By James Hogan
Hello MMM readers, I’m sure you’ve missed me as I’ve been quiet and well behaved since Art’s thunderous return but since I know how much you all miss me and value my opinion, I wanted to pass along my observations of the Freeholder candidate’s from Wednesday night’s Ocean Township hosted forum.
Ocean Township Chairwoman and State Committeewoman Christine Hanlon opened the meeting by having each candidate, in alphabetical order, give a short speech as an introduction. I’ll recap what I recall here, where there isn’t much means there wasn’t much said that was memorable, for me.
Serena Demaso – from Holmdel – Deputy Mayor for several years. Has lived in Monmouth County for 23 years. She’s of the Board of Trustees of Meridian Health. She’s a mom and employee of her husband’s medial office, she runs it. (My research indicates that the office is in Staten Island, maybe someone can verify if I have that wrong. I don’t think it hurts to run for office here and work/run a business elsewhere but maybe real experts like you anonymous commentators have different opinions.) Serena wore some dress pants and a nice/dressy swear, not some Hillary looking PantSuit(TM), no “hands in the pocket” while speaking. Her appearance is very professional, I’d say her demeanor is closest to that of Strict Mom.
Peter Doyle – Councilman from Atlantic Highlands – Peter has a long resume in the military, and I thank him as I thank all veterans for their service. He is a West Point grad and a BigWig of some sort at Moodys, the credit rating people. He touts his financial sector career and knowledge and ability to pick apart financial data and give recommendations/take action. Peter wore a nice suit, buttoned correctly, no “hands in the pocket”, in fact, you might think of the (and my apologies to Tom DeSeno) stereotypical Italian hand moving while speaking. He looks and sounds very professional however, as a pocket protector wearing computer nerd myself, dare I say Peter looks a bit nerdy. I’d say his demeanor is closest to that of the over-excited high-school physics teacher who does the same experiment year after year but gives an appearance of excitement every time.
Ryan Green – Committeeman from Manalapan – Ryan is a social worker in a school. He is relatively new to the scene but his passion and care was evident. Truthfully, I didn’t get, or remember, much more, but it may not be Ryan’s fault, I’m easily distracted and have a poor memory. Ryan also wore a suit, not buttoned and also not a “hands in the pocket” guy. Ryan appears to be younger guy of the bunch, seems to be a real go-getter type. I’d say his demeanor might be closest to the “its all business” accountant at tax time.
Bob Walsh – Howell Mayor – Bob describes himself a self-educated kid who grew up in a poor family, on the mean streets of Manalapan (after his mother moved him there from Jersey city at a young age). Bob speaks loud and might be fit for a role in an HBO series that Tom DeSeno wouldn’t approve of. (why am I picking on Tom?? I like you Tom, I’m sorry.) Bob started a Mortgage Broker business in the 90s, enjoyed the boom and has so far survived the bust, which says something positive. Bob gives his family story – wife, 3 kids — 2 girls in college and an autistic son in a “special place”. Bob’s personal story is one of overcoming the difficulties of life, he is/was the only candidate to offer details of his personal life story. Bob wore a suit, unbuttoned, and never took off his jacket/scarf; I thought he was going to jet early a few times as he looked ready to run. Bob will crack a joke and out-loud others to steal the show — I suspect a union boss won’t out-loud Bob. His demeanor is probably closest to, well you know, I don’t need to make Tom DeSeno even more mad by offering some questionably accurate Italian stereotype here.
