June 26, 2005
It warms my heart knowing that Union County’s current Board of Chosen Freeholders is so very concerned about Robert Codey’s financial security that they are paying him $46,731 annually, over and above the $93,268 salary that the state of New Jersey is already paying him. Additionally I feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that Union County’s generosity will add another $36,000 to his pension, which will be based on his highest years earnings, he is now eligible for a pension of $98,500 a year upon retirement.
Robert Codey, NJ's acting governor’s brother, is a deputy state attorney general and on loan to the Union County Prosecutor's Office to contribute his talents in prosecuting Organized Crime Cases. Certainly a welcome addition to the team, he temporarily replaces our most experienced organized-crime prosecutor who recently retired but what the residents of Union County may not realize is that we could have gotten this guy at no cost. It has been said that Mr. Codey did not come looking for additional dollars to accept this assignment but rather Union County offered it, and get this, he will be making more than our County Prosecutor - his boss - and more than over 100 others who out-rank him.
Does this action strike anyone else as a bit odd? Has this all-Democrat Freeholder Board opened a can of worms by setting a costly precedent and will Union County be looked upon as the place to make a quick cash hit? All of this aside I can now comfortably sleep at night secure in the knowledge that because of our concerned freeholders Robert Codey will not become a drain on society when he reaches his golden years.
Well, that didn't take long did it?
As most everyone is aware, Robert Codey, has announced his retirement already. He will be leaving the Union County Prosecutors Office in September exactly one year after his arrival. I guess his "work" here is done and all the organized crime cases in Union County have been successfully prosecuted. Funny I don't recall hearing or reading anything about his job performance.
Well, actually his work here is done, he will have successfully jacked up his pension to the tune of $36,000 more annually, plus thanks to the freeholders he will have pocketed a hefty bonus. Not too shabby.
Our freeholder board should be ashamed of themselves. It has been painfully obvious since the get go what was going on here. The real crime is that this board allowed the residents to be used in this way.
Of course they will lie, cry and deny that pumping up Codey's pension was not the reason behind their financial largess. However most people would have to agree that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it certainly isn't a rooster.
June 23, 2005
Worrall Community Newspapers publishes 9 weekly newspapers in Union County. These papers feature a town section and a separate Union County Section. Featured on the cover of their Union County Section is a weekly column titled 'Left Out'. What Worrall 'leaves out' of this column is the fact that it is written by a long-time Democrat operative, Frank Capece.
Frank Capece is a partner in the Law firm of Garrubbo, Romankow (as in the Union County Prosecutor) & Capece and has received no-bid contractual legal work with the county. He has made millions over the years and has so far been awarded $170,000 in contracts this year alone.
Grant it, Capece is knowledgeable about Democrat happenings and could really give us an inside view of what is going on. I'm sure he is an expert on the rampant pay-to-play practices at the county and could give business tips on how to get government work, but don't expect to read about that in his column.
You also won't read about: the county building the Cranford bridge 18 inches too short; property taxes increasing 50 percent in the past 5 years; freeholders who are arrested and charged with alleged domestic violence; ditto for a state senator and/or his wife and the police station that won't release any arrest information; mayors sons who are arrested for kidnapping; mayors lying about owning property that will be redeveloped; powerbrokers appointing freeholders and firing them; the many Democrat committee chairs, former freeholder, a sitting senator and assemblyman that are on the county payroll; pension padding for Codey's brother and County Prosecutor Romankow; retroactive pay increases for the appointed county manager who is a state senator's nephew; county freeholders being the second highest paid in the state; county payroll increasing yearly by the millions; etc. It's a sad fact that this list could go on for pages.
Although he writes glowingly and generously about campaigning county Democrats, I'm not sure how much of a service he is doing his benefactors with his column; I often have a difficult time deciphering his babblings. Capece writes in his own language, i.e. there is the English language, and then there is the Capecious language.
Some of this week's county propaganda (there was quite a bit) as written in Capecious: 55 - The proof of a 2-percent drop in the percentage reliance on property taxes as a revenue source of the county government. (Campaigning)Freeholder Rick Proctor announced the good news last week at a panel discussion of the NJ Association of Counties....
