County's Officials Representing South Jersey's Interests in Garden StateLast Edited:
While South Jersey has had a reputation of not receiving the attention it deserves in regards to state funding, resources and recognition, four local officials in Cumberland County are working to change those fortunes while holding statewide positions.
County Freeholder Director Joe Derella is currently serving as president of the Southern New Jersey Freeholders Association, while Allison Spinelli, the executive director of the Cumberland County Center for Work Force and Economic Development, was just elected president of the Garden State Employment and Training Association.
Meanwhile, Cumberland County Sheriff Robert Austino — who was just re-elected to another term this past Election Day — was also recently elected as president to the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, while Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly has been serving this year as president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
They are our rock stars and we are very proud to have them represent us.
"Their representation is more than recognition," said Kim Wood, deputy administrator and deputy clerk to the County Board of Freeholders. "They provide leadership and a voice for Cumberland County and South Jersey. If they are doing things that benefit South Jersey, then Cumberland County benefits as well.
"We have great representation here in Cumberland County and their voices are being heard. They are our rock stars and we are very proud to have them represent us," she continued.
Derella said that Spinelli, Austino and Kelly have worked hard to make an impact for Cumberland County around the state and have worked to make sure the needs of the county and South Jersey are addressed on a state level.
"They have really created some great synergy in being in their organizations," Derella said. "We are pulling together and working together for the common good."
Derella is in his fifth year as a Cumberland County freeholder. The South New Jersey Freeholders Association he leads represents eight counties – Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem. The group attempts to share ideas, programs and joint ventures to bolster chances that the region gets its fair share of funding and attention from the state.
"The great thing [about the South New Jersey Freeholders] is that you don't have to reinvent something," Derella said. "Maybe another county has faced the same challenge and found a way to solve it."
Derella said the value of the South New Jersey Freeholders Association can be capsulized by a 2016 report done by the Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden, which states that the region often gets shortchanged by the state in terms of resources.
"Even holding constant factors like whether a county has a big city or not, the population size of that county, and the taxable property value in that county, counties in the South of Jersey are far less likely than those in the North or Central regions to receive public goods, either as state aid, state assumption of project costs within the county, or general public benefits like transportation infrastructure, education, and good public health," the study said, according to Derella.
Derella said the association allows him and freeholders in the other counties to come together to articulate critical issues to state leaders and receive the funding and projects that the residents deserve.
"This organization has allowed the eight southern counties to band together and speak as one voice to make sure we do get our fair share, especially in the issues of public safety, communication, transportation and a variety of other funds that are important here as they are in the North," Derella said.
Counties in the South of Jersey are far less likely than those in the North or Central regions to receive public goods, either as state aid, state assumption of project costs within the county, or general public benefits like transportation infrastructure, education, and good public health.
Spinelli became president of the Garden State Employment and Training Association in September. The association was formed in response to a statewide need to coordinate the development and implementation of state, regional and national workforce policies.
The association also is a clearinghouse on workforce matters and issues and has functioned as a forum for New Jersey's workforce development professionals to share their expertise and to promote professional development.
"It is truly an honor to represent Cumberland County and South Jersey in this role," Spinelli said. "As president, I hold the responsibility to ensure that the statewide workforce development system receives the recognition and resources it deserves.
"Over the next few months, we will be working on developing a 'white paper' that highlights our workforce development achievements and our value to the system to share with the Governor's transition team," she continued.
Spinelli stressed the importance of working together with other counties to make sure residents in southern New Jersey are served as well as other regions in the state.
"I am proud to be a part of a local and regional system that has a long-standing history of effective partnership," Spinelli said. "I believe that it is this strength that has led to the workforce development successes we have experienced in the Cumberland, Salem, Cape May local area and South Jersey region."
I believe that it is this strength that has led to the workforce development successes we have experienced in the Cumberland, Salem, Cape May local area and South Jersey region.
In September, Austino was chosen president of the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, which is made up sheriffs, county clerks, surrogates and registers of deeds and mortgages around New Jersey. The organization is nearly 100 years old, founded in 1920.
The association has a southern New Jersey feel to it this year, with Ocean County clerk Scott Colabella serving as vice president, Camden County surrogate Michelle Gentek-Mayer as secretary, Atlantic County's James Curcio serving as the surrogate section chief, and Ocean County sheriff Michael Mastronardy as the sheriffs section chief.
Austino, a former Vineland police officer currently serving his third term as sheriff, is the first Cumberland County official to serve as president of the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey since surrogate Hugo Feneli held the position in 1971-1972.
"It is an extreme honor to represent South Jersey and especially Cumberland County as president of COANJ," Austino said. "One of the first acts as president was to schedule one of our meetings to be held in Cumberland County.
"It will be held on July 19, 2018 at the Cumberland County College. This will be a general meeting for all the sheriffs, county clerks and surrogates of the state as well as various guests. This will be a great way to showcase our county as well as our nationally ranked county college," Austino said.
One of the first acts as president was to schedule one of our meetings to be held in Cumberland County.
Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly serves as president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, which is made up of some 560 mayors and 13,000 elected and appointed officials throughout the state.
He is the first Cumberland County elected official to serve as president of the league since 1999 when Millville vice mayor W. James Parent served as president. He is the first mayor in the county to hold the state position since former Bridgeton Mayor David Rainnear served the role in 1990.
While not serving those positions, Kelly works as the executive director of Gateway Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit social service organization that assists more than 56,000 in the Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem tri-county area.
"It is a great honor to serve in a leadership capacity for the league and as its chief spokesperson for the 500-plus mayors in New Jersey," Kelly said. "It is great that out of Cumberland County there are those who do not mind putting in the hours necessary [including all of the driving, pre-meeting research, etc.] to represent our county and region. Though we are last in some things I believe we are first in leadership and many other activities in our state, in which leadership is one."
Kelly said he has found his role as president of the league valuable because it allows him to directly articulate the needs of the county and the region to others mayors and office holders around the state.
"By being at the board table when discussions of finance, taxes, employment and other opportunities come about we are sure to have our county included in the discussion and not be overlooked because of location and population," Kelly said.
Though we are last in some things I believe we are first in leadership and many other activities in our state, in which leadership is one.
Kelly said that southern New Jersey in many ways defines the state and should be considered a valuable resource.
"I would like our brothers and sisters in the rest of New Jersey to realize that Cumberland County is the reason why the entire State of New Jersey is proudly called the Garden State," Kelly said.
"We have a rich history dating back to the 1600s in agriculture, textiles, industrial mining and we will continue making historical decisions that impact the entire state."
Cumberland County Officer Holders in Statewide Positions
- Joe Derella, 61, Cumberland County freeholder director, president of the Southern New Jersey Freeholders Association
- Allison Spinelli, 42, executive director, Cumberland County Center for Work Force and Economic Development, president of the Garden State Employment and Training Association
- Robert Austino, 68, Cumberland County Sheriff, president of the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey
- Albert Kelly, 62, mayor, City of Bridgeton, president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities
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