EDISON – Once again, the Edison Township Council voted against changing its form of government to a ward system.
Councilman Richard Brescher moved forward an ordinance at a council meeting on Feb. 9 to put a question on the ballot in November letting the voters decide whether or not to change the township’s current form of government.
For more than a year, Brescher has been advocating for the implementation of a ward system, which he said would allow council members to meet all constituents.
Councilman Ajay Patil seconded the motion.
“I believe representation is very important,” he said. “I have seen the changing dynamics on the council. Sometimes we get too many people from the north end and too many people from the other side. Now we have four people from [the] Clara Barton [section of the township] and technically none from the south end.”
Patil further said a ward system would allow the governing body to expand allowing for more coverage of neighborhoods.
A ward system would expand the council to a nine-member dais with five ward seats and four at-large seats. The current dais is seven at-large council seats.
The rest of the council – Council President Joseph Coyle, Council Vice President Joyce Ship-Freeman, Councilman John Poyner, Councilwoman Margot Harris and Councilman Nishith Patel – voted “no” to moving the ordinance forward.
Ship-Freeman said a council person represents the whole town.
“I don’t know what side of town that I have not been on or recognized … shame on people who don’t know all the different parts of Edison,” she said. “I’ve been here, graduated and seen people. They’ve left town and they’ve come back.”
Coyle said in his opinion creating a ward system would create divisions and competition between residents in neighborhoods.
It would also create unnecessary costly elections, he said.
Coyle said members of the current dais do represent the southern area of the township, noting Ship-Freeman is from the Bonhamtown section and the students from the Clara Barton section of the township attend Edison High School, which is in the southern area of town.
He also noted a number of former council members who represented the southern area of the township including Charles Tomaro, who now serves as a county commissioner, Wayne Mascola, Sal Pizzi, Raymond Koperwhats and Bill Stephens.
Stephens had petitioned for a ward system ballot question under former Mayor George Spadoro’s administration. It was defeated in 2003 by 29 votes out of over 13,000 cast.
The debate resurfaced in 2008 under Mayor Jun Choi’s administration.
“[The southern area of the township] has [had] representation in the past and will continue to have that,” Coyle said.
He said it’s important to give Mayor Sam Joshi, his new administration, and the three new council members, Harris, Poyner and Patel, who began their terms in January, “a shot.”
“[A ward system was] considered 12 years ago and failed and again it failed,” Coyle said. “Since then, we have had numerous council members and no one brought up wards. This is just partisan things on the dais. We swore an oath to represent everyone in the township. Each council member here today represents the entire township, north, south, east and west. Give us all a fair chance to continue our work.”
Ahead of the meeting, Joshi, a former councilman, advocated for maintaining the current structure of council president, council vice president and five other council members all elected at-large by voters throughout the township.
“This past November, after two demanding elections, the residents of Edison voted for my team and me based on a platform of uniting the township, advancing policies that benefit our entire community and working collaboratively on shared goals that will make Edison an even better place to live and raise a family,” he said in a social media post and a press release.
Joshi said a ward system would “counter to the expressed will of the voters” and create “an unnecessary political distraction, preventing us from coming together to move Edison forward in a way that works for all residents no matter where in town they live.”
“Since becoming mayor just last month, I have been reaching out to many of our residents, elected officials and others to discuss the numerous projects we intend to undertake,” he said. “We aim for these efforts to benefit every member of our community. This is a critical time for us to come together and deliver the progress that all of Edison deserves. Pursuing a politically-motivated agenda to cynically cause division in our community directly contradicts what residents want, unity and progress, not more political infighting.”
Joshi called on council members “who feel that they cannot adequately represent the interests of the entire town” to consider resigning.
“Edison residents elected myself and all council members to represent our entire community, and we’re 100% committed to unifying Edison and making sure our government works for all of us,” he said.