Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Do we really need another tax?

The Middle Road
By Rich Kohler

Every year, New Jersey voters head to the polls on Election Day with thoughts of rising property taxes weighing heavily on their minds, and this year is no exception. Most of us vote for the candidates that we believe – or hope – would make responsible use of our tax dollars while working to improve the quality of life in our community. This November, Hazlet citizens also have an opportunity to consider a referendum that would implement an additional tax on township property owners. The proposed tax intends to “raise revenue for the acquisition, preservation and improvement of lands for open space, conservation, recreation, farmland preservation and historic preservation purposes.”

The 2006 election will mark the fourth time that the question of an open space tax has appeared before Hazlet voters, and despite three previous rejections, the Hazlet Environmental Commission has decided to try yet again. This latest plan is similar to those proposed in previous years. Beyond taxing an additional penny for every dollar of assessed property value, the “plan” is still vague. Supporters of the previous open space tax initiatives blamed the ambiguous wording of the referendums for the voters’ repeated rejection. The past plans included “maintenance”, such as grass cutting and repairs to existing structures. This year’s version includes “improvements”, described as hiking trails and parking facilities.
In the past, Hazlet has managed its remaining undeveloped land in a variety of ways, with mixed results.

Several years ago, the then Democrat-led Township Committee attempted to establish a site for a new town hall at the corner of Middle Road and Union Avenue, by acquiring the land through eminent domain. The result was a disaster. The ensuing legal and engineering fees ultimately exceeded the value of the land itself, and the township eventually purchased the land as open space. This property remains in its natural state, but at an excessive cost to Hazlet.

In 2004, the Republican-led Township Committee conducted an auction to sell an undeveloped piece of property and used the proceeds to offset a municipal tax hike, knocking ten cents off an anticipated fourteen-cent increase. The property presently remains undeveloped, and the township as a whole benefited from its sale.

Last year, the Hazlet Board of Education and its then president, Democratic candidate Joseph Belasco, sold wooded land near Raritan High School to a developer. The proceeds from this sale did little, if anything, to offset the ever-rising school tax and the new owner has threatened to sue the township for the right to build fifty-eight low-income units on Middle Road.

Another parcel of undeveloped land is the Stone Road Meadows, a cornfield on Highway 36, next to the former Bradlees store. Some residents want the township to purchase and preserve this thirty-acre plot as a county park, but the initiative lacks logic. The land does not have any historical, environmental, or scenic attributes, and it falls well below the 100-acre minimum required for county park designation. Responsibly developed as a mixed-use property, this area could bring much needed tax revenue, which would help hold down the tax rate for residents.

The Waackaack Creek area is a sensitive estuary that flows directly into the Raritan Bay. This land on Hazlet’s eastern boarder is home to many species of wildlife, can be connected to county and state greenway passages, and is worthy of preservation. The township Republicans began actively seeking ways to acquire this land with little or no cost to Hazlet residents – through state and county programs and collaboration with legislators in higher office. Not to be outdone, the Democrats have since claimed their determination to accomplish the same goal through similar cooperation with different environmental organizations and government programs. After two years of wrangling over which political party deserves credit for the pending preservation of Waackaack Creek, we are still waiting for the final word on this vital project. Political grandstanding tends to stall great ideas.

The Hazlet Township Committee, in conjunction with another project, recently created a walking track at Leocadia Park and rebuilt the hockey rink at Veterans Park. With bipartisan effort and support, the committee undertook these projects to improve our existing parks at significant cost savings, demonstrating that a competent administration is capable of planning and achieving “open space” goals without an additional tax.

The preservation and improvement of open space is imperative, and when undeveloped space is limited as it is in Hazlet, a case-by-case approach with both parties working together is more effective than additional taxes, vague or illogical plans, and politically strategic photo-ops.

Rich Kohler is a life-long resident of Hazlet. Please send comments to All of Rich Kohler’s columns are available online at

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Pandering, Patronage, Playgrounds and Palughi

The Middle Road
By Rich Kohler

Whether it is through the state budget, county budget, or local school budget, many New Jersey politicians and administrators seem motivated to increase our tax burden, which in turn, supports a virulent system of patronage and pandering.

