On October 3rd, the entire country learned through the historical removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that just because you are members of the same party doesn’t mean you have likeminded views. The latest sticking point was that McCarthy had reached across the aisle in his quest to keep the Federal government open. Collaborating, coordinating and listening to those with different views and perspectives used to be commonplace, but today issues tend to be divisive. As we approach the General Election, imagine if you agreed to sit down with a member of the opposite party, not to counter their opinions, but to hear what they have to say. Or, even if you took time to sit down with a member of your own party, with your mind open to learning an additional viewpoint. This is the perspective of a local Republican. You can read the Democrat’s perspective here.
By Henry O’Grady
In our polarized country, I feel that it is more important now than ever before to fully understand the perspectives of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation. Unfortunately, I fear that public discourse is becoming a thing of the past. We should attempt to sow seeds of unity and acceptance towards all of our fellow citizens regardless of different political opinions. I think the only way to dig ourselves out of this hole is to go back to what we used to do and listen to our neighbors and understand what all sides of a given issue are. With that said, this is my perspective on the issues that matter this election.
Absent of the ongoing scandal regarding Senator Menendez, the 2023 election cycle is unique in that unlike prior election cycles, all 2023 races involve local office. This might seem insignificant to most, but it’s actually more significant than one might think, as national issues tend to begin right here at home at the state and local level. So, what are the issues at stake for our community this election cycle? Well, what matters to me most are school choice, lower property taxes and fiscal accountability. This is what I would like those with opposing views to understand, and this is my pitch to any undecided voters to consider voting for Republicans on the ballot this election cycle.
School choice is an issue at the forefront of this local election cycle, especially since Princeton High School principal Frank Chmiel’s controversial ousting. So, what exactly is school choice? Well, if you’ve been watching CNN they will try to tell you that it is some radical far right fringe concept that is an existential threat to our democracy. But school choice is really a simple concept that means parents are always in the know about everything going on in your child’s school and within the district. For example, if we had a decent school choice policy, PHS parents would have been well aware of the brewing tension between Frank Chmiel and Superintendent Carol Kelley. The matter of school choice has come to light in our community once again with the undercover exposure of HiTOPS by Project Veritas. Many, including myself, take issue with the sting operation conducted by Project Veritas, I believe those kinds of undercover sting operations violate the rights of others. Though what Project Veritas did may have been wrong, I certainly think it’s important to note that the facts which the video revealed are very concerning. Right or wrong, the facts exposed are indeed true, HiTOPS bypassed legal parental consent laws, and the district appears to have served as an accomplice. Does anyone really believe that HiTOPS and district staff didn’t discuss amongst themselves how to short circuit parental rights standards that they saw as a roadblock to their agenda? I seriously question Superintendent Kelley’s honesty given Principal Chmiel’s dismissal, her past history of terminating staff on short notice, and now this most recent example. Every school board candidate up for election should be asked to state their position on school choice and transparency.
While recent issues have put school choice at the forefront, there are also plenty of other issues that are on the ballot this election cycle, including property taxes and fiscal accountability. Sky high property taxes are very concerning. When my family bought our childhood home in the mid-eighties, the annual tax bill was close to $4,000 in today’s amount adjusted for inflation. Fast forward to today, I expect that the property taxes on that parcel will hit $30,000 a year sometime this decade, if the trend continues. It ultimately raises the question as to whether or not it’s cost effective to continue to live in Princeton. To address the issue of property taxes one must understand the way schools and municipal programs are required to be funded by state law. Since the 1970’s or so, there has been state legislation and court rulings strictly governing school funding. 50 years later it’s worth asking: Is the current patchwork of state guidelines working?
If your property tax burden is anything close to what it is for most Princeton residents, the answer for you is likely no. Over the years, local politicians have talked about property taxes but have never come up with any concrete strategy. I am astonished by how unfamiliar most local office candidates I have spoken to about this issue are with the way funding is governed. In fact, a few over the years have responded that that’s “above my paygrade.” Really? You’re running for office, yet you lack rudimentary understanding of the laws on the books governing property tax spending? Therefore, I call on every local official on the ballot this year to state his or her position whether or not he or she supports significant change to the statute governing property tax allocation and spending. In other words, do you support the status quo? Governor Murphy has not offered much of a solution aside from offering property tax credits to those who qualify. The problem is that we can’t just be giving out property tax credits like candy while the bigger problem which lies beneath the surface continues to deteriorate.
My final concern is fiscal responsibility, to which there have been 3 specific instances in the past year which are a concern to many. First, in the wake of Principal Chmiel’s termination, an interim principal was appointed when the district already had the administrative staff on hand to run the high school through the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year. Second, the district hired a consulting firm named Performance Fact to assist with strategic planning when many I have spoken to who are affiliated with Princeton Public Schools told me that there is beyond enough talent in house to conduct all the responsibilities which the school district has delegated to this outside consulting firm. Lastly, many residents are concerned about the new trash collection contract that the town has enacted, with very little Information given to the public. I have tried to do my research as a citizen as I would like to read the contract in its entirety, but I have found very little Information online. I contacted the trash company out of curiosity to see if the contract is available to the public, which they said no it was not. Municipal contracts are usually public knowledge; therefore, I find this to be very peculiar and concerning that someone is hiding something.
I sometimes think that if we would listen a bit more to people with other opinions, we might find that we are not as far apart as we might think. I think we all care about the children, the future of this country. We might have different ways to do so, but being open and honest is a good start. When it comes to property tax, I do not know anyone that likes to pay high taxes. If we listen and talk more openly, perhaps we can find more ways to reduce them in a way that benefits us all. And when it comes to fiscal accountability, we all work hard for our money, we all want it spent wisely. If we can start from agreeing on that, we can find a better way to move forward. Nobody enjoys living in a country filled with tension and divisiveness. We don’t have to if we could sit down and talk, listen and act together.
Henry O’Grady is a lifelong Princeton area resident who attended our local schools and is an alumni of Rutgers University. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not his employer.