SOMERVILLE, NJ – In an historic first, the governing body of Somerset County met today as the Somerset County Board of County Commissioners to select its new leadership and set priorities for the coming year.

Last year Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law replacing the archaic Board of Freeholders title in favor of Board of Commissioners for all 21 New Jersey counties.

At a separate mid-day ceremony live-streamed from Somerset County’s Historic Court House,Phil Murphy swore in Paul Drake and Doug Singleterry as Commissioners, and Bernice “Tina” Jalloh was sworn in as Surrogate.

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Shanel Y. Robinson was again chosen as Director, and Sara Sooy was selected again as Deputy Director at the virtual, live-streamed reorganization meeting.

Former Freeholders Brian Gallagher and Brian Levine who were defeated by Drake and Singleterry in the November election, were in the crowd of invited guests fanned out in front of the courthouse steps, along with other state and local officials.

The newly-elected commissioners, Murphy and Robinson thanked Gallagher and Levine for their years of public service.

“Even though this reorganization is being held virtually for the first time, it is still a celebration of our democracy,” Robinson said. “We have a large number of challenges this year, whether they be COVID-related or delivering world-class services for our constituents with solid fiscal management, and I am confident the new team leading Somerset County is up to moving forward.”

Robinson outlined a series of priorities for the Board of County Commissioners this year, led by continuing the aggressive effort to address the COVID pandemic that has killed 600 Somerset County residents.

Robinson said the county is committed to:

- The distribution of the COVID vaccine to every county resident who requests it and exceeding the state goal of 70 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of the summer. The County is currently vaccinating community medical workers and first responders at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC), and will be holding vaccination clinics throughout the county as the supply of vaccine increases;

- The expansion of no-cost COVID testing with continued regular clinics at RVCC and testing sites throughout the county;

- Continued partnership with the mayors and municipal leaders throughout Somerset County to ensure all local governments have the information they need, are able to access all available resources, and are working together to beat COVID-19.

As the county proceeds with vaccinations, it is vital that it also prepare for the recovery period, Robinson said. This includes focusing on assisting businesses and communities utilizing:

- The COVID Economic Recovery Task Force created in partnership with the Somerset County Business Partnership and local business leaders to assist businesses in navigating the changing pandemic environment and prepare to thrive in the next normal; and

- The Somerset County Marketplace, an innovative online shared services trading post being launched this month where the county and towns can offer to share for a fee excess resources to other communities to reduce the costs of purchasing new equipment and operating local governments.

The County Commissioners also pledged to continue Somerset County leadership in fostering a healthy environment and addressing climate change. In 2021 the County plans to:

- Partner with the business community, Somerset County VoTech High School and Raritan Valley Community College to prepare for and create more renewable energy jobs in conjunction with the NJ State Energy Master Plan;

- Acquire additional open space and preserved farmland throughout the county, including in more densely populated communities; and

- Develop plans for healthy and sustainable recreation programs such as new hiking and biking paths that crisscross the county.

Robinson also said the county would continue its tradition of fiscally responsible budgeting, noting that in 2020 the Board had presented a flat budget that included a very small tax decrease for many property owners while maintaining or expanding existing county services. During a difficult fiscal year due to the pandemic and other economic issues, Robinson committed to protecting services again this year with a responsible budget.

Jalloh announced after she was sworn in that her office will institute extended hours every Wednesday until 6 p.m. beginning on Feb. 3 to ensure that residents are able to obtain services outside of normal operating times.

Drake grew up in Somerville and is a lifelong resident of Somerset County who now lives in Hillsborough with his wife and two children. Drake previously served on the Somerset County Parks Commission, the Hillsborough Township Committee, and the Hillsborough Township Planning Board. He works as a Public Affairs manager with PSE&G and teaches urban planning at Rutgers University.

Singleterry lives in North Plainfield with his wife and son where he served four terms on the Borough Council including tenures as president and vice president. Singleterry is an attorney who has received the Service to the Community Award presented by the NJ State Bar Young Lawyers Division. He is a published author, including a book on commercial transaction law and a peer-reviewed article on the international law of genocide.

Jalloh, a resident of Franklin Township is a partner in the law firm of Jalloh and Jalloh where she has extensive experience in family law, wills and estate planning, and adoptions. She has also volunteered for Legal Services of New Jersey representing clients pro bono primarily in Surrogate and Family Courts. Prior to her career as an attorney, Jalloh was a health care executive managing hospital laboratories as well as employee training and development.

The swearing in ceremony, reorganization meeting, and all Somerset County Board of County Commissioner meetings can be viewed on the County website at https://bit.ly/3s7SAgz.