In English: Nothing dropped. The 2 percent that the Democrat campaign refers to means that the total budget increased at a rate of 2 percent more than the property tax increase. In reality, our property taxes increased and county spending increased also. I've seen the county pull all sorts of film flams on the taxpayers without losing a vote or raising an eyebrow, but a room full of professional administrators must have laughed out loud at that statement. I'm sure they were all wishing their constituents could be so stupid.
I am all for freedom of the press and would never suggest that someone be kept from expressing himself. But, Worrall is doing their readers a disservice by allowing this Capeceious propaganda to pass as just the bad writings of a private citizen. I've recommended to Worrall several times in the past, that at the very least, to show journalistic responsibility, that this by-line should read: Frank Capece is a resident of Cranford and an attorney who's law firm is given generous no-bid contracts by the all-Democrat freeholder board.
The reader would still have to struggle to understand Capeceious but at least they would be able to consider the source and understand that whatever the babbling means, it's more taxpayer funded Union County Democrat propaganda.
June 22, 2005
Seems as though property taxes have become the hot topic of conversation almost every where you turn, at the train station during the morning commute, backyard barbeques, the grocery store, anywhere where more than two people are together.
It no longer seems to be impolite to ask, “what were your property taxes last year?” These days, people actually give up the figure. Once told, the inquirer usually responds with “that’s nothing mine were." There is no doubt about it, NJ residents are becoming obsessed with their tax bills, which is understandable because they are financially hemorrhaging and in some cases are bailing out.
It is obvious that taxes will be the focus of the upcoming elections in November as they were in the recent primary. Every candidate has a plan, and is sure that their plan is the magic bullet that will slay this dragon and they will be the modern day St. George.
The push for a Constitutional Convention is presented as the cure all for our property tax ills on the premise that New Jersey’s method of funding government services was set in place 58 years ago and a lot has changed since then. In fact our county freeholder board is saying just that in press releases and articles put out by Freeholder Dan Sullivan, the current chair of the board’s fiscal committee. The board has even passed a resolution supporting a Constitutional Convention and is urging the county’s representatives to the state Senate and Assembly to vote yes and get a question regarding a convention on the ballot this November.
What is laughable is that when this board talks about property taxes in Union County increasing by 52 percent over the last decade they seem to have forgotten who has been sitting there running things for the past 10 years. Rather than take responsibility for their out-of-control spending, they blame the cost of local services for driving up property taxes. This explanation of their spending over $1 million per day is lame.
They say that a convention can explore shared services, spending reforms and eliminate state mandates. Truth be told local government, both county and municipal, already has the power to enact two out of three of these remedies; so what have they been waiting for? When putting together this year’s budget why did they not get to task and cut $40 million rather than increasing it $40 million? Would this not have been a starting point to provide some immediate relief to county residents?
When pondering the property tax issue a simple solution jumps to the forefront and that is: curb-your-spending! Our county government would do well to look at private industry for some pointers, but than that wouldn’t make an exciting campaign press release. And let’s face it, that might alienate some of their financial supporters who appear to be the benefactors of their largess on the backs of the tax payers.
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
June 19, 2005
Employees earning $90,000 to $99,000 jumped from 42 to 107. Employees earning $78,000 to $89,000 jumped from 104 to 222.
I did a study of the 21 counties. It shows that Union County Freeholders and administrators are doing very well for themselves. The county payroll (not including benefits) increased $21 million from 2000 to 2004. If it were distributed equally, every employee would have received a six percent raise per year for three years. But, this did not happen. In reality, only eight percent of the employees accounted for the bulk of the $21 million increase.
The county has kept the total number of employees about even, the numbers show that only 20 more positions were added between 2000 and 2004 (2,840 in 2000 and 2,860 in 2004). This does not include about 300 seasonal employees.
A close look at the employee list reveals that as rank-and-file workers leave, the county creates a new administrative position. What has happened is that the county is top heavy with administrators with a shortage of service workers.
