In Fair Haven’s Borough Council elections on Nov. 5, four are vying for two three-year seats on the six-seat dais: two incumbent Republicans and two Democrat challengers. Jonathan Peters is a Republican incumbent candidate. He is currently Fair Haven Borough Council president. He has served on council for 15 years and is seeking a sixth three-year term. Below is R-FH Retro’s Q&A with Peters …
Name, age, street address
Jonathan Peters, 56, 100 Park Avenue
Where did you grow up? What about your hometown do you think ultimately shaped your desire to serve the town in which you live? Any specific incident or experience?
I grew up on the South Shore of Staten Island. I was involved with recreational sailing and fishing from a very young age. These experiences gave me a strong connection to the natural environment and the ocean. That probably drew me to this community. My desire to serve came from my father — who volunteered in our community — and who was a role model as to how one should help your community.
What did you admire most about your hometown? Its greatest attribute?
A strong sense of community and family. Growing up on an island is much like living on the Rumson Peninsula, where we have strong geographic boundaries to our community and that helps us bond over common challenges.
How long have you been a Fair Haven resident? If there were periods in which you relocated, please explain why and where you lived? What prompted you to move to Fair Haven or come back, if that’s the case?
My wife and I moved to Fair Haven in 1999 from Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Being a waterman since I was a kid, I wanted to get back near the ocean and bays. The great schools, proximity to the water and my wife’s new job in Freehold motivated us look around the area. The walkable aspects and nice downtown attracted us to Fair Haven.
What do you consider the single most important issue facing Fair Haven residents? Please choose one issue only on which to focus. How do you propose it be remedied? Please be specific.
A continued focus on evolving the community to meet the needs of our residents. The onslaught of online shopping options is changing the nature of downtown business districts. As a community, we need to explore options as to how we can maintain a walkable and useful downtown commercial district for the benefit of our residents and businesses. As the government, we need to “set the table” — we need to manage the public infrastructure and business rules so that we encourage responsible private investment — an then we need to let the business owners do what they do best — provide goods and services.
What is your professional career? What do you think is the most misunderstood perception of your line of work? How will your professional skills and make you a more effective public official? How does the particular misperception of your career that you cited make you better equipped to serve the public?
I am a professor of economics and public finance at The City University of New York. I think there is a perception that professors are somewhat detached from society. I have not found that to be broadly the case, but I do think that it is unfortunate that more professors do not serve in public office.
I believe that would help the professors understand society better as well as bring more cutting edge ideas to the public sector. My training in economics and public policy have greatly aided my efforts in Fair Haven.
My knowledge of public finance I believe has been very useful in helping the borough design the funding methods for our public facilities, be it fire engines, roads, parks, sports fields or open space. Professors are very good a focusing on the long term — we do it all the time as we work on our research projects — which may take years or decades. I am very good at maintaining focus on the long game here in the Borough, and that is very helpful in solving major problems.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of local municipal officials’ work and/or character? Why do you think that is? How would you propose changing that perception?
I think some members of the general public think that municipal officials can solve every problem that arises to their personal satisfaction. In many cases, problems may not have a consensus solution — where most townspeople agree on what is the right solution. That presents a challenge to an elected official, as we generally want to represent the views of our constituents. But it is not possible to represent all views if there is not complete consensus on an issue; and most issues do not have complete consensus from the residents.
Talking about issues in an open way I think is the best way to help residents develop a sense of engagement and compromise as well as get the best ideas on the table.
Do you have any past experience on any governing body, local board or commission or committee? If not in Fair Haven, then where, in what capacity and for how long?
Yes, I have served on Borough Council for the last 15 years. I am currently the Borough Council President. My service on Borough Council has taken up most of my volunteering time over the last decade or so.
Cite a specific accomplishment in your life that has made you most proud — anything, from having an effect on one person or thing to initiating some sort of worldwide change. Why? How do you think this equipped you for public service?
I have spent the bulk of my professional life as a university professor with a specialty in economics and public finance. I hope that I have been a role model for my students and that I have inspired them to be engaged members of their home communities.
I have had the great pleasure to see a good number of my students become productive business leaders, good citizens and parents, and that has been a great joy.
Serving on Borough Council here in Fair Haven offers me an opportunity to use my academic skills in a practical way, and to continue to learn and change based upon my service. Serving as an elected official has taught me a great deal about practical politics and working with people that has contributed to my research and teaching.
