Longtime councilman leaves the board

| 22 Feb 2012 | 07:50

Retiring? For now. And taking a fond look back, By Mark J. Yablonsky FRANKLIN — Somewhat quietly and without very much fanfare, Jim Williams left office as both a councilman and planning board member at the end of December. That may be fitting, since a lot of the successes Williams has enjoyed throughout a combined 33 years in public life have gone without a lot of acclaim. Yet, many of the things Williams, 56, did won’t soon be forgotten. “Jim has done so much for the community,” said Jim Kilduff, the borough’s director of planning and community development. “What I want to say is that the borough will be forever indebted to him for all the volunteerism he’s done over the years. He’s a worker and a doer, and I really think Franklin’s all the better for it. I hope this isn’t a retirement, but just a needed break.” Williams, who was born in the old Franklin Hospital on Sept. 12, 1952, grew up on Sterling Street. He joined the borough fire department on May 3, 1982 and five years later Williams launched his career in public life by joining the planning board in early 1987. Jogging down Memory Lane “One of the people that I had great respect for in town was a man named Lenny Helmstetter,” recalled Williams in an interview last week. “He suggested that I be on the planning board. I thought about it and at that time, I thought it was time for me to start to give something back to the town I had lived in all along. There was an opening and they put me on in 1987 as an alternate. And the very next year there was an opening for a full-time member.” Williams served the planning board until 1997, when he was named board liaison from the council. Commenting on the differences in the borough between 1987 and now, Williams’ words underscore the increased role that state government has taken on. “The difference between now and then was that the economy at that time was booming, and the wetlands laws and the restrictions from the state of New Jersey were much less consuming,” Williams explained. “And towns had a lot more say in what happened in their jurisdiction. And there was no such thing as COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) then.” Williams was first elected to council in 1996. He was re-elected three more times before deciding not to seek another term in 2008. He made a strong, yet unsuccessful run for mayor in 2007. Highlights of three decades Williams noted the following highlights of his years in public service. The somewhat contentious five-year hearing on the Wal-Mart application (1992-97) The sad evening in June 1989 when he was informed outside the borough hall — during an ongoing planning board meeting — that his father had passed away from a heart attack at Kennedy Airport. The restoration of the Franklin Pond area some 10 years ago, when Williams worked hard with Claude Paddock and Harold McGrath, along with the since-deceased Nestor DellaTorre, Helmstetter and Joe Takach. “The restoration project at the pond was done completely through volunteer efforts,” said Williams, who actually built the benches at home for the pond, another two near the Franklin library on Main Street., and another four near the senior citizen center above the pond area. “The project that gave me a lot of satisfaction was the medevac pad located in Fireman’s Park,” Williams said. “This pad was done purely by donations from the FOP Lodge 57, which donated half of the $6,800 needed for this project. And the other half was donated by the Franklin Fire Department and the Franklin Fire Department Exempt Association. And the remaining $350 was split between those two organizations.” “The reason the medevac pad was so important to me was because it will be there saving lives long after I’m gone,” added Williams. The future Williams and his wife have made a mark on Franklin Borough and a lot of others in town are looking forward to that continuing. Among them is Betty Allen, the former Franklin Historical Society president and a current member of the Economic Development Committee. “They commit their whole selves to whatever they do. Hopefully, they’ll continue to be active. Hopefully, Jim will get involved in some other capacity for the betterment of our community.” Does that possibility exist? “At the present time, I am keeping my options open and I’m going to take a break from public life,” Williams said. “I have a standing offer from the mayor, which I appreciate, but I’m going to enjoy a little bit of private life for the time being. I plan on staying in the fire department because I enjoy the brotherhood that we have there.”