Q&A with Jefferson Township Mayor Russell Felter

Jefferson Township Mayor Russell Felter (Photo credit: www.nj.com)

The Chronicle’s Michael Chirichella sat down with Jefferson Township Mayor Russell Felter to talk about the state of the township, and what is on the horizon for the coming year.

Q. What inspired you to run for Public Office?

A. I grew up around it. My dad was the chief of Police from 1968-83 and after Dad retired, he served as a Councilman for eight years, so it’s really been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I started out on the Board of Adjustment. In 1994, Dad was very sick and I was appointed to finish the final month of his term in the council. My friend Bill Knipper and I ran for two open council seats. Dad cast an absentee ballot and died on Election Day 1994. I served on the Council for four years and was elected Mayor in 1998.

My mother’s family traces its roots to the people who settled the area. She was born in her family’s home on Minnisink Road.

Q. What do you see as the things that make Jefferson Township a great place?

A. For starters it’s a very beautiful town with lakes, mountains and valleys. About three quarters of the town’s area is open space. There are a lot of lake communities and former summer homes that people have converted and live in all year round.

Another thing is we have a lot of great people in this town, and great things go on. At a time when some towns have a hard time finding people to volunteer for things, we have wonderful people who serve on our fire and rescue squads as well as on the recreation and arts committees.

We have an excellent police department. Mr. Leach (Business Administrator James) has been around for 50 years and gets a lot done. Businesses are growing, there are marinas and restaurants that are thriving.

Our rule at the Municipal Building is we want to make people’s lives easier. We’re always looking to improve and people just seem to enjoy living here.

Q. What are some of the accomplishments in 2016 that you’re proud of?

A. We’ve been able to control taxes. Jefferson is in great financial shape. We did a lot of road work this year, repairing 380 catch basins. We had a very successful Summer Camp at Camp Jefferson and our recreation programs had an outstanding year.

We hired Dr. Patrick Tierney to head our Board of Education and he’s bringing some exciting things to town. We hired him from Roxbury and the people there were very sad to lose him so it’s good to know we’ve hired someone who is very well thought of and respected.

Q. What are some challenges and goals for 2017?

A. We’re going to try to keep the tax rate stable. That’s a very high priority. We have changes in the police department with the retirement of Eric Wilsusen, and William Craig becoming the chief. We’re going to continue an aggressive road plan to maintain and upgrade the township’s roads.

Additionally, we’re going to start to build some trails for recreational use. There’s one beautiful one in Lake Hopatcong located in the Prospect Point Preserve and we’d like to build a boardwalk to Liffy Island as well as build some new trails on the Milton side of town. We’re looking for people to work on the trails committee to help us with these projects.
We’re planning to remodel and update Town Hall — nothing crazy — and we’re looking to start a Jefferson Township page on Facebook so we’ve got an ambitious and busy year ahead for 2017.

Q. It’s been said that Jefferson is divided into two sections. How do you go about uniting the Township?

A. We try to make people understand that we’re all part of one town. The township’s motto is “one town, one future.” We’re all tied together. We have one police department but we have two fire departments, two rescue squads, and two senior centers. We have one recreation committee and one arts committee and in spite of it all, everything and everyone works really well together. It’s difficult at times but you do the best you can to make people understand we’re all one town. The schools are a great unifying factor in that everyone from all over the township comes together to attend one middle school and one high school. The people who play sports in the different parts of town all come together and in that way you play with, and get to know other people from the different parts of Jefferson.

It used to be more distinct, but we have great communities on both sides and development has helped. Events like the Christmas Tree Lighting and Christmas in the Village help too, as people from different sections of town come together to participate and celebrate.

Q: If someone reading this article is inspired to get more involved to make Jefferson Township a better place, what would be the best way for them to do so?

A: We’re always looking for more volunteers. The best place to start would be for them to go to the town website (www.jeffersontownship.net). The rescue squad and arts committee would welcome people who want to help, and the Junior Womens’ Club is a great place to get involved. The recreation department is also always looking for more coaches.

The town website has a complete list of departments, committees, and commissions and if people have any questions they can contact the Mayor’s office or Ms. Mayer, my assistant. A lot of towns have trouble finding volunteers and we’ve been lucky, but we welcome anyone who wants to get involved.

Q: What’s on your wish list for 2017?

A: For myself, as long as my family, my wife and kids are happy, I’m happy. For the township, I want things to run smoothly so we can get a lot accomplished and make things better for the people of Jefferson. We have a lot of great people, so I’m pretty optimistic.

Q: Last question. Money is no object and you don’t have to worry about calories or what people might think, what’s your ideal breakfast?

A: I love breakfast so it would be a ham omelette with home fries, chocolate milk, orange juice and maybe some fruit. Sometimes when I’m driving my son to high school we’ll stop for a doughnut.

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NAME : Russell W. Felter

BORN: 5/28/1959 in Dover, NJ

EDUCATION: Graduated from JTHS. A.A. from CCM. Attended William Patterson University and Ramapo College. He’s 24 credits short of his bachelor’s degree and would like to complete it, possibly online.

FAMILY: Wife Tami, daughter Melissa, son Matt, daughter Morgan (sophomore at East Stroudsburg University), son, Jeff (freshman at JTHS), granddaughters Madelyn Irene and Lena

HOBBIES: Likes old movies ( Casablanca, My Favorite Year, science fiction)
– Golf, though he doesn’t play as much as he’d like
– Yard work, though he doesn’t to do as much of that as he’d like also
– Would like to volunteer coaching youth lacrosse or football as his son plays both at JTHS
– used to work the sideline crew at JTHS football games and met a lot of great people doing it. “I have a lot of hobbies but not always a lot of time to pursue them.”

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Michael Chirichella has worked in the Sports Information Departments of Marquette University, the University of Dayton and the University of Memphis, where he also served as a staff writer for University's Office of Media Relations. He's also served as an interim sports editor for weekly newspapers in Central and South New Jersey. He can be reached at michael.chirichella@thejeffersonchronicle.com.