December 18, 2005

2005: Union County Year in Review
Or: County countdown to disaster

County resident and former GOP candidate for freeholder, Bruce Paterson, sent us the following:

January- Citizens discovered that a county bridge was being built too low, creating a flood hazard. The project was ceased.  It turns out the freeholders hired a design firm - one that donated over $500,000 over the last few years to the freeholders' political party coffers.  A perfect example of freeholder pay-to-play at its worst.  The bridge is still not fixed.

Soonafter it was revealed that the county lost a lawsuit for hiring a crony over an eligible county employee.  The total cost was $600,000 paid for by the Union County taxpayers.  An example of patronage at its worst. 

February- The county lost another lawsuit based on hiring a crony over an eligible county employee.  This time the cost was over $250,000.  

March- The county sells two properties for $1 million. Instead of putting this money back into the open space trust fund which I feel they should, they divert it to general revenue.  It appears they want to use this to fund more of their pay-to-play and patronage schemes. 

April- Another lawsuit proceeds, initiated by a mother whose son died in the county's custody at the juvenile detention center.  The child advocate from the state reported that the county was negligent in addressing and overseeing the center.  This allowed a despondent young adult to hang himself from a damaged and exposed sprinkler pipe that was supposed to be fixed 17 months prior to his death.  The county still says they had nothing to do with it.  An example of county arrogance at its worst. 

May- Uh-oh; another big county tax increase stuck to the seniors, the hardworking families and the taxpayers.  That makes it a 50 percent increase in county taxes in five years!  Financial failure at its worst. 

June- Yet another settlement of a lawsuit by the county for hiring a crony over an eligible employee.  Cost is $150,000.  Thank God they diverted that million dollars back in March. 

July- The Star-Ledger exposes the county's subversive political efforts of trying to control local towns and agencies by putting up loyal county cronies and paying for their council campaigns.  If successful, they can then manipulate them to do their bidding by controlling their salaries. 

August- Governor Cody's brother retires from the county.  No big deal except that the freeholders made sure to pad his pension with another $30,000/year at the expense of the county taxpayers.  An example of pension padding at its worst. 

September- The Star-Ledger exposes abuse of county vehicles, which apparently forces two freeholders to give up their county cars.  It is found that a freeholder (considered a part-time position) put 30,000 miles on the car at the taxpayers expense.  An example of taxmoney abuse at it worst. 

October and November- The county is now subliminally putting out their personal political agendas by corrupting non-partisan magazines and county program press releases.  An example of subversiveness at its worst.  

Last year I stood here when 2004 raises were given out and said I saw no performance to warrant it.  This year you decided to corrupt the whole county system losing millions of taxpayers' dollars in pay-to-play, lawsuits and abuse.  You deserve no raise. And it looks like the directors obviously are just getting hush money increases for letting this happen to the taxpayers.  This is all completely despicable.

December 16, 2005

Freeholders Can, So They Do

Sometimes, some things in life are just too puzzling for the average person to comprehend, especially when it comes to the actions and attitudes of others.

We human beings tend to judge the performance of other people by the same standards that we set for ourselves even when we know that we will be disappointed. This is just human nature. Ever the optimist, I will admit that I did just that this week.

What was I Thinking??
What was I thinking when I dared to believe that at least one concerned Union County resident would show up at the Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting to ask the board not to award themselves a raise in pay.

The local newspapers, as well as the paper with the largest circulation in the New Jersey had run articles as early as last week about the planned salary increases, and letters to the editor appeared this week regarding this subject and still there was no one but the regular attendees at the meeting last evening. Just the two of us.

Also in attendance was the long-time Union County representative to the state Republican committee and a woman to voice her repeated complaint that again this year the snow and ice were not removed from a stretch of sidewalk which borders county property making it impossible for her to walk to her bus stop each morning.

Have to be There
Though there appeared to be about 20 others in attendance, this is deceiving because these people are actually reporters or county employees who are meeting participants.

