April 30, 2006

"They were sent there to harass us."

Union County spokeman, Sebastian D'Elia, denied taking pictures of women while harassing them at a polling station this past election day. The above is a picture of D'Elia taken by one of the women while he was taking pictures of them.

Thursday, April 27, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
……..In a lingering issue from last week's school election, Nathalie Yafet has filed a police report about an incident that allegedly occurred outside a polling place at A. P. Morris School.
Yafet, whose husband, Steve, finished fourth with 629 votes in the school board race, charged she and former mayor Barbara Rowen were harassed by county employees supporting the rival Democratic slate of Daniels, Smith and Katina Ginyard.
She charged communications director Sebastian D'Elia confronted her and Rowen as they were handing out fliers and persisted at taunting them.
"Had they just come there and handed out their flyers, nothing would have happened," said Yafet. "They were sent there to harass us." Yafet said D'Elia accosted her and Rowen, and took pictures without consent of them with an unidentified voter. D'Elia, who denied the allegations .........Hillside Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo defended D'Elia.
"He is a friend who I sent out to help with a campaign," she said,.......

April 27, 2006.........I am submitting for the public record testimonials from county residents regarding the behavior of your PI department. Some of which accuse this department of outright harassment. I myself have been a victim of this harassment on 2 occasions. Both were witnessed. The head of this department has a salary and benefits package of well over one hundred thousand dollars. This is an executive’s salary and would be considered conduct unbecoming of an officer in the private sector.

We have a county government that has a public information machine that apparently exists to keep information away from the public and disengage them from the democratic process. This department appears to be an in-house campaign staff.

Tina Renna, Cranford

To the Editor:On Tuesday, April 18, 2006 I was handing out flyers for Yafet, Menza & Simmons for Board of Education at the A. P. Morris School polling place on Coe Avenue in Hillside. There were two other people there passing out materials for the opposition candidates. Late in the afternoon, they were joined by two county workers - James Pellettiere and Sebastian D’Elia. Mr. Pellettiere raised his voice to me several times, particularly after I had just spoken with a voter, but he did not threaten me nor did I feel threatened.

However, Mr. D’Elia began by taking an unsolicited photo of me and two other women. I told him that I did not want my picture taken and he replied, “Now I have all I need.” Then he continued harassing me and taunting me even going so far as to hint that he might try to get a friend of mine fired.

One of the women with me asked who he was and - since I had seen him last year at the same polling place bothering one of the mayoral candidates I knew who he was - I told her that he was Sebastian D’Elia. At this point, I was also extremely tired from having been there all afternoon in the sun and upset because Mr. D’Elia would not leave me alone, so in my response to my friend I added that he was, “The Lord High Minister of MIsinformation for Union County,” but that was the only “name” that I called him.

After this exchange, he followed after me when I went to speak to a voter, reached across to me while jabbing his hand towards me and said, “I ain’t through with you yet,” which I perceived as a direct threat especially in connection with the unsolicited photo.

I asked the other county worker for his name and he would not give it to me so my friend photographed this worker as well as Mr. D’Elia for identification purposes. He took additional unsolicited pictures of us as long as he remained at the polling place.

Mr. D’Elia went on a tirade, at one point, and called me an “idiot” and then remarked that he “loved lunatics like you because you help my people get elected.” He refused to stop the harassment, although we kept walking away from him and I asked him several times to leave us alone. Eventually, he got in his car and left but he yelled out the window at us as he drove away.

On Thursday, April 20 I made a report to the Hillside Police Department on Sebastian D’Elia’s harassment of me and his threats.

Election days do tend to bring out heightened behavior in people and I certainly understand that. However, there can be no excuse for D’Elia’s actions and his threats. And why are county workers sent to polling places to harass residents and voters? Are they being paid by taxpayer money to do this? If so, I am in the ironic position of reimbursing Mr. D’Elia for harassing me during the last school board election.

Nathalie Yafet, Hillside

Open Letter to the Union County Freeholders,
In the Fall of 2002, Freeholder Nicholas Scutari sent the residents of Roselle a letter assuring them that the county had no intention of reactivating the defunct Staten Island Line. County Manager Devaney, and Chairwoman Scanlon are quoted in newspaper articles assuring residents that the County would not go against the will of the governing bodies of the 8 affected municipalities regarding the M & E Freight taking over the line. During that period of time, Sebastian D'Elia was also quoted in newspapers denying any intention of the freight line reactivation. All these people publicly contradicted the fact that the contract with M & E Freight line was signed by the Board of Freeholders in May, 2002. I question how D'Elia let all the newspaper articles quote these people promoting lies regarding the M & E freight line. Is D'Elia the problem or has D'Elia become a problem because of the nature of what is required of his office by his superiors?