When a budget proposal fails, more often than not, the dissenters object to an unacceptable level of extravagant spending within that proposal. However, too few of our elected and appointed officials pursue honest assessments of income and need vs. expenditures and luxury.

What perpetuates “the political system” that continues to waste our tax dollars? The answer just might be a question of motivation.

Governor Corzine enjoyed enthusiastic support from state labor unions during his run for office. His relationship with these large unions has undoubtedly influenced the recent budget woes at the state level. The ability of organized labor to deliver large voting blocks of support to a candidate creates mutual loyalty and motivates some politicians to raise taxes, rather than negotiate union contract demands or cut nonessential wages or personnel.

Senator Joe Kyrillos recently awarded a grant to Hazlet. Our township received $50,000 for playground equipment. The baseball fields in our parks are in terrible shape. The tennis and basketball courts at Leocadia Court and Beers Street are unplayable. The hockey rink near the swim club needs a new surface. Although there are several parks in town that could have used an upgrade in playground equipment, Veterans Park now has new playground equipment within steps of its existing jungle gyms and swing sets. The township’s recreation department wanted to use the grant money toward something Hazlet needed, but “the political system” dictated its use.

What motivated Senator Kyrillos to allocate state tax dollars for which we had not asked, in order to fund a project for which we had no need?

Anthony Palughi, a key witness in the recent corruption trial of Raymond O’Grady, former mayor of Middletown and former director of the Monmouth County Central Motor Pool, candidly explained his experience as a beneficiary of wasteful spending.

Monmouth County employed Palughi from 1986 until his arrest in 2004. During those eighteen years, the county promoted him from his “entry level” position as director of the motor pool – to assistant highway supervisor – to superintendent of bridges, where he was earning $92,000 per year. Without even a high school education, Palughi knew he was overtly under qualified for these positions, but two former county freeholders and one former county administrator assured Palughi that he would not need to manage any aspect of the county’s public works. As a county employee, Palughi had one responsibility: to “take care of Harry [Larrison].” Defense attorney Kevin Roe asked Palughi how he got the job as director of the motor pool, to which he answered, “Like everyone else before me got it; through the political system.”

Most of the politicians who served on boards that had approved Pulighi’s appointments are now retired, or are awaiting trial or sentencing. Monmouth County voters elected one of them to higher office.

Will the testimony of her former/fellow county cronies motivate Amy Handlin to act more conscientiously regarding the state’s budget?

After three years of passing the school budget by an average margin of 11%, Hazlet voters defeated this year’s proposal by a margin of 34%. When this proposed budget failed, the responsibility fell to the Hazlet Township Committee to review the proposal and mandate which items to cut. They found $650,000 in cuts, many of which were the extra items with which the school board seemed to have padded the budget. If the school board is not happy with the township’s decision, “the political system” lets them appeal to the state, which has the authority to approve the original budget proposal; the same proposal that Hazlet voters soundly rejected. In that case, the negative response to the 2006-2007 school budget proposal would not likely motivate the Hazlet Board of Education to include less padding and pandering in their 2007-2008 school budget proposal.

I agreed with Hazlet School Superintendent Renae LaPrete’s assessment that, with this being the only government budget that citizens vote on directly, Hazlet voters took the opportunity to express their frustration with higher taxes. Ms. LaPrete had a point; “the political system” that motivates civil servants to squander our tax money is rather frustrating.

If voters diligently object to officials who submit and legitimize irresponsible budgets, we just might motivate the offending bureaucrats and politicians to stop their systematic abuse of our money.

Rich Kohler is a life-long resident of Hazlet. Please send comments to All of Rich Kohler’s columns are available online at

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Swim Club II

The Middle Road
By Rich Kohler

Note: This is a revised and updated version of a column that was previously published in the December 11, 2003 edition of this newspaper.

The Hazlet Township Swim and Tennis Club has been part of our community for more than thirty years. I fondly remember conjuring up the courage to take my first “real” dive on the club’s 3-meter springboard and going with my friends to the live music concerts on Teen Night.

