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first_imgby John BurtonOCEANPORT – John O. Bennett, the former state legislator and embattled borough administrator, is moving on from that position.As anticipated since last November’s election, Mayor Jay Coffey and a majority of the Borough Council last Thursday selected another candidate to serve as the borough administrator, the position the former state senator and one-time, short-term acting governor Bennett had held for the last three years. During part of his tenure as administrator Bennett had been the borough’s Public Works supervisor. Prior to being administrator/supervisor, Bennett served as borough attorney for six years.With Coffey’s endorsement and with four of the council members’ advice and consent, on March 17 they named Raymond Poerio, Edison, to fill the position. Poerio plans on starting the new job on April 4.Coffey, a Democrat, offered his thanks and well wishes to Bennett. “He’s a fantastic guy…I think so highly of him,” the mayor said. “He deserves your respect.”Council President Joseph Irace, a Republican, who had a very public and heated confrontation with Bennett last summer, offered a conciliatory note last Thursday. “I may have had a very public difference,” with Bennett, Irace said, but noting “He helped us through tough times.”“We got along before,” that August 2015 incident, Irace continued. “We got along after.”“We have not always agreed on everything,” Bennett acknowledged of his relationship with Coffey, who has been mayor since Jan. 1. However, Bennett continued about the mayor. “I am absolutely convinced he will bring us together.”Bennett also maintained that it has been his “absolutely great pleasure” to continue to serve the community, first as a legislator for 13 years and then as its lawyer and then administrator.Bennett said he plans on taking a family vacation for a couple of weeks and when he returns “I’ve got a couple of opportunities” to consider.“I still want to work,” he added.One source familiar with the situation said Bennett is considering taking the administrator position in another area municipality.Bennett, 67, had served as a Republican member of the state Legislature. As president of the Senate he filled in for a very short period as acting governor in 2002, when the office was vacant following Christine Todd Whitman’s resignation to become the federal Environmental Protection Agency administrator.Bennett lost his Senate seat in the 2003 election and had served as the Monmouth County Republican Committee chairman.Bennett’s tenure as administrator became a focal point for the 2015 election with Coffey’s supporters criticizing then-Mayor Michael Mahon, a Republican, for having Bennett work without a formal contract—which is legally permissible—as well as contributing to what some called the discord and lack of constructive communication among then sitting council members. That tension boiled over with the confrontation between Irace and Bennett that some said they feared would come to blows.Bennett had said last fall he would retire at the end of the year but decided he would have liked to continue as administrator/supervisor and asked to be considered.The borough council had considered 42 applicants for the administrator job before whittling the number down to 15 and then five candidates, according to Coffey.Among that group, Poerio “came up aces,” was prepared, and knows about municipal operations, Coffey said.Poerio, 45, is currently working as director of parks and recreation for Scotch Plains. His role as administrator is “to be the voice of the mayor on occasion,” as well “as working with the residents, the council and other employees to have a well run town,” he said.The administrator’s role is to be the fulltime municipal manager, overseeing the day-to-day operations.Poerio will receive a $121,000 annual starting salary. Bennett was getting $125,000 for each of his three years in the job.last_img


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