Marlton Sun’s 2019 year in review

A collection of some of the biggest stories The Marlton Sun covered in 2019.

With 2019 nearly at a close, many among us are taking time to reflect on the year that was. Here are some of the biggest stories The Marlton Sun covered in 2019:

Gov. Phil Murphy, other top Democrats swear in Evesham’s new Democratic mayor and councilmembers at annual reorganization meeting

The new year saw Evesham Township welcoming its new mayor, Jaclyn Veasy, at the annual reorganization meeting held early in January.

An invocation was delivered by Monsignor Richard LaVerghetta of St. Joan of Arc Parish at the top of the meeting. This was followed closely by Gov. Phil Murphy, who greeted Veasy at the front of the room and officially swore her in for her four-year term as mayor of Evesham.

Murphy also swore in Patricia Hansen to her term on council, while State Senate President Steve Sweeney took over duties to swear in Heather Cooper for her term.

Veasy, Cooper and Hansen then officially joined sitting Republicans Ken D’Andrea and Bob DiEnna as members of the council.

However, before Murphy left to attend other commitments, he described the “incredible” leadership team in Evesham, which now consists of three Democrats and two Republicans.

“We’re Americans first, we’re New Jerseyans first, and then we put our partisan hats on,” Murphy said. “An incredibly talented team, again, from both sides of the aisle.”

He also praised Evesham Township for making an impact not just in Burlington County, but the greater region as well.

“The reason I wanted to be here is because this is one of the most consequential communities in our state, both in its size and its heft. It punches above its weight,” Murphy said.

Sweeney echoed Murphy’s sentiments about the meeting serving as another “peaceful change in government,” and with that, he thanked former Mayor Randy Brown for his service to the township.

The previous September, Brown announced he was dropping his bid for reelection and ending his time as mayor after 12 years to pursue other professional opportunities.

Evesham Township School District deals with the effects of state aid cuts in 2019

The Evesham Township School District started the new year facing challenges brought on by cuts to state aid. 

These cuts were the result of a new school funding formula enacted the previous summer in which “overfunded” districts lose state aid money and “underfunded” districts gain state aid money.

According to officials with the local district, the formula is mostly determined by increases or decreases in a district’s enrollment figures, increases or decreases in a district’s municipal property wealth (ratables) and the level of personal wealth for the residents of the municipality in which a district is located.

For ETSD specifically, the district has been losing students since its peak enrollment year of 2003, while at the same time, Evesham Township has seen an increase in ratables and the wealth of its residents in recent years.

With that, the formula determined for this past year’s budget, ETSD lost about $815,000 of its state aid money it had originally expected to receive prior to the changes in the formula.

And according to district officials, those losses are only expected to continue in the coming years.

In looking toward the 2019-2020 budget, Superintendent John Scavelli Jr. said the district expects to lose an additional $689,000, bringing the two-year total to slightly more than $1.5 million.

After that, Scavelli said through the 2024-2025 school year, the district anticipates a total drop in state aid of $9 million.

To deal with the cuts, Scavelli said the district would look to reduce spending on instructional and non-instructional supplies, non-instructional equipment and capital projects.

“We have a specific focus on non-instructional areas to determine whether there is another way to deliver a service effectively that will cost less money,” Scavelli said.

To that point, with exception to employee salaries and benefits, which are locked in due to union contracts, Scavelli said every budget area will experience a reduction in spending to offset the loss of state aid.

Students from across Lenape Regional High School District honor Martin Luther King Jr. with March for Martin at Lenape High School

Much like when King envisioned a day when “all of God’s children” would have the opportunity to sing with a new meaning “let freedom ring,” the entirety of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was ringing throughout the halls of Lenape High School for students to hear during the school’s annual “March for Martin” event in January.

Hosted once again by the Lenape High School African American Club, the March for Martin invited students and staff from student organizations across the Lenape Regional High School District to march in unity through Lenape’s halls while King’s words were broadcast throughout the building.

Just two of the many students on hand for the event were Lenape High School seniors Myía Borland and Makayla Berry, who each served as officers in Lenape’s African American Club.

The two said the march demonstrated the need for students to come together to address issues of racial injustice that still exist in the world today.

“In the world as a whole, not everything is perfect,” Boreland said. “(King’s speech) still applies to today.”

