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Four candidates hoping to be on township committee weigh in on issues

Brainerd Lake in Cranbury.

Cranbury residents heading to the polls next week will be casting ballots for several races, including the township committee election.

Residents will decide on which of the four candidates running for the committee will secure two open seats in the general election on Nov. 5.

Democrats Eman El-Badawi and Barbara Rogers will try to earn seats against Republicans Evelyn Spann and Walter Wright, who are running together.

Eman El-Badawi has degrees in chemistry and biology from Middlesex County College and Rutgers University. She worked at a genetics lab for a few years before settling down and starting a family with her husband. Nine years ago, Cranbury became home to her flock of sheep and family. El-Badawi has an international background, a love for languages and extensive travel experience. She cultivated a love and connection for people of all kinds and has developed enhanced communication skills.

Barbara Rogers has lived in Cranbury for 22 years, where she and her husband have raised their three children. Rogers has been a volunteer in town for over two decades, serving on the environmental commission for 14 years, the last six years as its chairperson. Additionally, she has served with the school PTO, Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts, parks commission and the clock winding committee. She earned her PhD in environmental science from Rutgers University and is a scientist with a background in field and lab research, grant management, education and outreach. As environmental commission chairperson, she has been an advisor to the township committee and various boards and commissions, advocating for environmental protection, pollution prevention, natural resource planning and smart growth. She has also led sustainability initiatives, coordinated municipal-volunteer partnerships, raised grant money, promoted open spaces and protected our surface waters.

Evelyn Spann has called Cranbury home for over 17 years. Married to her husband Rick, she has raised three children who have all graduates of the Cranbury School and Princeton High School. She has been on the Cranbury Board of Education for 11 years and has been the Princeton Public Schools Liaison since 2010, she is a member of the Cranbury Library Board of Trustees. Spann earned her bachelors of arts in chemistry from the University of Louisville, she has been PHS IDEA Ctr. Tutor for chemistry and physics, 101 Fund Supporter, Trenton Music Makers supporter and a substitute teacher for West Windsor-Plainsboro-South in science and math. Spann professionally has been a lab manager and plant chemist with a concentration in adhesives and sealants/polymer chemistry.

Walter Wright is a lifelong resident of Middlesex County. His wife, Barbara, was born in Cranbury. The Wrights have been in this area for centuries, after arriving in the 1850’s. Wright’s grandparents settled in Princeton on property that is now the Institute for Advanced Study. Wright is a US Air Force veteran, and was an aircraft electrician. He has served on a variety of boards and committees, the Plainsboro Bureau of Fire Prevention and the zoning board. He was owner and operator of South River Sand Company for over 30 years. Also, Wright was chairman of the First Presbyterian Church’s senior breakfast for nearly two decades, which sponsored informational speakers and was an elected elder. As a Proctor Academy alumnus, he was a board of trustees member for several decades and remains an honorary trustee.

In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the township committee, all four were given the same questions and the same amount of space for their responses.

Why did you decide to run?

El-Badawi: I have steadily volunteered in various capacities in Cranbury, both in the school and in the town. In addition, I have attended almost all of the township committee meetings for over two and a half years as an engaged resident. Both venues have offered me a greater understanding of the town, as well as increased my respect and love for it. When the Cranbury Democratic Committee indicated they wanted to support me as the next township committee candidate, after conferring with my family and township elders, it felt like it was the natural next step for me to take.

Rogers: With my PhD in environmental science and over two decades of volunteer commitment in Cranbury, becoming a member of the township committee is a natural progression for my community involvement. I will bring that training and experience, as well as my unique perspective, to everyday committee discussions and decisions. I will work collaboratively with other committee members, township professionals and volunteers to get things done. Through my many years of volunteer work, I have already developed a strong working relationship with township employees and professionals, board and commission members and school faculty and administration. As chairperson of the environmental commission for the past six years, I have created municipal-volunteer partnerships to obtain grants for the township’s environmental and sustainability initiatives, and I can bring my budgeting skills for “doing more with less” to the committee. If elected, I hope to build on the momentum of the current committee by focusing on sound fiscal planning, sustainability efforts, environmental stewardship and improved communication between the township government and residents. It is a natural step for me to move from an advisory position with the EC into a leadership and policy-making role as a committee member.

