New Jersey and its communities are inching toward recovery and examining life after the pandemic.
One of the most visible signs that the end of COVID-19’s stranglehold on normal life may be in sight was Gov. Phil Murphy’s May 8 announcement establishing the Restart and Recovery Advisory Council.
The statewide council includes nine subcommittees bringing together leaders of various backgrounds to offer their advice and insights. Included among them is the Government Subcommittee of the Restart and Recovery Advisory Council, to which only one Burlington County official was appointed: Evesham Township Mayor Jaclyn Veasy.
“I’m honored to be appointed to the council,” Veasy said. “Everyone on there, especially the governor, knows that we have to make sure everyone’s health is safe before we can really move forward with the economy, but we do know that the economy is being hit very hard. There’s a lot of work that goes into the recovery process.”
The 33-person advisory council held its first meeting virtually on May 13, introducing various government leaders and the subcommittee’s chair, New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis. The session “laid the foundation for what was expected from the government advisory council” during its anticipated eight weeks of meetings.
It was clear to Veasy that her peers are invested in the task before them.
“The conversation yesterday showed that the individuals on board understand that the municipalities and local areas are really getting hit hard,” she said. “We all have our boots on the ground dealing with local issues every day, so I’m thankful that the governor is reaching out at so many local levels. To be on a board that’s discussing the actual steps and plans for implementation and what the challenges are, it’s good to see that happening.”
Veasy added that the township’s own proactive approach to navigating its COVID-19 mitigation and recovery plans dovetails nicely into what the government subcommittee is working toward, as items and issues discussed at recent township meetings directly correlated to the broader statewide discussions among subcommittee members.
“We actually had a meeting with the Evesham Economic Recovery Advisory Board a couple days before, so I was able to take some of the conversation we were having on that board to the conversation we had on the governor’s board,” Veasy explained. “They work very symbiotically together, Some of the questions we had at the local Evesham board were things I could bring up to think about on the state level.”
The mayor also said representatives from across the state who bring their unique government and labor perspectives help create a big-picture conversation that shows how all the individual parts of the state are having complementary discussions. It also allows for expedient action that directly relates to what the subcommittee talks about.
“We’re taking the hot topics that we see and hear on the ground and talking about them in the larger context of the subcommittee,” Veasy noted. “Then the chairs will review them and make recommendations directly to the governor for what should be the next steps.”
It’s seen as a benefit to Evesham Township residents — as well as Burlington County — that Marlton’s mayor can directly bring their issues to a statewide audience.
“It’s advantageous because a lot of times, we feel like we get overlooked as a southern town and area that might not be looked at the same way when it comes to North Jersey and Central Jersey problems,” said Veasy. “But a lot of times, what we deal with in our town and community directly relate to what everyone’s experiencing all across the state.
“The pandemic is not a North, South or Central problem,” the mayor added. “This is a whole-state problem. And Evesham is a representation of what is happening all over the state and all over the county.”
Plus, Veasy can help fast track solutions to the township’s most pressing problems.
“I can bring our concerns right to the table,” she said. “I don’t have to go through a lot of different layers of people when I’m one of the people at the table.”
Even with degrees of uncertainty and fluidity surrounding every conversation and a future that remains stubbornly uncertain, the mayor is grateful to be in a position where she can not only answer residents’ questions with a wider perspective but also have first-hand assurance that a definitive post-pandemic plan is at the forefront of a meaningful conversation.
“The future is a little scary because it is so unknown,” Veasy noted. “What I think this does is provide some hopefulness that we will recover, that we’re looking at all the angles, that everyone is being taken care of.
“The entire state is being looked at from top to bottom. It’s still going to be scary, but this will ultimately be a small part of our history that we will move on from together.”