Utilizing his litigation skills to create positive solutions for his constituents is what Councilman Jonathan Ettman does best.

Utilizing his litigation skills to create positive solutions for his constituents is what Councilman Jonathan Ettman does best.

By: Pamela Macek

Jonathan Ettman is a skilled attorney whose area of practice is in litigation. He has taken this skill and brought it into his duties as Councilman for Wayne Township’s 6th ward. When asked what his primary goal as Councilman is, Ettman shared, “First and foremost to serve my residents. To be an advocate for my residents. I am here to help the community, and that is my top priority.”

Ettman is in his first term, fourth year as Councilman. A Wayne resident himself for 14 years, Ettman made the choice a long time ago, that Wayne was the town where he wanted to raise his own family. With a daughter attending Wayne Hills High School and son in Schulyer Colfax Middle School, this father of two realizes first hand that, “Wayne is a fabulous place to raise a family.” Folks who enjoy living in Wayne would readily agree. “The athletics and accessibility of various events that our children can take part in, like sports, music, or whatever fits their interests, they can find it here.”

So, what are some favorite things that this Councilman enjoys doing in Wayne? “I would say the athletics and fields which are available for everyone. I used to play on a men’s softball league for many years, and I just thought that was great to be able to have a league with so many teams participating. It created great competition – I got so much personal enjoyment out of that. From children to adults, there’s something for everyone.  Or, if you want to go out and grab a drink or a meal at a local place like Maggie’s or Novelli, it has that neighborhood feeling to it, where everyone knows your name.”

There is also one place in town that stands out as extra special to Ettman. “The Laurelwood Arboretum, located at 725 Pines Lake Drive West, is a botanical oasis right here in Wayne. Most people don’t even know it exists. I’ll take my wife, kids and dog there and go for a walk. It’s a really nice, quiet place to just enjoy nature. The staff does an amazing job taking care of and maintaining the gardens and have contributed such a wonderful sanctuary for the township.” The Laurelwood Arboretum is open every day from 8 a.m. to dusk to the public.

Some of the reasons the Councilman relied upon for choosing to live in Wayne are not centered around fun and recreation, but on hardship and challenges. Ettman has seen and experienced this firsthand himself. “First off, there’s a real sense of community here where people really care for each other, especially in time of need or when there’s an unfortunate event, like if a child is befallen with a terrible illness, which we’ve had our share of in this town. You see how this community can really rally behind one another and support each other and uplift each other.”

One experience in particular stands out as a significant and proud moment in time for Ettman as not only a councilman, but on a much more personal level. “I went to an interfaith service after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. As a person with a Jewish background, I was just amazed at the outpouring of support from people of such various religious backgrounds coming together at Temple Shomrei Torah, which is located on Hinchman Avenue. It really had a profound impact on me and I thought it was remarkable.”

These acts of camaraderie and support are poignant and are all the more reason why Ettman desires to serve as Councilman, but when asked, he will say there is one person who stands out among the rest who really inspires him to do what he does each day. “My wife Marla is truly a superwoman, juggling her career as a pharmaceutical sales rep with captaining the ship that is our family. She is selfless and courageous in so many ways.”

While serving others has always been a part of who Ettman is, his original career plan was to solely maintain his profession in the field of law. “I am an attorney and my area of practice is in litigation. I handle cases that cover a variety of matters including personal injury and business-related disputes like employment issues. Our firm also has a very interesting niche in the area of bullying. We represent a lot of families whose children have suffered bullying incidents, and I don’t just mean light name calling. These are really bad issues where kids commit suicide or are really badly harmed by the bullying and lack of action by the school districts.”

Politics was not initially intended to be a part of Ettman’s career, but it became apparent to him that it was the next step. “The more I considered our town and the future of my children – the place where I made the decision to plant roots, I felt that I needed to get involved and put my aspersions of politics aside and stop complaining about the actions or inactions of our elected officials and take action on my own. That was the impetus that got me going. I also felt the need to give something back to the community, and that I was at a point in my life that it was time to step it up and get involved.”

Ettman’s position as Councilman has been embraced with realistic expectations. “I think I expected to work with exactly what has been before me. I started coming to town hall meetings and really started taking an interest in the issues before running for town council, and so I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into.”

Yet there was something Jon Ettman didn’t anticipate upon taking office, and that came directly from the township residents. “It is astounding to me that people are so surprised when I respond to them so quickly and give them the attention that they deserve. To me it is inexcusable for a public official, especially someone in local government not to be that way.”

