Ellen has been happily married for 45 years to George W. Sandman, (retired Nursing Home Administrator.) She is the proud parent of Officer Kristian T. Sandman (wife Liz) and has been blessed with two grandchildren; Colin Thomas, 13 and Madelyn Harper, 4.
Ellen, why are you running for Mayor of Denville?
This past December, I retired from Municipal management after 44 years of Public Service. Jersey City, Denville, Mendham, and Parsippany have given me a wealth of experience and knowledge in every facet of Municipal Government including; finance, recreation, public works, health, environment, public safety, construction, engineering, water and sewer, social services, volunteering, and administration.
I may have retired from my previous role of Municipal Business Administrator, but in early February, after much soul searching, and input from many township residents, I decided to run for Mayor based on my strong commitment to continue to serve my community.
So here I am, running for Mayor of the town I fell in love with some thirty-three years ago. My forty-four years of proven public service have given me the qualifications for this most worthy undertaking. The road ahead will be a challenging and demanding one, solely because I am running as an independent candidate.
I am honored to run, and I’m up for the task at hand. We are clearly at a crossroads between maintaining our beautiful, small hometown setting, coupled with the need for growth and development. We need to utilize technology and innovative concepts to sustain this wonderful family-friendly environment we call Denville.
A former Mayor that I had the privilege to work with recognized that the vibrancy of a community rests not with those who govern, but with the enthusiasm of its citizens. He believed that public service is built on volunteerism and that it was everyone’s obligation to take part in all aspects of making their community the best it could be. I have built my career on those same beliefs.
You mentioned that as Mayor, you have the experience and vision to enhance the overall Denville experience. Please expand on this.
During my twenty-one years as the Business Administration and Public Safety Director of Denville, I had the opportunity to work on many projects and policies. Let me give you an example of what I am referring to and how I would approach dealing with a multi-faceted project. The need to balance growth and open space was accomplished in a remarkable way.
Years ago, many groups got together to save Knuth Farm. There were several owners of the Ayres/Knuth property that were willing to sell the entire parcel located between Route 10 and Cooper Road. With the help of numerous local organizations such as the Board of Education, Recreation, Historic Ayres/Knuth Farm Group, Historical Society, Township and the County Open Space Committee, we were able to purchase the Property. This facilitated passive and active recreation including; two soccer fields, a farming operation, a historic assemblage of buildings and farm implements thus maintaining and preserving a rural aspect of Denville’s history all located on the Cooper Road side of the town.
In addition, we were able to support and provide a taxable entity known as “The Shoppes at Union Hill.” The key to this venture was my ability to coordinate all the shareholders to assure a successful undertaking that would provide a real win for all parties involved while providing a better experience for the Community.
In 1986, I interviewed for the position of Business Administrator, facing a field of twelve candidates. During this process, it became quite apparent that morale (spirit) and recreation were key concerns and would play a significant role in the selection process. And so, my life in Denville began on March 3rd, 1986, as Township Administrator. For the next twenty-one years, I found myself living, working, playing, and raising a family in what I have often referred to as my role in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Lakes, fields and parks, a downtown that is the envy of all surrounding towns, the HUB of Morris County, and a volunteer spirit second to none. The volunteer spirit was highly contagious, and I embraced the experience and never looked back.
From Joey Bella, Denville Beautification, Fire and First Aid, VFW and the American Legion, all the sports organizations from Dawgs to Blue Angels, PAL, Chamber/Pride, Sunrise Rotary (Duck Race), Rockaway River Watershed Cabinet, Rotary Street Festival, Project Playground, St. Clare’s Harvest Festival, Historical Society, St. Francis Fall Festival, Friends of the Library, Senior Clubs and Socials and of course, yard sales, POWWW, Kiwanis (Circus). I was honored to Co-Chair and MC many of these events throughout my career. Actor and lip sync performer, serve at many picnics, plant the Cannas in town, collect ducks in the river, Kiwanis Father’s Day Breakfast, ride an elephant, sell 50/50’s, march in the many parades including the 75th and 100th, Memorial Day, Little League, Fire and anniversary milestones. First Chair and Creator of the Rockaway River Watershed Cabinet, dressed in full costume for events downtown or on stage for many of the organizations just mentioned. Oh, in case you’re wondering, yes, I worked many late hours including weekends and holidays working at my day job of running the town and being responsible for the design and build of Cook’s Pond Senior Center and the Denville Municipal Complex.
I was privileged to work with many professional and dedicated employees, as well as our volunteers. We were truly a team whereby “labor of love” was the mission statement. Nothing would have been accomplished without these stellar team players. So many stayed for more than thirty years because it was so much more than a job; it was their life’s work. Our volunteers are steadfast stalwarts, with many well into their eighties continuing to give back. I was honored to have been part of this dynamic group and continue to work with them on many endeavors.
What is your vision on Open Space/Recreation for Denville?
