Tag Archives: Fair Haven Borough Council candidates

Fair Haven Council Candidate’s Q&A: Meg Chrisner-Keefe

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. Meghan Chrisner-Keefe is making her first run for public office as a Democrat candidate. Below is R-FH Retro’s Q&A with Chrisner-Keefe …

Democrat Fair Haven Borough Council candidate Meghan Chrisner-Keefe

Name, age, street address 

Meghan Chrisner-Keefe, 36 years old, 25 Beechwood Pl, Fair Haven.

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? 

When I think about growing up in Fair Haven, I think about my lifelong friends and the places around town where we spent time together, our shared experiences and how it made me feel.

I want to serve the community that raised me and fostered my dearest memories and relationships which are the result of Fair Haven’s strong traditions and sense of community. I am grateful to raise my own children here and hope my grandchildren have the opportunity as well. 

What did you admire most about your hometown? Its greatest attribute?

Fair Haven has an incredible sense of community. It values its residents, both new and old, supports its children and fosters strong relationships. I am grateful that we can call our neighbors and friends an extension of our family and part of our village. 

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 family moved to Fair Haven when I was 8 years old. After graduating from RFH, I spent four years at Syracuse University, followed by several years working in New York City. I lived in downtown Newark during my 1L year of law school and then moved to Red Bank. When my husband James and I were expecting our first child, we began looking for our first home in the area.

Moving to Fair Haven was the only option in my mind – I wanted my children to have the same experiences I had growing up. I met my lifelong friends in second grade at Knollwood when I moved here as a kid and we can now tell each other’s life stories.  

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.

Taxes are on everyone’s mind. Every single decision of the governing body has a tax impact and component. While municipal taxes only account for 20 percent of everyone’s tax bill, it is critical that every cent in and every cent out reflects the collective desires of our residents.

Opening the budget and finance committee meetings to the public will engage more residents in the process and allow more collaboration on our town’s spending, particularly as it relates to bigger ticket expenses, as well as fixed and variable expenses. When we increase awareness of Fair Haven’s finances by making the public part of the process, there is an opportunity for improved understanding and appreciation of our property taxes. 

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 practicing attorney at Smith Eibeler in Holmdel. We primarily represent employees in both litigated and negotiated matters including unlawful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination and whistleblower cases.

If elected, my skillset will be particularly effective in advocating for our residents, analyzing complex legal issues, drafting ordinances and communicating with Fair Haven’s residents — things I do on a daily basis in my professional life. This skillset and perspective are not represented on the current council.

There’s a misperception that attorneys like to argue when in reality we’re simply advocating for our clients’ positions and trying to reach a resolution of the conflict. My ability to advocate, negotiate and craft settlements and solutions will be an asset to both representing residents’ needs and managing Fair Haven’s current litigations.

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 believe the amount of time our municipal officials, both elected and appointed, spend taking care of Fair Haven is not well understood.

When borough business takes place behind closed doors or happens over calls, citizens cannot appreciate how much time they spend away from their jobs and families to do Fair Haven’s work.

If elected I will urge the council to engage in more public conversation on all agenda items, advocate for public meetings of boards, commissions and committees and commit to instituting streaming of borough meetings. 

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?

In law school I was part of a research team and served as a senior member of the team during my 3L year. Last year I worked with a small group of community members to raise funds for the new toddler playground at Fair Haven Fields. I am a current member of the Natural Area Committee, for which I served in a volunteer capacity for one year and have been a member of for the past year.

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? 

Attending and graduating law school has been an accomplishment that I return to daily as the reason many things have happened in my life. I never expected law school to be along my life path and I am proud of the not-for-profit clinics I participated in as a student, the research team I was a part of and that I am now a litigator advocating for my clients’ rights every day against small and large employers alike. If elected, my legal training and advocacy skills will be an asset to our council. 

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? 

I have a strong appreciation for democracy and believe there is opportunity for improved representation in Fair Haven. I’ve been speaking up at council meetings for some time now and decided it’s time to step up.

