March 20, 2006

Blackberrys, Sure. But no Meeting Minutes

What could be the excuse for not putting meeting minutes on the county Web site when they spent $28,102 on Blackberryss in the past three years? [2004: $17,172.05; 2005: 9,227.29; 2006 to date $1,702.66]

During his swearing-in ceremony, Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella announced in his address titled “Community connections” that the county had received a state grant which would enable them to dramatically re-design the county Web site.

“We will create a new Web site that will be more exciting and interactive, paving the way for a truly modern portal for residents wishing to be connected to their county government," he said.

During the recent Budget Committee hearings, while the department head in charge of the web-design was describing his goal to inform citizens of county services, I was distracted by the county manager bouncing in his chair and playing on his Blackberry.

I wondered why the taxpayers had to shell out $28,102 in the past three years for county employees to have these latest technological toys, yet the county can’t even post meeting minutes on the Web or take an Open Public Records Request by e-mail?

I also wondered who was Devanney conducting business with on his Blackberry that Saturday morning while he was ignoring a room full of freeholders and department heads? His uncle the state senator perhaps? Or maybe he was keeping the Union County Democrat Chairwoman, Charlotte DeFalippo, in the loop as she didn’t attend the hearing.

Maybe he was just being told to pick up milk and bread on his way back home.

The county has no plans to inform its citizens of the real business of county government. Nowhere has it been mentioned that the county would begin to post public records on their Web site to give a citizen easy access to information which would shine a light on county government business dealings. A truly modern portal for residents would be for the county to Web cast meetings in order to connect them to their county government.

The county website currently hosts extensive press releases featuring freeholders at public events. They also have a page which lists the municipal cable broadcast schedule for their Freeholder forum program, which is a half-hour program featuring a freeholder, who more than likely is up for re-election, touting county services.

But nowhere on their site do they list the schedule of freeholder meetings to be broadcast in municipalities.

The county currently lists meeting agendas on their site. However, these agendas are never listed before a meeting takes place.

The county puts a lot of taxpayer money and county-employee effort into informing residents about their services, because folks, that’s what helps them get re-elected. If their goal was truly to inform and engage the public, at the bare minimum, they would post meeting agendas prior to a meeting and meeting minutes in a timely manner on their Web site.

A better and bolder Union County Web site that is truly educational can be found at The Union County Watchdog Association has been tediously obtaining public records from the county which gives insight into county business and posting them on our volunteer-supported site. We challenge the county to let the sun shine in and do the same with our taxpayer-funded Web site.

We'd also like to challenge the county to not play with the toys we bought them while attending to the business of spending our tax dollars.