Bahree elected to Council
On June 26, the West Windsor Township Council selected Jyotika Bahree by a 3-1 vote to fill the vacancy on the governing body created by the sudden and still-unexplained resignation of former council president Peter Mendonez.
Voting in favor of Bahree was Council President Alison Miller, Linda Geevers and Hemant Marathe. Voting against was Ayesha Hamilton.
Bahree is a member of the township’s zoning board of adjustment and has been involved with the Maurice Hawk PTA. She received her B.A. in economics and M.B.A from the highly-selective Indian Institute of Management, and worked in sales and business development before moving to the American midwest and working as a Market Research Manager at KeyBank. Since moving to West Windsor in 2007, she has been a stay-at-home mom with three children: Akshat Agarwal, 13, Arjun Agarwal, 8, Amay Agarwal, 6.
Before being elected to Council, she was also a member of the township Zoning Board, which helped shape her perspective and motivated her to apply for Council. “When you’re a resident, you look at all the issues almost as a spectator, but when you’re in a body like the Zoning Board, you feel like you’re much closer to the issues,” Bahree said.
Through the Zoning Board, Bahree met some of the current Council members, and after applying for Council herself, she communicated with current members to understand the job.
A total of six candidates submitted application for the position and were required to appear before the council to make a three to five-minute presentation to council about why they should be chosen. Two of the candidates – Corinna Smithson Bisgaier and Marshall Lerner did not appear and were eliminated from contention.
Speaking in addition to Bahree were Anthony DeCarlo, a retired a supply chain manager for FMC; Susan Roy, an attorney who specializes in immigration and naturalization; and Patricia Ward Prutzman, the township’s former director of community development, who retired at the end of last year.
After the presentations, it came down to Bahree and Roy as the two finalists for the position. Bahree and Roy had both spoken about their involvement within the township and their understanding of the West Windsor community.
Roy said that her strength as an applicant comes from her “connection to the entire community. Whether it’s recent members of the township or those have lived here for 30 years, I’ve collaborated with all of them.” Roy has worked in the past as a reporter for The News.
In her speech to the Council, Bahree mentioned that along with experience in the community, her background would complement the skills already seen on Council. “When I look at the makeup of council, I see a lawyer, a communications major, a policy expert/planner and an engineer/businessman. My skills in data analysis and fact-based analytical thinking complement your individual skills and will make us a stronger unit,” Bahree said to the Council.
Regarding political alignment, Bahree believes herself to be “an independent thinker. I’m not aligned to either side, and that’s one of the things my Council members may appreciate about me. The Council is made up of five people, so we’ll have a person who’s an independent thinker and who can draw from either sides.”
After the candidates presented themselves, the council began the nomination process. Hamilton nominated Roy, and Marathe nominated Bahree.
Hamilton backed Roy due to her background and their experience together as attorneys. “I was very impressed by Sue Roy’s background and professionalism. I know her to be someone who is involved and engaged in the community, and I thought that she would be the best fit for filling the council seat. We’re both also attorneys, we’ve crossed paths, I know her business partners, so I know her from the community,” Hamilton said.
Marathe supported Bahree because of her experience and independence as a thinker, but gives “credit to Allison Miller. The council wanted to appoint somebody, not keep the seat vacant, and we want to appoint it ourselves, so Miller got everyone involved and spoke to all the council members. Not everyone got what they wanted, but at least we were able to discuss our concerns and preferences and come to a consensus that managed to fill a seat,” Marathe said.
Though Marathe had nominated Bahree, Geevers also supported the candidate and was in agreement with Bahree’s evaluation of the Council’s needs. “What I liked about her was the experience as a data analyst and I think that will compliment the background of other council members. She also wants to research and have an informed opinion,” Geevers said.
The Council decided to vote by ballot so that they did not influence each other’s decisions. In the first round of voting, Hamilton and Miller voted for Roy, while Marathe and Geevers voted for Bahree, leading to a 2-2 split.
While West Windsor Mayor Hsueh was present and could have given the tiebreaking vote, the Council chose to revote since “the members of council wanted this to be a council decision, a council action and not involve the mayor,” Miller said.
Before the next round of voting, the president urged her fellow council members to consider the importance of cooperation and compromise in this process. “In nature when you have an immovable object and an unstoppable force, you have an explosion,” Miller said. “But in politics, you have a compromise. So let’s vote again, hoping to get a compromise.”