Time after time, despite attending meetings and asking questions, I was not afforded the information I sought. In the absence of transparency and accountability, democracy cannot function.

Enabling Fair Haven’s residents to have access to information, participate in the process and receive answers to questions are all goals of mine. If elected, the benefit for me is the benefit for all — restoring the trust of the governing body to one that is approachable, inclusive and communicative. 

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? 

The governing body has appointed the Restaurant Committee to explore possible land use and zoning ordinances to replace the ones that resulted in the extensive hearings on the Dunkin’ application.

I believe the committee itself has already been and will continue to be effective in engaging in open and honest discussions and hearing Fair Haven’s citizens. I am hopeful that the governing body will honor its duty to embrace our representative form of government and strongly consider the committee’s recommendations once issued.

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? 

Hypothetically, I would propose a variety of housing solutions to satisfy the need, including some typical units such as houses, condos and apartments, as well as creative housing solutions such as small scale housing solutions (think tiny houses), co-housing concepts and accessory structures (as was recommended in the 2016 Master Plan).

Again, hypothetically, a healthy mix of housing styles woven throughout our community would be an interesting approach to meet the varying needs and income levels of our community.

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’ve spent a lot of time attending borough meetings in the past few years. I am particularly impressed with Councilwoman Betsy Koch. I knew her from my days attending Knollwood and always felt she was an encouraging teacher and mentor for all students.

Now in her role as councilwoman, I see her advocacy for residents and appreciate her approach and effort to address needs and concerns. Councilwoman Koch’s energy and involvement is admirable and I am grateful for her continued commitment and work in Fair Haven.

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? 

There are many tools and programs already available to reduce, limit or freeze eligible seniors’ taxes and Fair Haven should examine programs that would help our seniors remain in Fair Haven — we can do this and help our senior neighbors NOW.

If I became a billionaire, I would use the funds to establish a sustainable, well-researched program to support Fair Haven’s senior residents. 

Is there anything you would like to add that you feel is critical to your platform/candidacy? Please explain why. 

I’d like to thank all of our elected and appointed officials who work hard and generously volunteer their time and skills to our amazing town. I hope to earn your vote TOMORROW and have the opportunity to serve the Fair Haven community as an elected official.

Fair Haven Council Candidate’s Q&A: Jacquie Rice

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. Jacquie Rice is a Republican incumbent candidate. She filled an unexpired term and is now running for a full term on council. Below is R-FH Retro’s Q&A with Rice …

Republican incumbent candidate for Fair Haven Borough Council Jacquie Rice

Name, age, street address

Jacquie Rice, 52, 45 Maple 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 in Union Beach, NJ. When I was growing up I did not imagine that I would one day be very involved in my future town. The desire to volunteer and give back came much later in my life. 

I did have family members who volunteered though. My Uncle was a member of the Union Beach First Aid squad for all of my childhood. My Father coached grammar school basketball teams for Holy Family & St Joseph’s.

What did you admire most about your hometown? Its greatest attribute?

What I liked about Union Beach was that everyone seemed to know everyone. People who grew up there chose to stay and raise their families there also. 

I also like the fact that we were by the bay. I spent a great deal of my childhood exploring the marsh lands and crabbing in all of the creeks. 

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? 

 I moved to Fair Haven in 2005. I didn’t know anything about the town prior to meeting my husband. He grew up here as did his father. He was adamant that we were going to live in Fair Haven and raise a family here. As we started to have children I came to realize how unique this town is and what a great place it is for kids. 

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.

 Our single greatest issue is deciding what to do with our facilities. Our Police Department must be replaced. Renovating it is not an option. Renovating was explored and it was deemed more costly than a complete rebuild. The community center is attached to the current PD so a decision needs to be made on where to rebuild that also. I would like to move the PD to River Road and get it out of the residential area it is in now and combine it with new Borough offices. Over the past year many options have been explored as far as property and where to move PD. Cost is a huge factor in deciding where to put the new building. I do not want to build anything that will cost the taxpayers money. Until the best location is decided and we can ensure a zero tax increase, we will not be making any decisions. 