"Sour Grapes"
Though I did step up and voice my dissenting opinion on the amount of the county manager’s raise and that of the freeholders as well, my opinion as a former Republican candidate for the office is most assuredly viewed merely as “sour grapes." What amazes me is that this “gang of nine” justifies this raise almost as though it were an entitlement evidenced by Angel Estrada telling a reporter that he and his colleagues deserve the raise.

I am quite sure that just about everyone who is employed feels that he deserves to be paid more money for his or her labors, but there is generally some trace of altruism when one seeks public office and holding office should not be viewed as a money making proposition.

Cadillac vs Chevy
Mr. Estrada, an employee of the NJ Division of Motor Vehicles along with six other freeholders are currently on the county medical and dental plans at an average of $12,000 a year apiece. I believe that most of us thought that the state offered its employees insurance so I am puzzled by his taking part in the plan, certainly no altruism there. (Just a note: a good medical insurance plan can be had for about $500-$600 a month or $7200 a year per person. This plan must be the Cadillac as opposed to the Chevy).

What are they doing???
While campaigning this past fall I repeatedly heard the same lament over and over from county residents regarding the out-of-control spending by county government, as well as the endless construction projects, and excessive legal fees, the basic line was “what are they doing?”

Yet the residents of Union County cannot take the time out of their busy schedules to attend a meeting and ask the question themselves, perhaps doing just that would put some pressure on these board members to take the high road and say, “in fairness to the struggling taxpayers of Union County I will not vote affirmatively to increase my compensation.” But since the residents don’t come out, the freeholders really believe that they should and they do, who can blame them.

Freeholder Scanlon made a telling comment last evening during her closing statement at this the last meeting of the 2005, when she stated that obviously the residents of Union County must approve of the good job that they are doing with the exception of the three here, referring to we Republicans.

Taking the Bucks to the Bank
So there it is folks, by not saying anything to the contrary, this all-Democratic freeholder board can take it to the bank that you are all pleased with how they are spending your money. And I guess that they are right.

December 11, 2005

Christmas Bonus for the Child-Abusing Trough Swillers

This Thursday, Dec. 15, there will be two important meetings held regarding Union County government. Please choose one to attend.

At this Thursday’s freeholder meeting the one party ruled board will be giving themselves a $1,588 pay increase which will bring their salaries to $29,500 for their part-time positions. The freeholder chairman will get an additional $2,000 and the vice chair $500. This increase will be retroactive as were the last three. Despite the county spin from thier million-dollar public misinformation department, which was reported in the Westfield Leader this week, Union County salaries are not sixth in line in the state. The Star-Ledger reported that they are fifth in line in the state. Open Public Records requests which were placed to all 21 counties this year show our nine Union County freeholders are the THIRD HIGHEST PAID IN THE STATE. Behind: Hudson (nine freeholders @$36,569); Essex (nine freeholders @ $30,884); Monmouth and Ocean County freeholders are paid $30,000 but there are only five on their boards.

Their arrogance is breathtaking. They have no sense of decency to give themselves yet another raise when a law suit has just begun which resulted from the death of a juvenile while being held in their care. Not only is the detention center going to cost $20 million more then it would have five years ago, when they refused to build a new one, but the taxpayers are facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit because of their negligence.

If that’s not enough to take your breath away let me remind you of the recent Star-Ledger article that showed freeholder Daniel Sullivan driving an SUV 30,000 miles in one year with the taxpayers also picking up the bill for his insurance and gas. Sullivan and Freeholder Debra Scanlon will now be turning in their SUVs at the end of the year as well as former Freeholder Luis Mingo.

Mingo was quietly given a $60,000 county job last Janaury after "he decided" not to run again. There were no press releases on the county website or laudatory resolutions announcing his new position "that was created for him". Just an entry that showed up on the employee payroll list.

State Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, the appointed Union County manager, George Devanney, has been driving a nine-seater Chevy Suburban which is designed for heavy hauling. Devanney told the Star-Ledger that he will be turning in his vehicle for “something smaller” in the New Year. We are one of 11 counties that offer our manager a vehicle. We also give our deputy county manager a vehicle.