Spann: Years of hard work by so many members of our community have protected our town from over growth and increased taxes. I respect and appreciate what the township committee and many other related boards have done for decades to insure the quality of life we all moved here for. I am committed to stepping in and taking my turn to assure Cranbury is a place our children would want to raise their children in some day.

Wright: Since there are two Cranbury Township Committee seats open on the Nov. 5 ballot, I accepted the republican nomination for one of them. My running-mate, Evelyn Spann, an experienced school board member, had already been nominated for the other seat. As a Four Seasons resident for four years, I believe that my life’s experiences have given me a positive perspective and drive to meet objectives with the goal to improve the quality of life for Cranbury residents, if elected as a township committeeman. As a senior citizen, as well as, a person who has physical limitations due to Parkinson’s Disease, I have a first hand perspective on the Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Other than taxes, what are the two most pressing issues facing Cranbury Township? How would you address the challenges as a committee member? 

El-Badawi: Overall, Cranbury is a healthy, vibrant town, however, growth, time and wear has had its effect on increased traffic and decline in infrastructure such as the roads and lake. Some of the hardest hit roads are Petty Road and parts of Cranbury Greens. A solid maintenance repair plan needs to be implemented to avoid expensive future rebuilds. Cranbury can also benefit from better communication to ensure that the right information gets to all the residents in the right time. We must promote a better website and look into using social media like Twitter, as well as offer residents who want it, a local newsletter of some kind.

Rogers: We all agree there will be many challenges in the coming years for the township committee. My concerns include the threat of consolidation and communication between the township government and residents. Consolidation of services and schools has been suggested at the state level as a way to save money and improve services, but I don’t believe we need to fix something that isn’t broken, and consolidation has not proven to result in better services or lower taxes. The committee has already identified areas for shared services such as 911 dispatch, sewer services, court services and our send-receive with Princeton High School. Consolidation would take away from our local autonomy, and I won’t be alone in arguing against it. I have a goal of increasing engagement and communication between residents and the township government. I have spoken with many residents who have been concerned that important decisions have been made by the committee and other township bodies without the public being well informed and asked for input beforehand. Improved communication can start with an overhaul of the township website, live streaming of committee meetings, the reintroduction of a newsletter and can continue with process improvements to keep residents better informed.

Spann: The most pressing issue facing Cranbury is the traffic impact from warehouse distribution centers that are operating around the clock and the overflow of Monroe traffic from rapid residential growth. While our Master Plan outlines multiple traffic engineering steps required to mitigate the issues (Liberty Way Bridge, 130 Traffic Circle), the funding hurdle required is greater than the resources Cranbury can offer. This issue will take building relationships with surrounding towns and going to Trenton with a united front to seek support from our representatives as well as the Department of Transportation. We need to research grant monies available. If elected, I am committed to doing the heavy lift to seek the funding needed to complete the projects. Secondly, the Library Construction Bond Act will publish grant awards in the first quarter of 2020 that will determine if the Cranbury Public Library can move forward immediately with a fully funded project for a free standing facility. If elected to the committee I will draw on my school board experience in facilities and budget management strategies, as well as, my work with the Library Board of Trustees over the past two years to support the library in its quest to be a free standing entity.

Wright:  First, the Brainerd Lake Dredging project. I believe this is a very complex undertaking. The presence of extensive aquatic vegetation must be carefully researched prior to a major fiscal commitment.  Additionally, the Warehouse Truck Solutions. I would work with the committee to offer long term solutions for the trucks that are waiting to make deliveries and for effective traffic patterns.

Residents have voiced concern with truck traffic in town from warehousing. How would you address this issue as a member of the committee?

El-Badawi: Industrial growth has been essential to Cranbury’s fiscal health, and its challenging traffic effects were unintended. Within the past year and half, Cranbury residents addressed the committee numerous times with complaints of declining quality of life as a result of warehouse truck traffic. Neighboring towns have also voiced concerns. As a committee member, I would first acknowledge their complaints, establish a thoughtful dialogue with those affected and gather a group of professionals and traffic officials to study the issues and come up with possible solutions. While pursuing long-term solutions, I would offer immediate short-term relief measures.

