EAST ORANGE - Although the entire East Orange City Council discussed upgrading private property maintenance enforcement, among other topics, at their July 9 committee meeting, their thoughts kept coming back to memories of the late Assistant Municipal Clerk Garry Branch.
Those thoughts would be later expressed by those who paid final respects to Branch, 56, at Newark's Pilgrim Baptist Church during his July 9 evening visitation and the following 11 a.m. July 11 funeral.
Fourth Ward Councilman William C. Holt, one of five scheduled speakers during the July 11 celebration of life, recalled how Branch would usually conduct his business in East Orange City Hall.
"One of my constituents told me that she once went to the clerk's office with a question," said Holt before a near-capacity Pilgrim sanctuary July 11. "He would provide a prompt answer. He told me, "I provide a service to the citizens and residents.' He had a way of sizing you up, told you what he thought of you and made you like him."
Branch died from complications of a lengthy illness July 5. He had passed his official 20th anniversary of being employed in the city clerk's office last April.
Garry Branch was actually born a Newark native, to Baxter Terrace residents Esau and Helen Branch, Feb. 5, 1956. The Branch family would include brothers Charles and Melvin plus sisters Helen and Glenda.
Branch, who was promoted from the nearby Burnet Street School, was first known for his singing. He found his tenor baritone voice while attending Central High School and continued signing while a Pilgrim Baptist member.
"Garry was part of Pilgrim's traveling choir, which has gone as far as North Carolina," said Mt. Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Ralph Branch, who presided over the July 11 celebration. "One can listen to a voice and whether the singer has everything technically right and the spirit. Gary had the spirit."
The CHS Class of 1974 graduate's clerical and managerial skills took longer to appear. The Ramapo College of N.J. and New York's New School for Social Research attendee had an early developed work ethic, going back to when he do odd jobs for Crest Drugs on Orange Street and for neighbors. Branch's early resume included stints as an assistant store manager of Radio Shack's World Trade Center store, a Home Liquors manager and as an AIDS Research Assistant at Rutgers University.
It was when Branch volunteered to work in then-City Clerk Constance L. Newton's office in late 1991 that his skills and experiences melded together. Newton offered Branch a job as clerk-typist, which he accepted. Branch would soon be promoted to senior clerk-typist and assistant municipal clerk by 1997.
Branch became a key supporter of current City Clerk Cynthia Brown. The sole male in an office of eight, Branch became known for his professional service and good nature. He also was a past president of Communication Workers of America Local 1077's executive board as well as being on several Pilgrim Baptist committees.
Mayor Robert L. Bowser appointed Branch to assistant municipal clerk in November 1998.
"I remember Garry in those last few months, going to work and then to the hospital," said Holt. "On July 5, when the Lord told him in the hospital, 'It's time,' he went.
Branch's remains were buried in Bloomfield's Glendale Cemetery. Sisters Helen and Glenda Branch-Trott, and aunt and uncle plus a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends are among Branch's survivors. His parents plus brothers Charles and Melvin predeceased him.
Many of the 11 City Hall Council Chamber gallery audience members first learned of Branch's passing July 9 at the meeting's start. Council President Quilla Talmadge particularly mentioned his name while calling for a moment of silence.
Talmadge, Holt and their colleagues continued with city matters - including a discussion on how best to enforce private property maintenance codes. The 10-minute discussion opened with First Ward Councilman Jamal Barnes asking Public Works Committee Chairman Holt about who and how best to approach a property's overgrown weed situation.
"There's one property that has a five-foot-tall fence," said Barnes. "The weeds have grown above the fence."
"I think we all have certain properties with overgrown conditions," added Second Ward Councilwoman Jacquelyn Johnson. "I have a block where one half its lots are empty."
The discussion brought up one of two enforcement approaches; either fine delinquent property owners more frequently or raise the fine penalty.
"We may have to look at increasing the fine," said First Ward Councilwoman Andrea McPhatter. "If a landlord owns five or six properties here or elsewhere, he or she may consider a $50 fine, even is the case is brought before the municipal court every three to six months, as a slap on the wrist."
Holt said that he would look at both approaches with the city's police and code enforcement departments. The council's next meeting is set for 6 p.m. July 16.