The Felter ticket consists of incumbent mayor Russell Felter (one of two Republican candidates for mayor), incumbent council president Debi Merz, and newcomer Patty Fallon. Merz and Fallon are two of the five Republican candidates for the two open seats on the Jefferson Town Council.
Voting will take place during the Republican primary on June 5, which will determine the one mayoral and two council candidates who move on to the general election in November. Only registered Republicans and independents who register as Republicans before, or on the day of, the election can vote in the primary.
The Jefferson Chronicle interviewed the Felter ticket to get a closer look at why each of them is running and what their plans are if elected.
Inspiration and Bringing Their Backgrounds to the Table
Both Felter and Merz have served in their positions for years. Merz was inspired to run again because she has a vested interest in the town and knows that she is not finished yet. Felter, who was born and raised in town, loves the job. He wants to continue serving Jefferson and making it a community everyone can be proud of. Fallon joined the ticket because she is a volunteer by nature and wants to help improve the community in which she grew up.
If elected, the majority of the ticket will bring experience in their positions with them. Felter has been on the Board of Adjustment and served on the Town Council for 30 years, including 20 years as mayor. Merz has been on the Town Council and Planning Board for 27 years. “With these years of service comes a lot of knowledge and experience. We’ve earned connections with other elected officials, learned to manage money, and helped the community,” Merz said. Fallon has owned a local restaurant and knows a lot about managing budgets and maintaining general prosperity.
“There is a difference in perspectives and responsibilities between the council and the administration,” Felter explained. “But one of the biggest issues that we both focus on is economic development.”
From the administration side, a lot is being done to develop Jefferson’s economy. A major negotiation in the works is redeveloping the former Pathmark area. Beyond that, Felter listed the numerous recent developments he has helped with: the Taphouse 15 addition, Route 15 and QuickChek, and conversion of the BP station to Mobil on Route 15. The switchover to natural gas in some areas of town is also reducing the cost to run businesses. For example, in the Jefferson Diner plaza, bills have gone down from $9,000 per month to only $3,000. “Even though New Jersey has been one of the slowest states to recover from the recession and the Highlands Act has set this area back, we are still doing great,” said Felter. “There are only a few vacant buildings, and there is plenty of expansion and openings occurring.”
The council is focused on encouraging small businesses to stay and looking through the master plan of ordinances to ensure that they are not inhibiting growth and expansion. An economic advisory board has already been in place, but Merz wants to get it back up and running.
As a business owner herself, Fallon confirmed that it is easy to work with the administration and the council. Negotiations and changes of use may take some time, she said, but everyone from the town is easy to work with and helpful in seeing everything through.
Transparency and Communication
Addressing some of the critics, the team rejected the idea that the town is not transparent. “There is an open line of communication between the administration, council, and people. If residents ever want documents or information, they can easily come to us for it,” Merz said, arguing against claims of a lack of transparency. As far as documents at meetings, the council is working on putting more presentations on the televisions because it is not cost efficient to print packets of information that no one ends up taking.
“I don’t think people realize how many people we talk to,” Felter said. “We provide documents and are always responsive to phone calls and emails. Although our website does need some improvements, I have an ‘Ask Mayor Felter’ Facebook page where any questions can be asked and answered directly by me in the meantime.”
Fallon admitted that the website and online presence does need to be changed. But ultimately, she said, the town has all the information available. If elected, she would be sure to update the website and create social media accounts for the town.
The Felter ticket members believe they stand out because of their overall experience. They have someone with a business, someone from the council, and someone from the administration. Each has connections with elected officials from the very local to the state and national levels. They all come from different parts of the town and can bring new perspectives, providing a diversity of information.
“We work hard for what we want and we are not complacent in our work,” Merz said. “We work for the town and volunteer for many positions that don’t involve our positions. Most importantly, we are modest with our success. We don’t need to stand up and scream about it. We achieve what we want and keep going.”