Many residents have pleasant memories of warm summer days at the swim club with their friends, neighbors and family. The club contributes to the quality of life in Hazlet, but it has also become an expensive problem for the taxpayers. The club is suffering from a case of community apathy; membership has drastically declined.

The swim club operates as a utility. Under New Jersey state law, such utilities must be self-supporting. Membership fees and sources other than township tax money are supposed to cover the swim club’s operating expenses, but the township is ultimately responsible for its financial solvency. During the last seven years, the average operating cost of the club was $360,000 per season. Membership fees collected by the club have declined steadily from over $270,000 in 1999 to a paltry $129,000 in 2005. Hazlet taxpayers, including those who are not members of the swim club, have paid several hundred thousand dollars to balance this utility’s budget. The township has considered numerous ideas to fix the deficit, such as contracting with the YMCA to manage the day-to-day operations of the club and leasing out the food and beverage concessions, but nothing could generate enough money to overcome the problem of moribund membership.

In attempt to minimize this illegitimate use of taxpayers’ money, the township raised the swim club’s membership fees. Not surprisingly, the number of members continued to decline and last month, the Hazlet Township Committee decided to shut it down.

The Tuesday, May 2, meeting of the Township Committee was a standing-room-only event. It seemed as though every member of the swim club attended, many of whom addressed the committee. Most were malcontents expressing how the closure of the club would adversely affect their families, even while acknowledging that it is wrong for the club to operate at a deficit. After listening to residents repeat this conflicted mantra for over an hour, Mayor Sachs called the committee into executive session to reconsider the motion to close the club. The Township Committee resolved that the club would remain open for the 2006 season, but only if 250 families signed up for membership before May 25. However, this potential compromise still leaves the township with a problem. At the current rate of $385 per family, 250 memberships add up to less than $100,000 in membership fees, leaving a substantial shortfall in the amount needed to operate for the 2006 season.

Continuing to provide a service, in which most of our community seems to have lost interest, would be fiscally irresponsible. Hazlet could use those resources to manage quality of life issues that are more germane to the interests of the majority its current residents.

In a letter to the editor in the May 4 edition of The Courier, one Hazlet resident asked, “When will Mayor Sachs start watching out for us taxpayers?” The initiative to close the swim club was just one of many vigilant efforts by our mayor and the current Township Committee to curtail wasteful spending of Hazlet’s tax revenue. Yet, at Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting, that same resident vociferously complained about the motion to close the swim club.

Our Township Committee has a responsibility to make decisions that will benefit all citizens, not just the hypocritical ones with membership cards.

Rich Kohler is a life-long resident of Hazlet. Please send comments to All of Rich Kohler’s columns are available online at

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

2006/07 School Budget

Aside from May flowers, April showers bring forth a crop of lawn signs, advising taxpayers to support the school budget because education is “priceless”. Such rationale supports unchecked spending and implies that a vote against the school budget will harm the children of Hazlet. We all want the best for our children, but a strong education comes with a price. In fact, behind this spring’s bloom of empty rhetoric, the school board actually named a rather high price for a budget increase that includes obvious pandering to the interests of a few.

Why, when academic needs such as a science lab upgrade or additional teachers are expensive enough, does the school board create a new sports team, such as a wrestling program at the middle school or a freshman soccer program at the high school, to justify another huge tax increase? The answer is that few people actually vote on the school budget. With each newly proposed sports team, the school board can expect both parents of each potential player to vote YES. These thirty or forty votes will often change the outcome of the usually poorly attended school elections.

Legitimate high-ticket items, such as a new weight room (to fortify existing sports programs) or new science labs, seem to be included in the budget as expendable. If the budget does not pass, the school board can blame the taxpayers when they “cut” these needed items. If the budget does pass, we end up paying for more than is needed. At a time when major corporations, small companies, and state aid programs are streamlining their expenditures, it seems unreasonable for our public administrators, whether they be a member of the school board or the governor himself, to ask us to support a substantial tax increase. Especially, when in order to capture a special interest vote, they attach new and/or non-essential programs to the budgets of programs we do need.

