Sabatino-Falkenstein to ask for recount in Board of Education race: updated

Nov. 11, 2015JoAnn Sabatino-Falkenstein will ask for a recount in the race for three open seats on the Metuchen Board of Education, in which she trails her opponent Justin Manley by six votes for the third and final board seat.

“At the urging of many supporters, I will pursue the recount. Although the provisional ballots moved the point spread to six, many people would like to see the vote reconfirmed,” she told me in a quick update Wednesday.

At this point, all votes are in including machine votes, mail-ins and provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are paper ballots a voter must cast if there is a question about his or her eligibility. With the inclusion of the provisional ballots, which were officially counted earlier this week, Manley’s lead went from three votes to six.

It’s not clear when Sabatino-Falkenstein will make her official request, which has to go to a Superior Court judge. She has until Monday to ask for a recount.

Meanwhile, incumbent Aileen McGuire and Merrill Lunt are already guaranteed seats on the board based on their vote totals. The final open seat is what’s up for grabs between Sabatino-Falkenstein and Manley.

The numbers now look like this: McGuire 1,718; Lunt 1,438; Manley 1,276; Sabatino-Falkenstein 1,270.

The Middlesex County Clerk’s office is expected to formally update the voting totals this week, possibly today. (I called a few times Tuesday but staff was still working on certifying the counts).

Manley said he believes his lead will hold up in a recount.

“No one lost, only Metuchen won,” Manley said. “I am thankful for the support of the voters and that all of the candidates ran positive, issue-driven campaigns.”

Manley said he is “looking forward to working with the board and administration to continue their ongoing efforts and to begin to execute on the goals I laid out during my candidacy.

“It’s imperative that [the school district] move with pace to begin to address our space and growth needs to accommodate not only the growth we’ve seen in the past several years but what we know is coming with the changes downtown,” Manley said. “If during my term we can formulate a consensus and plan with community input on our priorities and prepare a referendum to fund those investments, it will be a success.

“Equally important to me is addressing the work environment in our schools for the teachers and updating technology education offerings as well as the technical assets needed to support a modern learning environment,” he said.

Update: This post has been updated to include information about Sabatino-Falkenstein’s decision to ask for a recount, and to include more comments from Justin Manley.

Metuchen police arrest Edison man after garage crash

Nov. 10, 2015: Anthony Ventre, 73, of Edison, was arrested Saturday after losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a garage on Lake Avenue, Metuchen police said.

Ventre got lost and was attempting to make a u-turn when he hit the telephone pole, careened and barreled into the garage around 6:13 p.m., police said.

Metuchen Police Officer Octavio Tapia arrested Ventre for Driving While Intoxicated (D.W.I.) police said.

No one was injured in the crash, though the garage will likely have to be demolished, the resident at Lake Avenue told me Sunday. The foundation appeared to be weakened in the crash and a support beam from the ceiling of the garage was hanging loose.

Update on Metuchen Board of Education race

Nov. 5, 2015: You’ll have to wait a bit longer to figure out if Justin Manley or JoAnn Sabatino-Falkenstein won the last of three open seats on the Metuchen Board of Education.

The results of the race were so close, with Manley leading Sabatino-Falkenstein by three votes, that it will come down to a count of provisional ballots. A provisional ballot is a paper ballot a voter must cast if there are questions of his or her eligibility to vote.

Metuchen collected 25 provisional ballots, which were sent in sealed bins to the Middlesex County Board of Elections. Staff rejected a total of five provisional ballots, Jim Vokral, administrator with the board of elections, told me Thursday.

Here’s where the real fun begins: Each of those rejections, and the accepted provisional ballots, are open to challenge. Those who wish to challenge must schedule a time to come into the board of election offices by Friday (Nov. 6).

Once the challenges are lodged Monday, the four Commissioners of the county Board of Elections (two Democrats, two Republicans) hold a public meeting Monday at 4 p.m. to review the rejections and those provisional ballots subject to challenges. The meeting will be held at the Board of Elections office at 11. Kennedy Blvd., East Brunswick.

