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Perry, Hibell selected as mayor, deputy mayor in Middletown for 2023

MIDDLETOWN – Tony Perry and Rick Hibell have been elected by their fellow members of the Township Committee to serve as Middletown’s mayor and deputy mayor, respectively, for 2023.

The members of the governing body held their 2023 reorganization meeting on Jan. 1 at Town Hall. The meeting was live-streamed to the community.

At the start of the meeting, Hibell and Kevin Settembrino, two incumbents who won new three-year terms in the November general election, were sworn in to begin serving those terms.

Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners Director Thomas Arnone administered the oath of office to both municipal officials.

Hibell and Settembrino join Ryan Clarke, Kimberly Kratz and Perry on the Township Committee. All five members of the governing body are Republicans.

Following the swearing in of Hibell and Settembrino, Perry and Hibell were unanimously elected by the committee members to serve as mayor and deputy mayor, respectively, for 2023.

This will be Perry’s fifth consecutive year as Middletown’s mayor — the longest serving mayor in more than a half-century — and Hibell’s third consecutive year as deputy mayor.

Perry was administered the mayor’s oath of office by Capt. Edward L. Callahan, the commanding officer of Naval Weapons Station Earle, and Hibell was administered the deputy mayor’s oath of office by Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.

During his mayor’s address, Perry touched on a number of issues, including a planned veterans housing project on Leonardville Road.

“As we ended 2022, the township is completing the environmental cleanup on the property and we voted to officially turn the property over to the Middletown Housing Authority with approved plans to construct this amazing new facility. I want to thank our Veterans Affairs Committee chairman and the committee members for their assistance and support for this project,” Perry said.

“Last year, I stressed the desperate need for Middletown and governments at every level to accept and address the often overlooked and under-reported effect the (coronavirus) pandemic had on our students. While this issue impacted young people across our nation, I stated that we could not afford to wait for a national solution; that the answer could come from right here in Middletown.

“The township immediately formed the Next Generation Support Program, which used the American Rescue Plan funding to ensure our students received the necessary tutoring and support they lost when schools were closed or using virtual learning.

“The shocking and upsetting reality was soon understood. Of the more than 250 Middletown students who were signed up for our program, 99% of them were measured to have significant learning loss as a result of the pandemic.

“That is the next generation of business owners, of tradespeople, of athletes. That is a generation of Americans who have all been impacted. There are millions of students now trying to catch up for time lost and we will not sit by,” Perry said.

“While our program in 2022 topped more than $75,000 to implement, we are not stopping there. I am very proud to announce today that Middletown is preparing to match and if we must, exceed last year’s allocation to ensure every child is taken care of, to make sure every parent feels their child will succeed and to create a generation of Americans ready to shape the future.

“Now, while on the subject of our students, I want to point to another victory for Middletown that was accomplished.

“After years of opposition by previous boards of education, together the township and the board were able to quickly come together in the aftermath of the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, to place a Class III police officer in every Middletown public school.

“This unprecedented effort was completed in less than three months and without the leadership and partnership of board President Frank Capone and Police Chief Craig Weber, this accomplishment would not have been possible.

“Every day since the beginning of the school year, a Middletown police officer has stood guard at every school, but more importantly, they have become a part of the fabric of the district, they have become part of the community and while we pray they are never needed to act, we are grateful to have them in place should they be needed. Our students need to learn, our teachers need to teach and our parents need to have piece of mind,” Perry said.

Continuing, the mayor said, “On the subject of public safety, Middletown has been at the forefront of curbing the auto theft wave – in partnership with our police department and Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden – that has struck our town, county and state.

“Unfortunately, New Jersey’s bail reform policies have created this lack of law and order. As a result, we have had to increase patrols in targeted areas and have a police officer assigned full-time to the New Jersey State Police Auto Theft Task Force.

“Unfortunately, our judicial system has been hamstrung by policies and policymakers that result in no consequences for illegal behavior. What message are we sending? Are we a nation of laws or a nation of chaos?

“The time for empty talk, promises or pointless legislation is over. Trenton created this disaster and Trenton should fix this before tragedy strikes. This week, Middletown police will continue their enhanced presence in neighborhoods frequently targeted by these criminals.

“But the Middletown taxpayer should not be required to pay the tab for the continued reckless policy-making by Trenton. This week, Middletown will file a complaint against the state with the Council on Local Mandates to pay for their mess, to pay for this insanity.

“This governing body will not be quiet, we will not sit by. The safety and security of our residents should the be top priority of every elected official. Middletown has long enjoyed its placement as one of the safest towns not just in New Jersey, but in America, and we will restore peace and security to our town with or without Trenton’s help,” the mayor said.

“After the successful implementation of the voter approved open space referendum in 2021, the township has prioritized the preservation of our open space and enhancements of our recreational facilities.

“We are currently working in good faith with Saint Mary’s Church to preserve and use the existing fields at Mater Dei (Pre) for recreational sports leagues, all the while preventing any possible development of the area.

“The dog park at Tindall Park in place of the old mini golf course will be ready for use this year … and will be a destination for dog owners across the town. Our new skate park at Kunkel will be quickly assembled and ready for new life at this beautiful park.

“Finally, as always, fiscal discipline will remain the top priority of this Township Committee and not only will we continue to renew that commitment, but we will take an active approach in finding new ways outside of the traditional property taxes to lessen the burden on our residents,” Perry said.

During the 2023 reorganization meeting, fire department and emergency medical services officers were sworn in to their positions for the upcoming year.

And, residents who have been selected by municipal officials to serve as volunteers on Middletown’s boards, committees and commissions were announced.

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