hot-topic rightThe hiring last year of a Red Bank woman to handle public relations duties for the Monmouth County library system has created a rift among at least three members of the five-person county Board of Chosen Freeholders, the Asbury Park Press reported Sunday.

Freeholder Amy Mallet of Fair Haven says she learned only in January that former Press journalist Coleen Dee Berry had been hired last March to serve as library spokesperson, at a salary of $51,000 — though Berry’s name has appeared on numerous press releases since then.

Mallet, a Democrat, tells the Press she thinks the jobs of five people working as spokespersons for county agencies should be consolidated. She gets backing from Freeholder John Curley, a Middletown Republican.

Meanwhile, Freeholder Lillian Burry, a Republican from Colts Neck says it is “disingenuous at best” for anyone to claim ignorance of Berry’s hiring. “She’s been in plain sight for almost a year,” Burry is quoted as saying. “Certainly her work is not in question.”

From the Press:

William K. Heine, the county spokesman, said Berry joined the library’s existing Office of Programming and Publicity on March 1, 2010.

Berry noted that she took over responsibilities that had been handled by a librarian who was splitting her time between traditional librarian duties and public relations. Berry has stepped up media relations, which Burry said has resulted in an increase of positive newspaper coverage about library programs.

Berry also helps with creation and implementation of library programming, handles internal communications and writes a monthly online newsletter. She is assisting in the revamp of the library website.

Before her hire, Berry had written a few press releases for Burry’s freeholder campaign, and she was paid by the campaign.

Both Burry, a Republican, and Mallet, a Democrat, are up for re-election this year.

Berry filed her application for the civil service post in November 2009. She said she even hand-delivered the application to all sitting freeholders and freeholder-elect Curley at that time.

The commission hired Berry during a public session in January 2010, and she has been identified as the library spokeswoman in numerous newspaper articles since then. She also gave a presentation to the freeholder board in September.

Curley said he believes Berry is “a very qualified person” for the job, but agrees with Mallet that the public information officers should be based in a centralized office.

Berry tells redbankgreen the Press is mistaken about her having done prior work for Burry.

“I never worked on Lillian Burry’s campaign,” she says in an email. “Her election campaign was in 2008 — I was still working for the Press, ironically, at that point, and then Rutgers. I wrote three letters to the editor for her (NOT press releases) in 2009. They were issue-related letters (MOM line, West Long Branch Library, Fort Monmouth) and not related to a campaign in any way.”