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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ocean County Freeholder: With Choices Like This, What's the Point of Choosing?

Today we're going to talk about an upcoming election for Freeholder in my home county in New Jersey. Freeholders are unique to New Jersey, because New Jersey purposely sets out to make everything as expensive and inefficient as possible when it comes to matters of government. Freely elected, they sit on boards of from three to nine members. Typically in most counties each Freeholder is put in charge of a particular area of county government as an executive and each member of the board votes on legislative issues. Some counties differ slightly in administration, but in my county, Ocean, that's pretty much the way it works.

There is one seat up for election in November.

Candidate Number 1, Joseph Vicari, the incumbent, has been on the Board since 1981. He is also the superintendent of schools in a municipality in the county. New Jersey has somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 individual school districts which are set up on a town-by-town basis. We do it this way because:
  • it makes things way more expensive which helps keep our property taxes so high no one can afford to live here anymore    
  • it offers employment opportunities at exorbitant salaries for administrators, political hacks and union flunkies
  • it is a completely redundant system with no hope of streamlining or passing cost savings on to the taxpayer, so it's perfect for a corrupt little place like New Jersey
Mr. Vicari, 61, has spent his career in the public sector, first as a school teacher. He receives $97,837 a year from his teaching pension, and $18,500 a year as Superintendent of the Berkeley school system. Mr. Vicari offered to take a reduced salary as Superintendent because I guess in the current fiscal climate all the money he was receiving from the public till made him uncomfortable. The average Superintendent in New Jersey earns $163,000 a year (Source: NJSpotlight). Freeholders in Ocean County earn $50,000 per year, plus benefits. So, that means I pay Mr. Vicari $166,337 per year, which quite frankly is making me broke.

However, Mr. Vicari is also the rare New Jersey politician without a scandal, at least one that we know of. After forty years in public service I would pretty much think whatever skeletons he had in his closet would have gone public by now, so we have to assume Mr. Vicari is clean.

But, I'll have a hard time voting for him again this year because:
  • he's spent too long in public service
  • he's spent thirty years on the Freeholder Board, and quite frankly he can't have the same enthusiasm for the job he once did
  • he's already earning a public salary so he should be (if we lived in a common sense state) prohibited from earning another concurrent public salary
Candidate Number 2, Michelle Rosen, is an adjunct professor at the local community college (a publicly funded institution). She was elected to serve on a township committee in the early 1980s, and has unsuccessfully run for three other county or state offices in the years since. Ms. Rosen declared bankruptcy in 2002, claiming $662,000 in personal debts, and assets of $20 in her checking account and $2,170 in other personal assets. Fifty dollars of her personal assets were her dog. I have two dogs, and trust me, they're worth half that, but they're family so I would never consider them to be an "asset."

Since the 1990s, Ms. Rosen, 64, has also been arrested six times on disorderly persons charges for either passing bad checks or theft of services. She says her financial and arrest issues are "a private matter," and refuses to discuss them.

So here's my choice:
  • I can vote for a triple dipper who has held the same office since 1981. In the interest of full disclosure,  I worked on two of Mr. Vicari's campaigns twenty and twenty-four years ago
  • I can vote for a person who gets arrested for passing bad checks and has run her finances so far into the ground that she listed her dog as an asset
As Bill, a writer from London. England, once cleverly wrote: "There is little choice in a barrel of rotten apples."

In case you haven't guessed yet, Candidate Number 1 is a Republican, and Candidate Number 2 is a Democrat.

Additional information compiled from Asbury Park Press reports, Erik Larsen, Staff Writer.

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