Ocean County NJ County Administrator Carl Block will keep his job

TOMS RIVER — Ocean County Administrator Carl W. Block will not be forced to retire on June 30, the board of commissioners tentatively decided in a closed meeting Wednesday night.

Earlier this year, a majority of commissioners informed Block – privately – that they would not support its renewal when his current employment contract ends this summer. Block, 70, of Stafford, is the longest-serving county administrator in Ocean’s history. A former county clerk and mayor of Stafford, he was first appointed in 2010.

In response, Block asked the board to grant him a short-term extension as he was not ready to retire from his $202,177-a-year position and needed time to get his house in order. in his personal finances. However, state law does not allow for a written contract extension, and the commission is still unwilling to approve a new contract.

On Wednesday, a compromise was reached, said commission director Jack Kelly.

While a majority on the board still wants Block to retire as soon as possible, the five commissioners agreed during the executive session that Block would remain without a contract for a still-undetermined transition period, Kelly said. .

Kelly said the board gave him permission to conditionally break the confidentiality of the executive session on Wednesday, to answer reporters’ questions about the county administrator’s future.

Related:A mystery meeting, a confidential note: will the Ocean County commissioners get Block out?

Reached Wednesday night, Block said he was happy with the arrangement.

“No action will be taken on July 1, which will put me in a waiting state and I will be happy to cooperate with the commissioners and stay until someone is hired and trained,” Block said.

Kelly said the board plans to make the search, vetting and subsequent appointment of a new deputy county administrator its top priority.

“We are not anticipating a nomination (for administrator) until we decide who will become the next deputy county administrator,” he said.

Michael J. Fiure, 50, of Toms River, the current deputy county administrator, is expected to succeed Block in the top job. Fiure also fulfills the dual role of Director of the Department of County Management and Budget. As such, Fiure’s successor should likely take on both positions equally, Kelly said.

During the transition period, Fiure would train his successor and prepare to assume control of the day-to-day running of county government, Kelly said.

“We are also not planning to advertise a position – at this time – until we give those who have already expressed an interest in the Deputy Administrator position the opportunity to be interviewed by myself. and (Commissioner) Gary Quinn.”

As commissioners, Kelly and Quinn serve as the council’s liaisons to the Department of Management and Budget.

County hiring practices questioned

Last week, former Republican Ocean County Chairman George R. Gilmore attended a regular meeting of the Board of Directors and questioned the commissioners on why Block should be forced to resignas the Commissioners appeared to have no known issues with his job performance.

Gilmore is a longtime political ally and personal friend of Block’s, who helped revive his political career in the early 1980s when Block was first elected mayor of Stafford.

The former county GOP chairman told the board he knew some commissioners had already decided — privately — on a candidate to replace Fiure months ago and therefore Block’s forced retirement was a done deal. . Additionally, Gilmore questioned the legality of the process.

Kelly pushed back against Gilmore’s claim and said the board had made no decision on Fiure’s successor or, at this time, whether to even force Block out of the directorship. .

The director acknowledged that a few weeks earlier he had met with a New Jersey State Police captain named Tristin J. Collins, 51, at the request of Commissioner Virginia E. Haines.

On February 17, Haines penned a handwritten note marked “confidential” to his colleagues that read, “Enclosed is the resume of someone who I think would make an excellent assistant county administrator when Mike ( Fiure) will transition to county administrator following Carl’s retirement.” The attached resume belonged to Collins.

However, Kelly insisted that her meeting with Collins at the county administration building was not a job interview. Nonetheless, Kelly said he advised Collins – after their meeting – to go to the county’s Employee Relations Department, so that Collins could discuss with his staff any potential legal issues that might arise if he becomes involved. was retiring from the state police to take up a position in county government.

Kelly said Collins needed to be made aware of the implications of a state law designed to prevent retired public employees from immediately moving to different public sector jobs while drawing a pension from the former, Kelly said. The practice is more commonly known as “double dipping”.

After:Ocean County to Explore Major Extension to County Government Campus in Toms River

According to state payroll records, Collins received an annual salary of $176,396 in 2022. He enrolled in the state police retirement system in September 1994.

Kelly said Wednesday night that he understands Collins has since retired from the state police effective April 1.

The county’s hiring practices are set to come under even greater scrutiny in the coming weeks and months, following the county government’s disclosure on Wednesday that the FBI is investigating all of his appointments made in the past five years.

Federal investigators have subpoenaed all employment applications for staff appointed to positions from January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2021, as well as all county government staff resolutions approved by the commission for the same period, and any job recommendations or other hiring correspondence from the commissioners, according to the 10-page brief.

The county is due to turn over the cases to a federal grand jury in Trenton on May 5.

Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359 or elarsen@gannettnj.com

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