July 08, 2006

Smells like county goose is cooking

It was recently reported in an editorial published in Worrall Community Newspapers “What budget crisis?” that the Union County Public Information Officer, Sebastian D'Elia, with an annual salary of $99,533, complained that reporters were sending him on a “wild goose chase” by asking him for a list of who attended a conference and how many rooms were rented while trying to ascertain how much tax-dollars was spent on this trip.

When D’Elia reluctantly caught the goose it honked “Union County spent less than $5,000 for their officials to attend the National Association of Counties conference in Milwaukee in 2003; more than $10,000 for the Arizona conference in 2004; and $16,868 for the conference in Hawaii last year.” It was reported that in the middle of a budget crisis Union County officials will be heading to the Windy City this year – which was once a thriving center for cronyism and corrupt politics.

The Union County Watchdog Association has to rely solely on the Open Public Records Act for information. The county doesn't simply answer questions. If an answerer can’t be found in a document than we have no recourse to get any information out of the all-Democrat controlled Union County Government.

It’s not just the extensive office of Public Information that is unresponsive, and I might add from personal experience – extremely rude, to the public, it’s the freeholders themselves. Attending freeholder meetings is a waste of time. