politics, you have a compromise. So let’s vote again, hoping to get a compromise.”
In the second round, Miller switched her vote from Roy to Bahree. She said she initially supported Roy “because of her experience volunteering and interacting with government. However, no council member wanted to end up with a tie, and I had spoken to other council members before the meeting, so I compromised.”
Following the meeting, The News spoke to the members of council about their votes. Marathe said that he nominated Bahree and then voted for her because of her experience and the fact that he believes her to be an independent thinker.
Geevers said she agreed with Marathe. “What I liked about her was the experience as a data analyst, and I think that will complement the background of other council members,” she said. “She also wants to research and have an informed opinion.”
Hamilton said she supported Roy because of her background and professionalism. “I know her to be someone who is involved and engaged in the community, and I thought that she would be the best fit for filling the council seat. We’re both also attorneys, we’ve crossed paths.”
Although she did not vote for her, Hamilton said she looks forward to working with Bahree.
Marathe credited Miller for changing her vote.
“The council wanted to appoint somebody, not keep the seat vacant, and we wanted to appoint it ourselves, so Miller got everyone involved and spoke to all the council members,” Marathe said. “Not everyone got what they wanted, but at least we were able to discuss our concerns and preferences and come to a consensus that managed to fill a seat.”
If the council had been unable to choose a candidate, the seat would have remained vacant until the end of the year.
Hsueh said that he is excited by Bahree’s addition to council. “I did invite the newly appointed council member to my office and we had a very good conversation,” he said. “I believe she will be a positive factor, and I look forward to working with her for the next six months. I’m sure whatever is good for the community, we should be able to come to some sort of mutual agreement.”
After Bahree was sworn in, the council also voted to have her serve as liaison to the environmental commission, a position previously held by Mendonez.
Bahree will serve out the remainder of Mendonez’s term, which expires at the end of this year, and said that, as of now, she does not intend to run for re-election. The seat is up for election in November for a four-year term, along with the council seat held by Geevers and the position of mayor. Hsueh announced earlier this year that he is not running for reelection.
Also, the council opted not to select a new council president, and Miller, as vice president, will act as council’s presiding officer through the end of the year, according to township clerk Sharon Young.
Bahree said she is not aligned with either the Miller-Hamilton or the Geevers-Marathe voting blocs on council. “That’s one of the things council members may appreciate about me,” she said. “The council is made up of five people, so we’ll have a person who’s an independent thinker and who can draw from either side.”
Bahree said she is looking forward to working with her fellow council members to address upcoming issues in the next six months. Chief among them is the affordable housing case currently in front of state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, who will determine the number of affordable housing units the township will need to provide through 2025.
“I think one of the main issues is the affordable housing trial, so I hope I’ll be able to contribute towards that,” she said. “We’re all ready to learn about the infrastructure impacts to those developments, if they happen.”
Bahree also said that high taxes in the community are always an ongoing issue that council needs to deal with, and also dealing with issues resulting from residential growth that has occurred in the township.
“In the past 10 years, the town has really grown and there are many new communities, and I think we can do a little bit better of a job on knitting all those communities together and integrating them,” she said.
Meanwhile, the reason for Mendonez’s resignation remains a mystery. Township officials have not been able to get in contact with him, and he has not responded to repeated requests by The News to speak about his resignation. On June 12, Mendonez resigned via an email message less than 10 minutes before the start of that night’s council meeting.