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March 28, 2012


Gail Bell-Bonnette, Deborah E. Collins & Arlene A. Johnson
Honored at March 27th Event

(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its Annual Women’s History Month Celebration on Wednesday, March 27th, at the Hall of Records.  The event was sponsored by Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson of Newark, Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold of Livingston and Freeholder Carol Y. Clark of East Orange, and was followed by a catered reception.

The honorees of this year’s event were Gail Bell-Bonnette of East Orange, Deborah E. Collins, Esq., of Glen Ridge and Arlene A. Johnson of Livingston.

The Women’s History Month honorees and their sponsors gather for a group photo: (left to right) Freeholder President Blonnie Watson of Newark, Deborah E. Collins, Esq., of Glen Ridge, Gail Bell-Bonnette and Freeholder Carol Clark (back row) of East Orange, and Arlene A. Johnson of Livingston.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Freeholder President Blonnie Watson opened the program by telling the story of the yellow rose, the symbol of the women’s suffrage movement, and of the power of one woman, Febb Ensminger Burn, to change history.  It was she, the mother of Tennessee state legislator Representative Henry Burn, who advised her son in 1920 to cast the deciding vote in favor of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, thereby making Tennessee the

state to put the Amendment over the top and to ratify it as the law of the land.  She also welcomed Essex County Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura who congratulated the honorees and, referring to the story of the yellow rose, joked about his late mother saying, “My mother, who I loved dearly before she passed, never gave me any advice…. But she did give me a lot of commands!” 

Freeholder Carol Clark (left) presents the Board’s Commendation to Gail Bell-Bonnette, both of East Orange.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Gail Bell-Bonnette was born in Trinidad & Tobago, moved to the U.S. in 1968, and has been a resident of East Orange since 1985.   She has been a prominent member of the Caribbean Community for many years and has worked to celebrate the vibrancy of Caribbean culture through a variety of organizations.  She founded the N.J. Carnival Committee in 1986 which spearheaded the East Orange Caribbean Carnival and Parade, an event that brought great pride to the Caribbean and grew to become the second-largest event of its kind in the metropolitan area.  She also co-founded the Pan-Jersey Steel Orchestra, the Trin-Jersey Soccer Team and hosted an annual Community Sports and Father’s Day Picnic in South Mountain Reservation from 1990-2008.  She also worked with NJPAC recently to present a cross-cultural introduction at Kwanza recognizing Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica.  Ms. Bell-Bonnette was the Admissions Director and Student Advisor at the Essex College of Business, the Director of SCS Business School in East Orange, and has been employed by T. R. Murnick Properties as a Resident Manager since 1992.

Freeholder Carol Clark introduced her honoree as “a person who everyone knows in the City of East Orange”, adding, “She’s proud of her Trinidad-Tobago roots and of this country, and Gail, we are proud of you!”  Bell-Bonnette spoke of how difficult it was when she came to the United States as a young girl, as it was for anyone from a different culture, and of how she kept herself going despite the adversity by keeping a quote close at hand…  “A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at her.”  She went on to say, “I may not have the riches of others, but I do have integrity and loyalty to my community, which comes from my heart.”  She also thanked her family and friends for their support, and especially the Board of Freeholders and Freeholder Clark in particular for honoring her, saying, “I am so proud to be a resident of Essex County.”

Freeholder President Watson (right) presents the Board’s award to Deborah E. Collins, Esq., of Glen Ridge.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Deborah E. Collins, Esq., is the Director of the Essex County Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action where she is responsible for implementing a Plan of Action to ensure that small, woman-owned and minority businesses have an opportunity to compete successfully for public contracts.  She received her B.A. in Spanish and M.A. in Spanish and Spanish American Literature from NYU, and after a brief career teaching Spanish, earned her J.D. from Rutgers Law School in Newark.  Ms. Collins worked in corporate America on Wall Street as Global Manager of Employment Litigation at J.P. Morgan, and then moved on to Goldman Sachs.  A trained litigator who spent several years in private practice as a labor lawyer representing unions, she was also an Associate General Counsel in the General Counsel’s Office of the NYC Transit Authority where she defended employment discrimination cases.  She also served as a Deputy Assistant Vice President of Affirmative Action and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Programs and later became the first Special Counsel to the Chief of Transit Police specializing in employment discrimination and affirmative action matters.  Ms. Collins resides in Glen Ridge.

