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 …
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.