January 31, 2006

How to Save Another $1.5M

The Star-Ledger reports today that the appointed Union County Manager still needs a four-wheel drive vehicle to get him to work in inclement weather in an emergency. He turned in his Chevy Suburban (list price $47,920) for something smaller in the “New Year” - meaning 2006, when the county budget is expected to increase another 5.3 percent which would make it a 45 percent increase since the board turned all-Democrat. That increase doesn’t include the Open Space Trust Fund Scam.

Devanney, who happens to be Sen. Ray Lesniak’s nephew, is now driving a 2005 Durango (list price $36,210 without extras). Our deputy county manager also gets to drive a Ford Explorer. Most counties do without deputy county managers. Isn’t it nice to know that we lucky Union County taxpayers not only have two managers but both have bohemoth vehicles to come to our resuce in the worst weather?

The county managers join the director of Mosquito Control, Shade Tree commissioner and the director of Golf Operations in needing access to four-wheel drive vehicles.

Frank Guzzo, who is in charge of the Juvenile Detention Center, is prepared for any emergency with a Ford Explorer. I suppose it’s bound to happen that a kid could hang himself during a snow storm, and Guzzo might want to show up before the State’s Child Advocate arrives.

Since freeholders are only available to be quoted in fluff articles, the county spokesman was quoted in the Ledger article saying that “by giving up 12 vehicles the county is saving the taxpayers $24,000 annually." According to that math, the 357 vehicles county employees drive are costing taxpayers approximately $720,000. That figure doesn’t include maintenance or insurance - figures that the county officials didn’t available for the Ledger.

I don’t’ know about you, but I wish I could ignore my bills the way the county does. The gas bill is $182,000 a year. I’d guesstemate that taxpayers are footing the bill for $1.5 million for county employees to be riding to work. Given that we live in New Jersey and not Maine, most days are pretty sunny around here. But it’s nice to know our county government is prepared to come to our rescue. They must love us so.

Now if we can only get them to stop taking those trips to Honolulu and padding pensions for the politically connected. Then we might be able to buy ourselves a brand new Durango in case we have an emergency of our own to attend to in inclement weather.

On a positive note, Freeholder Dan Sullivan turned in his Explorer right before Election Day after a Ledger article exposed his ride. Since he logged nearly 30,000 miles in the year before he turned in his vehicle, we should be grateful for the gas savings.

I know I’m being sarcastic, but I’ve heard too many rumors from too many people regarding the abuses at the county pumps. It’s unfortunate that along with not keeping figures handy for the maintenance and insurance costs of these vehicles, the county supposedly doesn’t keep track of gas full-ups by employees and family members.

January 29, 2006

How to Save Money: Cut the $1.5M 'Public Info' Dept. From County Budget

In his inaugural address, Gov. Jon Corzine said ethics reform is his top priority. He said that “every dollar squandered in violation of the public trust is a book not bought for a classroom, a prescription drug with higher co-pay, meals-on-wheels not delivered, a road or science lab not built.”

Corzine then asked for the resignations of 463 political employees. Many were public information officers.

Will we ever hear the all-Democrat controlled Union County freeholder board say that ethics reform is their top priority? Not without a visit from Attorney General Christopher Christie.

Our budget is about to increase again without one county job, raise or perk turned in. They certainly didn’t cut back on their mailings and TV commercials at election time in 2005, which cost the taxpayers approximately $327,759.85.

Like Corzine, the county should first cut costs with their public information department. It is this department’s job to inform the public about county services, yet they won’t inform the taxpayers about their own departmental costs which ultimately deflects money away from other services.

The county has refused to release information regarding this department’s budget, number of employees and give an accurate accounting of the paid days off that these employees took in 2003 and 2004.

I requested a list of paid days off of the head of this department who was seen frequently on the campaign trail during and after business hours, as well as on the ELEC reports as getting paid $1,250 for get-out-the-vote efforts. My request came back with a disclaimer: "this record may contain errors or omissions." Who could believe that they control a $413 million budget yet they can't keep accurate employee records? This is either incompetence or corruption.

When I asked for the budget of this department I was told it would take forensic accounting and the county would charge me $30 an hour for the service, which in the end the number would be the best guess of this very employee. I was also told that they didn't know the exact number of employees in this department because they are shared with other departments.

We have a county government that has a public information machine that apparently exists to keep information awayfrom the public.

