In Morris, How Monumental a Change?


Rupande Mehta became a citizen in July of 2017  and registered to vote two days later. Now she’s one of three Democrats running for freeholder in Morris County.

The Dems have high hopes this year. Buoyed by increased interest and energy on the left, Democrats are hoping to make a competitive showing (at least) in what traditionally has been a solid Republican enclave.

To that end, Mehta has released a statement about her candidacy.

She has two running mates, Mary Dougherty and Richard Corcoran, but the statement comes from her alone. That’s an interesting approach.

The Republican candidates are incumbent Deborah Smith, former freeholder John Krickus and Stephen Shaw.

Mehta says the all-Republican freeholders are “living in a one-party bubble” and that they have grown complacent. As all county political junkies know, there has been only one Democratic freeholder in the county’s history.

Mehta faults the freeholders for poor planning, charging that, “The current board of freeholders lacks a sense of the future and … a sense of urgency to prepare for what is to be.”

Referring to what she says are thousands of new housing units to come, Mehta proposes bringing together all 39 mayors and creating a “workable plan for the entire county.” She also speaks about the need for an effective planning board to ensure that “building is done in a way that when Denville builds Morris Plains does not suffer.”

In truth, there is nothing all that revolutionary about bringing officials from county towns together in search of common goals. But there are many obstacles.

One is that home rule is such a tough nut to crack. Another is legislative. Sadly, the county planning board has very little power. It cannot, for instance, stop a hypothetical development in Denville if it is going to hurt Morris Plains.

For that to change, the Legislature must change the law. Don’t count on that happening anytime soon.

Mehta’s statement also criticizes the freeholders for taking out debt “to build a jail that is not even completely utilized” and for considering more bonding to build a new courthouse.

The wisdom of building a new courthouse is certainly open to debate. However, the county’s current jail in Morris Township replaced an antiquated jail in Morristown that fell far short of state standards.

Among other problems, it was built for about 150 inmates and often held twice that.
One recalls Reginald Stanton, the assignment judge at the time, comparing the county jail to a lockup in a Third World country.

Mehta also takes a swipe at the current freeholders for raising taxes in each of the last three years. But in what may seem contradictory to some, she said tax dollars should be spent to fix roads and bridges, improve parks, create training programs for veterans and bolster the Morris County School of Technology.

“Morris is traditionally a Republican county, but things are changing,” says Mehta, who lives in Denville.

How monumental any change will be remains to be seen.

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