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Furloughed Coast Guard employees limited in donations they can accept

The American Legion in Wildwood and the Seaville Fire & Rescue Company are collecting food, diapers and cash to help furloughed Coast Guard employees and enlistees working without pay during the ongoing government shutdown.

But would-be beneficiaries are limited by ethics guidelines as to how much they can accept.

“We appreciate the mindset, certainly; we’re just governed by policies,” said John Edwards, a spokesman for Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. “That’s just the way it works, whether there’s a shutdown or not.”

Edwards said members are bound by policies in the Code of Federal Regulations that say they can accept no more than $20, or the equivalent in goods, on any occasion and $50, or the equivalent in goods, from any one organization in a year.

The shutdown is the third longest of its kind since 1980, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Edwards said the Coast Guard has about 1,000 employees in Cape May, 24 of whom are furloughed. The rest, enlistees and civilian employees, are working their normal hours and will be paid when a budget is passed.

And the longer the budget impasse lasts, the longer federal workers will have to stretch their budgets.

At the American Legion in Wildwood on Wednesday, adjutant Vince DePrinzio said they have collected more than $200 in cash and more than $100 in gift cards for Coast Guard employees. He sifted through bags of canned goods, cereal, spaghetti and, outnumbering everything else, baby formula and diapers.

“(People) don’t realize: These guys that live off base, their family’s there,” said DePrinzio, a Vietnam veteran. “The thing is, though, they’re still showing up for work. They’ve got a job to do.”

Attempts to reach the Seaville Fire & Rescue Company went unanswered Wednesday.

Any member looking to accept goods from the drive will have to run it by the facility’s legal office first, where their request will be reviewed, Edwards said.

“The lawyer at the training center would act as the assisting agency ethics official and would be the one to determine whether or not a request for gift acceptance falls within the rules of the (Code of Federal Regulations) or not,” Edwards said in an email.

In the meantime, donations are still coming in. There is no set date for the drop-off at the moment, but DePrinzio says he wants to get the collected goods and cash to the furloughed workers within a week. Edwards says any drop-off or disbursement of goods would need to be at an off-site location.

Other military branches, part of the Department of Defense, are fully funded through the shutdown. The Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“That’s unreal, because they are a veterans group,” DePrinzio said. “They shouldn’t be, you know, left out. They really shouldn’t.”


Politics
First woman chair of Atlantic freeholders has 'fire in her belly' for politics

The Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders has its first-ever woman chairperson.

Republican Amy Gatto, of Hamilton Township, was unanimously elected to head the board at its Jan. 1 reorganization meeting. Gatto replaced Frank Formica, who stepped down after eight years as chairman, though he remains on the board.

“I’m beyond humbled he made the nomination for me to fill his shoes. It’s quite an honor,” said Gatto, a lead manager in service operations for AXA, a financial services company. “He’s been a great mentor and has offered to continue that level of support.”

Republican Maureen Kern, of Somers Point, was re-elected vice chairwoman. Kern was elected freeholder in 2016 after being a Somers Point councilwoman and school board member.

After two female Democrat contenders won in 2017, the board is made up of four women and five men.

“Atlantic County has reached a historic milestone in helping crack the glass ceiling in New Jersey politics,” said Atlantic County Republican Committee Chairman Keith Davis. “The hurdles against women in running for office and obtaining leadership positions are significant, even though more than half of the electorate is female. Amy Gatto and Maureen Kern persevered and prevailed. It’s a proud day for Atlantic County and our party.”

Gatto said she will focus on building a stable 2019 budget as her first priority as chairwoman, but will also encourage participation in politics from a more diverse array of people.

New faces of diversity include unexpected party affiliation

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Andrew Parker III is the first African American ever elected to Township Committee here — at least in the past 100 years, which is as far back as he could research through the local historical society, he said.

Formica, who late last year announced his candidacy for state Assembly, said the chairmanship takes up a lot of time and he wants to focus on his Assembly race and working on legislation in Trenton that affects Atlantic County.

“I think it does make a statement that it’s 182 years since the county was organized, and this is the first female chair of the board,” Formica said.