They churn out press releases featuring freeholders who are up for reelection, as can be found on the county Web site - as well as produce the 30-minute infomercial called 'Freeholder Forum' which always stars a campaigning freeholder.

If the county had nothing to hide then they would have released the requested information immediately. What they are hiding is that this department is an in-house campaign staff.

Speaking of campaigning, the county also refused to give a full accounting of the long-standing no-bid contract with the firm Media Squared, Inc. The county has been awarding the same $72,000 annual contract for creative consulting services for at least eight years, as well as paid millions of dollars for the actual work they produced in the form of marketing pieces and commercials which are released mostly during the campaign season. Several of these mailers, as well as the commercial and some letters produced by the PI department, resulted in ELEC complaints being filed by the Republican challengers in 2005.

Coincidentally, MediaSquared also does work for the freeholders' campaign, which is no wonder that the taxpayer-funded pieces look exactly like the campaign pieces sent out by the Dems. A recipient would have to look very closely to tell if the message was coming from their county government or from a campaign committee. We have to wonder if the freeholders are getting their campaign work produced at a reduced fee by this firm because the taxpayers are paying them $6,000 a month for unspecified consulting work.

Documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) have shown no description of these creative consulting services. A proposal dated March 9, 2005 consists of just four short paragraphs which Freeholder Chairman Rick Proctor states that this no-bid contract was awarded for monthly creative consulting.

Another document states "The services to be offered by MediaSquared, Inc., are based on the extensive involvement with the County of Union in the planning and development of a marketing plan for the county. An OPRA request for the marketing plan mentioned was returned "document does not exist."

$72,000 a year is a lot of money for any business. I would doubt that even a major corporation could award a $72,000 no-bid contract for creative consulting services without a concrete marketing plan, proposal or contract specifically outlining what the company could expect for their money. The Union County taxpayers deserve to know exactly what the county is being consulted about for $6,000 a month. Perhaps there is a crumb of advice in there that would benefit a local business.

MediaSquared states in a certification: "This firm specializes in assisting government sector organizations like yours explain the process of government to its constituencies and make public services more readily accessible to the people who need them the most."

What the constituency needs explained by Union County government is this $72,000 annual creative consulting service as well as the costs of the Public Information Department and an accurate accounting of these employees' paid days off. They should also cut out the $327,759.85 per year taxpayer-funded campaign pieces.

Reigning in all of the above abuses would no doubt result in at least a $1.5 million reduction in the budget. Don't hope for Chris Christie on this one; the FBI. will only investigate federal elections. As it stands now, no other law enforcement agency will touch a Democrat in New Jersey.

It's no shocker that a government body within New Jersey is getting away with any of this. What I find most shocking is why isn't any Union County media reporting any of this? As it stands now, no Union County media will touch the Union County public information department's abuses of the public trust.

That's the taxpayers’ biggest problem.

January 25, 2006

Finding Statfeld

Back in October I posed the question: Who is Martin Statfeld and why Garwood? I wondered why a Livingston resident had contributed $1,500 to the Democratic campaign for Garwood’s borough council.

Garwood is a quiet town, just seven-eighths of a square mile, tucked between Westfield and Cranford where some people reside from the day they are born to the day that they die.

Most everyone knows everyone else and generations of the same families reside within its borders, where people seem to really care about one another. And though they do admittedly gossip about each other, they also loyally watch out for each other. The police in town know most of the residents on sight; spring concerts at the school are standing room only; and midget baseball league games are family affairs.

So what kind of tie could this philanthropist from outside the county have that would make him want to invest his hard-earned money in, of all places, Garwood?

It did not appear that Statfeld had lived here in the past, nor own a business here, and as far as I could ascertain, no one on the local political committees worked for him, nor had anyone ever heard of him. So just what was it?

Some digging at the N.J. Election Commission Web site had shown that from July '04 through March ’05 he had contributed $75,000 to various Democratic county committees in central Jersey, with $32,000 going to the UCDC during one 20-day period in the fall of ’04 alone.

Knowing that no one hands over that kind of money in exchange for a mere “thank you very much, we appreciate your support” I decided to sit back and wait until something showed up - and show up it did!

Mr. Statfeld, I should mention, is the owner of Statfeld Vantage Insurance in Florham Park. This company had gone by the name Highview Planning a few short years back and research had showed that Statfeld had purchased Highview in a partnership with Charles Kushner from Gary “Billboard” Taffet, a good friend and chief of staf of former governor James E. McGreevey.

