Haddonfield Civic Association hosts commissioner candidates forum

Eight challengers for three spots on borough governance answer public queries.

Residents of Haddonfield will head to the polls on May 11 to choose who will represent them as members of the board of commissioners. 

On April 12, just over four weeks before ballots are to be cast, the Haddonfield Civic Association held a virtual forum for two hours, during which candidates could offer their thoughts on the most pressing questions and issues raised by concerned parties.

Since Mayor Neal Rochford decided not to run during this cycle, the field is open to eight hopefuls vying for all three spots. 

Two incumbents at the forum were familiar faces: Jeffrey Kasko, current commissioner for revenue and finance, has held a seat on the governing body since 2009 and served as mayor from 2013 to 2017. Colleen Bianco Bezich, the commissioner for public safety, was elected to fill the remainder of former commissioner John Moscatelli’s term. One challenger, Kathryn Raiczyk, made an unsuccessful bid for the post Bezich now holds, in November 2019. 

Five newcomers gained greater visibility through the forum: Adam Puff, Frank Troy, Mark Rusc, Daniel Zhang and Kevin Roche. 

Zhang, who revealed his intention to be a “humongous advocate” for diversity, offered one of the first surprise answers of the forum when he asserted that it might be a good idea to find a way to break through the borough’s dry-town reputation by selling liquor licenses to generate additional revenue. 

Rusc added a note of controversy when he later suggested that Bancroft — rife with red tape delays, arguments between the borough and a core group of citizens and a deteriorating landscape that included an underground oil leak — be leveled and a better plan found for the site. 

Subjects of financial responsibility, greater transparency in, and access to,  government prompted in-depth replies, including the following from Puff: “The cell tower idea went down in flames, but the public works facility might have the potential for rooftop solar, not only on existing buildings, but on new roofs over the parking lot.”

Bezich touted her “open door policy,” implemented as an outgrowth of her January 2020 installation as commissioner of topical information centers. Naturally gravitating toward her role as public safety head, residents were provided the chance to meet staff, become aware of programming, and to ask questions about public safety. Bezich acknowledged the major role COVID has played in delaying further plans, policies and progress. 

For her part, Raiczyk intends to advocate for the codification of a conflict of  interest policy for those involved with borough governance. 

“The problem seems to be getting worse, or perhaps I am noticing more as I spend more time and attention,” she added. “This avenue needs to be researched and implemented. Haddonfield can define politics in Haddonfield.”

Facing an aging infrastructure that includes the necessity of a massive overhaul of the stormwater system, as well as meticulous attention to roads and buildings, requires creative ideas, according to Troy. One of those is the inclusion of high-school students, who show interest in STEM careers and who have the imagination and residential requirements, to take an active role in shaping policy. 

“Get them involved in the solutions. Get them learning about smart building technologies. Set them up for success, and help them set up a foundation for life,” he noted.

In speaking on the borough’s track record with sustainability, Roche reminded viewers that Haddonfield is one of 27 municipalities to earn Silver certification from Sustainable Jersey. 

“We talk about lowering carbon emissions, which is a very important thing,” he said. “Trying to utilize one of our most treasured assets, that’s open spaces, and the more we can keep that, the more important it is. The ability to access Green Acres funds, creates and updates these fields and gardens.”

To conclude, candidates were asked in which role they could be of the best service. Kasko touted his record of working with 12 municipal budgets and the borough’s history of finding shared services, reducing costs and streamlining borough departments and functions, while “providing essential public services in a cost effective manner” under his watch. 

To view the entire forum, where candidates full answers can be heard visit: https://haddonfieldcivic.com/video-archive/#HCACF2021.