Michelle Gentek's concern over hunters firing guns in the woods near her Sicklerville home helped spark her political career.
On Thursday, Gentek said goodbye to Gloucester Township Council after nearly three years of service on the governing body.
Gentek, a Democrat elected to serve on the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders in November, was praised by her Council colleagues and Mayor David Mayer during her final meeting.
"We are going to miss your bright smile and everything that you've accomplished in your (three) years here on Council," Council President Glen Bianchini said. "So, we wish you the best of luck on the freeholder board. I'm sure we'll be in contact. We'll always be talking to you. You're a good friend, you are a great councilwoman and I know you're going to be a great freeholder."
Gentek's final meeting came nearly three years to the day after the first oath of office of her political career, as Gloucester Township councilwoman.
"I love Gloucester Township. It is a great place to live. I do really care about it. I'm so glad I've been able to serve all of you," she said. "I really love it."
"Coming in just as a regular resident, I wanted to know if a change could be made, and I see that change is made," she added. "In the last three yeras, the mayor and Council have really done some incredible work to make the township stand out in the county."
Gentek credited Council Vice President Orlando Mercado with encouraging her to run for public office in 2009.
"I didn't know that I was able to do so many things that I've accomplished," Gentek said. "Orlando, thank you so much for pushing me. ... Orlando saw something in me to push me to go forward with this."
Gentek caught Mercado's attention when she came to Council to protest hunting in the woods nearby her Cobblestone Reserve home about four years ago.
Bianchini recalled Council's first interaction with Gentek.
"She came out and just wanted to look at the laws, if I remember correctly, the ordinances, and how could we make it safer for children, because there's a lot of children out in that area now—a lot more development," he said. "So the laws of 1,000 feet from the property line was probably not appropriate. There was a lot of back and forth, and Michelle stood her ground, and we did make some changes to that ordinance."
Bucceroni told Patch in late November that he is not interested in the position, saying he'd prefer to stay on the regional school board.
Gentek plans to "work hard" as freeholder.
"To those of my non-supporters—guess what? I'm going to help you, too, whether you like it or not," she said.
Mayer credited Gentek for leading Gloucester Township's sustainability and green initiatives. The township has earned bronze and silver level certifications from Sustainable Jersey the last two years.
"It was really in large part due to Michelle's effort and leadership in that capacity," he said. "And that is why this year New Jersey is recognizing Gloucester Township with its leadership of the year award for 2012 when it comes to sustainability."
The mayor expects Gentek will call on her roots as citizen activist while serving Camden County.
"Michelle was a true citizen candidate—as Glen mentioned, getting involved in a local issue in her neighborhood—and now is taking that advocacy on to a different level," Mayer said.
The Camden County freeholder reorganization meeting is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 4, at 4 p.m. at Camden City Hall.