I have a commitment to Open Space/Recreation both passive and active so let me list a few of my accomplishments in that regard: acquiring of over a thousand acres of Open Space throughout Denville, securing six fields at the St. Francis property providing more space for lacrosse, field hockey, rugby, lights at Gardner Field, Veterans, concession facility at Veterans’ Field, a dog park, upgrades and safety equipment, a basketball court on the other side of Rt.10, actively involved in many of the playground undertakings throughout our community. Please note that a significant position of the funding was pursued and received from County Trust Fund money and Community Block Grants and our own Open Space Funds/Capital, as well as private funding from residents and businesses alike. Going forward I would like to create, in addition to what exists presently, a committee made up of representatives from all of the sports groups to better communicate, have an open discussion and understand the needs of all, this will assure the funding necessary to achieve what is required for our youth and our “young at heart.”
In addition to the above, I am proud to state for the record, I was instrumental in placing the first SRO (Student Resource Officer) at Morris Knolls, shared services with the local Board of Education from the utilization of school buses for Recreation/Senior Trips during the weekends, summer, and after hours, helping with the underground storage tanks to assist with their compliance with State Regulations, building Cooks Pond for our seniors; this 70-unit structure is home to many of our old and new residents. This $8 million venture cost the Township residents about five hundred thousand dollars and was part of our Affordable Housing obligation. As the administrator, I pursued the funding through tax credits, state funding, and county grants.
Ellen, Denville has long been known for its lakes and ponds. What can you tell us about these most important resources?
Denville is home to vibrant lake communities such as; Lake Arrowhead, Cedar Lake, Estling Lake, Indian Lake, Rock Ridge Lake, and Cook’s Pond. If I am the successful candidate, I would like to propose that we bring all the lakes together as well as Cook’s Pond, to call upon the state to step up to its obligation of “State Mandate State Pay” and provide the funding source to improve the quality of our lakes. More importantly, the funds needed to facilitate improvements to our dams. This cost cannot be the sole responsibility of the lake associations or the municipality, as the studies alone have cost us tens of thousands of dollars. The state has long provided funding for ocean improvements and now needs to support our beautiful lake environments. Let’s be proactive and get it done! As our lakes go, so goes Denville. My reputation for delivering on what needs to be done for the community is well known. The accomplishments addressed above were achieved by building a consensus, communication, and supporting all those involved.
What about the downtown area?
Presently, the group known as Downtown Denville (BID) is working toward addressing parking and other issues as it relates to improving our already vibrant downtown. However, we need to evolve and move forward, putting all options on the table. Words like “re-purpose”, “utilities”, “shared space”, and “shop local” all need to be part of the discussion. A study has just been completed and there are many viable options to assist the businesses, restaurants, and professionals in our downtown district. In order to be successful, we need to attract shoppers, diners, and clients. The main focus is parking and traffic flow, so let’s bring it all together and strategize to establish a plan of action and then implement what needs to be done.
Eleven years ago, you ran unsuccessfully for the Office of Mayor. Why are your running again now?
It was not a secret that my loss was only by 8 or 9 votes. This was the result of two major components. I was thought to be the shoe-in candidate, and the race was a primary election. So that rainy election day, many voters decided to stay home. Those that could not vote due to party affiliation said they would vote in November, which of course would not garner me the votes necessary to become the next Mayor of Denville. Yes, I was disappointed, but shortly after the results were published, I received many offers from surrounding municipalities to become their business administrator.
Where did you career go from there?
At the end of December 2007, I began my next journey and spent seven years in Mendham Borough. Here are a few of my accomplishments: I pursued and received $5 million from the Morris County Open Space Trust Fund to purchase the Thomas Tract while adding hundreds of additional acres to the Schiff Preserve. I engaged JCP&L to improve the landscape at their facility located at the entranceway to the Borough Center at no cost to the municipality. I worked closely with the Sisters of Christian Charity during hurricane Irene and Sandy to provide safe shelter for all who were without power, and I must add, it was the Taj Mahal of all shelters! I participated with the business association’s many shared projects with the Borough. I pursued grant funds in the amount of $50,000 dollars from the Joint Insurance Fund to have our police department accredited. I directed an install program (Clean Energy) upgrade to our borough hall and police facility with improved energy savings for lighting, heating and air conditioning only costing the borough 10%-30%, and the remaining costs were absorbed by the program. I assisted the finance director and auditor in gaining an upgrade from Moody’s during a time when most of New Jersey was on a downward slope. Shortly after I left, the Borough of Mendham received a triple AAA rating.
Next, my career took me to Parsippany, and once again, I was able to utilize my experience and expertise to work with so many exceptional individuals on several worthwhile projects. One example is Forge Pond, a historical location comprised of 125 acres of open space. I obtained a grant of $600,000 to complete and establish the site for the Township of Parsippany. This project was completed under my supervision with the help of many volunteers, township workers and professionals alike.
United Parcel Service (UPS) needed assistance to build a state-of-the-art corporate headquarters in Parsippany. They were seeking a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) and, if completed within a fixed timeframe, they would receive $40 million from the State of New Jersey. This single accomplishment, under my supervision, brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to help offset taxes (through the PILOT) and brought in over 800 technical jobs, most of which were salaries in the six figures.
Manor Lake Dam was a long-term project that lay dormant for many years. I completed this project within the first couple of years of my tenure, making many neighbors happy.
Ellen, is there anything else you would like to add?
No one loves Denville more than I do, and no one has more passion, drive, commitment, and experience to take on this difficult job. I look forward to once again immersing myself in this worthy cause as your next Mayor. Hope to see all of you at the General Election on Tuesday, November 5th, 2019.
View More Denville Town News