MORRISTOWN, NJ (Morris County) – The Morris County Board of County Commissioners held their annual reorganization Tuesday night, unanimously selecting Stephen H. Shaw of Mountain Lakes to serve as Director and Deborah Smith of Denville Township as Deputy Director.
Tayfun Selen of Chatham Township was sworn to a three-year term as Commissioner after serving the past year in an unexpired term on the board and winning the general election for a full term last November. His return leaves the board essentially unchanged from 2020, with Commissioners Douglas Cabana, Kathryn DeFillippo, Thomas Mastrangelo and John Krickus continuing in their terms.
But there was a slight difference. The board convened last night for the first time as the Morris County Board of County Commissioners, shedding the age-old moniker of Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders due to a state law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2021, changing the name of all 21 county government boards.
“As we wind down this first ever meeting of the Morris County Board of Commissioners, gone forever are the jokes about Freeloaders and Frozen Cheese Holders. While the name may be changed, our commitment to serve the residents of Morris County is unwavering,” Shaw said.
It was an unusual reorganization meeting, the first ever in Morris County to be completely virtual and conducted through the online meeting service, Webex. But that is how the county has conducted all of its public meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation last spring.
There were no bagpipes this year, no color-guard, no crowd of well-wishers, family, friends and public officials packing in the 5th floor meeting room of the Morris County Administration Building in Morristown. But the county still managed a bit of fanfare. The public and other elected officials were invited to watch the virtual proceedings, and the county enlisted some special guests to participate before showing a video highlighting what Morris County officials did in response to the pandemic and what was accomplished despite it.
Director Shaw’s son, Matthew, opened the meeting by leading The Pledge of Allegiance, and The Star-Spangled Banner was sung by Justine Brooke Murray of Denville. Rabbi Levi Dubinsky of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life gave the invocation.
In keeping with reorganization traditions, each commissioner also was provided a moment to reflect on the past year and talk of goals for 2021.
Director Shaw concentrated his remarks on thanking each of his fellow Commissioners for their efforts throughout 2020 and by emphasizing the strengths they each bring to the board.
“As I mentioned earlier, we act as a body formulating policy. In arriving at that policy each of us brings a different skillset, institutional knowledge, and personality to the board. We may not always agree, and sometimes our discussion can be spirited. But to me that is a strength that makes us arrive at better policy decisions. I would like to thank each of you for your contributions in 2020,” Shaw said.
Commissioner Smith, relinquishing the director titled she held through 2020 to become deputy director, also reflected on the accomplishments of the board and county administration in 2020.
“In the end, we have effectively responded to the pandemic without digging ourselves into a financial hole. Yet, we still managed to open a testing center, house the homeless, take care of our elderly and other vulnerable residents, keep our public assistance programs going, feed the hungry and help our businesses weather through a continuing economic turmoil,” Smith said. “Now, we are embarking on launching one of New Jersey six regional COVID-19 vaccination centers because our OEM and county administration had prepared, well in advance, a realistic and effective local plan to begin inoculating people in this area. We did this together, as a team. And I’m proud to say I was part of this group.”
Among the accomplishments cited were:
- $25,000 approved that helped the Lake Hopatcong community win $500,000 in matching grants to fight disastrous harmful algal blooms
- $1.5 million approved in Open Space preservation grants for six projects adding 69 acres to the 12,706 acres preserved since 1994.
- $4.4 million to preserve, restore, or protect 28 historic sites in 18 towns
- $619,058 to add three more miles of recreational trails to a county-wide trail system now stretching 17 miles
- Morris County had the highest self-response rate in New Jersey for the 2020 U.S. Census and one of the highest in the nation at 78.5 percent – which is key to future federal aid.
- Finished ten bridge projects, including one wrapped up just prior to the reorganization and many ahead of schedule
- Completed nearly 30 miles in road paving and improvements
In response to the pandemic, Morris County unleashed a rigorous, organized response involving each of our 39 municipalities. The State of New Jersey later cited our Office of Emergency Management planning as a model to be shared with the other 20 counties
The county response included:
- Operation Save-A-Life, calling out for medical professionals to join healthcare facilities that were desperate for qualified medical personnel.
- Maintaining vital services to the elderly and needy
- Finding shelter for the homeless, people with disabilities who fell ill
- Creating a COVID-19 drive-thru testing center at the County College of Morris with Atlantic Health System
- Forming the Morris County COVID-19 Recovery Task Force with business and faith-based leaders to scope out an eventual return to normalcy.
- Forming the Freeholder COVID-19 Strategic Planning Advisory Committee to assess and plan for impacts on county operations, staff and budgeting
- Because of the county’s strategic planning, financial rating agencies maintained its crucial AAA bond rating.
- Issued $56,000 to bolster food pantries.
- Enlisting volunteers to grocery shop for elderly and people with disabilities.
- Financing virtual counseling to address exploding mental health issues
- Allowing three Morristown restaurants to open outdoor dining in a county park
- Gave hundreds of infrared thermometers and masks to community groups and small businesses