Berry echoed those sentiments.

“The goal of the march is to let everyone…remember why Martin Luther King Jr. gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and why it was so important and how it affects us all today, from our classrooms to outside of school,” Berry said.

ETSD considers privatization of busing services, drawing ire of transportation staff

In March, Evesham Township School District’s bus drivers arrived en masse to an ETSD Board of Education meeting to protest potential privatization of the district’s busing services.

The issue first arose at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting, when the board approved a $13,500 contract with a consulting firm to examine the district’s busing services and configure bid packages.

In turn, private busing services could eventually offer bids on those packages, with the potential for offers to cost less than what the district spent to employ its own drivers and purchase its own buses.

The district’s decision to explore potential privatization came as a result of its facing steep cuts to state aid in the coming years, with the district estimated to lose about $9 million in total by the 2024-2025 school year.

At the meeting in January, several board members gave indications they would most likely vote against privatization regardless of savings, while other board members argued the board should complete its “due diligence” and examine the process nonetheless.

At the March meeting, however, the BOE did not have any new information to publicly share about the process, but that did not stop dozens of staff members from the district’s transportation department, as well as members of the Evesham Township Education Association, from speaking in defense of the district’s current drivers and services.

Transportation staff wore similar yellow shirts and carried signs denouncing privatization, with members of the audience loudly clapping and cheering when speakers used their time during the portion of the meeting reserved for comments from the public to speak against privatization.

The board’s second meeting in March and a subsequent meeting in April also saw members and supporters of the district’s transportation staff show up to voice protests over privatization, referencing the lower pay and lack of benefits that private companies offer to employees. 

In response to questions from the public, Scavelli noted that, as of the BOE’s last meeting, the bid package for the district’s busing services had not yet been advertised, although it was nearly complete.

In that bid package, Scavelli said the district had required that any bidder would be required to offer a job to all the district’s current drivers.

By the board’s May meeting, it became apparent the ETSD had offered a ride that no one was willing to take.

The ETSD received no bids from private transportation companies to potentially provide the district with privatized drivers for its bus routes.

“We had no responsive bidders,” Scavelli confirmed at this latest meeting.

Scavelli said the BOE’s finance committee discussed the situation in detail when the committee met before the BOE’s last meeting, and ultimately, Scavelli said he had no further action to recommend to the board.

Council recognizes June as LGBTQ Pride Month in Evesham Township

“We’re a Pride community.”

Those were the words of Mayor Veasy as she and the rest of Evesham Township Council used a portion of their first meeting in June to officially recognize the month as LGBTQ Pride Month in Evesham Township.

With an official proclamation in hand, Veasy described America as a nation founded on the principle of equal rights for all people.

Continuing, Veasy said some of the “most inspiring” moments in the nation’s history have arisen from the various civil rights movements that have brought one group after another from the margins of American Society to its mainstream.

To that end, Veasy said all people should be able to live without fear of “prejudice, disinclination, violence and hatred” based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.

“By protecting the rights of every individual, we enhance the rights of our entire society,” Veasy said.

Speaking on behalf of the Pride of Evesham social group was resident and group president Ryan Albright, who in the past has described the organization as a small group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and straight allies trying to “make a difference” in Evesham.

It was actually June of last year when Albright first attended a council meeting to request the municipality officially recognize June as Pride Month in Evesham Township, suggesting that Evesham Township could fly donated rainbow flags on Main Street or take some similar action to recognize LGBTQ pride in Evesham.

It was from the ideas discussed at that meeting that Albright and other residents would eventually form Pride of Evesham, with its first meeting in February. Since that time, the group has also worked closely with local craft brewery Zed’s Beer to host meetings, brunches and launch official LGBTQ pride T-shirts.

“The Pride of Evesham was kind of an off-the-cuff idea that took a lot of steam very quickly…something that we can all be proud of and come together and take part in as a community,” Albright said.

June sees another attempt at launching farmers market in Marlton

The Marlton Greene Shopping Center was even more “green” than normal in June, with offerings of green beans, green globe squash, green leaf cabbage and more during the grand opening of the newly revived Marlton Farmers Market.

Located at the intersection of Route 73 and Main Street, the semimonthly market marked the latest attempt by the township council and a group of interested citizens to establish a permanent and sustainable farmers market for the township.

