Candidates for the Morris Township committee sparred on Tuesday over Honeywell’s decision to move its world headquarters to Morris Plains next year.
At a 90-minute forum hosted by the League of Women Voters in Morristown, Republican incumbent Dan Caffrey and his running mate, Louise Johnson, attempted to pin blame on Democratic incumbent Jeff Grayzel for aligning himself with residents who battled Honeywell over its redevelopment plans.
“When a Fortune 100 company leaves your town… that’s a bad thing,” said Johnson. “And what happened with Honeywell is that the will of 40 homeowners eclipsed that of 8,000 homeowners.”
Losing the township’s largest taxpayer is “terrible,” but the Republican-controlled committee should have engaged the public at an early stage of the re-development hearings, contended Grayzel and running mate Cathy Wilson.
Honeywell is selling its 147-acre campus to a group that wants to build a mix of offices and town homes.
Grayzel and Caffrey each seek a third three-year term; their running mates aim to replace the incumbent from the opposite party.
The Honeywell saga should remind the governing body to be more “pro-active,” transparent and inclusive when determining what will replace another local giant, Mennen, when it’s shuttered next year by parent Colgate-Palmolive, said Grayzel, the committee’s lone Democrat.
Caffrey, who doubles as deputy mayor, bristled at insinuations of closed-door politics. Fifty-four public meetings over two years were held to vet Honeywell’ s proposal, he said.
Nor should the township attempt to dictate what Honeywell, Mennen or any other company does with its private property, Caffrey said. Government ought to foster a business-friendly environment and then “get out of the way,” he said.
Caffrey also jabbed at Grayzel for opposing a retirement facility near his own home, and for repeatedly calling for televised committee meetings without, he said, taking any steps to make that happen.
The retirement home proposed by the Delbarton School was ill-suited for its remote, environmentally sensitive tract, which finally was sold a few years ago as conservation land, “a win-win for everyone,” Grayzel said.
Caffrey and Johnson credited Republican leadership with stable taxes that have landed the township on lists of New Jersey’s most desirable, family friendly communities. The township committee has held the line despite rising healthcare costs and $7 million in lost tax appeals, Caffrey said.
Johnson cited her budget- and communications experience as an executive at a Fortune 500 company as reasons for voters to muster “the courage to cross party lines” at the polls on Nov. 4, 2014.
But Grayzel said he’s the one actually saving money for taxpayers, by supporting a regional court system that Caffrey abstained from voting on. The shared municipal court in Madison saves the township $150,000 annually, Grayzel said, vowing to explore more shared services.
Along those lines, he is pursuing outside customers for the township sewage plant, to hold down fees for residents, he said.
Yet shared operations don’t always work, cautioned Caffrey, pointing to a failed arrangement to share animal control services with Morristown.
Grayzel and Wilson emphasized the need for greater interaction with neighboring town governments, to stem the influx of traffic from development beyond the township’s borders. Policies to promote bicycling and walking also could put a dent in traffic, Grayzel suggested.
A retired educator, Wilson said her Columbia University masters degree in conflict resolution will help her unite residents with differing views. In the meantime, she said, she is exploring whether Morristown High School students might televise committee meetings as volunteers.
“I’m a woman of action,” Wilson said.
Grayzel said his professional engineering background is handy for dealing with sewer plant issues.
Caffrey, who works for a large accounting firm, said he scrutinizes every municipal dollar as if it were from his own checkbook. Some 2 1/2 years of process management training by Zenger Miller in Canada further prepared him for municipal service, he said.