As voters, we do not have to support the games that many public officials play with our tax dollars. I, for one, resent that while one hand tugs at our heartstrings, the other hand is reaching in our pockets. On Tuesday, April 18, I will to vote NO on Hazlet’s school budget proposal. If enough residents do the same, perhaps “for the sake” of our children, the next board of education will present Hazlet residents with a more honest and responsible school budget.

Rich Kohler is a longtime resident of Hazlet. Please send comments to

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Middle Road, 2/3/06
By Rich Kohler

Many Republicans in Monmouth County would probably rather forget the year 2005. However, behind the scandals, the headlines, and the name-calling, it is apparent that the Hazlet Republican leadership has quietly taken giant steps to move the township in a positive direction.
Last year, Mayor Michael Sachs put to rest one of the most contentious subjects in recent township politics. This summer, without jeopardizing our library or any other vital services, our township will have a new town hall in Veterans Park. Although a group of citizens objected to its location, Mayor Sachs addressed, but did not bow to the political or public pressure, and he stuck by his guns to get the project started.
Deputy Mayor Scott Aagre, a professional architect, has been diligent in supervising nearly every aspect of the town hall project, even going as far as posting photos and progress reports from the engineers on the township’s website, As of mid January, Deputy Mayor Aagre reports the construction is “on time and under budget”.
As a candidate in 2003 and as a long-term member of the planning board, Mr. Aagre saw a need for a comprehensive review of the Development Review Ordinance (DRO) of the township’s master plan, an important step in responsible management of the land-use in Hazlet. With the help of its chairperson, Christopher Cavanaugh, the planning board recently completed this project, and the DRO is now completely up-to-date.
Also during his campaign, Mr. Aagre advocated for a plan to examine the possibilities of developing the long-vacant Bradlees/Foodtown site and the adjoining empty lots. The Township Committee is currently looking at hiring a certified planner to investigate viable solutions for eliminating the eyesore of the empty stores, and to help turn the land into a properly planned, tax revenue-generating asset.
For some time, many residents have complained about cars speeding through our residential neighborhoods. Early in his term, Committeeman Aagre initiated a township-wide “Drive 25, Keep Kids Alive” program. The township will soon introduce a long overdue ordinance to change the speed limit on all township roads to 25 miles per hour.
Both Mr. Sachs and Mr. Aagre have long recognized the need to preserve Hazlet’s remaining open space at minimal cost to the taxpayer. Along with former Republican candidate, Ric Medrow, former Deputy Mayor Tracey Maffiore, and a dedicated group of residents, the township is working to preserve a greenway along the Waackaack Creek, which flows along the township’s eastern boarder. With the help of the NY/NJ Baykeeper, Friends of Holmdel Open Space, and the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, Hazlet is working with neighboring townships to preserve contiguous parcels of land along this estuary by searching out grants and other funding, and by supporting legislation to limit development along the greenway.
Michael Sachs is serving a second consecutive term as mayor. The Township Committee unanimously selected Scott Aagre to be deputy mayor. With the addition of Democrats Kevin Lavan and Jim DiNardo to the committee, both parties have an opportunity to work together for the responsible management and continued improvement of the quality of life in Hazlet.
Throughout 2005, while the local news, gossip, and opinion (including this column) focused on a few Hazlet politicians who only seemed interested in maintaining and exerting their power, the people who are interested in serving their community have been hard at work doing just that.

Rich Kohler is a life-long resident of Hazlet. Please send comments to

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mr. Broschart Responds

The Middle Road
By Rich Kohler
November 10, 2005

Last month, I wrote a letter to the editor of another newspaper criticizing its lax coverage of interim Committeeman Scott Broschart’s decision to withdraw his candidacy for an open seat on the Hazlet Township Committee. This month, Committeeman Broschart signed his name to a written response. In the interest of open debate and at the risk of being redundant, I dedicate this column to both sides of the issue.

