METUCHEN – Sheri-Rose Rubin and Justin Manley leave indelible marks as they move on from their years of service in the borough.
Rubin served her last meeting for the Metuchen Borough Council on Dec. 13 and Manley served his last meeting for the Metuchen Board of Education on Dec. 14. Both chose not to seek re-election for their respective seats in November. Their terms end on Dec. 31.
Rubin said she is filled with conflicting emotions as she leaves the council for the second time. She previously served from 2009-11.
“My mother always told me to leave the party while I was still having fun, so this is my time to go this time,” she said, noting she simultaneously was “looking forward [to the last meeting] and dreading it at the same time.”
Rubin said it has been an “honor and privilege” to serve as councilwoman; however, “often struggled with the moments I didn’t know what was best or at times when people were disappointed, disgruntled, or felt wronged by my choices.”
“But my feelings are not really what matters because this position is only about doing what we think, given the options available, is best for the greatest number of residents,” she said. “There’s no personal gain, no payoff, no celebrity, no glory. All the people sitting up here are the true salts of the Earth. They would never do anything under any circumstances that is harmful to Metuchen. People often forget that we live here, too, we pay the same taxes, and we travel the same paths.”
As she moves on, Rubin said she is “wary about the darkness and self-absorption that is consuming some of us.”
“I urge you to remember that no elected official, no matter what they tell you, will turn this town to a magical hamlet where no one pays taxes and red lights always turn green,” she said. “But if we are honest, those things that seem to consume us are not that important. What is important is that we put our efforts into creating more opportunities, more equality, more inclusion, and more acceptance. We do that by looking outside ourselves and our own self-interests to welcome new residents and new ideas with kindness.”
From the 10 intervening years from her first term to her second term, Rubin said everything in the borough has changed for the better.
“To live in a safe, beautiful, growing, thriving community in 2021 after a global pandemic and a world in crisis is a gift that never should be taken for granted,” she said. “I did not accomplish all that I imagined in these short years, but I do feel like my time here has made a difference for some. There are some loose ends and I hope those that come after me will consider advocating for more inclusive technology, more walkable sidewalks and my one true desire to see a social service professional employed by the borough.”
Jay Muldoon, who served on the council with Rubin during her first term and is now the borough’s director of special projects, said among many highlights, he believes Rubin’s lasting legacy in the borough centers around accessibility.
He said the borough has grown from being “kind of being familiar” to now a “spectrum of caring” when discussing accessibility compliance for a project.
“Unfortunately, many times it was an afterthought,” he said. “It was a progression and I feel like we’re almost at the advocacy position now because we have started to incorporate accessibility into our thinking and into our plans … that’s the real impact. So, I think that is your legacy and hope the borough will continue to go further in that progression.”
Council President Linda Koskoski said the council will miss Rubin’s voice on the Accessibility and Human Relations committees. Rubin founded the Accessibility Committee.
“I think you bring a perspective that many of us forget to consider, and you always help us to consider [different perspectives],” she said.
Mayor Jonathan Busch said the borough is better off because of Rubin’s service, which he described as with “extraordinary grace, empathy and respect.”
“The way that she deliberates, the way that she helps us through problem solving, working through issues, working with different personalities, it’s really a model and I am so incredibly grateful,” he said.
There’s one thing that Manley’s colleagues can’t deny whether they voted for him or not for his two terms on board. And that is his passion for the students at the Metuchen School District.
Board President Brian Glassberg shared he and Manley were not friends when they attended high school together in Metuchen.
“He successfully ran for Town Council and I did not vote for him,” Glassberg said, which drew laughter from the dais.
Glassberg further said when Manley joined the board, he still wasn’t “his biggest fan.” But soon the two, over time, bonded over common goals.
“Justin is a fearless board leader, a lot smarter than he was in high school,” Glassberg joked.
But in all seriousness, Glassberg said Manley “is unafraid to be outspoken and confrontational when needed, but equally great at communicating about topics like district finances to mental health.”
“Some board members may remember Justin as a champion for ice hockey. I’ll remember him as [champion for] a mental health initiative and for working to modernize all our schools,” he said. “Justin put himself front and center and shared his own personal story so the public could understand the value of investing in mental health, and he put the Facilities Committee to work coming up with a plan to address the structural needs of our schools. That work continues today as we take steps towards a referendum to modernize our schools and increase accessibility to more children in Metuchen.”
Glassberg said for the record as he reflected on their revolutions to aging dads, he eventually did cast a vote for Manley.
Other members on the dais, including Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo, also reflected on Manley’s service to the board.
Caputo said he appreciated their smaller conversations about their kids, sports teams, and the best ways to affect student experiences.
“I’ll always appreciate that,” he said.
Manley said when he first was elected, he clearly didn’t understand the job of the board president and board members. He noted he and board member Jonathan Lifton, who was serving as president at the time, laugh about their heated exchanges in his first month or two on the board.
“I was over my skis saying things I was passionate for, but I didn’t understand the job you had until I had it,” he said. “Everyone at the dais, their heart is in the right place whether they are elected, whether they are administration, there isn’t anybody here who isn’t doing what is right for your kids and deeply passionate about this work.”
Manley said he realized serving on the board was where he belonged after serving a term on the council.
“Having been a graduate, having been a member of the town for a long time and having my kids go through this school district,” he said.
And as he moves on, Manley urges the community to support a future school referendum, which he said is “something that I think will fundamentally change this district for the next 20 to 30 years.”
The board is expected to discuss the school referendum in January.
“We’re at a flexion point as a community, we’re growing and now is the time to invest,” he said, noting he was part of the Bulldog Committee during the successful 2005 school referendum. “COVID slowed us down, but in essence really helped us do our homework. We got three years (2019-21) of preparation for this and I’m confident it’s the right thing for all of the schools, all students, both here and to come.”