This means even provisional ballots staff has already accepted could be overturned. For example, a person could present the board of elections with documentation that a voter who cast a provisional ballot that was already accepted doesn’t actually live in Metuchen. “If the Commissioners look at that and agree, one of those could be thrown out,” he said.

“At the end, all of the ballots that come out of this that are good, will be opened and they will be counted and added to the total we already have,” Vokral said. That could happen Monday night or Tuesday, he said. It depends on how many challenges come in, he said.

Once the whole process is finalized, the results will be handed over to the County Clerk who formally announces the results and posts them online, he said.

Muldoon: Diversified funding key to successful downtown improvement

Lower vacancy rates, better mix of retail businesses, increased foot traffic, new business, retention of existing businesses and consistent maintenance and cleanliness of downtown district.

These are some of the attributes of municipalities with successful downtown areas, according to Councilman Jay Muldoon, who gave an update on the activities of the Main Street improvement committee at the borough council meeting earlier this month. The committee was formed in March.

The inaugural group of stakeholders consists of landlords, business owners, residents, members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Metuchen Farmer’s Market, the Arts Council, the Historic Preservation Committee, the Development Commission and borough council.

The group has spent time researching other places with thriving downtown areas, including Montclair, Cranford, Maplewood, Highland Park, Red Bank, Somerville and South Orange.

These towns have certain similarities, including a designated business improvement district with buy-in from businesses in the zone; a full-time executive director running the improvement district organization, along with “really active and engaged and appreciated volunteers”, Muldoon said.

Significantly, these places also have diversified funding sources, he said. These can include tax assessments of businesses in the improvement district, contributions from the municipality, including from the parking authority, fundraising, sponsorships and grants.

“You can’t rely on one source of funding to support the organization,” Muldoon said.

Money is used to pay an executive director as well as infrastructure for the improvement district organization. Money also is used for capital improvement projects, marketing and promotions. Muldoon used the example of Highland Park, which structured its improvement district into a more pedestrian friendly area using planters and benches.

One of the first jobs of the Main Street committee will be to choose the boundaries of the improvement district, Muldoon said. The committee also has to propose what kind of budget the organization will have, he said.

The committee has a series of meetings with landlords and business owners this year, “to not just share learnings and insight but to get input and feedback from larger stakeholders,” Muldoon said.

The goal is to hold a borough-wide meeting by the end of the year to present recommendations for the formation of an improvement district and present those recommendations before Council in early 2016, Muldoon said.

“No decisions have been made at all,” he said. “These are things we’re learning.”

No, Metuchen is not hiring ex-cons for public works

Metuchen is not looking to hire ex-cons for the public works department.

Apparently a rumor has spread through the borough that Jennifer Maier, borough administrator, planned to hire people just out of jail to supplement full-time public works employees.

Maier tried to dispel the notion at the borough council meeting Monday, Sept. 21, saying she was not going to hire ex-cons, ex-drug addicts or any other ex’s to work in Metuchen.

“This was intended as a way to supplement our staff,” Maier said, stressing the Public Works Department has decided not to move forward with the program.

The program is offered under Workforce Development and places unemployed people like former corporate executives, or even ex-drug addicts and ex-convicts, into jobs. The borough would have control over who it hired through the program, Maier said.

As best as this reporter can tell, the rumor sprang from Maier’s announcement at a meeting earlier this month that she was researching the program. Two council members — Reed Liebfried and Jay Muldoon — at Monday’s meeting loudly proclaimed their ignorance of the program or the idea that ex-cons might work in Metuchen. Muldoon demanded Maier cease working on the program until Council received more information, while Liebfried described the program as “quite controversial.”

Mayor Thomas Vahalla requested borough staff provide more information to Council, which would then make an informed decision at the next meeting. This seemed superfluous, as did Liebfried’s and Muldoon’s outbursts, being that Maier already said the idea was dead in the water.

Interesting to note, Maier only started as borough administrator in January, so could be she is adjusting to working with Council and vice versa. Whatever the reason, she should have provided full disclosure to Council — and the public — about what she was looking into and why. Residents deserve to know, and this reporter (and resident) is glad the borough is not going to be used as a staging ground for newly released convicts to get back on their feet.