CHATHAM, NJ - A sign that the political divide on the Chatham Township Committee would carry over into 2015 came before the reorganization meeting even started Tuesday night, with committee member Robert Gallop requesting that newly elected members Mike Kelly and Karen Swartz switch their assigned seats.
Swartz, who stated she would support the retention of Kevin Sullivan as mayor during her campaign, moved to the opposite side, next to Deputy Mayor Curt Ritter. Kelly, who ran on a ticket with Kathy Abbott, who lost her primary bid by 13 votes, was seated next to Gallop.
After Kelly and Swartz were sworn in, Sullivan was nominated to retain his position as mayor and was voted in by a 4-1 count. A year ago, he won by a 3-2 vote.
Gallop cast the dissenting vote after making his opening remarks, perhaps including a not-so-subtle reference to Kelly in comparison to Ritter, who gained the position of deputy mayor as a newly elected member to the committee last year. Ritter had been the top vote getter when he was elected, out-polling Gallop in the same election.
"I suppose Mike (Kelly) could say as the top vote getter, he deserves to be in a leadership position," Gallop said. "The one thing I've learned about Mike is that he's a man of honesty and humility. It says a lot about his character that he's not using his victory to do anything more than create unity among the township committee. I know he rejects the notion that politics is a blood sport. At least here in Chatham, where we like to believe our elected officials hold themselves to the highest ethical standards and not the bare minimum. So with his graciousness, Mike offers a fresh start of working together for all of Chatham Township. Having said that, my vote is no."
Swartz then nominated Ritter for deputy mayor and he retained his position by the same 4-1 vote, with Gallop again casting the no vote.
Ritter confirmed that the 2014 meeting was still fresh in his mind when he paused to look at Gallop directly during his remarks to the public.
"Some of you may recall our reorganization meeting last year," Ritter said. "It was a contentious room to say the least. There were those who shouted and maintained the philosophy that he who shouts loudest is right. People said I had no right to think that I could serve as Deputy Mayor.
"I hope from my actions this past year and what we have accomplished these individuals may think differently today and that I’ve proven them wrong. As many of you may know, my primary focus this past year has been on communications."
Ritter outlined the steps he spearheaded to make the township committee more transparent, with more open communication with the public. Ritter noted that he created the Communications Committee and started the bi-monthly E-newsletter, which can be accessed on the township website.
Ritter also rebranded the emergency alert system to "ACT NOW – Alert Chatham Township Now," which has increased its registration over the last year. Ritter also increased the township's presence on facebook and twitter, as another way to communicate with residents.
"Overall I’d say it has been a very successful year, and while I may have taken the lead in many of these initiatives, I recognize the fact that they could not have been achieved if it were not for the additional support and efforts of my fellow committee members and for that I’d like to say, Thank You," Ritter said. "Looking ahead to 2015, there is still plenty more to do and many opportunities as we continue to work on Building a Better Chatham."
A portion of the remarks made by Mayor Kevin Sullivan at the Chatham Township Reorganization meeting Tuesday