The mayors of the towns began to realize that the county was not telling them the truth about their dealings with Gordon Fuller of the Morristown & Eire Railine. Mayor Croteau of Roselle called me and asked if I would serve as the Roselle member of the Coalition formed by citizens of the towns to STOP this freight line. I agreed to serve.

As part of the effort to stop this freight reactivation, the Coalition began getting signatures on petitions against this county contract which paid M & E more than 10 million dollars to use the 23 acres of right of way in Roselle alone. The borough provided a booth at the street fair in Roselle that Spring to inform citizens what was happening and to have them sign the petition. Sebastian D'Elia made his rounds at the Fair, observing the large number of residents at our booth. He began screaming at me saying, "Why don't you go back to Kenilworth where you belong! These people aren't against the train!" His tirade continued as he ran from our booth. I tried to tell him that I am where I belong. I have lived in Roselle for 30 years. There was no dialogue, just his shouting me down. We, the citizens of Roselle, were obviously doing something unacceptable.

This is very bizarre and intimidating behavior for a county employee, especially since he is on the payroll for disseminating correct information to the people of Union County. He is not supposed to be paid for promoting the party line, right or wrong. His public behavior is unacceptable.

Arlene Murphy, Roselle

The Westfield Leader November 3, 2005

Letter to the editor:

I sat in awe (at the Union County Candidates Forum) as I watched some terrible behavior, not from the candidates, but from the audience. One guy kept coughing and making some very rude comments with others about other people who were there. Then after the debate was over, these same people went to speak with the Democrats, and I saw them speaking with them in the parking lot outside.

Why do the Democrats have to stage the audience?

Did you have someone covering this debate? Did they see the same thing?

Kurt Mueller, Cranford

Publisher's Note: Our reporter noted harassment of Mrs. Tina Renna at the forum by those believed working for the DEM Campaign. Her husband Joe Renna chased these individuals to their car after the event without further incident.

A chronicle of harassment:
While attending the freeholder debate held in Cranford in 2005 I was harassed by county public information department employees.

One employee sat directly behind me and insistently made comments about myself and my family and other things that were incoherent. A reporter who was sitting right in front of me heard the whole encounter and this was reported in the Westfield Leader. I wondered why a public information department employee would behave so badly right in front of the press.

At the end of the debate several of these employees posed for pictures while standing behind me and making faces and comments. The harassment only stopped when my husband entered the room. This was also witnessed by a reporter and an Editor from Worrall Community Newspapers. The public information department apparently had no fear of the media exposing their bad behavior nor did they care that there were approximately 200 people in the room including 4 freeholders.

Harassment while recently obtaining OPRA records in the county administration building:
When viewing public records in the county administration building recently Seb D’Elia made several passes through the freeholder room where I was seated. When I was paying for the records Seb passed by Clerk Marlena Russo’s desk and said “Hang in their Marlena” as if to imply I was causing a problem. When I was waiting for the elevator D’Elia came into the hallway and said to me “Who are you going to sue next?”.

This was all witnessed by a friend who accompanied me that day.

Tina Renna, Cranford

Dear Editor,
An article by Joe Ryan about Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) president, Tina Renna, and the county rule which violates the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) did not substantiate the facts. County spokesman, Sebastian D'Elia is not the person to call to verify information about County problems. The Ledger has to back up what D'Elia claims with pertinent records. Ryan took D'Elia's word in preparing this article. This is unfortunate since D'Elia is the PR person the County uses for all kinds of political promos. Do reporters skirt getting Open Public Records concerning facts in their stories because the Union County information office makes it difficult and expensive to obtain them?

The County is actually saving time and money because of the UCWA. Instead of many citizens requesting the documents from the county, they can become informed, free of charge, harassment, and aggravation, by clicking on the UCWA Website (unioncountywatchdog.org). Anyone wanting to know who is wasting County money should check the salaries of D'Elia and his large staff on the UCWA Website. Tina Renna, by requesting information from the county information office makes the staff work for the UC citizens, not for county political campaigns, preparing fliers, press releases, mailings, etc. During the last election year, my family received 32 lbs. of campaign mail.