“Mr. Kohler makes false accusations in his letter, such as his claim that Deputy Mayor Tracey Maffiore and Committeewoman Bridget Antonucci ‘assisted in helping to undermine the customary selection process,’ making reference to the appointment of myself to the Township Committee to fill Paul Coughlin’s seat.”

I did not make false accusations. I drew a logical conclusion from the events that had taken place.

“The county committee, which Rich Kohler is not a member of, selects three potential candidates to fill the vacancy.”

I never claimed to be a member of this committee. It is important to note, however, that since a fourth contender inexplicably withdrew his name at the last minute, no one on the county committee voted for Mr. Broschart.

“Those three names are turned over to the mayor and Township Committee to select one. This vote is confidential, so neither I nor Rich Kohler knows, or should know, how the committee voted. Since I was appointed to be on the committee, one must make the assumption that the majority, if not all, of the Township Committee selected me.”

Mr. Broschart can make whatever assumption he chooses, that’s why letters to the editor appear in a newspaper’s opinion pages. Nonetheless, I stand by my opinion of how he came to be a member of Hazlet’s Township Committee.

“Another false statement Mr. Kohler makes reference to is my résumé and the campaign I ran for both Michael Sachs and Bridget Antonucci. As I have stated, the money listed on my résumé reflects not just the campaign funds, but funds I have raised over a period of time for the Hazlet Republican Club and Executive Committee.”

Again, Mr. Broschart can make any statement he chooses, but the facts remain. Mr. Broschart’s résumé states that in his capacity as manager of the Hazlet Republican Campaign Committee, he “raised over $40,000 in contributions”. The reports filed with ELEC say otherwise. Should I believe Mr. Broschart’s letter to the editor, his resume, or the ELEC reports?

“Mr. Kohler, please, if you are going to dress up and play reporter, please play correctly. Instead of spreading false accusations about me, call and confirm facts before reporting on them so you don’t mislead readers.”

I am not a reporter, nor do I aspire to be one. I have written persuasive essays and the editorial staff at The Courier has seen fit to publish them as editorial columns. I did call and confirm the facts I cited in my columns...I just didn’t call Mr. Broschart.

“My decision to resign as the Republican candidate this year was due solely to a career change, which Mr. Kohler would have no knowledge of .”

Nor, would I have knowledge of Mr. Broschart’s present career. His resume lists a temporary job with the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of John Murphy and a job with State Senator Joe Kyrillos that lasted less than three months.

“I, unlike Mr. Kohler, have dedicated my time and energy to serve my town, not just stand on the sidelines and attempt to write about it.”

Writing an editorial column takes time and energy, and so does running a business well enough to support my family. I serve my community by paying attention to the actions of people acting on behalf of its multi-million dollar, tax revenue-financed budget. I also dedicate some of my time and energy to helping the library on behalf of the township. Many residents, as I do, spend most of their time and energy earning an income so they can live with their family in a decent community. Furthermore, I respect the great level of time and energy it takes to serve effectively and responsibly in elected office, and I vociferously support those who rise to the challenge.

“Since June, Mr. Kohler has openly attacked me and my family.”

I have criticized Mr. Broschart’s appointment to the Township Committee. I have criticized his manipulation of the selection process for his subsequent and brief candidacy. I have even criticized his decision to pass out campaign-related balloons along the 2004 Hazlet Day parade route. I have not “attacked” Mr. Broschart. I have not even mentioned his family.

“He has tried to convince people that I do not respect the office that I hold, but it is for that reason alone that I do not return his personal attacks.”

Since Mr. Broschart recently called me “a dirt-bag” in the parking lot of the Lakeside Manor, perhaps he has difficulty discerning between public opinion and a personal attack.

“Mr. Kohler, be forewarned that when my term ends next month, I will happily engage you in any public forum.”

Is this a threat or an invitation? Aren’t newspaper op/ed pages, community clubs, and committee meetings, public forums? What does Mr. Broschart propose: a push fight behind Middle Road Elementary School?

“Mr. Kohler is merely a salesman…”

This comment is rather condescending for someone who has yet to hold a steady job. Or at least, one that Mr. Broschart deems worthy of mentioning on his résumé.