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? 

In 2006, when my son was born, I stopped working full time. Since then I have been a stay at home mom who has always had a part time job. I currently work part-time at Knollwood as a paraprofessional. For this question I would have to say that my professional career is being a mom. I think the greatest misperception about stay at home moms is that we don’t do anything worthwhile all day, are dissatisfied in life and gossip all of the time. This could not be further from the truth. 

I feel that being a mom full time helps me be more effective because I look at the issues from a different point of view. I want to make sure that Fair Haven remains a town where everyone wants to live so my kids will want to raise their future families here also. 

Knowing that people misperceive what a stay at home mom does has helped me develop thicker skin which is definitely a requirement when you are in a public role. It also drives me to prove the misconception wrong by working hard and making thoughtful decisions that are for the good of all of the residents.

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?

 Lately I feel that a lot of people seem to think that municipal officials have ulterior motives. There is a baseless distrust of all levels of government. I honestly think this is because most people do not understand how government works.

There are circumstances where not everything being discussed amongst council can be made public. Those circumstances are clearly laid out by the state of NJ and strictly adhered.

It’s a shame because everyone at the municipal level is giving their time, away from their families, for free and there are some people who continually go around trying to disparage their reputations simply because they are ill-informed of how the process works. 

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?

 I spent one year on the board for the Junior League of Monmouth County. I was the recording secretary. In that role I learned a lot about leadership, decision making and basing decisions on the future of the organization. 

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? 

This may sound strange but I was proud of the fact that I went back to work downtown after 9/11. I didn’t enjoy going back to work. I was scared every single,solitary day but I did it.

I did it because the President asked me to … he asked that we all move forward with our lives and show the world we would not be broken. Continuing to work downtown I felt like I was part of the front lines of the war on terror so I got up every day, held my head high, buried my fear and moved forward. It wasn’t easy. 

I am better equipped today to deal head on with things or matters that I find frightening or uncomfortable. I feel that if I could survive that first year after 9/11, I can survive anything. 

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? 

The benefit I receive from serving is knowing that I am making a difference. I am making decisions to help move us into the future while maintaining our awesome community. I want to be a part of the solution not a part of the problem so I help make the decisions. I want to be impactful, I want to leave my mark on this world, serving the community helps me do just that. 

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 100 percent think it will be effective. There was a lot of division in the town over a Dunkin Donuts application. I feel the committee allows for all members of the community to have their voices heard. The committee will advise council on how the cooperative public wishes to see the town move into the future. We all have a stake in the future of this town, I think the committee is a perfect example of how democracy works. 

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? 

Hypothetically speaking I would have the town buy individual houses as they come onto the market, update them and sell them with a 20-30 year deed restriction allowing for low/moderate income families to purchase them. 

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 admire Paul Smith,Jr. the current mayor of Union Beach. I do not know him personally nor have I met him. I admire him for his leadership during and after Super Storm Sandy.

My childhood home was flooded during that storm and my parents lived through a very trying time. Mayor Smith organized the recovery process immediately and communicated very clearly with the residents. His leadership helped pull that town back from the brink and the town is thriving today because of it. I can only hope that if I am ever faced with a crisis of that magnitude that I would be able to lead as he did. 

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? 

First, I would use my money to hire professionals to meet with all of the seniors in town to help them apply for a freeze on their taxes with the state of NJ. 

For those who still couldn’t afford the taxes I would look into setting up a foundation that would assist seniors in paying the portion of their taxes that would be a hardship to them. 

Is there anything you would like to add that you feel is critical to your platform/candidacy? Please explain why. 

The only thing I would like to add is that this past year on council has been my honor and privilege to serve. I hope the residents of Fair Haven can see how passionate I am about this position and that they choose to vote for me again for a three year term. If elected, I promise to continue to serve the community to the best of my abilities. 

