By Antigone Barton
MANALAPAN — While election season raged elsewhere, change came quietly to this town, with the ascension of William “Tom” Gerrard to mayor.
Even without the clamor of a contentious campaign, the vice mayor who was appointed by unanimous commission vote in September to succeed outgoing Mayor William Benjamin, hopes to make a difference that will usher in a more connected Manalapan.
“I’m certainly not just doing it for the title,” he said. “I have a big love for this town and community.”
The 62-year-old mayor was born in New York, but spent the first 11 years of his life in Indiana. He has moved up the coast in steady increments since his family moved to Miami Beach in 1957. He moved to Manalapan from Boca Raton in 1994. His “new to do list,” he says, includes a plan to make town meetings available for viewing on the Comcast cable system that serves Manalapan. In addition, Gerrard, who in his business life found success as a telecommunications entrepreneur, would like to get podcasts of the meetings on the town’s Web site.
“I think it would be very beneficial to residents, especially as a number are gone during the summer months,” Gerrard said during an interview with The Coastal Star. “There’s nothing like being there.”
The podcasts would be available at the click of a button on the same site where town meeting agendas are now posted.
“So if residents who are up North see something on the agenda of interest, they can watch it,” Gerrard said. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”
More immediate, though, are resolutions of the town’s two most pressing issues: renovations to the town’s water plant and the completion of roadwork that will conclude a six-year drainage project.
The water plant currently is a “blended” one, which filters water from surficial wells and also uses reverse osmosis technology to filter water from the deeper Floridan Aquifer. While reverse osmosis remains the more expensive technology, diminishing water supplies from shallow wells have prompted commissioners to consider a plant with all reverse osmosis capability. That way it can, if needed, draw more of its water from the more reliable Floridan Aquifer.
Adding to these considerations has been talk that the South Florida Water Management District would ease two-day-a-week watering restrictions for towns using “alternative” water sources.
If “alternative” includes the Floridan Aquifer, commissioners have said, that would add to an incentive to spend more money upgrading the plant to all-reverse osmosis technology.
That should not make a difference, either way, Gerrard said in the recent interview.
“It would be very difficult for us to plan our water plant management based on what South Florida Water Management District decides to do,” he said. “We should make the decision based on business.”
While the town is in the middle of water plant plans, it is reaching the end of a flood control and road project that has been six years in the works.
That project began after the Florida Department of Transportation officials launched its plans to resurface the county’s stretches of State Road A1A.
The plan did not then include improvements to drainage along the town’s stretch on which six inches to a foot of water rose during rains and high tides.
Town videotaping of the road’s flooding persuaded FDOT officials to change the plan, Town Manager Greg Dunham said.
“Water on roads is a safety problem,” Dunham said.
It also was an environmental one, with storm water carrying unfiltered pollutants directly into the Intracoastal Waterway.
Raised to allow water to drain onto the swale and into eight new drainage filters, the new road is designed to address both concerns.
“I think it is a well-designed and way overdue project,” Gerrard said.
And, he points out, residents voluntarily granted easements on their properties for runoff “soaking” areas. “So it shows there are environmentally concerned residents.”
This is comfort to Gerrard, who calls the repeal last spring of an ordinance that would have ridded the town of exotic water-hogging and invasive plants “one of my disappointments.”
With only Gerrard voting against the move, commissioners voted to reverse the ordinance, which had given residents four years to eliminate the plants from properties, as its deadline approached, although a series of horticultural and environmental experts touted its benefits to the town.
Given a chance to reintroduce the ordinance, Gerrard said, he would. His term is young, he pointed out. “I’m going to spend the next couple of months reviewing and revisiting issues.”
In Manalapan, the mayor votes to break ties, runs meetings, sets agendas and appoints committee members.
Those are his opportunities to guide the town, Gerrard said. “I hope to be effective.”
Oct. 28 Town Commission Meeting
• Appointed Marilyn Hedberg to fill the vacancy of Seat 3 on the commission
• Ratified the appointment of Commissioner Kelly S. Gottlieb as vice mayor and appointed Commissioner Peter Blum as the new mayor pro tem.
• Accepted hearing continuances from Venture Concepts International and Terry and Cynthia Taylor on variance issues.
• Approved Consultant Services Agreement with JLA Geosciences, Inc.
• Began hearing summary of Zoning Commission’s Recommended Amendments to the Zoning Code.
• Changed meeting time for the Nov.19 regular commission meeting to 2 p.m.