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Local Officials, a New Mayor, and the First Elected African-American Leader, Take Oaths of Office

By Barbara A. Preston l JANUARY 12, 2021

Local elected officials Devra Keenan (D), Montgomery Township's new mayor, and Shelly L. Bell (D), the first African American elected to Township Committee, took their places on the dais on Thursday.

Montgomery Township Mayor Devra Keenan with new Township Committee Member Shelly L. Bell. Photo by Geoff Toledo.

Keenan's first remarks as the mayor were to congratulation Bell on her historic election. "She is a ground breaker as the first African American to serve on township committee," she said. "Thank you for stepping up to lead this community as part of your long term commitment to public service. We are thankful to have your perspective and expertise on the township's governing body."

Keenan also thanked her predecessor, Sadaf Jaffer, who served two terms as mayor of Montgomery Township and is under consideration for a run for NJ State Assembly. Jaffer will continue to serve the community as a member of the newly formed Inclusion and Equity Committee, with Committee Bell as the township committee liaison.

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"I believe the year 2021 will be the most consequential for our township," Keenan added. "In the short term, we will continue to work as hard as we can to keep our residents safe during the pandemic. We will do everything we can to support (our health department) as we roll out vaccines."

"We must also continue to look out for others and take care of those Montgomery residents who are facing severe economic hardship. I am heartened by the outpouring of generous gifts to our food pantry, from residents and civic groups," she said.

She also gave a special thanks to Deputy Mayor Marvin Schuldiner for working with the Monty CARES ( initiative, which works to support community members in need.

"While me meet immediate pressing challenges, we must also also prepare ourselves in 2021 for the very difficult world that will emerge after this pandemic. If this difficult year has taught us anything, it is the importance of community — especially our connections to neighbors, green space, and resources."

"The pandemic has caused many people to discover ... the outdoors, nature, local agriculture, trails and sidewalks, and the value of our local businesses. Many have also gained a new appreciation of our schools and teachers," Keenan said. "These are the same reasons many of us chose to live in Montgomery. We need to double down on protecting our environment, and connecting our community.

"In the coming year, I will be prioritizing environmental protection, open space and trails for walking and bicycling, to reduce flooding, protect our clean water, promote green energy, and enhance our deer management strategy."

"We must help our businesses recover, support our farms, and rethink the mix of retail, office building, and home offices. For many of us, working from home will be the new normal, and that will change our needs. We need to make sure we have the necessary digital infrastructure required for success."

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Mayor Keenan also plugged the new municipal center a "true center of community connectivity." She will appoint a steering committee to make sure the municipal center is on track to achieve this goal.

"One of the most visible concerns I want to address in the community are the abandoned buildings near the 206/518 intersection. They are eyesores, safety hazards, and a lost opportunity, given their central location. The days of sitting on our hands while buildings crumble around us — waiting for the owners to do the right thing and take care of their properties — are over."

Other local officials sworn in on Thursday include Marvin Schuldiner (D), who will serve a second term as deputy mayor of Montgomery Township. In Rocky Hill Borough, newly elected council members Susan Bristol (I) and Tom Bremner (D), took the oath of office during a virtual meeting last week.

The Montgomery Planning Board elected Dave Campeas on Monday to serve another term as chairperson and Sarah Roberts will serve as vice chairperson.


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