By Walter Elliott
IRVINGTON - Council President David Lyons and a quorum of his Township Council colleagues started their series of public meetings March 25 here in the Municipal Building Council Chamber in their usual manner - but he kept looking over towards the vacant far north dais seat where South Ward Councilwoman Sandra R. Jones would sit.
Lyons convened the council's "pre-meeting" at 5:36 p.m. Monday with the usual pledge of allegiance, a moment of silence and the council roll call.
It was after announcing to the chamber gallery audience that East Ward Councilman Paul Inman, Jr. would be absent for the meetings that he looked again at Jones' place, missing her nameplate, and paused.
"I've been on this council for 22 years and Sandy Jones has been here for 17 of those years," Lyons finally said. "As you probably know by now, we lost her suddenly Thursday (March 21). She was a great councilwoman for the constituents of her ward; she treated them like family.
"I lost a friend and we lost a public servant," finished Lyons. "We knew something was wrong when none of us got her morning calls Thursday. I'm going to be fine."
Lyons and his four colleagues present continued with the pre-meeting, department head meeting and regular council meeting the next three hours. They, Municipal Clerk Harold Wiener, several of Mayor Tony Vauss' department heads and a capacity gallery audience soldiered on with Monday's program.
March 25, like most other council meetings here, included fielding public questions along the lines of changed signal timing at Springfield and Stuyvesant avenues. Many of the audience came to celebrate the council's commendations six Irvingtonians in their annual Women's History Month observance.
Lyons, however, noted several proposed resolutions in the pre-meeting with, "Councilwoman Jones moved it on first reading; I'll move it in her place." He dedicated the regular meeting's moment of silence 7:37 p.m. in her honor.
Most of those in the chamber, on either side of the dais, can look at Jones' absent chair and her official portrait on the nearby north wall.
"I'm used to seeing Sandy Jones across from me," said Councilwoman Renee Burgess during the regular meeting. "I'm going to miss watching her reaction to something the Council President would say. She'd give President Lyons a look in his direction."
"This' a bittersweet occasion," said Councilwoman Charnette Frederic. "On one hand, we're celebrating those Irvington women who have been improving our lives. On the other, it comes while we remember one of our own who also contributed."
Jones, 76, had served Irvington the last 26 years as a councilwoman, a board of education member, an Irvington Democratic Committee ward district leader and founder of the Maple Avenue Block Association - the latter shortly after moving here from Jersey City.
Jones was elected several times to the school board and, by her colleagues, once selected as their vice president. She left the IBOE when the Township Council appointed her in May 2002 to finish the late D. Bilal Beasley's unexpired South Ward Council term. (Voters had elected future Council President and Essex County Freeholder Beasley to become one of Irvington's three at-large council seats.)
South Ward voters re-elected Jones four times, the last on May 10, 2016. Jones, running on Vauss' "Team Irvington Strong" ticket, received nearly a two-to-one plurality then over independent runner Al-Tariq Ibn Shabazz.
Jones' biographies on Irvington.net and in Vauss' 2019 State of the Township Address program cited her championing two municipal council ordinances. MC 3206 banned using hand-held cell phones while driving within the township. MC 3448 permitted constables to serve maintenance code violations on property owners, freeing Irvington police officers for other duties.
"Councilwoman Jones (as of March 21) chaired the Council's Ad Hoc, Constable, Planning & Economic Development, Rent Control and Taxi committees," said Wiener between sessions Monday. "She was the council's liaison on the Irvington Planning Board and was a member on other committees."
Jones, at the time of her death, was the council's Second Vice President. She would preside over council meetings when Lyons and Council Vice President Renee Burgess were absent.
Jones, as a Friends of Irvington Park President, sought improvement funds for the Essex County park. She oversaw the Beasley Community Center and Senior Cafe's 2015-16 construction there.
Jones accomplished the above while an Essex County employee. The former Welfare Division Family Service Worker was most recently a re-entry program counselor.
The Brooklyn (N.Y.) Girls High School graduate was a veteran of Jersey City municipal educational and political arenas before moving here.
The PS 34 and Snyder High School PTA and Armstrong Avenue Block Association president helped Julian K. Robinson's unsuccessful campaign to unseat Thomas J. Whelan as mayor in 1969. (Robinson, as a department head, became Jersey City's first African American mayor when Whelan went on vacation in 1964.)
Irvington, into March 21, has been mourning the Jan. 9 death of Councilwoman-turned Freeholder Lebby Jones. While the township and county Democratic committees appointed IBOE President Romaine Graham to succeed L. Jones, Wiener reminded "Local Talk" that finding S. Jones' successor will take a different route.
"Irvington has a nonpartisan municipal government," said the city clerk. "The council will consider resumes from legal township residents. The council may schedule a special election to complete the unexpired term - which ends July 1, 2020."
Jones, North Ward Councilman Lyons, East Ward's Inman and West Ward's Vernal "Vern" Cox were to be on Vauss' "Team Irvington Strong" slate for the May 14, 2020 ward elections.
"Any registered Irvington resident who can file the required number of petition signatures," added Wiener, "can run for that election. But the Council's first order of business, after we all have paid our respects, will be in naming a new planning board liaison."
Jones' viewing and funeral, as per Vauss' March 23 Facebook posting, has been scheduled for March 29 here at Solid Rock Baptist Church. 644 Chancellor Ave. is to open 9 a.m. for the viewing, followed by an 11 a.m. funeral.
Vauss also posted photos, taken March 13, of him, Jones and Lyons conversing.
"While the grief is not greater in sudden death, the capacity to cope is diminished," observed the mayor. "When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure."
"Sandra Jones was the epitome of a public servant," said IBOE Member and Neighborhood Preservation Coordinator Jamillah Beasley-McCleod. "She and Bilal Beasley used to frequently work together."
Fellow school board member Jospeh Sylvain, after the meetings, took a photo of Jones' portrait before leaving.
"We used to go out to local jazz clubs," said Councilwoman Dr. October Hudley. "She never wanted to stay out too late and wanted to make sure I got home. She was never afraid of taking stands that may be unpopular."
"Sandy Jones was my friend," said Cox. "She was always fighting for her South Ward residents, always looking to do something more efficiently."
"Essex County and Irvington lost a strong advocate in the passing of Sandy Jones," said County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo (D-Roseland). "She worked tirelessly as a public servant to serve her community. We valued her partnership as a county employee and President of Friends of Irvington Park."
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-Rumson) and First Lady Tammy Murphy, in their March 22 condolences, also expressed their sadness in Jones' passing.
District leader and son Scott Sinkler is among Jones' survivors.
"It was rough getting through Friday (March 22) around here," concluded Weiner Monday night.