Each year the county does a shuffling of departments and divisions. With each shuffle, a new layer of administration appears. Titles appear that never existed, with salaries of $80,000 and up. The jump in payroll between 2004 and 2005 is approximately $3 million. This includes: a beefed up salary for Governor Codey's brother; a $65,000 golden parachute (plus benefits) for former Freeholder Lewis Mingo (a position which was created especially for him); and a new director's position at a cost of $82,500 for Shardra Badri who was once a clerk of the board for a short time.
Ms. Bahdri's prior employment was with state Sen. Ray Lesniak's (D-20) legislative office. She is getting paid to organize county volunteers, as is Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-22) who is paid $66,000. Ms. Stender is receiving $22,000 more than the person who previously held the same position.
County Manager George Devanney, who is Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew, has given himself a retroactive pay raise every year since being appointed, and his current salary is $144,257. He previously held two part-time county positions simultaneously before being appointed; they were deputy county manager and director of economic development.
The important thing to note here is that these two positions were created especially for Mr. Devanney. They did not exist prior to his employment with the county. He is the third highest paid county manager in the state.
We have a well-paid deputy county manager -- a position most counties do without. In fact, Elizabeth Genovich is tied for first place with Monmouth County's Deputy Manager's salary.
Of all of New Jersey's 21 counties, we have the third highest paid freeholders getting the best perks, including cars. The only county that outshines Union County in freeholder salaries and perks is Hudson. By the way, we have another thing in common with Hudson County: we now employ their county counsel. He worked under former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski, who is currently serving 41 months in federal prison for taking bribes.
A version of this post appeared a month ago in the Westfield Leader and the Cranford Chronicle.
June 18, 2005
Before you run the above press release, or any other release featuring county politicians who are up for reelection, please consider that in 2004 County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi had 8 press releases and no photo-ops - total.
But as of today, June 1, Rajoppi has 16 press releases and 7 photo-ops with 6 months left in the year.
It isn't a matter of 'if' the county is purposely using tax dollars for campaigning, the below numbers 'prove' they are doing this.
The County refuses to tell me what their Public Information Departmental budget is or even how many employees work in that department. It is very apparent that they have something to hide.
If you stop publishing their press releases and photo ops then maybe they will stop misusing tax dollars and betraying the public trust. After all, the public trusts you also.
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Source: Union County Website - News
Totals as of June 1:
Proctor, Estrada, Ward and Rajoppi are up for reelection.
Press Releases #'s; Photo Captions #'s
Proctor: 26; 27
Estrada: 2; 13
Ward: 2; 13
Holmes: 5; 8
Sullivan: 7; 2
Scanlon: 1; 6
Mirabella: 7; 11
Kowalski: 16; 28
Map: 3; 2
Rojappi: 16; 7
Sullivan, Wohlrab, Kowalski and Ward were up for reelection.
Press Releases #'s;Photo Captions #'s
Estrada: 67, 25
Sullivan: 19, 26
Wohlrab: 9, 20 (8 months only - was appointed in March - stepped own in Sept. Side note: There was no press release posted on the county website regarding his departure.)
Kowalski: 14,15 (3 months only - was appointed in September)
Routolo: 34, 0
Scanlon: 5, 3
Proctor: 7, 4
Mingo: 10, 4
Holmes: 3, 10
Mirabella: 6, 11
Ward: 0, 2 (Was appointed in October)
Scanlon, Holmes and Mirabella were up for reelection.
Press Releases #'s; Photo Captions #'s
Scanlon: 96; 13
Holmes: 81; 14
Mirabella: 29; 17
Scutari: 3; 2
Estrada: 9; 6
Proctor: 10; 2
Mingo: 11; 6
Sullivan: 5; 3
County Manager: 4
June 13, 2005
Mr. Lewis Mingo, of Plainfield, whose Freeholder term expired in December of 2004, has accepted a full time position as Confidential Aide and Director of Senior Services with Union County, at a salary of $65,000 a year.
It has not been a secret that he “decided” not to run for another term on the Freeholder Board because of changes of power within the Plainfield Democratic Committee and as luck would have it a position with the county just happened to come available.
Luckier still for Mingo is that the job happens to be working in an area he says he has an interest, children’s and senior issues, what an amazing coincidence. Of further interest is that he will be concentrating on issues affecting the elderly in the western end of the county. Plainfield happens to be in the western end of the county where he resides and the job is anchored in a Plainfield office, what good fortune.
