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CAPE MAY - Zack Mullock, Cape May’s newly installed mayor, wasted no time putting his electoral victory in the context in which he sees it. 

“We have taken our town back,” Mullock said, speaking as one who presents himself as part of an effort at rescuing the Victorian-heritage city from the grips of partisan politics that served “development interests.” He promised a “good, non-partisan government” that would “give the city back to those who built it.”

For most municipalities, reorganization meetings are a time for routine reappointments, ceremonies, and promises of a steady hand on the helm. In Cape May, the meeting had its share of reappointments and what could pass for a ceremony in pandemic days, but it also witnessed change that brought many new faces to governance roles in the county’s namesake resort.

Mullock and newly elected Councilmember Christopher Bezaire took their seats on the governing body. Mullock vacated a council seat when he won the election as mayor, and Lorraine Baldwin was appointed to that seat for the coming year. 

Baldwin, an education specialist by training, arrives with 20 years of experience on Dennis Township’s Planning Board, as well as having served on its school board. If she wishes to continue beyond 2021, she will have to stand for election, in November.

With the council swearing-in ceremonies concluded, the five-member body, including carryover members Stacy Sheehan and Shaine Meier, moved to select Sheehan as deputy mayor.

Mullock and Sheehan, who lost innumerable votes by a 3-to-2 margin in the previous year, are in a position to build the consensus leadership promised during Mullock’s campaign.

The theme of “change” continued, as the new council selected veteran municipal hand Michael Voll as interim city manager. Voll, a New Jersey Certified Public Manager, served 16 years as Middle Township’s mayor and was township manager in Lower Township. He replaces Jerry Inderwies Jr., who stepped down after one year as city manager.

Changes in the principal players continued with the announcement of a new city solicitor, Christopher Gillin-Schwartz, Esq. Gillin-Schwartz assumes the position previously held by Frank Corrado. 

Mullock pointed to Gillin-Schwartz’s background as a partner in the same law firm as Corrado, emphasizing the continuity the appointment maintains. A look at Gillin-Schwartz’s LinkedIn page shows that he established himself in his law firm in September 2020.

The new council lost no time in implementing changes that Mullock and Sheehan proposed last year, losing each time in a split 3-2 vote.

An ordinance was introduced, affirming rotating council member presence at monthly meetings between the city manager and department heads. 

Overtime reports will have council review, advisory committee meetings will be livestreamed for public access, and the meeting time of council sessions was changed from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the appointed Tuesdays. Each of these measures was a vote lost by Mullock and Sheehan, in 2020.

Mullock also indicated that the city would be moving forward with plans for in-house engineering services. The firm of Mott MacDonald, which served as city engineer, was replaced by Engineering Design Associates, P.A., a firm which agreed to serve while the city implements its in-house plans.

Mullock’s State of the City address focused on the theme of change. By implication, he criticized the preceding administration of Clarence Lear, promising to restore transparency to local government. The language comes as the city’s Taxpayers Association launched its transparency initiative.

Mullock listed, what he called, a “daunting number of projects.” These include moving quickly on a firehouse with a bond referendum approved by the voters, in November, confronting financial shortfalls in the water/sewer and tourism utilities, addressing needed capital spending issues, and appointing a task force to “facilitate a settlement” of the Sewell Tract litigation, while preserving the tract from development.

He spoke of strengthening the role of the Historic Preservation Commission as the council took the action to reappoint its current chair, Warren Copeland. Speaking of the previous administration, Mullock said, “I, frankly, don’t think Warren would have been reappointed.”

Mullock said the city would “move quickly” to rescind the previous council’s action concerning 10 acres of city-owned land designated for the Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI) list, saying that Cape May taxpayers didn’t receive proper compensation for the land in the “ill-advised” move that passed by a split vote, in December.

Mullock committed himself to the continued development of the historic Franklin Street School as a branch of the county library system but emphasized the need for the space to also serve as a community center.

The new mayor spoke of a “get-the-lead-out initiative,” referring to environmental issues at the site of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the Franklin Street School, and a city Public Housing Authority site.

Mullock promised quick action on the purchase of the AME Church grounds, the resolution of issues with the ongoing project at Soldiers and Sailors Park, getting the Lafayette Street Park project “back on track,” addressing flood mitigation issues, and giving attention to the “entrance to the city.”

With his agenda stated, Mullock promised to “serve, not rule.” 

To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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