TOMS RIVER – Former Councilwoman Laurie Huryk described the role of a public official is to listen to people’s needs and make sure they are answered.
She spent one term on the council before choosing not to run for re-election. Her job at CentraState became more demanding, and she wasn’t able to devote as much time to the township as she would have liked. Also, she is interested in pursuing her doctorate.
Huryk said she learned a lot during her four years, much of it relating to land use. She also learned that she could still help people without being on the dais.
While she was a councilwoman, she said the most important thing she could do was listen to problems and address them. An example of this was when she was volunteering with Just Believe, which helps the homeless. Their leader Paul Hulse asked her why Toms River doesn’t have an overnight shelter. Don Guardian, who used to be the township’s business administrator, also used to be mayor of Atlantic City. He knew Hulse through Bill Southrey from Haven Beat the Streets, another nonprofit that helps the homeless. Guardian and the Parks department learned that Riverwood is underutilized in winter and it was a good fit.
Also during her tenure, a group of residents pushed for a skate park. At first, there was resistance but eventually one was built at Castle Park. She shared that as an example of how to get something done in your town without being a politician. This was just a collection of parents who had a clear goal and were persistent. “That’s how it gets done,” she said.
If you have an idea, bring it to your local government, she said.
As a member of the board for Exit 82 theater company, she helped get the ball rolling for a Pride celebration. They wanted to have one in 2019 but were getting some pushback from the powers that be. She was able to get a resolution honoring Pride from the council. There was a flag raising that year. The following year was in the midst of COVID so there was a drive-through celebration.
In 2021, “there was a huge celebration on all of Washington Street,” she said.
They got feedback from parents of teens. “They were so grateful to see their child see relief – to know that they are not alone and that there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Veterans Park now has adult exercise equipment; that was something she wanted.
“We have all these great parks. I remember sitting through all my practices with my kids. I know parents would walk the trail while the kids are doing their practices,” she said.
As there were some successes, there were also some disappointments.
“I couldn’t convince (the council) to have a single use bag ban but the state took care of that for me,” she said.
“I wish I could have convinced my colleagues to have some kind of cannabis business in town,” she said.
A committee met for ten weeks, and presented a compromise: Medicinal marijuana would be allowed, as well as the cultivation and manufacture. However, there wouldn’t be a storefront in Toms River. People were worried about sales and she thought that was a fair compromise.
Ultimately, the council banned all cannabis businesses. They decided against the will of the voters, she said.
Still, the experience on council showed her just how to help people in need.
“So many people have just really been kind and I’m grateful. I got to meet great people and be involved,” she said.