In the second round, Miller switched her vote from Bahree to Roy. She had initially supported Roy “because of her experience volunteering and interacting with government. However, no Council member wanted to end up with a tie, and I had spoken to other council members before the meeting, so I compromised.”
Marathe, Geevers and Miller all voted for Bahree, while Hamilton voted for Roy, leading to 3-1 in favor of Bahree. After Miller switched her vote, Jyotika Bahree was elected and sworn in as the newest member of the West Windsor Township Council.
Once the second vote count was finished and the new Council member was announced, Bahree was “ecstatic. I’m really excited, and honored to be on this Council who are debating these issues.
“What amazes me is that we spent time debating each and every minute issue that impacts the residents of our township. One person comes up in the Council, talks about their concern, and the due process gives a lot of importance to that person’s concern. And that’s really what amazes me about the whole process. It humbles me. I feel heartened that we can do something about these issues,” she added.
Though Hamilton did not vote for her, she looks “forward to working with Bahree, as I think she’ll be a great addition to council.”
After Bahree was sworn in, the council also voted to have her serve as liaison to the Environmental to the township’s Environmental Commission, which had previously been filled by Mendonez.
While Bahree is excited to be on council, she acknowledges the hard work that await this body in the next few months. “I think one of the main issues is the affordable housing trial, so I hope I’ll be able to contribute towards that. We’re all ready to learn about the infrastructure impacts to those developments, if they happen,” Bahree said.
“I also talked about the high taxes issue, which is always the railing issue in our township. Lastly, in the past ten years, the town has really grown and there are many new communities, and I think we can do a little bit better of a job on knitting all those communities together and integrating them,” she continued.
Though he did not having voting rights in this election, Mayor Hsueh is also excited by the addition of a new candidate. “I did invite the newly appointed council member to my office Tuesday morning, and we had a very good conversation. I believe she will be a positive factor, and I look forward to working with her for the next six months. I’m sure whatever is good for the community, we should be able to come to some sort of mutual agreement,” Hsueh said.
Bahree will serve out the remainder of Mendonez’s term, which expires at the end of this year, and as of now she does not intend to run for re-election. The seat is up for election in November for a four-year term, along with the council seat held by Geevers and the position of mayor. Currently, the Council is operating without a Vice President, but that position will also be decided during reorganization. Hsueh announced earlier this year that he is not be running for reelection.
Though there may be many changes to the West Windsor government by January, the mayor and Council members are aware of the work to be done in the next six months, including the road developments around West Windsor also discussed during that meeting.
Many Council members cited the upcoming affordable housing decision to be the biggest piece on the agenda. “We’re all waiting to see what happens with Judge Mary Jacobson’s decision on the Mercer County Methodology trial. That trial has now concluded, so we’re waiting to see what the affordable housing obligation is going to be. Whether or not we accept the decision, it’s too early to say,” Geevers said.
Hsueh also mentioned various objectives he had for his the rest of his final term in as mayor. His biggest focus was on having “additional open space taken over by the Township in the next six months. One piece of property is 120 acres, another is 96 acres, the third piece is about 28 acres, and I’m hoping this will all become a part of West Windsor Open Space.”
Among other issues, Hsueh also wants to “resolve and sign agreements with Mercer County to improve the intersection between New Edinburg Road and Old Trenton Road.”
Lastly, he hopes to implement the Route 1 changes, which was the other major agenda item during the June 26th Council meeting. “I want to make sure we get support from all the organizations and entities involved in the U.S. 1 changes from Dinky Bridge to Millstone River, in order to make sure that we have clear consensus from all the mayors, councils, and Princeton University to secure $50 million for the improvements,” Hsueh said. He added that the $50 million will not be causing tax increases in West Windsor, as the funding will be coming from the state and NJDOT (New Jersey Department of Transportation).
Meanwhile, the reason for Mendonez’s resignation still remains a mystery. Township officials have not been able to get in contact with him, and he has not responded to repeated requests by The News to speak about his resignation.
On June 12, Mendonez resigned via an email message less than 10 minutes before the start of that night’s council meeting. Almost immediately, the council put out an application for the open council spot, and the six residents applied by the June 22nd deadline.
After Bahree’s election to Council, she has resigned from the Zoning Board, leaving an open spot in the body, along with an open spot in the West Windsor Parking Authority, and Marathe hope to fill these positions. “This is an opportunity for people to get involved in the township,” he said. For more information on applying for these positions, please visitwww.westwindsornj.org/volunteer_opportunities_main.html
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