TOMS RIVER, NJ – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders for literally centuries have died on the sword of the Republican Party, passing favors to Republican mayors and political entities, political campaign donors and wealthy GOP aligned landowners. That practice that has lasted nearly one hundred years came to a screeching halt last Wednesday when for the first time in perhaps generations, the all-Republican Board of Chosen Freeholders disagreed amongst themselves.
Enter Toms River Mayor Maurice Hill and politically appointed junior Freeholder, the elder stateswoman, Virginia Haines. Haines was initially appointed to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders by lifelong galpal Joe Buckelew in a backroom deal. Haines and Buckelew shared a lifelong relationship and Buckelew decreed to the party that Haines would be the next Freeholder when former Freeholder James Lacey retired. Gary Quinn is another Buckelew anointed Freeholder, who was appointed after the death of longtime Freeholder John Bartlett. We’ll get to why that is important in just a minute.
When Toms River Mayor Mo Hill realized his municipal budget was screwed and his internal political faction was in jeopardy on the barrier island, he tried to sell off a piece of land on Hinds Road to a friend in Lakewood. When that didn’t work, he put all of his efforts into masterminding a very dangerous, illegal financial shell game of public funds. That shell game was facilitated by Haines that would instead see Ocean County give Hill millions of dollars through the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund which Haines managed. Haines would convince the other four freeholders to buy swampland and protected woodland from Toms River in order to give Hill the money he needed to buy the Surf Club property.
There was just one problem. That transaction would have been illegal, so it was rejected behind closed doors by the freeholders. Instead, Haines introduced a bill to legalize her county-funded bailout for her other long time friend, Mo Hill. It didn’t work. Three freeholders said no, citing the dire implications and potential for fraud and corruption that was associated with Haine’s proposal to change the law for Hill.
Freeholders Joe Vicari, Jack Kelly, and Gerry Little, the three men duly elected by the people to gain entry into office said no. It was a difficult decision for them to break the trust and unity that had held that board together for generations, but it was also illegal, nefarious, and opened the door to many more problems in the future. The two freeholders to vote yes were Haines and Quinn, both beholden to the powers that anointed them.
Now, Hill needs to either come up with the necessary money, approximately $2,000,000 to fund his purchase of the Surf Club or take a stand for the people who elected him and tell landowner Joey Barcelona to take the state’s $6,000,000 blue acres offer or leave it. The defeat is a big one for Haines, Buckelew, Holman, and Hill. The once-powerful Republican party is split and it appears power is slowly shifting away from the Buckelew-Haines-Holman unholy alliance and back to the people.