TOMS RIVER – If you weren’t there before 3 p.m., you weren’t getting a seat. The meeting room in the Ocean County administration building was beyond packed for the county freeholder’s reorganization Jan. 2, and recognized by most as a bittersweet time.
While the guests—which included senior Congressman Chris Smith and former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, among others—celebrated the reelection of Gerry P. Little, welcomed newcomer Gary Quinn, and erupted in applause as Virginia Haines was named first woman freeholder director in 40 years, a somberness settled in when remembering that for the first time in four decades, the longest serving freeholder in the state’s history, John C. Bartlett Jr., was not there.
After battling cancer, Bartlett died at home Dec. 12 surrounded by his loved ones. He was 71.
The scene looked quite different just a year ago, outgoing Freeholder Director Little said before Haines was officially voted in as director. He and Bartlett, who served as deputy director last year, planned to run for reelection together in 2018.
“We had talked, and were going to run. Everything’s great, and we’re going to have a great year. I always like to use sports metaphors when we’re talking, and John was not a sports fan. If I said something about football, he said, ‘Is that where you hit a home run?’ Now John knew the truth but he always liked to joke with me about sports,” Little said. “And so, we were all ready to go last year at this time. And then, our pastors and monsignor and rabbi…our “Head Coach,” if you will, had different plans for John, and our season didn’t go quite the way we would have liked it. But I wanted to mention that because our party came up together…and we selected together…a fine gentleman.”
Quinn was a long-time committeeman in Lacey Township. He was one of 10 contenders considered as Bartlett’s replacement, and officially chosen as Little’s running mate Sept. 5, a mere two months before the November general election. He was sworn in with his family surrounding him.
“This is the first time in 39 years that John Bartlett isn’t sitting up here,” Quinn said after being sworn in. “I have to tell you, it’s such an honor to take and fill John’s seat. I know when John first got sick, it was something that he and I had talked about, I got the nomination. And knowing that he was behind me, he was supporting me to take and move into his seat when he left, truly meant the world to me. And I told John I would do everything in my power to continue building on his legacy and bring my new ideas to the board.”
Bartlett was called the architect of the county’s multimillion dollar budget, which in 2018 was $416.1 million. The county has maintained a AAA bond rating, even after Superstorm Sandy ravaged its coast back in 2012, something everyone who knew Bartlett said he was extremely proud of.
Freeholder John Kelly, who was chosen to be deputy freeholder director for 2019, will be the county’s new director of finance, a position held by Bartlett for years.
“In losing John Bartlett, we all had to take new assignments. The new assignment I got was as chairman of budget and management, which I thought was pretty good. I like that. But you know what I’ve come to find out? I made a whole lot of new friends,” Kelly quipped. “Every department head now calls me Mr. Kelly. They didn’t even know who the hell I was just six months ago, now all know who I am, which is nice to see.”
But the centerpiece of the day was the choosing of Haines as freeholder director. She is only the second woman ever to hold the position, and the first in 40 years to do so.
Her term as freeholder expires at the end of this year.
“Thank you to my fellow freeholders for their confidence in me to be director in 2019. I look forward to working with you and leading you to continue to make the county as wonderful as it is,” Haines said. She will serve as chairwoman of the Natural Lands and Parks and Recreation departments.
Little will serve as chair of the Roads and Bridges, and Veterans departments.
Kelly will serve as chair of Law and Public Safety, and Finance departments.
Freeholder Joseph Vicari will serve as chair or Senior Services, Tourism and Business Development, Buildings and Grounds, and Library departments.
Quinn will serve as chair of Human Services, Planning, Recycling and Solid Waste, and Transportation/Ocean Ride departments.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders meets at 4 p.m. in the county administration building, 101 Hooper Ave. in Toms River.
Their regular meeting dates are: Jan. 16, Feb. 6 and 20, March 6 and 20, April 3 and 17, May 1 and 15, June 5 and 19, July 3 and 17, Aug. 7 and 21, Sept. 4 and 18, Oct. 2 and 16, Nov. 6 and 20, Dec. 4 and 18.