Meet the Mendham Township Committee Candidates

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Independent journalist Audrey Gavagan interviews the candidates for Mendham Township Committee with the General Election just two weeks away.

Interview and write-up by Audrey Gavagan -


Meet the Mendham Township Committee Candidates

How long have you lived in Mendham Township, and what brought you to this area?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: I lived in Short Hills from 1992 to 2008. I'm an architect, and I've had my practice there for 31 years. In 2008, my daughter Emily brought me to Mendham when she was beginning high school. She had cerebral palsy and we were not happy with the high school offerings for her condition near Millburn. So we moved here to be closer to better schools.

Moreen: We moved in 2017. We lived in Brooklyn, but we would come out here on weekends to visit my colleagues. My husband wanted to move to Westchester or Connecticut, and I kept saying “what about that beautiful town in New Jersey, with the streams, the fields, and the great schools.” When we toured our house we just fell in love with the property, and this is our forever home.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: I've been in Mendham township for 10 years, I moved from the Dallas area, and I had a new job up here. I really enjoy Mendham, and I love living here. I've moved to different companies as well, but want to stay here because I just enjoy the area so much.

Spirig: My family and I moved here in 2017 because my husband grew up in Morris Plains, and we wanted to be close to my in-laws. I grew up in Maryland and knew nothing about Mendham Township until we moved here. As soon as we got here, we decided this is our forever home, we are not leaving.

What led you to get involved in local politics?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: When we first moved here, we thought we were getting a good deal on our house because the price had come down from a few years prior. But in 2019, Zillow had valued my house significantly lower than what we’d paid. This was an unsustainable slide in property values. The desirability of Mendham was not there, and people were shunning it as a place to live. I’ve noticed that when you foster private reinvestment, property values tend to follow, along with the desirability of the town. People want to be there prices go up, people don't want to be there the price goes down, it’s the supply and demand equation.

Moreen: I started coming to the Mendham Township meetings last year because I live adjacent to the Spring Tree property. I would come and tell them exactly what I thought. I'm very fiscally conservative, but I'm pro-open space and anti-development. So last December, Tom called and said “Tracy, you’re a mom of young kids, you're actively involved in the community, would you consider running?” We want to teach people that Republicans can have opinions on the continuum, we disagree on certain issues but we can still be partners.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: I've been got participated in the township committee as long as I’ve been here. And the biggest thing that I noted was when residents talk about their concerns, it doesn't make any difference in the committee’s decision-making. The reason that I'm involved now is I've been chair of the environmental commission for three years. There seems to be a pro-development drive with the majority in the township committee, but it's not what the community is asking for. At the beginning of the year, the new mayor tried to oust me from the environmental commission, then the community got a petition, and there were hundreds of people that supported me, it was really quite flattering. I felt like I had a responsibility to try and do more than just the environmental commission, but right across the spectrum of issues that impact the community.

Spirig: I'm a relative newcomer to politics, but always wanted to know what's going on, and what are the issues in town. Last year, I got involved because my friend Meredith Sahi was running for the township committee, and she asked me to be her campaign manager. I noticed that there were so many decisions being made that not only the residents opposed, but didn’t seem to benefit the township. What was happening was, “thank you for your time, we're gonna do whatever we wanted anyway”. It's a shame that we have to run on a party line because all of the issues that we're talking about are completely bipartisan. So when you have that level of bipartisan agreement, and people are still not being listened to, that's really, really unfortunate.

What do you feel is unique about Mendham Township?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: I think it reflects a small-town America that a lot of people yearn for. Amongst the many things is the incredible amount of open space. Today, the township taxpayers own 38.5% of the land area of Mendham Township. It's one of the highest percentages of community ownership in New Jersey. In addition to that, the school system is outstanding, it’s in the top 10 New Jersey public schools y on many rankings.

