County Officials Use Seaside Bombing to Expand Sheriff's Department Role

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TOMS RIVER-In a very rare public display of agreement, Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy and Freeholder Jack Kelly openly supported each other at Wednesday’s Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting.

The two have been engaged in a behind-scenes-power struggle since Mastronardy was elected Sheriff in 2013, after Kelly made an unsuccessful attempt to be the Republican nominee after the passing of longtime Sheriff William Polhemus.

The two showed solidarity after last weekend’s terrorist bombing in Seaside Park, but also over the possibility to expand the role and staffing at the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department.

For years, Mastronardy, the former chief of the Toms River Police Department wanted to expand the role of the Sheriff’s Department beyond courthouse , administrative and investigative duties.

Kelly serves as the Director of Public Safety, a civilian oversight position, and is the civilian liaison between the Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Chosen Freeholders.

At the meeting Kelly said the county has been holding meetings to determine where and how to invest tax dollars to increase the role of the Sheriff’s Department.

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Kelly most recently made a push to serve on the New Jersey State Parole Board, but that effort was thwarted by the media and political opponents.

New Jersey Democrat State Senator Raymond Lesniak effectively blocked that nomination citing Kelly’s handling of the Laurel Hester death benefits case just 10 years ago.    Kelly’s anti-gay marriage stance at the time was a key highlight in the media coverage of the board denying the former prosecutor’s passing of her death benefits to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree.

After media outrage and public outcry, the Freeholders changed their decision in January of 2006.  Hester died of lung cancer just one month later.

“In the aftermath of the Seaside Park incident this past Saturday our office will be providing additionally security and assets throughout Ocean County when deemed necessary,” the Sheriff’s Department said on Thursday. “The Ocean County Sheriff’s Office role is to provide public safety to the public.”

Kelly and Mastronardy are both running for re-election in November’s general election.

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The Asbury Park Press reported on the meeting of the Ocean County Board of Freeholders.