As a 23-year township resident, with seven years serving on the school board, Dr. Antoine Gayles is switching paths for a run on the Mt. Olive Township Council.
He is one of four Democratic candidates vying for a seat in the Nov. 2 general election. With four seats- currently held by four Republicans who are seeking re-election- The Mt. Olive Democrats put together a team of candidates: Gayles, Nicole Spaldo, Alicia Sharma and Jordan Bernstein.
Having demonstrated a commitment and responsibility as a seven-year BOE member, in a manner that has been professional and responsive, Gayles wants to expand on his experience by tackling new ideas and issues in Mt. Olive.
“Over the past seven years, I have demonstrated my commitment to fulfilling my oath and responsibilities as a Board of Education member with a high degree of professionalism, responsiveness and integrity,” says the 53-year Budd Lake father of five.
“I do not overpromise, and to the extent that the law allows, I engage with community members regarding our schools and follow up with the administration to ensure that a solution has been reached,” he explains about his service on the BOE since 2014. “I come prepared and ready to engage in the work at hand.
“I want to utilize my professional and public service experience to add a different perspective and new ideas to tackle challenging issues facing our town,” he says.
Gayles decided three years ago that he was interested in holding a council seat.
Involved with the Mt. Olive Democrats for the past 18 months, Gayles says “In 2019 I began discussing the idea with family, friends and members of the Mt. Olive community,” to run for council.
“Prior to becoming a candidate for town council, I participated in meetings and various community events around town, including a monthly food drive to support the Mt. Olive Food Pantry, clean ups of Link Road, Turkey Brook Park and the White hiking trail entrance,” he explains.
In his first run for council, Gayles shares, “it has been an exciting, eye-opening experience. I’ve spent a majority of the summer and early fall canvassing Mt. Olive neighborhoods, establishing new relationships with neighbors who enthusiastically share their vision for Mt. Olive.”
In an interview with Mt. Olive Online, Gayles explains his desire to sit on the Mt. Olive Council, what his concerns are, details his platform and ideas for improving the town.
Why do you want to serve on the council?
“For 23 years, Mt. Olive has been an amazing community for my family and many others,” he says. “For the past seven years I have played an integral role in the success of the Mt. Olive Public School system, while developing positive relationships with many members of the community, including our local elected officials in the process.
“I believe that MO should also be a go-to destination for shopping, dining and exploration, and while I’ve seen growth in our town, there is still room for improvement,” says Gayles.
“As a town council member, I will work with the mayor and fellow council members to rejuvenate small business development in town, advocate on behalf of residents to harden our electrical infrastructure to minimize power outages, improve our sewer system and water run-off to reduce residential flooding, use existing reports to improve foot and road safety, expedite the implementation of wi-fi throughout our town and address the cable monopoly in Budd Lake.”
What experience or skills do you bring to the council?
“I bring seven years of leadership experience as a school board member,” he says. “In that role, I have introduced innovation, collaborated on new curricular initiatives, and worked in partnership with all members of the community to create an environment where students and staff can thrive. I would bring that same spirit of servant leadership, collaborative, problem finding/problem-solving energy to the town council, with the understanding that the key to success is collaboration, possibility thinking and action!
What are your criticisms, if any, of the current MO Council?
“I don’t have any criticisms of the current town council candidates, rather areas of improvement that can be accomplished with a vote for the Vote Mount Olive team,” says Gayles. “Remember the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well, I would like to add “but continually improve upon it” and that includes our local government. For example, attendance at council and committee meetings is crucial to engage in the work of the people. Our incumbent candidates’ attendance has been egregious going back as far as 2017.”
“Engagement and connection with the community is another area in need of improvement,” says Gayles. “Creating multiple opportunities for community feedback is the foundation of strong local leadership.
Mt. Olive has an opportunity to improve upon our local leadership with new voices, who are proactive, ready to lead and engage all community members.
What are the most concerning issues to you as a resident of Mt. Olive?
“What concerns me the most as a resident is the low level of engagement of ALL segments of the Mt. Olive community,” says Gayles. “For example, the absence of multicultural activities or the cultural arts is evident in many town-sponsored activities. In speaking to residents of the Hackettstown section of Mt. Olive and the many of the 40% of our community living on one of the apartment complexes, they often feel disconnected from the town.”
What would you say are some concerning issues to many residents in Mt. Olive?