Fair Haven Borough Council members are volunteer public servants. There is no pay or health benefits involved. It is also a very time-consuming job that requires transparency and accessibility to the public. What benefit is there for you, specifically, besides the obvious serving the town in which you live?
For me, I have a strong sense of duty and I believe that if I want to have the right to critique our systems, I have to be willing to serve in a policy role in our community. I also think that this is the best way that I can serve.
As a professor of public finance, I like to put my professional training and theories into practice. So far, the financial community has liked the performance of our financial controls, awarding Fair Haven a AA+ bond rating that we have maintained over the last 10 years —five rankings above the State of New Jersey that is ranked A-.
In response to the contentious outcry from residents over a new business coming to town, a new business committee has been formed. The committee is designed to serve ONLY in an advisory capacity with respect to the community’s wishes involving incoming businesses. Do you think it will be effective? Why or why not?
I think it is key to have a good discussion of the issues that face the borough. The committee seems to me to be the best mechanism to gather opinions and ideas about this issue.
The results will be shared with the Borough Council and the land use boards. At that point, we need to see if any changes need to be made to the land use rules for Fair Haven. It is very important to understand that municipal land use ordinances can and do provide guidance to land owners, but they have limited scope as to what the private sector can do with the property that they own.
Affordable housing is another hot button issue in Fair Haven. The borough has not met its obligation. From a PURELY HYPOTHETICAL vantage, if you were given the ultimate power to satisfy the original need of 371 units deemed by the Fair Share Housing Committee, what sort of units would you propose bringing into the borough and where would you put them if the sufficient land were yours for the taking?
Our current obligation looks to be two units — based upon our existing vacant land — so 371 units is a very big leap from a plan that reflects on the fully built out nature of our community. That being said, it has been hard to develop a plan in Fair Haven, as we have had a number of targets over the years set by the state agencies and the number of units needed varied widely. That made it hard to develop a firm plan that we could execute, as the scope of the units would impact how the plan should develop.
Best practices in this area (and I teach Urban Planning) generally tend to favor both mixed use facilities and transit accessible development, where you have housing over stores in a downtown and lower income housing along transit routes. This would make the River Road corridor our best potential site for low and moderate income housing.
A second issue to consider is inclusive zoning, where the town gives a certain bonus in terms of housing units, typically 20 percent additional units, that are provided by a developer of a property and are mixed in with other market rate units. Those two solutions seem to me to be the most helpful in solving your hypothetical question.
Which local municipal governing body member, in Fair Haven or the surrounding area (any town), do you admire most and why? Past or present.
I have had the opportunity to work with a number of great people who served on Borough Council in Fair Haven. I value what each one has contributed to my understanding of politics, public policy and personalities.
Some of my best lessons came from people who I did not admire – but they still taught me important lessons. It would be unfair for me to pick a favorite — I have served with so many. I would say that one event that stands out is when Mayor Joe Szostak and the council members came together to lead a bipartisan group in building a better community after a very turbulent election.
I was impressed by the bipartisan behavior on both sides during that time, and I continue to work to foster a sense of collegiality on the council between our members from both parties.
All candidates expressed at the debate a desire to keep seniors in Fair Haven. It is a dwindling population, due to the high cost to live in the borough. If you won the lottery and became a billionaire, what would you do, personally, to help your senior neighbors live their lives out in Fair Haven?
The key thing is to try to control costs and limit the increases in the tax bill for seniors. It is also critical to maintain support for critical services such as the Fair Haven Rescue Squad who provide important services for senior residents.
A billion dollars would offer an individual a significant amount of money to donate annually to the community. I would suggest that if we could provide a partial subsidy to property taxes for low and moderate income residents who have paid taxes in the town for 25+ years that might help a lot, and that is what I would probably do.
Is there anything you would like to add that you feel is critical to your platform/candidacy? Please explain why.
I want to continue to serve the community. I think I still have a bunch of good ideas to move forward. I also am pretty good now at balancing our community goals with the financial realities of a town where 95 percent of the local government expenditures come from our local taxes and only 5 percent comes from the state.
I have been a leader on shared services and privatization of public services in our community over the last decade. Fair Haven was recently ranked #21 in New Jersey Monthly’s Best Town’s report, and I hope that I have contributed along with many others to make our town one of the best in the state. I hope to continue to provide calm and thoughtful guidance to the community and borough staff that helps the borough continue to be a leading community in our region.