Bergen County prepares for the unusual: Republican Freeholders

Incoming Bergen County Republican freeholders Rob Hermansen and John Driscoll will be outnumbered by Democrats 5-2 on the board, but they plan to propose some bold initiatives as soon as they are sworn in – ideas that will probably be met by a tough crowd.

Driscoll and Hermansen want to enact their campaign pledge of cutting each freeholders' pay by 25%, end pay-to-play by limiting political donations from contractors doing business with the county to $300 and limit county officials – both elected and appointed – to just one pension.

Hermansen said that he would "reach across" to the Democrats "to see if we can get things done." But that may not be easy, since three of the five remaining Democrats on the board have public jobs in addition to their roles as freeholders.

"This is the part where I'm going to come off a little harsh — that's not my issue," he said. "My issue is the taxpayer. And if the freeholders themselves are truly up there to take care of the taxpayer, then guess what? They're going to start doing it."

Hermansen admits that, while it will be hard enough to institute a county-wide pay-to-play ban, the prolific practice of wheeling contractor donations to freeholder campaigns through PACs — the most recent cast reported by The Record's Charles Stile and John Reitmeyer – can only be addressed on a state level.

Although pushing those reforms is bound to be contentious, the grace period between the campaign and swearing in continue. For no, the Democratic incumbents and incoming Republicans all express a hope and willingness for bipartisanship.

"They're just two or three things. There are going to be a lot of things over the years we're going to work on," said Driscoll, who said another priority of his is to bring controversial Bergen County Technical School District Superintendent Robert Aloia in front of the board to answer questions about his travel and expenses. "I have the feeling at the end of the day you're going to be pleasantly surprised when we start working together."

Democratic Freeholder David Ganz, for his part, said he had a pleasant conversation with Hermansen last night at Freeholder Director James Carroll's party at the League of Munipalities convention.

"The vitriol from the campaign appears to be gone. It thought personally it showed a lot class," he said.

Ganz said he would be happy to explain to Hermansen and Driscoll how to cut their own pay by 25%, but he did not think the idea would fly with the rest of the board.

"I assure you if he does his job properly as a freeholder he will earn every penny of his salary. Frankly, you wind up earning more money on an hourly basis flipping burgers at McDonalds than you do this way," said Ganz. "He's free to grandstand. It's a nice podium to have."

Ganz said that the need for pay-to-play reform is eliminated by the board's "full, complete financial disclosure" since contractors' political donations are outlined on every resolution and ordinance.

"They all have to disclose what they have, and people can draw their own conclusions as to whether or not there's been pay to play or anything else," he said.

Carroll, the freeholder director, argued that the Republicans are "looking to increase" the size of government with new pay-to-play regulations.

Nevertheless, Carroll said he welcomed the Republicans' input.

"I haven't had an opportunity to discuss any of this with these guys. I'd like to hear what they have to say," he said. "I give everybody the opportunity to say their piece." Bergen County prepares for the unusual: Republican Freeholders