TOMS RIVER – It was the last Township Council meeting for three members of the governing body, and they let some secrets slip.
Mayor Thomas Kelaher and Councilmen George Wittmann Jr. and Brian Kubiel did not run for re-election. Councilman Maurice Hill ran for mayor and won, so this was also his last meeting as a councilman.
Hill thanked Toms River residents for their confidence in him. He said that he, Kubiel, and Councilwoman Maria Maruca served since the change of government 16 years ago. It used to be a Township Committee where every year the committee would choose which one of them would be mayor. It changed to a ward system where there would be four wards, and each one would elect a representative. The town would also elect three at-large council members and a directly-elected mayor.
“I did not vote for the change in government,” Hill admitted. He had lived in cities (Newark and Jersey City) where wards divided the town and he didn’t want to see it here. But that wasn’t the only secret he let out.
“I made the mistake of not telling my wife I put my name in” as a council candidate all those years ago, he said. He didn’t think he’d be picked.
He also revealed that for 16 years he’s been secretly donating money from his township salary to scholarships for Toms River youth. At each of the four high schools in Toms River (South, North, East, and Donovan Catholic), there are $1,000 scholarships for a male and a female graduating student. The people who award the recipients are encouraged to choose Toms River residents if possible, and that they have to have at least a B average and be involved in their school community. He wanted it to stay anonymous all this time, but is making it known now. He will continue to fund those scholarships as mayor as well.
Wittmann admitted he also didn’t tell his wife that he put his name in back in the day. He thanked her for supporting him and thanked his family for sacrifices of him being out of the home for more than 16 years.
Over the years, they’ve worked on increasing the police force, getting officers in the school, and purchasing open space. The incoming council members – Kevin Geoghegan, Matthew Lotano, and Joshua Kopp – will be working with the rest of the governing body on a slew of challenges: such as redeveloping business areas to bring in more commercial ratables and acquiring the Surf Club property as open space.
Kubiel said that he started this journey 17 years ago when a snow plow got stuck on his street. The plow had bald tires and the driver’s shovel didn’t work.
Just like the Hill, he put his name in, not thinking he would win.
During his tenure, he only missed one back-to-school night, which he regrets.
He told the remaining council “I’m only a phone call away for advice if you need it.”
“Twelve years went really fast,” Kelaher said. “As a mayor, you can’t do it yourself,” he said, crediting help from the council. His management style was to surround himself with good people and then get out of their way. He said he had a recent meeting of all the department heads, and looking around at the table, knew that the town was in good hands.
Hill said Kelaher got the township through the housing crash and got the town back on its feet after Superstorm Sandy.
Maruca said she started out 16 years ago with Kubiel. After Sandy, Wittmann was a steady beacon for residents. And the mayor had been Toms River’s most stalwart cheerleader.
Councilman Terrance Turnbach thanked them and their families who “took care of what’s important” at home when they were dealing with township issues. “You taught me valuable lessons I’ll carry with me the rest of my lives.”
Turnbach, being one of two Democrats on the council (the other being Laurie Huryk) said that they kept politics out of issues.
“When they leave, they leave as friends,” he said.
Huryk said they are “losing really valuable members of the team. They accepted us in as new members and walked us through the processes.”