Three New Council Members and Staff Changes Highlight Rocky Hill’s Reorganization Meeting
By Rikki Massand | January 9, 2022
Rocky Hill Borough Council swore in three new council members during its January 3 reorganization meeting, held virtually. The council is now composed of five Democratic party members, with the sixth council member (Susan Bristol) an Independent. Mayor Robert Uhrik, also Democrat, begins the last year of his current four-year term.
Denise Varga and Edgar L. “Trey” Delaney ran unopposed for borough council in the 2021 November general election. They were each elected to three-year terms. Former Council President Irene Battaglia and Connie Hallman ended their service on December 31.
Borough council also appointed Rocky Hill beekeeper Jonathan Lee to a one-year term. Lee fills the unexpired term of Councilwoman Rasheeda Pretto, who submitted her official resignation prior to the 2022 Reorganization meeting. It is unknown why Pretto resigned.
Council had 30 days to fill Pretto's vacancy – but it took less than 30 minutes.
According to state law and following input from Peg Schaffer, chair of the Somerset County Democrats, the position was to be filled after consideration of three local Democratic candidates as Mayor Bob Uhrik explained and introduced them.
Councilwoman Pretto was elected on the Democratic line and her term ends at the end of 2022. When it is a partisan position, the party – which is the Somerset County Democratic Committee because Rocky Hill does not have an active local Democratic party – makes the selection from the same party.
The candidates for the one-year unexpired term were: Alex Obe of Montgomery Avenue, owner of IronCore Bootcamp on Washington Street (in the old John Shedd Pottery mill); Crescent Avenue resident Kenneth Rizzi; and veteran IT manager Jonathan Lee of Toth Lane (a former contributor to the Rocky Hill Report in The Montgomery News and husband of the editor, Barbara A. Preston.)
Mayor Uhrik said he "went around to ask a few people, and I applaud each of the three residents who’ve thrown their names in and said they’ll step up to the plate."
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Susan Bristol made a nomination for Lee to fill the council vacancy for the entire year, as Pretto’s position is in its final year and is up for grabs in the next (November 8) election.
Council member Bristol commented on Lee’s participation in many of the council meetings online as well as when the borough met in-person pre-COVID. She said he will add knowledge of local topics and environmental issues, as well as attributes from his technical and IT experience.
Bristol was also interested in seeing the position filled as soon as possible to start the year, favorable for bringing the three new borough council members “up to speed” so the course of Rocky Hill’s official business gets going sooner rather than later. Mayor Uhrik thanked Bristol for helping council round-out right away.
“I am so glad she suggested moving forward, as we had this come up and would have had to wait to hold another meeting. Kudos to Councilwoman Bristol, I felt the same way and I am excited that we’re moving forward with a full council,” he said.
Lee was soon confirmed by an unanimous vote, and Borough Clerk Rebecca Newman administered the oath of office to him.
Minutes later Lee was appointed as chairperson of the borough’s Public Safety & Emergency Services Committee, a role which Pretto held in 2021, with Denise Varga as the newly appointed deputy chair of that committee.
Other council assignments: Varga will lead the Streets & Roads Committee, a position Councilwoman Hallman held in 2021, and Varga will serve as a Class III Planning Board member. Councilman Delaney leads the borough's Finance & Insurance Committee, which Councilwoman Battaglia previously chaired.
Councilman Tom Bremner Elected Council President, New OEM Coordinator Appointed
Councilwoman Jenn Walsh nominated Susan Bristol to become the new president of Rocky Hill Borough Council. Bristol politely declined the nomination and instead nominated Crescent Avenue resident Thomas Bremner (president of the Rocky Hill First Aid & Rescue Squad) to become the next council president. He accepted, and all eligible members of council voted to elect him to the role for 2022.
Council President Bremner also was confirmed as the new chairperson of council’s Administration, Records & Communications Committee, with Councilman Lee as its deputy chair, after Bremner noted how Lee’s technology experience over several decades will be beneficial to the borough in that realm.
Bremner will also serve as the 2022 deputy chair on the Finance & Insurance Committee, with Trey Delany as its chairman.
Zach Zorochin, a Grove Street resident, has been appointed as Rocky Hill’s new Emergency Management Coordinator (OEM coordinator) with a three-year term, through December 31, 2024. Zorochin is an active member of the Rocky Hill Fire Department, and one of Councilwoman Varga’s neighbors.
The other borough OEM team members, each confirmed for a year-long term, are Deputy Coordinator/Deputy Director Patrick Dedella, Deputy Coordinator Patrick Resch, and Deputy Coordinator: Erik Mickelsen. Mickelsen was also re-appointed as the borough fire official.
Council also confirmed Borough Engineer Rob Martucci (Martucci Engineering), Borough Attorney Steven K. Warner of firm Ventura, Miesowitz, Keough & Warner, and Deputy Borough Clerk Christine Witt for annual appointments, through December 31.
Borough Clerk Rebecca Newman is resigning effective January 31, and no replacement has been identified, therefore the clerk position for 2022 was not a yearly appointment made at the reorganization meeting. Additionally, borough consulting planner Tamara Lee has retired and did not seek reappointment for 2022, and the annual appointment for Rocky Hill Borough Planner also remains vacant at this time.
Mayor Bob Uhrik noted that this may represent an unprecedented period of change for Rocky Hill’s municipal staff and local government, with three new Council members sworn in, a new Council president elected, a new CFO appointed on December 20, and changes to the Clerk and Planner positions looming.
The mayor also commented on the pandemic and the Omicron variant’s surge in New Jersey. Rocky Hill Borough will not resume holding council meetings in-person in the foreseeable future.
“Besides our organizational struggles, the municipality, our state, our country, and the world begin this year experiencing the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. What we thought was finally letting up has reappeared, and it’s confounding how we live. COVID is an invisible storm and we realize it can be just as damaging as any other natural disaster – I urge everyone to take our public health precautions most seriously, and stay well!” he said.
Schedule of Council Meetings Set
Rocky Hill also formalized its 2022 schedule of council meetings for the year, with first and third Monday nights at 7 pm established, except for the two Monday holidays early in the year, when council will meet on Wednesday January 19 with Martin Luther King Jr. Day ahead on January 17. Next month, President’s Day (February 21) creates a need for council to meet on a Wednesday again, February 23 at 7 pm.
Per tradition, council will again meet just once during every month of summer/early fall; June 20, July 18, August 15, and September 19.
The 2023 Borough Council Reorganization meeting was also confirmed for January 2, 2023.