Four candidates are vying to win three vacant seats for the South Orange board of trustees elections on May 11.
Since South Orange elections are non-partisan, none of the candidates have political party affiliations. Candidates Karen Hilton, Bill Haskins and Braynard “Bobby” Brown are running on a ticket while Neil Chambers is running solo under the “Vote for Kids” ticket.
Karen Hilton is the only incumbent of the race seeking reelection. As a trustee, she served as chairperson of the finance committee, a member of the public works and recreation committees and liaison to the library and senior citizen advisory boards.
Hilton originally ran to help restore the infrastructure of the South Orange Library. She organized a master plan to assess the needs of the historic building, which is in the process of being renovated. She also made Village budget meetings open to the public, she said.
Hilton said implementing pedestrian safety measures is priority, especially to protect the Seton Hall community.
“So many students are walking downtown or to their off-campus apartments,” Hilton said.
She cited her aspiration to pursue sidewalk infrastructure improvements laid out in the South Orange Master Plan to prevent traffic accidents.
In terms of town-and-gown relations between Seton Hall and the Village, Hilton said there is already a “strong base,” but both entities “could better communicate the opportunities.” She said she wants locals to research auditing classes at the University and attending sporting events. She also said she hopes students will attend more downtown events, such as those at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
Hilton said she wants the relationship to resemble the University of Virginia — where her daughter attended school — and its strong relationship to Charlottesville, saying that the University logo was painted across town.
“We as the village want to make sure everyone feels appreciated,” Hilton said.
Bill Haskins is the current chairperson of the Village’s Environmental Commission and the leader of the Green Team, where he spearheaded initiatives to plant trees and clean up the Rahway River, which runs through the Village.
Haskins said he wanted to continue environmental advocacy through the role of trustee.
“There needs to be more community building and tremendous participation [in environmental advocacy] and public meetings,” he said.
He said he hopes to have "diverse participation” of the neighborhood organizations instead of those already involved in the Environmental Commission and Green Team.
Haskins said he supports community energy aggregation and cooperative renewable energy for South Orange. He has collaborated with Seton Hall DOVE Service on Saturdays in the fall and Environmental Science majors capstone projects while on the Environmental Commission.
He hopes to maintain the “great town-and-gown relationship” if elected, he said.
Braynard “Bobby” Brown
Braynard “Bobby” Brown is a former Cleveland Browns wide receiver, an attorney and local YMCA sports coach.
He is the current chairperson of the Village’s Community Police Collaborative, which aims to facilitate an open dialogue between the community and law enforcement as well as aggregate public data that propose police reform such as limiting police contact in contexts like certain infractions under the business code.
He said he is “not calling [for] chaotic lawlessness but finding a medium."
“I felt a diverse community like South Orange should be reflective in the way of policing,” Brown said. “We should be a model of not only the county, state and even across the country in terms of policing.”
Brown said he wants to further advocate for police reform if elected as trustee citing data from a New Jersey Advance Media Force Report which found that “a Black person in South Orange is 844% more likely to have force used on them than a white person.”
He said he is motivated to run by his experience as a Black man as well as by his children and their friends to ensure a safe community.
“Parents pay a hefty tab for tuition,” Brown said about police reform and the Seton Hall community. “I think they should be expecting, demanding to send students dignity and respect. I want to ensure that the students who call this community home are safe as they embark on their journey as students.”
He said he also wanted to create an equitable experience for local neighboring communities from Maplewood to Newark to Orange to use recreational space in South Orange and vice versa.
Neil Chambers is an architect and former planning board and Environmental Commission member.
Chambers initially ran to reopen schools alleging that students in the South Orange-Maplewood school district are suffering academically, socially and emotionally from remote learning. This is contrary to trustee Hilton who said that the responsibility belongs to the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education and not the board of trustees.
Chambers’ policy agendas expand beyond school reopening, though. He said he wanted,“more accountability in local government” to tackle issues he said he felt were overlooked.
He said the South Orange Master Plan was not entirely sufficient because it does not consider how the Village infrastructure would be impacted by climate change and that the plan is “avoiding the reality of the world today.”
Chambers said he would propose an environmentally sustainable master plan to improve the Village infrastructure to handle the ramifications of climate change.
He acknowledged that the student population frequently walks in the Village downtown area and said he envisions implementing more parklets which can “pull out traffic out of downtown districts.”
Citing his background in architecture, Chambers said the Village could view the city infrastructure to develop in districts instead of focusing on the “centralized downtown.”
Amanda Dejesus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org