Jeff Jacobson is running for the Third Ward council seat on the For Montclair slate against Chris Swenson—who is on the Real Progress Montclair slate—and Sean Spiiller—who is on the Montclair 2012 slate.
Patch asked Jacobson, and has been asking all the candidates, a series of questions. is a Q&A Patch recently did with Walter Springer; is one with Selma Avdicevic; is one with Bill Hurlock; and here is one with Swenson.
All candidates are invited to contact Patch at Shelley@patch.com to answer similar questions and readers are invited to submit questions to Jacobson in the comments section below.
Q) What do you think you bring to the table that is unique?
A) I'm running on the basis of my experence in municipal government. I spent three years working as a civilian supervisor for the University of Pennsylvania's Police Department, which had more than 100 patrol officers. My job there was to set up community policing and also victims support programs. I went from that job to work in the Philadelphia Streets Department. It's the largest operating department in that city. We had to find massive savings without reducing services. Therefore, operating in a tough budget environment is something I've done before. I know that Philadelphia is not Montclair and vice versa but some lessons can be learned from my experiences there.
Q) Such as?
A) How to find ways to deliver services for less money. Sanitation is a principal example. I know that there is no harder job than that of sanitation worker. It's an impossibly physical and unpleasant job. If we're not working at peak efficiency it's not the fault of the worker. We're operating here with 20-year-old trucks and we're not giving workers efficient routes. They don't even have set routes. It is a hodgepodge. I believe we have to go out and get bids from private companies but we also have to get an honest accounting of what our costs are. How much is fuel and what are our future benefit/pension costs? When we get cost estimates from an outside provider, we can go to the workers themselves and see if they can match the prices. Why vote for me? Because we're in a really tough budget environment and we need people with actual operational experience. It's not a knock against any other candidate. But I have that experience.
Q) I've heard you talk a lot about the police force and changes that might need to be made in that area. Can you be specific as to your plans?
A) We have 33 people supervising 80 officers, which is an odd ratio. We owe the police chief the respect of having a conversation with him before we start making all kinds of suggestions ... he is a highly respected police chief. But why do we have to have four captains, 11 lieutenants, and 15 sergeants? We have a desperate need for more patrol officers. Unfortunately, we may need to take a look at whether we need to do away with some of the supervisory positions to give resources to other areas.
Q) Why did you decide to run for office at this point in your life?
A) My wife and I have been in Montclair a little less than six years. Over the past few years, I've been reading things in the media and wondering what Montclair is doing. Almost every time i turn arond, I see another opportunity to save money. I got involved because i think I have the skills to do this and I didn't want to just be a complainer. I wanted to get involved.
Q) Since you were worried about the town's finances, did you get involved with the Concerned Citizens of Montclair group?
A) I applaud the Concerned Citizens group but to be quite honest ... when they were doing their work, my wife and I were having a baby. I was reading voraciously though and I was a fan of what they were saying but was frustrated that the council didn't seem to be listening to what they were saying or to what the Capital Finance Committee was saying.
Q) The rhetoric during this campaign season in the news media has been fairly heated at times. How would you temper the rhetoric going on and how would you get along with others not from your slate?
A) I've tried to demonstrate with all my responses that it's possible to disagree respectfully. You are not going to hear me engage in a personal attack. I will engage with people with a level of respect. If you look at the quality of candidates across the board, it's nearly impossible to imagine that the next council isn't going to have a better tone than the current one. We all have gotten to know each other. We've engaged in very respectful debates. The debates have been on a high level and have been respectful. Can I guarantee this will continue on the council? No. But in my job as a lawyer, I have experience in finding ways to make sure dialogue stays on topic.
Q) What are your specific plans related to economic development?
A) I've met with those at the [Business Improvement District] and am impressed with what they say. One problem is that there have been restrictions on what types of businesses can open. For example, you can't open a real estate office in downtown Montclair. They are only in converted houses. They've wanted businesses that bring in foot traffic, like nail salons. We need to look at changing these restrictions. Chris Swenson is very persuasive on this issue. I agree we need to give people a single point of contact at town hall so that it doesn't take longer than it should to open a business. Between lifting restrictions that don't need to be there and reorganizing town hall to make the town friendlier to businesses ... I think that will go a long way.
Q) What about your long-term view?
A) We haven't invested in four years in economic development. But we used to. We need to think about investing in this area again. The highest rents are in the Academy Square area. We need to bring in more of that investment. Montclair 2012 has said it plans to bring in $10 million in tax revenue as a result of new economic development. That would be the equivalent of four DCH-sized developments. I don't know where the town would put them. They say we can generate $10 million in revenue. But how long will that take? Robert Jackson is a developer ... so what's been stopping him and others from developing in Montclair? Where are the developers who are going to build these new projects? We need to find savings wtihin the budget we have.
Q) Anything else ... something that people may not know about you?
A) I grew up in South Orange. My two daughters [ages 6 and 3] are actually fifth generation Essex County residents. I'm in Montclair for a very good reason ... because I couldn't imagine a better place for us to raise our kids. Fixing our problems does not require total reinvention ... but we must let Montclair's attributes sell themselves. Also, I just want to say that I greatly respect the two people I am running against. It's been a pleasure getting to know all the candidates.
For more on Jacobson's views—and the views of all the candidates—go here.