August 28, 2005

No More Peanut Gallery

Dear Reader,

I knew it was bound to happen and it did: The time has come to shut down the public comments section of our blog.

This always happens to every message board on the 'net. People use it, and then a few come along who abuse it.

Message boards have been successfully sued by people who claimed to have been libeled on them.

I have neither the time nor the patience to comb through every post looking for indecency, libel, defamation or whatever.

Poster Bob Milici and another poster by the name of "Corruptious" used this forum to go back and forth about their personal lives.

Although Mr. Milici apparently played along with the name calling and mudslinging, as of last Friday he changed his mind.

In an e-mail note copied to an apparent attorney, he writes:

"Ms. Renna:

"This is an official request for you to remove the posts allowed on your blog by you and your friend B. Keane, otherwise known as your poster CORRUPTIOUS that refer to any of any of my personal life, all posts, which are untrue.

"While I don't mind disagreeing with your political views and reading your bantering, I demand that those posts regarding my personal life be deleted permanently.  This will be my only request for this.  Should it not be done, I will seek legal means through my attorney to accomplish removing the untrue slandering remarks made by you and Mr. Keane.

"Bob Milici

cc: Mr. Gary Bundy; Esq"

So, no more posting from anybody. If you'd like to comment, please send us an e-mail. And enjoy reading the site!

Sergio Bichao,

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!!

August 25, 2005

Devine Hyprocrisy

In the July 7th edition of the News Record/Clark Patriot, a large article appeared on page three entitled “The Cost of Open Government”. The article told of a local woman, Tina Renna, and her encounters with the Clerk of the Union County Freeholder Board. Mrs. Renna has been attempting to obtain information regarding the workings of the county government and how taxpayers money is spent using the Open Public Records Act, also known as OPRA.

Sebastian D’Elia, a county spokesperson, is quoted in the article referring to Mrs. Renna’s requests as “a systemic pattern of harassment and intimidation.” Two other county employees are also quoted about the amount of time it takes to locate and assemble the copies of what Mrs Renna has requested and they also reported that they have every OPRA request reviewed by an attorney because of Renna’s filings of legal actions associated with her demands for information. I wonder why?

Yes, Mrs. Renna has filed complaints against the county with the Government Records Council (GRC), a government entity who found that the office of the clerk of the board of freeholders was in violation of OPRA, no less than three times and in fact referred one case to an administrative law judge. Records have been reported lost, returned incomplete, retuned well beyond the legal time frame allowable by the law and in one case containing notes that they, the county, could not say that attendance records were accurate and what employees and how many worked in a specific department. This is the county government, the very people who spend over one million tax dollars every day of the year, are responsible for building bridges, recording deeds and mortgages, running the jails, maintaining roads and our parks, oversee the county police and sheriffs departments and they admittedly cannot keep accurate attendance records?

Nowhere in the article does it mention that the publication contacted Mrs. Renna for her input and reactions to the situation. The Devine Media article is a personal attack on her intended to discredit her efforts to shed light on the spending and operations of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the offices of our county government administration.

The ironic part of this is that Devine Media Newspapers are among the official papers of the board and publish an endless number of Public Notices weekly. In fact in the July 14th edition, on page 19 a banner runs across the page reading “BECAUSE THE PEOPLE MUST KNOW”. It goes on to say: “Actions planned and taken by our government are announced in public notices. They are part of your “right to know” and they inform you what your government is doing.”

Devine Media claims that they urge citizens to read the public notices. Further they state: “We advise those citizens who seek further information to exercise their right to access public records and public meetings.” After reading the article it is obvious that Devine Media doesn’t stand behind its own statements and is not supportive of those citizens who decide to exercise their right to be informed and inform others.

August 24, 2005

The 'Devine' Cost of Slime: How One Fake Newspaper Hurt$ Taxpayers

Tina Renna, our very own Princess of Public Information, has been the focus of an on-going "investigative reporting" series in the Devine Media newspapers.

Devine's Rahway News-Recordand the Clark Patriot have been hacking away at Tina and her hubby Joe, calling them responsible for wasting taxpayers' money by requesting too many public documents.

Another article assails the Rennas as "outcasts" from county government, trying to exact their revenge on their former employers by suing and requesting public documents from them.

To say that these articles fail to mention facts would be an understatement. The Devine newspapers are rags bought and paid for by the county political machine. And James J. Devine is a party apparatchik who's never known a corrupt county Democrat to do any wrong.

This is why J.J. Devine, purported journalist and publisher, is out trashing Ms. Renna for requesting information that the county government should already be volunteering.

While other journalists and friends of the First Amendment are hailing the federal Freedom of Information Act and our own Open Public Records Act, Devine suggests in one column ("The Cost of Open Government") that citizens who seek to inform themselves are a public nuisance.

And while other journalists report the truth as they see it, Mr. Devine can't be bothered with such details as "the truth."

