Tag Archives: Marlton NJ

Bad Guys Running Governments in New Jersey

Maybe it’s something in the water, but it looks like there’s an epidemic in New Jersey of people who think the only way to run a government is to act like a complete jackass.

By now we’re all familiar with a major part of the modus operandi of New Jersey’s number one jackass, governor Chris Christie. He attends a town hall meeting at which he knows there will be people eager to engage him about current issues or past decisions he’s made with which they disagree. He calls on these people and then, with the same degree of premeditation as a guy entering a bank with a gun in his hand and a stocking pulled down over his face, Christie berates them for daring to disagree with him. He’s even told people to sit down and shut up. Often, local or state police escort the questioner out of the room because it’s one thing to attend a town hall meeting at which you’re invited to talk about issues that matter to you but quite another to have the audacity to express that disagreement with a governor who believes that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot and also believes it’s part of his job to tell such people he believes they’re idiots.

When Christie attends these meetings his entourage includes camera operators who, on cue, turn on their machines at the moment of confrontation – sort of like an episode of Cheaters – and then post that video on the internet as yet another example of courageous Chris Christie answering the tough questions and giving it back to anyone who dares disagree with him. It makes for great viewing and has especially played well outside the New Jersey area, where people don’t understand the context in which the confrontations are taking place. This approach has created a nation-wide cult following for the governor. Every few months The Curmudgeon’s late father, from his vantage point 3000 miles away in California, would say to his son, “Hey, you’ve got a really tough governor there, don’t you?” “No, dad,” his son would explain, “we have a jackass for a governor,” but dad was seeing all this on Fox News and there was no convincing him otherwise because after all, if it’s on Fox News it has to be fair and balanced and true, right?

Christie is now in his second term as governor and there won’t be a third because of term limits, and one of the people interested in succeeding him is Randy Brown, mayor of Evesham Township, where The Curmudgeon lives. How do we know Mayor Randy is interested in running for governor? Because the day after he won re-election last November he declared that interest, implying that he no longer had much interest in the job to which he’d just been re-elected.

So much for respecting his constituents.

The Curmudgeon has written about Marlton – that’s what everyone calls Evesham Township – in the past. If you’re interested, you can check it out here, here, and here.

Perhaps learning a lesson from the political benefits Chris Christie has reaped from his combativeness with people who dare disagree with him, Mayor Randy is taking a combative stance of his own – but in a very different way. Instead of getting in the face of people who want to ask him questions or disagree with him about something, he’s chosen – very publicly and rather defiantly – to ignore them.

The story, as told by the Philadelphia Inquirer, is that Mayor Randy had a confrontation with a resident at the town council’s December meeting about a tax abatement issue during the portion of the regular council meeting during which residents of the town are invited to ask questions of their elected officials. According to the report, the mayor became irate and started shouting and ended up pointing out that he had just won re-election so whatever he’s doing is fine with the public; he then refused to address the question the resident asked. The following month, the Inquirer reports, “…Brown made it clear that future council meetings would be different. Residents would not be permitted to question council members during public meetings, he said. Instead, they could ‘make comments only.’” When questioned by a reporter, Mayor Randy said that the only people who question him during council meetings are his political enemies and that people can question him when they see him around town. [Note: The Curmudgeon has lived in that small town for more than eleven years and has never, ever seen Mayor Randy outside of the municipal building since he became Mayor Randy.]

Mayor Randy made good on his promise at the next town council meeting, according to the Inquirer, and “…barely made eye contact with residents who came to the lectern to speak on topics including a leak in the public library ceiling. He said nothing to them, and a few times got up and started a conversation with a councilman two seats away.” When it appeared there were no more people interested in making comments or asking questions, Brown said “Anybody else? Go ahead. I’m rolling.” When no one replied, Brown added “Good.”

