With family, friends, and Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno in attendance, John C. Bartlett Jr. and Gerry P. Little were sworn in as members of the Ocean County Chosen Board of Freeholders on Wednesday, amid one of the most challenging periods the county has ever faced.
As critics from all corners were taking the House of Representatives to task for its failure to pass a $60.4 billion bill that would have provided much-needed assistance to the county, its towns and its residents in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, the freeholders spent much of the 2013 reorganization meeting focusing on pulling together on the local level.
"Together we will rebuild Ocean County," said John P. Kelly, who was officially named freeholder director for 2013. "Together we will make sure no one is left behind."
"Gov. Christie could not be here because he is fighting to get the aid we need," Guadagno said, before she administered the oath of office to Little. "We will stand side by side with you."
Guadagno kept her remarks brief, focusing primarily on how the county responded to handle the effects of the storm on the election just days after Sandy knocked out power -- and more -- to more than 900 polling places.
"Ocean County was a model for how to get things done," Guadagno said, noting the county even provided places to vote for those who came from other states to help in the first days after Sandy struck.
"Ocean County was a leader in making sure those first responders who came to help us could exercise their franchise," she said.
"You know you’re doing something right when you get sued by both the ACLU and the Tea Party," Guadagno said with a laugh.
Bartlett took the oath for his 12th term as freeholder, and was joined by his wife, Peggy, and children Margaret and John C. III, as well as his three grandchildren. Peggy and grandson John IV held the Bible as Margaret recited the oath with her father as John III watched. Bartlett's 93-year-old father, John, was in the audience as well.
"As I have become a grandfather for the first time things have taken on a different importance," Bartlett said. "The future is very important."
He noted that he has spent half his life serving as freeholder: "It's a great, enjoyable office because you can get things done."
Little's family -- wife Mary Lee, son Matthew and daughter Lindsey -- was en route to visit his father in Memphis and unable to attend the ceremony. But Little noted the trip to see his father was important because Matthew will be heading to officer candidate school after he graduates from Rutgers this year, with the ultimate goal of becoming a Navy pilot. Little's father is a veteran, he noted.
Little expressed gratitude for the efforts of the county's workforce in the weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit.
"Without your professionalism we could not serve the county the way we do," Little said. "We sincerely appreciate our county family and all you do."
Freeholder James F. Lacey, who was elected deputy director, was out of state and unable to attend the meeting, Kelly said.
Freeholder Joseph Vicari congratulated Bartlett and Little on their re-elections, noting the spirit of cooperation -- among the board, among the towns of Ocean County and among its citizens -- is something Congress could learn from.
"I'm not the director, or the deputy; I'm just a regular Joe," he said, eliciting giggles from the crowd.
"What I do know is this, what Joe Buckelew told me years ago, when I was starting out: If you want to be a good Republican, a good public official, do the right thing for the people," Vicari said, giving a nod to Buckelew, the former freeholders who mentored both Vicari and Bartlett and was present in the room for the reorganization. Also in attendance were Virginia Haines, former state assemblywoman and head of the state lottery system; Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, and a number of Republican mayors and politicians.
Congress needs to do the right thing now and pass the aid bill quickly, Vicari said.