In his rants he (purposefully?) leaves out the facts that Ms. Renna has had to pay for all the information that she's obtained, that the county has charged her thousands of dollars for information that every citizen is already entitled to, that the state records council has found the county government to be in violation of the law at least three times.

Details, details...

Never mind that the county government practices a culture of secrecy and back-room politicking - a culture that Devine sees no reason to attack in the same fashion as he's done to activists.

Devine: Impostor Reporter Becomes Pol Impersonator

A story you won't find in any Devine weekly any time soon is the scandal that Devine caused when his company put up a fake website that misrepresented itself as belonging to two Republican candidates in Monmouth and Middlesex counties.

Devine, falsly identifying himself as one of the candidates, sent out a press release inviting reporters to check out the GOP team's website.

But the site wasn't theirs! It was a phony put up by Honest Devine. The site, designed to hurt the real candidates, wrongly stated that the candidates supported same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana.

When he was caught, Devine tried to blame a high school student for what his company did - but ho-hum, nobody bought it.

The Cost of Devine

Devine's attack on Tina for "wasting taxpayers' money" is amusing for two reasons. One being that the county freeholders spend over $1 million a day and yet he never writes a "Voice of the People" (what people?) column about that. And the other reason being that he himself is guilty of wasting public funds. Except that in his case, he's taking home the dough.

In 2003, the Worrall family's newspaper, the Rahway Progress, published a story about how the city's Democrat-controlled city council would not buy public notice ads in the Progress but would place them in Devine's competing News-Record, which charged more to run the notices.

The Progress pointed out that rates for public notice ads (those tiny print government announcements in the back pages of your weekly) are set by law. Every newspaper is supposed to charge the same.

But not James Devine's newspapers.

In a public notice I randomly pulled out from a Devine paper, dated November 18, 2004, I found that compared to similar ads in Worrall newspapers, the Devine ad had font twice as big, lines twice as spaced, and white space twice as empty. Therefore, twice the cost to the government.

Of course, Worrall's Progress failed to make the connection between Devine, a Democratic operative who always gives good press to the Democratic Kennedy administration and council, and the council's granting Devine all the ads despite his charging more. (That's OK because I made the connection for them in a column I used to write for the now-defunct Hillside Citizen Dispatch.)

It doesn't seem fair that people like Tina get tarred and feathered by the machine with lies - lies that the machine is itself guilty of. But that's how it is and we shouldn't expect any better from career politicians.

But James Devine, a man who claims to speak for the people through his press all the while misusing it as a pro-government lackey, should be ashamed of himself. Pulitzer rolls over in his grave.

August 23, 2005

If We Build it They Can Pay

The way things are going my oldest son will be 60 years old before Union County pays off its current debt according to the county Director of Finance Lawrence Caroselli. This year the county will shell out $35.8 million in debt service payments, currently Union County has a debt of $348.5 million and it is growing.

In fact, the Board of Chosen Freeholders is in the process of passing more ordinances totaling another $33.5 million in bonds for the construction of the new Juvenile Detention Center and what is called the “County Prosecutor’s Office Project”, I’m not sure what that is all about.. There is also an additional $21.5 million in short term notes for “various public improvements and the acquisition of new additional or replacement equipment and machinery, new vehicles, additional furnishings” and on and on.

When government entities talk about debt service they are, in laymen’s terms, talking about loan payments, Freeholder Daniel Sullivan is quoted in a local newspaper saying that “debt service payments are similar to mortgage payments on a home.” The $35.8 million payment for this year includes interest as well as the principal payment and according to Sullivan “it is really just another line item” in the budget, imagine that, “Just another line item”, easy for him to say it is not his personal money.

The amount of debt a county can carry is regulated by state statutes and is up to 2 percent of the assessed value of all the property in the county over a three year period; Union County is currently at about 0.71 percent. But wait, there are some other projects coming up besides those already mentioned which will need financing as well, including another addition to the Union County Vocational and Technical School and the remaining phases of the Union County Arts Center project. Not to worry, according to county officials as we have plenty of what can be called “wiggle room," the wiggle room is what concerns me.

The annual debt service payment is already almost 10 percent of the county operating budget, payroll costs are currently around 30 percent and it is a given they will go up each year as will insurance costs and assuredly pension contributions. The Freeholder Board must be thinking: Thank heavens that the value of Union County real estate is climbing as well to provide an endless stream of tax dollars to draw upon.

Think about it, when they go out to bond for projects they are actually borrowing money which will have to be repaid down the road. The more the freeholders borrow, the more money they will need to find to repay the loans and there is really only one place to raise the funds, the taxpayers.

The surge in building projects in the last several years has to be drawing to a close soon as I cannot imagine what is left to build however this wiggle room seems to give them carte blanche to find something. Just as children theorize “if I have it I should spend it” because that five dollars is sure to burn a hole in their pocket, and besides there is more where that came from, the freeholders seem to believe “if we can then we will." But at this rate how long before the “wiggle room” is gone?