As described on the township’s website, the market was designed to “provide local farmers with a way to connect directly with their customers.”

The market also aimed to support the health of the general public by “making fresh local fruits and vegetables readily available” for the residents from Evesham Township and its surrounding communities.

In addition to the green goods listed above, the opening day’s market featured tomatoes, broccoli, beets, sugar snap peas and more.

In addition to produce, the market also offered its customers locally produced beef jerky, fresh honey, fresh eggs and other locally sourced products.

This newly revived market was the result of months of work and planning by an ad hoc committee Evesham Township Council established in March.

In planning this new market, the committee had to learn from the mistakes of previous attempts to establish a sustained, long-term market in the township.

Previous attempts at farmers markets in recent years have included a market that opened in 2013 for a few years at Troth Road and Route 70, as well as an attempt to launch another market two years ago that never materialized.

Officials placed this new market in the corner of the Marlton Greene Shopping Center, well within walking distance of Main Street and North Maple Avenue.

The opening market also featured tables from the Marlton Garden Club and the Center for the Arts in Southern New Jersey, as well as kids-fun area run by the Marlton Girl Talk peer mentoring group.

Students from Cherokee High School were also on hand to provide lively jazz and swing music for patrons as they wandered the event.

Township Manager Michael Barth retires, Robert Corrales approved as replacement

At Evesham Township Council’s July 16 meeting, Councilman Robert DiEnna remembered his thoughts when he found out Michael Barth would be retiring as chief of police in July of 2013.

“I said, you’re not going anywhere really,” DiEnna recalled. “You’ll be back within six months.”

Barth did come out of retirement, first to be a financial analyst for the police department and later to take over as township manager.

Earlier this year, Barth announced he would retire once again at the end of July. DiEnna finished his story by saying this time, he didn’t think Barth would come out of retirement.

“He’s absolutely correct,” Barth said of DiEnna’s comments. “This is it.”

Barth’s retirement occurred three decades after his first coming to Evesham Township to work with the police department in 1989. 

Barth spent about a decade with Evesham Township Police as the deputy chief of police before moving up to the chief position in 2010. It was as deputy chief where Barth began to acquire the experience needed to be township manager later on. Barth specifically focused on areas such as contract negotiations and budgeting. 

It wasn’t until Barth officially took over for outgoing manager Tom Czerniecki in 2018 when he realized how much responsibility he would have.

“The biggest surprise for me was the pace with which things are brought into the office,” Barth said. “Some days, it’s 10 or 15 new things that could be brought to your attention. Some of them are easy, quick decisions that can be made, some of them not so much. The demands on your time here are staggering at times.”

The first couple months of 2019 were an especially hectic time for Barth. He had worked closely with newly elected Mayor Veasy, Deputy Mayor Cooper and Councilwoman Hansen on getting them up to speed on how the township operates. Then, in February, Barth suffered a heart attack. He had to undergo double bypass surgery and was out of work for a couple months.

Barth said in those months he was out, everyone else in the township building stepped up to make sure Evesham continued to operate as normal. He continually praised his colleagues for the amount of hours and hard work they put in each and every week.

“The people in this building, they’re the constant,” Barth said. “They’re here, day in and day out, they come to work, they want to do their job and they want to do it well.”

Shortly after returning to work in the spring, Barth decided he would retire. He admitted he is ready for a change of pace, saying the job of township manager can be grueling.

Evesham Township wasted no time in finding a replacement for Barth.

At a special meeting, Evesham Township Council approved Robert Corrales as its new township manager. Council voted 4-0 to approve Corrales, with Councilman Ken D’Andrea absent.

Council approved Corrales after an executive session lasting nearly 40 minutes. 

After the vote, Veasy and members of council spoke briefly about the township manager search and expressed their confidence in moving forward with Corrales.

“I am looking forward to working with Robert…I think he’ll be a good addition to the township and will really shepherd us into what we would like to see happen and how this township can grow and what we can do,” Veasy said.

In a statement released following the meeting, Corrales expressed his gratitude toward council for selecting him as the new township manager.

“Evesham is a wonderful community with residents and employees who take great pride in ensuring the township remains a great place to raise a family,” Corrales said in the statement. “Working with the mayor and council, I truly look forward to playing a key role in enhancing services to residents and expanding economic opportunities within Evesham.”