Election Time: Q&A with Democratic Fair Haven Council Candidates Rodriguez & Patel

This year in Fair Haven there area two three-year seats on the Borough Council up for grabs. Running in teams are Republican incumbent Susan Sorensen and newcomer Betsy Koch and Democrats Christopher Rodriguez and Jessica Patel. Rodriguez is currently filling the unexpired term of Democrat Aimee Humphreys, who moved out of the borough. Patel is a newcomer to the political arena.

Koch is seeking her inaugural term on council. Her husband, the late Jerome Koch, served. Sorensen is seeking a third term on the six-member governing body with a weak mayor-strong council form of government. In this form of municipal government, the mayor presides over meetings, but only casts a vote in the case of a tie and has veto power.

The following is Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect’s Q&A with Rodriguez and Patel. The questions are listed with each candidate’s response.

Name, address and age

Chris Rodriguez

Christopher Rodriguez, 134 Buttonwood Dr., 44 years old

Jess Patel

Jessica (Jess) Lewis Patel, 205 Fair Haven Road, 37

Profession

Chris Rodriguez

Entrepreneur, Financial Services Executive

Jess Patel

I’m a proud mom of four, homemaker, volunteer, and yogi. I’m in charge of Marketing and Creative to our family endeavor, We Gift, a fundraising platform for both 501(c)(3) organizations as well as community-based charities. My youngest son is 3, and September was his first time going to school. It’s been a very busy time in my life up to this point, but I finally have a few hours free everyday while he goes to Sickles Pre-K! It’s been wonderful to spread my wings and start to get my hands wet again. As a mom of young kids, it can be challenging to focus on all the things I’d like to, while not spreading myself too thin. I stick to the things that make me the happiest and have the most positive impact on myself, my family, and the people around me.

Volunteer affiliations

Chris Rodriguez

I volunteer my time across many organizations and causes. I have run a communion breakfast ongoing for the past 22 years at St. Benedict’s. I was a board member of St. Benedict’s Prep, a non-profit school in Newark, NJ for 19 years through 2013. I support the Fair Haven PTA and local students, examples include volunteering for the Teen Canteen this past spring and supporting the beloved scarecrows fund raiser by collecting/accounting for funds while my wife Karen was the head of that effort. I participate in the Symphony.com charitable group where I currently work and am scheduled to staff a soup kitchen in NYC on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I have volunteered at multiple local events like Fireman’s Fair, for the Foundation for Fair Haven, spraying runners at the recent Color Run 5K and co-leading the past three FH Natural Area Volunteer days cleaning up trails, cutting down weeds/invasives and restoring trees through state donations of regionally appropriate seedlings. I have facilitated or co-chaired three (3) town-wide tree giveaways as a commissioner and former chair of the Fair Haven Shade Tree Commission giving out nearly 1,000 trees to contribute to our massive tree canopy since 2014. I am a volunteer to the FH Soccer federation and have been a coordinator managing multiple coaches and teams including 2nd grade boys coaching this year, 3th/4th grade girls soccer and 5th/6th grade girls soccer. I also worked as the opening crew co-lead with Jennie Lucci for the concession stand to drive the needed funds to keep fees down for our soccer athletes and families. I am involved with our Cub Pack as a member of the leadership team and recently stepped in as a den leader for the Wolf cubs. I’ve participated in promoting volunteer opportunities and getting the word out for local opiod prevention, suicide prevention, and blood drives over the years.

Jess Patel

I am actively involved with the Fair Haven PTA. Of their many great events and programs, Harvest Fest, Art Appreciation, It’s OK 2 Be Different, and the book fair are some of my favorites. I am a Cub Scout Den leader, and also help with Pack events. I’ve been a Dance Mom for my daughter’s Team. I’ve helped with Natural Area clean-ups, and recently assisted Firefly Yogis with an International Day of Peace celebration for 1st-3rd graders. I’ve Polar Plunged for NJ Special Olympics, participated in blood drives, and am heavily involved in promoting fundraising opportunities for the Lupus Foundation of America.  

