I didn’t think anything could be more divisive for Hainesport than the General Election last year…until we went through the Republican Primary.
Sure, I had an anonymous smear campaign directed at me last fall, but the accusations were toothless. This June, an individual associated with the “Reform” Republican campaign (who doesn’t even live in Hainesport) created an anonymous smear Facebook page called Hainesport Happening, which spent 3 weeks decimating the reputations of their opponents.
I’m not going to get into the details of whether or not the accusations leveled against Tony Porto and Mick Dickinson by the page were true (some were, others were twisted) or fair (are anonymous slurs ever truly ‘fair’?). I’m more interested in two other questions: 1) should we hold candidates accountable for extremely negative campaigning? and 2) Is there any way to move Hainesport into a kinder, calmer mode of local election?
The Darnold & Evans campaign issued a statement condemning the smear page on May 18th. The Costa & Schneider campaign issued a statement at some point disclaiming the page (which is not the same thing) and that statement has since been deleted. There is also evidence linking the smear page to the person who has been proven to be an Administrator of their actual Campaign page. I hope that, when Hainesport chooses its representatives in November, its residents will take into account the complicity of the Republican candidates in the smear page, and judge any claims those candidates make on ethical leadership and dignity accordingly.
At the June Township meeting last night, I observed during public comment that Moorestown and Mt Holly DO have a kinder, calmer mode of local election. They elect committee members as a block of 2 or 3, to serve for 4 year terms, which means they only have local elections every 2 years. Hainesport could use that breathing space for recovery! Plus, it would probably save money as personnel would be constant for two years. No need to change name plaques, stationery, business cards etc. every year.
Solicitor Gillespie responded by explaining that Hainesport operates under a different form of government, the traditional ‘Township‘ mode, whereas the other two towns have adopted the modern ‘Council-Manager’ mode under the Faulkner Act, and that it would require complicated measures like a Referendum for a Charter Study Commission to change now.
So I did some research on this.
In addition to the benefits of an election-free year and cost-savings described above, I found that:
In each Faulkner Act municipality, individual citizens also have the right of initiative to propose and place ordinances on a ballot for citizens of that municipality to vote on, thus bypassing their elected representatives’ legislative authority. This right is intended to “arous[e] public interest and plac[e] in the hands of the voters … direct means of controlling proposed … municipal legislation.” [James M. McCreedy and Brian Rans, New Jersey Law Journal October 29, 2015]
In other words, residents in a township whose government operates under the Faulkner Act have MORE power (and officials have less) than those in a traditionally governed town. It seems to me that the idea of changing Hainesport’s form of government might deserve at least an exploratory committee, and definitely more than Solicitor Gillespie’s cursory dismissal.
Meanwhile, I hope that, with the incumbents dispatched in the Primary, we can anticipate a gentler, more policy-based campaign this fall. Hainesport does not need the divisiveness of fake smear pages run by outsiders.