Whether it’s breaking news from municipal government or the unique personalities who add to the region’s charm and character, The Sun highlights some of the biggest events that made 2019 distinctly its own.
Earle retires, Harkins steps in as GloCo Police Chief
After nearly 33 years of service with the Gloucester Township Police Department, Chief Harry Earle retired from the force in October.
Raised in Gloucester Township, he started with the department at age 19 in 1987 as a part-time dispatcher, later splitting time as a special officer. He continued his rise through the ranks and became a full-time officer in 1988 before eventually reaching ranks that included sergeant, lieutenant and captain. He became the chief of police in 2010.
During his time as chief, Earle said he was proud to have what he hoped was a positive impact on the community and department. He also helped create a worthwhile bond between the two moving forward that will only get better, owing mostly to the department’s officers.
“The buy-in and commitment of the men and women of the Gloucester Township Police Department over the past nine-and-a-half years has been tremendous because we’ve asked a lot from them,” said Earle.
“For me, I’m thankful that they all had that commitment to sometimes try something new. It didn’t always work every time, but if it didn’t, we stopped that and went another route, but genuinely the constant pursuing of new projects and initiatives were key.”
Taking over for Earle, David Harkins was sworn in at the Change of Command Ceremony at Camden County College on Nov. 4. Currently in his 24th year with the GTPD, Harkins graduated from the Gloucester County Police Academy in 1995. He has risen through the GTPD ranks, serving as shift investigator and being involved with the tactical unit before becoming a sergeant in 2002 and then lieutenant in 2005. Harkins entered an administrative role in 2006, eventually becoming deputy chief in 2010.
In identifying areas of the community or resident programs that could be improved, Harkins said he hopes to be able to improve all programs, whether new or longstanding.
Harkins added the department he’s inherited is in a great position to improve upon its already successful track record. Under the community policing model, overall crime has fallen more than 30 percent from 2009 to 2017, with violent crime taking a more than 50 percent dip over the same time period, according to statistics provided by the department.
Anthony Minosse was promoted to deputy chief. He and Harkins will now work closely to serve the mission of the Gloucester Township Police Department.
‘American Idol’ Contestant returns home
In late March, Turnersville native Payton Taylor made her way home after spending several grueling weeks on ABC’s “American Idol” for Hollywood week. Taylor made a pit stop at her alma mater, Wedgwood Elementary School, before heading out to Camden County College to take part in an “American Idol” watch party at the Dennis Flyer Theater.
Many of her fans and well-wishers came to the theater to not only see Taylor but find out how far she would advance on the show.
Taylor first appeared on “American Idol” last year, playing guitar for her sister. Both sisters impressed the judges enough to advance in the competition, but dropped out rather than compete against one another. Taylor came back again this year to follow her dream as a country vocalist.
Taylor’s talents took her to the Top 40 of “Idol,” something her hometown fans anxiously awaited. As the show opened, the first person seen was Taylor. The audience cheered every time they got a glimpse of her.
You could not tell Taylor was nervous during the March watch party, even performing a few songs for her fans. Songs like “American Born,” for which she gave a powerful performance that the audience felt, and “Rhinestone,” the song she sang for judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie, got her a ticket to Hollywood. She detailed how she wrote “Rhinestone.”
Taylor returned to Gloucester Township in late June to perform with fellow Jersey native Megan Knight for the Sounds of Summer Concert Series in Veterans Memorial Park.
New police training center opens
Mayor David Mayer and officials joined the Gloucester Township Police Department at the Gloucester Premium Outlets in early May to cut the ribbon on its new Police Training Center.
The outlets donated space to be used by the GTPD to further train officers more effectively and to give the Support Services Division space to hold police-conducted community meetings and special events such as the Junior Police Academy and Citizens Police Academy.
“It increases our overall policing strategies here in Gloucester Township,” said Mayer. “The visibility that our police department has throughout the community and now the presence here in the Gloucester Premium Outlets will certainly enhance our services. This training facility will certainly enhance the officers not only from Gloucester Township but from other communities that come in and train with our officers.”
This training center is the first of its kind in Gloucester Township and was envisioned by the department heads. The GTPD training center was the home base for several new summertime programs for youth in Gloucester Township and was opened for several additional police department events.
Gloucester Premium Outlets provided the GTPD with another opportunity to connect better with the community by walking around the outlets and engaging with community members.
Lifelong friends make it to top of Timber Creek grad list
For Conor Duca and Eric Eaton, friendly competition has always been the name of the game. The lifelong friends challenged each other at Timber Creek Regional High School, with good-natured bragging over top grades and general banter about who would outrank whom by graduation.
In mid-June, this drive to succeed the duo inspired in one another certainly paid off — Duca was named Class of 2019 valedictorian, with Eaton claiming the salutatorian spot.
This back-and-forth came easily for the 18-year-old Sicklerville residents, who have not only gone through school together, but also played on the same sports teams and work together at Pump It Up in Blackwood. Both Duca and Eaton are proud of their accomplishments, but humbled by the honor of taking up the academic helm of their class.
Duca will head to Rutgers-New Brunswick this fall, majoring in environmental science, specifically in the school’s Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behavior program. Inspired by his parents, both environmental scientists, Duca wants to focus on the policy and governmental and economic aspects of environmental science rather than spending time in a lab.
Eaton will attend Camden County College, majoring in computer science with a focus in cyber security. Eaton will be part of the NJ STARS Program that will give him free schooling for two years at CCC, an appealing option given how many people face large amounts of college debt.
In reflecting on those who inspired them throughout their academic careers, there was one person Duca and Eaton kept coming back to: each other.
Head of the year brings old, new faces to GloCo boards
Gloucester Township Council held its reorganization meeting Jan. 2, with Orlando Mercado again elected to serve as council president and Tracey Trotto voted vice president.
The Gloucester Township Board of Education held its annual reorganization meeting five days later, welcoming three new board members: Carolyn Grace, Brian Reagan and Anthony Marks.
At the meeting, MaryJo Dintino was elected board president and Mark Gallo was elected vice president, with the only no vote for both candidates coming from Jennifer O’Donnell.
Gloucester Township residents express satisfaction with Dem incumbents
Residents went to the polls Nov. 5 and gave a huge vote of confidence to Democratic incumbents, re-electing Orlando Mercado (D), Tracey Trotto (D), Michael Mignone (D) and Andrea Stubbs (D) to the four open seats on council. Mignone received 18.16 percent of the vote, with Stubbs at 18.14 percent, Trotto at 17.44 and Mercado at 17.25 percent.
In the race for the Gloucester Township Public Schools Board of Education, Brian Hammell won the seat for an unexpired term in an uncontested election, receiving 93.27 percent of the vote. For the three open seats on the board for regular slots, Jennifer O’Donnell won re-election with 15.04 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Victoria Smith and Matthew Elliott Wilson were also elected to the board, receiving 17.95 percent and 16.14 percent of the vote.
For the one open seat representing Gloucester Township with the Black Horse Pike Regional School District, Kevin McElroy defeated Marguerite Mulvan. McElroy received 56.27 percent of the vote while Mulvan received 41.65 percent.