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Questions For Candidates: Jeff Jacobson

Jacobson is running in the third ward against Chris Swenson and Sean Spiller

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 02:00 PM
"When we get cost estimates from an outside provider, we can go to the workers themselves and see if they can match the prices." Seems unwise. How many bidders from the business community will want to bid knowing the considerable work they do in preparing a legitimate bid may only be used as a bargaining chip? Is it even legal or ethical? Will all the bidders be given the opportunity to "match the prices" ?
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 02:04 PM
"We haven't invested in four years in economic development. But we used to. We need to think about investing in this area again. " Does this mean tax abatements? What do you mean by "invest" when tax dollars are involved?
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 02:41 PM
ROC, outsourcing is something we should pursue to save money while achieving the same or ideally better service levels, not as a matter of ideology. The transition to an outsource provider would be wrenching for the employees involved -- remember that sanitation workers bumped from their jobs will be able to displace less-senior Community Services employees currently handling different duties, so there would be a domino effect throughout the department -- and disruptive to residents, at least initially. If we can achieve the same savings in partnership with our workers, which I fully recognize is a big "if," we should pursue that option. This is a customary step in municipal outsourcing discussions and one that, in my view, should not dissuade bidders. If we hear differently when we put out an RFP, we can reevaluate.
frank rubacky May 01, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Jeff, Thank you and the other candidates for attending the Gateway 1/Centro Verde presentation to the Planning Board last night. Clearly, one of the lynchpin elements of this design - and also Gateway 2 - is maintaining the upper story step-backs that will help avoid the "canyon effect" on upper Bloomfield Avenue. The Planning Board, the Historic Preservation Commission & the current Council have weighed in with their views and have also acknowledged the strong public support on this specific issue. I hope all the candidates will demonstrate their support for maintaining this requirement.
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I understand. But could you answer my actual question? "Is it even legal or ethical? Will all the bidders be given the opportunity to 'match the prices' ?"
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I'm the first one to criticize governmental use of the word "invest" when what the speaker really means is "spend." That said, there are times that a government, like a business, must spend money to make money. Chris Swenson often tells the story that it took him 12 weeks to open his storefront in Montclair but only two weeks in his other location. He and I agree that we need someone in Town Hall whose job it is to be a point of contact and internal advocate for business owners in these situations. Ideally, this would be an existing employee, not a new hire, but one way or the other, it's needed. You will no doubt say "there Jacobson goes again, spending money we don't have." So, to be very clear, I'm not proposing any new hires unless and until we have enacted offsetting spending reductions elsewhere. Once we demonstrate that we're serious about fiscal discipline, however, we need to return to thinking about the long term growth we need to keep the budget under control in years to come.
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I answered your legality/ethics question when I said it's a customary part of municipal outsourcing discussions. No, competing bidders do not usually get a chance to revise their bids once bids are unsealed. But the decision whether or not to outsource is separate from the bid-driven process of which provider to choose, and the Council is entitled to make that decision on the basis of the union's best offer to match the savings outsourcing would generate.
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 03:01 PM
So by "invest" in economic development, you mean assign a current person in township hall to be the point person for businesses? That's it?
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 03:22 PM
It would be clearly illegal and unethical. You may not divulge information regarding the bids to the union and ask them to "match" the price. They can submit changes at the time of solicitation which may be compared to the competitive bids. It's so obvious that what you describe would not be a fair bid process. I'm surprised someone who claims so much experience in this area would suggest such a thing. NJSA 40A:11-4.4 "c. At no time during the proposal solicitation process shall the purchasing agent or counsel or administrator convey information, including price, to any potential vendor which could confer an unfair advantage upon that vendor over any other potential vendor" 40A:11-4.5. "c. If the contracting unit, at the time of solicitation, utilizes its own employees to provide the goods or perform the services, or both, considered for competitive contracting, the governing body shall, at any time prior to, but no later than the time of solicitation for competitive contracting proposals, notify affected employees of the governing body's intention to solicit competitive contracting proposals. Employees or their representatives shall be permitted to submit recommendations and proposals affecting wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment in such a manner as to meet the goals of the competitive contract. " (note: " at any time prior to, but no later than the time of solicitation for competitive contracting proposals...")
