October 25, 2005

Media Watch: A Letter to the Editor

October 23, 2005

Mark DiIonno
The Star-Ledger
1 Star-Ledger Plaza
Newark, NJ 07102-1200
VIA Email and First Class Mail

Dear Mr. DiIonno,

When we exchanged e-mails a few months ago I believed you were sincere in wanting to bring about a change in your Union County coverage. A change that would rely less on a taxpayer funded Public Information Department that was being less than disingenuous with the public. As I have informed you, to date, the county has not revealed to the public what this departments budget is, what employees work for this department or what the head of this departments paid days off were in 2003 and 2004. A count of the press releases on the county website proves beyond a doubt that this department exists to keep the all Democrat controlled board in power. The Ledger has never written a word about any of that.

You backed up your words with action and the past several months I have witnessed the Ledger’s coverage being less influenced by this department.

This past week that progress has totally unraveled. Robert Misseck was again quoting a freeholder who is up for reelection. This Sunday’s front page Union County Section has a feature article on County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi.

If you lived in Union County you would see the county Democrat campaign signs are featuring Rajoppi’s name as a headline.

If you’ve read any of my e-mails regarding the Public Information Department you would know that Rajoppi had a total of eight press releases and no photo ops last year. As of today, Rajoppi, who is now up for reelection, has 52 press releases and 25 photo ops listed. Now she has this lovely Sunday’s feature article by Joe Ryan to carry her team into the final stretch of their campaign.

It was a home run for the county public information department. Whoever it is that works for this department earns their keep. However, the county Democrat committee should be paying them, not the taxpayers. The Star-Ledger should not be facilitating this betrayal of the public trust.

Couple this manipulation of the press with the county spending to date approximately $400,000 of tax dollars on mailers and a commercial featuring campaigning freeholders, and it is impossible to mount a campaign against the incumbents. Residents are getting, through their tax dollars, 90 percent of their information about county government directly from the government. The other 10 percent from the government manipulated media.

This is why in the past several years county politicians have been appointed by powerbrokers; because no matter whom they put on the ballot they will get elected. Freeholder John Wohlrab was arrested for beating a woman four weeks before the election last year and because of all the positive media he had received up until then, or perhaps just because he was on the Democrat line, upwards of 80,000 people voted to reelect him.

I find this to be a reflection on Union County as a society and frankly it’s embarrassing that we are so collectively ignorant. But it isn’t society’s fault Mr. DiIonno. It’s the media’s. Only you have the power to inform people. In fact this is your direct responsibility to maintain a democracy.

Union County is not a democracy. It is Senator Raymond Lesniak’s fiefdom. I fully expect Union County’s politicians’ to conduct their business as a fiefdom, what I don’t expect, respect or condone is the Star-Ledger facilitating them. You are supposed to be better than that. You are supposed to be government watchdogs not an extension of their press corps.

Feel free to share this feedback with your staff and superiors as well as publish it. Or ignore it as you obviously have been doing all along.

Tina Renna
Union County Watchdog Association, Inc.

October 21, 2005

Berkeley Heights Soon to be "Linden West"

This election season, as well as last, I have been fascinated by how the county Democratic machine is involved in municipal politics in Berkeley Heights. What’s fascinating is that they are managing a complete take over in anonymity.

Berkeley Heights is considering a change to their form of government. They would change to an elected mayor and a six-member council. Should voters approve the change, the existing governing body would be dissolved. Anyone wishing to continue serving on the governing body would have to run again next November. All three candidates for council this year support the change, as well as massive redevelopment plans for the township.

This all sounds innocent enough until you consider that Union County Manager George Devanney, who is powerbroker/State Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s (D-Union) nephew, is on the committee which is spearheading the campaign to change the town’s power base.

Last year, the all-Republican council hired the county manager’s wife, Angie Devanney, to be the city administrator. As the county administrator of the Open Space Trust Fund she negotiated a deal for the county to buy contaminated land in Berkeley Heights with the fund. At the time of her hiring Committeeman David Cohen heaped praise on Devanney for her negotiating skills. No one mentioned that the land's past ownership included a Greggorio. Mayor John Gregorrio is the infamous Mayor of the City of Linden.

A lot of things aren’t being mentioned in Berkeley Heights.

This charter change could mean that Berkeley heights would give up five elected officials for one all-powerful mayor. Each of the current committeepersons has the full authority and responsibilities of a mayor, with one given the title to chair meetings or to sign legal documents. Now, all are accessible to the public. They work directly with town employees to resolve issues and vote on contracts, appointments and budgets.