Then came questions. Christine Hanlon was kind enough to give me the first crack, and I came prepared. My question was pretty straight forward: Explain the cost of public workers in your town, specifically, the cost of your police officers and why these salaries are acceptable when the average HOUSEHOLD (combined) income in Monmouth County is $80K/yr, and what you’ve done to address the cost of government. The numbers are these and I provided/quoted these numbers to each candidate (except for Peter who seemed to know the numbers off of the top of his head):
Town Area Population # of Police Officers in top 100 earners # of Officers over 100K
Average of top 100 Police Top Paid Officer
Howell 61 51 74 54 113,223.00 $176,660.00
Holmdel 18 17 40 18 100,351.00 $154,254
31 39 57 30 93,045.85 $154,036
4.5 4.5 14 5 85,389.00 $137,125
Serena answered first as in her opening presentation she noted that she had worked to address police contracts/costs – what a great tie in. In her town, 40 of the top 100 (base salary) employees are police. 18 of them make over $100K/yr. The top officer making $154K and the average being $100K. Serena notes these salaries are less than ideal, she gets it. She also claims to have worked hard to lower those salaries where possible and says her town doesn’t contribute to healthcare plans and some other benefits for officer. She also (rightly) notes that should they press too hard and go to arbitration, they’d likely lose their battle in this state. She also spoke of the 2% property tax cap and how it helps/helped in negotiations.
Bob answered next. In his town the numbers are 74 police officers are in the top 100 earners, 54 are paid over $100K, the top earning a whopping $176K, nearly double the average HOUSEHOLD income, and the average being $113K/yr. Bob claims to have taken on his local police, and all local public workers, by furloughing them for 18 days. He also noted some officers were laid off/not rehired after leaving, I think he said some were demoted but I may be mistaken in my poor memory, another forum attendee may fill this in. I was able to verify the furlough, maybe a Howell local can verify the lay-offs; Bob says he went from ~280 workers to about 220 over the past few years. Bob seems to have (tried to) take on the unions, but with numbers like the ones I see, I’m not sure how successful he really was, in fairness, if what he says is true, then those numbers must have been even more painful before. Bob also “gets it” when it comes to how outrageous the wages and benefits are, like Serena, I’m not sure how successful our part-time/volunteer municipal officials can really be against professional union negotiators.
Peter answered next. In his town, the numbers are 14 of the top about 70 (they don’t have 100 employees there!) are police officers. Only 5 police officers make over $100K and the top earner makes $137K, the average is “only” $85K, close to the county household average at least. Number wise his town looks best, but in fairness to others, he is in the smallest town. In my opinion, Peter gave the least impressive response, but his honestly is noteworthy. Peter’s immediate reaction/response was essentially “we, the people of Atlantic Highlands, chose to have a safe community and that comes at a cost we accept”. Ouch. Peter seemed to defend the salaries/benefits as necessary in order to maintain and uphold the law. In my humble opinion, I fear that Peter deals with such large numbers on a daily basis in his work at Moodys that maybe $140K/yr or $176K/yr doesn’t seem like a “big number” to him. I don’t think Peter sees the cost of individual government workers as the problem I think it is, maybe you agree with Peter, maybe for once you agree with me.
Ryan answered last. In his town, the numbers are 57 of the top 100 income earners are police, 30 officers make over $100K/yr with the top earner at $154K/yr and the average at $93K. Oddly enough, Ryan couldn’t go into too many details because it sounds like he is TheMan right now doing the negotiations in Manalapan. He seemed to indicate we may read about him in the APP for his bold efforts, I’d be curious to see/hear the details – I think it could be a huge draw for Ryan if he’s really make a drastic impact, and gets it done before the 14th. Ryan, despite working in a school, seems to also “get it” that public worker costs are too high. One thing I noted is that Ryan relied heavy on talking about shared services and how they would/could/should save money — but if the county worker pay isn’t reduced, then adding more county workers just means a larger county budget.
There was a question/statement made about the need for photo IDs for voters due to vote fraud in Asbury. The hard-liners might be mad at me, and the ACLU too, but part of me really agrees with her and the need for a photo ID to vote — I can’t even buy Spray Paint at Home Depot without a photo ID, or get a cell phone, or buy a beer or pack of cigs – seeing as voting is more important than all of those things — it makes sense to me, but I’m like a liberal or something now, you got it, so mind me.