“As I’ve talked to residents throughout the town, my initial question: “Is there something you think that town council can be paying a bit more attention to?,” generated incredible engagement and dialog with residents who often feel marginalized because either they live on the fringe of town, or in one of the apartment complexes,” he says.
“Some of the topics discussed were taxes, inclusion/diversity, open space vs. overdevelopment, Budd Lake beach, the erosion of small businesses, Route 46 traffic and road repair.”
What ideas do you have that deal with those issues and can help improve the township?
Here are a few examples of issues that should be prioritized, and not just in an election year:
· Revisit the township’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan of April 2018.
· Conduct a public service announcement campaign to promote the renovation of Budd Lake beach.
· Prioritize infrastructure needs, such as wi-fi, road repair, green technology and not just during an election year.
· Town Halls to share important town news and get community feedback on ordinances, grants and capital projects.
· Attend HOA and other resident meetings to engage residents in conversation and solicit feedback on local issues.
· Community Bulletin or a township newsletter.
· Collaborate with Cultural Alliance of Mt. Olive, Mt. Olive in Color, Mt. Olive Desi and other cultural groups to highlight the diversity of our community.
· Create more free events and other events of interest like sip and paint, music in the park, theater in the park, etc.
· Move forward with developing a community center to expand services to senior citizens and our youth.
4. Business Development
· Create a task force of community constituents (i.e., Chamber of Commerce, Mayor’s Office, Econ. Development, property managers and a Certified Commercial Investment mgr.) to begin a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats assessment. The expectation would be to develop a short-range action plan to:
- Collaborate with the SBA and other non-profit organizations to develop programs and apply for grant funding to support aspiring entrepreneurs.
- Investigate the possibility of offering new markets tax credits, using Real Estate Investment Trusts to generate income, expand the use of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) to attract new businesses.
- Examine redevelopment laws to identify distressed properties that can be rehabilitated to be of more benefit to the municipality’s local economy.
- Secure state and local partners to develop entrepreneurial training program for new projects and support programs for existing business ventures.
What is your platform?
Revitalizing Mt. Olive
· Mt. Olive needs leaders who will do more to fill our empty storefronts, beautify the township, and bring new revenue to Mt. Olive Township. We believe we can invigorate the township’s economy without taking on additional debt due to bonding. And while bonding capital projects at a low interest rate is an effective short-term strategy, I am concerned that we are kicking the proverbial can of mounting debt down the road for the next generation to pay.
We will engage with commercial property owners, business-owners, and local aspiring entrepreneurs to bring jobs and businesses to our township. Through hard work, we can breathe life back into Mt. Olive’s local economy.
Involving the Community: Accessibility and Transparency
· Mt. Olive deserves a Town Council that values the input and participation of the town and not just during an election year. Right now, decisions are made without sufficient public input, discussion or feedback. When developing the long-range master plan for our town, the residents need to be involved! We believe that there should be multiple opportunities for residents to engage in the decision-making process, such as town halls and focus groups, to discuss critical capital projects and ordinances, for example. We will get involved in the community, putting the people of Mt. Olive front and center in the political process.
Equity & Inclusion
· It’s time for Mt. Olive to elect leaders who will promote inclusion, unity and equity - that will engage more members of the community. We value communication, empathy and understanding. All of our neighbor’s voices matter. Vote Mt. Olive will listen to every resident, no matter your age, race, ability, political affiliation, religion, gender identity, sexuality, or economic status; whether you live in an apartment complex or homeowner, live in the center of town or on the edge of town, to find solutions we that we can all take pride in. Vote Mt. Olive knows that we can only be united when we respect and celebrate what makes each of us unique.
Do you have any slogans or a meaningful mantra that will stick in voters’ minds when going to the polls?
“Vote for Gayles, Spaldo, Sharma and Bernstein. We are New Voices with Real Vision for Mt. Olive.”
Why should residents vote for Dr. Antoine Gayles for MO Council?
“As your neighbor, I understand the importance of maintaining the quality of life that makes our community special, while looking ahead to create what comes next. I am forward-thinking, and would be a strong advocate for you as your councilman.
“I believe that there needs to be stronger collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Committee.
“I believe that public and vacant spaces can be used to promote new businesses, in addition to supporting aspiring local entrepreneurs and the arts.
“I believe that Mt. Olive can be a hub of shopping, dining and exploration, the performing arts and cultural festivals for all residents to enjoy.