What is your favorite charitable cause outside of the borough and why?

Chris Rodriguez

My favorite cause outside of Fair Haven is Saint Benedict’s Prep, now a co-ed school that offers educational experiences for children from Elementary school through high school. The school is focused on building good community participants through education, athletics and service oriented experiences. The school has remained in the city of Newark for almost 150 years through good times and bad. It provides children with opportunities to learn and explore interests that may not have been otherwise available without St. Benedicts. It’s truly a special and unique place that I cherish and personally support with effort and resources. The Benedict’s community was recently profiled by 60 Minutes: http://www.sbp.org/news/60minutes

Jess Patel

Hands down, if I had unlimited time, resources, and funds, I would dedicate my life to the Lupus Foundation of America. They are currently the only national organization devoted to fundraising towards and researching for a cure for lupus, an incredibly unpredictable, devastating, and debilitating disease. LFA also provides care for those who live with lupus’ brutal impact, and support to friends and family of patients sick with the disease.  Their vision, as well as my own, is a life free of lupus, and their mission is to “improve the quality of life for all people affected by lupus through programs of research, education, support and advocacy.” I lost my aunt to complications from lupus in 2007, and my mom in 2016. There’s nothing I would love more than to see a cure in my lifetime. https://www.lupus.org/

What is your premier campaign platform issue and how do you propose accomplishing your goal?

Chris Rodriguez

My focus is fundamental and pointed as it relates to infrastructure. I believe we have many opportunities to enhance the maintenance and in some cases, upgrade roads curbs, sewers, sidewalks and our core facilities. For generations we’ve kicked the can down the road on some buildings and projects in favor of repairing and keeping costs down, which should be done throughout the useful life of the asset. Many of our facilities are at or beyond useful life. As the back-up to Councilman Eric Jaeger on the Facilities Committee of the Council and when elected for the next term, I plan to dedicate my time to quality projects that enhance our town for current residents and the next generation to come.

Jess Patel

I am learning so much on this journey! I have learned from Chris’ guidance and influence, but more than anyone, the residents of Fair Haven have been my most treasured resource and my most valuable tool. My main goal, if elected, would be to focus on projects that maintain the integrity of our town as it is today, while also preparing us for a bright future ahead! This means taking advantage of opportunities to maintain and improve upon our town’s infrastructure and facilities: sidewalks, buildings, sewers, trees; while keeping safety a priority for residents of all ages. This, of course, while also making a dedicated effort to keep costs down. I’d also love to see more community involvement, wherever and whenever appropriate. Our town is full of smart, passionate, and dedicated community members who are brimming with bright ideas and a desire to be involved.

How long have you lived in Fair Haven?  What brought you here and in what year?

Chris Rodriguez

We are going on 6 years in Fair Haven. We showed up on the scene before Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore in 2012.  We have been in Monmouth County since 2006 by way of Spring Lake. We spilt time between NYC and our Spring Lake home near the beach but wanted more of a hometown feel while still being at the shore. We found Fair Haven through close family friends from both Rumson and Fair Haven. Frankly, we originally focused our search in the town to our East, but soon realized Fair Haven was more our speed. Three things stood out more than anything else: 1) the close-knit neighborhoods where you know and interact with others daily, 2) the throwback traditions that are the bedrock of the town like the Fireman’s Fair and lastly, 3) how the children can roam the town like I did as a child growing up in a small North Jersey town. Once we found the home we’re in, we called off the search in surrounding towns to focus exclusively on planting our roots in Fair Haven and have never looked back.

