BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ An overflow crowd filled the meeting chambers for the Bernards Township Committee's reorganization meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2, with the main order of business featuring the swearing in of two new members, Democrat Joan Bannon Harris and Republican Joseph Esposito, and the naming of Committeewoman Carol Bianchi as township mayor for 2019.

Harris is the first Democrat to serve on the Township Committee since Bill Allen, who was present at Wednesday's swearing in ceremonies, served some 20 years ago.

Esposito, who was the top votegetter in November, is a Republican who is filling one of two vacancies created on the previously all-GOP governing body when Republicans John Malay and Carolyn Gaziano decided not to seek re-election last year.

Sign Up for Basking Ridge Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Township Committeeman James Baldassare, who began serving in January 2018, was selected as this year's deputy mayor.

In her first speech of the year, Bianchi -- who previously served township mayor in 2016 -- said she will continue the municipality's practice of remaining debt free, and following a "pay as you go" policy for such expenditures as road reconstruction and repairing pedestrian bridges around town. 

Bianchi said she is committed to open communications with residents, and this year plans to establish four task forces that will call upon both residents and officials, including a communications task force; "Vision 2020," a task force that will look at the township's priorities for the next decade; an affordable housing task force and a task force on the Millington Qarry.

[Updated] "The affordable housing task force will be a group of staff members and residents whose mission will be to coordinate advocacy for legislative change, compile and share information with the Township Committee and residents on the various ways to meet our affordable housing obligations in the future, and to assess the costs and risks of these alternatives," according to the official transcript of the mayor's speech. "In addition, professionals will recommend any ordinance changes to plan best for the future."

She also said a Quarry oversight committee to work with staff and ensure the rehabilitation plan is completed and to provide other relevant information to the Township Committee. 

She encouraged residents to apply to serve on one of the task forces.

Bianchi has served on the Township Committee since August 2013. James Baldassare, sworn onto the Township Committee in January 2018, was appointed as the township's deputy mayor.

In addressing the audience, Harris said she "hasn't stopped saying, 'Wow,' since Nov. 14," the day she was declared winner of one of the two seats on the Township Committee. She thanked the many supporters in the crowd who had worked so hard to get her elected, including members of the Township Democratic Committee. "I am very proud to be the first Democratic woman elected to the Township Committee."

"My hope is that we all see others as neighbors first because it really does take a village and a thousand points of light," Harris said. She later said that mental health issues would remain one of her major concerns.

Esposito said he wanted to express his sincere appreciation to the residents of the township who had supported him, as well as many others who had worked to support him during the campaign.

He said he is looking forward to a productive year, and thanked incoming Mayor Carol Bianchi for answering many questions about township business.

As outgoing mayor, Carpenter gave a speech that was a summation of 2018. "The state of Bernards Township has never been better," he said, and referred to the "challenge" of meeting state affordable housing mandates that resulted in zoning for 500 additional units of housing that will include about 100 affordable housing units. About 220 of those units have been proposed for Dewy Meadow Village, and 280 for a tract off Mountainview Boulevard.

He also noted that many longtime professionals had retired or moved in 2018, including Township Administrator Bruce McArthur, Police Chief Brian Bobowicz, and Terri Johnson, CFO and human resources director. However, under the township's efforts in planning succession, each of those leaving had trained their replacement for a seamless transition.

The transcript of Bianchi's speech is online.

Harris is pictured with, from left, her daughter, Samantha Harris; sister, Pat Bannon; son, Michael Harris, and Susan Jamieson, her sister, at her swearing in.

Esposito is pictured with, from left, his daughter Chloe; wife, Debra; daughter Daphne; and son Julien at his swearing in. 

Bianchi is pictured at her swearing in with, from left, her son, Nolan; daughter, Rita; daughter, Caroline; husband Rich; son, Mikey; former Bernards Mayor and Committeewoman Carolyn Kelly; her mother Rita Mauele Schiano, and father-in-law, Al Bianchi.