July 13, 2006

Pssst tax-payers....

....“County freeholders pulled the plugs on their meeting recordings when they realized you could hear them whispering to each other up there...."

When the county’s office of public misinformation planted a story in the Star-Ledger last week about the county’s video and PA equipment he didn’t mention (and the Ledger obviously didn’t ask) when or why they stopped “audio” recording their meetings. They also didn’t show any proof that the equipment was broken to begin with.

There is no documentation to support the county’s claim that the video or audio equipment wasn’t working to begin with or that the electronic recording of public meetings was discussed by management. The public would have to assume that they made a decision to spend $78,000 on equipment after June 23, 2006 since an OPRA request didn’t show any records pertaining to new equipment.

See the linked records in response to this OPRA request dated June 23, 2006: I would like to conduct an on-site inspection of all a) repair bills from 2004 to date; b) repair estimates from 2004 to date and c) all internal correspondence from 2004 to date including but not limited to memos and emails in regards to all video and audio equipment used to electronically record freeholder meetings including decisions and orders to cease recordings of these meetings.

What was wrong with the old equipment and when did they decide to spend $78,000 on new equipment?

At the June 22, 2006 freeholder meeting I stated during public comment that if they didn’t record meetings than the UCWA will legally challenge them and find a way to do it for them. The Star-Ledger article ran on July 7, 2006 there is no press release about the new equipment on the county web site.

The article quotes the head of public misinformation “We couldn’t go on the air because our tapes were basically a squiggle,” and…… roughly 18 months ago when the cameras and microphones at the county administration building in Elizabeth went kaput…..

When did they stop video taping meetings?

Approximately 18 months ago, on December 16, 2004, I was taped being tossed out of a FH meeting.

Yolanda Padilla also spoke and was treated very rudely by Freeholder Estrada. Padilla’s son Eddie met his demise while being kept in the UC Detention Center. The states Child Advocate investigated and released a report stating "The county’s persistent violation of applicable laws and JJC and Attorney General directives over several years, led directly to the conditions...". Padilla spoke about the freeholders and employees not deserving a pay raise because of the way they kept the J.V. Detention center and then as if that wasn’t entertainment enough folks in Freeholder Estrada’s closing comments he went on a ranting diatribe about bad boys deserving to be punished, meaning Padilla's son, and how they, meaning the freeholders who ignored the conditions of the detention center for years, did nothing “bad”.

That was the last tape I requested through OPRA and I was able to transcribe every word that was said. Including the words the freeholders and county manager were saying to each other while I was being tossed out.

When did they realize that they were on tape?

I’ve purchased two video tapes through OPRA to date. County officials obviously didn’t know that the microphone for their video equipment was picking up what the microphones for the room wasn’t. You can hear on the videos what they were saying under their breath to each other. Which by the way is a violation of the OPMA law. I believe they learned about this after the last video I requested and that’s BASICALLY why their equipment went SQUIGGLEY.

When did they stop audio taping meetings?

At the June 8, 2006 meeting Freeholder Chester Holmes reminded residents in the audience that “Our chairman here has his attorney sitting next to him. You need to ask yourselves do you have your attorney sitting next to you? You should keep that in mind when you cross the line while addressing this board”.

I placed an OPRA for any electronic recording of the meeting so I could upload Holmes homage to the First Amendment on our web site. My OPRA request was returned “no record to provide”. That’s when I learned that they weren’t even audio recording meetings.

In 2005 a Watchdog member told me she attended a FH meeting and was astounded when Freeholder Al Mirabella presented outgoing Public Information Officer Sean Carr with a resolution thanking him for “being an operative” and a “help to each and every one of us”. The meeting minutes and resolution didn’t use the word operative so I placed an OPRA for the Video. That was when I learned that they had stopped video taping meetings (my town never broadcast them and the county only lists on their tax-payer funded web site the airtime schedule for their Freeholder Forum campaign show).

When I wasn’t given a video recording I asked for an audio recording of the meeting and I was given a CD with Mirabella’s farewell thank you to his tax-payer funded operative. Sometime between then and now their “audio” equipment was unplugged.
"If you do not electronically record these meetings the Union County Watchdog Association will find a way to legally challenge you and to do it for you." Tina Renna, President UCWA, 6/22/06

"This investment in our sound system, PA and taping system will ensure that the public, our constituents and all entities that do business with the county will continue to receive information about our meetings in a timely and accurate manner," Senator Ray Lesniak's nephew appointed County Manager George Devanney Star-Ledger 7/7/06