In the past I requested OPRA records concerning the County contract with the M & E freight line running through 8 UC towns. Sebastian D'Elia called me at work asking me a number of questions, including why I wanted these records. Thank you, Tina Renna and the UCWA for challenging these OPRA policies as applied here in Union County.

Richard Lenihan, Roselle

Hi Tina,
Please note the following PR message that I received from Union County in response to my request for copies of their 2005 financial statements and 2006 budget. A simple request-- but a long-winded B.S. response that now requires me to submit an OPRA request. Now I see what you have been going through!

Stay well, and keep up the great work!

John Marquardt, Fanwood
----- Original Message -----
From: Sebastian Delia
Sent: Thursday, February 23, 2006 11:47 AM
Subject: RE: Union County 2005 Financial Reports and 2006 Budget

Dear Mr. Marquardt:
Thanks for writing with your concerns about government. The documents you are seeking are available through the Clerk of the Board’s Office by filing an OPRA form. The Clerk’s number is 908-527-4140
We agree with the fact that New Jersey’s over-reliance on property taxes continues to hit homeowners hardest.
During the past five years, the inequities and inadequacies of this regressive system have been exacerbated by an enormous increase in mandated governmental costs. At the same time, State and Federal aid to local governments has remained flat or in some instances decreased. As a result, all County and Municipal governments across New Jersey have struggled with balancing their budgets, and homeowners, regardless of their situations, have borne the brunt of an unfortunate set of consequences.
Governor Jon Corzine has said he wants to hold a special legislative session and a constitutional convention to finally address the property tax problem in our state. We have pledged to work as partners in any effort to reform the property tax system, and over the past year, have asked Union County taxpayers to support a constitutional convention. Meanwhile, structural budgetary problems persist.
Unfortunately, this has become an all too common problem at all levels of government throughout the state: we are facing down a $23 million increase in appropriations mostly due to uncontrollable mandated costs.
Our increases include:
 A $6 million increase in health insurance.
 A more than $3 million increase in pensions.
 A $4.2 million increase in contractual salaries.
 A $1.8 million increase in public safety and correctional services.
 A $1.2 million increase in the Welfare program.
 A more than $2 million increase in operational costs, including utility, lease and energy costs.
While the problems have become common, our plan to address this year’s budget is not.
This will not be a budget without pain and hard choices. We asked every department to put all options on the table during our budget hearings.
The way to address this budget will have to be with an eye toward sacrifices across the board coupled with innovative revenue enhancers.
Thus far, the following steps have been taken administratively:
We started by continuing many of the reforms we have initiated during the past few years including the vacation buy back program, and a re-implementation of the employee furlough program. Under the employee furlough program, we will ask employees to take two days without pay---Department Directors and Freeholders have also agreed to participate.
Upon consultation with the Freeholder Chairman and the Fiscal Committee, we implemented a hiring freeze effective for positions funded by County tax dollars, with the exception of essential and emergency positions. The freeze will be ongoing throughout the budgetary process.
Working with our Department Directors, we will identify $6 million in annualized program cuts. During the budget hearings, we will look at each and every program with a goal of minimizing any potential layoffs. Many tough decisions will be made, and we look forward to active budget hearings and presenting the Freeholder Board with as many cost-saving options as possible.
Additionally, We’ve spoken with our state legislators to work on legislation that would allow counties to once again offer an early retirement program. In order for any early retirement program to have a long-lasting financial impact on government, it will have to be coupled with the elimination of positions.
While working to save tax dollars, we also will examine ways that would enhance our revenues, including sponsorships and private partnerships. Some revenue-raising ideas we will explore include the sale of several County-owned properties, sponsorship opportunities involving our parks facilities and vehicles, advertising, and vending machines as a way to provide service to people using our facilities and generate revenues.
We are also re-examining all of our fee structures throughout the County to realize additional revenues.
We will continue to use economic development as a tool to build an increased tax base. We have worked to jumpstart more than $5 billion in private investments over the past decade in Union County. For most of us, our most significant investment is in our homes.
The good news is we have succeeded in doubling our ratable base over the past decade, and this has led to a 77 percent increase in home values over the past five years alone. This has enabled us to once again reduce the tax rate from .36 cents per $100 to .34 cents per $100. However, as homeowner property values increase, so does the burden of property taxes.