Terry is joining one of the most acrimonious councils in recent history, a council that has had its fair share of blow-ups between members as well as contentious meetings, with residents calling for transparency and calling out dysfunction.
“Out of respect to them, they had a difficult start,” says Terry of the council taking office in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and not being able to start by meeting in person.
Still, Terry said it has been disappointing watching the meetings, particularly the infighting on the council.
“It’s not the Montclair I remember,” said Terry who wants to bring civility back to meetings that at times seem like a “circus.” He also hopes to bring some compassion, adding that there members of this council may be “hurting.”
Did he hesitate when asked to join the council?
“I sure did,” Terry laughed.
Terry, who will soon be 74, learned Peter Yacobellis had resigned and that several people were being considered to fill his seat and he was one of them.
He told his wife and daughter, expecting them to say he was crazy to even consider it, but both encouraged him to accept, also believing Terry could bring some calm to an often volatile council.
Terry’s time on the council is short, with elections for a new council happening in May 2024.
“There are just 16 meetings and then I go back to the NAACP,” said Terry who is temporarily stepping down as president of the Montclair NAACP to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. He is confident in the abilities of Diane Anglin, the organization’s first vice president, who will step in as president during his time on the council.
A former Montclair Deputy Police Chief who served on the council from 2008-2012, Terry said having that council experience informs how he will approach his council mates.
“I learned a long time ago to say words of discipline in private and give praise in public,” said Terry. “I will be respectful, but I will also demand a level of respect.”
The resignation of Yacobellis was a sad situation, said Terry, adding that he thought Yacobellis was a great communicator, especially for younger people.
Terry said that while he may not have been coming to council meetings in person, he has been watching all along. He also has communicated regularly with both the mayor and members of the council during their term, asking questions and giving advice.
At his swearing in ceremony Friday, attended by Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings and Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock, Terry made a statement, thanking the council for appointing him and calling for respectful dialogue.
“I know there’s been difficulties over the last three years. I will try my best to be a mediator to make sure that whatever we do is going to be what’s best for the township of Montclair.”
When his time on the council comes to an end, would Terry consider running again in 2024?
“There are so many things I want to do,” says Terry, who added that the tragic loss of his nephew, a veteran firefighter killed in the Newark cargo ship fire, only reinforced for him how precious time — and family — are.
“It’s unlikely, but I will leave the door open. If a lot of people don’t want to get involved, maybe I will run.”