April 11, 2006

Freeholders, Booze and Public Safety

In a press release issued by the New Jersey State Police in November 2005, 270 of the 731 motor vehicle fatalities in New Jersey in 2004 were alcohol-related. That comprises 37 percent of the total number of deaths.

Nationally, impaired drivers kill over 17,000 people each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 97 percent of Americans view drinking and driving by others as a threat to their families and themselves and they support tougher enforcement.

Last week in a press release published in a few local papers titled “Parents, assume the worst when it comes to alcohol” Freeholder Chairman and candidate Al Mirabella emphasized the importance of the issue of underage drinking. He gives us a number to call to find out more information about this issue.

This would be laudable if Mirabella would offer county residents some explanation as to why a county employee serving time in the Union County jail for his third D.W.I. conviction was inappropriately let out of jail this past summer.

According to a court transcript obtained by the Union County Watchdog Association - which can be viewed at www.unioncountywatchdog.org/docs/macdermant.pdf - Judge Walter Barisonek ruled that county employee Thomas MacDermant was allowed to leave jail on a wristlet without the permission of his sentencing judge. The New Jersey Law Journal reported this on Monday, March 13.

The transcript states that MacDermant was sentenced to a mandatory 180 days in the Union County jail by Judge Jones out of the Roselle Municipal Court.

The Judge received an anonymous letter informing her of MacDermant’s freedom. She then had him re-arrested, sent back to jail and, as usual, the taxpayers had to pick up the tab for legal fees stemming from the county’s mismanagement. To dat, $10,000 has been appropriated in resolutions.

If MacDermant was given special privileges by being released remains to be seen. An Open Public Records Act request, in an attempt by the Union County Watchdog Association to investigate how many third time D.W.I. defenders were allowed to go home and attend AA meetings of their own free will, would cost $364 for the public to obtain these records.

Contrary to what's been reported in the Star-Ledger, the UCWA does not get any information for free out of the county and this is a perfect example of why a media commited to the community they serve, and not the politicians paying their advertising rates, is so important.

During a public comment portion of a freeholder meeting, I attempted to ask questions about this incident and Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella had not a word for me. So much for public information.

In Union County, by statute, it is the freeholders who hire and appoint the county manager. They also hire the warden to run the county jail. Therefore it is the Freeholders, particularly the chairman, who is responsible for this inappropriate freedom for D.W.I. offenders. The fact that he has offered no explanation for this transgression is outrageous. God forbid someone would have been hurt by this prisoner while he was allowed to go free. How many lawsuits stemming from management incompetance can the taxpayers bear?

How hypocritical for Mirabella to be going about campaigning on the abuses of alcoholism and the problems it causes society when his very administration is hindering an investigation into how many D.W.I. offenders are allowed to go free in Union County.

As usual, where is the Star-Ledger on this?