Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 23
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
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Consolidation Commission Candidates Interviewed, Borough Ready to Choose

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council interviewed seven applicants for the joint Shared Services and Municipal Consolidation Commission during its meeting last week. The Commission will include three residents each from the Borough and Township, and two members from each governing body, as well as the administrators.

Borough residents Anton Lahnston, Ryan Lilienthal, Scott Neilson, Thomas Pickard, Patrick Simon, Alice Small, and Peter Wolanin interviewed for the chance to serve on the commission.

Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman reported that Township Mayor Bernie Miller would announce that municipality’s selections by June 14, and noted that she would do likewise.

Council President Andrew Koontz explained that when first considering a joint consolidation study, the Borough and Township proceeded because the state had agreed to provide full funding for the project. “The initial premise was that it would happen at no cost to the taxpayers,” he said.

Now, given state cuts in aid to municipalities, almost half the state funding for the study has been reduced, and Mr. Koontz said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the rest was not forthcoming.

Mr. Koontz also worried that the previous consolidation study, conducted in 1996, “did not engage adequately with the opponents of consolidation,” hence the reason the measure was defeated by referendum at the polls. His questions to the candidates included asking what they might do to help shape public opinion once the results of the comprehensive study were in.

The seven candidates selected by the Borough from a pool of 19 applications were interviewed during the open public meeting. Questions asked of each candidate included why they were interested in participating in such a commission, whether they had any preconceived leanings for or against consolidation, and what they thought the other most pressing issues facing the municipality were.

Longtime Borough resident, Mr. Lahnston, who is Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, noted his commitment to the town, and said that the entire issue of consolidation needed to be looked at anew, since the findings of the previous study are 14 years old.

Mr. Neilson suggested that his work as a consultant to merging companies in the private sector could inform the transitional process for the public governmental bodies. He noted that he had no suppositions regarding whether full municipal consolidation or increased shared services between the two governments would be best for the respective towns.

The former Vice President of Corporate Security at Bristol-Myers Squibb as well as former Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Thomas Pickard said that he was “worried about the safety and security” of the community. His prior experience could contribute to the process of integrating two different police departments, with their own set of needs and particular cultures.

A management consultant, Mr. Simon said he came to Princeton because of the “University as an educational and cultural center, and because the town has a soul and it comes through.” He added that “change is inevitable, but at least we can direct it to some extent and work toward the betterment of the town.” His general expectation was that shared services or full municipal consolidation would be a good thing, but the ideas he has “are by no means fixed.”

Describing her application to participate in the consolidation study as her “first foray into the municipal sphere,” Ms. Small said that she has lived in Princeton Borough since 1971, and has served as Deputy Attorney General for New Jersey, as well working for the state treasury. “I do not have a solid position on whether the Borough should consolidate, but I know there is concern about the loss of representation and that shared services are important,” she said. “The savings achieved need to be solid.”

“This is clearly the most important thing shaping the future of our community,” Mr. Wolanin said. Having served on the Princeton Environmental Commission, as well as the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, he stressed his working relationship with members of both municipalities. His focus is on “what would be the best thing in the long term for our community,” and he noted that “listening to people’s opinions and addressing public concerns” were of great importance.

With a young family and young children, Mr. Lilienthal said he wanted to “ensure that we have representation of this demographic in the consolidation study group.” A former Borough Councilman, he said he was interested in finding out what “the spectrum of possibilities” is with respect to shared services or full municipal consolidation.

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