Jess Patel

My husband, Kal, and I moved to Fair Haven 10 years ago. We closed on our home the day after Christmas, 2007. As many families do, we took the long way here from New York City, via Hoboken. When we arrived, we had an eight-month-old daughter, a baby on the way, and two dogs. Our growing family had only a few requirements for our new home, but they were important. First, we needed a reasonable commute to the city. Kal was working downtown at the time, and wanted to be sure he would make it home before bedtime to see the kids. Also, we needed an excellent school district, not only for our kids, but potentially for me (I was an early childhood educator at the time, unsure if I’d go back to work in the classroom). Lastly, as long-term city-dwellers, we truly desired a walkable community! We needed to be able to walk for coffee, groceries, and pizza; to the bookstore, library, and post office. Of course this started as a wish-list item only, but when we found Fair Haven, we knew we’d look no farther. We’ve never regretted our move. A decade later, we have four kids, a dog, a cat, and a Bompy (that’s grandfather in our home – my dad!) living in the house we purchased all those years ago.

What was the first thing (situation, inanimate object, image  … anything) you encountered in the borough that captured your heart and clarified your decision that there would be no place like this home for you?

And don’t say the schools or the scenic suburban atmosphere. They are a given.

Chris Rodriguez

We purchased our home from a 50+ year resident who built his home specifically for his wife, in that it was the identical layout and floor plan of the home his wife grew up in out in Iowa. Mr. Jim Greene was a member of the FH Board of Ed and a typical passionate Fair Havenite. He vigorously interviewed potential buyers of his lovely home, which we now call our home. After losing his wife a year earlier, he desperately wanted a new family with young children to take his home into the future; at the time our son had just turned 2. After sitting with him 1:1, having multiple phone conversations, joining him for a lovely meeting with his grown children at the Seabright Beach Club and finally a formal dinner at his beloved Navesink Country Club, we were all-in. He curated a vision for us in Fair Haven while showering with stories from the past. I gravitated to his passion and perspective of the traditions of town. We shared common themes like his body of work in banking and involvement in the community and politics. Interestingly, he mentioned he was the Envoy to Argentina in the Carter administration. All told, our real-life firsthand Fair Haven experience with a 50+ year resident like Mr. Greene was what sealed it for us.

Jess Patel

Two things come to mind at first thought, in no particular order. First, the two large trees in front of our home. We’ve made some changes since we bought in 2007, but I can still recall the old image from the realtor’s website of our home the way it was when we first saw it in person. There’s something about the trees and all they symbolize: life, strength, change. So much in my life and in my family has changed in the decade we’ve been in town, but our big trees are still there, holding steady, anchoring us to each other and to our town. They go through the seasons with us. They’re pillars, and they represent so much for me, both literally and figuratively. I hope they outlast me! Secondly, the raspberry muffins (and all the other delightful baked goods) at what was then the Gourmet Picnic on the corner of Fair Haven Road and River Road. I spent countless hours there with my little ones, sipping coffee and indulging in sweets, meeting new friends, and forming lifelong bonds. We went there the day we saw our home for the first time, after the realtor left, and it was there, over raspberry muffins and coffee, that we decided once and for all that Fair Haven would be our new home.

Being a local official can be a tiresome, thankless job involving a major investment of time and heart. Why do you want it?

Cite the pay and benefits for a Fair Haven Borough Council member.

Chris Rodriguez

Let me start by saying the obvious, there is no cash payment for services rendered. Rather, the payment is in the gratification of giving back and setting an example for my children, my neighbors and for those new to the community. I serve because we need qualified folks contributing to the town in every way, whether it’s an extra set of eyes examining the financial aspects, contributing ideas to building projects, refining ordinances or simply volunteering for a committee of interest. I believe the more we put into the community, the more we all get out of it. Yes, it’s tiring at times and yes, it’s also thankless, but that is all offset by the amazing feeling of contributing to the long-term viability and growth of our treasured borough.