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 03:22 PM
source: www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/lpcl/stat_refs/40a_11-1_etseq.doc
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 03:22 PM
ROC, I'm not going to go back and forth with you all day, but no, that's not it. We used to have a robust economic development council. We don't anymore. I'd like to reconstitute it with as much volunteer effort as possible, but some spending on economic development, including a paid staffer, may be warranted. PILOT agreements are a last resort, and I'd note that some of the most in-demand commercial spaces right now (i.e., Academy Square) are in buildings paying the full tax freight.
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 03:31 PM
ROC, one of the things they taught me at Columbia Law School is that when you quote a statute, it helps to quote the whole thing. N.J.S.A. 40A:11-4.5(c) goes on to say that "Nothing shall prevent such [existing municipal] employees from making recommendations that may include modifications to existing labor agreements in order to reduce such costs in lieu of award of a competitive contract, and agreements implementing such recommendations may be considered as cause for rejecting all other proposals." Nothing in the statute says that these proposals from existing workers must arrive before the outsource bids are publicly released. Of course, the town could not share the contents of outsource bids with workers before those bids are unsealed, but once they're unsealed, negotiations with workers may ensue during the 60-day period the town has (pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:11-4.5(e)) in which to decide whether to award the contract to the lowest responsible outside bidder or, as stated above, to "reject all other proposals."
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I usually have to make quite a ruckus to get you to finally admit in these little back and forths that you indeed intend other spending that what you initially indicate. That's my concern.
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 03:41 PM
"Nothing in the statute says that these proposals from existing workers must arrive before the outsource bids are publicly released. " That's not the issue. It doesn't matter when workers make their proposals. You said "When we get cost estimates from an outside provider, we can go to the workers themselves and see if they can match the prices." Meaning that after the bids are returned you see if they can "match the prices". In fact, "match the prices" can mean nothing ELSE than after bids are received. That's the unethical and illegal part. "at any time prior to, but no later than the time of solicitation for competitive contracting proposals..."
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Again I'm surprised that someone who attended Columbia Law School, would not glean the obvious fair-minded intent of the law. That no bidder or entity (including the township's own workers) have an unfair advantage in making proposals. The legal and ethical thing to do would be to solicit the union "any time prior to" (as the law says) the solicitation of bids and seek their best offer, then compare it with the results of the competitive bids. Otherwise it's not a truly competitive process and it favors the union. Can we expect other similar interpretations of the law if you are elected?
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Your interpretation of the statute is incorrect, ROC. The workers are not "bidders." They are employees of the township who are able to try to convince the Council not to pursue an outsource solution, including by demonstrating after receipt of outsource bids that they can generate the same savings. That's what the statute says and means. And with that, ROC, I think it's time for us to agree to disagree. I wish you luck finding a candidate more to your liking.
A. Gideon May 01, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I don't see why real investment - as opposed to spending that doesn't somehow pay for itself - is a bad thing. If the town can spend $1 to generate $2 of revenue, then that's $1 less we pay in taxes. That's a Good Thing! However, I've seen a lack of seriousness in any attempt to actually determine the expected return for a given investment under consideration. A recent example is the work on Park Street. I'd like to blame this on a lack of staff, and perhaps that does play a role. But I believe that the primary cause is that politicians have generally had reasons for these "investments" that are of higher priority for them than "merely" generating revenue for the town and thereby saving taxpayers money. Whether there is real savings for taxpayers just isn't that important to the people we've been electing. *That* is what we voters need to change with this election. Where we invest, we need to do this because Montclair taxpayers will gain from it. It should not be sufficient that a few developers, property owners, or business owners will gain. Those gains are not bad, mind you (and I write that as a property and business owner). But if they are going to be the only winners, let them make the investment. If Montclair is to invest, then there must be some clear path by which the taxpayers see the benefit. ...Andrew
Jeff Jacobson May 01, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Andrew, I'm in total agreement with you on this one.
