January 2021 Mayor’s Annual Address – 2020 Year in Review

Pioneer Strong

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this incredible PIONEER STRONG community. 2020 was the beginning of a new decade, our Tricentennial, the 300th Anniversary of the arrival of our first settlers here in New Providence. It was full of hope, excitement, and marked a proud long legacy of excellence and community. With year long celebrations, festivities, and community events planned, it promised to be a pinnacle and historic year for us here in New Providence. Within weeks of 2020’s arrival, the world and life as we knew it changed forever. The Pandemic descended upon us like a plague, bringing fear, heartbreak, isolation, economic hardship, illness, and death. Once filled streets were empty, thriving businesses were closing, momentous occasions went uncelebrated in our usual way, games went unplayed, work went undone, our bustling community was almost at a standstill. The future and life as we knew it, seemed so uncertain. It has been devastating beyond words, physically, mentally, and spiritually. 2020 was not the year we had planned. Like our first settlers in 1720, our limits were pressed, our patience tested, our resolves taxed, but we persevered. We experienced an incredible self awakening, re-shifting our priorities, and reconnecting to people, and the world around us in a way we never knew was possible. It has definitely changed life as we know it, but it has also brought forth such strength and perseverance in each of us that we never knew we had, as a people, and as a community. We came together and we worked together, united in our commitment to survive, doing all we could to help each other and to try to help make things better. Our Pioneer Strength shined like it never did before. Neighbors helping neighbors, businesses and organizations helping and supporting each other, and our community pulling together with the most generous and compassionate outpouring of help, donations, medical supply contributions, device and supplies collections, sewing, mask making and distributing, sandwich and meal preparations and contributions, grocery shopping assistance, buddy check-ins, inspirational calls, messages, pictures, lighting up our windows in support and in remembrance, and such incredible displays of human kindness and compassion unlike anything we have ever seen before. 

With each passing day, our strength grew despite discouraging numbers, relentless closures and lockdowns, and strict safety protocols. Our community stepped up courageously. Our heroic first responders, emergency management, our police, our volunteer fire department, our incredible EMS, all of our medical personnel, our essential workers, borough employees, volunteers, parents, children, business owners, organizations, our schools, our houses of worship, and our residents heard the call and came together in Pioneer Spirit to face the effects of this pandemic head on with strength, courage, and determination. And now finally, as we close out this unprecedented year, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is true hope awaiting us this year. And there is genuine faith we will get through this. Pioneer Strong!

We lost so many along the way. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with our lost, afflicted, and with their families. They will never be forgotten. In our loss, we found some comfort and inner strength to continue our good work and to carry on with a grateful heart. 

There is so much to be thankful and grateful for: everyone who stepped up during this tremendous time of need, the parents who held it together for their children continually trying to create some sense of normalcy and stability, adjusting schedules, and limiting work often at tremendous personal and professional sacrifice, educators who kept educating even when their own children and families needed them, the essential workers who kept on working despite fear and danger, the medical personnel and first responders who selflessly put their lives and their personal safety on the line to protect us, and living in this incredible community that never stopped even for a moment trying to help make things better, especially for our most vulnerable, and those of us in most need and suffering.

Emergency Management’s COVID Response efforts have been exemplary. We are thankful and so grateful for our incredible police department without whom we never would have gotten through this year. We welcomed our new Chief Theresa Gazaway, the first female Union County Police Chief, who literally hit the ground running. Chief Gazaway created new COVID patrol schedules, revised policing policies and procedures, and tackled Tropical Storm Isaias, on top of COVID response. We promoted Dan Henn to Captain, Sean Bubb to Lieutenant, and Chad Wilson, Joe Parlapiano, and Jason Labaska to Sergeant. Dave Rodriguez was appointed to a newly formed position of Community Relations Officer. We thank our New Providence Police Department for their continued outstanding service to our community and for always helping to keep us safe.

We are also so grateful for our outstanding Volunteer Fire Department. They never missed a call this year, and there were many. Special thanks to Chief Mike Piana, who served loyally for the past five years. We welcome Vinnie Wycko as our New Fire Chief and his newly elected officers. We wish them all well, and proudly congratulate our first ever female Fire Captain, Deborah Golden. We thank our Volunteer Fire Department for their outstanding service to our community.

This year especially, we are beyond grateful for our incredible EMS who have bravely stepped up above and beyond during this pandemic fearlessly, selflessly, facing this virus, square on, every single day to provide emergency health services whenever and wherever needed. We are also very happy to report that our EMS and front line workers have been receiving the first of two rounds of the vaccine. We are all so proud and grateful for their heroic service. This year we lost our EMS matriarch, our beloved Teresa Nell, who was one of the most caring and compassionate people you will ever know. Her kindness and dedication to outstanding service to community will never ever be forgotten. May she rest in peace. 

