On this edition of Feature Friday we had the opportunity of interviewing Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari is an experienced and staunch advocate for consumers, seniors, education, tourism, and the local business community.
A lifelong educator, Freeholder Vicari has given his support to the many programs at the nationally recognized Ocean County Vocational-Technical Schools, in addition to the partnership forged with Kean University providing local students with a four-year degree on the Ocean County College Campus.
As a supporter of fiscal conservative policies, Freeholder Vicari takes pride in the efforts of the entire Board of Freeholders that has resulted in the County maintaining a AAA bond rating – the highest possible – even during difficult economic times.
Freeholder Vicari promotes doing business locally through his “Buy in Ocean County” program. This ongoing effort has been emulated by several towns and business organizations throughout Ocean County. In 2014, his efforts to work with local businesses will be expanded with the creation of the Office of Business and Development and Tourism.
He continues to work with agencies and organizations that improve opportunities for business and job growth in the county as well as serving as liaison to the county seat’s Business Advisory Council. He works closely with Ocean County’s Workforce Investment Board to ensure training and education is available to help individuals qualify for employment opportunities. He continues to spearhead economic stimulus programs with partnerships between the County and with the military. A staunch supporter for Joint Base – McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst, Director Vicari promotes the many economic benefits of the base as it relates to Ocean County.
With more than 160,000 older adults calling Ocean County home, Freeholder Vicari serves as Chairman of the Office of Senior Services making certain quality programs and services are delivered to the county’s senior residents. He also advocates for the protection of senior benefits including senior tax benefits, Social Security and Medicare.
Freeholder Vicari serves as liaison to the Ocean County Library system – the largest public library system in the state of New Jersey which has been recognized nationally and statewide.
As liaison to tourism, Freeholder Vicari guides the county’s Matching Grants program, which helps fund non-profit organization efforts to benefit from the tourism economy. He has received the Monmouth-Ocean Development Council Silver Gull Award for business achievement, the Toms River-Ocean County Chamber of Commerce Award for leadership and service, and has been honored as an Outstanding Leader by the Ocean County Tourism Advisory Council. He is a recipient of the 2004 Governor’s Tourism Elected Official Leadership Award and the Southern New Jersey Development Council’s Economic Development Award.
Freeholder Vicari has also led the county’s transition into green and alternate energy sources. Under his direction, Ocean County was the first county in New Jersey to complete a comprehensive energy master plan. He also supervised the installation of solar panels and solar tubes in several county buildings.
As liaison to the Ocean County Airport, he has overseen more than $14 million in improvements of which the federal and state governments paid 95 percent of the cost. Including in those improvements is the construction of a Crosswinds Runway which will provide for a safer facility for pilots and public safety agencies using the airport.
He has served as a member of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders since 1981, and has served as the board’s director nine times. He was sworn to his 12th three-year term on the Board on Jan. 5, 2015.
A Dover (Toms River) Township Committeeman from 1980 to 1994, Freeholder Director Vicari served as mayor of the state’s 10th largest community five times.
After graduating St. Peter’s University, Jersey City, he earned his M.A. in education, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University. A lifelong educator, he worked as a teacher, elementary school principal and as Superintendent of Schools.
He and his wife Joyce, have two adult children and grandchildren.
Interview with Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari
1. How did you get into politics? Was public service always a goal of yours?
I began my public service as an elementary school teacher. I always stressed to my students the importance of them becoming involved, whether as a volunteer in their community or as an elected official. I decided to set an example for the children and ran for Township Committee in Dover Township, now Toms River Township.
2. Was there someone in particular that influenced your decision to become a Freeholder? If yes, how and why did they influence you?
My early political career was heavily influenced by President John F. Kennedy. I was only a student myself when he held office, but his words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” resonated with me. I’ve always felt that it’s important to give back and that’s why I wanted to serve the public in elected office.
3. Why did you want to become an Ocean County Freeholder?
After serving for several years as mayor and a Dover Township committeeman, I decided that I could take the experience of governing a single town and share it with all of our 33 Ocean County Communities. As mayor, I learned about the importance of providing necessary services at an affordable cost. I worked on consolidation efforts in an effort to save taxpayer dollars. My experience in municipal government helped me with county consolidation efforts such as the 911 call center, recycling and county roads.
4. What do you believe are the most important issues in Ocean County? What are 1 or 2 initiatives you plan on implementing for 2016?
Creating opportunities for our residents is the single most important initiative I’ve undertaken as an Ocean County Freeholder and I will continue this effort in 2016. Through our Ocean County Vocational-Technical Schools, we are training new generations of highly skilled individuals who will be well-trained to compete in the global economy. Vo-Tech doesn’t just mean carpentry and plumbing anymore. Our M.A.T.E.S. Academy is equipped with laboratories and teachers who provide a college-level learning experience to our most qualified high school students. Our goal is not just to impart knowledge, but to develop higher levels of thinking in our students. We are preparing our students to be skillful in current as well as emerging fields, and encouraging them to continue their education throughout their lifetimes. Lifelong learning is critical if our students are to succeed in the global workforce.
5. What is your position on the Joint Base McGuire – Dix – Lakehurst and how it benefits the local economy?
The Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is critical not only to our national defense, but to our local economy as well. The 2nd largest employer in New Jersey, the Joint Base contributes $6.9 billion to our local economy. As Chairman of the Ocean County Department of Business Development and Tourism, I work hard not just promoting the base, but also in offering any support the county can to ensure that the Joint Base remains an integral part of our defenses. As a Freeholder I’ve worked to purchase open space surrounding the base to prevent residential and commercial development from encroaching on the facility. By providing a natural buffer between the base and surrounding communities we can help ensure that McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst will continue to operate for decades to come.