Behind Township Manager Robert Zienkowski is an administrative team of support – learn more about the roles of Assistant Township Manager, Executive Assistant, and Special Projects Coordinator.
Assistant Township Manager Alyson Elliott, Executive Assistant Ashley Lupino, and Special Projects Coordinator Lauren Cartlidge make up the Administration Department, under Township Manager Robert Zienkowski. These three women provide administrative support to the Manager and the Board of Commissioners – but what does that look like on a daily basis? The department is at the helm of many different responsibilities and daily tasks for the Township, such as securing grants, coordinating large projects, and managing the dissemination of information to residents.
Unlike other departments which are named for their area of expertise, the Administrative Department handles a broad range of tasks and inquiries, answering resident questions the best they can, or forwarding them to the appropriate department when a more specialized answer is required.
Alyson said, “Our department is the backbone of Township operations. We need to know enough about all of the departments to help guide policy and projects. In the biggest sense, we are coordinators – we coordinate projects, coordinate meetings, facilitate agendas – to keep things moving as best as possible.”
Alyson’s role as Assistant Township Manager is largely project based. She is constantly communicating with consultants, contractors, outside agencies and staff to move a project from concept to completion. She works on initiatives like the comprehensive plan update, stormwater impact fee, tree-planting program, and more to ensure Township infrastructure and facilities are able to realize their potential. The Assistant Manager is also one of the Township’s Right-to-Know Officers, receiving records requests from individuals or entities, and working with other Township personnel to answer them in a timely fashion.
One of the biggest challenges Alyson faces is trying to balance and prioritize the needs of the community to get the best results with the resources the Township has available. To help offset the cost of important projects, Alyson’s workload includes identifying, submitting and managing grants for the Township. During her tenure, Alyson has secured millions of dollars in grant funding for stormwater projects, an extension to the Tookany Creek Trail, improvements to Curtis Arboretum, street improvements and other projects. From presenting opportunities for Board approval, to the application, implementation, and eventual close-out processes, grant opportunities keep her busy.
Alyson is also liaison to the Environmental Advisory Council, the Economic Development Task Force, the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, and the Friends of Curtis Arboretum. She has been heavily involved with implementing the 2016 Curtis Arboretum Conservation and Landscape Management Plan, and working with Jeffrey A. Miller Catering, who contracted with the Township for exclusive use of the hall and grounds as an event venue. Alyson said the work the Township has been able to put into restoring and improving the Arboretum since the master plan was adopted at the end of 2016 is impressive. Partnerships with Jeffrey Miller, the Friends of Curtis Arboretum and financial partners like PECO, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the National Fish and Wild Life Foundation and others have helped achieve the goals of the master plan faster than expected.
By coordinating with other local organizations and community groups, Alyson keeps abreast of what other localities are doing, so as to best guide Cheltenham’s progress and steward its resources. “Cheltenham has a lot of challenges, but it also has a lot of great things going for it. I enjoy working with the team to help improve the community.”
As the Executive Assistant, Ashley plays a huge role in supporting the seven Ward Commissioners. Ashley explains that much of her job is “dealing with the everyday” – from personnel issues, to emergencies that crop up, to staying on top of items that need to go on Committee and Board agendas to follow the proper approval process. As your Commissioners work to uphold the best quality of services to residents, their communication goes through Ashley, who keeps track of items that need further dialogue. She handles follow-up with residents, contractors, the Township Solicitor, and other stakeholders as necessary. When residents call with questions or concerns, Ashley goes above and beyond to get them an answer or address their situation!
Ashley is instrumental in coordinating the Township Manager’s busy schedule of meetings, phone calls, or site visits with residents, staff, commissioners, neighboring municipalities, service providers, and prospective developers. She communicates closely with the Township Manager every day to make sure he is up to speed about projects or issues that existed before his start at Cheltenham, and ensure that he is ready for his upcoming meetings. Sometimes it can be a challenge to coordinate meetings with many parties involved, or to keep track of correspondence involving the Township’s many projects, studies, and plans – but with great organizational and people skills, she keeps the department operating smoothly.
Ashley’s favorite part of the job is corresponding with all departments on a daily basis. “We’re a team. I’ve built really strong relationships with staff – they rely on me, and I rely on them. At the end of the day, I find it to be very rewarding. Being a team is what helps us be able to function properly.”
As Special Projects Coordinator, Lauren is ready to jump in wherever help is needed. She assists the Assistant Township Manager and Township Manager in a variety of daily tasks, and fields resident concerns and comments. Lauren works closely with other departments, such as Emergency Management to post storm notices as quickly as possible, Public Works to relay upcoming roadwork, Parks and Recreation to stay on top of events, and Code Enforcement to make sure resident concerns are resolved. She also works with many Citizens Committees, helping to spread word of their initiatives, such as a Sustainable Yards contest for the Environmental Advisory Council, a business webinar by the Economic Development Task Force, or the COVID-19 resource list compiled by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Committee.
Lauren is largely accountable for the Township’s publicity. During an average week, she adds press releases to the website, makes informational, eye-catching graphics for Township social media channels, and helps to edit and/or post information from other Township departments. She also keeps an eye on newsworthy items to share from Montgomery County and State Offices. Lauren also works to put together Township publications, such as the two yearly print newsletters and the annual calendar. These publications are big projects, and while she puts together the final product, she credits these publications as a joint effort, made with the input of a variety of Township departments in order to provide the best information.
Lauren said the coronavirus pandemic added a challenge for communication with the public, because of information changing weekly or even daily, especially during the earlier stages. “It often felt like we were surviving day-to-day because daily priorities and larger projects had to be shifted in order to continue making sure the newest information was made available.”
In addition, Lauren coordinates the Township’s new Tree Donation program, which was developed in 2020 and had a successful beginning last week on Arbor Day. Through the program, residents can memorialize a loved one and add to the beauty of the community at the same time. So far, donors to the program have chosen three Scarlet Oak trees (for Melrose Park and Tookany Creek Park) and two Greenspire Lindens (for Curtis Arboretum). “I love the concept that the investment in a living memorial is also an investment in the beauty and environmental health of the Township. It’s exciting that families are going to be able to watch these trees grow for years to come.”
Ashley says, “Ultimately, everything goes through this office. We’re the hub.” Along with the above duties, the three develop the Township’s public meeting agendas and minutes, which are constantly flowing between departments, to be reviewed and edited for uniformity and accuracy before being made available to the public. Through this process, the Administration develops, informs, and amends policy, procedures, and ordinances of the Township so this historic Township can grow with the times and ensure community needs are met.
What would the Administration Department like residents to know? “Township direction comes from the Township Manager and Commissioners. We as a department strive to be on top of new information, to keep both leaders and the community apprised, making sure information is being shared and transparent. Your concerns are welcome and we will funnel them through the proper channels. Whether it’s a trash issue, traffic issue, or something else, your concerns are always read and heard, and we’re doing our best to address them every day.”