In an August 4 editorial, The Westfield Leader bravely stated "The county needs to do a better job of making meetings more informative and open to citizens if they truly are 'connected to you.' After all, county officials serve at the will of the people not the other way around."
The Leader also raised the question as to why the county can't post meeting agenda's on the county website. The Union County Watchdog Association finds further fault with this by questioning why the county not only doesn't post their agendas on their taxpayer funded website as we do on our's (http://www.unioncountywatchdog.org/publicrecords.html ) but they go the extra step of keeping people out of the political process by not releasing their agendas to the public until the night of the meeting. This is unacceptable and is a blatant political ploy to disengage the public.
Also noted in the Leader editorial is the lack of business being conducted at freeholder meetings. It is obvious to anyone who has attended meetings in the past few years, and watched the freeholders unanimously vote on resolutions with no discussion at all, that the business of the people is being conducted outside of the public view; WHICH IS ILLEGAL.
The Leader editorial went on to question why tapes are not released to the public access cable stations as they've been in the past. They quote Freeholder Angel Estrada as having said that the reason they don't release VHS tapes to be aired on cable any longer is because of the poor quality of the recordings of the meetings.
I found this particularly interesting because I obtained through OPRA a VHS tape of the December 17, 2004 meeting which has Freeholder Angel Estrada: trying to keep Edward Sinclair's mother from speaking; ordering me removed from a meeting for speaking past my allotted 5 minutes; and then going on a diatribe about the Juvenile Detention Center "while it is unfortunate that Sinclair did die it is none of this board's fault".
Mr. Estrada, I have about 12 inches of documentation which proves that it was all of the boards dam fault and then some. Let me know if you'd like a copy. I charge $0.75 a page for copies and I accept requests on-line:firstname.lastname@example.org
I transcribed Estrada's rantings and passed it around not only to the press (in vain) but to several lawmakers in the hopes that the state will be given more oversight of county detention centers because the county can't be trusted with the responsibility. The tape is very good quality; which is why of course they are not released to the public cable stations. In fact meeting tapes are much better quality than the freeholder forum propoganda shows which are aired ad nauseam.
There is something very sick about a society located in the U.S.A. when a watchdog has to refer to a publisher as being brave in regards to exposing bad government practices. Kudos to Publisher Horace Corbin and his staff at the Westfield Leader. This editorial exemplifies why the press is so crucial to our democratic process. Even though the county ignored the editorial at least the Leader's readers are well informed.
----- Original Message -----
From: Marlena Russo
Sent: Thursday, August 18, 2005 11:55 AM
Subject: 8/18/05 OPRA Request Acknowledgement
The memo below serves as formal acknowledgement of your OPRA request of August 18, 2005.
Marlena M. Russo
Office of the County Manager
Union County Administration Bldg., 6th Floor
10 Elizabethtown Plaza
Elizabeth, NJ 07207
To: Mrs. Tina Renna
Date: August 18, 2005
Re: Open Public Records Act (OPRA) Request(s)
Dear Mrs. Renna:
This office received your OPRA request for the minutes and agenda for the August 18, 2005 Freeholder meeting on August 18, 2005. The OPRA law requires that a response be provided within seven (7) business days, beginning the first business day after receipt of the request. We will have a response prepared by August 29, 2005. We will contact you and provide a page count and price, should you wish to purchase any copies. Please be advised that there is a retrieval fee and return fee assessed for records stored in archive; it is $5.50 per box. You also have the option of viewing the records in the Office of the Clerk of the Board. If the records are available electronically, they can be provided via e-mail if preferred. Presently there is no fee for e-mail or fax. There will be no charge for simply inspecting a document. If you wish to have records mailed to you, we kindly ask that you remit payment to:
Office of the Clerk of the Board, 6th Floor
Union County Administration Building
10 Elizabethtown Plaza
Elizabeth, NJ 07207
Please do not send cash; make your check or money order payable to County of Union. We will provide the documents upon receipt of payment. If no information is available, or falls under a category protected by law, our response will provide an explanation.
Please be aware that records stored in archive or which require redaction as provided by law, may take more than seven (7) business days to compile. In this instance, we thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation and patience while we work to fulfill your request.
If you have any questions, please call this office at (908) 527-4140.
Nicole L. Tedeschi, M.P.A.
Clerk of the Board