At 70, Barry Dugan decided to spend more time with his family.
For most of his life, Dugan has been on the go, deeply committed to everything he got involved in, whether business, civic associations or government.
When faced with the decision of whether to run for re-election as county freeholder for the First District – which represents all of Bayonne and a slice of Jersey City – Dugan said he decided he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Although he had retired after 22 years at Western Electric (now, Lucent Technologies) and 14 years at AT&T corporate headquarters in 1989, Dugan never slowed down.
“People used to tell me that I don’t appear to be retired, since I put in so much time into the things I was doing,” he said.
When Dugan became Freeholder in 2000, he threw himself into the job, often the first elected official to go to offices on Pavonia Avenue each day and the last to leave.
“I like to do my homework,” he said. “So I read everything.”
During his tenure in office, he has been involved in numerous committees, as chairman of the Personnel Committee, chairman of the Senior Citizens and Veterans Committee, and as a member of the following committees: County Government Oversight and Policy Review; Ethics; Finance, Budget and Administration; Public Resources; Public Safety and Department of Corrections; Purchasing, and Transportation.
After serving as chairman pro tempore (third ranking freeholder) in 2001 and 2002, Barry was elected vice chairman of the Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2003, a position he still holds.
Although he always had a desire to run for elected office, he put it off until he retired because he felt that he could not do the job service unless he dedicated himself to it full time.
When Mayor Joseph Doria asked him to run in 1999, Dugan was employed by the City of Bayonne as Director of Public Works, Parks & Recreation.
“I gave that up when I became a freeholder,” he said.
An accountant by profession who handled $1 billion corporate budgets, Dugan was a frequent critic of governmental budgeting. Once he got elected, he said he worked hard to learn the ins and outs of how government went about shaping its budget.
“I was always concerned about taxes,” he said. “I very outspoken about them being too high.”
For years, he said, people blamed the county for high taxes.
“But you can’t blame the county any more,” he said.
Good luck, as well as good management, helped trim budgets to more acceptable levels. The development of the Gold Coast along the Hudson River helped bring in additional tax ratables. For years, the loss of industry and other taxable properties had forced individual taxpayers to foot a larger percentage of the tax burden. “We’re no longer losing ratables that caused havoc for taxpayers,” he said.
Although he gave Bayonne credit for making strides towards keeping taxes low, he said most taxpayers through the county feel a greater impact these days from school and municipal budgets rather than the county.
“At some point, someone is going to have to bite the bullet and deal with those budgets,” he said.
Money, parks, veterans
In his two terms as freeholder, Dugan sees his concern over spending as one of his lasting impacts, although his efforts to upgrade Stephen Gregg County Park may be the most visible.
While the work is not yet complete, the park has been vastly improved during his tenure in office, upgrading facilities and history monuments that had fallen into disrepair over the years. These included upgrades to the entrance area, the ornamental pool, the band shell, benches, and soon the deteriorating walkway along the southwestern waterfront.
As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, serving from 1955 to 1958, Dugan has taken a keen interest in veterans’ affairs and is responsible for pushing ahead with the county’s metal of service awards in which veterans are honored for their service.
Although Doria encouraged him to run for office and supported him while he served, Dugan said Doria never interfered with him or gave instructions on how he should vote on any issue.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Joe Doria. But he never told me what to do. He just asked me to do whatever I thought was right,” Dugan said. “I have always tried to do what I thought was best for Bayonne and for Hudson County.”
Served during troubling times
In looking back over his term in office, Dugan realizes that he has served at a particularly precarious time in Hudson County history, a time which saw the arrest and conviction of County Executive Robert Janiszewski as well as two freeholders for illegal activities conducted while in office.
“During my time in office I have served under three county executives,” he said.
Steering his way through the ethical maze was easy, he said, as “I always sought to do what was right.”
Dugan said he had a good relationship with each of the county executives, although he had disagreements with them at times.
“Janiszewski had his own agenda,” he said. “He wanted to control the board.”
Janiszewski often played one freeholder off another by dangling the chairmanship or other prize. But under the leadership of Freeholder Chairman Sal Vega, the board became more and more independent of Janiszewski.
The freeholders expanded the committee process to review more and more of what was previously thought of as routine so that no one – such as Janiszewski – could simply push through a measure without it being thoroughly reviewed first.
While Dugan did not get in the middle of the political conflict that pitted former Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham against Rep. Bob Menendez, he did fight to keep county workers from being fired as a result, siding with them against then-County Executive Bernard Hartnett.
“I asked him why he was doing it,” Dugan recalled. “I never really got a good answer. But I thought it was wrong to fire good workers because they happen to support somebody else.”
Married for 40 years, Dugan will now have more time to visit his family. Indeed, pictures of his six grandchildren decorate his freeholder desk, reminding him always of those who are closest to him.
Dugan’s parents were born in County Mayo and County Donegal, and settled in Bayonne with four children of their own.
“My father was born in Ireland and went to Scotland looking for work in the coal mines,” Dugan said. “Then he moved to Pennsylvania when he heard about work in the coal mines there. When he heard there was work in Bayonne in the oil refineries, he moved here. My father worked for Standard Oil. He worked hard, morning to night.”
Dugan rarely saw his father because of the long hours, and this figures prominently into his decision to spend more time with his family.’
“When my father retired at 65, he didn’t know what to do. I don’t have that problem,” he said. “But I need to spend some time with my family. I want to see more of them, but I’m sure I’ll keep busy doing something part time. Yet no matter what it is, I’ll dedicate myself to it.”
Contact Al Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org