I continually kept my eye on the resolutions passed by the all Democratic Union County Board of Chosen Freeholdeers; routinely contracts were awarded without competitive bidding and a comparisson of the professionals receiving the contracts with contribution records usually revealed a mutual give-and-take.

However, neither Statfeld nor Vantage ever showed up in the agendas which are handed out at the freeholder meetings - so where was the connection? Time usually tells all, and suddenly there it was: hidden from plain sight in the minutes of an executive session which took place on July 7, 2005: Personnel Matter - The County has a new health insurance broker working for Statfeld Insurance. Why, I pondered, was this part of executive session minutes only?

Executive or "closed sessions" are those times when a governing body, school board or perhaps an authority or commission meets privately to discuss personnel problems, contract negotiations, legal issues or other matters which are not felt to be for public disclosure at that particular time. An attorney or others involved are normally invited to participate but unlike the regular public meetings the minutes are not usually released in their entirety until the matters discussed become public or if they are released they are vague. For instance in the case of a lawsuit it would read, “John Smith vs. Union County was discussed"; this is all perfectly legal.

These executive session minutes gave me the answer I was looking for, the connection between Martin Statfeld and the Garwood Democratic campaign. An insurance broker could certainly make a hefty commission writing health insurance coverage for even one third of the 3,000 county employees. The county committee wouldn't need to report this contribution in it's own totals as it was made directly to a local campaign and the local municipal committee would have $1,500 to spend as it pleased.

Since Garwood was not the only Union County municipality which, according to ELEC, benefited from Statfeld's largesse in the same time frame, if not the same day - could this be some form of wheeling? One possible scenario is that the county committee had reached its contribution limit from this donor and could have been directing where the money could safely go under the state's radar while still earning "points." Or perhaps Statfeld Vantage Insurance was looking for business from these municipalities who were under one party rule and a nice contribution could help pave the way. Or maybe Mr. Statfeld is just a very generous, civic-minded citizen.

January 20, 2006

Renna: "Taxpayers can do without Union County budget spin"
Tina's Home News Trib. column

Click here for the full text in the HNT.

"This hiring freeze gimmick comes just three weeks after the freeholders and county manager voted themselves a 5.3 percent pay hike to go along with their $12,000 health-benefits package. It is their third pay increase since 2000. Freeholders now earn $29,500 with the chairman earning $31,500 and the vice chairman earning $30,500."


January 15, 2006

How the Union County Democrat Aristocracy Invites Anarchy

YOUR TIME IS UP! Freeholders called the cops to take County Watcher Tina Renna away when she went a minute over time discussing the boy the county government allowed to die.

At an April 10, 2001 Elizabeth city council meeting, Councilman Tony Monteiro was removed in handcuffs and subsequently arrested. It has been reported that Monteiro was arguing with then council president Patricia Perkins-Auguste about a proposed spending plan. Perkins-Auguste accused him of being behind anti-budget fliers distributed before the meeting, and Monteiro reportedly interrupted her. She ruled him out of order and ordered him to keep quite. Monteiro refused and Perkins-Auguste ordered officers to arrest him. He was led from council chambers in handcuffs.

Monteiro was later cleared in court of the disorderly persons charge. Perkins-Auguste’s excuse for his removal and arrest was that she has the right to maintain order at council meetings. Perkins-Auguste tried to shut up an elected official and
he wouldn’t cooperate. In a healthy democracy Montero would have gone on to a long political career as a beloved mayor, but this being New Jersey, Monteiro never ran for municipal office again.

What about the rights of Monteiro’s constituents? They elected him in a democratic fashion to speak for them, not to be put under the thumb of the majority on the council. After his arrest Monteiro asked for an apology from Perkins-Auguste and Mayor Chris Bollwage; when none was given he moved forward with a law suit.

In March 2004 a federal jury eventually ruled that Perkins-Auguste had violated the First Amendment rights of Monteiro and awarded him $10,750 in damages. Perkins-Auguste, with the blessing of the mayor, appealed. So far the city has spent nearly $124,300 arrogantly defending Perkins-Auguste right to shut up a fellow council person.

