Four candidates are seeking election to two seats on Ewing Council. Incumbent Democrats are Kathleen Wollert and Sara Steward are being challenged by Richard LaRossa and Kate McKinley, both running as independents.
Larossa, 72, is a has lived in Ewing for 70 years and is a resident of Shabakunk Hills section of town. He holds a bachelor’s degree from The College of New Jersey and is retired from a job working in the office of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. He also served two terms as a state Senator.
McKinley, 29, is an 11-year resident of the township who lives near 295/95 above Upper Ferry/Ewingville Road. She holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration from the College of New Jersey and an MBA from Rider University.
McKinley currently works as a budget analyst in the higher education industry and has six years experience within that industry, including facilities construction and major maintenance contract administration, procurement, financial services, financial reporting, financial analysis, marketing/recruitment and budgeting.
Steward, 36, is a native of Ewing and has lived here her entire life, except for a brief assignment living and working on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She lives in the Wynnewood Manor development and has served as a member of council since 2014.
A graduate of Ewing Public Schools, she graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Franklin and Marshall College with a double major in Government and psychology. In October she earned a master’s in public administration from Rutgers University.
Steward works as chief operating officer at HomeFront. She previously worked for former Congressman Rush Holt serving as his deputy chief of staff and district director when his term in Congress ended. She began as an intern in Holt’s office in college.
Wollert, 74, has lived in Ewing for 60 years with her husband, Robert. The couple’s three adult sons attended Incarnation, Notre Dame High School and Ewing High School. Their grandchildren are students in the Ewing Public Schools.
Wollert is a graduate of Notre Dame High School and earned a degree from Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey) in Elementary Education. She works as a pension/health benefits consultant for the New Jersey Education Association and was an elementary and middle school teacher.
In addition to serving on council since 1995 (currently as president), Wollert has also been on the township zoning and planning boards and served as council liaison to many of the town’s boards and commissions. She was was the first woman to become a member of the Ewing Lions Club and served in leadership capacities. She also served as a board member of the Ewing/Trenton Meals on Wheels.
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The Observer asked all four candidates to answer the following five questions. Their answers appear below.
1Why are you running for election/reelection to council and what experience or perspective do you think you bring to the governing body?
LaRossa: Property taxes are ridiculous and a total nonresponsive history from the mayor’s office. Spending two terms in the N.J. State Senate and four years in the governor’s office gives me great experience as to how to get things done in a bureaucracy.
McKinley: I am running because I saw a void in representation for my age range (20-30 years) and anyone close to the ages of the TCNJ students. It’s a real opportunity to continue to better the relationship between the township and the student population.
I want to help the township gain a fresh perspective in certain areas where things can be made more efficient and transparent. My experience in budgeting and financial analysis as well as my enthusiasm for the community as a whole is what I can bring to the governing body. My focus is on the issues rather than party lines, which is why I chose to run as unaffiliated/independent.
Steward: As councilwoman for the last five years, I have worked every day to represent the views and values of the residents of the township. We need a strong council to both partner with and provide oversight of the mayor’s administration. I believe that I have the requisite experience to do both well.
My career working for Congressman Rush Holt provided me with significant experience in setting goals, analyzing constituent concerns, managing organizations, and getting results for the people of Ewing. I have also recently earned a master’s degree in public administration to hone my skills and study best practices in municipal management, law and public policy, financial management, policy analysis and more.
I have the determination, energy and dedication to ensure that Ewing continues to prosper. I love this town and its residents; I want to continue to represent the values and aspirations of the wonderful, diverse and wise people of our community. I remain dedicated to serving you and I humbly ask for your support.
Wollert: Serving as a council member calls for commitment of time and energy in order to thoughtfully and thoroughly research and understand the issues that come before us.
I have been serving Ewing’s people for 20 years with these commitments as my guide. My long experience as both a resident and council member add a more complete perspective to my decision-making.
2What are your feelings on development in the township, including Olden Avenue, the Ewing Town Center and the old Naval Air Warfare Center property?
LaRossa: Leave Olden Avenue alone. The idea of turning it into a boulevard is ridiculous. Every merchant I’ve spoken to is totally opposed to it.