Haven't lost your breath yet? We have the second highest-paid upper management. Most counties do without deputy county managers. Only seven out of 21 counties have this position. It was created for Sen. Lesniak's nephew. Sen. Lesniak's nephew in one of the top three paid managers in the state at 151,471. Our deputy county manager is the highest paid at $132,500. Their combined salaries put them behind only Camden, which employs a county manager and three deputies.

At the Dec. 15 freeholder meeting there will be a public hearing in which the public can speak, for no more than five minutes, and let the freeholders know how they feel about their retroactive pay raises. I’ve been there and done that and can testify to the fact that the freeholders and county manager don’t care what the public think of them. But, don’t let me stop you from telling them off. There is some satisfaction in that.

I will be attending the Change County Government forum to be held in the Summit municipal building on the same evening, Dec.15, at 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. Essex county citizens have been studying what can be done to rein in their out of control county government. It has been long overdue for Union County to join this conversation.

Please either join me in Summit or go yell at the freeloaders and Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s nephew in Elizabeth. Enough is enough.

Contact me for directions:

Salary information of all 21 counties:

December 09, 2005

Freeholders' Performance Didn't Deserve a Pay Raise

Union County Freeholders Dan Sullivan and Deborah Scanlon appear to be a bit miffed that they have been pushed to give up their taxpayer supplied SUVs. Their Scarlet O’Hara mindset of “tomorrow is another day” appears to have kicked in and along with their trusty sidekick, County Manager George Devaney, have managed to come up with the perfect we’ll-get-even plan of corrective action.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun and since no one or two freeholders can act on their own, the rest of the “gang of nine” seem to have jumped on the bandwagon and are preparing to vote themselves and George a nice fat pay increase taking effect after Jan. 1, 2006.

Already the fifth highest paid freeholder board in the state, they will be boosting their salaries, for their part-time jobs, by 5.3 percent, and the county manager’s salary by 5 percent. Obviously all of us would love to be able to control our salaries and that of our friends and relatives; however, that is surely not the case of the average county resident. And it is highly improbable that the average resident received an increase of this size from their employer this past year, if they received a raise at all.

Freeholder Vice Chairman Al Mirabella, in a Star-Ledger article on the subject, said that they were compensating for the raising cost of living. Well, perhaps Mr. Mirabella, if you didn’t raise the county taxes almost 50 percent in the last five years you wouldn’t feel the pinch quite so much, ever think of that?

And this past summer, Freeholder Dan Sullivan appeared to be almost apologetic when talking about county-owned vehicles which some employees, including himself, were in possession of 24/7.

He said he would be turning in his tax payer-subsidized SUV supposedly because during these difficult economic times it was just not good policy to expect taxpayers to finance the use/operation/gas and insurance of vehicles for workers whose county job duties did not demand they be mobile around the clock.

What a guy! But wait! A nice raise would certainly help defray the costs of securing a vehicle of his own to commute daily to his state job in Trenton.

Freeholder Nancy Ward, reelected this past November, was asked at the freeholder debates how much a freeholder earns, she responded that she didn’t know because she had “direct deposit,” in up-speak no less.

It is a pretty good bet that she will approve an increase to her pay since she doesn’t know what the numbers are anyway, and to think that this woman participates in spending over $1 million of taxpayer funds each day. How does someone not know what they earn?

Further, County Manager George Devaney, the nephew of State Senator Ray Lesniak, should be subjected to a performance review by an independent entity before he is rewarded with a 5 percent raise to his already six-figure compensation package. One has to assume that keeping spending in check would be one of his job duties and with that in mind he has failed miserably evidenced once again by the almost 10 percent increase to the 2005 county operating budget.

Rather than deserving a raise for a job well done, this freeholder board has instead betrayed the trust that the residents have put in them.
They have:
* raised taxes an average of 10 percent a year over the last five years
* paid large monetary settlements to former employees because of mismanaged employment practices
* allowed the irresponsible misuse of county owned vehicles
* comprised the quality of life of residents along the reactivated train line
* allowed a child to die, on Mother's Day, while entrusted to the care of the County Juvenile Detention Center

All the while holding no one responsible and no one accountable - least of all themselves.