In the strong mayor/council form, only the mayor can talk to employees or direct the town administrator. The mayor creates the budget alone and submits it to council for approval. The mayor appoints all committee volunteers and professionals, hires employees, awards contracts and determines policy. The developers would have to have the approval of the mayor. If a resident has a problem or concern, that person must find the mayor.

The council's primary function is to create legislation, which the strong mayor can veto.

The town of Barnegat is considering this same change this year and they estimate the cost to change their form of government is $60,000 to $100,000 just to rewrite and publish the town codes. I don’t know what the salaries are of the current committee people in Berkeley Heights or how they would compare with a Mayor’s salary, staff and perks. There would also be a cost for the new election next season.

No one is mentioning these costs to the voters. If Berkeley Heights votes for this change, I believe that most current labor contracts will become null and void; employees will be subject to being fired. All professionals would be at the will of the new mayor for appointment. The zoning and planning board members would get a complete overhaul as well.

What could go wrong? Or more to the point: what could go right for the county Democrat machine in this supposedly-Republican stronghold?

Suppose the newly elected all-powerful mayor of Berkeley Heights wanted to be a municipal judge when he grew up. Although he'd be a Republican on the ballot, he might be inclined to tip all the new contracts, patronage jobs and appointments to a Democrat county powerbroker who would have the power to make his dreams come true.

If this deal was being presented honestly to the people of Berkeley Heights then all the players, costs and consequences would be out in the open.

The town will be so transformed by this change in their government that the people of Berkeley Heights should also be considering a change of the town name while they're at it. I’d recommend Linden West.

October 16, 2005

County Employees/Campaign Workers

A friend of mine told me they attended a Freeholder meeting on Sept. 8 and watched in astonishment as the freeholders presented a Public Information Department employee with a resolution for his being “a political operative and a help to each and every one of us."

Even I found this public display of arrogance hard to believe, seeing as it’s illegal and all, so I requested a copy of the audio tape of this meeting and there it was for all the world to listen to: a county employee being thanked for working on political campaigns during a public meeting.

The Public Information Department is responsible for controlling the county’s day-to-day image. They churn out laudatory press releases, set up photo ops and try their darnedest to manipulate the press.

Visit the county’s ’news’ site to see for yourself what kind of public information your tax dollars is churning out.

I recommend that you do this on an empty stomach. You will not find any information relevant to your escalating bloated tax bill. What you will find is hundreds of laudatory press releases featuring photos of campaigning politicians. I actually counted all of them. Consider that in 2004, Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi had a total of eight press releases and no photo ops. As of Oct. 1, Rajoppi, who is now up for reelection, had 47 press releases and 21 photo ops listed.

I know that the taxpayers are funding this campaign publicity, what I don’t know is exactly how much it’s costing.

The county won’t tell me what the budget is for the Public Information Department or even how many employees work for it.

They also won’t say what the head of this department, Sebastian D’Elia’s, paid days off were in 2003 and 2004.

D'Elia was also a paid campaign worker for the Union County Democratic Committee in 2004 ($750.00 for get out the vote efforts). Other county employees to be paid campaign workers are: James Pallettiere $750-2004; Sean Faughan $500-2004; County Clerk Nicole Tedeshi $1,200-2004, $600-2003; Ann Lord $500-2004; $400.00-2003; Ron Zuber $1,000-2004, $600-2003; Carolyn Sullivan $1,200-2004; Deputy County Manager Elizabeth Geneveich $500-2004, $400-2003; John Salerno $500-2004; Wayne Avery $500-2004; Photographer Jim Lownery $500-2004; Judith Biniaris $1,000-2004; County Managers wife who was the Administrator of the Open Space Trust Fund Angie Devanney $2,600-2003. All of these county-employees/campaign-workers show little if any time off from their county jobs at election time.

Here are our tax dollars and campaigning county politicians hard at work in some of my favorite taxpayer-funded county-employee/campaign-workers press releases of this current silly season:

Freeholder Angel Estrada hard at work paving the roads in his Sunday best:

Snidely Whiplash listens to Dudley Do-Right explain how he will foil his dastardly deeds:

And here she is, Miss Union County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi attending a motorcycle rally in a black evening dress and pearls.

Press release totals as of Oct. 1: Freeholders Proctor, Estrada, Ward and
County Clerk Rajoppi are up for reelection.

