BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ The Bernards Township Committee took another step into its future at the Jan. 2 annual township reorganization meeting, with the swearing in of a new member, Janice Fields, and the appointment of James Baldassare, Jr. as township mayor for 2020.

Baldassare has just wrapped up his second year on the Township Committee. Meanwhile, 2020's Deputy Mayor, Joseph Esposito, has just finished his first year on the Township Committee.

Fields, a Republican, was elected in a three-way race in November to replace retiring Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi, who declined to seek a third full term. Bianchi was also township mayor in 2019, and gave a departing speech in which she recognized each of the other four members of the committee as "bringing your unique talents to the Committee."

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The fifth member of the 2020 Township Committee is Joan Harris, who was elected just a year ago as the governing body's first Democratic member in two decades.

New mayor is third-generation resident

Although he is relatively new to the Township Committee, Baldassare is no stranger to the community.

Baldassare, married to township police officer Tracy Baldassare, said during his speech that he wants the township to remain a "strong [and] welcoming community" so current and future residents will also find it gratifying raising a family in Bernards Township. He said his children are fourth-generation township residents.

Nevertheless, the new mayor expressed his opinion that forced development due to affordable housing demands from the state could adversely impact the township's schools, traffic, emergency services and finances.

Baldassare said that he will reach beyond the township's government to try to come up with a bipartisan solution in Trenton that will give communities more control over how they meet affordable housing requirements. He noted that the township currently is protected from further forced development, although hundreds of market and affordable housing units are now on the books as the result of the last round of housing obligations. 

"We can only make progress on the challenges of overdevelopment and finding a solution to meeting future affordable housing mandates if we work together in a collaborative manner," he said.

Both Baldassare and Fields gave a nod to the previous Township Committee members and other officials who carried the municipality to a place where there is no debt in the local budget, a highly rated school district, and a fully developed park system.

"Bernards Township is a very good place," Baldassare said. "This is no accident and reflects years, indeed, decades, of good governance and solid leadership."

Baldassare said he would work with other Township Committee members to continue a fiscally conservative approach to government spending and indeed look for ways to efficiently reduce government spending without sacrificing the high quality of municipal services our residents have come to expect and are entitled to."

Baldassare also said he is a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, and believes the township can meet its challenges. He added he is grateful and humble to be mayor.

During her comments at the meeting, Fields thanked residents "for giving me the opportunity to serve you," and said she is looking forward to working with her fellow committee members. She said she was happy the event of taking a seat on the Township Committee was "a family affair" that included her husband, Barry, and sons Avery and Jeremy. She also thanked Nancy Ferrara, her campaign manager.

The mayor and committee appointments for the new year are listed on the Bernards Township website. Some of the appointments are longstanding. Both Township Attorney John Belardo and Township Engineer Tom Timko thanked the governing body for their reappointments for their 23rd and 12th years, respectively.

Carpenter now longest-serving member of Township Committee

The most veteran member of the Township Committee at this point is John Carpenter, who most recently served as mayor in 2018. Carpenter said this is his 15th year on Township Committee. "It's been the most wonderful experience [and] I am looking forward to the year ahead."

Bianchi, who received a warm sendoff from both the audience and her fellow Township Committee members, said 2019 had been a busy year, and mentioned the appointment, with their missions accomplished, of several task forces' the return of work sessions and a second public comment opportunity at Township Committee meetings; and the continuation of the township's debt free status as some of the year's highlights.