A. Gideon May 01, 2012 at 03:59 PM
The work on South Park could also have been a terrific example of cooperation amongst the town and its businesses. The businesses will gain the most; they should have covered most of the cost. The town will gain something; it could have invested something. That type of partnership could be a very useful tool for improvements within business districts. At the moment, though, there's no incentive for businesses to join in such partnerships as our current and past political leaders have been perfectly willing to fund such projects in their entirety with taxpayer dollars. We need leaders that are are more careful with our money. That doesn't mean a lack of investment, but it does mean a willingness to walk away from a deal that's a bad one for us. ...Andrew
LeeAnn Carlson May 01, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Frank, Thank you for bringing up the issue of the upper storey step-backs for the Centro Verde projects. I believe this design feature is critical and must be preserved, for exactly the reason you state. This is the largest development project in Montclair's history; we need to make sure it's done properly, not just quickly. I'm glad you and others attended the Planning Board meeting last night. I had a conflict and was unable to attend. Thank you to all who are working to make sure we are adding buildings that will best suit the town's long-term interests.
Right of Center May 01, 2012 at 04:31 PM
"Your interpretation of the statute is incorrect, ROC." That debate is less interesting than the essential fact. You see nothing unfair allowing the union to "match the price" after the fact - after bids are unsealed and made public. This would give the union an unfair advantage and not be in the best interest of the taxpayer. The workers (via their union) should indeed be allowed to make proposals to (as the law says) "meet the goals of the competitive contract". But this should be done on the same footing with the competitive bids, without knowing before hand the price to beat. If we want truly competitive pricing we need a truly competitive process. If you are going to steward the public's money, I would think that concept would be obvious.
Matt Z May 01, 2012 at 06:04 PM
I've had an opportunity to review the statute, and cannot conclude that it prohibits the scenario that Mr. Jacobson is proposing. However, ROC's interpretation is also potentially supported by the language. ROC, although you condemn the proposed process as illegal and unethical, §40A:11-4.5(c) does give the union the opportunity to make proposals "in such a manner as to meet the goals" of the contract, and the language cited by Mr. Jacobson is an explicit savings clause that would seem to support that maneuver. The statute imposes no deadline on the union's submission and certainly says nothing explicit about union proposals following those of private contractors. On the other hand, 40A:11-4.4(c) prohibits the disclosure of price information to any "potential vendor" to avoid an "unfair advantage", so the question then becomes whether a current vendor in the form of the union employees is distinct from a potential vendor. I'd lean towards Jacobson's take but you'd really have to check the judicial interpretation on this one.
A. Gideon May 01, 2012 at 06:12 PM
"you'd really have to check the judicial interpretation on this one." The outcomes from such situations should also be reviewed. I share ROC's concern that business owners would be reluctant to submit a bid in a situation where it was being used to try to force concessions from a union. Unless there was some fragmentation w/in the union, and it might be willing to "toss the affected workers under the bus", this sounds like a situation where the outside vendors are at an extreme disadvantage. Unless this is a case where bidding is cheap, I cannot imagine this generating a lot of interest on the part of potential vendors. ...Andrew
Shelley Emling (Editor) May 01, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Thanks for responding Jeff to all these various comments/questions...
frank rubacky May 01, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Thank you LeeAnn for adding your support.
OMG Montclair May 02, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Shelley, Can we expect to hear from Sean Spiller? I assume you had reached out to him?
frank rubacky May 02, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Jeff, this day gets more and more interesting.
Jeff Jacobson May 02, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Frank, It was a pleasure meeting you at the Planning hearing yesterday. I'm sorry you're not here in Council chambers tonight. You've so far missed a 20-minute debate over whether or not to spend $19,000 on part-time clerical assistance in the Clerk's office and, now, a 25-minute debate over a $20,000 proposal to hire 32 teenagers over the summer at $590 each to do odd jobs around town. Meanwhile, the assisted living proposal, which is on the agenda tonight with millions of dollars and a prime piece of land at stake, hasn't yet been touched. It's going to be a long night.
frank rubacky May 02, 2012 at 02:00 AM
TV34 online

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