Evesham School District staff rally for contracts

In late August, Evesham Township School District staff held a rally outside of the district’s administrative building on South Maple Avenue. The rally preceded the regularly scheduled board of education meeting that took place later that evening. Protest signs read, “Tell the board that school employees need a contract now.”

Contract negotiations between the board and the Evesham Township Education Association, which began back in February, came to a standstill, and at the time of the rally, it appeared district staff would be heading into work in September without a contract and without their yearly raise.

“We’ve made little to no progress at all,” said ETEA Vice President Russ Bowles at the rally.

According to Bowles and ETEA President Debbie Van Curren, this was the first time in 14 years that the board and the ETEA have been unable to negotiate a contract by the start of a new school year. The rally was an attempt to spread awareness to the public about what has been going on in the district.

“We’re hoping to make the people that pay the taxes that actually pay our salaries aware because a lot of people are unaware of what is going on, especially the people who don’t have children in the schools,” said Curren. 

Following the evening’s BOE meeting, ETEA officials were approached by Superintendent Scavelli, who assured them that he had spoken with the board and they had prepared a counter offer.

At the Oct. 24 meeting of the Evesham Township Board of Education, the board voted in favor of a 2019-2022 collective bargaining agreement that had been reached with the ETEA.

“The board and the ETEA negotiations committees held numerous sessions from March to September 2019. Ultimately, we believe a fair settlement has been reached,” Scavelli said. 

The agreement, according to Scavelli, called for ETEA employees to receive salary increases over the next three years of 3.75 percent, 3.15 percent and 3 percent, respectively. 

“These rates are competitive within our county and state averages for contracts beginning with 2019-20,” Scavelli said. 

The board and the ETEA were reportedly also able to come to an agreement on changes to the base medical insurance plan as well as employee healthcare contributions. Scavelli said he believes both sides will benefit from these changes.

“Seeing how this collaboration came together and how hard everyone worked, this is an incredibly fair contract and I’m very happy with everyone involved in this process who did what they had to do,” Board President Joe Fisicaro said.

Evesham Township School District Superintendent John Scavelli makes surprise announcement to retire

Scavelli made what came to many as a surprise announcement that he will be retiring from his position effective Feb. 1 of next year at a board of education meeting in August.

“It is with mixed emotions that I submit my retirement resignation letter this evening. As superintendent, I have had the privilege to work with several courageous and supportive board members, an outstanding student-centered administrative team and a dedicated group of teachers and support staff that have the best interest of students as their priority,” said Scavelli in his resignation letter addressed to Board President Joe Fisicaro.

In his letter, Scavelli went on to reference facing challenges and obstacles over the past several years and the pride he takes in the fact that he and the board were able to move their educational system forward in spite of these setbacks.

“Probably the most significant challenges that we have faced over the years stem from the loss of state aid funding which began in 2010 during my first year as superintendent,” said Scavelli, elaborating on the reference made in his letter.

Scavelli would not comment on whether any of the aforementioned challenges or obstacles contributed to his decision to retire.

He also announced his plans to work with the board as much as possible during the following months to ensure a smooth transition.

“As with any opening, the district will need to advertise and interview to fill the position. We will meet with the board leadership to aid in that process and to set a timeline,” said Scavelli.

According to Fisicaro, the board received only 24 hours notice before the official announcement at the meeting.

“It was a shock when we heard it. We weren’t expecting it but we understood it. Being the superintendent is a pretty rough job,” said Fisicaro. “I believe in the state of New Jersey the average superintendent is around for like five years, roughly, so it was surprising but understandable.”

Evesham Fire-Rescue hosts first official Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony outside Main Street station

This year, Evesham Fire-Rescue hosted its first official public remembrance ceremony next to the memorial on the morning of the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. As the ceremony commenced, thoughts turned to the nearly 3,000 lives lost on that day, lives represented by the memorial’s 2,977 individual stars embedded in its walkway.

One of those lives, that of resident LeRoy Homer, received special recognition during the ceremony. Homer was the co-pilot of the hijacked plane, United Airlines Flight 93, which he helped crash into a field before it could reach its intended target in the U.S. Capitol.

