May 18, 2024
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Bergen Exec Jim Tedesco Seeks Re-Election

The first act set forward by Bergen County Executive James (Jim) Tedesco, when he was first elected four years ago, was to sign a memorandum of understanding with the sheriff’s office and the county prosecutor to begin consolidating policing services, to eradicate as much duplication as possible, between the 70 towns that comprise Bergen County, county police officers and the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices now control the day-to-day operations of local municipal and county law enforcement, with Executive Tedesco having given up considerable control and budgetary guidance. “It was the right thing to do for the people of Bergen,” said Tedesco.

Tedesco, a former volunteer firefighter, began his political career as a Paramus councilman and served as the mayor of the town from 2003 to 2010. His daughter, Holly, now serves on the Paramus council.

Now he functions essentially as mayor of the county. While administratively complex, the benefits of such a bold consolidation move were myriad, so much so that it was the first thing discussed during an exclusive interview with The Jewish Link last week. In addition to saving money, Tedesco told us that the goal was for law enforcement to maintain a physical presence in communities, while expanding services to towns and aggressively combating the opioid crisis.

Overall, he was satisfied. “We’ve saved the money that we knew we would. We have more police officers in the Bergen County schools now, and at the college. We have taken a very active role in the prosecutor’s office, which the sheriff’s department houses, with the opioid epidemic,” Tedesco told The Jewish Link.

There’s still a few pieces of his plans that have yet to fall into place. “Some of it we thought would happen through attrition, where [town police] people would retire and we would hire new people in the sheriff’s office. There is still the mandate of having a sheriff’s officer in every courtroom, because county police are not allowed in courtrooms,” said Tedesco, noting that this places a burden on the sheriff’s office that has not been entirely relieved yet.

Tedesco’s major goal, along with others, have not happened without him working closely with other administrative officials, such as then-Bergen County Prosecutor/now-New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, to increase dialogue and work toward problem-solving. “We now have three branches of county personnel all working together in the county,” he said.

Turning to his work on the opioid epidemic, Tedesco again gave most, if not all, the credit to Grewal. He explained that it was Grewal’s project, Operation Helping Hand, that was used in the county over the past few years, which essentially did a sweep of areas where people addicted to opioids are seen, and gave them the option of an immediate hospital/medically-administered detox and rehab program, with criminal charges put on hold. Over a quarter of the first set of arrestees opted for the immediate option, and the program has since been repeated and expanded to multiple counties. As Grewal became the state’s attorney general, he has extended the program’s availability throughout the state. “They still have to go in front of a judge, eventually, but that judge will take into consideration that they entered detox immediately,” he explained.

Tedesco explained that Operation Helping Hand is part of a holistic approach to treating the issue of opioid addiction as an illness. “Listen, I got cancer. I had to get access to doctors, got what I needed, and had it cured. It’s the same thing with an addiction or a mental illness,” he explained, adding that one of the benefits of more officers placed in schools is that they can do more drug-prevention education for people at younger ages.

“The problem is, if you try them [opioids], more than likely you will get addicted,” he said. Opioid addiction, Tedesco explained, occurs in the county across all communities equally. A recent sweep, which picked up 40 people, includes “ages 15 to 68; all ages, races and religions,” he said. “Even a mom with kids in her back seat.”

Tedesco said he is not happy with the statistics regarding opioid deaths that have occured in Bergen County, which Grewal had focused carefully on tracking (and now has been tracking it statewide since he began as AG). “They’re bad; not as bad as in Ocean or Monmouth County, but the same number as last year,” he said.

Most of all, Tedesco, said, his work as county executive has been about taking the cost burdens off municipalities by offering shared county services, such as health services, supplies and education. His most-recent county-wide project had been September’s spraying of the county for mosquitos, which appeared and flourished en masse due to alternating periods of intense rain followed by intense heat, and with some carrying the West Nile Virus. “We had eight confirmed deaths, not directly caused by West Nile, but with it as a contributing factor to people with existing illnesses. Luckily, as the cold weather comes, it’ll be over,” he said with relief.

Tedesco is running for re-election, on ballots in Bergen County on Election Day, November 6.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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