BY DICK METZGAR
Important and relevant issues concerning the running of Monmouth County came to the forefront following the June primary elections for two open three-year seats on the Board of Freeholders.
Within the past two weeks these issues have all but been obscured by charges and counter charges about the renting of an affordable housing unit in Tinton Falls by one of the candidates — Democrat Jeffrey R. Pringle, of Tinton Falls.
Pringle and his running mate, Steve Morlino, of Howell, will square off against Republican Amy Handlin, of Middletown, and Robert Clifton, of Matawan, in the Nov. 2 election. Handlin is a member of the freeholders board. Clifton is the mayor of Matawan.
Incumbent Republican Freeholder Ed Stominski was defeated in the June primary.
Pringle has admitted violating a municipal affordable housing regulation by allowing a friend to rent his condominium in Tinton Falls from June 2001 to Aug. 2002.
Local regulations stipulate that affordable housing units must be owner-occupied. If not, the owner of such a unit must seek permission from the Tinton Falls affordable housing office in order to rent the unit. If this permission is granted, the renter must be selected from a list of people qualified for affordable housing.
Pringle has admitted that he did not seek such permission.
Pringle has countered the charges with one of his own — that a Tinton Falls councilman coerced an admission from the man who rented Pringle’s condo.
Handlin is an associate professor in the Department of Management and Marketing in the School of Business Administration at Monmouth University, West Long Branch. She is seeking her sixth three-year term as a freeholder.
Clifton is the director of public relations with Comcast Cablevision, Eatontown. He is seeking his first term.
This marks the third straight year that Pringle, a history teacher at the Cedar Drive Middle School, Colts Neck, has challenged incumbents for a seat on the all-Republican Board of Freeholders.
Morlino, the executive director of capital facilities and construction programs in the Newark public school system, lost a bid to win a seat in the state Legislature in 2003. He is seeking his first term on the Board of Freeholders.
Following the June primary, Pringle said his platform this year would not change from the one he campaigned on in the 2002 and 2003 freeholder races.
“As I have the past two campaigns, I am concentrating on ethical reform and spending waste in the county,” Pringle said after the primary. “While I didn’t win in the last two elections, I think that I did more than anyone else to bring these issues to light. I believe that the people really didn’t know about the amount of spending waste that has been going on at the county level. At the
rate county spending has been increasing, it could reach half a billion dollars in two years.”
The county’s spending package for 2004 is $416 million.
Pringle claims the county wastes million of dollars giving contracts to firms with ties to county government.
“These pay-to-play contracts for government contracts waste millions of dollars,” Pringle said. “If I am elected to the board, I will work to have more work done in house, especially with the county’s engineering department. I would work toward having every line item in the county budget justified.”
Pay-to-play is defined as the practice of awarding no-bid government contracts to firms and individuals that have contributed to an official’s campaign. Some people have likened the practice to a form of bribery.
Morlino said his campaign platform also centers around ethics and spending reform at the county level.
“I think we have to bring back government at the county level and open it up to the people,” Morlino said. “I think the board should respect the people more. I have gone to freeholder meetings where people have not been allowed to speak their mind on issues. Board members have already voted on issues before the public has been able to give any input. I think residents should be allowed to make comments on spending issues at workshop meetings of the board. I firmly believe that the board must have better fiscal control of its spending.”
Although county spending has been steadily increasing in recent years, members of the all-Republican board point out that the county tax rate has remained stable while necessary services have been maintained and the tax base has continued to expand.
Within the last year Handlin has championed government reform at the county level, including the issues of pay-to-play and making the board more accountable to the people.
“I want to identify more ways to make the county government more accountable, responsive and transparent,” Handlin said after the primary. “The results of the primary election was a real mandate for the kinds of government reform that Rob and I want to continue working on.”
Clifton, who said he would step down as mayor of Matawan if he is elected to the Board of Freeholders, said he and Handlin have the desire to make the county government more responsive and open. He said he also wants to control county taxes and work on an infrastructure improvement plan in order to deal with the growing issue of traffic congestion.
Monmouth County’s five freeholders oversee the five mandatory functions of county government delegated to it by the state. They are: Administration and Special Services; Public Works and Engineering; Human Services and Health; Finance; and Administration of Justice and Parks, according to the Monmouth County Directory.
Each freeholder is assigned responsibility for one of the functional areas. In total, the board is responsible for supervising more than 70 departments.