“Today we honor his sacrifice, and the other 37 passengers aboard Flight 93. It was their sacrifice and bravery certainly that thwarted another large-scale attack on our nation,” said Evesham firefighter Bryce Priggemeier.

One of the first to speak after a welcoming and opening remarks were delivered by Evesham Fire-Rescue Chief Carl Bittenbender was Mayor Veasy, who reminded everyone in attendance how we came together as a nation in the wake of tragedy.

“In one of our darkest moments, we as a nation summoned strength and courage, and out of horrible devastation emerged the best of our humanity. On this solemn anniversary we pause in remembrance, in reflection and once again in unity,” said Veasy. “The pain inflicted on our nation on September 11 was felt by people of every race, background and faith.”

Bittenbender was glad to open the doors of the station and provide the community with an opportunity to come together and reflect on everyone affected by the events of 9-11. He also expressed his hope that through remembrance ceremonies like this one, the next generation will remember those people as well.

The Sun chats with Marlton’s own Survivor contestant Chelsea Walker

The old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is an adage former Marlton resident Chelsea Walker took to heart in pursuit of a long-held dream to one day appear as a contestant on the CBS reality show “Survivor.” 

Walker had applied for the show, a favorite of hers since it first aired in 2000, a total of six times (about once every year since she reached the minimum age requirement). 

“I’m what they call a ‘superfan,’ this has definitely been a lifelong dream for me,” said Walker.

This year, her persistence finally paid off and, after submitting around 10 audition tapes over the past six years, she was finally selected as one of 20 contestants to appear on the show’s 39th season. 

Last spring, Walker spent 39 days in the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji where the latest season was set. Although she could not go into detail about anything that happened on the show ahead of its air date, Sept. 25, she took some time to speak with her hometown newspaper about her experience actually living something for which she had been preparing for years.

As soon as she turned 21, Walker began submitting audition videos, hoping to be selected as a contestant. Although she got some calls in response to her submissions over the years and says she came close a few times, ultimately, she was passed over for another hopeful.

“I’m the type of person who doesn’t like being told no, and deep down inside me I always knew I had what it takes to play this game,” said Walker.

With each audition video, Walker honed her approach. Having come close with a few of her previous attempts, she became more familiar with the casting process.

Deep down, Walker says she had a feeling it would finally happen for her this year, and before she knew for certain began training as if it was a sure thing. Everything from her diet to her exercise routine became preparation for this eventuality. 

Walker recently started working for the website IMDb and when she got the call she had been waiting for all these years, she was on the job covering the Sundance Film Festival.

Her casting contact toyed with her a bit at first over the phone, making it seem as if she hadn’t been selected, before finally breaking the good news. 

“I just started screaming and running up and down the streets of Sundance,” said Walker, recalling the moment she found out it was really happening. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Unfortunately, since her interview with The Sun and the airing of the latest season, local viewers had to watch their hometown hero be eliminated from the competition after just a little more than a week on the island.

EPA hosts public meeting, provides update on Ellis Property Superfund site cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning some of our nation’s most contaminated land areas and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. 

The Ellis Property Superfund Site, a 36-acre tract of land in Evesham and Medford townships, is one such contaminated land area currently being cleaned. The EPA hosted a public information meeting concerning the project early in December at the Evesham municipal building. 

The site’s EPA project manager, Julie Nace, led the night’s presentation, which included information about the original source of the contamination. 

The property, originally a dairy farm, housed a short-lived steel drum reconditioning and recycling business that ceased operations in 1970 following a fire. At the time of the site discovery, several sheds were found to contain 50 to 75 drums and other chemical containers left behind, many of them full. Around 100, 55-gallon plastic drums containing liquid also were discovered next to the sheds.

A significant amount of the drum contents had leaked into the ground. Superficial spills and discharges associated with drum reconditioning and chemical storage are believed to have contributed to the site’s soil and groundwater contamination.

The next phase of the project, Nace said, should begin as early as January and will consist of around six months of targeted excavation, during which approximately 6,600 cubic yards of just the clay-filled contaminated soil will be taken off site and replaced with clean fill. 

Construction of a thermal treatment system is slated for July. By the following fall, the system will be switched on and the soil heated to around 212 degrees Fahrenheit to vaporize the trichloroethylene contaminant. Extraction wells will then capture the vapor and bring it to the surface, where it will be treated and carted off for disposal.