2021: A Year Of Transitions And Repairs

Robert Hudak takes the oath of office as Manchester Township’s newest mayor on June 28 surrounded by his family. The oath was administered by Township Clerk Sabina Martin. (Photo courtesy Manchester Township)

  The year 2021 will be recalled as a year of change for Manchester Township. While the first five months saw a few changes in the community, when June rolled around, the big changes started.

  Mayor Kenneth Palmer resigned as mayor having served since 2016, when an offer came up to serve as state judge. Palmer told The Manchester Times that this was his dream job. He was under consideration and on the short list following a nomination by Governor Phil Murphy. Accepting that position meant vacating his role as township leader.

  The governing body had to appoint a member of the council to fill that now vacant spot. Robert Hudak, who was sworn in for his second term on council in January, accepted the challenge which meant his council seat was now empty. Within a few weeks, long time Manchester Planning Board member Michele Zolezi filled that spot.

  During the summer, two contenders for the November mayoral race came forward though one was unable to secure the necessary signatures needed for a petition to run. That is required within the township’s non partisan form of government which does not feature a primary election.

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  Robert Arace, a fellow Republican, did secure the necessary signatures as did Hudak which pit the two GOP members against each other in November.

  The mayor race was contentious with a battle of billboards, signs and press releases but in the end, Hudak prevailed as did Zolezi, who was his running mate who ran for council.

  Palmer’s resignation was followed by the retirement of Police Chief Lisa Parker who had spent her career in law enforcement in Manchester and who became chief shortly after Palmer took the oath of office as mayor. On July 1, Robert Dolan, another long serving Manchester police officer became leader of the department.

Acting Police Chief Robert Dolan speaks to attendees of the first live Manchester Township Council. (Photo By Bob Vosseller)

  During the summer Brandon Umba was brought in by Hudak to become the township’s newest business administrator. He spent the first few months in that role with “interim” in front of that title.

  Other issues in the township included the creation of a paid fire department to supplement the existing volunteer fire companies who would remain operating.

  A controversy surrounding the Whiting Volunteer Fire Company’s funding by the township and their need for money to cover various equipment upgrades, gear replacements and other items struck a nerve between firefighters, members of council and retired police chief Parker.

  The WFC accused Parker and Palmer of having created a hostile environment regarding funding issues and a war of words played out during council meetings and with statements provided to The Manchester Times during and beyond Election Day.

  Lakehurst Borough didn’t see much change but officials and residents did enjoy the return of familiar live events. This year was supposed to see the celebration of the borough’s postponed centennial celebration in 2020 that was nixed due to COVID-19.

  The Lakehurst Naval Base noted its centennial year with a big celebration during the spring. Steven Oglesby, who heads the borough’s Historical Society was among those who attended that event.

  The LHS resumed live meetings and reopened their museum to the public and even christened a new ramp thanks to the efforts of Boy Scout Sean Becker who coordinated the ramp renovation project as part of his Eagle Scout project.

  The organization also features monthly presentations about the Hindenburg.

Mayor Ken Palmer says goodbye to employees of Manchester Township during a gathering of employees who wished him well in his new role as a superior court judge. (Photo courtesy Manchester Township)

  A new bathroom facility arrived for service to Horicon Lake and was put into use in time for the summer season. Unfortunately, it was vandalized at the end of the season. While still operating it sparked the need to install video cameras in the area. The metal facility is still in the process of repairs but will be ready for the new season. The lake’s firepit also saw damage from age and part of the pavilion that housed it was removed.

  The lake proved popular for events like a classic car show and the annual Halloween Parade where a variety of young people marched around as Mayor Harry Robbins and members of council had the difficult task of judging their costumes.

  Borough officials and employees faced the challenge of tending to their aged backhoe which needs repairs, problems with heating units in borough buildings and maintenance of fire trucks and other borough operated vehicles.

  Also discussed during many borough council meetings was the planting of cherry trees along areas where old trees had died or were presenting a danger to sidewalks or utility pipes.

Lakehurst Mayor Harry Robbins holds the scissors and prepares to cut the ribbon beside Lakehurst Historical Society President George Oglesby and Boy Scout Sean Becker. (Photo By Bob Vosseller)

  The community came together for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony that drew a good-sized crowd made up of many families. Santa Claus was there as well and attendees enjoyed hot chocolate and a variety of cookies culminating the last public event of the year.