BRICK – In what may be a first in the history of Ocean County, women outnumber men on the governing body in Brick since four of the seven all-Democratic council members are women.
Not just that, but four of the top leadership positions in town – the business administrator, chief financial officer, township engineer and tax assessor – are all held by women who were appointed by Mayor John G. Ducey.
“What I concentrated on was to hire the most qualified candidate,” Ducey said. “I never really thought about the fact that they are all female until it was pointed out to me – the gender of someone never came into play in my thinking during the interview process.”
Township tax assessor Irene Raftery started her career in Brick in 2000 as an entry-level clerk. When an opening for tax assessor came up, she became a candidate.
“It was the right fit. My husband was a tax assessor in Long Branch and Jackson, and because I had worked as a paralegal I had the general knowledge,” she said.
Raftery had to take classes at Rutgers University for additional training, and after passing a six-hour test required by the State Division of Taxation, she became a certified tax assessor.
“Typically, over the years, women have been second in command [in the township], but our mayor wanted the most qualified people and saw that it was us, so he hired from within,” she said.
“I was pleasantly surprised. His call came out of the blue,” Raftery recalled. “I went to his office and he asked if I would be interested,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to work here. It’s a congenial office, and it starts at the top.”
Township engineer Elissa Commins worked in the private sector before being hired by the township in 2013.
“I used to get some colorful comments from people when I walked on the jobsite because people don’t realize I’m the engineer, but it doesn’t bother me anymore,” she said.
Commins said she is only aware of one other municipal engineer – in Neptune, although townships sometimes use engineering consultants who are women.
“I had a high school teacher who said I should try engineering because it’s easy to transfer credits out, but difficult to transfer credits into [an engineering major],” she said.
“Brick is very organized, and that is unique; I’m lucky to be here because I love what I do,” Commins said.
Township Chief Financial Officer Maureen Laffey-Berg worked as the assistant CFO in Brick for eight years.
“I started working in government in Colts Neck in 1985 in bookkeeping, and I worked my way up,” she said.
Laffey-Berg was the assistant financial officer in Maplewood, and the assistant financial director/purchasing manager in Old Bridge before she started working in Brick in 2008.
“In order to become a CFO I had to take eight different classes with the state through Rutgers,” she said. “I enjoy my job very much. I love working here. We have a great staff.”
Business Administrator Joanne Bergin is the chief administrator in the township and works hand-in-hand with the mayor to prepare the township budget, supervise the administration of each department, ensure that the municipality enforces state laws and regulations, and much more.
Ducey appointed Bergin shortly after he became mayor in 2014.
“There is a tremendous honor and responsibility that comes with being a woman in a field that has been historically male-dominated,” Bergin said.
“For me, I don’t see my boss or my peers by race or gender. I see them as partners and colleagues, and I expect to be seen in the same way,” she said.
Bergin said she wants to be a great example for her daughters and granddaughters, and hopes to see them become “strong, confident women who aren’t afraid to take on challenges and forge their own path.”
Ducey said when he was making the appointments he was looking for qualified individuals who were confident enough to want the position, and were also “a good fit” within the family of township employees.
“I definitely found the right four people in Joanne, Irene, Maureen and Elissa. They have all been awesome assets to our great town and I am very proud of the decision I made in all four positions, and I would make the same decision today,” the mayor said.
The women council members are Council Vice President Andrea Zapcic, Marianna Pontoriero, Heather deJong and Lisa Crate.