At the Hopewell Township Committee on Monday, August 3, 2020, Committee Member Julie Blake announced that Hopewell Township has seen an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases. Her Board of Health report indicated that five new cases were reported as of Friday, July 31 and two in the week prior, following several weeks with no new cases.
Mayor Kristin McLaughlin responded: “I am concerned that our strong desire to live the lives that we were living last February will overcome the reality that we simply cannot. I am asking everyone to please continue to wear your masks. I remind people that your nose also needs to be covered so please wear your masks properly and think about where you are, who you are with, and how close you are. Please let’s continue to do what we can to keep our communities safe — we don’t want to have to do this forever.”
The Committee unanimously approved an ordinance establishing the position and salary of the Township’s new police director, necessitated by the vacancy left by former Chief Lance Maloney’s retirement on August 1. (For more, see this article.)
“This ordinance is designed to allow some breathing room to talk about what we want,” Blake said. The director will serve as a liaison and should be “sensitive to all of the issues including racial justice, police brutality nationally and locally, as well as being an advocate for the police.”
“The default is to have a police chief,” explained Township attorney, Steve Goodell, “And a director is appointed in the absence of a chief until the governing body makes the decision to appoint a [new] chief.”
With the approval of this ordinance, the Township will have a director as well as a head of the Hopewell Township Police Department (“HTPD”), explained Goodell. Since August 1, prior to ordinance approval, the Township head of the police had been “acting police chief,” Lieutenant Bill Springer. When the Township hires a director, the acting police chief position will instead be the “acting officer in charge.”
The director serves a civilian function, while the officer in charge is a member of the force and serves a police function. The two are different in terms of duties and perspective, according to Goodell. For example, the director cannot oversee internal affairs which falls under the purview of the chief of acting officer in charge.
Salary was approved at between $79,000 and $159,000.
As part of the transition, the Mercer County Prosecutor will establish a monitor through its own office at no cost to the Township. The monitor will “oversee the Township’s internal affairs function until such time as a new chief is promoted or until the prosecutor determines, in his discretion, that the internal affairs function can be handled by other Township officers,” according to the memorandum of understanding between the parties.
“This step puts outside accountability in place,” said Committee member Kevin Kuchinski.
The Township unanimously approved the hire of a new health officer, Dawn Marling, who will replace Stephanie Carey, head of the Montgomery Health Department, who has served the Township during the vacancy created by the prior health officer’s resignation.
“We have been in need of a health officer and we were put in a tough spot in the beginning of COVID with Bob English leaving us but we put a pause button on (like we are doing with the police department) to reassess,” said Blake. “And this has been a stressful time to assess… we found out we should hire a health officer and then determine what needs we have — high environmental needs and an aging population — so we need someone who will fill all these needs with creative ideas for social services and seniors. We are honored that she chose us.”
Committee member Michael Ruger reminded the public to participate in the 2020 Census, and let people know what to expect regarding census workers. For more, see this link. As of the date of the meeting, 77% of the Township households have already responded.
The Township heard the first reading of its new amendments to the Shade Tree ordinance. The effort and introduction was applauded by the Committee as a substantial number of the regulations had not been updated since 1974. The updates include planting standards for trees and landscaping regulations to “promote the use of native plants and require additional plantings on sites to further beautify the Township and enhance wildlife habitat,” according to the ordinance.
The Committee also unanimously passed an environmental justice resolution “in support of NJ Legislative Bills S-232/A-2212 which require NJDEP to evaluate environmental and public health impacts of certain facilities on overburdened communities when reviewing certain permit applications.”
“African Americans are 77% more likely to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste,” said Committee member Courtney Peters-Manning, who explained that the legislation is supported by State Senator Shirley Turner and Assembly-member Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.
“I am encouraged – we can add our enthusiastic voices,” said McLaughlin.
The next Hopewell Township Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday August 17, 2020.