The town center on the old GM site is only going to bring more renters into the township. The town center will do nothing to reduce township taxes. I have a friend in West Trenton who has a fish pond. Every year he fills the pond with water from his well. Within a week, all the fish die. The wells in that area are grossly contaminated from the old GM site.
While they say that the contamination has been capped, the soil underneath and the underground water are still grossly contaminated. It will be a disaster. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.
The Naval center was grossly contaminated. The feds came in and removed soil all the way down to the bedrock and refilled it with clean, uncontaminated soil. That site is ready to be redeveloped.
McKinley: The township needs to be strategic (and transparent with the residents) in choosing what will be developed on these sites. I would suggest development move in the direction of something similar to Princeton South Corporate Center in that we want to attract businesses with long-term viability for the community.
These can provide employment and additional tax revenue without increasing the tax base, which would ultimately put a burden on the municipality and lead to tax increases in the long-run.
Steward: One of the reasons that I believe that serving on council is critical right now is because we are in a time of great transition. The development decisions we make now will have a major impact on the community for the next half a century and beyond. Our job is to make sure that development is balanced and responsive to the needs of the community.
All of the development areas mentioned present significant opportunities, and also risks if they are not managed properly. I am encouraged by the recent business development and improvements on the Olden Avenue commercial corridor, the planned mixed use retail and residential town center at the former GM site and the prospect of what may occur at the Naval Air Warfare Center.
I am especially proud of the important partnership that the current council and administration has established with the Ewing School Board to ensure that residential development does not get ahead of the capacity of our school facilities.
As we continue to debate and plan for the future of Ewing Township I hope that residents will remain engaged and help share their vision for our community. I promise to take everyone’s feedback to heart.
Wollert: Olden Avenue, the town center project on the former General Motors site, and the Naval Air Warfare Center site are part of Ewing’s redevelopment agency projects. Olden Avenue and the surrounding areas have seen numerous upgrades and new businesses over the past 15 years. This progress needs to continue.
The town center project is moving forward and construction is beginning. This has been/is a complex project that has taken years to move. Looking ahead, I think this project will bring a vibrancy to that area.
The Naval Air Warfare Center site is owned by a private developer. Gaining a site that is of benefit to our residents while integrating with the community in positive way is ahead. Our town needs this development and redevelopment. We must move forward in a way that is beneficial for our town.
3Are there any areas of the township budget where you would look to cut expenses? Are there any areas where you feel the township needs to spend more?
LaRossa: I’d have to see the budget documents before I’d make recommendations. My experience serving on the Budget and Appropriations Committee during my senate tenure gives me great experience in budgeting.
McKinley: I would propose to cut the salaries/compensation of the council members down to $2,000 as well as the salary of the mayor down to $30,000. We could reallocate the savings from this cut to fund a full-time public safety director position, which is currently held by the mayor (without any experience/qualifications to be in that role.)
I would also cut the funding for the mayor’s car, clothing allowances for administrators and re-examine the need for a full-time fire company.
The savings from these potential cuts would either be redirected to other needs within the township or eliminated altogether, which would reduce total spending.
Steward: One of the most critical jobs of a member of council is our stewardship of your taxpayer dollars. It is a responsibility that I take very seriously. Every year that I have served on council I have participated in a program-by-program review of the township budget. I believe that we have presented fair budgets that balance the need for services, the demand for improvements and sensible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
One area of particular interest of mine is information technology. I have previously asked many questions about the wisdom of our IT investments and will continue to do so. Technology presents incredible opportunities, but can also come at a heavy cost. I am not afraid to invest wisely in technology, but I want to make sure we are doing so in a coordinated and thoughtful way.
Wollert: The Ewing Township budget is the blueprint for funding our town’s annual expenses. The budget also lets use consider long-term needs through the capital budget.
The budgets proposed and enacted in the past several years have been responsible and provided for many services, including garbage and recycling pick-up, street repair, police and fire protection, as well as emergency medical services and local dispatch service.
It funds senior and youth activities, as well. I would like to make the point that many of these benefits are not provided by other towns. At this time, residents of our town have not indicated that they would like any services cut. Of course, we are careful in our review of all expenses.