Number of Releases; Number of Photo Captions
Rojappi: 47; 21
Proctor: 69; 38
Estrada: 7; 29
Ward: 6; 20
Sullivan: 15; 8
Mirabella: 14; 28
Mapp: 9; 4
Holmes: 16; 23
Scanlon: 3; 14
Kowalski: 31; 39
Devanney: 1

2004 - Wohlrab, Sullivan, Kowalski, Routolo and Ward, took turns being up
for reelection
Number of Releases; Number of Photo Captions
Estrada: 67, 25
Sullivan: 19,26
Wohlrab: 9, 20
Kowalski: 14,15
Routolo: 34, 0
Scanlon: 5, 3
Proctor: 7, 4
Mingo: 10, 4
Holmes: 3, 10
Mirabella: 6, 11
Ward: 0, 2
Rajoppi: 8; 0

2003 - Scanlon, Holmes & Mirabella were up for reelection
Number of Releases; Number of Photo Captions
Scanlon: 96; 13
Holmes: 81; 14 (note: Holmes was the liaison to Union County Parks & Rec Advisory Board and was never quoted regarding the geese gassings)
Mirabella: 29; 17
Scutari: 3; 2
Estrada: 9; 6
Proctor: 10; 2
Routolo: 2;
Mingo: 11; 6
Sullivan: 5; 3
County Manager: 4

October 11, 2005

'Union County Directions' - Fall 2005 Campaign Issue

Every household and business in Union County received a copy of the Union County Directions Newsletter last week. You receive two every year, one right before the primary and one right before the general election.

This newsletter states that it's published by the "Union County Alliance," a nonprofit organization.

What taxpayers don't realize is that they (the taxpayers) are paying for this $50,000 campaign piece which features Democrat freeholders, who are up for reelection, throughout its 24 pages of propaganda.

Not only are you paying for the printing and mailing of this piece, you are also paying the employees' salaries for the county's Office of Public Information to produce it.

I placed an OPRA request today to the Union County Alliance asking for all costs as well ad payments in association with their Spring and Fall issues. The Fall issue is in direct violation of the ELEC rules. Both issues featured Campaigning Freeholder Rick Proctor on their front covers as well as 18 photos of campaigning freeholders throughout. Most of the press releases and photos featured are ones that have have been diligently left out of the local papers - kudos to the editors.

Some quick observations regarding this last issue:

It's a "family issue" featuring the State Sen. Raymond Lesniak's Family Friendly Success Story throughout.

There is a profile on Berkeley Heights on the front cover, where the county manager's wife Angie Devanney is the city administrator, although she is not mentioned.

This continues to page 22 where there is a story about changing the Berkeley Heights charter which George Devanney is sitting on two committee's pushing for this, although neither he nor his wife's involvement is mentioned.

Page 15 has an article regarding Berkeley Heights and open space. You have Stan Laurel posing as County Manager George Devanney on page 3 upper right hand corner (prime ad placement).

The back cover is paid for by George Devanney's brother's fiefdom, the Elizabeth Urban Enterprise Zone. And Uncle Lesniak himself is pictured on page 20. The family could use this newspaper as a holiday card.

There is an article regarding the Union County Detention Center on page 16 where campaiging freeholder Angel Estrada is quoted as saying "The construction of the new facility has been a top priority of the Freeholder Board".......The project has moved quickly and we have put a good team together to complete its construction in a timely manner.....

There is no mention in this article about the county having to appear in court on Oct. 17 to answer to the death of Edward Sinclair, Jr. whose civil rights they violated due to the deplorable conditions at the facility which dragged on for years under all-Democrat rule.

The Democrats out-voted the last remaining Republican freeholders thereby shelving a plan to build a new facility. The article also doesn't mention that besides the human tragedies that have occurred under their mismanagement and disregard for basic human rights, the project will now cost upwards of $10 million more than it would have. It also doen't list all the new buidlings for county employees which took presedence over a new detention center.

Campaigning Assemblywoman Linda Stender in on page 19. Not mentioned in this article is the fact that Stender is paid $66,000 a year by the county to supervise volunteers who are working for free at Runnells Specialized Hospital. All assembly candidates are on pages 20 and 21.

Campaigning Clerk of the Board Joanne Rajoppi has an article on page 10. Rajoppi had a total of eight press releases and no photo ops in 2004. As of Oct. 1 Rajoppi, who is now up for reelection, had 47 press releases and 21 photo ops listed on the county website. All produced by county public information department employees. As was this directions newsletter.

