HOWELL – It was a packed house at the January reorganization meeting, to welcome a new mayor and councilman to their respective terms, and name the council president and vice president.
The meeting was complete with a Presentation of Colors by the Howell Township Police Honor Guard, the Star-Spangled Banner sung by Howell High School Rebel Yell, and even a blessing by Pastor Chris Teis of Open Door Bible Baptist Church.
The January 3 meeting kicked off with the swearing in of newly elected Mayor Theresa Berger, who held back tears as she thanked everyone in Howell who helped her win the election.
“There are too many of you out there for me to name, but I see your faces and you know who you are,” said Berger. She was complimentary of her predecessor, William Gotto.
“I’m taking on this position from our previous mayor, who did a phenomenal job of running the town,” Berger, a Democrat, said of Gotto, a Republican. “I look forward to working with my council people here at the dais. I’m sure we will make the best decisions for our town.”
Gotto, for his part, will not be leaving township government completely. He was appointed to a four-year term on the township’s planning board – a nomination which Berger voted against. Gotto was appointed after earning the votes of his former colleagues, since members of the township council – all Republicans – voted in favor of the measure.
Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, Deputy Mayor Robert Nicastro, Nick Huszar, Brian Tannenhaus and Tom Boyle were also appointed to the planning board, as well as Berger in her capacity as mayor.
Berger is the first Democrat to win a seat on the governing body in 16 years.
“I want to thank my family for letting me do this – God bless Howell and God bless the United States,” she said.
Gotto did not seek re-election in November. Berger narrowly defeated GOP candidate Daniel Cardellichio following a sometimes-contentious campaign. Berger received 11,072 votes to Cardellichio’s 10,282.
The only other seat up for grabs, a council seat for which Councilman Edward Guz did not seek re-election, was won by Republican Evelyn O’Donnell, who narrowly defeated Democrat Joseph Montella by just 159 votes.
During the meeting, O’Donnell was also sworn into office. O’Donnell had previously served on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
O’Donnell’s husband, Tom O’Donnell, was appointed to fill a seat on the Board of Adjustment, another post for which Berger voted ‘no.’ He had previously served on the board under former mayor Robert Walsh but resigned in 2012, a year before his term was set to expire. The other appointees to the Board of Adjustment were Wendell Nanson, Rick Mertens and John Turk.
O’Donnell, who abstained from voting for her husband’s appointment, thanked him in remarks she delivered on her new position.
“It would be remiss if I didn’t thank my husband for the all the support he’s given me during my decades of public service,” she said. “Howell Township is in good hands.”
Councilman Robert Nicastro was almost unanimously re-nominated to serve as Deputy Mayor, with only Mayor Berger voting no.
The governing body began their year with some good news: the township’s credit rating was upgraded by Moody’s Investors Service, which will allow the township to receive lower interest rates on new bonds as well as refinancing.
Moody’s made the announcement January 6, three days after Berger was sworn into office. The agency upgraded the township’s rating from to A1, taking into consideration Howell’s “large tax base, strong wealth levels, healthy reserves built by balanced annual operations, modest debt burden, and elevated pension burden.”
The notice said “continued balanced operations leading to growth in reserves,” could lead to further upgrades.
Daniel Nee also contributed to this story.