June 22, 2005

County Watchers' 'Media Watch' (Part 1)

Today's Star-Ledger has a good example of how the taxpayer-funded million dollar Public Information Department manipulates the media (see link to article below).

In this article regarding the use of surveillance cameras in county parks, campaigning freeholder Rick Proctor is quoted twice in a positive light. When the article brings up the fact that a $92,000 no-bid contract was awarded to a heavy Democrat contributor, it is the head of the Public Information Department, Sabastian D'Elia, that is held accountable, not Proctor the elected official.

Using his sharp communication skills for which the taxpayers pay him an annual salary of $77,779.72, D'Elia defends the freeholders awarding a no-bid contract based on the contractor's past county no-bid contractual work. I couldn't make up anything funnier than that.

Through OPRA requests I have asked the county for the departmental budget for the Office of Public Information and I was told that it would take forensic accounting to figure this out and for a $30.00 per hour fee they will sit down and try to come up with a number for me, BUT here's the catch: It would be their "best guess" because they claim it's impossible for them to know for sure.

One thing I know for sure, it's unique to Union County government in that it would cost a taxpayer $30.00 an hour for government to do them the favor of trying to figure out how they are spending their property tax dollars. It's as if they're taxing information.

The county also claims that they can not say exactly who works in this department because the employees are shared with other departments. Although the county is very quick to point out 'who doesn't' work for this department.

I have a good idea who works for this department because my husband, Joe, ran for freeholder in 2003 and 2004. During the campaign seasons these 'hidden from the public' Public Information Department employees were seen everywhere on the campaign trail. They were found at debates, both day and evening, snapping photos, taking notes, arguing and yelling at the audience and even carrying around and distributing the Democrats' campaign literature.

Wanting to know if they were on the public dime while working these campaigns, I placed an OPRA request for the paid days off for these employees and to my surprise, they gave me the information, BUT here's the catch: a note from the Office of the County Counsel read "Please note that there appear to be a few minor errors resulting from incorrect data entry contained in some of the records. However, these are the records as they currently exist in the Personnel system."

Another thing I know for sure, even if these employees took paid days off to work on these campaigns they would still be on taxpayer dime while working on freeholder campaigns.

There are 9 freeholders, 1 county manager and 1 deputy county manager, that adds up to $526,492 in salaries plus benefits. One would think that the media could find one of these well-paid officials to hold accountable regarding a no-bid contract to a political contributor. The taxpayers deserve accountability from one of them, not an over-paid and under-qualified political hack like Sebastian D'Elia.

Another thing I found funny about this article is a quote from Freeholder Proctor, who is up for reelection this year: "I believe that someone with evil intent who knows he is under surveillance will think twice before committing a crime."

Psssst, nobody tell the county that the County Watchers have them under surveillance and have been diligently recording their crimes.

Cameras in parks intensify Star-Ledger 6/22/05