How they covered the cost (projected at $50,000) not including salaries for county employees:
Center spread 4 page pull out - State funded Kean University as well as three separate ads
Shop Rite
Elizabeth Urban Enterprise Zone (Lesinak's other newphew and county manager's brother)
United Way
Conoco Philips
Schoor Depalma (so much for no longer paying to play)
Trinitas Hospital
Hillside Urban Enterprise Zone (Union County Democrat Chair Charlotte DeFillipo is also the municipal chair of Hillside)
Friends of Amanda sponsored this ad (interesting)
County - GED Testing
County - Vo Tech Schools
County - Union County Collect
County - Runnells Hospital
County - Recycling Event

To be cont'd.......I'll report on my adventures of wrangling public records regarding this campaign rag out of the county and the Union County Alliance which is run by a former county Public Information Officer, Michael Murray, as well as Kean University, as soon as my OPRA requests are completed.

I doubt it will happen before election day on Nov. 8. The games have already begun:

From: "directions "
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2005 11:38 AM
Subject: Directions

> The Union County Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. OPRA is for government records.

-- 1:04 PM

October 07, 2005

Freeholders Hire Expensive Environmental "Watchdog"

The following article was published in the Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains Fanwood Times, Oct. 6,2005

In the fall of 2004, just prior to the last general election, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced the purchase of 17 acres of land on Snyder Avenue in Berkeley Heights.

Newly sworn-in Freeholder Bette Jean Kowalski explained the property had been the site of the Shaw Plastics company, as well as Barry Oil Service and Duffy Fuels and that the county had paid $8 million of the $13 million purchase price and had entered into a deal with the municipality of Berkley Heights who had anted up the other $5 million.

The freeholders had tapped into the Open Space Historic Preservation and Recreation Trust Fund as the property would be used for baseball fields with Berkeley Heights building a Senior Citizen Center on a portion of the land.

This particular piece of property had been tied up for years in litigation as the developer/owner had intended to construct 259 residential units, some of it would have been low-income Mount Laurel housing, which the township wasn’t exactly thrilled about. There has been no disagreement that the soil is badly contaminated and no matter what the land is used for it must be reclaimed first, surely before the kids take to the fields or the seniors roll in.

Freeholder Kowalski is quoted in the Westfield Leader at that time as saying that the existing owner would be cleaning up the property. This, by the way, was a part of the deal. Obviously the owner is willing to foot the bill for remediation just to get rid of the land as it isn’t fit for his original plan anyway. The clean up is expected to cost about $1 million.

Well, guess what? The freeholder board just voted yes on resolution #977-2005, which calls for the County Manager to enter into an agreement with PMK Group of Cranford for the purpose of oversight services pertaining to the remediation of the Snyder Avenue property in Berkeley Heights in an amount not to exceed $202.222.25 from the Open Space Trust Fund.

The contract was awarded without competitive bidding and the PMK Group has contributed $75,500 to the UC Democratic Committee between ’00 and ‘04 as well a cool grand or more to the campaigns of Assemblymen Joe Cryan, Neil Cohen and Jerry Green in ’05, and a token $300 to Linda Stender (she should complain).

There are two things wrong with this picture. If the deal called for the seller to fund the remediation, why are the taxpayers picking up such a large tab? And second: a full-time engineer could be hired in the neighborhood of $80,000 to $95,000 a year and a trailer on site to house this person for another $10,000, so what on earth is the other $100,000 for?

Why not have the property owner agree to hire the firm of the county’s choice to do the job right in the first place instead of the taxpayers providing the funding for a “watchdog”. It looks as though PMK will recoup most of their political contributions here in Union County.

Nothing can be done about this situation now. Let’s just hope that the job is done right and, as the County Manager explained to me, that we do indeed avoid another Miesel Field mess which dragged on for years.

For those who say that the numbers are fabricated or who are unfamiliar with working with databases and navigating some websites, below is a sample of the political contributions, reported by the Union County Democratic Committee, which this vendor made to the UCDC in a four-year period, from 2000 to 2004. Downloaded directly off the New Jersey Elect website into Excel

total 2000-2005 75500 Total 75,500

October 05, 2005

Golden parachute was opened at the top

On Sept. 1, Acting Governor Richard Codey’s brother Robert retired from his assignment as a deputy attorney general on loan to Union County. The county website doesn’t have any photos of Codey being sent off with a gold watch but his golden parachute is worth revisiting.

According to published reports, Robert Codey, a state prosecutor since 1988, reached an employment agreement with the county in September 2004.

His state salary was set at $93,268. Although they could have had him for free, Union County supplemented Codey’s pay by $46,731 - putting his total salary at $140,000.

This boosted his pension to about $33,000 dollars more than what he would have been eligible for had he retired a year earlier.

This deal was worked out shortly after former Gov. James E. McGreevey announced his resignation setting the stage for Codey’s brother to take over as acting governor.

The unusual salary adjustment for Codey, who’s expertise was in organized crime, was requested by state Attorney General Peter Harvey and approved by then-acting Personnel Commissioner Marjorie Schwartz.

