Meet the Candidates: Audubon Borough Commissioners

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In Audubon, five candidates will appear on the ballot for the May 9 commissioners election: Ian Gill, Rob Jakubowski, Robert Lee, Debra Licorish, and John Ward. 

By Matt Skoufalos | April 20, 2017

In one of only a handful of contested municipal elections this spring, voters in Audubon will elect three commissioners to its borough government May 9.

Two-term incumbent mayor John J. Ward is seeking re-election with a fresh slate of candidates that includes former Audubon Board of Education President Robert O. Lee and longtime community volunteer Rob Jakubowski. The three are running on the ballot under the ticket, “Keeping Audubon First.”

Their opponents are former Clementon councilman Ian M. Gill, a firefighter-EMT, and Debra A. Licorish, a technology educator in the Haddonfield public school district. Gill and Licorish appear on the ticket, “Making Audubon Great Again.”

NJ Pen invited all five candidates to reply to a brief questionnaire outlining their philosophies of government, political experience, and plans for the future direction of the borough. Their responses have been condensed for length or clarity below.

Ian Gill. Credit: Ian Gill.

Ian Gill, 51

Mannington Township native Ian M. Gill is a lifelong New Jersey resident who has worked in local fire and emergency services for over 30 years.

Gill is an emergency medical technician in the Lindenwold EMS unit of Kennedy University Hospital EMS Division, and works part-time for the Mt. Ephraim EMS, which provides emergency medical services to the residents of Audubon.

Gill’s political career includes five years as a councilman in the borough of Clementon. He is a longtime Deputy Camden County Fire Marshal, the First Vice President of the Camden County Fireman’s Association, a Life Member of the Berlin IC Ambulance Association, and President of the Tansboro Volunteer Fire Department 25-4.

Gill has also been the Camden County Ex-Committeeman to the New Jersey Exempt Firemen’s Association, and has been an EMT/firefighter Runnemede, Clementon, Pine Hill, Winslow Township, Tansboro, and Sicklerville, and has worked many summers as Chief of EMTs for Clementon Park and Splash World.

An active Boy Scout leader, having spent 6 years as the Advancement Chairman for Troop 88 in Audubon, Gill is an Eagle Scout and member of the Vigil Order of the Arrow. His scouting accolades also include Wood Badge beads and the Silver Beaver for his work with the Boy Scouts Garden State Council.

What’s your philosophy of government?

Government is to work for the people, not to overpower, but to support them. I support term limits on elected officials.

Why are you running for office?

I care about the needs of the residents. I support the safety of the residents. We need a good spending plan that I can develop.

What are the biggest challenges the borough will face in the next four years?

We have many underfunded needs that have been put off so many times that now will cost more to replace or repair.

What are the borough’s greatest strengths?

This is a great community of groups and services that we need to support and expand. It is time for community-wide events that will allow different groups to share their talents.

If elected, what are your top three priorities for your term on the borough commission?

Public safety, parks and playgrounds, and public works.

Rob Jakubowski. Credit: Rob Jakubowski.

Rob Jakubowski, 47

Born and raised in Audubon, Rob Jakubowski is the youngest of seven boys, and a father to two school-aged daughters.

A graduate of Audubon High School, he was inducted into its Alumni Association Ring of Honor in 2008, and has a master’s degree in American history from Rutgers.

Jakubowski is currently deputy director of the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services, and has spent 19 years in nonprofit executive leadership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving of New Jersey.

He has 20 years of combined volunteer and professional experience with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and is also a former member of the United Way board of directors.

Jakubowski has coached youth softball and soccer in Audubon, is a past president of the Audubon Fathers Association, and is a Eucharistic minister at Ascension Lutheran Church. He has never held public office.

What’s your philosophy of government?

Government can and should play a role in improving the quality of life for residents. A cost-benefit analysis should be made with every government decision. Elected or appointed, government officials should always remember that the public is their primary focus.

Why are you running for office?

My entire life has been committed to serving my neighbors. Becoming a commissioner is an opportunity to serve my neighbors in a new way.

What are the biggest challenges the borough will face in the next four years?

We see major funding cuts from the federal and state governments in the coming years. These cuts will have an impact on infrastructure and on social services. Local governments will have to find innovative approaches to make sure the needs of our residents are met. This can only happen with people who know Audubon, and who have been involved in Audubon.

What are the borough’s greatest strengths?

Audubon’s strength is and will always be its people. This one square mile is a place where you want to raise your family. Our greatness has come from the people who have been involved, from the Audubon Women’s League to our youth sports and activities, to the fire department and the many other organizations that make this town special.