August 18, 2005

Meeting agendas are being kept from public

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 ( ) 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

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

Mrs. Renna,

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
Phone: 908-527-4178
Fax: 908-289-0180

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


August 08, 2005

Activist makes journalists look lazy and the county look corrupt

In his Star-Ledger article on Sunday August 7th, reporter Joe Ryan refers to me as "She makes journalists look lazy". I considered that to be one of the best compliments I've had in recent memory. I have a deep respect for the media and if I’m making them look lazy than I must be doing something right.

What are citizens to do about safeguarding their democracy when their journalists are lazy and we have a government that has a million dollar public information machine that exists to keep information from the public and churn out campaign press releases?

If the government had nothing to hide then they wouldn’t hide it. This department hides their budget and employees. The county won't tell me what the PI department budget is or even how many people work in that department. They won't tell me the paid day's off the head of this deparment, Sebastian D'Elia, took during the campaing season while getting paid $1,200 by the democrats to work on their campaign. They want to charge me $30 an hour to do forensic accounting and then it would only be the best guess of the Clerk of the Board and the head of the PI Department.

I wouldn't spend a cent on those two hacks best guesses, I can make my own guess for free and I’d guess the information would be a total fabrication of the truth, something like the county budget. Consider that both these department heads were paid $1,200 for get out the vote efforts last year by the Union County Democratic Machine. Can it be that Union County is the only government in Jersey with an in-house campaign team? There were other employees in this department seen on the campaign trail during working hours.

There are a dozen or so PI Department employees who work full time jobs to make sure every bit of information is controlled and suppressed by the one party ruled government. Their Public Information Officer, Seb D'Elia, is a talented liar. The county doesn't pay him $88,011.22 a year for nothing, he's worth every penny to the democrat machine, my complaint is that the taxpayers are paying his salary and not the democrats. He is worthless to the taxpayers. His job title and description are a deceit to the public; I've uncovered enough evidence to prove that Sebastian D'Elia’s job title should be Campaign Manager.

One of my first research studies focused on this department. I do believe I was successful at shutting down that campaign candy store; the local papers have stopped publishing the county propaganda:,

Overall today’s article was a boxing match. D’Elia being a prolific liar with the morals of a slug, managed to land a few punches at trying to defame me. I landed a few punches back, and my friend, Martin O’Shea, who is a board member of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, had my back. If there were a referee at this bout he would have taken points off of D’Elia because he was throwing lies at me; I was punching out the truth which was backed up with documentation.

I have found that the media lets the government slide when it comes to proof. If I say the paper is white, I will have to show the reporter the white paper. If government says the paper is black than black it is written in the article, while being flaming red in the filing cabinet. How many times can you have a government employee lie to you before you realize he’s a liar? Wouldn’t you feel foolish after a while? I’ve lost count with D’Elia’; he’s got lies in the hundreds if not thousands published and he still manages to play reporters like a piano.

I was disappointed in the Ledger article because it didn't mention what my requests uncovered, which is the most important aspect of OPRA. The mailings that the county has cut back on because of my exposing them have saved the taxpayers about $300,000; which is still not good enough. I will stay on this until county campaigns cost taxpayers nothing.

Studying the county going on three years now, I know from experience that it’s close to the time when the county launches a taxpayer-funded TV commercial to kick off the campaign season. They will also send out a mailer with the same theme. Total cost to taxpayers approximately $250,000. I asked what the theme would be this year at a FH meeting, I also asked for documentation to find out and there was no truth to be found. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Why I’ve needed to place 82 OPRA requests is because the county doesn’t tell citizens basic information. They don’t answer questions, which leads to OPRA requests. i.e., In order to find out if the FH's are given cell phones I have to ask for the cell phone bills, and yes, they are given cell phones. Why the games? They act like criminals; so I treat them as such.

The county will desperately try to blame me for costing the taxpayers money. Their claims have no proof to back them up. I’m sure this will be the theme going forward. They can’t defend themselves so they will try to defame me. Not to worry, I can take a punch and kick ass afterward. They lied by saying they hired a clerk intern just to deal with me. Their arrogance is breathtaking.

They didn’t hire a clerk; what they did was create another patronage job. The deputy county manager used to handle the Clerk's duties. The position the county claims they created because of me, clerk intern @ $28,759, was there before I ever knew what OPRA was. The position they really created and didn’t mention to the media, is that in 2003 when I was only one or two requests into my OPRA career, a position was created for the Clerk of the Board @$74,999.86. The first Hack of the Board was Shardra Bahdri who came directly from Sen. Lesniak's legislative office. The current Hack of the Board, Nicole Tedeshi, is listed on the ELEC site getting paid $1,200 for GOTV efforts right before she was promoted. I always back up my statements with proof.

The Public Information Department is a great story for a journalist who isn't lazy. For now, keep reading County Watchers for county news that isn’t controlled by the government who is spending over &1 million of our property taxes a day. Believe me, I am not costing you a dime with my OPRA battles, I have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which will probably be spent on more patronage jobs. But that’s another boxing match and I’m in tip top shape for the challenge.