Moreen: So many things. It’s the beauty of the town, it’s the good schools But most of all, why it’s our forever home, is the sense of the community. You go to the town, the concerts, you go to volunteer events, and you always see people you know.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: There are a lot of wetlands in this area, and so we’re a haven for a lot of wildlife. We have wonderful schools, we want to make sure the schools are maintained. The reason people come here is for schooling and for open space. And that's what I feel is unique. We don't want is to lose that open space and lose that character, because that's the reason people live here.

Spirig: I would say it's the people. We have this infrastructure that creates a really warm community. We want to embrace new people, and we want to make sure that all of these people are living in this idyllic town and getting heard as they deserve to be. The community, being this so accessible is such an asset to running for office because you can really speak to people and learn what they want from their representatives. They're what makes Mendham Township special, and they deserve a lot more than what they're getting from their representatives.

What are the main issues you’re campaigning on?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: First of all, to continue a fiscally sound government. I represent a vote for fiscal conservatism, and I think that the town should remain that way. The town is going to need the qualifications that I have for potential up-and-coming problems. I remain concerned that the Fair Share Housing Development will tell us that we need to be building more affordable housing. Mendham has about 50 affordable housing units. But with my expertise in this particular field, I can guide the town in the right direction in navigating how to calculate affordable housing to meet that quota.

Moreen: Budget responsibility, we have to make tough choices, and we have to manage our taxes because we have high property taxes already. We need to give services but if we can’t leave taxes flat, people will have to leave especially our seniors and empty nesters who don't benefit from the schools. I also think we've lost our way in terms of public discourse and civility. Sometimes people yell at each other in meetings, and I think Republicans or Democrats, we can do better to bring a sense of professionalism. We're neighbors first, and we're members of the community first. Having been in the business sector for so long, I can bring some of that formality and efficiency to the Township committee as well.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: Overdevelopment is a big concern. The green space and the environment we have here are really special. So if there is development, then it must be beneficial for the community and what the residents want. The master plan we have now was updated during the pandemic in a way that wasn't fully visible for residents to contribute.

Spirig: Transparency is a huge factor. There's a lot of opacity to the way things are done in Mendham Township. We have these really impactful decisions being made by people with no accountability. Making those processes streamlined and clear and available to the public at every step is at the top of our list. Nobody really knows what happens behind closed doors, and there's a lot of reluctance to open things up on Zoom. That underlies just basic issues of respect and care for the community and serving for the goodness of the community, and not just to kind of have control over things.

If elected how do you plan to address these issues?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: My platform in 2019 was based on growing the tax base with additional development. Starting in 2023, one of the things I'd like to see happen is a re-shift. We have about five years of top-line growth that's going to come in because of the development of the townhomes. So I think that's going to be different. I also think the board would be heavily benefited from people who had an architectural background, especially since we have the town hall that starting construction and the new police station, I bring my expertise to these conditions.

Moreen: First of all, through transparency. When I got involved with Spring Tree, I found that the minutes were a bit delayed, we couldn't find the agendas, these types of things. Because I think with all due respect to our administrators, I don’t think they realized that the public has a genuine interest in the information. I don't think we took advantage of technology enough and COVID actually helped in that way. It’s important to prioritize residents since this is their home, and listen to and understand what their priorities are.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: The transparency piece is absolutely key. We're here to represent the residents and the community with no other agendas. So firstly, don't try to drive forward projects that nobody is asking for that have some other reasoning behind them. If there are people with expertise in certain areas, then bring them on board and listen to them, don’t ignore what they have to say. There are tough decisions of course if there are differing views. But that's just the nature of the job and you have to work out what makes the most sense for the community as a whole.

Spirig: Something that would address all of those issues is a better communications infrastructure. I don't think how we're disseminating information to residents is effective, based on the fact that people don't know what’s happening. We have to be proactive and help cut through the noise of all the other things that people have going on in their lives. I think it’s the responsibility of the committee to do more to communicate with people, whether that’s an easy-to-digest weekly newsletter, or merging all of our social media so that there is one real source of information online.

