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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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Lare’s Appointment to Bridge Commission Post Questioned

Christopher South
County Administrator Kevin Lare looks pensive at a previous Board of County Commissioners meeting. Lare was hired by the Cape May County Bridge Commission, March 26, to be its executive director – in addition to his county job.

By Christopher South

CREST HAVEN – The Cape May County Bridge Commission voted on Tuesday morning, March 26, to name county Administrator Kevin Lare as its new executive director.

In the afternoon, County Commissioner Will Morey questioned whether that was a good idea.

Morey, speaking at the county commissioner meeting, said he had no qualms over Lare’s ability to do the job, but that he was concerned about how Lare would split his time between the administrator job and the executive director position.

“I’m just concerned that your Bridge Commission work will be done during your day job,” he said.

Lare said he sees a rather smooth transition into the new job. He has served as county administrator from about 2021, when he became the acting administrator.

“Government is government,” he said. “It looks different, but it works the same way.”

Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio said this is not the first time an administrator has also served as the Bridge Commission director. Steve O’Connor also served in both positions simultaneously.

Desiderio said he believed Lare’s serving in the two positions would save the Bridge Commission money because it would not have to provide health-care benefits for him.

Lare said that the job would require less time as he becomes familiar with the position. However, Morey wondered whether the board had a policy regarding taking another job while in a position of such importance with the county.

“If (county engineer) Bob Church wanted to work for Wildwood Crest, would that be OK?” Morey asked.

County Counsel Jeff Lindsay said he also serves as counsel for the Bridge Commission; however, this is done under a shared services agreement.

Commissioners Robert Barr and Melanie Collette backed the decision.

“Kevin is a grown man, and I believe (the Bridge Commission) made an excellent choice,” Barr said.

Morey responded that he thought the matter is a policy issue, and that the Board of County Commissioners has a role in approving this.

Barr responded that it was a done deal, that the Bridge Commission had hired Lare, adding, “I don’t know what we are talking about?”

Lare began working for Cape May County in 1999 and spent about five years working in Human Services, and then in Risk Management. He left but returned in 2012, taking a job in the Purchasing Department. About three to four years afterward he was named the county purchasing agent.

Later, he said, then-Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton moved to have purchasing be combined with the Finance Department, and he became the department director before being named county administrator.

Lare replaces Karen Coughlin as executive director for the Bridge Commission and will earn $55,000 per year in addition to his salary as administrator, $160,200.

He explained that the Bridge Commission is necessary because the county is not permitted to collect tolls, which are necessary to support maintenance of the aging bridge system. Coughlin, who was the executive director for 10 years, said the Bridge Commission collected just under $5 million in 2023.

Coughlin, who came to the Bridge Commission from the Office of the County Engineer in 2014, is taking a new position with the South Jersey Transportation Authority. She said she was the only person in the office when she took over. There are now three full-time and one part-time administrative workers and one full-time and 35 part-time toll collectors.

She said there were a lot of challenges when she took over.

“I was put here by myself and I had to learn a lot – doing a whole new budget, learning how to run bridges, learning what we needed staffwise,” she said.

Coughlin said her biggest accomplishment is probably getting E-ZPass on the county’s five bridges: The Ocean City-Longport Bridge, Corson’s Inlet Bridge, Townsend’s Inlet Bridge, Grassy Sound Bridge and the Middle Thorofare Bridge. Currently about 87% of tolls are paid through E-ZPass, which once was rare in the county.

“We see it more and more that people in this area pick up E-ZPass for convenience of it,” she said.

Coughlin said Lare’s duties would include overseeing an aging bridge system that requires nearly continual maintenance. She said Lare would most likely oversee the replacement of the Middle Thorofare Bridge, a drawbridge, with a fixed-span bridge. Until that happens, she said, it will have to be maintained – above and below the water level.

“I’m sure he is going to do a good job. He will continue all the good things that have been started and hopefully complete some bridge replacements,” she said.

Lare commended Coughlin on her 10 years as Bridge Commission executive director.

“She did an excellent job on the Bridge Commission – and took over at a very trying time,” he said. “I hope to build off what Karen has accomplished.”

Lare said he feels he is up to the challenge and feels grateful for Desiderio’s support. He said he feels being in the two positions will simply allow two government entities to work more closely together.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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