By John Burton
RED BANK – It’s a new year and a new role for Cindy Burnham as she now takes her place on the Borough Council and she will be treading lightly – at least initially.
“I’m coming in there low key,” Burnham said about her plans as she begins her three-year term on the six-member governing body. “I’m going to be getting the lay of the land.”
“Low key” may not be the term that comes immediately to mind in connection to Burnham, which she acknowledged. “What I am is assertive, passionate and persistent,” she said. While another publication labeled her a “wild woman,” she said, “I don’t think that’s me, really.” But, she noted, if her activism over the years makes her a wild woman, “then I’m guilty as charged.”
Burnham, a Republican, won a narrow victory in November’s hard-fought election, taking a seat among the exclusively Democratic governing body.
The 58-year-old, who works as a substitute teacher at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, moved back to Red Bank a little more than a year ago, taking up residence in what had been a rental property she owned on Wallace Street. Burnham, who refers to herself as a citizen-activist, originally lived in the borough about 30 years ago and has been well known over the years.
In the last few years she has appeared regularly at borough council meetings where she has locked horns with officials on a variety of issues that have often turned contentious. Over the last few years she has been embroiled in angry confrontations over her advocacy of establishing a nature area on a portion of borough-owned property on Maple Avenue that overlooks the Navesink River. The property eventually became Maple Cove, where the public can launch canoes and kayaks, but officials had objected to Burnham’s usurping their authority and moving forward on work without first clearing it with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Discussions also boiled over about the community garden, as she and the council disagreed over its location.
“I spent so many years butting heads with the council,” that when it dawned on her that she actually won a council seat, “it was a surprise – and an accomplishment.
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” that she is a member of the governing body, she acknowledged recently. “I still chuckle every time I say it.”
She has spoken with former Atlantic Highlands Republican Mayor Michael Harmon and state Senator Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, to get their advice on how to proceed. About a decade ago, Beck was in Burnham’s position, serving as the sole voice of the loyal opposition in Red Bank. Beck and Harmon told her to go slowly and listen and learn, Burnham said.
“This is going to be a new me as I’m transforming from an activist to a council person.” She suspects this will mean having to “pick and choose my fights.
“I plan to respect the council and I hope they respect me and my thoughts, ideas and concerns that I bring to the table,” she said.
Burnham plans on immersing herself in the nuts and bolts of municipal government, pouring over a detailed budget and reviewing operations of the water and sewer utility, which became a campaign issue over the discussion of whether the borough should sell it. Along with that, she is interested in the workings of public works and code enforcement, as they directly relate to quality-of-life issues.
“I’m just trying to familiarize myself with the facts that may not be known to the general public,” she said.
Being on the council will offer her a chance to give voice to some issues that may not have been raised in recent years, said Beck, who advised Burnham to be a watchdog for the public. “She’s well-suited to that job,” Beck said.
“I know I can’t change policy and make policy as one voice,” Burnham said, “but I can be a watchdog and I can suggest.
I plan to keep my eyes and ears open,” she said.