2004-04-09 / Front Page

‘Squeaky wheel’ seeks council seat in Howell

Barbara Dixel, fixture
at meetings, gains
support of Democrats
Staff Writer

Barbara Dixel, fixture
at meetings, gains
support of Democrats
Staff Writer

Barbara DixelBarbara Dixel

HOWELL — Barbara Dixel is a woman on a mission who advances her agenda with the zealous belief that right makes might.

Dixel, a fixture at Township Council and Board of Education meetings — so much so that the previous council created the position of school board liaison for her three years ago and reappointed her in January — has decided to seek elective office by filing to run for a four-year term on the council.

Dixel, a Democrat, will challenge Republican Councilwoman Cynthia Schomaker for the seat on the governing body.

Dixel presently serves as the elected county Democratic committeewoman from The Villages adult community.

Like or dislike her, agree or disagree with her, Dixel doesn’t care. Even her critics concede that she stands up for what she believes and that she is not afraid to take the criticism denizens of council meetings are frequently subjected to when they speak publicly.

Dixel said she knows that to some people she is a controversial figure, but she makes no apologies for pursuing what she believes is right.

"I don’t deliberately go out and say, ‘It’s my way or no way,’ " Dixel said.

However, she said sometimes a person has to be unyielding in order to achieve victory.

"I know that at times I say things that are controversial," she said. "It’s just that I say things the way they need to be said to get things done." She said it was not her aim to be combative, "but sometimes the situation is such that there’s no other way."

Dixel’s effectiveness as a private citizen has so far been evidenced in the fact that she is relentless when she has identified a target and is pursuing it, as she has demonstrated several times since moving to The Villages nine years ago.

Dixel, 65, is a sales assistant at a New York City brokerage firm. She puts the same energy into her volunteer position as the council’s liaison to Howell’s K-8 school board.

Mayor Timothy J. Konopka, a fellow Democrat who will not seek re-election this year after serving two four-year terms, said it is the dedication and indefatigable energy Dixel devotes to any cause she takes on that will make her effective as a member of the governing body.

Konopka said the results of Dixel’s dedication to detail is evidenced by the inch-thick school board meeting reports she regularly delivers to the five members of the council, along with a copy for the township manager.

The mayor readily concedes that anyone who wants a copy of a major court or state decision that has affected Howell since 1995 need only ask Dixel who has, on occasion, been the one to provide current township professionals with her personal copy of past administrative law decisions, which have been used in preparing new initiatives.

Dixel’s activism in Howell began shortly after she moved to the township in 1995 from Old Bridge, Middlesex County.

She said it started when she became aware of the state’s decision to build a park and ride lot at Wyckoff Road and Route 9, across the street from The Villages, and was asked by her fellow Villagers to "get involved."

Dixel said she was determined to see that what was built was something that would meet the needs of commuters, of which she was one, and also be aesthetically pleasing.

Dixel said she got so involved that her torrent of written and telephone communications convinced those responsible for planning the parking lot to build it according to specifications she lobbied for.

She was able to organize a walk on the site with the appropriate state personnel in order to win the lot design that features a railroad station facade that included real amenities such as the three heated kiosks that front Route 9.

Dixel also was able to convince the state to build landscape berms on all three sides of the lot to protect not only the residents of The Villages, but also the aging headstones and grounds of an old cemetery which, she said, will now be protected from further deterioration due to exhaust fumes and road waste.

Dixel, who is the Democratic county committeewoman for The Villages, also was the catalyst behind the state’s redesign of Wyckoff Road, which runs in front of The Villages into an S-curve, with a speed reduction that she said was necessary to ensure the continued safety of the seniors who have to cross the road to get to the NJ Transit bus stop at the park and ride.

But it is a water company victory and the township’s Dieldrin ordinance that makes Dixel the most proud.

When the Adelphia Water Company, which formerly served The Villages, was sold to the New Jersey-American Water Company, its customers were faced with paying some of the highest water rates in the state.

Dixel was appointed by her fellow residents to work with township officials as they sought relief for the ratepayers.

The move was successful and resulted in an administrative law judge ruling that New Jersey-American would have to incrementally adjust the former Adelphia water customers over time to bring them in line with its customers statewide.

The Dieldrin ordinance is the jewel in her crown of ongoing public service.

The ordinance, of which she authored a first draft for township officials, mandates the testing for the pesticide Dieldrin at all construction sites in the township that are on former farmland.

Dixel said she has always been involved in school and civic volunteerism and has little patience for complacency on the part of her fellow citizens.

Having almost never missed a meeting of the governing body or the school board, Dixel sounds almost personally offended when talking about the lack of public attendance and participation, especially at the school board. Civic responsibility is something Dixel believes in strongly.

She says it is the "obligation" of Howell taxpayers to attend school budget meetings, to ask questions, to seek "explanations and accountability" for the proposed $97 million school budget that holds a 16-cent school tax increase.

Noting that almost 72 percent of every Howell tax dollar goes to the school district, Dixel said she finds it amazing and upsetting that "nobody shows up to find out how the money’s being spent. It’s their money, you’d think they’d care."

Dixel says her commitment to the continued quality of life in Howell can always be counted on and that whether she wins or loses in November, when it comes to a threat to that quality of life, she will continue to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

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