Ridgefield attorney Robert Avery, a Republican, talked to PolitickerNJ about some of the key issues at stake in his bid for his first term on the Bergen County Freeholder Board.
Regarding the increasing incidence of heroin addiction in Bergen County, Avery focused on one particular way to a solution.
“It all goes back to education, education and education,” said Avery, 63, an attorney in private practice for 38 years. “There are several school systems that are administered by the county, and education about how drugs completely destroy the lives of those who get involved with them has to be stressed. Educators can’t be afraid to talk about it. I think they should be afraid not to talk about it. If educators are afraid to talk about drugs, then we should get new educators.”
Avery took a cautious approach to proposals for casino gambling in North Jersey, including in the Meadowlands, following the decline of the gambling industry in Atlantic City.
“That’s an issue for the people to decide, and it should be decided by a referendum if the issue gets that far,” Avery said. “We have a changing economic climate, and we have to keep in mind what’s happened in Atlantic City. We have to question, and perhaps study, whether we’re going to have difficulties up here and end up with a big, empty building in the Meadowlands just like we have next to the Turnpike right now. We could have a good gambling economy in Bergen County for a while, until Passaic or Sussex counties did it. If the people want gambling in the Meadowlands, they should have it. If they don’t, we can leave the Meadowlands the way they are.”
Electoral politics is a different kind of gamble, and a recently suggested idea could change the rules of the game in Bergen County.
In December, the Bergen County NAACP proposed changing the way freeholders are elected, arguing it could boost minority representation. All seven freeholders are currently elected at large to represent all of Bergen’s 70 municipalities. The NAACP proposal suggested a nine-member board that would perhaps create a hybrid system of some at-large freeholders and others representing districts.
“Government has been evolving since the beginning of time, and it certainly hasn’t been perfected yet. [The new district system] is something that should be considered so that we can reach an approach that’s best for all,” Avery said. “My fear with changing to districts is the fear of gerrymandering – the creation of districts which will guarantee the election of particular candidates in certain districts. I’m not sure if gerrymandering increases choice for the people or decreases choice for the people, but I think it has to be studied.”
Last month, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan appointed a seven-member task force to study the future of Bergen Regional Medical Center, the county-owned medical center in Paramus. Shortly thereafter, three freeholders, including Democrat Tracy Zur, Republican John Felice and Democrat Jim Tedesco publicly criticized the task force, saying that it was not inclusive enough and that the panel was packed with too many of Donovan’s political allies. Tedesco is challenging Donovan, a Republican, in the Bergen County Executive’s race.
“I like what Bergen Regional has been in the past and that it’s taken care of our neediest people. I like the fact that Bergen County has been a hospital of last resort. My feeling is that if it is privatized, it will be something other than that. It may become a money factory, rather than a place of healing for our neediest citizens,” Avery said. “I suggest that we await the recommendations of the panel. But once those recommendations are in, certainly the Board of Freeholders will have their own recommendations. It’s the elected officials that have the final decision. The Freeholder Board should be expected to exercise that discretion at all times.”
Donovan has fought with the freeholder board over plans to merge the Bergen County Police Department and the county Sheriff’s Office. Donovan is opposed to the plan, while the majority of the freeholder board, now controlled by the Democrats by a 5-2 veto-proof margin, supports the move. The final decision depends on the outcome of ongoing legal battles related to the merger proposal.
“I’m for anything that will save money for the taxpayers. However, I think that it’s been quite a long time since the studies which recommended the current concept of consolidation have been made,” Avery said. “For example, there are new contracts with the Bergen County Police which start them off at a salary which is significantly lower than the starting salary of the Sheriff’s Department. These things have not been considered. The studies should be updated, and if the studies still point towards the necessity for consolidation, I would certainly go in whichever direction would save more money for the taxpayers and provide the most in services and safety.”