OCEAN COUNTY – A new year, a new commissioner and some new committee assignments were all part of the annual reorganization meeting of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners but not everything went smoothly.
With Commissioner Gerry P. Little retiring from the board last year, a vacancy opened up and Barbara Jo Crea won election in November to replace him on the all-Republican board. She was sworn in by longtime friend and colleague 9th District Assemblyman Brian Rumpf. Her term will expire in 2024.
Commissioner Gary Quinn was also sworn in for his second term on the board. He was surrounded by family members as former 16th District Assemblyman Jack M. Ciattarelli administered the oath of office. Quinn served as director of the Board of Commissioners last year. Quinn’s term also ends at the end of 2024. Ciattarelli lost a very close race for governor in November to incumbent Governor Phil Murphy. He gained more votes than expected in Ocean County and other areas of the state.
The new director of commissioners is Jack P. Kelly who was unable to attend the session due to illness. His current term of office will expire at the end of the year.
Assuming the role of deputy director of the board is Virginia E. Haines whose term in office also ends this year.
As always, the first meeting of the year is a veritable who’s who of GOP officials in Ocean County and beyond. Present during the session was Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy, 4th District Congressman Christopher Smith, 30th District Senator Robert W. Singer, Jackson Mayor Michael Reina, Manchester Mayor Robert Hudak, Manchester Councilwoman Michele Zolezi and former Ocean County Republican party boss George Gilmore. They and other elected officials observed the meeting. Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer was also acknowledged during the meeting.
Also noted were Ocean County Clerk Scott M. Colabella and Frank B. Holman, III, chairman of the Board of Canvassers and current county leader of the Republicans.
Reverend James Occhipinti, who serves as chaplain for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department, provided the invocation and at the session’s close, the benediction. Occhipinti has been a part of the reorganization meeting for many years providing those services. The day’s session began with a presentation of colors by the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Color Guard.
Crea thanked her family for their support and attending the day’s meeting. She thanked Rumpf saying, “we’ve been friends for a long time. You administered my first oath of office many years ago and you are here with me again today. I genuinely appreciate that.” She acknowledged former Commissioner Little on the work “he has done for Ocean County over the years. I am also grateful to people of Ocean County for giving me the opportunity to serve them.”
She pledged to be “very active and a hands-on commissioner for the residents of Ocean County.”
Quinn acknowledged Occhipinti for his many years at the reorganization meetings. He also thanked his wife of 43 years, Linda, and the rest of his family for their support. He also noted the work of the Ocean County Health Department and its leadership by Health Coordinator/Health Officer Daniel P. Regenye.
“I’m very happy to have all the support I had on the county level along with Bobbi Jo, to be able to come back and serve the residents for another three years. Last year was a challenging year and we had to deal with a lot of things that we have never had to deal with in the past,” Quinn added.
Haines also noted the COVID-19 services of the OCHD and spoke about several land preservation projects that began in 2021 and would continue into the new year including a new park in Manchester Township off Ridgeway Boulevard. It will serve as both a passive and recreational park and is the county’s 28th park.
Argument Over Liaisons
Amid the pleasantries there was one point of contention with a resolution assigning which commissioner would serve as liaison to departments this year. Commissioner Joseph Vicari called for it to be tabled for further discussion. He noted his background in education and his long time serving as liaison on the Ocean County Vocational-Technical Schools, Employee Relations Department and the Surrogate’s Officer. He wanted to know why he was taken off as liaison.
With Kelly absent, Haines chaired the meeting.
“This was distributed last week to all the commissioners. Everyone has had a chance to look at it. Jack has seen it. Although we don’t all agree 100% on the appointments being switched around I myself am not in favor of tabling it,” Quinn said.
Vicari said, “there was no discussion of it. There was no interaction. There are several things I would like to discuss. I need more information. I don’t feel comfortable. I will support all other items but I want to discuss those three at another meeting.”
“What I’m saying is let’s talk about each one individually and if I lose, I lose but I think the people should know the reason.” He noted he served as liaison to the Ocean County Vocational Schools, for 40 years.
“We are moving on with the meeting,” Haines said noting the motion to table had failed and the motion to approve the resolution was now before them.
Vicari responded, “so I am being censored? You say this is good government? It is a disgrace. If (deceased Ocean County Freeholders) John Bartlett and Jim Mancini were here, they would be turning over in their graves.”
“I respect you and we have a great relationship working together. These discussions have been going on over the last couple of weeks. We’re not elected to sit up here and all agree on everything and this is a situation where we are now definitely not agreeing on something,” Quinn said.
“We rarely get into these situations but my disagreement with Commissioner Vicari over the last couple of years has been because you’ve been here for 40 years or whatever it is, does not give you an edge up and never have to give up any of your departments that these are your departments in perpetuity.
“That is not the case. It is a healthy situation for these departments to be shuffled around once in a while and have other commissioners to come in and work with the leaders of those departments. Our job as liaison is not to go in and micromanage any of these departments,” Quinn said.
“I want more information. I have not had the opportunity to discuss this,” Vicari added.