HACKENSACK – In the middle of the Bergen County Freeholder Board reorganization meeting on Monday night, Jim Tedesco, the new Bergen County Executive, set the tone for his relationship with the board. He did it with the use of one word: access.
“I instructed the clerk and the freeholder aide to the chair to contact security and tell security that every freeholder and freeholder aide is to have their ID badge changed to allow for them to have access into the county executive side of the building,” Tedesco said. “For the last four years, nobody except for the staff of the county executive has had access to that side of the building. That is what government is about. It’s about working together.”
Tedesco’s seemingly prosaic gesture meant much to many in the crowd of approximately 100 spectators inside the freeholders’ chambers. Following the reorganization, the board now has a 4-2 Democratic edge, with the seat vacated by Tedesco following his victory in the November 2014 election yet to be filled. While Tedesco, a Democrat, was a freeholder, the Democratic-majority board had an often acrimonious relationship with the person Tedesco defeated, Republican Kathleen Donovan. Much of the tension between Donovan and the board was centered on a series of lawsuits with a strong focus on the proposed merger of the Bergen County Police Department with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.
The proposed merger, supported by the board and fought against by Donovan, is now becoming a fact. Hours after being sworn in by former Governor Richard J. Codey on Thursday, Tedesco signed a memorandum of agreement that began the process of realigning the two law enforcement agencies, an issue that played a key role in his November 2014 election victory.
During a series of swearing-in ceremonies, a new attitude of cooperation was repeatedly referred to by the participants.
The reelected Democratic freeholders, David Ganz and Joan Voss, were sworn in by state Senator Bob Gordon (D-38) and state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), respectively. Freeholder Steven Tanelli, a Democrat, was sworn in as Freeholder Vice-Chairman by state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36), while Freeholder John Felice, a Republican, was sworn in by Bergen Freeholder Counsel Edward Florio. Weinberg also swore Voss in as the new freeholder chair.
Ganz, the outgoing freeholder chair, pointed to the changed atmosphere regarding relations between the board and the county executive.
“Unlike the last four years, which could be characterized by freeholders being defendants in numerous lawsuits, today’s organization exchanges the politics of division,” Ganz said. “Not only are the freeholders sharing officer positions with the other party, but committee chairmanships.”
“We’re going to be doing things in a bipartisan way,” said Voss. “We all have in mind what is right for the people in Bergen County. This is a team effort.”
Freeholder Maura DeNicola, a Republican and a Donovan ally, said the freeholders’ chambers was “filled with positive energy” at Monday night’s reorganization meeting.
“The words that have been used most often in the last few days have been about cooperation, which is something that we all learn growing up and sometimes lose along the way,” DeNicola said. “I know that it’s what we’re going to focus on together.”