We would also like to thank Chief Anthony Buccelli for his 40 years of dedicated and loyal service to our community, laying a firm foundation for our police department. Special thanks to Deputy DPW Manager Bob Gelormini and our DPW Building Foreman Greg Carter for their many decades of dedicated loyal service to our community. With our sincerest thanks and gratitude, we wish them well in their retirement. We would also like to thank our Borough Administrator, Doug Marvin, for his outstanding service to our community as he plans to retire the end of this month. We are so grateful for his leadership and guidance all these years, especially during these pandemic times, and we wish him well. We welcome Bernadette Cuccaro, who is currently serving as our Assistant Borough Administrator. Her extraordinary talents have impressed everyone she has ever worked with, and we look forward to her leadership and insights in her new role as Borough Administrator later this month.

Special thanks to our dedicated borough employees, the life blood of our community, who were able to continue to take care of our day-to-day operations, managing all the restrictions, while providing a very high level of service. We are so grateful. Our Building Department still processed permits and did inspections. Our Courts were still operational, virtually. The Administrative Office still processed licenses and marriages, and handled all the election responsibilities, as well as all of our financial commitments. Even with all the restrictions and mandates, our Recreation Department still managed to provide recreational services to our residents under impossible conditions. We still do not know how they managed it, but we are grateful for it. Even though the building was physically closed, our Senior Center Services remained operational and were thankfully able to assist our senior community. Our New Providence Memorial Library, despite being physically closed, continued to provide many outstanding programs and services for our community. Our DPW, our unsung heroes, continually serviced our community through this pandemic, tropical storms and snow, never missing a beat, and always there to help keep our roads open and our community running smoothly. The Board of Education, Administration, Dr Miceli, teachers, and staff, worked tirelessly under impossible conditions, to help keep our schools open while ensuring everyone’s safety. They are all to be commended. Thank you to all of our Volunteer Boards and Committees for staying focused and doing all they could to help and support our community. So much was planned and had to be canceled, deferred, or reworked, but so much was still accomplished.

Most importantly, we give our whole hearted thanks and appreciation to our Borough Public Nurse, Jennifer Aranda, who spends countless hours working closely with our Board of Health, our schools, and our community, constantly reading through state mandates, and keeping us up to date with community case numbers, as well as implementing contact tracing. Her work ethic, and love of community, is to be commended. 

Despite all of the hardships we all had to manage this past year, we were thankfully still able to work on many of our Borough projects. Construction has been completed on Harmony Park located next to Veterans Park on South Street. Harmony Park is a family-friendly, recreational space with large hands-on musical instruments, and will be a nice addition to our community. A dedication will be planned shortly. The intersection of Kline Boulevard and Union Avenue was reconfigured for public safety. The Grove Terrace Field should be ready for the spring. Lincoln Field renovations will begin in early 2021. Tennis court renovations will be completed in spring of 2021. Acquisition of property on the corner of First and South Streets to expand Veterans and Harmony Park is expected to close in 2021.

Thank you to each and every one of our Borough Council Members for their dedicated service to New Providence. The countless hours, meetings, endless phone calls, and zooms have been exhausting and trying, but not even once did anyone complain or not step up when needed. Each and every Borough Council Member went far above and beyond their call of duty, and far beyond anything they thought they signed up for. This Borough Council has been so supportive, especially during these trying times, working so well together, hand in hand, with our Borough Administration, to help come up with new and innovative ideas, under extreme pressure, and under impossible conditions. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of them, because truly, we could not have dealt with everything that came our way this year without this team effort. Pioneer Strong! 

Tonight we bid farewell to our long serving Borough Council President, Dr Bob Robinson, who has generously served our community with his whole heart and soul. We thank him for his loyal and dedicated service, for his leadership, for his guidance, and especially for his friendship. I will miss his early morning calls, his midday check-ins, and his evening follow ups, always lock-step with this Council, our Administration, and with me. We accomplished so much together, and we all wish him well. New Providence is a better place because of Bob Robinson. He is a man who truly made a difference. 

Tonight we warmly welcome back Councilwoman Nadine Geoffroy, who has been a tremendous community contributor, and we welcome our new Borough Council Member, Lisa McKnight, who joins us with an impressive resume of community service and experience. Lisa will make a wonderful addition to our team and we all look forward to working closely together for the betterment of New Providence.

2020 was a year of unprecedented Pioneer Strength, incredible determination, compassion, and courage. Proudly now as we move ahead into 2021, we have a long line of women in key leadership roles and positions in our Borough. This is a proud, uplifting, historic, and momentous moment for us here in New Providence. Thank you to all who support, encourage, and celebrate women in prominent positions. Our community is better for it!

Thank you for allowing me this great honor of serving you as Mayor of our great community. Please keep our lost, afflicted, their families, all of our dedicated first responders, emergency management, medical personnel, and essential workers in your thoughts and prayers as we round this corner. We look forward together to bluer skies ahead. Thank you for keeping it together and for staying strong. We will get through this! PIONEER STRONG! 

May God Bless New Providence and All of You. 

– Mayor Al Morgan