CHELTENHAM -- The Cheltenham Board of Commissioners bid adieu to a community leader, colleague and friend during Dec. 18’s meeting in Curtis Hall.
A board member since 2008, Drew Sharkey’s commitment to Cheltenham residents was defined by breadth and depth. A lifelong resident of Glenside and Cheltenham Township, Sharkey has served on the Cheltenham Economic Development Task Force, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee, and took a leadership role in the Township Main Street program while chairing the Organization and Development Committee. He additionally serves on the Glenside Fire Company and Downtown Glenside Community Partnership boards.
The commissioner has served as the president and vice-president of the Montgomery Association of Township Commissioners since 2009, and was elected president of the Eastern Association of Township Commissioners and the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners in 2015.
In 2016, Sharkey was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Local Government via Tom Wolf, who appointed the commissioner to the Governor’s Commission on Local Government in 2017.
Sharkey’s retirement is effective January 6, 2020. Stepping away from his last meeting as commissioner, he reflected on his foray into civic engagement.
“I had been involved in politics in college, and my predecessor Bob Gearhard further involved me through participation in a task force. From there I became very engaged in civic activities within the township,” he said. “When Bob retired, he asked me if I wanted to give [local politics] a shot. I didn’t think I was going to have a chance at winning a seat, but things went well, and I did.”
As the only Republican on the board in 2019, Sharkey was held in high esteem by his constituents and contemporaries alike, in part due to his balanced vision for a better community.
“I don’t believe party should play a role in the local government, but it does to an extent. It’s a small concern that there are no more Republicans, because you want both perspectives. You hope that other members will take the cue and fill that void,” he said.
“I think we accomplished a lot between opening new restaurants and solving the infrastructure issues with the sewer. I think we made tough decisions, and we were elected to do exactly that. I tried to do what I thought was in the best interests in the community,” Sharkey said.
“I feel we fostered a great sense of community by organizing and running a great deal of events and strengthening our partnership with the community. We’ve gotten Arcadia involved. The food truck festival, Winter Fest, the Arts festival. We started each of those events and got them off the ground. We can always use more volunteers, and people love to come and embrace those opportunities,” he said.
Sharkey was willing to proffer advice to the next generation of civic-minded Cheltenham residents.
“Firstly, make sure you understand that serving the board is a major time commitment. I’ve put in 40-50 hours a week on top of a full-time job. You’re going to have to make sacrifices, and you have to be aware that people are going to engage you wherever you go in the community. I’m more active on social media than most commissioners, which eats up its own share of time. You’re in constant contact with the township, you’re constantly attending meetings. A lot goes on behind the scenes. People should know that before they get involved. You’re giving up a large piece of your life on behalf of the community.
“As long as you’re comfortable with that, you’ll be successful,” he said.
Commissioner Sharkey’s efforts were acknowledged through citations on behalf of U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, Lt. Governor John Fetterman, Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood, and Pennsylvania State Representative Steve McCarter.
“I believe your obligations extend sometimes to Harrisburg, and even at times to Washington,” Sharkey said. “To me it’s about community and civic engagement, not so much politics. To quote Bob Gearhard, it’s about service over self.”
Board members past and present shared enthusiasm for Sharkey’s accomplishments.
“As a commissioner, Drew was attentive to the needs of his local Glenside community yet always concerned about doing what was best for the whole township,” Board President Daniel Norris said. “Drew is well liked and known throughout the business community, Arcadia University and anyone swimming at the Glenside pool. Having grown up in Glenside, Drew's friends include our fire company volunteers, police, and staff throughout the Public Works and Parks Departments. Also active in the state Commissioner associations, Drew brought this knowledge and expertise back to Cheltenham. A friend to many, colleague extraordinaire to the Board of Commissioners and truly a dedicated public servant to our community, we wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Former Board President and long-time Commissioner Morton “Mickey” Simon, Jr. said of Sharkey, “[He’s] one of the hardest working commissioners I have known. Drew is highly effective at presenting his ideas from researching them, pursuing them, and following them up, often to adoption. He’s active statewide in municipal affairs, spreading the renown of Cheltenham Township as a great township.”
“Bask in the acknowledgment for all you’ve done. It was earned through diligence, intelligence, decency and good humor,” Commissioner Mitch Zygmund-Felt said. “You are entitled to the recognition and enjoyment the public aspects of your life have bestowed on you. The Township, Glenside, the County and State all have benefited from your commitment to doing good without regard to partisanship.”
“I’m not one to lavish praise but in your case, I’ll make an exception,” Zygmund-Felt said. “It has been a great pleasure and learning experience seeing you in action and appreciating how public service can be done. May the next phases of your professional and personal activities lead to comparable accomplishments.”
In other matters at the December meeting, the Cheltenham High School Panthers football team was presented a Community Service Award on behalf of their appearance at the PIAA Class 5A State Championship on Dec. 6.
The team, which finished 6-0 in conference play and 14-2 overall, was led by Head Coach Ryan Nase in his third year with the program.
“This accomplishment was unprecedented in this township,” Commissioner Irv Brockington said. “I was on the edge of my seat. You galvanized the entire township.”
“I want you to be more than athletes,” Brockington said, facing the team’s representatives. “I want to see you serving your community someday as a commissioner.”