The Borough of Audubon has been on the leading edge of shared services. This innovation needs to be continued and expanded.

If elected, what are your top three priorities for your term on the borough commission?

1. To bring together the many active individuals and organizations serving our town. We need to provide more resources to help them succeed. Through partnerships, we want to plan more town-wide events to support our community organizations and businesses.

2. To promote Audubon’s unique, family-friendly community by bringing in new businesses and residents to complement the great people and businesses we have in town.

3. To build on the success of our public works department by improving our streets and our active recreation areas.

Robert O. Lee. Credit: Robert O. Lee.

Robert O. Lee, 57

Robert O. Lee is a 20-year Audubon resident, father of two, and husband of 30 years to his wife, Kim.

The couple are former, internationally touring opera singers; since 1995, Robert Lee has worked for Brooklawn Public Schools as a music teacher, technology instructor, and co-technology coordinator.

Lee has been an 11-year member of the Audubon Board of Education, where he served as president and vice-president of the Audubon Board of Education, chaired its curriculum committee, and helped train staff in classroom technology skills.

He has also coached track and field for Audubon Junior High School and soccer for the borough youth league.

Lee has a bachelor’s degree in music from West Chester University, and a master’s of arts in curriculum instruction from Nova Southeastern University. He has worked as an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern as well as at Wilmington University.

What’s your philosophy of government?

I believe in providing the best quality of life in the most fiscally responsible way. This includes total transparency in all financial matters, and making decisions that provide the most benefit for the Audubon community. The following tenets are paramount: fiscal responsibility, innovative thinking, responsible decision-making, strength through experience, and transparency.

Why are you running for office?

I truly love serving my community. This began with youth sports, continued in volunteering in the Audubon schools, and most recently, serving on the Audubon Board of Education. I see the need for good leadership, and believe that I can help provide it.

What are the biggest challenges the borough will face in the next four years?

Economic development remains a challenge in virtually every community. Our desire is to seek sustainable, viable businesses in our town. We believe the attraction of an exciting entity in the old bank building will breathe new energy to the downtown business district.

Working with current businesses and meeting their needs will also be important. Our current stakeholders must work together to provide benefits to the whole community, and I believe I can help accomplish this with a sense of fiscal responsibility.

Our goal will be to continue to maintain the current tax base with no increase in municipal taxes. This can be accomplished best with experienced leadership who have a record of Audubon community involvement.

What are the borough’s greatest strengths?

The borough’s greatest strength is its people. Having walked (and run) around town for the past several weeks, I am amazed at the pride and sense of togetherness Audubon exhibits. Are we without our problems? Certainly not! The concerns expressed are ones that I have taken very seriously, and I want to be a part of providing a solution.

Structurally, the borough provides an extremely high level of service, especially police and public works. This can continue with experienced leadership.

If elected, what are your top three priorities for your term on the borough commission?

Financial responsibility and integrity must be first. We are responsible to the people of Audubon in the use of their money. Public safety and quality of life also ranks highly. Having a plan for reconditioning road surfaces, better street signage, and the beautification of our town, all within a conservative-but-creative spending model.

Finally, I want to address the local housing blight by: 1) making policy and program evaluation a priority 2) engaging and developing collaborative, community-based partnerships, and 3) continuing to use every tool available to discourage abandonment of homes and increasing emphasis on why Audubon is a great place to live.

Debra Licorish. Credit: Debra Licorish.

Debra Licorish, 55

Debra Licorish is a 20-year Audubon resident and mother of two adult children.

Licorish is a technology teacher in the Haddonfield public school district, where she has worked for the past two decades and served as the treasurer and financial committee negotiator for her local NJEA union.

She holds a master’s degree in technology education from The College of New Jersey and a bachelor’s degree in education and psychology from Rowan University.

Prior to becoming a teacher, Licorish owned and operated SEW COOL, a startup business through which she designed and manufactured custom youth sports apparel and costumes for figure skaters. She has been a longtime volunteer with the theater departments of her children’s schools as well as those of the Haddonfield public school system.

A believer in small, efficient government, Licorish is seeking office for the first time.

What’s your philosophy of government?

Local government should aim to inform, involve, and include its constituents. Our democratically elected borough commissioners have a duty to continue the dialogue with the voters after the election is over.

Why are you running for office?

Initially, my greatest inspiration for running this year was my inability to find information about the activities of my local government, and my concern about a general decline in our town—a town that deserves to be the premier, affordable place to raise a family. I want to bring my strengths to the table and move Audubon forward. It is time for a new set of ideas and fresh perspectives.

