I have read with dismay the recent letters targeting Pat Walsh, a candidate for Middletown Township Committee. Pat Walsh has served Middletown as an elected official for 12 years, longer than anyone serving on the Board of Education or Township Committee. Voters will recognize that the recent flurry of accusations — timed just weeks before the November 4 election — are rooted in politics, not truth. What shocks me this year is the ferocity of these attacks. Opponents of Mrs. Walsh have initiated a recall petition, written a letter to the U.S. Attorney calling for a criminal investigation, and penned letters to editors of newspapers. Her adversaries have deployed a coordinated and desperate campaign to distort Pat Walsh’s record. This pre-election smear campaign, launched against a person who has served for twelve years without incident, should not surprise anyone familiar with the tactics of her adversaries. As is the case with our national election, the stakes this year in Middletown are high. For the first time in 30 years, one party government in Middletown is threatened. If she wins, the opposing party loses control over a government that has been a source of professional work, jobs and benefits for almost three decades. As Election Day draws near, don’t be surprised if the attacks become more desperate and the truth more difficult to find.
Middletown has never needed bipartisan leadership more than now. Many or our citizens will no doubt feel the pain as our economy contracts during this current financial crisis. FEMA’s efforts to redraw Middletown’s flood maps will increase flood insurance rates. COAH’s latest round of affordable housing regulations demands coordinated efforts by the Planning Board and Township Committee to find creative solutions to avoid the potential crushing financial burden posed by these programs. Moreover, with a Recreational Master Plan now completed, my fellow Committee members and I will also be charting the future of recreation and open space in Middletown for decades to come. To do so effectively, we must allocate these important issues among ourselves and work with citizens and Township employees to formulate realistic and measurable objectives. These challenges are also opportunities, and I am encouraged because our Township has talented employees and department heads that can implement these changes that we must undertake.
Unfortunately, I am discouraged by our Committee’s absolute resistance to change. Since elected, I have proposed with the support of Patrick Short several recommendations to improve how we do business. I was surprised to find that a Township with 67,000 residents had no Finance or Budget Committee. I recommended forming a Finance Committee comprised of two Committee members and several residents to take a hard look at our budgeting process and seek opportunities to cut costs. This was voted down along party lines. I have recommended retaining a public finance consulting firm to assess municipal debt, review our personnel structure, assess our operations and make recommendations to cut costs and improve efficiency. I also recommended that we invite the Board of Education into this process. This effort was rejected. Surprised to find that the Township had no strategic plan in place, I prepared a resolution to form a Strategic Planning Committee so that we can review operations, set objectives and systematically drive our employees toward the accomplishment of those objectives. I remain hopeful that this resolution will be past some time soon. To date, however, every recommendation that I have attempted to implement has been voted down in partisan votes.
With so many challenges to take on, I watch now in frustration as our Mayor, Deputy Mayor and their supporters desperately resort to meritless personal attacks, rather than confronting in their campaign materials the myriad issues that demand our action. Our national, state and local governments stand at the brink of a financial calamity. To continue to do business as usual will doom our taxpayers to a lifetime of debt. The next several years will not be easy. Projects that seemed certain may now have to be reconsidered. Sacrifices will be necessary, but I think our citizens understand this reality and welcome an opportunity to put our national, state and local financial houses back in order. Unfortunately, at the local level, personal attacks like the ones launched here in Middletown obscure our vision and diminish our focus on these more compelling issues. Perhaps, the thousands of new voters registered in the past year will break the current veil of cynicism that hangs over local government. Here in Middletown, there is much to be done. I would ask my fellow Committee members on the other side of the aisle to step away from the shadow of their political party and cast their votes with the best interests of our citizens at heart. The recent attacks on Pat Walsh amount to politics as usual at a time when partisan decision-making amounts to failed leadership and leads to missed opportunities.
Sean F. Byrnes
Middletown Township Committeeman