There was a question asking what two items you’d really like to get done/what you’d focus on. It was the usual stock answers — cut spending, lower taxes, the nursing home program, etc. I don’t know that I recall hearing “address the waste at Brookdale”, “put Fort Monmouth to good use”, etc. For me the answers were non-spectacular/non-memorable. Maybe another event goer can help out here if they heard something noteworthy/memorable.
Then came the BEST question, by far, in my opinion, from Ocean Twp Club President and Committee Vice Chair Joe Hadden. His point/question was simple and, again, great. 4 years ago in 2008, Obama was at the top of the ticket and John Curley lost because of the top of the ticket — how are you the candidate going to raise the money, get your name and message out and compete with Obama?
Serena noted her connections to Meridian and it’s size/potential donor base. She also noted she’s a chair(?) of Bayshore Hospital and seemed VERY confident that she could raise a lot of money from “outside of the usual” sources. She also claims to have about 5000 doors in Holmdel and she claims to have knocked on those doors 5-6 times over the past few years. Sh did a great job giving the impression that she has the ground game, and the money, to run a good campaign.
Ryan implied “I know people” and “I’ve been elected a few times”. There were no specifics on exactly who and how he’d get the job done. As one of the younger guys, I’d have to guess he has more energy to go — and as a school worker, I assume he has at least the summer off to knock on doors.
Bob also implied “I know people” and noted he raised a lot of money for his mayor runs and spent a lot of his own money too. Bob, having run as an independent, must know how to organize and run a ground game, or pick the right people to help him — having run as an independent, his “team-work” ability to run with Curley, and then Arnone, is worth questioning in my opinion.
Peter essentially said “I have my team picked and ready to go on the 15th to win” He assures all Republicans win top to bottom in November. Again, no exact information who/how he’ll get it done, but he has confidence. I have to think via Moodys, he likely has some good potential donors.
There was also a question about Agenda 21. As expected, no Republican supports it or any other measure against private property rights.
Short on time — Christine then let me get a second question in — I noted that Freeholder Clifton is now Assemblyman Clifton and Freeholder Christie is now Governor — so seeing as this office may be a stepping stone to higher office — do you care to make a statement about your views on 2A rights, abortion and Gay Marriage. Christine cut me off, because of time constraints, and asked me to pick one issue. None of the candidates are NRA members, all claim to support 2A rights. Bob Walsh says he’s coming to the shooting range with me one of these days — win or lose – I’m going to hold him to it, and if any other Republicans want to take a trip to the range, let me know/be my guest.
Getting to a conclusion — here are my Random Thoughts of the “problems” (as I see them) with each candidate:
Walsh’s problem, is mainly that he comes off as a bit of clown at times which I think turns people off easily at first glance and is an easy item to attack him on. When he tries to come across as a softy, he slows down his speech, looks down, it just seems phony at times. I also need more information on his actions over public workers as his town has the worst/highest police pay numbers, by far. Did he really do the things he claims and did any of things really stick/make a difference? The effort (if accurate) is note worthy regardless.
Serena’s problem, is that she allowed Walsh, multiple times, to overshadow her/interrupt her. She needs to be able to demonstrate that she can debate/argue her points with public workers who abuse the taxpayers and the system as a whole as well as battle Democrats come November — and not just have others talk louder/longer over her, taking on Bob would be good proof of an ability to take on those evil Ds. Other than that, I think she’d do just fine, and far better that say a Democrat like 33 and retired for life on the public dime after 4 short years of “work” State Police officer Bill Shey’s… not that I’m bitter/angry/jealous or anything that I (hopefully) have 40+ years of work left until I drop dead….