How do you plan to address the issues your opponents are campaigning on?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: Tracy and I are running on a platform of transparency first. Our number one thing is to increase that in how we conduct our government. I want to have a TV put up in the town hall so, during our town meetings, we can all see who's on Zoom. We are typically open to the public, and I don't think it's proper for people to be hiding on Zoom, not being seen. Although, some people just want to watch and Zoom has been a great vehicle for that. I can see us utilizing the assets of Mendham TV one step further for that transparency. I also would like to see this as a town where people can retire. We can utilize our accessory apartment ordinance, which allows you to have an accessory apartment on your property for someone in your family. I want that to be expanded so that someone can sell their property and live in an accessory apartment on that same property.

Moreen: Overall, I think our campaigns are very similar because we live in a small town, it’s a small community, and as leaders, we can all recognize common challenges. I think of myself as an authentic leader, so I'll bring that to bear if elected. I'm a founding member of the Mendham Alliance for Conservation and Preservation (MAPC), so win or lose I'll continue to advocate for preserving the town’s character and open space. And if elected, I commit to making that a priority.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: Informed decision-making is vital, as is assessing what we need for infrastructure, and what the costs are for that. We need to have a strategic plan on how to maintain our community, whether it's the roads, snow plowing, clearing up after storms, maintaining the Department of Public Works, and having a plan for additional contractors we may need. If you invest in public services, you don't have to pay for every task like you have to do with private contractors. What I'm hearing as we talk to people around the community, is they don't want services cut, they don't want things to degrade, and they'll accept the tax if that’s what it takes.

Spirig: First of all, the divisions in the community that need to be mended is something that one of our opponents has had quite a hand in contributing to. People should think carefully about reelecting someone who has not been amenable to working with people on the other side. I don't understand maintaining a 0% tax base, it's going to have to go up eventually because we live in a world of 8%, inflation. There's a much more gradual way to look at taxes so that it's a small increase, instead of a huge jump. We should think about long-term planning for taxes, not just how to keep them low this year.

What is most important for the public to understand about your campaign?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: So what the public has to understand is that a lot of times when your opponents don't have strong platforms to run on, they pick on you, so I'm gonna get picked on for overdevelopment. Development is an important aspect of any town. From that standpoint, I want the public to understand that those are misstatements. The Irene spring tree property has been approved to go back before the planning board from 10- acre to 5-acre zoning. And not many people understand the ramifications of all of that. I'd like to see us have something built over there and it's been so many years. Hopefully, the planning board can mitigate the problems and we can see at least one or two homes come out of that development.

Moreen: I talk about open space, and overdevelopment a lot because it’s certainly a very high priority. But our campaign is multifaceted, and we have a community of residents who care about multiple things. We're campaigning to advocate for all of the different issues. While Tom and I support each other, I think the coolest part of our partnership is that we are we represent a diversity of thought; two people that don't agree can come together and advocate for the residents in a common way.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: We are both here to represent the residents and the community. A member of the township committee is a public servant, and they should be doing what residents want. It's important for people to know that we're here to listen. I've worked in the government sector before and I think from that there's a lot of experience I can bring to the table to have a balanced view of chairing how we optimize the service and support that we give to the community.

Spirig: The two things that really differentiate us, and what I want people to know, are authenticity and accountability. With us, what you see is what you get, and we will be held accountable for it. So if you ever feel like you are not being represented, then that's on us. I really want people to understand that a lot of things have happened behind closed doors for a long time, as they do in small towns, and that's not what we're about.

Are there any misconceptions about your campaign that you’d like to address?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: When you try to do things that haven't been done, you'll be characterized by them. Overdevelopment is not a problem in town, we don't really have overdevelopment, we have some development. Between 2012 and 2021, this town built negative 10 Homes, which is a truly astounding achievement. When you believe in fostering private reinvestment you get branded with comments like overdevelopment.

