Berlin 2019 Year in Review Day One

Local government, schools, organizations and more make 2019 one to remember

After another quick 12 months, yet another year has come to a close. Berlin Borough residents have plenty to look back on, from municipal and school events to community events. Meanwhile, numerous organizations — with the help of borough officials — are transforming downtown Berlin.

In recapping the top moments from the past year, The Sun is taking a three-day look back at the key moments that shaped 2019 in Berlin Borough:

President of BBEA demands resignation of superintendent

The Berlin Borough Board of Education reorganization meeting Jan. 3 came with late fireworks to celebrate the New Year.

Three members were sworn in to the board of education during the reorganization meeting: Brandy Titus, Jeff Greenberg and Jenine DelPalazzo. All were sworn in by Solicitor Dan Long.

Jocelyn Lewis was nominated and unanimously approved to serve as board president, while Rebecca Holland was unanimously approved as vice president.

During public participation, two women addressed the board, both calling for the resignation of Superintendent Kristin Martello.

Dali Kilpatrick, president of the Berlin Borough Education Association, spoke at the podium with more than 20 supporters standing alongside her as she said the association did not feel they had the support they require.

Berlin Borough holds 91st reorganization meeting

The Berlin Borough Council held its 91st reorganization meeting Jan. 5 in the borough courtroom to swear in two new members to three-year terms.

Ron Rocco and Michael Buchanan won reelection after running unopposed for the two open council seats. Both councilmen were sworn in surrounded by family and friends.

Nominated and appointed as council president was Councilman Jim Pearce. Mayor Jim Bilella also appointed councilmen to committees with a unanimous confirmation from council.

Bilella made a final statement before council was adjourned, stating what council had hoped to do in recent years while looking forward to continued progress.

“We really want to be proactive on many levels — infrastructure, water, sewer and roads, community development and activities to redevelopment of the downtown,” Bilella said. “I think what’s really been exciting for me is we’ve been doing that very effectively, and now you’re starting to see that change. There are a lot of residents where you’re starting to see that enthusiasm start to build.

“It takes a while to turn a ship around, and I think we’re doing that.”

BCS Superintendent contract to expire

Amid increased pressure from both the public and faculty members at Berlin Community School, the BCS Board of Education voted not to renew the contract of Superintendent Kristen Martello during a special meeting Feb 4.

After about an hour of the non-public executive session to discuss the future of the superintendent, the board came back to public session to vote.

The vote was 7-2 not to renew Martello’s contract, with Dennis Quinn and Fran Viscome voting against the move. Meanwhile, board President Jocelyn Lewis, board Vice President Rebecca Holland, Jeffrey Greenberg, Jenine DelPalazzo, Lisa Asare, Lisa Kehoe and Brandy Titus all voted in favor of the motion.

“As board members, we have the responsibility to be silent observers in the governance of our school. I believe I can speak for the board in saying that this was not an easy decision for anyone to make,” Lewis said following the vote. “As always, it is our role to make difficult decisions in the best interest of the students.

“The board has rendered a decision to not renew the contract for the superintendent,” Lewis added. “At this time, it is my sincere hope that our community can begin to heal and forge a sense of togetherness that fosters continued lifelong learning and global citizens as we strive to provide an excellent education for the students of Berlin Community School.” Lewis added.

Later in the month, the board voted relieve Superintendent Kristen Martello of her duties and be placed on administrative leave, with salary and benefits, at a board meeting in February.

The vote was taken after an executive session by the board and was unanimous among present board members. Martello’s contract was set to expire at the end of June.

Later in the February meeting, Joseph Campisi was approved as the interim assistant superintendent/acting superintendent, pending the approval of the executive county superintendent for Camden County. Campisi was previously an assistant superintendent with Cherry Hill Public Schools.

Chief Michael Miller retires from Berlin Borough

It’s fair to say a lot has changed since Chief of Police Michael Miller first walked through  the doors of the Berlin Police Department in 1994.

Miller was born in neighboring Berlin Township and worked as a summer cop at the shore for three years before landing with the Berlin department 25 years ago. He began his rise through the department as a detective, moving to street sergeant, administrative sergeant and other positions.

Chief Miller retired in March, news of which was announced the previous month at  the Berlin Borough February council meeting. As of deadline, a new chief had not been announced.

As chief, Miller hoped to provide the best police department possible for residents while being responsible with taxpayer money.

“We need to look at government agencies as a business; there’s no inherent desire to provide a good service when you’re in government because it’s tax money,” Miller said. “You won’t go out of service.”

Miller had hoped to defy that stereotype and sought to lead the best department he could.

“I think we need to provide good service and be a valuable asset to the community because people do pay a lot of taxes, so that was very important to me to change that mindset,” Miller said.

Berlin Borough officials work toward intersection fix

The Berlin Police Department and emergency officials responded to an accident March 28 at the intersection of Route 30 and Franklin Avenue, in front of the Wawa and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Councilman Jim Pearce, with help from Councilman Rick Miller, had hoped to address problems at the intersection as quickly as possible. According to Pearce, residents have persistently made officials aware that making a left going both north and south along Route 30 — especially in the morning — is more than troublesome.

After many residents reached out to Pearce and other elected officials, the two started a petition with and shared it online through Facebook. It explained the need for a change in the traffic pattern at the intersection along the White Horse Pike.

According to statistics provided by police Chief Millard Wilkinson, the intersection of Route 30 and Franklin Avenue has seen 254 vehicles involved in crashes in 123 crash reports since April, 2014, including the March crash.

The intersection combines a county and state road, making the necessary steps to address the intersection more difficult. But borough officials said their dealings with the state Department of Transportation seem to be heading toward a fix.

Voorhees Animal Orphanage breaks ground

Thanks to a large donation from a Voorhees Animal Orphanage supporter and volunteer, the nonprofit animal shelter reached the $1 million mark in its capital campaign for a new building at its location, 419 Cooper Road.

Public officials joined VAO employees and volunteers April 9 to break ground on the construction of a new 8,900-square-foot shelter.

“We are so excited to see our dream of building a new shelter become a reality,” said David Semless, president of the VAO board of directors. “Since our inception in 1988, we have saved the lives of more than 30,000 cats and dogs, never turning away a cat or dog in need.

“This new facility will help us to efficiently continue our mission of providing loving care to our cats and dogs until we can find them their forever homes.”

VAO employees say the new shelter will double the amount of space it has for cats and dogs, thus generating more adoptions. Additional improvements to the upcoming shelter include dog kennels that are 50 percent larger, separate cat and dog meet-and-greet rooms, a larger and more accommodating lobby for guests, much-needed storage space and more.