The powers that be insist that this job was not created specifically for the former Freeholder yet according to the county government’s Press Secretary and Director of Communications Sebastian D’elila, the job “was fine-tuned to meet the issues of the western end” of the county. And how fortuitous it is that by taking this position and more than doubling his county salary from part-time, Freeholder, to full-time employee he will greatly increase his county pension upon retirement.
Lewis Mingo is quoted in the Worrall Papers as saying “it just happened and the timing was right”. Oh that all of us should just happen to be in the right place at the right time like Mr. Mingo, he certainly is a lucky, lucky man.
June 12, 2005
Like the rest of the households in Union County last week mine was the recipient of the publication “Union County Directions”, a news vehicle published by the Union County Alliance. In fact, because I work for a business in Union County I had the dubious pleasure of receiving two copies.
Coming out just days before the primary election, it could have been called the “Freeholder Gazette” and easily mistaken for campaign literature. The 24 page publication featured articles about the activities of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders on no less than 18 pages including a picture square in the middle of page one of board chairman Rick Procter, who is up for reelection this year.
Numerous other pics included the other two freeholders who are also up for reelection, Nancy Ward and Angel Estrada, or quotes attributed to them. There was also shots of Freeholder Dan Sullivan, the county manager, the clerk of the board, and a few of Sheriff Froehlich, the county clerk and surrogate. I guess newly elected Freeholders Adrian Mapp and BJ Kowalski were absent that day as they are conspicuously missing from the action shots and also it appears that they don’t say much.
Freeholders Deborah Scanlon and Chester Holmes were modestly accounted for, they are both up for reelection next year as is Al Mirabella, who was MIA. I guess he has other plans for next year's election and didn’t need to have his face plastered all over this publication.
Not knowing much about the "Alliance" I decided to check it out. I learned that the Alliance was formed in 1993 during difficult economic times in Union County, “for the purpose of creating a single strong voice with which to address the county's problems” according to the Kean University website.
Called A Coalition for Action whose board of directors is made up of representatives from Verizon, Trinitas Hospital, Union County College, Elizabethtown Water, PSE&G, Wachovia Bank, Wakefern, the iron workers union and many other corporations, legal firms, government officials, educators and investment bankers.
The Alliance website, http://www.ucalliance.com/ , features 8 priotities which have been identified as core issues by members of the executive committee. These priorities focus on public safety, transportation, healthcare, education, improving the county economically, Brownfield development, legislation, the Alliance’s annual conference and lastly continuing to publish a countywide newspaper for distribution to more than 200,000 Union County homes and businesses “which will serve as a keepsake tool of valuable information.”
The Union County Alliance is a 401c nonprofit funded by dues collected from its members. The publication is paid for by the sale of advertisements, most of which in this issue are for government-connected entities with only a few exceptions. And further according to a reliable source the newsletter is put together by Union County Public Information Department employees in the county administration building.
Seems as though the taxpayers are actually footing the bill for this thinly disguised Freeholder campaign piece. It also seems as though the other members of the Alliance are getting the short shrift, as there are few articles about what the likes of PSE&G, Verizon or Trinitas are doing for the betterment of the community.
County residents keeping an eye on their mailboxes will see that just like clockwork, a few days prior to the general election, the fall edition of Union County Directions will be delivered. It's just about guaranteed that featured in pictures and articles will be the three Union County Freeholders whose names will appear on the ballot just a few days later. This involuntary taxpayer funding of political campaigns is sure to continue until the public resoundingly voices its opposition.
Look your edition over, evaluate it and than contact the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission at P.O. Box 185 Trenton, NJ 08625-0185 Tel. (609) 292-8700 or Toll Free in NJ 1-888-313-ELEC (3532) or http://www.elec.state.nj.us/
June 09, 2005
Here's the link for the full numbers in all Union Co. races.
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In Plainfield, incumbent Al McWilliams lost his bid against the Democratic machine for a third term as mayor.
This race was fun to follow because McWilliams, a Democrat, had fallen out of grace with the county machine. For two years he power struggled with the party's Plainfield boss, Assm. Jerry Green (D-22).
