FLEMINGTON, NJ –Rob Walton ended eight years of service as a county Freeholder last week.

“I think it’s appropriate for us to end the year where we begin,” said Freeholder Director John Lanza, explaining why the Freeholders chose to meet in the old Historic Courthouse on Dec. 19 rather than their regular meeting room in the county administration building.

When the Freeholders hold their reorganization meeting in the courthouse next week, Freeholder-elect Shaun Van Doren will be sworn to take Walton’s place.

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It was also the last Freeholder meeting for county Planning Director Sue Dziamara, who is retiring. She has held that post since replacing John Kellogg, who retired in 2004.

“We disagreed at times, many, many times,” said Lanza about Walton, but he thanked him for his service.

On the all-Republican Freeholder board, Walton was often a lone voice of dissent. He was steadfastly critical of the county’s Heron Glen Golf Gourse, opposing its creation and challenging the accounting that showed it produced positive revenue. He argued in favor of posting audio of public Freeholder meetings to the county website, questioned the utility of the county’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and opposed the hiring of a county economic development director. He often challenged the scope of county improvement projects, such as its Justice Center and the golf course clubhouse.

But Walton could also be a passionate advocate. As a volunteer firefighter, he promoted exploration of Hunterdon having paid firefighters to augment its volunteer force and supported the improvements to the county’s Emergency Services Training Center in Clinton Township.

Walton was also an advocate for mental health awareness, and was candid about how his dad’s undetected mental illness touched his family’s life.

Walton chose his last meeting as another opportunity to discuss mental health. He praised TAPinto’s reporting about Hunterdon Central High School sophomore Allison Vandal, whose funeral was last week and whose Dec. 16 death has been attributed by school Superintendent Jeff Moore to suicide.

“I know that there were comments on Facebook opposed to the reporting,” Walton said, adding there was a lot of “pushback” for revealing the suspected cause of death.

But, “It is very helpful, for mental health reasons, to honestly report” on suicide, Walton said, because increased awareness about mental health can help remove stigma and save lives.

Walton said what was missing from the recent discussion was information about the warning signs of mental illness, and there are many.

Talking about suicide is one of the warning signs, Walton said. But increased alcohol and drug use; aggressive behavior; social withdrawal; mood swings; preoccupation with death; and impulsive and reckless behavior are others, he added.

“If you see those signs in loved ones, get them help,” Walton pleaded.

There are many suicide prevention and information resources. NJ Hopeline offers confidential help every day of the year, around-the-clock, at 1-855-NJ-HOPELINE (654-6735). It also offers a web-based chat resource, and text messaging at njhopeline@ubhc.rutgers.edu.

The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Mental health experts say no one should hesitate to seek help for themselves or anyone that they know. Information about risk factors and how to respond is widely available.

Walton first joined the Freeholder board in December, 2009, after he was appointed to the position when predecessor Erik Peterson was chosen to fill what had been Michael Doherty's state Assembly seat. Doherty vacated the post because he won election to the state Senate.

Walton later won election to serve the remainder of Peterson’s term, and was then twice reelected. This year, he chose to not seek re-election.

Before serving as Freeholder, Walton served as a Councilman in Hampton. His daytime job is with Jersey Central Power & Light.