4What is one challenge facing Ewing Township that you believe deserves more attention?
LaRossa: Ratables, instead of more apartments. That’s the only way to really bring property taxes down. Micromanagement over several departments is stifling creativity in departments who have the ability to reduce costs in their own departments. All you need to do is ask them.
McKinley: The biggest challenge is lack of oversight in certain areas and micromanagement in other areas. Trenton Water Works and expansion of the airport need to be dealt with efficiently and responsibly. Trenton Water Works cannot be resolved by Trenton alone but by all of the municipalities that utilize its services.
We need to work with them in order to fill the vacancies, update the infrastructure and ensure timely communication of any toxic substances to the public. We also need faster and clearer communication with regard to any airport expansion or plans to do so. Lastly, we need to allow the township employees, including the police department and firefighters, to do their jobs without being micromanaged by the governing body.
Steward: For many years, Ewing Township has been very well served by three volunteer fire companies. The men and women that have volunteered their time to operate these fire companies have kept our families safe, run toward danger instead of away from it, sacrificed time with their own loved ones and risked their lives to protect us. We owe them a debt of gratitude. However, the volunteer fire service is sadly not immune to the trend we see nationwide—volunteerism is dropping, particularly for volunteer commitments as significant as being a volunteer fire fighter.
In the past year, Ewing has established a 24/7 paid fire service to help ensure round-the-clock fire response that our citizens should expect. However, it is not our intention to supplant or replace the volunteer fire companies. We are grateful and proud to have won a federal grant that is covering a significant portion of career fire fighter salaries for a period of time but we must be clear-eyed about developing a fiscal strategy to support their employment in the years to come.
We must also be in constant discussion about how we can most meaningfully support the volunteer fire companies as they continue to recruit and train volunteers. Volunteers are a critical part of our public safety team in the township and I encourage interested residents to consider lending their time and talent at one of our fire companies.
I believe that the actions taken to date have been well-reasoned and wise. However, this will remain a critical issue to monitor and stay engaged with for years to come.
Wollert: I think that we cannot become complacent with progress. My answer to this question is intertwined with Question 5. As township officials, we need to make sure that people living and working in our town are well served, safe and in a great environment. We need to continue the expanded use of our reverse announcement system, our web page, social media and direct interaction with residents. I would like to see expanded civic association participation and neighborhood interaction. The more we know and appreciate others living in our town, the stronger our town will become.
5Communication between the township and its residents is important. How do you feel the township can better communicate with the people who live and work in Ewing?
LaRossa: Hold random meetings on a rotating basis, using either the senior center or firehouses as the meeting locations. People will be more likely to attend these than a council meeting
McKinley: I know that the township web page is helpful as well as the Ewing Observer, but not everyone utilizes these resources. The Facebook pages/groups and Twitter accounts (especially that of the police department) are helpful with updates but are not always timely. We definitely need to have more of a centralized channel of communication and a way to ensure all residents know what that is. This would help to provide crucial information as it is happening as well as give Ewing more of a community feel.
Steward: I am excited that Ewing has recently established a Facebook page and has put a lot of work into improving our website. I plan to continue to advocate for improvements in our use of digital communication platforms: we have not yet maximized this cost-effective way to communicate. We have gotten a lot of great feedback about out phone/text/e-mail alerts and we need to spread the word about this easy way to get important updates.
In addition, we need to make sure that communication is a two-way street. Sharing updates from government is important but making sure that government is hearing from its constituents is critical. As a council member, I cannot do my job without knowing what the residents of the township think. I try to solicit those opinions every way I know how: visiting neighborhood and community groups, talking with neighbors on their porch, listening to public comments at official meetings, chatting with people at the grocery store, reading online comments and e-mails and much more.
Sometimes elected officials make the mistake of trying to make public participation convenient for themselves. Instead, I think we need to constantly ask ourselves if we are making participation as convenient as possible for the residents, most of whom are too busy to attend Council meetings. I hope to continue to find creative ways to make sure that all residents have a voice in our government.
Wollert: See answer to question 4.