Oxford swore in a new mayor for the first time since 1993 Tuesday evening at the borough's reorganizational meeting. Geoff Henry took his oath and office as mayor, as Oxford said goodbye to Harold Gray, who decided to step down after more than a decade of service.
Amongst the main concerns of Henry as he takes office is that of police services in an effort to make Oxford as safe and as prosperous as possible. With 90 percent of the mayor's responsibilities wrapped up in keeping the borough's police department running, it is no surprise that police services be the main concern for Henry.
"There are places in the borough were residents do not feel safe, especially at night," said Henry. "We need to find these trouble spots and find a way to get police there."
According to Henry, residents approached him during his campaign and expressed their concerns over policing the central downtown business district.
"We are going to work hard to improve visibility," said Henry, who plans on riding with police periodically throughout the year to see how officers spend their day and see where the trouble spots in town are. "I really want to try to see what our police deal with on a day-to-day basis. I have done it a few times already and it was quite enlightening."
For Henry one of the best ways to lower the need for police interference in town is for police to cooperate with property owners.
"We need to open up lines of communication and work together," said Henry. "Owners of these establishments do more harm then good by not working with us."
In an effort to better communicate with property owners and other borough residents, Henry plans to hold a series of town meetings throughout the year. The first is scheduled for Jan. 19 in Ware Presbyterian Village's Chapel, from 7 to 9 p.m. Henry will be present along with Borough Police Chief John Slauch to hear and address the concerns of the public as well as receive feed-back on the possibility of starting a town/community watch organization. The meeting will be open to the public.
"It will give residents a less formal forum to discuss the concerns that they have with myself and others in the borough," said Henry. "If this first meeting goes well I hope to hold one twice a year, possibly quarterly."
Henry has also provided another forum where residents can informally notify him of any problems or concerns related to the borough. He has erected a new Web site, www.themayorofoxford.com, to allow residents to learn about the office of mayor as well as provide a tool for further communication with residents. From the site residents can e-mail him directly.
Another issue Henry plans to address during his time in office is that of setting up a regional police force. Currently the borough is working on a Joint Municipal Agreement with East Nottingham to provide police services to the new high school. Henry feels that the same type of agreement will need to be reached with Lower Oxford for police services at the future site of the Wal-Mart shopping center.
For Henry the need for Joint Municipal Agreements has furthered the notion that perhaps the surrounding municipalities and the borough should form a regional police organization.
"One of Oxford's greatest aspects is its police force. Why not expand that to benefit others?" said Henry.
Helping Henry wade through the increasing responsibilities of the borough's police department is Chief Slauch. For the first time in years Oxford now has a full-time police chief who seems to be achieving results.
"I spoke with Mayor (Harold) Gray at some length about the office of mayor last January, and we both felt that we had a good chief in place," said Henry. "The job of mayor is as easy or as hard as the person in that position makes it for you."
During those conversations with Gray was when Henry decided to run for mayor.
"I always knew that if Mayor Gray continued to run he would be virtually unbeatable, so once he told me he wasn't going to run, that was when I decided," said Henry.
However, he faced opposition in fellow Councilman Randy Teel, Jr.
"It really wasn't a negative campaign at all," said Henry. "We stood there at the polls and talked about what needed to be done, and we agreed to support each other no matter the outcome. We both knew what needed to be done, but as people often do, we just differed on how to do it. I think the electorate just made a decision as to whom they felt would best move forward with police and public safety."
For Henry, his taking office as mayor is another in a long line of positions he has held in the community. He has served as a member of borough council for over seven years, including a four-year stint as board president. Other positions he has held include chairman of the Oxford Planning Commission, member of Oxford's Recreational and Open Space Committee, member of Oxford's Revitalization Committee, Oxford Rotary president, Civic Association president and a member of Oxford's Sports Boosters.
"I'm looking forward to working with the new council," said Henry. "It is a very diverse group. I'm sure they will be able to come up with a lot of new ideas and solutions. As mayor I am very limited in what I can do. However, by working closely with members of council I can be effective in attempting to solve some of Oxford's problems."
New members joining council include, Sherry Andrews, Leda Widdoes and Ronald Hershey. Council members Glenn Elters, and Russell Doyle will be leaving their posts.