“I am running for Town Council on a platform of inclusivity, vision and innovation; to make Mt. Olive a more vibrant community that represents and reflects the rich gender, ethnic and religious mosaic that exists; to improve our commitment to the safety, health and wellness of our seniors; to support the expansion of small businesses in town; and assess our infrastructure needs, all while being fiscally responsible with your taxpayer dollars. Most importantly, as your representative, I will listen with empathy and ensure that every voice is heard.”
If elected, would you still sit on the BOE? If so, how would you manage your time to be successful?
“According to Board Policy 0145 and N.J.S.A. 18A:12-2.2 I must resign from the Board of Education if I am elected or appointment to the office of mayor or member of the governing body of Mt. Olive Township.”
If you are the lone Democrat elected to the current all Republican town council, how would you handle working with others from different opinions and beliefs?
“Mt. Olive residents should have the confidence that regardless of political affiliation or ideology, their elected officials will work tirelessly on their behalf to address the issues that affect their quality of life in Mt. Olive; and that they will be included as integral partners in that process. I believe that regardless of political designation we all want what best for Mt. Olive and the beauty of a democratic society is that we can share different points of view, discuss and debate ideas that lead to positive outcomes for our community.”
Is there anything you would like to add?
“With your vote for Gayles, Spaldo, Sharma and Bernstein, we can begin to realize a vision for Mt. Olive that reflects the rich diversity that exists in our town,” says Gayles. “Casting that vote is your opportunity to change the narrative of “it won’t work” or “let’s wait and see what the other towns do.” We can be leaders in Northwest NJ and throughout the state.
“So, why change, you ask? To that, I say that one of the most dangerous statements that we can say to ourselves is “We’re doing it this way because we’ve always done it this way.” This kind of thinking sacrifices creativity, innovation, visionary and forward thinking, for the comfort of status quo. I’ve even heard “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. To that I’ll add - but continually improve upon it.”
Now more than ever is the time to improve upon our local leadership with new voices, with real vision, ready to do the hard work. So, on Nov 2 vote for Gayles, Spaldo, Sharma and Bernstein for town council.”
Gayles earned his doctorate in education leadership from Seton Hall University in South Orange; a master’s in management of human services from Brandeis University in Massachusetts; and bachelor’s in political science concentrating in public policy from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
He has worked professionally in sales, finance and education.
“I traveled from Waltham, MA to Jersey City, NJ to take a sales associate job on Wall Street for NatWest Investor Services, NA,” he says. “After three years in the financial markets industry, I transitioned to working in non-profit organizations in Newark, NJ that supported students in Newark Public Schools and their families. I have spent the past 23 years as an educational leader in suburban and urban communities, serving in the State Dept. of Education, an assistant principal, principal and superintendent of schools. I am also an adjunct professor at Centenary University, teaching graduate level communications and public Relations to school leaders. In 2020 I launched my own educational consulting company to provide professional development, coaching and motivational speaking services to school districts, for profit and non-profit organizations.”
BOE Experience & Accomplishments
Gayles has served two consecutive terms on the Mt. Olive BOE (2014-2017; 2017-2020) after being appointed to an unexpired term in August 2014. In 2020, he was elected to a third term on the BOE, securing more than 5,000 votes to lead all candidates.
“During my first two terms on the board, I served two times as vice president, in addition to serving on the Negotiations, Finance, Policy, Curriculum committees, and Curriculum Committee chair in 2019 and 2021. Between 2016-2018 I served on the Morris County School Boards Legislative Committee and as an alternate delegate to the NJ Schools Board Association. I currently serve as the board liaison to the township Recreation Department and Chester M. Stephens Elementary School, and support the parents and students of Special Education Parent Advocacy Group (SEPAG) and Parents of Extraordinary Kids (PEAK).
“I have coached both boys’ and girls’ recreation basketball and boys track,” says Gayles. “My family and I attend Flanders United Methodist Church, where I volunteer at the thrift and delivered the youth ministry.
“This past April I was appointed to serve as a Board of Trustee of Norwescap, the largest non-profit community action program in northwest NJ. Norwescap is a private, nonprofit corporation, established in 1965, serving the low-income population in Northwest NJ. The organization offers a comprehensive array of strategies, programs, and services to create opportunities and change lives.”
Gayles is married to Gwendolyn, a classroom aide at CMS. They have five children: Donovan, MOHS class of 2016; Victoria, MOHS class of 2020; Caitlin, MOHS class of 2020; Justin, MOHS class of 2021; and Stephanie, MOMS grade 6.
This is a paid advertisement by Mt. Olive Democrats.