Rogers: The traffic issue is a complex problem impacting safety and quality of life, and the need to address this issue has only increased with the continued development of warehouses in Cranbury. The Cranbury Master Plan includes Liberty Way as a roadway that would keep truck traffic away from residential areas, but permits and environmental constraints have made it extremely difficult to build the bridge needed to complete this roadway. As it stands now, solving this issue requires a regional plan where the townships in the area work together with the county and the state to find a solution. In the past, mayors and engineers were involved in an “Exit 8A Congestion Task Force” that was supported by NJDOT and by impacted towns. It would be great to resume this task force but it would require leaders of each town communicating and working collaboratively for a solution. This type of cooperation is currently not in place, as shown in the ordnance in Monroe on roadway weight limitations. I would also make sure Cranbury’s concerns about traffic are reflected in Destination 2040, Middlesex County’s Comprehensive Master Plan, to let our leaders know we have a serious truck traffic issue.

Spann: The Master Plan has outlined a path for truck traffic that would alleviate these issues. Implementing this plan however, has run in to insurmountable unanticipated costs due to wetland area avoidance. The monies needed for this type of major infrastructure are more than a small town can support. The long term solution will require building relationships with Trenton and our surrounding towns. We will need support from the county, state and neighbors equally impacted. We will need to look at all possible grant monies. This will take initiative and drive from our committee. It will not happen overnight. We need to work cooperatively and diligently to come up with the finances needed.

Wright: To address this concern, the Department of Transportation and surrounding communities would need to be involved.  Consideration should be given to adding and improving roadways to facilitate the flow of traffic in the area.

As a member of the committee, what would be your plan or strategy to improve business occupancy in downtown Cranbury?

El-Badawi: With more businesses evacuating downtown Cranbury, it’s imperative that we do everything to improve the situation. It would be good to relax some of the restrictions on parking as well as work on the affordability of some of the business locations. Advertising these vacant locations more heavily will be of benefit and improving foot traffic through the town will also help our existing businesses.

Rogers: I want to start by saying that I support the dredging proposal for Brainard Lake – it is an important piece of infrastructure that needs to be maintained. It is one of many assets that make our village center a place people want to visit, including the historic downtown, preserved farmland and walkability. We have several successful large events throughout the year, such as Cranbury Day, the Memorial Day parade and the Fourth of July fireworks. Still, we need more sustained foot traffic in the village on a daily basis. I will work with interested residents and businesses to build a “Buy Local” program and an electric vehicle initiative, both of which are already referred to in the sustainability element of the Cranbury Master Plan. Promoting village businesses would require a holistic view toward a municipal marketing initiative, publicizing local businesses and incorporating our diverse farming industry. Other initiatives would be to encourage hotel guests east of Route 130 to visit downtown, and a long term planning goal would be to create better connections for biking and walking into town. I plan to continue my strong relationship with village business owners and farmers by identifying their unique challenges and changing needs.

Spann: As a member of the township committee, I would take a pragmatic pro-business approach. I would review the township land use ordinances, infrastructure, and application of regulations to assure they are pro-business. I would listen to our downtown business association and take their recommendations under high consideration. I would also press to assure well-qualified people are appointed to key committees that also take a pro-business approach. We need to work together to support our local businesses. Our processes have to be timely and straight forward to minimize the time needed to get a business up and running. This will help our town to be seen as business-friendly and will attract new businesses.

Wright: The farming industry in Cranbury is highly valued.  However, the costs of overhead for farming in other states is lower than New Jersey, thus making it difficult for NJ farmers to compete. Cranbury Township Committee should initiate a dialogue with the NJ Department of Agriculture, NJ Business and Industry Association and NJ Chamber of Commerce, for example, to determine if there are ways in which efforts can be made to address the high cost of overhead reported by farmers in the state. The farming industry is integrally related to the business community.

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