“…trying to sell his poison to the public.”

My opinions do seem somewhat toxic to self-serving politicians, but they are not for sale.

“Good riddance to bad reporting.”

I would rather help rid our community of politicians who attempt to silence his or her critics by claiming that the pertinent facts are confidential.

Election 2005

The Middle Road
By Rich Kohler
November 3, 2005

“You don’t even belong here. You’re a dirt-bag.”

Those were the words with which Hazlet’s interim committeeman, Scott Broschart, chose to greet me as I entered the newly remodeled Lakeside Manor for the October meeting of the Hazlet Republican Club.

After the regular business portion of the meeting, Mr. Broschart asked for the floor. In the spirit of the brown shirted, armband wearing fascists who dominated Europe sixty-some years ago by eliminating all those who opposed their point of view, he angrily accused me of not supporting the Republican Party. Disregarding proper procedure, Mr. Broschart then demanded that I be dropped from the membership rolls of the club and requested an immediate vote on his resolution.

Led by the club’s president, Tracey Maffiore, the executive committee did not to allow Mr. Broschart’s antics to continue and tabled his motion pending further debate. This civil reaction to Mr. Broschart’s shocking demand for a no-dissention policy reinforced my belief in the integrity of Hazlet’s Republican Party.

When I joined the Hazlet Republican Club, I was an unaffiliated voter. Many of my early letters to the editors of local newspapers and my early columns in this newspaper criticized the Hazlet Democrats for conducting themselves in a manner that seemed to be more concerned with staying in office, than with serving the residents of Hazlet. When I disagreed with the direction of the then Democrat-led Township Committee, perennial candidate Kevin Lavan publicly and angrily claimed that I was suffering from dementia. I don’t doubt that anyone even mildly involved with politics could recall an incident when either political party encouraged members who had acted in a similar manner, as this is, after all, politics in New Jersey.

That was then, but this is now. Today’s political climate demands more accountability from our elected officials. Recently enacted sunshine laws and campaign finance reforms are a beginning, but without any real punitive action, loopholes are aplenty. It is the responsibility of the individual political parties or governing bodies to police themselves by encouraging open and legitimate debate from their members or constituents.

That’s exactly what is happening with the Hazlet Republicans. While the township Democrats are running recycled candidates from the same old Democratic group of cronies, the Republicans sought out and fought for the opportunity to bring new faces to the township dais. After two fair and open conventions of the district leaders, the Hazlet Republican Party chose Ric Medrow and Will Kolibas as its 2005 candidates.

Democratic candidates Kevin Lavan and Jim DiNardo have centered their deceitful campaign on the fact that Hazlet’s badly-needed municipal complex could cost up to 9 million dollars, interest included. Anyone who takes the time to either check the information on record with the township or to discuss their concerns with those involved with this large-scale and important project, will learn that Committeeman Scott Aagre, an architect by trade, and Mayor Michael Sachs have supervised it with professional and cost-effective pragmatism.

Hazlet Democrats recently concocted a plan that includes abandoning the construction already in progress, buying a building that is not currently for sale, and reconfiguring an old medical building into a functional town hall for an unlikely and unconfirmed 1.8 million dollars, interest not included.

Much like the leading members of the Township Committee, the 2005 Republican candidates, Ric Medrow and Will Kolibas, believe that honest management of our tax dollars is crucial to sustaining and improving the quality of life in our community. By vowing to respect the value of opposing opinions and reasonable debate, both candidates characterize the positive direction of Hazlet’s Republican Party. Mr. Kolibas’s candidacy alone is a testament to how a clean and open political process combined with strong party leadership can offset a sometimes volatile political climate.

Professional and transparent leadership often exposes power hungry political hacks that advance dishonest schemes, push personal agendas, and aspire to exert and maintain their own sense of power. Because when an informed public objects to such behavior, these self-serving perpetrators often resort to condescension and name-calling.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Broschart II

The Middle Road
By Rich Kohler
September 28, 2005

Each election season, in order to faithfully practice and protect our right to self-governance, responsible American voters attempt to sort through noisy rhetoric from and about incumbent and prospective politicians.