Doyle is out for me personally. He seems like a really smart, nice guy, who deals with large numbers on a daily basis. I don’t think he views or understands that $180K (base) for a police officer or $220K for a corrections officer is a high salary in a county where household (combined) average is $80K. He might be a financial wiz, but it’s the smaller costs that need to be addressed IMHO. Simple dopes like me think $180K/yr is a lot of money, I’m not convinced Peter finds $180K/yr to be “a large number”. And I understand that saying “you’re taking a 50% pay cut!” to a corrections officer is much easier said than done, but I do think any one of the others would at least THINK the numbers are absurd (Bob may say it); it doesn’t seem like cutting pay would cross Peter’s mind as he doesn’t seem to think $180K is a problem that needs to be addressed. I’d certainly appreciate being proven wrong here, and his town has numbers on his side, but his response seemed troubling to me, or maybe I mis-understood and another forum goer could give their impressions/understanding.
Green’s problem is also a personality issue, as well as that he is a public worker himself (social worker in a school). I don’t know how well he’d fit in with the other members of the board and that he is a beneficiary of the public employment system seems to imply that he isn’t likely to advocate for a paycut for himself/his fellow public workers, I could be wrong. Again, he gives the usual line “lets cut the nursing home!” but that’s an easy/obvious one, does he have the courage and ability to take on the bigger issues — the trustees at Brookdale, the Corrections officers, Judges? I think with more self-confidence in his delivery/approach, and if he can pull out a win over the PBA/public salaries in his town, he’d have a real strong run, unfortunately, I don’t know that the details of his work against public worker pay will be available/on his side before the 14th.
Of course, this is all just my opinion, my *quick* little notes after a lot of research and a few hours of listening. To answer your question, if I had to vote today, I might vote Bob Walsh while thinking “maybe I should have voted Serena” but today this is the best I could do. Since I don’t have to vote until the 14th, maybe I’ll see Serena again and she’ll really stand out and not allow herself to be overshadowed, and she would win me over, because she has a certain appeal/personality that I think fits in well/best on the board, as long as she can also stand alone. Or perhaps by the 14th, Ryan Green will have cut his public worker pay in half in which case there is no contest, he gets my vote, and i’ll donate significantly to campaign immediately.
The caveat to all of this — Bob and Serena each have a few people backing them who I really like and whose opinions I really trust and value. It’s a testament to the great candidates and deep bench we have to choose from when good, hard working, like-minded Republicans, who really stand for the right things every time, are supporting different candidates. I really respect the input and opinions of these few key people, one side or the other is going to be disappointed, but in the end, I’m going to make my choice based on the little things I see and hear — and I offer all of this as something for you to consider, not to tell you who to vote for.
And as a final note, as a private sector guy who is fortunate to be able to decide who is hired and who is fired from his own staff, (ie: if I don’t think you’ll fit in, I don’t hire you) — I have to say, as always, that John, Tom, Gary and Lillian’s opinion of who THEY want to work with and who would work best with them is paramount. It helps none of us to force them to work with someone they don’t think they will like or be able to work with. Equally important, love him or be on the fence about him (because I don’t think anyone should hate him) Chairman Oxley’s opinion is valuable and important to consider as the Chairman is constantly working in this county and state and has eyes and ears all over with a great understanding of the people and issues.
In either case, don’t take my word for it — get to the Monmouth County Affiliated Republican Club’s event on the 13th (http://www.monmouthrepublican.org/calendar.asp#a511), meet the candidates, chew their ears off (not literally or they won’t be able to listen to our complaints later) and then make a smart, informed decision based on your own issues and concerns in Colt’s Neck on the 14th..
Posted: January 6th, 2012 | Author: James Hogan | Filed under: Freeholder, Monmouth County, Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, Monmouth County Republican Committee | Tags: Art's thunderous return, Bob Walsh, Christine Hanlon, Freeholder, Gary Rich, James Hogan, Joe Hadden, Joe Oxley, John Curley, Lillian Burry, Monmouth County Republcian Committee, Ocean Township, Peter Doyle, Ryan Green, Serene DiMaso, Tom Arone | 27 Comments »