At a December 19, 2004, Union County freeholder meeting, I was removed while making a public comment regarding the death of a juvenile at the county-run detention center. Although I was speaking peacefully, two county police officers were called forward and pinned my arms behind my back and physically moved me out of the room even though I was not resisting them. My offense was that I spoke one minute and six seconds over the allotted five minutes a citizen is given to speak.

Like Perkins-Auguste, freeholder chairman Angel Estrada, also claimed he had a right to keep order during meetings and that I was out of order for going over the time limit. I knowingly went over the allotted five minute speaking time because I wasn't done with what I had to say and other speakers at the meeting that night were allowed to go over their five minute time limit.

A copy of the VHS taping of the meeting obtained through the Open Public Records Act shows the freeholders and county manager didn’t keep themselves in order during my removal. You can clearly hear the freeholders and county manager laughing and joking while I was being roughly shoved out of the room by their security guards.

Not one to have anyone shut me up, I shouted “its Christmas can't you offer Eddie Sinclair’s mother your condolences for the death of her son?” Sinclair’s mother had spoken earlier and was interrupted repeatedly by freeholder Estrada who was trying to shut her up as well. The appointed county manager's, who just happens to be state Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, response to my request was “I’d like to offer my condolences to Joe Renna" (my husband) which was followed by hoots from the freeholder board.

The death of a juvenile and his mother’s grief is a huge joke to our county government which controls a quarter of our property tax bills. The joke is obviously on the taxpayers because since Sinclair's death all who were up for re-election sailed back into office and we are facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit stemming from the mismanagement of this facility and the utter lack of regard for basic human rights shown by this autocrat-appointed and controlled, legalized-organized crime family.

The Union County Democrat machine with their autocratic ruling power and disregard for basic human rights is inviting every man to become a law unto himself; they are inviting anarchy.

Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the
omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. “ Justice Brandeis
--Olmstead v. United States (1928)

January 14, 2006

Who is Martin Statfeld?

Please access the link below, cutting and pasteing it into your browser, to review the Executive session minutes of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders - 7/7/05 -than scroll down the page to: item 1. Personnel Matter


The following column appeared in the Westfield Leader in October 2005 asking the question:

Who is Statfeld and Why Garwood?

Admittedly I snooped, rather I should say I accessed, public records containing the opposing side’s campaign reports from last year on the state’s ELEC Web site. One can learn about any political campaign by viewing reports that the campaign treasurers file including those of local municipal races for council/committee seats. I had been curious for a number of years about how in my tiny town, the Borough of Garwood, the local Democratic committee could manage to put out numerous and expensive campaign pieces while the Republican committee did not. After all, we have the same resident base to tap into for monetary support and the number of party affiliated voters on both sides has been dropping over the last couple of years, being replaced by independent voters and they normally do not make campaign contributions.

Viewing the “D’s” Oct. 29 report of 2004 I noticed that there was but one contribution in the amount of $1,500 along with the name Martin Statfeld. I was puzzled. Who was this person? Why would someone with a home address in Livingston be giving $1,500 to Garwood’s Democratic candidates? Did someone work for this person? Did he have a business in town? What was the connection? I just closed the window and forgot about it until recently.

Someone asked me to research another town’s campaign filings and the same name popped and on the same date and for the same amount. I decided to see where else Martin Statfeld had bestowed his largess. Turned out that from July ’04 thru March ’05, in nine months, he had contributed $75,000 to various Democratic county committees in central Jersey, with $32,000 going to the UCDC during one 20-day period in the fall of ’04 alone. Now, I definitely had to find the link he had to Garwood.

Turns out that Martin Statfeld is quite the philanthropist sitting on the boards of many charitable organizations and also the Treasurer of the Executive Committee of the Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston. Kushner - as in Charles Kushner. The same Charles Kushner currently serving time in prison, who had set up his brother-in-law with a prostitute in a motel and then sent the tapes of the seamy encounter to his own sister in an attempt to suppress evidence. The same Charles Kushner who illegally contributed thousands to the McGreevey campaigns getting himself appointed to the Sports Authority. The same Charles Kushner who Jon Corzine partnered with in an attempt to purchase the NJ Nets. Well, it seems that Kushner along with Statfeld bailed McGreevey’s other buddy and chief of staff, Gary “Billboard” Taffet, out of a potential conflict of interest situation by purchasing his benefits company Highview Planning. Highview Planning is now Statfeld Vantage Insurance in Florham Park. What a small world.