Jess Patel

I do realize this is a volunteer position! I have been out of my comfort zone campaigning; knocking on doors, speaking with individuals I don’t know, opening myself up to judgement, both positive and negative, putting myself out there. Not everyone wants to talk, and not everyone likes what I have to say. In spite of that challenge, that has been the single greatest part of this experience for me. I personally spoke to over 1,000 members of our community. I talked to neighbors who support me, and I spoke to those who don’t. And in the end, what matters most was merely the connection, not whether I earned their vote. I learned so much about what drives our community, and what people feel passionately about. I have a long list of community “wins,” things that people are raving about. I have a much shorter list of complaints. These are real issues – not mine, but ours. Real wins, and real concerns. But mostly, I learned about myself. I realized that I want this job because I know I can make a difference in our community, to our children and our retirees, to my family, to my friends, and to those I don’t know yet. I can be an inspiration to young women and men who want to be involved and want to make a difference, but might be unsure of themselves because they are viewed as inexperienced, and don’t know where to start. I’ve heard a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is my first step. Everyone starts somewhere. This is my beginning.

How do you feel about the gentrification — boom in retail and residential development in the past several years — in Fair Haven and the growing lack of affordability for the middle class?

It has been said that large, expensive homes are what the market is demanding. The predominant demographic for the borough, according to the 2010 census, is white families (73.6 percent headed by married couples and 51.4 percent of all households with children under 18 living with them). The median family income was $113,546. The median for Monmouth County is $82,265. For New Jersey, it’s $71,637.

Chris Rodriguez

I was approached by a resident just yesterday (11/5/17) on this very topic. We explored the pros and cons of the sizes of homes, the redevelopment of the ACME shopping center and the general direction of life on the peninsula. I shared a similar view with the person that we are going through an evolution not a revolution in Fair Haven. The resident pointed to the original development of River Oaks in the 50s and 60s. Before that period, there were no homes in that area and all of a sudden hundreds of ranches and capes popped up attracting new people and new business to an otherwise sleepy hamlet on the banks of the Navesink. In a 20-year period from 1940 to 1960 the population more than doubled (going from 2,491 to 5,676), imagine that. The cultural and economic changes must have been staggering and still we have this wonderful community. The sheer number of homes exploded in that time period putting stress on schools, roads and general infrastructure. There has only been and increase of about 400 people since 1960, a solid 55+ years later. The gentrification we are experiencing pales in comparison to what this town had seen in the middle of last century. We may be seeing a general increase in wealth and prosperity in our country and in the areas 20 miles circling the NYC area manifesting itself in all of the towns on the Narumsunk Peninsula.  So what do I think…I think our town will continue to evolve demographically and as such, attract folks that want the Fair Haven experience. We need to be careful to plan for and guide the evolution when it comes to zoning, planning and adhering to the feedback we get from residents in surveys we conduct like the revaluation of the master plan from 2015. We have a perfectly good road map from the people we work for, the voters and residents. I think the governing body comprised of the council and mayor should guide the town and its laws and ordinances based on the constituents’ direction.

Jess Patel

Our town attracts affluent families who want everything that Fair Haven has to offer, and that is exactly what we’ve built; a quaint, quiet retreat from city life that still offers all the amenities of urban living, ie: walkability, flourishing commercial district, exemplary schools, and reasonable commute, all with a peaceful view of our river and a quick drive to the beach. What isn’t to love? This is what we pride our community on; I’ve heard more than one resident refer to Fair Haven as “Mayberry,” and it makes perfect sense. For some new families moving into our community, newer and bigger homes are in demand. And certainly, for others, these are seen as unnecessary and out of character lining our lovely streets. Fair Haven will continue to grow to meet the needs of its residents, both current and future. Our goal should be to prepare accordingly, to stay on top of zoning and planning ordinances, and to truly listen to feedback from the community to understand fully what residents want and need moving forward.

Do you think there is a need to rethink residential zoning that encourages, allows for and makes room for more affordable, smaller homes, maybe even apartments, and diversity?

According to the 2010 census, 7.3 percent of the households in Fair Haven were comprised of someone living alone age 65 or older.

