'We Need to Keep Growing': Maley Seeks Re-Election
Collingswood's long-serving mayor tells Patch he is comfortable running on his record.
Of the more than 30 years he has lived in Collingswood, municipal lawyer James Maley has served as the mayor for 13, and has held office in the borough for another eight besides. Maley's practice has been headquartered in the Collingswood since 1987, a town in which he has raised three children, welcomed two grandchildren and expects two more in June.
James Maley says he will be back at the baseball fields again this year: His oldest grandson is starting T-ball.
"I'm completing the cycle," he jokes.
Maley has seen a lot of changes in Collingswood in the years since his own children were playing Little League. And he has weathered a lot of campaign seasons in that time, too.
As Maley stands for re-election to the borough government with his fellow incumbents, Commissioners Mike Hall and Joan Leonard, he says he's become accustomed to criticisms of the trio voting as a bloc.
"This is not the first time we’ve heard if everybody’s working cooperatively as a team, that’s bad," Maley said. "I’ve been hearing that in every election we’ve been involved in."
The problem with that argument, he said, is that he doesn't understand how that united front hurts the interests of the town.
"You can look to other towns to see where dissension within the three that’s public does not make for a better government," Maley said.
"We don’t agree all the time, but once we reach a consensus, that’s the view that we put out," he said. "I think you need to point out what’s bad in town because the commissioners have a really good relationship."
Maley said the trio has been clear on its philosophy that Collingswood needs to actively redevelop in order to add to its coffers, even amid cost-cutting measures.
Under the 2-percent budget cap laws, he said, "You’re not allowed to generate new revenue by taxing people. We need to keep growing.
"Through this economy, for all the troubles and the issues we’ve had with growth, we have grown," Maley said. "And in order to meet those budget demands, even though we have no room to build, we need to be increasing ratables."
Planning a borough budget that fits within the constraints of the 2-percent statewide cap is "the most important issue" any elected official faces in New Jersey, Maley said.
Collingswood has already done a lot to make "major changes in personnel, in the number of people who work for us and what their terms of employment are," he said.
"Having done that, now comes the really hard part: to continue to live within the 2-percent cap and not be changing services," Maley said.
Maley's administration has already stared down tough cuts, laying off 25 percent of its full-time staff to keep up with the cap, and "you can't do that again," he said. Thus the commissioners are seeking as many shared-service opportunities for the borough as they can arrange.
"I think the direction we’re going is really about sharing more, finding ways to do the services we provide on a more cooperative basis where we can get some economies of scale," Maley said.
"Re-evaluating every function we have about how we can do it more efficiently, cheaper," like the town's aggregate energy purchase agreements; "I think that’s the biggest challenge," he said.
Despite the layoffs and the limitations placed on municipal purse strings, Maley said Collingswood has maintained a strong level of public safety, especially given its proximity to "one of the top five most dangerous cities."
He recalls that conditions in the borough hadn't always been so pleasant, and points out the leverage this gives Collingswood when recruiting the businesses that are its lifeblood.
Maley points out that there was a time when the owners of the Marlton-based restaurant Word of Mouth were reluctant to open a location in Collingswood (they occupied the location at which El Sitio is located for some time before).
"They didn’t want to come down because we were close to Camden," he said. "Today that’s not a topic that ever gets discussed.
"That’s a huge change in attracting business and people living here," Maley said. "The foundation of it all is public safety and the fact that we are what we’ve become even sitting where we sit."
In the end, Maley says, voters will ask themselves if they think Collingswood is headed in the right direction.
"Tell me what’s wrong with the town because of the way we’ve been running it?" he said.