HOWELL TOWNSHIP, NJ – Howell Township Business Manager Brian Geoghegan, a lifelong resident of Toms River Township has announced parks in his town are reopened to the public after he forced their closure when Orthodox Jewish residents from neighboring Lakewood Township were reported using parks earlier this month. On October 7th, during the Jewish holy holiday of Sukkot, Geoghegan said he received reports of large influx of Orthodox Jewish residents from neighboring Lakewood Township using Howell Township parks. Those parks were immediately shut down and plan to disinfect all of the playground equipment before reopening had been announced.
Lakewood Township was experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 positives at the time. Geoghegan decided to close the parks to stop the spread of the virus from Lakewood into Howell township through park playground equipment. Geoghegan said many of the visiting Lakewood residents were not social distancing or wearing face masks in the public park.
“There has been a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in neighboring towns. Due to the uptick in cases and the lack of social distancing in the parks, the Township Manager and OEM decided to close the parks,” said Mayor Theresa Berger. “I completely agree with temporarily closing our parks but there needs to be an exception for organized sports that are abiding by the Department of Health’s health and safety protocols. In the next few days, I will be meeting with township officials to fix this situation so we can get our kids back out on the fields for their 2020 seasons.”
The impromptu closure also shut down all youth sports in Howell. Residents expressed outrage at Geoghegan’s decision to shut down youth sports because of actions of residents in a neighboring community Howell Township Councilman John Bonevich said he was also caught off guard after Geoghegan closed the parks.
“While I agree to close our parks there needs to be an exception for organized sports that are abiding by the Department of Health’s health and safety protocols. Over the next few days the township will be discussing how to better handle this situation and get our kids out on the fields for fall ball, soccer and football,” Bonevich said.
“Howell South Little League has safely provided township kids the opportunity to play circumspect, neighborhood baseball for over 52 years. We have enacted extremely strict protocol, which over exceeds the particulars laid out by the NJ Department of Health for medium risk youth sports, following the suspension of Executive Order #149,” said Rory Durin. “Additionally, we have played an entire Summer season, and are 3 weeks into the Fall season without incident. Please do not allow the irresponsible and self-centered actions of adults dictate the fate of our local children.”
“Please open Oak Glen Park and all our other fields to Howell sports programs that have lease agreements with the township. Howell Soccer Club has been a Howell sports institution for over 45 years. We have always provided a safe and enjoyable place for the children of Howell to enjoy soccer,” said Steve Schwiering. “We gone above & beyond in following exact Covid protocol set forth by New Jersey Youth Soccer. Our club had had three weeks of successful Covid free soccer, and our families need a sports outlet after the long Covid shutdown. DO NOT punish our responsible sports programs because individuals from outside Howell cannot follow social distancing and other Covid protocols.”
Shortly after Geoghegan’s order to shut down all parks was made, the township council and Berger took the advice of sports leagues and reopened the parks for leagues that had proper COVID-19 safety protocols in place.
Tina Smilek, who operates a large Facebook book group, Howell Happenings applauded the mayor to her call to overturn Geoghegan’s decision.
“Thank you, Mayor Berger. Not the first time this manager had made a bad decision and now the council is caught having to correct it,” Smilek said.
Andrew Lowry of Howell Girls Softball League has been a leader in regional sporting events for girls playing softball. Children are socially distanced, temperatures are checked and spectators are monitored for distancing, masks are required by all non-competing athletes at HGSL events.
“HGSL invested thousands in signage at Soldier, way above what town provided, we temp check every player and coach that plays there, enforce social distancing of spectators, pay extra to keep porta-potties clean and enforce mask-wearing while moving through the complex,” Lowry said. “There is no more that we can do and to lose the ability to play over something that we have no control over and does not reflect all that we have done to keep every person safe is unjust. This doesn’t address the problem and wrongly hurts those that have been doing everything right.”
“Many children play sports at the township parks. I personally don’t recall not one child or adult being notified with contact tracing at any sporting events that they have been near someone with covid or became infected with covid???? What is this really about??? Again the children suffer and can’t even enjoy playing their sport OUTSIDE,” said Lisa Sullivan.
Residents on Howell Happenings NJ Facebook page are now calling for Geoghegan’s resignation and residents want him replaced with a business manager who lives in town. Geoghegan lives in Toms River.
Eventually, Geoghegan partnered with the Lakewood Department of Public Works to assist Howell Township with the disinfecting of the parks used by the neighboring town’s Jewish residents. On October 15th, Geoghegan announced that the parks had been sanitized and cleared of COVID-19 exposure.
“Effective 12:00 pm on October 15, 2020, all Township parks will reopen to full capacity,” Geoghegan wrote. “This includes all playground equipment. The township was able to complete a deep cleaning of all equipment while the parks were closed. Thank you for your