Who Is Brian Kelly and Why Is He So Ticked Off?
"This isn't the Haddonfield I grew up in and knew about."
Who says you can't fight city hall?
Certainly not Brian Kelly.
Kelly is a familiar voice in all things Haddonfield, with dozens of recent comments on Haddonfield Patch articles, many with especially biting criticism of borough government. He often refers people to his Facebook page Haddonfield United to continue the conversation. He started it in June with fellow rabble rouser Cliff Brunker.
Kelly is a man in search of the town he once knew. The town he grew up in more than a half-century ago. He wonders if there's a place for him now and how long he can afford to continue living here.
"I lived in Haddonfield for 40 years, moved away in 1999," said Kelly, 57, a massage therapist. "I came back to my home town a little over a year ago and as I got back into the flow of things, I noticed a shift away from not only the commitment to our historical heritage, but to a measure of disconnect between our elected officials and a large portion of our community. As someone with a deep love for hometown, I started going to borough meetings and became disenchanted with many of the issues involving the town."
But it didn't stop there.
"My first part of being ticked off was when I first went out people were saying to me, 'We need a voice,'" he said. "It was my way to get people motivated and into them. It was a way to get the attention of the mayor."
Kelly said he speaks for a part of town that is feeling increasingly marginalized and isolated. He cited the struggle his friend Mary Ann Campling is having. She sued the borough planning board after it allowed the Haddonfield United Methodist Church to replace a chain-linked fence behind her house with a 6-foot wooden fence that blocked the view on the other side.
The borough Historic Preservation Commission, an advisory body to the planning board, had rejected the church request to erect a new fence to border its cemetery behind homes on Lee Avenue such as Campling's.
He also crusades against the proposed public purchase of the Bancroft property across Kings Highway from Lee Avenue and adjacent to Haddonfield Memorial High School. The $16.9 million plan to buy, demolish and rebuild parts of the 18.7-acre Bancroft property has been a lightning rod for merging town interests. Kelly rails against the project as another burden to already besieged borough taxpayers who pay nearly two times the state average.
Kelly has used the comments section on Haddonfield Patch as a megaphone for his message, sometimes stirring debate about where he's coming from and what he wants.
"You want to know why that 'prime' piece of Haddonfield real estate was never sold?" he asked earlier this month in a string of comments on an appraisal of the Bancroft property. "You want to know why the original deal of three acres to be purchased by the borough was pushed over to the BOE and Steve Weinstein for the whole 19 acres? The executive meetings engineered behind closed doors courtesy of Weinstein and (Commissioner Ed) Borden? The over inflated buying price by millions of dollars in a depressed market? The announcements of critical information over holiday weekends? The placement of the vote in the dead of winter to discourage senior citizen voting? Here it is...BANCROFT IS A FINANCIAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN."
That broadside and a few others led to a thread of complaints about Kelly's rhetoric.
- Good Lord...why would anyone WANT to be a commissioner/public official in this town? asked Pat Walsh.
- Thanks Pat Walsh for what I believe is the best post we have seen in a while above, said Bill Tourtellotte, a past president of the borough civic association. Anyone thinking of running in May should read some of the posts on this site and if they still want to run, should have their heads examined. :-)
- Hyperventilated rhetoric contributes nothing positive to dialog about our community’s future," said Bill Reynolds, a former borough mayor. Many of these comments demonize the Borough Commissioners and make them out to be dishonest conspirators. I challenge the accusers to present their evidence. The charge has also been made that we “NEED TO SHRINK THE SIZE OF THIS MONSTROSITY WE CALL A BOROUGH GOVERNMENT.” I’d really like to see how you propose to do that. The old poker challenge -- “Put up or shut up” -- comes to mind.
"Here's your hyperventilated rhetoric. Forty-six million dollars in debt with a project that threatens to push to the state cutoff of 69 million dollars. When people sit in borough meetings and get told a reason for the purchase is to accommodate the growing number of students when there are 90 less students in school when I attended and the birth rate is at it's lowest 25 years, that's called a fact Jack."
But even Kelly admits he needs to dial down the rhetoric.
"Nobody is going to listen to somebody if they're shouting all the time," he said. "There's always got to be concessions. That's what democracy is all about, listening to both side and doing what's best for the town as a whole."
The bombast was needed in the beginning of his campaign to get people's attention and now he has it, he says. He said he even ran into Tourtellotte and Reynolds in a local coffee shop and they got along famously, apparently leaving the rhetoric at the door.
"After talking with these guys I realized we have a hell of a lot more in common than we have against each other," Kelly said.
But he fears time is running out.
"I don't know how long I'll be able to continue living here," Kelly said. "I'm renting now, because I can't afford to buy a house here. This isn't the Haddonfield I grew up in and knew about. It was really a surprisingly blue-collar town. The affluence that has hit Haddonfield is people want to be in a town that should be envied. To me, it's a town to be admired. There's a big difference between envy and admiration."