“I have the distinct pleasure of introducing one of our own, a member of our Essex County family, who is a true professional and example to us all”, said Freeholder President Watson, introducing Ms. Collins, her honoree.  Watson also spoke of a recent article in North Jersey Woman magazine that featured Ms. Collins, highlighted her efforts to help local businesses secure contracts in the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Sandy, and of thefact that she will be working with Super Bowl XLVIII Business Connect, a program sponsored by the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee to engage minority and women-owned enterprises in business opportunities when the Super Bowl is held in New Jersey in February 2014.  Ms. Collins thanked the Board for honoring her and for its support of her efforts, saying, “Seven years ago, there were many naysayers and doubters, but this Board and the County Executive have proven them wrong, because government can be innovative, caring, courageous and transparent and still be effective.” She went on to say, “The progress we have made is nothing short of astounding… from half of 1% to now 30% of our contract dollars going to small, minority and women-owned businesses.”

Former Livingston Mayor Arlene A. Johnson (right) accepts the Board’s Commendation from Freeholder President Blonnie Watson  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Arlene A. Johnson, a 38-year resident of Livingston, has been active in the Township’s affairs both as an elected official and volunteer.  She was a member of the Township Council from 2007-2010, served as Mayor in 2010, and has since remained involved in community affairs as founder of the Livingston Citizens’ Institute and co-chair of the Livingston Bicentennial Committee.  She has also served on the Planning Board, Environmental Commission, Arts Council and Open Space Trust, is the founder/co-chair of the Livingston Green Team, a 20-year Public Library Trustee, 38-year member of the Livingston League of Women Voters and a NJ Women’s Political Caucus Board Member, among many other organizations.  Ms. Johnson began her professional life as a social studies teacher before joining Planned Parenthood of Essex County where she planned and implemented a volunteer development program.  She then embarked on a 30-year career as a business owner, author and management consultant to businesses and governments globally, working with diverse businesses and organizations to address workforce and workplace issues with a focus on work-life strategies, techniques for flexible management and women’s leadership advancement.  Ms. Johnson earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College, her Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, and her M.B.A. from the Rutgers Graduate School of Management.


Freeholder President Watson explained that Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold was unable to attend the
event as she recovers from a fall, and that she was “honored to have the privilege of making this presentation to Arlene Johnson on her behalf.”  Johnson said she was humbled by the honor and to be included in the great line of women who the Board has honored in the past.  “I know this award is less about me and what I have done, and more about the great procession of women who keep trying to do great things and make a difference.” She remarked that much has changed during her lifetime and that women have many more opportunities.  “There’s been great progress, but we are still very much under-represented in leadership positions and elected office… and this event reminds us that women are half of the population, that we have half the energy, initiative, ambition and intelligence, and it’s society’s loss when we are not fully represented.”

In addition to Freeholders Watson, Sebold and Clark, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders includes Freeholders D. Bilal Beasley of Irvington, Rolando Bobadilla of Newark, Brendan W. Gill of Montclair, Rufus I. Johnson of Newark, Leonard M. Luciano of West Caldwell and Gerald W. Owens of South Orange.

The program also included remarks by Deputy County Administrator Alan Abramowitz and Senator Nia Gill.  Musical entertainment was provided by vocalist Felicia Moss-Eaton of East Orange, who will soon release her first album, “Seasons to Smile”, and the opening and closing prayers were offered by Pastor Layne Brooks of New Day Ministries in Montclair. The honorees and their guests were invited to a reception hosted by the Board at the conclusion of the program. 


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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders




Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695