By Phil Stilton
TOMS RIVER— In order to help the thousands of Toms River residents who have been negatively impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the township council this week voted to create the position of Disaster Recovery Ombudsman.
The position is an effort by the township to better assist residents and business owners while they are attempting to recover from the Hurricane. The ombudsman will assist residents who have been having difficulties navigating through the various federal, state and local rules and regulations.
Not fully understanding the rules and regulations can negatively impact a person’s ability to rebuild their home or business. Regulations might also have a negative impact to the availability of aid, if not followed to the letter.
According to the ordinance passed, the job will be a part time position and will work outside of normal business hours. The part-time position will carry a salary of between $30,000 to $40,000. There will be no medical benefits. The position will be active only at times when it is warranted such as natural disasters and othe r emergencies.
“It’s a great idea, assuming we can find somebody who meets the criteria for the job,” Mayor Thomas Kelaher said. “A lot of people have problems, especially with FEMA, maps, construction and insurance. They work during the daytime and they can’t come to town hall for assistance except nights or on weekends, so we thought, let’s get a part time guy who can meet with people in the evenings, either at town hall or at their homes and those residents who can’t come during normal business hours will have a real human being to speak with instead of making countless phone calls and leaving voice mail.”
Kelaher said the ideal candidate would be someone with an extensive construction background and experience with dealing with the public to field calls and inquiries. They would also be required to be proficient in dealing with FEMA issues, insurances claims and building codes.
“He would be like a liaison between the public and the township’s various departments,” Kelaher said. “Instead of having to be transferred around departments, the ombudsman will know who to contact in the township and will have access to each of the departments in order to most efficiently answer the questions from the residents.”
The decision sparked political debate among naysayers in the community. Kelaher says the job doesn’t replace the daytime support that is currently offered as some have suggested, but is intended to extend the support after-hours.
Kelaher said he doesn’t read local blog posts by anonymous users, but when questioned about comments being left in opposition of this position, he dismissed it all as being politically motivated. “I don’t pay attention to it. What I pay attention to is the thousands of people who have been calling town hall looking for help and answers,” Kelaher said. “We had to take a room in town hall and turn it into a phone bank and it has been manned with class one police officers to answer phones. If we can have somebody to help those people, it’s a good thing. Any opposition to this job is purely political and somebody trying to make a case out of it. Since I’ve been mayor, we’re down 44 jobs through attrition. Creating a part time job where the person doesn’t get benefits and can help thousands of people, I’ll do that all day. This is a good thing.”