There were smiles all around as two Lawrence Township Councilmen-elect were sworn into office for four-year terms and a new mayor was selected at the council’s annual reorganization meeting Jan. 1.
Township Councilman-elect Christopher Bobbitt was sworn into office for his second full term, and Township Councilman-elect James Kownacki was sworn into office for his fifth term. Bobbitt was appointed to fill out an unexpired term in 2015 and then elected to his first full term in 2017.
Both are Democrats.
Bobbitt was sworn into office by Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson. His wife, Tiffany Smith, and their children, Frances Bobbitt and Henry Bobbitt, were at his side.
Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski swore in Kownacki, whose granddaughter, Jaidyn Mickus, held the Bible for him.
Once the newly-constituted Lawrence Township Council was seated, it was time to select one of their own to serve a two-year term in the ceremonial post of mayor.
The mayor presides over the Township Council meetings and signs documents, but has little day-to-day responsibility.
Lawrence Township Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis nominated Township Councilman John Ryan to the post of mayor.
Ryan always strives to make Lawrence a better place and he tries to build consensus, Lewis said. He listens to his colleagues on the Township Council and he listens to the residents. He puts the community “above all else,” she said.
Bobbitt offered the second on Ryan’s nomination. Ryan is a friend and neighbor, who Bobbitt also described as a “tireless worker who is passionate about the town and the people.”
The motion to elect Ryan as the mayor was unanimous.
With his hand on the Bible and surrounded by his wife, daughters, son-in-law and grandsons, Ryan was sworn into office by Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli.
In his first remarks as mayor, Ryan thanked Kownacki, the former mayor, and the rest of the Lawrence Township Council, Nerwinski and Municipal Clerk Kathy Norcia. He said he is looking forward to working with them, along with the rest of the township employees – including those who the public does not see.
“Two years ago, Mayor Kownacki stated that we are a team. This couldn’t be more true during these trying times,” Ryan said.
“I would like to add that it’s more like a family. We laugh, we disagree and we may argue, but in the end, we come together for the good of the township,” he said.
Ryan said he has a few goals that he would like to accomplish in the next two years, beginning with the streetscape improvements along Brunswick Pike between Lake Drive and the Brunswick Circle.
The township received $700,000 in state grant funding for the streetscape beautification project, and “those monies will be a great asset to our town. It will look wonderful,” he said.
Ryan said he would like Lawrence Township to continue to reduce its carbon footprint. Solar panels have been installed on township-owned buildings, and the township bought two electric vehicles. But with more grant money, “I know we can do better,” he said.
And as is the custom during the Lawrence Township Council reorganization meeting, each council member was given a chance to make some comments.
Kownacki thanked Nerwinski and his Township Council colleagues for “being here through the rough times” of the past two years that were dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone pulled together, and “we got through it,” he said.
Bobbitt offered his thanks to the residents for trusting him to serve on the Township Council for the next four years, and the municipal staff for making the job of serving on the council “much easier.”
Bobbitt also thanked Lewis for her friendship and guidance, and Kownacki, who was his running mate and who also offered guidance – along with the occasional “stern word.” He said he considered Kownacki as his “older brother.”
“I know the town is in good hands. We are all family,” Lewis said, as she congratulated Bobbitt, Kownacki and Ryan.
Lewis also commented on the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. No one could have imaged its effects, but the residents and the municipal staff have learned to adapt, she said.
Township Councilman Michael Powers congratulated Bobbitt, Kownacki and Ryan. The township has been “truly blessed” to have had the leadership that it has under Nerwinski, Norcia and Municipal Attorney David Roskos.
The municipal staff has been “truly amazing” as it has coped with the COVID-19 pandemic, Powers said.