Evans: 'It's About People, Not Parties'
Councilwoman Crystal Evans maintains that she is still a Democrat, and still an independent thinker.
Councilwoman Crystal Evans said she remembers the first budget she voted on as a new member of the Gloucester Township Council.
"I was brand new to the council, and I went there to vote on a budget that was worked on 18 months before," she said of the proposed tax increase. "I was given a packet. I told them that I hadn't had a chance to look at it yet. They said, 'Just say yes.'"
According to Evans, this incident has turned out to be characteristic of her experience on the Gloucester Township Council, to which she assumed office in January 2008.
Since then, Evans, a Democrat, has broken ranks from the party, publicly supporting former mayor Cindy Rau Hatton, a Republican, in her bid for re-election, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in his campaign.
And, although she ultimately did vote "yes" on that budget early on in her term—under pressure from other council members, she claims—she has since opposed her party on various issues, both through her endorsements and her council votes. She has also recently filed an ethics complaint with the state against a fellow council member, for verbally harassing her, she said.
"You get into this job to represent the people who voted for you, to have a mind of your own," said Evans, who was the first minority female to be elected to the township council. "It shouldn't be about dictating to people to pass agendas, or voting along party lines. That's where I separated from them."
Prior to serving as a councilwoman, Evans was a constituent caseworker for New Jersey's 4th Legislative District, working with Democratic Sen. Fred Madden Jr. and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty.
Evans still considers herself a Democrat, and has no plans to switch parties.
"I'm still a Democrat. It's about people, not parties," she said. "I disagreed with some of the things they were doing, (things) I felt weren't good for the taxpayers."
In early December, Evans was the only member of council to vote against reopening bids on snow removal contracts. In addition to taking issue with the bid amounts, Evans felt that there wasn't enough information provided about the contractors.
"I think we need to have transparency, I think that's very important," she said. "We don't know what we're voting on—we're given a list, and told, 'These are the contractors, and this is how it's going to be done.'"
Evans believes this transparency should extend to public television broadcasts of council meetings, an initiative she said she has supported for quite some time.
"I've been very open to having our meetings broadcast on TV," she said. "It's an ongoing thing–always more excuses, always more talk about how it can't be done."
At Wednesday's council meeting, Mayor David Mayer announced that the administration is considering broadcasting its meetings on the township website, www.glotwp.com. Mayer maintained that Gloucester Township offers more public access to its meetings than many South Jersey towns.
"We provide more public access and comment opportunities than any other surrounding town in our area," he said. "We have five public access opportunities a month, we have an interactive website and I'm coming up with a new Gloucester Township access."
Still, Evans notes that online broadcasting may very well alienate Gloucester Township's senior population.
"There are a lot of seniors who aren't computer-savvy," she said. "A lot of them don't even have computers."
Councilman Dan Hutchison claims that Evans' main problem in voting on council issues isn't a lack of transparency, but a lack of preparation.
"I think it's wonderful that people have freedom of thought and freedom of choice," he said. "My problem with Councilwoman Evans is that she doesn't prepare for council meetings, and most often, she has no idea what she's voting on. I find that completely frustrating."
Hutchison said at council meetings, Evans often asks questions that are redundant to the agenda and other informational material.
"She has asked questions which, had she read the agenda or the content of what she was voting on, she would have already known the answers to," he said. "That is just unacceptable. We accept a paycheck from this town, and if we're going to accept that paycheck, we have to give 100 percent attention."
Hutchison said he also recalled the budget vote early in Evans' term, and emphasized that no pressure was placed on her to vote "yes."
"She was in no different a position when asked to vote on that budget than any other new individual coming into an elected office," he said. "She got upset during that vote because she didn't want to raise taxes. But you can't always look for an excuse when you have to cast a difficult vote—you vote."
He also called into question Evans' current job working for the state Motor Vehicle Commission, a job he said she was given by Christie.
"You have to question her motives," he said.
Hutchison said he offered to help Evans when she first joined the council, and still extends that offer today.
"Other council members have called me in the past for help, and if she were to call me and say she's having a difficult time with a vote, we could sit down and talk," he said. "If I think you're giving an honest day's work, you will get my respect, even today."
Yet, according to some local political figures, "respect" is hardly the word that would best describe council's treatment of Evans.
According to Gloucester Township Republican Municipal Committee Chair Ray Polidoro, the attitude toward Evans is anything but collegial.
"If you're supposed to be members of the same team, there are respectful ways of expressing your differences," he said. "That's not what I have seen from this council when they're challenged."
Polidoro said Evans' differences with the party are simply a result of her desire to serve constituents.
"When Councilwoman Evans ran for office, she was looking out for the people, and council is looking out for an unidentifiable agenda," he said. "They've taken a whole new agenda to a whole new level, and she doesn't subscribe to that."
Polidoro said despite Evans' disillusionment with her fellow council members, he has no knowledge of her seeking to switch parties.
"She's still a Democrat," he said. "She's just not the Democrat they are."
Evans said she believes the Democratic Party in the state is run by insurance executive and Democratic party fundraiser George Norcross III.
"Basically, there's a political machine in Camden County named George Norcross," she said. "He has his hand in everything."
Evans believes this status quo in the Democratic Party has been gone unchecked and unquestioned for too long.
"They give the seniors a spaghetti dinner, an absentee ballot and a pat on the back, and they vote them back in," she said.
Evans said some of the issues she would like to see addressed are the ongoing sewer-line problems at the Terrestria townhome development, the abandoned buildings throughout the township and an initiative to bring a YMCA to Gloucester Township for the community's youth.
Mayer says his administration has made great strides toward strengthening the economy and vitality of the township.
"This administration has held the line on taxes. My first budget was a zero tax increase. We initiated unprecedented shared-services initiatives. We have stepped up our economic development efforts and reached a redevelopment agreement with the Hit Doctor, and so many other initiatives," he said. "If Crystal does not support that, then I don't know what she would support."
Evans says she's unsure of her future political plans, but insists that despite their differences, she is committed to working with the council to serve the residents of Gloucester Township.
"I think if we focused on what needs to be done for the community, for the township, for the best interest of the people of the township, rather than arguing and beating each other down," she said, "we could accomplish something."