The Narberth Borough Council conducted simultaneous interviews Monday night of the four applicants to finish resigned Councilman Surge Ghosh's term, with apparently encouraging results.
"You guys all have incredible backgrounds, education and experiences," Council President Sam Quinn told Richard Diaz, Andrea Deutsch, Michael Gaudini and Ken Jacobs, who sat in adjacent seats in the council chamber's front row for nearly an hour and a half of questioning. "It's wonderful. I'm really impressed with the quality of the applicants."
Said newly elected Councilman Bob Weisbord: "It's a shame we can't just have four new members."
Ghosh at the Jan. 2 reorganization, leaving almost exactly two years left on his four-year term. Municipal-government laws require filling a vacancy within 30 days, and Narberth's deadline is Wednesday, Feb. 8, when a caucus meeting is scheduled. Members will vote then to appoint one of the applicants, returning council to a full seven members.
Council members posed 12 questions, each time asking all applicants to answer and rotating who would answer first, second, third and fourth. Questions focused on how Narberth has changed, the strengths, weaknesses and priorities of the borough government, which committees each candidate felt would be a good fit for him or her and what experiences have helped prepare them for council service.
The candidates, who shared friendly conversation before the interviews, generally agreed on a few points:
- The upcoming revamping of the zoning code should be a priority. (Jacobs: "There's, in my experience, a lot of random activities going on. ... I think there are a lot of things that can be done to simplify it and make it a much more transparent exercise.")
- The borough should explore the benefits of shared services with Lower Merion wherever appropriate but make sure to preserve its characteristics. (Gaudini: "We’re able to do a lot of things that Lower Merion just can't. We should really play up our abilities that we have.")
- Life in the borough is a valuable contrast to the dynamic of Philadelphia, or even Lower Merion. (Diaz: "You come almost into a Norman Rockwell painting or Frank Capra movie. People look you in the eyes, they say hello to you.")
- They're willing to put in whatever time the job requires. (Deutsch said she expected about 10 hours a month on average: "I would imagine times where it's more intensive and times where it's less intensive.")
Deutsch, the president of the Narberth Democratic Club, left law practice in 2003 and started the Narberth pet-supply shop . She suggested she would therefore be a good fit for the economic development committee and that the borough needs to be mindful, when changing any zoning, of "doing things to encourage businesses to thrive and grow and do well in this difficult economy."
Jacobs, who has an MBA from Drexel University and runs the health-care publishing company Clinical Research Resources, presented himself as the candidate most critical of the status quo, telling council members, "I kind of rail against what in my experience has been a lack of consistency and a lack of transparency or a lack of available information, and it's one of the things that makes me crazy." Still, he said, "I'm at that point of my life where ... I don't have any aspiration to be the chief of chiefs."
Diaz, an attorney, moved to the borough in 2009, after several years of service to the U.S. Navy and graduating Temple University law school, where he sat on the search committee that helped install a new dean. He suggested his naval experience would equip him well as a chair or member of the public safety committee and that he could lead or serve the finance and zoning committees well, too.
Gaudini interns for State Sen. Daylin Leach and graduated from Temple University in 2011. Several times in his interview answers, he cited his documentary about Narberth and its history. Gaudini is applying to graduate school both in and outside the Philadelphia area, so he warned the council he might not be able to complete the term, but he wanted to demonstrate how seriously he wants to serve the borough, now and later.