Change and Growth, Theme of Jackson In 2018

The boys of the Holbrook Little League were everybody’s hometown heroes. (Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League)

JACKSON – Change and growth could be the buzz words to describe Jackson Township in 2018. It was a year where the township made progress with its goal to make it a weekend trip destination with the approval of a sports complex and hotel.

Beyond that, the township’s school district, alarmed by stories nation-wide of school shootings, sought to increase security at its 10 schools with a special ballot question that was approved at the polls in November and added six additional security officers.

The township’s bond rating improved late in the year, proving its financial stability. The township’s credit rating was raised to the second-highest possible. Moody’s Investors Services upgraded Jackson from Aa2 to Aal, which notes the agency’s view that Jackson is fiscally responsible. This helps when borrowing money for bonds.

One of the last acts of the governing body was to approve a $6.5 million bond ordinance for a police radio system that will replace the current one. Officials and police department representatives have described the current system as having outlived its usefulness.

Early in the year, an agreement was reached between the NJ Sierra Club and Six Flags Great Adventure over a proposed project that will lead to the creation of the world’s first solar-powered theme park.

Six Flags Great Adventure and its partner KDC Solar announced on Jan. 24 that construction would soon start on the project which the New Jersey Sierra Club had originally opposed. The club challenged the park’s initial plans which would have destroyed close to 100 acres of forest including high-quality streams for 22 megawatts of solar power.

A high point for the year for Mayor Michael Reina was the day he spent in Washington DC as part of the president’s meeting of the mayors. President Donald J. Trump’s meeting of mayors was held at the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Building. Reina was one of only 50 mayors from throughout the country who attended the Jan. 24 session. He was the only one from Ocean County. He said the event allowed for community leaders to meet with many representatives of key intergovernmental agencies for the theme of municipal infrastructure.

“It was an honor to be invited to meet the President of the United States in the White House as the mayor of Jackson Township. Just to be one of the mayors selected for consideration in the beginning was a great feeling but actually being there with the president and 50 other mayors was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life,” Reina said.

For many in the Orthodox Jewish community of the township, the approval of a building plan for the township’s first synagogue represented the growth of those of that faith in the community.

Members of the township planning board unanimously approved the plans for the synagogue during a Feb. 5 meeting. The plan includes the construction of a two-story house of worship with a finished basement, totaling 21,165 square feet. It consists of 3.75 acres located on the westerly side of East Veterans Highway south of Grand Boulevard. The Shul, the word used for an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, will be built on 518 East Veterans Highway and will be known as the Royal Grove Shul. An estimated 500 Orthodox Jewish families currently reside in Jackson.

Mayor Michael Reina. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

Some news proved shocking to the community. While the boys of the Holbrook Little League were everybody’s hometown heroes, police said the men managing the team’s finances were villains.

League President Anthony M. Del Vecchio, 63, and league treasurer John M. Lehmann, 55, both residents of Jackson, were charged with second degree Theft and Conspiracy to Commit Theft for the misappropriation of league finances, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.

The county’s Economic Crimes Unit began investigating them after receiving an anonymous tip about theft of funds, according to police. What followed was an extensive review of Holbrook’s finances from 2014 until now. It was determined that Del Vecchio and Lehmann, who were the only two who had full control of the money, had converted more than $118,000 of the Holbrook Little League funds to themselves. Additionally, the Economic Crimes Unit reported that Lehmann used the league’s debit card for more than $500 worth of charges inappropriately.

The year closed with changes to the council’s membership and professional staff. Councilwoman Ann M. Updegrave chose not to run for another term on the council. Councilman Scott Martin was defeated at the polls for another term. Township Clerk Ann Marie Eden retired on Dec. 28. Deputy Clerk Janice Kisty was sworn in to serve as the township’s newest clerk during a Dec. 18 council meeting. Business Administrator Helene Schlegel left as and a search is underway for her replacement in the new year.

School Board President Scott Sargent lost his bid for re-election for another three-year term in November’s election. He was defeated by former board member Gustavo “Gus” Acevedo, who will be sworn in during the board’s reorganization meeting in January.

Reina won re-election in the mayoral race over Tracie Yostpile. His council running mates Andrew Kern and Alexander Sauickie, III won their race and all three will be sworn in during a Jan. 2 reorganization meeting.