Moreen: think sometimes people misconceive Tom's intentions and where his heart is. While he and I don't agree on development, I understand that he truly believes that giving up some open space will increase the tax base which we can spend on public services. Another thing is how my own candidacy can get overlooked. Because they're busy talking about Tom, they fail to talk about the fact that I was the founder of the MAPC and I started this journey on my own. And the fact that I'm an executive vice president at Wells Fargo, and I bring an extensive financial background. So I think it's unfortunate that it’s not balanced in that way.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: We're being objective about the situations that we've seen, and what's out there. We don't like negative campaigning. But there are things people need to be aware of. I think an incumbent needs to demonstrate and be accountable for their track record. We're not being negative, we're just being objective to highlight things that we've seen, that are a big concern and people should need to be aware of.

Spirig: It is possible to respect someone and disagree with them. And that is core to who we are. Bringing up issues that the community deserves to know is not being negative, it is being honest.

What is something about this community that you’d like to make sure is preserved?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: The history of the town is not being preserved. I became the liaison to the historic preservation commission because I love history. We need a museum, and I’d like to see the old police station become that. Even if I’m not sitting on the committee in January, I’ll continue to argue for having a museum to demonstrate this town’s history.

Moreen: Open space and the character, of course, that's going to be the standard answer. But there's so much else to talk about as well. It’s really important to keep the sense of community and camaraderie, those positive parts of small-town life, and I hope we preserve that forever. No matter who's elected at this point, I think we've moderated the debate around open space and I am confident we will be in a good place there.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: I've highlighted the green open space and the character, that's the character of Mendham Township, and it’s why people come here. We want to maintain that and that's what we hear from residents. Residents want to maintain the character and have this nice community spirit, have schools that are not overloaded and have the green space that's here and not try and carve it off for development.

Spirig: The open space is the infrastructure for the character. When people think about Mendham, they think about the Brookside Fourth of July parade, the clambake, and all of the things that make us unique. The community spirit, the way people kind of care so deeply about this as their place is something that we always want to encourage.

Are there any changes you’d like to see within the community?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: No, I want to see the community effectively remain the way it is. The only thing I wanted to change was to reverse that property value decline, which is a change we’ve already begun to see during my term. I'm not interested in any more new development in town. I'm interested in the museum, worrying about what could happen with affordable housing, and certainly preserving some open space.

Moreen: As a mom of three, I think it's important to have an appreciation for diversity, diversity of thought, and diversity of background. We have the diversity committee here. But I think more of it, and more celebration of it is important as well.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: From the township committee there's an opportunity to stop this division and this aggressive, politically focused decision-making. If you've got people that just want to do what's right in the town hall, then that spreads to the community. As long as there's communication and we make things more transparent, and let people contribute to tough decisions, I think people will feel more at ease with how the town is being run.

Spirig: Leaders are role models. So when you're talking about the kind of community you want, you should start at the top. Issues quickly devolve into two-sided arguments once they're in front of the committee. We want to lead by not doing that, and hope that mends divisions between people who don't see eye to eye.

Is there anything else you’d like to add or address?

Thomas Baio & Tracey Moreen

Baio: No, thank you.

Moreen: I would love to see a mom of young kids on this committee to bring a different point of view. I think I can bring business insight which is a different skill set than what’s there. I think Jordan Orlins brings some of that now and it will be lost when he walks away, but I can fill that gap.

Martin Slayne & Lauren Spirig

Slayne: Vote on November 8th. Forget about your party. It shouldn't be about that, it should be about what's best for the community because it's a local township government. So vote for the people that you feel have got your interests at heart. And we hope that we are demonstrating that's where we stand, and we are 100% here to serve the community.

Spirig: Vote, no matter what your choice is. Making your voice heard is the most important thing you can do as a citizen, and we just encourage everybody to get out and vote.


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