Vega is the first freeholder to serve more than five consecutive terms as freeholder since 1944, and only the third since then to serve five terms.
The freeholders come from different districts to vote on county contracts and oversee county facilities, projects and employees.
The chairman is responsible for maintaining decorum at meetings, accepting comments, and calling for votes that will place items on agendas. Items can range from approving and amending the county budget to hiring or firing professionals. As chairman, Vega also issues committee appointments.
Vega said he intended to maintain the course he had set for the freeholders when he first took over as chairman in 1999, seeking to give freeholders more involvement in various issues through an active committee process.
"I want to take advantage of each freeholder's expertise in an area," Vega said, describing his own role as something of a facilitator or a traffic cop. "I run the meetings and allow each freeholder to exercise his or her ability. I believe that the working relationships have improved over the last few years in nearly every area."
Vega had broken a decades-old tradition in 1999 by rejecting the usual rotation of chairmanship. At the time, he said the rotation took away the ability of freeholders to set a consistent policy. By retaining one person as chairman for more than a year at a time, he said, the freeholders obtained more clout in dealing with the county executive and other bodies.
Also at the meeting, the freeholders voted to appoint Bayonne Freeholder Barry Dugan as vice chairperson and North Bergen/Secaucus Freeholder Thomas Liggio as Pro Tempore.
The vice chairman can fill in for the chairman to regulate meetings or attend public functions in the chairman's absence. Pro Tempore serves as the next person in line of power ascension, stepping into the role of chairman if both other officers are not available.
Freeholders also voted Freeholder Maurice Fitzgibbons as the county's representative to the New Jersey Association of counties for 2004, with Freeholder Bill O'Dea as his alternate and County Administrator Abe Antun as the second alternate.
Deputy clerk was active in community service
Freeholders also refilled the long vacated position of deputy to the clerk for the Board of Freeholders, a three-year appointment that went to Union City native Jennifer A. Ballester at a annual salary of $45,000.
Ballester, a graduate of New Jersey City University with a degree in political science, has no previous governmental experience, but said was active in civic matters in Union City as well as student government in college. She was senior class treasurer, which is a position as part of the student government, as well as on the finance committee and other various clubs that perform civic service. In Union City she was involved in a number of community service projects.
"I'm very interest in politics," she said, saying this came as a result of growing up in Hudson County. She said she has worked with Union City mayor Brian Stack in his capacity as freeholder. "I live in Union City and I have seen all the positive changes there," she said.
She said she looked forward to working with Freeholder Clerk Jean Byrnes and learning the duties of government from the ground up. Byrne said she welcomed the assistant.
Stack said he believed Ballester would be an asset to the freeholders, calling her "a bright young lady" who had worked in numerous civic programs.
"I'm known her family for years," he said.
During the public session of the Freeholder meeting on Jan. 8, Harrison resident Irene Clark asked why the position had not been posted or advertised.
Vega said discussions about refilling the position had started about a year ago when he asked other freeholders for suggestions as to who might qualify.
"Some recommendations were made," he said. "This is the recommendation I accepted."
The freeholders also approved their schedule of meetings for 2004, and approved a temporary budget to cover operating expenses until the annual budget is passed later this year. The board also approved a year contract to Meadowlands Associates for $36,000 to cover public relations for the freeholders.
Vega scolded representatives from the Hudson County Improvement Authority and Hudson County Community College for failing to send representatives to the meeting. It is customary for each department to send a representative to freeholder meetings and caucus to handle questions freeholder might have concerning legislation they are to vote on. Vega singled out the representative of the Schools of Technology as someone who had called to find out about the meeting.
"I understand that we met early to reorganize and that the official meeting schedule had not yet been passed," he said, "but the representative from the school's of technology is here. She called to find out when the meeting was."
He promised to keep his own attendance up in the future, holding other representatives accountable for their failure not to appear.