After years of Republican dominance, three of seven seats on the Toms River Township council are now occupied by Democrats, leaving the GOP with a slim majority after a hard-fought election campaign.
After the pomp and circumstance, hugs and well-wishes that marked the swearing into office of new council members Laurie Huryk, Daniel Rodrick and Terrance Turnbach, bipartisanship ruled – albeit after a rocky start.
The council, under state law, can select one member to serve on the township’s planning board. The remainder of the seats are left to Mayor Thomas Kelaher, a Republican, to fill. Huryk was taken by surprise when she heard members of the GOP majority put forth her name as the planning board member.
“I’m just worried about time constraints,” said Huryk, as she was quickly forced to mull over the decision.
Ultimately, the council voted to appoint Huryk to the planning board, however Rodrick was skeptical, saying the move may only be symbolic since Kelaher’s appointments to the planning board – all the same members who previously served, save one seat – were made without consultation with the newcomers.
“I have to say I was a little disappointed we weren’t able to appoint more folks to the planning board,” said Rodrick. “I was hoping we would be able to make some bipartisan appointments.”
Councilman Maurice “Mo” Hill said the idea to appoint Huryk to the board came from the fact that she represents ward three, which covers much of North Dover, where development has centered in recent years. The Democratic ticket in November campaigned on stopping what many saw as overdevelopment.
“You ran on a platform of overdevelopment, and here’s an opportunity to do something about that,” said Councilman George Wittmann.
Still, Rodrick said, Huryk will represent a single vote on a board dominated by Republicans.
“We had the opportunity to change some of those folks out, and we didn’t,” he said.
Confirmation of Kelaher’s appointments to the planning board and Board of Adjustment were split among party lines. Motions by the Democratic members of council to appoint their choices to fill the board seats never made it to a vote, since Kelaher’s appointments were approved first.
Despite the short squabble over the planning board appointment, the overall tone between members of the newly-split council was friendly and welcoming, drawing praise from a former Democratic mayor who was in attendance.
“I’m very pleased with the conduct of the meeting tonight, very civil,” said Paul Brush. “The people of this town are relying on you to go in the right direction and do the right thing regardless of your politics.”
During the meeting, Councilman Brian Kubiel was selected as council president and Wittmann as vice president.