The latest chapter in this bizarre tale was written last week, when an unusual number of Marltonians – Marltonites? Eveshammers? – turned out for the monthly town council meeting to see what Mayor Randy might do next. What he did, for starters, was reverse his “no questions” policy – something he probably regretted, because shortly thereafter, Mayor Randy – who surrounded himself on the grandiose stage town officials erected for themselves with weird little tribal figures that he kept repositioning to hide his face or turn in the direction of the gathered – was back on the defensive about a property in the town that he sold to a developer and that was promptly given a tax abatement. Mayor Randy pointed out that he had recused himself from the vote on the abatement, as if that matters, and people clearly thought something was rotten in the state of New Jersey. Eventually Mayor Randy lashed out at his subjects, maintaining that the comments offered were all politically motivated and calling his critics cowardly because they didn’t run for public office themselves. Apparently, in Mayor Randy’s little part world, if you’re not an elected official you have no right to say anything. Then, to show their support for the guy who signs their paychecks, Marlton police officers escorted out of the room one of the people who dared challenge Mayor Randy’s ethics.

This story has tickled more than a few funny bones. A quick web search found that it has been reported in newspapers as far away as Washington, D.C. and Detroit. It’s not exactly something that’s going to earn him a segment on The O’Reilly Factor anytime soon but it’s not a bad start for a guy apparently trying to cultivate a reputation as a real political bad ass.

A few observations here.

First, this strikes The Curmudgeon as the antithesis of small town government. Aren’t people in small towns all supposed to be neighbors and isn’t this a textbook example of downright un-neighborly behavior?

Second, while this is a far cry from Christie’s approach, it’s no better; it’s highly combative in its refusal to tolerate confrontation at all. Apparently it’s a tradition in this town, and many others, to permit residents to come to town council meetings and ask questions. Mayor Randy’s decided to dispense with a tradition that he himself apparently honored throughout his first eight years in office, ostensibly because now that he’s been re-elected he’s certain he has the ultimate in mandates and no longer needs to suffer anyone questioning him. He’s especially intolerant of those he views as his enemies because among those who try to ask questions are a Republican who didn’t endorse him, a Democrat who ran against some of his running mates, and a school board candidate who had the audacity to run against one of the candidates Mayor Randy endorsed. That’s a pretty broad definition of what constitutes an enemy and suggests that Mayor Randy has some seriously thin skin and some even more seriously flawed judgment.

(Wait: an…enemies list? Could this be Richard Nixon reincarnated?)

Third, it suggests that Mayor Randy probably isn’t very well-suited for higher office. If he can’t handle the heat in a township of 40,000 there’s little reason to believe he can do better in a state of nine million – especially a state with those north Jersey people and their New York-infected personalities who would probably chew him up and spit him out. He’s demonstrating that he’s a small-town guy with a small-time mindset who is not, to borrow an expression from another sphere of endeavor, ready for prime time.

And fourth and last, it looks like it’s going to be a long four years for the residents of Marlton who have any interest in how their town is governed. Have a complaint? Tell it to someone who cares. Have a question? Too bad.

Mini-Rumination: School District for Sale

Yes, we all know that “in this economy” the public sector needs to be more resourceful about cultivating new sources of revenue.  Such efforts are especially common in public schools:  stadium scoreboards boast the name of a sponsor; vending machines provided by big brand-name companies sell brand-name junk food and astonishingly unhealthy beverages; perhaps athletic teams’ uniforms bear the logo of a sneaker company; and we have all seen, for as long as The Curmudgeon has been alive, baseball fields’ outfield walls festooned with advertisements from local businesses (“Frank’s Funeral Parlor:  You Kill ‘Em, We Chill ‘Em”).

But the Evesham Township School District, where The Curmudgeon resides, has reached a new low.  While driving past a neighborhood elementary school recently, The Curmudgeon discovered that the front of the building is covered in part with a rather sizeable banner advertising a local Carrabba’s Italian restaurant.  In fact, the banner hangs partly over the name of the school, which is named after a prominent businessman who played a significant role in the township’s development but whose contribution to his hometown has now been eclipsed by a run-of-the-mill but apparently generous spaghetti restaurant chain.

Evesham Township, already established in this blog as a second-rate place, has once again announced that if there’s a wrong way to do something, it will surely find it.  In this case, it has laid down on its back, spread its legs, and announced to the world that its ass is for sale to the highest bidder.

Maybe it’s a good thing.  The township’s children attend this school to get an education, and when they see the sign, they’re certainly getting one.  It’s unfortunate that the school district’s leaders, apparently educated at No Common Sense University, believe this is a lesson they want to teach.