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  • Writer's pictureCraig Richards

Hammonton Insider: Atlantic County Surrogate Jim Curcio

Jim Curcio

CRAIG RICHARDS: Exactly what is the role of a surrogate?

JIM CURCIO: A surrogate is a court officer who is also a county official. It’s an office that’s part of the New Jersey State Constitution, an old traditional office in the court system. It’s an elected official but it’s also considered a judicial officer. The main function of the surrogate is to deal with wills and estates, guardianships, and adoptions.

RICHARDS: How long have you been in that role?

CURCIO: I was first elected in 2010.

RICHARDS: Why did you want to be in that role? What’s you’re passionate about serving in that role?

CURCIO: Well, I’m an attorney by profession and I’ve also been active in Atlantic County politics for many years.

This combined two things that I’m very interested in, law and politics, and a chance to work in the courts. In addition, the fact that it was an elected position was very interesting to me. So, when the position opened, I wanted to go for it.

RICHARDS: What was your public service history prior to this role?

CURCIO: I was elected to the Freeholder Board in 1994 and was reelected several times to that position. I also served as chairman of the Freeholder Board in 2009 and 2010. When the County Surrogate opportunity came I ran for the position and was elected in 2010.

RICHARDS: I’m not familiar with Freeholder Board. What is that?

CURCIO: That’s our county governing body, which is now called a county commission. So, the position that James Bertino has now was my job. When I moved to Surrogate, Bertino became the Fifth District Freeholder.

RICHARDS: So, the title basically changed.

CURCIO: They changed the title a few years back.

RICHARDS: In your current role, what would you say are some of the accomplishments and improvements you’ve brought to the office?

CURCIO: Well, we’ve streamlined some of the services. We cleared up some of the backlog of cases that were there. I believe we’ve created a focus on problem solving. I really wanted my staff to focus on that; being problem solvers above all. Certainly, they were always to apply the law to get things right and turn them around quickly. But in doing that they focus on being kind and compassionate. Long before I got there the surrogate staff were really known for their kindness and professionalism. But I wanted to focus on a deeper application of the law to really help people solve their problems when they had lost a loved one or they had an elderly parent who was in need of guardianship.

RICHARDS: During your years in office what’s one of your biggest memories that really stands out to you?

CURCIO: One thing we’ve tried to do is really increase the public outreach in the office. I go to all the different functions that are happening. The ability to interact with people at the 4-H Fair, the Bay Fest, events like that and speaking to different senior groups has been beneficial. That has really brought home to me how important the job is and how much people appreciate the job we do. They really do need some guidance with their basic estate planning. They need to know what to do when they’ve lost a loved one, how to prepare for that, and what to do after it occurs.

RICHARDS: A lot of people deal with state agencies and offices like this, but this one, and correct me if I’m wrong, feels more like a partnership in helping people with certain tasks they have. It seems a more intimate interaction as opposed to a mechanical policy driven one.

CURCIO: I think you hit the nail right on the head. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. I’ve been a lawyer since 1985, and I felt like I had a pretty good knowledge of wills and estates when I got there. But once I was really immersed in the job, I saw mechanics of the law are secondary on this job. Working with the people is the number one objective – something I continue to emphasize with the staff. Our job here is to help people. I always felt like if we’re providing quality service, that’s the number one thing that we’re going to emphasize all the time.

RICHARDS: Everybody that’s in an office in some way put their personal stamp on that office. What do you think your stamp, or your personality has put into this office?

CURCIO: I always want people to know that they can reach me whenever they need me. I put my personal cell phone out there in all our advertisements and on the website. I want people to know that they can call me at any time. The people who deal with us are going through something difficult times so, I always want people to know that they’re going to get personal attention from our office.

RICHARDS: People may ask why the surrogate position would be an elected position rather than appointed. Your thoughts?

CURCIO: I think the reason they made this an elected office in the first place is that the people expect the surrogate to be accountable and accessible. I want everyone to know that I’m there for the public. As long as I have the strength to do it, I will always be there for the people of Atlantic County.

RICHARDS: We can expect you in the next election cycle to be on the ballot.

CURCIO: Yes, I will have to run again in 2025. God willing, next year I’ll be running. The surrogate runs for a five-year term, and I was elected in 2020, so if I can get there again in 2025, then there’s no telling what the future holds.

RICHARDS: Jobs can be stressful, especially in public service. You deal with a lot of things. How do you step away from that? How do you shut all that out?

CURCIO: I have a beautiful family. My boys are grown now but I’ve always loved youth sports. I love coaching. I love going down to the ballpark. I love coaching youth sports. I’m still coaching Hawks football.

RICHARDS: What can we expect out of the Hawks this year?

CURCIO: They look good. I think you’re going to see championships again this year.

RICHARDS: What else do you do to decompress?

CURCIO: I love to walk around the town of Hammonton. That’s really my greatest joy. I always joke that everything that’s most important to me is within a mile of the church here. I just like to walk around. If I can I grab one of my brothers or somebody to take a walk with me. I just like to walk. I unwind that way. My doctor wants me to count my steps anyway, so we keep in shape like that. I like to see everybody. If I can run around with the kids for as long as I can do that, I have plenty of outlets.

RICHARDS: What does the future hold? What are you looking at next?

CURCIO: I feel like what I’m doing right now is really a great joy to me. I have a staff that I really enjoy working with.

The office is very productive. I’m working with really good people. We have a county clerk on the other side of the building, which is a friend of mine for 40 years. And I enjoy working with him. I feel like we get more done because we work together. And I do feel like the future is great. As long as I’m going strong, I want to continue doing what I’m doing right now.

RICHARDS: Well, I know you have a busy schedule. I appreciate you taking time out to speak with me.

CURCIO: Well, I can’t thank you and the staff enough for the job you’re doing here. I love The Gazette. Since it came here, we’ve been very lucky to have a hometown paper. I appreciate the paper and the opportunity to sit down and talk. Thank you.


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