As mayor, McWilliams ran his own Democratic slates against the Green picks and successfully packed his city council, the school board, and then the city Democratic organization with his own New Democrats.
But then in April, the county party dropped McWilliams from their executive board and gave their chairman, Charlotte DeFilippo, not McWilliams, the right to choose the party candidates in Plainfield.
As with anyone who challenges Charlotte The Hippo, it was easy to feel sorry for McWilliams. In a typical smear, Charlotte implied McWilliams was white and a Republican, even though he is in fact black and a Democrat. (Charlotte, meanwhile, is white and an old fat ho.)
Without the party line, McWilliams lost to an un-stellar contender - Sharon Robinson-Briggs.
One of her quotables: "I don't want to put anything out until I have full disclosure on the issues that I am researching," she said in response to a Ledger question about why she was running.
So it clearly wasn't the numbers on the SATs that made her Ms. Mayor, but the numbers on the checks.
The machine raised over $130,000 - a 3 to 1 advantage over maverick McWilliams.
Was McWilliams' loss a loss for good government?
Not necessarily. The ex-mayor's self-proclaimed fight against "bossism" notwithstanding, this electoral fight was less about principles against corruption and more a pissing match between McWilliams and Assm. Green, two men who both want to be the big boy in town.
McWilliams had little problem with the "bosses" until they left him out of their reindeer games.
As bad as the machine may be, the alternative isn't always better.
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 general elections.
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.
The county produces dozens of tax payer funded mailings every year around election time. This one is unique in that it is disguised as coming from an outside organization.
Come late September you will also see a $200,000 commercial funded by your property taxes. The county kicks off the campaign season every year with these commercials. I asked what this year's theme would be at the last freeholder meeting, and as usual, the all Democrat freeholder board led by state Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew who is the appointed county manager, George Devanney, wouldn't answer my questions. They are probably all hoping that the suspense will kill me.
Pay close attention to the messages you get from Union County government and the timing of when you get them. After all, you are paying for them. Don't expect the freeholders to show you the bill or even tell you that they are behind it, but be sure that their pictures and names will be prominently featured in the hopes that you'll remember them in the election booth. I hope you remember them too, here they are again: Democrat Freeholders, Rick Proctor, Angel Estrada and Nancy Ward.
June 08, 2005
Although Codey, who's only 55, will collect an additional $33,000 a year for life from the state pension under the arrangement, as well as automatic annual cost of living adjustments and state-paid health insurance throughout his retirement, Democrat appointed Attorney General Peter Harvey's office defended the move as merely a technical maneuver that cost the state nothing since the raise was paid for by Union County.
The taxpayers know of this arrangement only because the Star-Ledger obtained documents relating to the transaction and inquired about the officials' actions and then reported them (March 13). Acting Gov. Codey, through a spokeswoman, said he hoped his brother's scheduled retirement would end the spate of news articles that have appeared about the arrangement. I find this comment to be in direct contrast to his January State of the State address, where Gov. Codey, a Democrat who stepped in to replace disgraced ex-Governor James McGreevey, stated regarding the $25 billion underfunded pension system, "This is a problem we can no longer ignore..."
As a society, political corruption, in the many ugly ways it rears its head, is a problem we can no longer ignore...therefore remember to vote all Democrats out in November.
June 07, 2005
Our purpose is keep the residents of Union County posted on the doings of their county government, which is often called the "invisible layer of government."
But it is only invisible because people don't know where to look, or that they should look. It is invisible because all too often the local press don't bother to help people look.
We at COUNTY WATCHERS will do our part shed some light on the situation.
For months now, people on Tina's mailing list received updates on her adventures in county government. You may have seen her in the papers, blowing the lid on the Freeholders' use of your taxes to pay for their propaganda around election time, and successfully suing the county to lower their fees for copies of public documents.
Now we all can read about what she uncovers right here on this space.
Sergio Bichao was the editor of the former dahiller.com - an independent news website that covered Hillside news and politics. He is no stranger to the internet - or to putting politicians on blast on the internet.
We hope the list of County Watchers continues to grow. E-mail us at countywatchers --at-- yahoo.com