Chris Rodriguez

I am a firm believer that we need to take all of our residents into consideration when looking at zoning. One idea that I shared with some residents was the notion of encouraging small apartments like the one above Edwards Jones on River Road. I understand it’s not easy to accomplish these kinds of things in a mature and fully developed town with an iconic past and historic structures. We need to steadfastly focus on ways to retain our residents and even attract back young professionals who grew up there. Finding opportunities will be difficult, but one resident mentioned their child would either have to live with them in their home or move to anther town. We should consider ways to accommodate and encourage our younger generation to come back.

Jess Patel

We absolutely need to consider the needs of residents of all ages and incomes in our town.

My discussions with retirees and residents over 55, however, lead me to believe there is no clear right answer, and that this won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. In a community like Fair Haven, there is a desire to keep with the appearance of current homes and buildings, and therefore a typical apartment building may not be the way to go. There may be an opportunity to explore the option of using some existing structures and/or business dually as residences. Regardless of the solution, the ultimate goal should be keeping our residents in town, especially those who have grown roots here over the decades.

How do you propose to keep the area affordable for seniors who have lived here most of their lives and would like to stay?

It’s no secret that the average assessed property value in Fair Haven is one of the highest in the county and state at more than $700,000. The municipal taxes have stayed level for several years, but the rate itself is high, comparatively. Many people are not only fleeing the state, but leaving Fair Haven.

Chris Rodriguez

This is a complex and layered issue for which no silver bullet exists. There are many initiatives that can be explored with the help of the state government, county leadership and our own local governing body. I’d like to point to the NJ Homestead Rebate and work that can be done to make it more relevant to our residents. We struggle to make the rebate work for our residents because the relative level of affluence that was pointed out in a previous question works against our municipality relative to the rest of the state. The first step would be to create a small task force of residents and officials to lay out the issues, options and potential courses of action we can embark on with the county and state. Again, this is a very real issue with no silver bullet answer.

Jess Patel

If only I had the perfect answer to this pressing issue. Of course, there is no easy solution. There are federal, state and county initiatives that may be relevant and helpful to residents with a specific income or in a specific age bracket. If we begin with research and planning, we may empower residents to feel more secure here.

Who is your local political role model, past or present? It can be someone from another municipality anywhere. Why this person?

Chris Rodriguez

I share many characteristics with my own father, John Rodriguez, who was also an entrepreneur, an Eagle Scout and was a lifelong public servant in Roselle, NJ. My father was himself inspired by President John Kennedy’s focus on public service and particularly the formation of the Peace Corp. I try to conduct my actions in Fair Haven and on the borough council with the same passion and dedication to serving the community as my father. My dad had many flaws, but where he lacked in some areas, he made up for in others like volunteerism, active engagement in municipal projects and getting people more involved in community activities across the board.

Jess Patel

Mariel DiDato, current candidate for General Assembly, is an inspiration. At 24 years old, she went to testify at a senate budget committee meeting. She noticed that the committee members were not responsive to the witnesses; they seemed distracted and disinterested. Frustrated with their lack of interest and respect, she decided to get involved, to make a tangible difference. I have seen her speak with such passion and integrity, she can motivate an entire room into action. As a woman who is new to politics, I am completely motivated by her energy, honesty, and positivity. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to get to know her.

Local politics/governing bodies have a significant effect on residents. So do residents on one another. Whether or not you are elected, what, as a small town suburban resident, would you like to be your legacy?

Chris Rodriguez

Honestly, I don’t think about stuff like this much and don’t have a great answer. I would like to focus on what good things we can do as a community and how I can help us get there. Once I wrap up my public service life whether as an elected official or as a volunteer, I will look back on what I accomplished and be proud. If I inspire the people around me, namely my own family members, to also give back with their God-given skills, available resources, and an honest effort, then I will be happy with that outcome.

Jess Patel

The only legacy I leave will be to my children. If there is one thing I want my neighbors to think when they think of me, however, it’s that I took a big leap of faith, and I did it for Fair Haven. Because I love it here as much as they do!