In last week’s edition we featured Town Administrator Gary Jeffas, who began his new career on January 1, 2017. Jeffas, a local attorney, served as councilman from the First Ward for ten years. Also on January 1, John Gerbasio stepped into Jeffas’ former council seat, and this week we feature the new politician from the First Ward.
John Gerbasio got his feet wet politically when he successfully won a seat on the Secaucus Board of Education in 2013. On December 31, 2016, he completed his three-year term, having served his last year as board president. John had every intention of seeking a second term in November 2016, but when asked by Mayor Mike Gonnelli if he would consider filling the seat Councilman Jeffas was vacating, he agreed to take the job (but not without first consulting his wife, Kathy). “I was very flattered and honored,” Gerbasio said, when Mayor Gonnelli approached him with the idea. “My wife pointed out that when I decided to run for the school board, it was to represent our town’s children, and that being a councilman meant I would be representing not only the children, but all the townspeople.” Kathy Gerbasio also stressed the importance of the fact that the mayor had faith in him.
A retired pharmacist who owned his own independent pharmacy in Jersey City for many years, Gerbasio had the time and inclination to be a full-time school trustee and now, a full-time councilman. (John and Kathy have two sons and a daughter, all married and on their own.) An inveterate learner, when we met John in the second floor conference room at Town Hall last Friday morning, he had just finished writing a paper on a pharmaceutical issue. (Pharmacists, like other professionals, i.e., physicians and attorneys, are required to take courses and publish annually to keep their certifications and credentials up-to-date.) In his brief time as councilman, John already completed a one-day seminar offered by the New Jersey League of Municipalities where he learned about ethics, procurement, and budgets. “I’m a first-person learner,” he commented. “I want to be able to ask intelligent questions.”
The transition from school board to town council has been a smooth one for Gerbasio. He noted that the two entities run similarly, with members serving on various committees. Councilman Gerbasio serves on the Police Committee, a position Gary Jeffas held for many years. John was also, appropriately, named the council’s liaison to the board of education. One of the biggest similarities John has discovered between the two boards is the helpfulness of the respective staffs. “The staffs are phenomenal!” He also singled out Gary Jeffas as being a “great help” during the transition process. A dissimilarity he noted was that the role of councilman brings with it more responsibility, more direct involvement with residents, whereas, the school board has a hierarchy of individuals (i.e., superintendent, administrators, principals, etc.) who filter parental and resident concerns before they (if ever) reach the school trustees. Another difference is that during public meetings of the town council, council members are required to speak on a myriad of issues, including their particular committee news. At school board meetings, trustees may not address citizens who raise concerns, and are discouraged from making any sort of commentary, other than reporting on their committees. This open communication on the town council suits Gerbasio, who is very comfortable (and adept) at public speaking.
Two projects that Councilman Gerbasio is particularly keen about are the Special Needs Committee and the Committee on Aging. He explained that the Special Needs group is seeking to identify all the special needs residents in town in order for police and other emergency personnel to immediately know that a special needs person resides in a particular location if they are called in for assistance. The other committee, under the aegis of Lisa Snedeker’s Department of Social Services, would have senior citizens fill out a form listing their medications and doses, their emergency contacts, etc., that would then be placed in the resident’s freezer so that emergency personnel could quickly discern who to call or what medications are needed if warranted.
Councilman Gerbasio remarked that his council colleagues “are a good group of people,” and that they may disagree in private, but always present a united front in public for the good of the town. He has learned that he will have to run for election in November, even though there were two years left on Jeffas’ term. He would then have to run again (if he chooses to remain on the council) in November 2018 for his own four-year term. He offered that he enjoys volunteering, so it’s a safe bet that he’ll probably continue with his political career on the town council. By the way, if you see a middle-aged man with a smile on his face, walking his dog all around the First Ward, that’s your new councilman, John Gerbasio, meeting and greeting the citizenry. John explained that not only was it a good way for him and his dog to get some exercise, but it is a good opportunity for him to meet his constituents. “I walk the neighborhoods, introduce myself, and hand out my card.” He especially meets a lot of people (and their dogs) at the dog park on the corner of Raydol Avenue and Humboldt Street. John Gerbasio is gracefully entering into his new town council job by interacting with and making himself accessible to the townspeople.