Election Day is fast approaching, and Jefferson Township has a council race. The Chronicle wants you to make an informed decision at the polls, so we present here an overview of all six candidates. There are three Republicans and three Democrats. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
Robert Birmingham (R)
Councilman Robert Birmingham has served on the town council for over a decade and prides himself on his allegiance to his residents’ interest above his party. With a degree in business management and his experience working both in the corporate world and small business, his biggest focus is on maintaining a fiscal conservative budget while also driving business into the town.
After working with the new town administration to develop a strategic road plan, improve the water system, and maintain a stable tax system, Birmingham wanted to run for re-election to continue to improve the town’s economy and tax structure. Although the state’s Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act restricts certain developments in town, Birmingham said that the town could encourage economic activity by loosening restrictions on some ordinances and making use of commercial lots.
If re-elected, Birmingham wants to bring back the environmental commission. He said that activities and groups in town, like the environmental academy at the Jefferson Township High School, provide a great resource to help understand and preserve the town’s natural resources.
Jay Dunham (R)
Councilman Jay Dunham has served two four-year terms on town council, and because he said he believes in term limits, he wasn’t planning on running. However, his peers and organizations in town encouraged him to run again. He said he governs with an open mind and keeps in mind his social and financial experience of the community when he makes decisions for the whole town.
In his 40 years of living in the town, he has participated in many community groups, including St. Thomas Church, VFW, the American Legion, a mediator for the court system in conflict resolution, and the rescue squad.
Despite the council’s limitations, Dunham said he hopes to continue to serve the town well and make sure that taxes are used for the benefit of all the town. He said his work shows that he can work with others and support common causes.
Pamela Fadden (D)
Pamela Fadden was inspired to run because she wants to invest more of the town’s resources into its children, businesses, and recreational activities. She is a Jefferson Township resident of 17 years.
Since she also serves as the President of the Hawthorne Teachers’ Association and a consultant to the NJEA, she didn’t want to run for Jefferson’s Board of Education because she wouldn’t be able to vote on a lot of issues. Through the town, she said she wants to look at the budget and allocate more resources to children’s recreational activities like the Teen Scene, while balancing the budget through negotiations and prioritizing certain needs.
If elected, Fadden would want to try to stop the county from chopping down trees in Mahlon Dickerson and follow through with Jefferson’s promise to explore converting septics into a sewer system to protect the lake from another harmful algal bloom. She also said she wants to make the town’s budget and other information more accessible to the public.
Keith Peters (D)
Keith Peters has lived in Jefferson since 2002, and during that time, he didn’t realize that Jefferson Democrats had much of a presence until he got a pamphlet in the mail. He met the group and became active in campaigning for Mikie Sherrill for Congress in 2018.
Peters’ career as an einvironmental consultant has him appalled by trees getting cut down in Mahlon Dickerson. He said that not everyone was being represented in town and decided to run to level the playing field.
The biggest issues that Peters wants to tackle as councilman are protecting Mahlon Dickerson and Lake Hopatcong, controlling taxes, and reducing spending. As a candidate, he has been trying to reach out to small businesses to support them in any way he and his ticket can. To address a decrease in volunteerism, he said that he would try to make regular engagement like this with the community to motivate others to help.
If elected, Peters said that he hopes to continue these dialogues and is willing to stand up and do the hard work to improve this town. While he said he has a lot of respect for the current town administration, he thinks the town can do better as a more diverse group of representatives.
Maria Short (D)
Maria Short is a public service lawyer, working on behalf of victims of crimes and injuries like domestic battery. She is running for town council because she said she is concerned about Jefferson’s increase in spending and taxes. Although there is a local government cap on tax increases at 2.5 percent, she said that the 2020 budget increase is too excessive, though the town reported a tax levy increase of 1.6 percent.
Short said that one way to reduce spending, and ultimately keep taxes down, is to reexamine and thoroughly evaluate expenditures approved through ordinances and the budget. Another area of spending Short said the town could examine is appropriations to the police department. While she said she respects police officers, the town is putting far too much money into the department that could be going to other resources. She also said that she is a firm believer of the Black Lives Matter movement and wants to ensure the rights of all communities.
Although Morris County has control over Mahlon Dickerson logging efforts and Trenton funds the Lake Hopatcong Commission in charge of taking care of the lake, she said she would do more to fight for Jefferson residents’ interests. She said she would be happy to stand up to freeholders or state representatives to get them to stop cutting down trees or provide more funding to Lake Hopatcong.
Short said that it’s important to include both parties on council so that they ensure all residents can prosper. She said that she hopes to work with everyone on council to make the town a better place.
Ronald Smith (R)
Ronald Smith has served on the Jefferson Board of Education for six years and on the town council for a recent unexpired term. He currently serves on the economic advisory board where he has helped fill the empty Pathmark lot and encouraged businesses to invest in the area to expand ratables, or high-value taxable properties.
Smith said that he has done all this work because he likes to be involved. He was a school administrator for several years and continues to serve as interim school administrator positions in retirement, giving him knowledge on managing budgets and negotiating.
If elected, Smith said he hopes to continue to bring more business to the town and help it recover from the pandemic. In addition to his work with economic development, he has worked for the Lake Hopatcong Commission, helping solve funding issues to deal with weeds. He has also fixed the issue with pollution from the quarry and helps monitor the lake for any potential harmful algal blooms.
Smith said he hopes to use his years of government experience to deal with any issues the town council might face and manage the budget in a way that saves the town money and keeps taxes down.
This article written by senior contributing writer Kalen Luciano, with contributions by executive editor Sue Toth.