TOMS RIVER – In the quiet of Ocean County's Historic Courtroom 1 in the Ocean County Courthouse on New Year's Day, Joseph H. Vicari, the longest sitting elected county official in the state, was sworn in as an Ocean County Commissioner.
With his family at his side, Vicari who is serving his 40th year on what is now the Ocean County Board of Commissioners, was administered the oath of office by his daughter Dina M. Vicari, Esquire.
There were no large crowds, no fanfare, to witness the event, as in the past due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Rather than having the swearing in during the Board of Commissioners' organization meeting on Jan. 6 as is tradition, I felt it best to take the oath surrounded by just my family this year," said Vicari. "It's so important to be mindful about reducing contact with large numbers of people at this time in order to protect everyone from COVID-19."
Vicari was also the first on the Board to be sworn in as a Commissioner. He was returned to his County seat with 212,553 votes.
Effective Jan. 1, 2021, the term Board of Chosen Freeholders is no longer being used due to legislation signed earlier in 2020 by the Governor (S855) formally changing the title of Freeholder to Commissioner. The new title was changed to Ocean County Board of Commissioners and, Freeholders, effective Jan. 1, 2021, are now referred to as Commissioners.
Ocean County will hold its annual organization meeting for the Board of Commissioners at 3:30 p.m., Jan. 6 in the Ocean County Administration building, 119 Hooper Ave., here.
The County is following all the state guidelines for the meeting including room capacity, mask wearing, social distancing and also taking of temperatures for all of the public attending. In order to insure everyone's health and safety, county staff and those normally invited to attend the meeting have been respectfully requested to refrain from attending the meeting if at all possible.
Gary Quinn is expected to be named Director of the Board of Commissioners for 2021 and Gerry Little is expected to serve as Deputy Director.
While the change of title from Freeholder to Commissioner will take some getting used to, Vicari said it will not lessen in any way the services and programs he and his colleagues work to provide for constituents throughout the County.
Vicari said he looks forward to serving all of Ocean County's residents in 2021 with a renewed optimism but well aware of the challenges that continue into the New Year.
He noted that his final year as an elected Freeholder was far from what he expected.
"The year 2020 started off like any other but quickly changed with the spread of COVID-19. Its effects have been devastating to our citizens and our businesses," he said. "Not just in Ocean County but across the country and around the world. It changed the lives of nearly all of our 600,000 county residents."
More than 1,300 Ocean County residents have died because of COVID-19. And almost 34,000 people in the County have contracted the virus since it started in March.
"But now we are rolling out the vaccinations," Vicari said. "As the Ocean County Health Department partners with the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management, area hospitals and Toms River schools, I know this effort will be successful in delivering the hope we need to curtail the spread of this and help us return to a more normal course.
"Ocean County is resilient," he said. "We acted quickly to protect our senior citizens and the most vulnerable members of our community."
Vicari said that while challenges are expected in the New Year, programs like home delivered meals for seniors, outreach and assistance for seniors and their caregivers and a host of other programs and services will continue in 2021.
"The Ocean County Board of Commissioners is here to continue to provide beneficial programs and services to all our citizens," Vicari said. "Whether it is our libraries, our parks, our veterans' programs, maintaining our roads, ensuring public safety, providing key services to the needy and vulnerable, transporting residents to jobs and medical appointments, helping our businesses, we will make certain our residents can rely on us to provide quality services and programs as we always have.
"That, I assure you, will not change," he said.