August 27, 2005

“Back Room Politics Appears to be Alive and Well in Union County”

Note: Appeared in the Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains Fanwood Times and the Cranford Chronicle Thursday, 8/25/05

Discussions about “back room” politics generally conjure up the vision of a bunch of whiskey drinking men sitting around a table smoking fat cigars while carving up the political pie. It has been said that decisions about government such as who would or would not be in positions of power as well as what they were going to do were decided in just this manner.

History has shown that this was certainly the case in some places and that sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t. Most people would probably think that this method of getting things done went out with the “Lindy-Hop” and that these days there is no one behind the scenes pulling the strings, but it would appear that they are wrong.

There are those here in Union County who would insist that back room politics does not exist and I have to admit that the visual image is different, the players have changed and what is decided and how is not quite what it was back in the day. One need only to attend 3 or 4 meetings of the Union County Board of Choose Freeholders to get the feeling that most of what that goes on is obviously decided behind closed doors and not in the public’s view.

Since I have been attending freeholder meetings I have yet to hear anyone on the board cast a dissenting vote, ever. Even at agenda meetings, those are the ones held to review what is new and what will be voted on at a regular meeting, everyone appears to be in agreement and knowledgeable about everything.

The department heads come before the freeholder board with proposed resolutions in hand and say something to the effect of: resolutions 414-2005 thru 416-2005 refer to two bridges which should be replaced, one on Martine Avenue, Scotch Plains and the other on Elm Street in Westfield and while we are there we will be replacing the curbs and resurfacing the roads. The chairman asks the board if there are any questions, usually there aren’t any so the proposed resolutions become actual resolutions on the consent agenda at the following meeting and are approved unanimously.

I have yet to hear any disagreement among the freeholders, no one ever gets annoyed with the next guy and things move along all too smoothly with the board approving millions of dollars in expenditures at every regular meeting, which is usually two times a month except in summer or around holiday time. It is mind boggling when one realizes the scope of issues which are addressed without any discussions in public and the amount of money that is spent with almost no questions asked.

It would be comforting to think that our elected county officials are experts on everything and understand all the ins and outs of civil and mechanical engineering, finance, human resources, social services, legal issues and the like. However it would appear that this is not the case evidenced by the blank stares as their eyes seem to glaze over when an actual presentation is made by a department hoping to glean a few extra dollars for some special project. Yet when the project finally hits the agenda they all vote yes!!

Now, I am not saying that the group shouldn’t be cohesive and able to work together what I am saying is that it has been my experience that generally when two or more people get together to make a decision there is some sort of verbal exchange, some disagreement from someone who needs to be persuaded to see things the same as the rest of the group.

It is very apparent that more is being discussed in closed executive session than should be and that all is decided and ironed out before the board takes their assigned seats on the dais. Actually it would be refreshing if just once, just one freeholder would think for themselves and vote NO!!