What are the biggest challenges the borough will face in the next four years?

Our borough will most certainly face fiscal challenges. It has been a long time since the budget has provided any significant money for capital improvements. Careful budgeting, generating new sources of revenue, eliminating waste, and wise planning are the components we need to get the job done.

What are the borough’s greatest strengths?

A long time ago, I chose Audubon as the community in which to make my home and raise my children. Baseball games, Fourth of July parades, cottages and grand homes; it is a friendly neighborhood of strong, patriotic, hardworking people who care about their neighbors. This borough’s greatest strength is its people.

If elected, what are your top three priorities for your term on the borough commission?

My first priority would be to examine the details of the existing and previous budgets, paying close attention to miscellaneous spending, while continuing to dialogue with the public and opening up electronic communication via the borough website and social media.

I have learned much over the last few months about the decline of our small businesses. I would work to reestablish communication with the small business community in an effort to reinstate the Special Improvement District (SID) that was dissolved in 2011, and return the assets it had provided the town, starting with the trashcans on Atlantic Avenue.

Thirdly, I would develop a plan to put Audubon back together. My short list of areas needing attention includes: dead, dying, and dangerous borough trees, decaying roads, unreadable street signs, and trash in public areas and on borough-owned property.

John J. Ward. Credit: John J. Ward.

John J. Ward, 49

Two-term incumbent Audubon Mayor John Ward met his wife, Paula, at the Audubon Junior/Senior High School.

The couple have raised two children in the borough, where Ward also has been the zoning and code enforcement officer, a member of the local board of health, and a volunteer athletics coach.

Ward has spent 27 years in healthcare and university management, and is the administrative director of safety and regulatory affairs at Cooper University Health Care.

He is a graduate of the FBI Citizen’s Academy, a Certified Healthcare Safety Professional (CHSP), and has emergency management certifications from both the New Jersey State Police and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ward has a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from Saint Joseph’s University and is currently earning a second master’s in healthcare administration there. He is also the current president of the Camden County Mayor’s Association.

What’s your philosophy of government?

I believe in being fiscally responsible above all else. Every decision must be made measuring the cost benefit to the taxpayers. I’ve spent eight years ensuring that every dollar spent was evaluated so that I could say to the taxpayers that I personally assessed the expense and stand behind it. This is the philosophy that enabled us to produce three budgets in a row without a municipal tax increase.

Why are you running for office?

I truly enjoy serving Audubon residents. My father served as mayor in Audubon when I was growing up, and ever since then, service is in my blood. I would be very grateful if the residents saw fit to elect me for another term to continue the good work we’ve been able to achieve. My family and I feel that I’m not done yet, and I can still offer much more to our town.

What are the biggest challenges the borough will face in the next four years?

As our economy continues to improve, we need to continue working to attract new businesses. About six years ago, the business management association voted to dissolve amid difficulties working together; most felt that they had achieved their goals of improving the business district. In 2013, I attempted to bring business owners back together to work on attracting complementary businesses to our vacant storefronts, but they weren’t ready at that time.

We are very close to bringing in a strong anchor business for our West Merchant Street corridor. As such, I feel it may be time to bring the business owners back together so we can devise a plan to return a sense of community to our business district. I anticipate a rebirth of our business district similar to that seen in Oaklyn.

What are the borough’s greatest strengths?

Audubon has many strengths, including its exceptional public works team, dedicated and professional first responders, and strong, family-centered community. However, I believe its biggest asset right now is strong municipal finances. Financially, the borough is well positioned to continue to deliver the high level of services we all expect while minimizing the tax burden to residents and business owners.

I fear that disconnected or inexperienced leadership could jeopardize all the hard work we have put into stabilizing borough finances. We need to continue to keep Audubon first and our taxes under control.

If elected, what are your top three priorities for your term on the borough commission?

Fiscal responsibility, public safety, and expanding shared service opportunities. As the director of public safety, we are running the police and fire departments, municipal court, EMS, and Office of Emergency Management in the most efficient and effective manner possible.

Our first responders are well funded and staffed to meet the needs of our community. We will continue to ensure that our community is safe even though the world around us appears to be increasingly more challenging.

During my tenure in office, we have successfully established many shared services with neighboring communities. Audubon provides municipal court services to both Haddonfield and Tavistock, which brings in revenues that allow us to reduce the burden on Audubon taxpayers. We also share a municipal clerk and tax assessor with Oaklyn.

Today in municipal government, if you are not actively looking to share services with your neighbors, you are doing a disservice to your town. If elected, we will continue to discuss these opportunities with our neighboring communities.

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