Codey received special permission to exceed the state salary limits in cases of “extraordinary justification and compelling need.“ The public, however, was never informed of what the "compelling need" was or what organized crime cases Codey was in charge of - and no indictments by Codey were reported in the news during his short tenure.

Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code requires the personnel commissioner to establish and enforce pay rates and salary ranges for civil service jobs such as deputy attorney general. Codey’s official state salary was $140,000. The maximum for his position under state regulations was $115,618.

To keep it ‘legal’ the county had to reimburse the state for the pay increase. None of Codey’s fellow 779 deputy attorney’s generals was granted similar permission to exceed that limit. His salary was more than $20,000 above the salary of his direct supervisor and 136 other deputies ranking above him. Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow’s salary is $141,000.

Codey, 55, has more than 30 years in the public employment system, and under special pension rules for prosecutors, this entitles him for a pension that pays 70 percent of his highest annual salary. In addition to the $98,000 a year pension, Codey will receive automatic annual cost of living adjustments and state-paid health insurance throughout his retirement. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state the average life expectancy for white male Americans is 75.4 years.)

Appointed Union County Manager George Devanney, who is State Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, defended Codey’s pay increase. “We are lucky to get a man like Bob with his knowledge and experience. Just because he is the acting governor’s brother doesn’t mean politics were involved in his hiring," said Devanney.

According to the budget proposed by Acting Gov. Codey, the state will pay out $3.8 billion for employees’ benefits in the 12 months that began July 1 - that’s 14 percent of the entire $27.4 billion spending plan. Pensions would cost the state budget $337 million, and that price tag is expected to nearly quadruple in the following year’s budget. By July 2007, the state expects it will spend more on health benefits for retired workers than for active employees. By 2010, it may cost the state $6.7 billion to pay for health benefits and pensions.

In his March 1 budget speech, Codey said “Entitlements are the driving force behind the increase in state spending each and every year." Codey vowed not to sign any pension enhancements, and he planed to name a panel to examine the benefits system.

With his personal experience with entitlements and expertise in organized crime, Robert Codey would make an excellent panelist.

October 04, 2005

Harvey doesn't want to discourage the dead from voting

Commonsense would dictate that having the fox place a guard in charge of the hen house can only lead to rampant abuse of the hens and their property. Who would the hen then turn to report the abuses? The fox or the guard? We the taxpayers of New Jersey are in the same scenario with our governor appointing the States Attorney General, who is our first line of defense against political corruption.

Recently, Republican Party officials released the results of a study that they claimed found tens of thousands of examples of possible voter fraud in the 2004 election, including instances where votes were cast by dead people.

Atty. Gen. Peter Harvey responded to the allegation of dead people on the rolls with a warning to the accusers: "efforts to stop fraud shouldn't become an excuse to take steps that discourage voters from showing up at the polls, particularly in poor urban areas."

The sad truth is that the poor in urban areas are the ones who suffer the most from political corruption. The Democrat political machines take their votes for granted, yet since the days of Frank Hague, even in death the people in these very areas have been faithfully casting their votes for the Democrat machines.

Not even evidence of dead voters will get Harvey to investigate the fox that put him in charge of the hen house. This should send every one of us hens and roosters to the polls Nov. 8 to vote in a new fox. Only a complete changing of the guard will lead to some relief from the political shenanigans that we have been suffering from since Governor James E. McGreevey was swept into office promising to change the way business is done in Trenton.

Business hasn't changed in New Jersey in 100 years. I wonder if Frank Hague is still voting...

October 03, 2005

Plainfield Plaintalker


The Plainfield Plaintalker is a beautiful example of citizen journalism. It does the work that the major papers don't want to do anymore: cover the news in our own backyard.

The 'Talker is worth a visit if you're from that neighborhood, interested in their politics, or just looking for a good read.

Good job!

A County Hack Has Something to Say

Thought we'd all benefit from knowing what the flock is thinking.

From Bob Milici:

"Tina: Can't you get your facts straight?

"'The Union County Watchdog Association is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization working on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of Union County monitoring the activity of county government and advocating change to eliminate waste, corruption and incompetence. We will be monitoring these 2005 ELEC abuses closely'

"1) You are hardly nonpartisan. You work directly on behalf of Republicans
"2) Monitoring what "abuses"? Has anyone been found guilty of an abuse? No. Just in your mind, but not in anyone's who matters.
"3) "Working on behalf of residents of Union County"? Who asked you to? Were you elected as our advocate? Face it. You're working on behalf of Tina and Joe Renna."

The End.