Last month in Mercer County there was a lot of finger pointing going on about county committees on both sides of the aisle accepting what has been termed “dirty money” from convicted felons; Kushner is not the only one in question. There was also a move by the “D’s” to link Republican Doug Forrester with Kushner because Highview Planning had acted as an intermediary between municipalities and Forrester’s company Benecard, as in the case of Linden here in Union County and Statfeld Vantage Insurance. Obviously this is a woefully miserable attempt to make Forrester appear to be of the same ilk as Kushner.

So what does Martin Statfeld want with Garwood? It is highly unlikely that Mr. Statfeld feels some sort of patriotic need to help with the borough’s governance as he lives in a different county all together. And because of the demographics here in town, it is unlikely that he would feel a common bond with the residents. So, his interest could be business-driven or perhaps this Garwood donation, and others like it, could be some sort of wheeling plan to get the money into the county under the state’s regulatory radar. Could it be that he is merely following directions from some higher authority to spread the wealth in such a way that it could go unnoticed? Only time will tell if and when Vantage is awarded some contracts and from whom.

January 10, 2006

Old Gray Lady is Lesniak's Lover

Our local press is so dead we hardly ever hear about “power broker” state senator Raymond Lesniak – who the Star-Ledger called the “de facto head” of Union County government. But every once in a while a newspaper will satiate our curiosities with one of those predictable profile pieces. The latest was in the Jan. 9 New York Times.

Here are the highlights and lowlights:

Days before his announcement, Mr. McGreevey sought out Senator Lesniak and confided that he was gay - an admission the governor made to the senator even before he told his wife, Mr. Lesniak later recalled. And it was the counsel of Mr. Lesniak, a born-again Christian and a friend from Mr. McGreevey's days as the mayor of Woodbridge, upon which the governor relied while weighing whether to leave office....

In many instances, the contracts awarded to Mr. Lesniak's firm came after the senator or his allies offered campaign contributions or other political support to local officials who decide who will get the work, a fact that Mr. Lesniak acknowledges...

"I don't deny that," Mr. Lesniak said of connections between his support and contracts for his firm. "People say, 'You raise money for people who get elected and then they hire your law firm.' I go, 'Shocking, isn't it?' Are you supposed to hire people who donated to your opponent?"

By Mr. Lesniak's estimates, government work accounted for as much as a quarter of his firm's business in recent years. Currently, he said, it accounts for about 10 percent...

During the 1990's, when Mr. McGreevey was the mayor of Woodbridge, Weiner Lesniak collected more than $5 million in fees from the municipality. At the same time, the firm contributed about $41,800 to Mr. McGreevey's campaigns, according to public records....

"I operate within the law totally and exclusively," he said. "But I'm not going to unilaterally disarm myself or the people that I support."

A bachelor bon vivant who dispenses advice with the enthusiasm of a self-help guru, Mr. Lesniak, 59, cuts a distinctive figure in the Senate, with his gravelly baritone and his eagerness to seize the spotlight....

After leaving the Army in the late 1960's, he played accordion in a polka band, Jolly Rich and the Polka Stars, to help pay his way through Rutgers.

A framed copy of one of their albums, "Polkas With a Kick," is on a wall in his office. "Can you pick me out?" he asked, pointing to a band photo on the back cover. "It isn't easy." As if trying to read a born-again, polka-playing political boss would be.

* * *

If our local newspapers had gossip columns they’d probably print all those widely circulated rumors about the senator’s bachelorhood, which became all the more interesting when we learned Lesniak was McGreevey’s confidante for his “coming out.”

* * *

Below is a letter I wrote complaining to the editor. It probably won’t be published because I forgot to make it short.

And here’s is a piece I wrote in 2002 for my old site, dahiller.com, about Weiner Lesniak being hired by the Hillside school board.

* * *
To the Editors:

Considering Democrats have been illumintating the Republican-led “culture of corruption” in Washington, I was excited to find that the January 9 edition of the Times featured a profile on New Jersey powerbroker Ray Lesniak, a Democrat. I was swiftly disappointed realizing the piece was more about the state senator’s born-again Christianity and polka dancing then his role in the Garden State’s own thriving culture of corruption.

I would have preferred to read about his law firm’s conflicts of interest in business and land deals and how the senator’s de facto control over local governments, including choosing which firms they should hire (usually ones that contribute to his campaigns), have contributed to soaring property taxes and an inordinate $1 million-per-day Union County government budget. The Times could have come to my town of Hillside, where three years ago Mr. Lesniak’s firm billed our school board three times as much as was spent on legal fees prior to hiring him and after we fired him when I won a seat on the board.