Formica said he approached Gatto about becoming chairwoman because of her experience and her interest.

“You have got to have fire in the belly to do it,” he said, and he sees that fire in Gatto, who has said she knew as a young child she wanted to go into politics.

In 2011, Gatto made headlines at age 29, when she was the youngest person — and only the third woman — to be named mayor in Hamilton Township.

She first won a seat on the Township Committee in 2007, at just 24 years old.

Gatto was first elected to the freeholder board in 2016, after being appointed to finish the unexpired term of Freeholder-at-large Will Pauls.

She said another priority is building on the work already done to diversify the economic base of Atlantic County into more aviation and technical fields.

But the budget remains her primary focus.

“I was fortunate enough to chair the budget committee last year, and will continue this year,” said Gatto. “We want to keep things as stable and affordable as possible, while providing the services we need.”

Davis said the county committee will continue its efforts to encourage more women to run for office “until the composition of our boards, councils and commissions is a true reflection of the voters they represent.”


Craig Matthews /Staff photo 

Prior to being elected to the Atlantic County freeholder board, Amy Gatto was mayor of Hamilton Township.


Politics
NJ Transit says no update on AC Rail Line as commuters, officials wait

The new year is here, the Atlantic City Rail Line remains dormant — and elected officials are looking for answers.

“Still status quo,” Jim Smith, a spokesman for NJ Transit, said Wednesday.

“We don’t want the status quo,” U.S. Rep.-elect Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, said Wednesday, a day before his swearing-in in Washington. “We want much better than the status quo.”

There were no updates available through the press office regarding a plan for reopening the line that closed in September for installation of federally mandated safety mechanisms.

Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, told The Press an official in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration said Wednesday they would have a definitive date for reopening within the next couple of days.

He and Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, sent a letter late Wednesday to NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett as a follow-up to the information given from the Murphy administration.

“With the start of 2019 here we join the many residents of Atlantic County who rely on the transportation services of the Atlantic City Rail Line in requesting a formal reopening date be announced,” they wrote.

“It’s always good to have a paper trail as well,” Mazzeo said.

The federally mandated safety mechanisms known as positive train control were installed on rail lines statewide, but Atlantic City’s was the only line completely shut down. In the interim, commuters have been diverted to buses. In December, NJ Transit announced it had completed its first milestone ahead of the Dec. 31 deadline and was working to get the line running in 2019.

Armato and Mazzeo met with agency officials in December and said their understanding was that the line would be operating toward the first of the year.

“The issue here is really that it was our understanding that it would be up and running sometime in January,” Mazzeo said.

In December, the agency announced it was looking to reopen the line but was first awaiting confirmation by the Federal Railroad Administration of the agency’s request for an extension that would give them until year-end 2020 to fully implement the PTC system.

Van Drew said he’s frustrated by the lack of answers, and that not having an update for commuters is unacceptable. He said he’s giving the agency the benefit of the doubt until the end of the month, however.

“I’m waiting to see in this month of January,” Van Drew said. “If we find that we’re just kind of going along here … there will be hell to pay.”

State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, last month addressed a public letter to Corbett, writing that Corbett told him the line would be open at the end of January in the best-case scenario, or March in the worst.

Meanwhile, commuters to Philadelphia and other stops along the line have been riding the bus, dealing with traffic and bumpy rides and uncertainty over when their normal commutes will resume. Last month, the agency announced it was extending a 25 percent discount on bus fares for inconvenienced commuters through the end of January.

Murphy in December gave disgruntled commuters a seat at the table, signing into law a raft of reforms providing for greater oversight of the embattled NJ Transit, including commuter advisory committees for both North and South Jersey.


lcarroll-pressofac / LAUREN CARROLL / Staff Writer/  

Congressman-elect Jeff Van Drew and his staff spent Friday packing up mementos, framed documents and awards he plans to move to his Mays Landing and Washington offices in the new year. Dec. 28, 2018


lcarroll-pressofac / Submitted/  

Holtzman Republican Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica and Ventnor Mayor Beth Maccagnano Holtzman will run for state Assembly next year, the candidates announced Nov 18, 2018.