In my attempt to assess my choices for the 2005 election, I noticed that the Hazlet Republican Party is unusually quiet regarding the special election to fill the unexpired term of former mayor, Paul Coughlin.

Normally, a large committee of district leaders, within each local party, peruses résumés, checks references and credentials, conducts interviews, and then convenes to select the appropriate person or people to represent the party at the polls. Through their district leaders, party-affiliated residents have a voice in the selection of candidates for open seats on Hazlet’s Township Committee. Voters rely on the political parties to be accountable for ensuring that each candidate meets the basic standards of professional conduct. The winning candidate, after all, would be responsible for managing the municipality’s business on behalf of all its residents. The selection process gives a voice to the people and limits our obligation to the whims, influence, or personal agendas of any chairpersons and/or incumbent politicians at the local, county, or state level.

Under a little known and even less utilized rule, the chairperson of the Monmouth County Republican Party does have the power to appoint a municipal candidate in a special election, but according to the chairman of the Hazlet Republican County Committee, Steve Grossman, “this obscure rule hasn’t been used in a township election for at least twenty years.”

There was no shortage of Republican contenders for this special election and in the weeks following former Mayor Coughlin’s resignation, Chairman Grossman set the candidate selection process in motion. However, with inexplicable, supposedly accidental, unannounced, and barely acknowledged impropriety, Chairman Fred Niemann, the boss of the Monmouth County Republican Party, exercised his power to silence the voice of Hazlet’s Republican Party by single-handedly placing interim Committeeman Scott Broschart on November’s ballot.

Last year, Monmouth County Republicans criticized Chairman Niemann’s predecessor, Bill Dowd, for hand-selecting their candidate for Freeholder. Along with support from New Jersey State Senator Joe Kyrillos, but seemingly without cause or the support of many other party members, Mr. Dowd removed well-respected incumbent Freeholder Ed Stominski from the ballot and named former Matawan Mayor Rob Clifton as the party’s candidate. Unwilling to pilfer the voices of its members, the Republican Party in Monmouth County subsequently removed Mr. Dowd from his long-held seat at the top of their organization. And now, Chairman Niemann has disenfranchised Hazlet in the same manner that Mr. Dowd betrayed the Monmouth County Republican Party.

This newspaper has since linked Freeholder Clifton and Senator Kyrillos to shady campaign contributions from a developer seeking approval for the redevelopment of Matawan’s Train station. Like most towns and cities in Monmouth County, Hazlet’s most pressing challenge is to prevent developers and contractors from “owning” our political leaders.

On September 7, the Hazlet Township Committee passed an ordinance that prevents candidates from accepting campaign donations from people or companies doing business with the town. While this legislation is an appropriate first step in reducing corruption, it still allows candidates to accept such a donation, as long as the money filters through a political party at the county level.

Interim Committeeman Broschart, who introduced and championed this latest pay-to-play ordinance, will now have a record of “reform” to flaunt during his upcoming campaign. The new ordinance does kick the pay-to-play money out of town, but those newly prohibited campaign donations will likely be waiting for Candidate Broschart in the county coffers.

The last Hazlet Township Committee meeting inspired a steady barrage of frustrated residents with questions for or about Committeeman Broschart. Why does his résumé claim that he raised almost $20,000 more for the 2004 Sachs-Antonucci campaign than the amount on file with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission? Did he misappropriate the money or lie on his résumé? Why did Chairman Niemann usurp the power of the Hazlet Republican County Committee to choose its own candidate? What motivated Senator Kyrillos to employ Scott Broschart after he became a member of the Hazlet Township Committee?

Hazlet residents must stridently demand reasonable answers to these and many other questions, especially if Senator Kyrillos, Chairman Niemann, and Committeeman Broschart wish to keep their respective positions of power within a legitimate political organization and a legitimate governing body. Otherwise, we will only have ourselves to blame for allowing unaccountability, backroom politics, and corruption to compromise the quality of life in our own community.