The Councilman has taken on his responsibilities with focused intent. “My view of filling this position as Councilman genuinely centered on the principle of helping people. Sometimes it would be with the little things like ‘I have a problem with a pothole in my neighborhood which needs to be filled,’ or ‘I’m having trouble with my neighbor,’ or ‘there’s a problem with such and such…’ the daily grind if you will. On a larger scale, I expected to be dealing with areas of concern such as the housing issues and COAH. I also anticipated hearing about different social issues that might come before the council.”

This is where Ettman’s years of well-developed litigation skills as an attorney became an advantage for the constituents in Wayne’s 6th ward. “My biggest strength so far in this role has been my ability to work with residents in helping them to solve their individual problems. With my background as a litigator, we don’t always go to trial and our majority of cases end up settling. I feel like those skills have transferred very well to this role as a councilman. Many of my constituents have had issues with other residents where I was able to meet with them in their kitchens, listen and work with them, and then help to mediate or broker, if you will, a resolution that everyone was happy with and able to move on and go about their lives in a better way than before. I feel proud of the fact that I’ve been able to work with residents on that level.”

Wayne Township 6th ward resident Julius Minervini, is one of several residents who can attest to Ettman’s attentive support that helped bring resolution to a controversy between neighbors. Minervini’s residential property butted a paper road. These roads, also known as unformed legal roads, usually exist only on paper, have legal existence on either public or private land, but are not developed. Issues tend to arise when there are conflicting opinions regarding ownership or use of these roads. If more than one property owner has their land abutting an underdeveloped paper road, there arises disputes as to who has rights to access via that road; access that, if the need arose, could be developed in the future. Also, property values can be affected if a paper road is present, as there may be required building setbacks from the road. This could limit development opportunities.

Minervini and his neighbor each had different ideas about their rights and desired use for this paper road. Minervini explained, “While we addressed the issue in town council meetings, the neighbor had gone ahead and contacted Jonathan, and he was speaking with them at their home. My wife was outside and saw this, so she introduced herself. Jonathan took the time to speak with both of them and even reach out to me via a phone call, since I was not present. He was trying to make everything work for both sides. Jonathan was very open minded, trying to propose a solution. In the end a compromise was made that worked out for both of us. It was a positive experience, because often, for me personally, you can’t get our officials to listen, or they do and that’s as far as it goes. So, it seems that he really did hear both sides and worked to negotiate a solution that was fair to both parties.”

There are also challenges that Councilman Ettman must work through and he readily shares what he believes is top on the list. “Probably the most challenging issue is going to be the COAH ruling with respect to affordable housing.  COAH stands for the Council on Affordable Housing and is a State agency which is responsible for the establishment and oversight of municipal affordable housing obligations in New Jersey. A number of years ago, there was a decision rendered by the Supreme Court that requires municipalities to set aside a certain number of housing units for affordable housing. We will learn of our fate at some point in the near future and then we are going to be required to find space in this town for affordable housing. We don’t know how many units yet, as this issue is still pending litigation. As a litigator talking, I am hopeful that a settlement can be reached between the litigants so that we can have a little bit of control over the end result. It’s important that we do not disrupt the lives of the residents or the character of our town.”

Not all township issues are as controversial as COAH. There are a number of projects that Councilman Ettman is proud to be an active participant in while working together towards positive solutions with the other Wayne Councilpersons and local officials. “One thing that stands out that I feel proud about was the project for the Alps Road fields. They are brand new, state of the art multi-use turf fields for soccer, lacrosse and other activities. Wayne has an abundance of sports programs for our youth, but with such well attended programs, the town was running low on fields. This new facility has filled that void and then some. The fields are immaculate.”

“Also, currently, we are working on obtaining funding for a special-needs playground. It is really important to provide this to our residents. So many parents of special needs children have inquired about a playground like this and now it will become a reality. We have a responsibility to be giving to a part of our community that is so under-served in terms of access to fun, inclusive activities. Another issue that I am pleased to have helped bring resolution to is when I worked with the residents of my ward to help pass an ordinance lowering the speed on Colfax Road. This was after the county installed rumble strips on that road, to the chagrin of the residents who were disrupted by all the noise they created.” 

For Ettman, positive results equal success. When asked what success as a councilman would look like, Ettman was quick to respond. “The satisfaction of the constituents. That is the biggest measuring stick to determine my success as Councilman. I respond as quickly as possible to their inquiries and meet with them as soon as possible in person or give them my personal cell phone number to discuss their concerns. I think people really appreciate when someone in local government is willing to pay attention, listen and respond.”

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.