Councilman explains flip-flop on eminent domain: Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post, 8/22/06

By Wilford S Shamlin

Westville Councilman Woodrow A. Dooley III plans to vote in favor of a $50 million redevelopment plan along Big Timber Creek even if just one of the nearly 30 property owners in the targeted area is forced to sell.

Dooley won a council seat last year after campaigning against eminent domain abuse, as did James A. Pennington Jr. and Susan Rodgers. Only Rodgers held fast to the campaign pledge.

"Many people perceive it as a flip-flop," said Dooley, who said he is pained by daily encounters in a small town with neighbors and others who supported him.

"Before campaigning, I wasn't informed about all the facets of redevelopment and about all the facets of running a town," Dooley said.

There may be political ramifications for elected officials who change their mind in office but their credibility and how contentious that issue really is are also factors, according to one political observer.

"It depends how much that person has the ear of the voters and how much of it actually becomes a campaign issue," Ingrid Reed of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University in New Brunswick said.

"And if it's a campaign issue and the incumbent always has to defend his record," she said, "that's a much more riskier position to be in."

An elected official could decide later that circumstances regarding use of eminent domain matters rather than stating that such powers unilaterally should not be used, Reed said.

"In that case, changing your mind is much more palatable to the voters," she said.

Dooley said the issue is less about eminent domain abuse and more about reducing the number of residents who would be affected by turning down the redevelopment project.

Otherwise, he said taxes will continue to escalate and force people on fixed or low income to move away.

"It's really a good plan for the borough. When I realized this, I really thought I was a fool. A lot of people thought I was going to be a hero ‚...‚ and stop the project," Dooley said.

Since unveiling the project in January 2005, Fieldstone Associates has repeatedly stated eminent domain was a last resort, which means it's still possible the borough could seize property legally through court action.

And for that reason alone, Rodgers refuses to support the project.

Pennington did not immediately return phone calls this week.

"Is it right, or is it wrong? That's the basic question," Rodgers said. "Forget everything else. Forget all the reasons why. Do unto others, as you would want them to do unto you.

"I'm for development. I'm not for taking property away when they don't want to sell," she said.

Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com