Hambel named to serve as Sparta mayor

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    SPARTA-The township council concluded a tumultuous year under the leadership of Scott Seelagy and elected Ailish Hambel to a one-year term as mayor. First-term council member Wayne Ring was named deputy mayor. Both positions run from July 1 to June 30, 2006. Sparta, which has a non-partisan form of government known as Council/Manager Plan B of the Faulkner Act, the five-member council is elected at-large for four-year terms. A mayor is chosen among them to serve a one-year term. The township council has the responsibility for all legislative matters. Hambel, a council member for the past 10 years who served as mayor in 1997, succeeds Seelagy, who presided over a contentious debate among residents, the council and board of education about a proposed new high school that would address an increasing student population. "Scott had a tough year, but led the council very well," said longtime council member James Henderson. "I'm sure he will continue to work with the school board to successfully resolve the high school situation." During an interview, Hambel, a Sparta resident since 1984 and owner of Ailish's Alpine Paint Center, recognized the rift between the municipality and many of its residents. "We have a heavy duty task ahead, but I like working with people," she said. "I'll try and be fair, listen and make sense of things." Hambel, who considers herself "very approachable," has already reached out informally to the board of education to resolve issues surrounding the proposed new high school. Her move comes in stark contrast with his predecessor's approach, which many residents said did not do enough to open lines of communication with the board. "We have a lot of questions to be answered, questions to be answered outside our control," said Hambel. "If we're going to move any of these roadblocks, we'll have to work together to move them." Hambel learned that she would be named mayor about two weeks ago, and said she did not hesitate to accept the position despite the furor provoked within the community over the search to find land suitable to build a new high school. "That's the life of a council member," she said. "You have to deal with things and learn how to make them work better. I want to be part of the solution and make it all work out. I don't want to stand on the sidelines." Sparta schools superintendent Thomas Morton said Hambel has made it a point to visit each school this past year. "I have a great relationship with Ailish," he said. "She's a good person who has taken it upon herself to do a lot of things that were not asked of her." Hambel said she would support economic development along the by-pass and push for a new supermarket to bring clean ratables and a better quality of life to town. She also intends to reopen lines of communication between local government and the public through a "Mayor's Corner" column in the Sparta Independent and Saturday Town Hall meetings. She also said the needs of seniors would be a top priority while she is mayor. "We have a terrific town," said Hambel. "We have our ups and downs, but it's a great town to live in. I'm proud to be a resident and proud to be a Spartan."