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Police officer and chaplains sworn in at Oct. 25 council meeting

Residents ask for more transparency in relaying information

Gloucester Township Council began its Oct. 25 meeting with Mayor David Mayer swearing in police officer Patrick Martina and new chaplain Deacon Kenneth Carpinell, and recognized  Pastor Linda Davis for her service in the chaplain program through September 2021.

Police Chief David Harkins explained that the chaplain program was introduced in 2018 and its  support during difficult times has made a difference in the community. Chaplains can help when police are handling a death or violent crime, or when people are emotionally upset and don’t quite understand a police action.

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“These chaplains respond in the middle of the night, during the day, all hours,” Harkins explained. “They rotate and come on board with us working side by side with the officers, and  they give the officers a resource that we just wouldn’t have if they didn’t do it.

“They bring comfort,” he added. “They bring a prayer, they bring God into a situation that is very bad, and that’s very comforting to many people.”

“I’ve seen the work of our chaplains, whether it’s helping fire victims or (at) the scene of a crash,” the mayor said while thanking Davis, who became a chaplain in 2018 and retired in September.

“You provide peace for people all over town.”

Davis relayed the story of a time when she was unsure if she should go when she got the call to respond to a car-accident fatality, as she was still scarred by her own car accident and her husband’s hospitalization. With her spouse’s encouragement, she decided to be on call with the grieving family of a young Gloucester Township teacher who had died.

“I wouldn’t say it was rewarding, but I’m glad I went,” Davis reflected. “I’m glad I was a presence, because (of) the comfort that was needed and the spiritual presence that was needed in their time of devastation; she was so young.”

During the council meeting’s public comment, many residents asked questions about how the township relays its information to the public. Resident Brian Burns expanded on mayoral candidate Sam Sweet’s question from the previous meeting about extending the 200-foot notification requirement for residents to be made aware when a new development project is taking place.

Solicitor David Carlamere explained that the 200-foot requirement was set by the state as  land-use law, and that the burden of notifying residents falls on the applicant.

“If the municipality tries to say, ‘No, everybody within 1,000 feet (should be notified),’ they’ll get a pushback, because the applicant says, ‘I’m not obligated to do that; I’m not obligated to expend that cost,’” Carlamere explained, noting that the applicant has to have certified proof mail was sent out and is required to place notice in the local newspaper.

Council President Orlando Mercado added that the requirement applies to both commercial developments and homeowners, so any changes to the law would affect everyday residents who make improvements as much as it would larger development projects.

Burns asked whether council would consider putting new developments in an existing newsletter, but Carlamere said that would be difficult because of multiple applications happening at once and because the newsletter is quarterly.

Danielle Vermitsky repeated resident Elizabeth Dugan’s question from the previous meeting about why recent events have been cancelled, which Mercado explained, and also asked for more transparency.

“On the website, it says cancelled,” Vermitsky observed. “ [My neighbors] question that, like so and so had their trunk or treat. They’re comparing us to other townships, and all they see from their perspective is cancelled, cancelled, cancelled. They don’t know.”

While Mercado said the township did post explanations for Mainstage and the food truck festival on Facebook, but Vermitsky responded that not everybody has Facebook and not everybody likes or follows the township Facebook page. Mercado said he would speak to the website manager about more language on the website in the future.

In other news;

  • Council adopted an ordinance permitting office use and accessory vehicles of an electrician, painter, plumber and similar vendors for the Blackwood West REdevelopment Plan
  • Council approved funding that includes $59,900 for the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act Program and $512.136 to fund the salaries of four police officers from May 9, 2022 to May 8,2023.
  • During polling of the directors, Michelle Winters reminded people to be safe and not take unnecessary risk, because COVID numbers locally are on the rise.

The next Gloucester Township council meeting will be on Monday, Nov. 8, at the municipal building. The workshop begins at 6:30 p.m., and the regular session at 7:30. The meeting will be in person and livestreamed.

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