MANCHESTER – It was a who’s who of Ocean County GOP as well as a large turnout of residents who came out to witness the dawn of a new era of leadership for the township during its 2023 reorganization meeting.
Robert Arace was sworn in as mayor and his running mates Roxanne Conniff and Joseph Hankins were sworn into council. The oath of office was administered by New Egypt Bible Baptist Church Pastor/Plumsted Township Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo.
The new mayor is a former Township Zoning Board member, served as president of the Township Chamber of Commerce and is also involved in local civic organizations.
Arace told the audience, “Whether you voted for me or not I promise to continually work hard for you to the best of my ability. Now the real work begins. Campaigning seemed hard but now good government is more difficult. Our administration will fight to protect and preserve the rural character of our township. We will work to slow the development of undersized lots in Pine Lake Park. We will ensure that the long-awaited cell tower in Whiting will be activated.”
Mayor Arace also promised to introduce a rent leveling ordinance within the first 60 days of his administration “to protect seniors in Whiting. We will diligently work on smart economic development to attract new businesses for our citizens in town and to enhance the quality of life.”
Other priorities listed by the mayor included addressing longstanding flooding issues in Pine Lake Park, and bringing in more amenities for Manchester’s families and youth.
He also thanked “the hard-working and dedicated employees of our town, police officers, firefighters – both volunteers and paid – along with our town hall employees. I look forward to 2023 and to working for each and every one of you.”
Conniff said after being sworn in, “Rob said what Joe and I have in our hearts – that we are so excited to work for Manchester and to work beside all the town hall employees. We’ve been given a warm welcome and we are excited to work for all of you, especially when it comes to the economic development.
“We know our town definitely needs this and is desperate for something in Manchester. I’ve lived here my entire life and I am happy to have my family here and I am very happy and humbled to be here to serve you,” she added.
Hankins was a bit emotional as he took the oath of office surrounded by his grandchildren Kacie, Nathan, Daniel, Kara, and Carlee. A supporter and campaigner of his remarked, “that’s okay Joe we all worked hard to get here.”
Hankins laughed at his own emotions during his swearing in noting “if you can get through your own retirement speech without bawling that’s something and I made it through that one but not this one. I realize we are here not only for the residents but those residents of the future.”
Amid the many congratulations and well wishes for the future, the choice of a council president and council vice president provided some awkward moments as nominations came forward.
The first was from Councilman Sam Fusaro who nominated Michele Zolezi to serve as this year’s council president. She served in 2022 as council vice president and seconded the motion. Hankins, Conniff and Councilman James Vaccaro voted against the nomination.
Vaccaro then nominated Conniff for that position of leadership. It was seconded by Hankins. Zolezi abstained to that motion while the rest of the Council voted to pass the gavel to Conniff which drew much applause from the audience.
The council president sets the agenda and runs the meetings.
Zolezi joined the council in 2021 and ran with Robert Hudak. Arace and his team won the election over Hudak and his team last year. Both teams are Republicans, but it showed a divide in the party.
Hankins then nominated Vaccaro for council vice president. Zolezi again abstained while the rest of council approved the motion granting the position to the second longest serving member on the council.
Fusaro, the senior member of council, announced late last month his intention to resign from the council later this month after decades of service. He joined the council in 1990 and now he and his wife are in the process of moving to Toms River Township. The Manchester Republicans will be reviewing nominees and a recommendation will be made to the Council as part of that process.
Among the guests present were Republican Chairman George Gilmore, Ocean County Commissioners Gary Quinn, Bobbie Jo Crea, 9th District Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, 9th District Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove, Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, Lakehurst Mayor Harry Robbins and Lacey Committeeman Mark Dykoff.
During the meeting appointments were made for the township’s professional services and establishment of meeting dates for 2023. Residents can view more details concerning the municipality at the Manchester website: ManchesterTwp.com/town-council.