The newest member of the Jefferson Township Council, Josh Kalish, with Mayor Eric Wilsusen.

Josh Kalish is the newest member of the township council.

When long-serving Councilwoman Debi Merz Bennett resigned, the township’s Republican Committee was charged with picking three candidates for council’s consideration at the Wednesday, March 24, meeting. 

The other two candidates were Robert and Donna Vander Ploeg. 

Council President Melissa Senatore said council’s acting in public session was a first. In prior years when a councilperson stepped down in the middle of a term, council interviewed the potential replacements in private session.

Kalish said he has lived in the township for 35 years and raised three children here. He has a business degree and worked in transportation for 39 years. Now he is a consultant. He served on the recreation advisory board for years and on Parents for Parks. A member of the Jefferson Education Foundation, he also worked on fundraising for lights and the turf field.

Asked by Councilman Bob Birmingham when he first became interested in running for office, he said he ran in 2010 and lost to Council Vice President Jay Dunham. Then his business got very busy and he didn’t run again, but now his children are all out of the house and he feels it’s the right time.

“I’ve never not been involved,” he said. “I started volunteering when my son was in kindergarten.”

Dunham asked if Kalish thinks the current council is doing a good job. Kalish said he likes the way council gets all the information it can before making a decision. He said it’s a strong council he would like to be part of.

Senatore asked what he would bring to council. 

“Besides my loud voice?” he joked. He said he is very driven, a good listener and “whatever needs to be done, I will be there.” 

Kalish was nominated by Councilman Ron Smith and Senatore seconded. Dunham also voted yes. Birmingham abstained after saying he was not happy with the process. He said it changed at the last minute and was not transparent or accessible to the public.

Senatore said she asked Township Attorney Tom Ryan how it should be handled. Ryan said he told her the interviews should be in public. He said the agenda stated the vote would be taken. He said it could have listed the names of the three finalists chosen by the Republican Committee. 

Bennett congratulated her successor, as did the present council.

In other business council agreed to consider a resolution supporting S3454, the bill seeking an amendment to the recreational marijuana law eliminating the prohibition of police from telling parents if a minor is using either cannabis or alcohol. 

Mayor Eric Wilsusen, a former police officer, called it “the most ridiculous law I’ve ever seen.” 

“It’s almost like they were high when they wrote it,” Dunham said.

The next council meeting, on Wednesday, April 7, will be held in person rather than virtually, in the high school auditorium.

Township Clerk Michele Reilly said she is working with the IT department and will post notice of the meeting as soon as that is finalized. 

She and Senatore are going to visit the auditorium to determine exactly how it will be set up for a meeting. 

Reilly said the concern wasn’t fitting the public into the auditorium, it was fitting council and professionals on the stage, but it can be done. Current COVID restrictions would allow 70 to 75 people in the audience, Senatore noted.

Senior contributing writer Jane Primerano may be contacted at jane.primerano@thejeffersonchronicle.com.

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