Mr. Lesniak says it doesn’t make sense to “hire people who donated to your opponent,” but the problem isn’t merely that officials hire their campaign contributors. The problem is that officials hire contributors who may be less qualified and more expensive than their competitors. Just look at what Mr. Lesniak bills his school boards and city halls, for instance.

January 06, 2006

Freeholders Deck the Halls...with $50+ Plants

OK, So Call Me Scrooge
Over the years I have heard tell of the purchase by our county government of live holiday plants used to decorate to the Freeholder meeting room. Rumor has had the cost at anywhere from $700 to $7,000 - even as high as $17,000 or more.

So I was not surprised last week, when attending the last Freeholder meeting of the year, to have my senses besieged by three-foot tall, fire-engine red poinsettia plants, in baskets, decking the halls. There were 16 plants in all ringing the room.

"May I select my parting gift now or later?"

I was half tempted to jokingly inquire, when at the podium to speak about the freeholder pay raises, if I should make the selection of my lovely parting gift at that time or after the meeting. After all, I reasoned to myself, my tax dollars had paid for them, so I guess I could take one home. Obviously someone would be taking them home for the long three-day holiday weekend as they were much too beautiful to be tossed in the dumpster.

House of Flowers

It is my understanding that the annual floral display comes to the county by way of House of Flowers in Linden. I also understand that the florist shop is owned by none other then Mrs. John Gregorio. Gregorio, you will recall, is the last name of the Democratic mayor of the city of Linden. Isn't this a cozy little set up?

Not your average plants

Poinsettias of this quality in decorative baskets the size of large waste bins are currently going for as high as $89.00 each on the Internet and these certainly were not the $19.99 variety available at the local home store.

A visit to the Web site of the flower shop in question -- http://www.houseofflowers.com/ -- has confirmed their price range for plants of this dimension and presentation. Total cost is in the neighborhood of $1,400 just for the flowers in the freeholder’s meeting room.

Truth be told, since my eyes were trained on the plants I did not give any real thought to the evergreen wreaths adorning the walls. We can only hope that they were artificial retreads from years past.

Could this be a special order?

What struck me as peculiar was that among the red plants was one lone white poinsettia plant, much smaller in size and in a different color basket. Sticking out like a sore thumb, it looked like a special order. One can only speculate that perhaps a perspective recipient had voiced a preference for white over red as it would blend in better with the decor at home or in the office. Or perhaps this odd ball was just thrown in by the florist for good measure.

Not having seen any other plants on my trek to the sixth floor I wondered just how many more plants were hanging around the building and out of the public eye.

Deck the Million Dollar Atrium

The weather that evening was particularly bad, freezing rain and snow, so when I left the building I was glad that I was plantless as the poor thing would have been frozen before having a chance to adorn my Garwood living room. But I did look at the bare public reception area and thought perhaps that the $1,400 would have been better spent if the freeholder’s plants had been put on public display in what has been referred to as the “Million Dollar Atrium” so everyone who passed by could enjoy their tax dollars hard at work rather than just we four spectators and 20 or so employees in attendance at the meeting that evening.

Call me Scrooge if you like; but what a waste.

Former Union County Manager Dies
Ann Baran was first woman to head any county in NJ

The late Ann Baran (r) standing with her successor as county manager Michael Laoppola. Photo courtesy Vincent Lehotsky

Former Union County manager Ann Baran died on Tuesday after 15 years fighting back breast cancer, the Star-Ledger reports.

Baran, a Democrat, was the first woman to head a county government in state history. She served eight years in the appointed position, beginning in 1990.

"She was qualified enough that the Democrats put her on, and then the Republicans kept her on," former Republican freeholder Frank Lehr said in the Ledger.

Baran was 58.

Watchers' Renna Now a Columnist in Tribune

Frank Capece, eat your heart out. The County Watchers' own Tina Renna is now a "Be Counted" columnist for the Home News Tribune.

In addition to her work on this blog, Tina will be bringing her message about open government and accountability to the Tribune's Central Jersey readers.

Tina has already penned several columns. You can read her latest, "Union County Needs New Detention Site," published online Dec. 21, 2005, by clicking here.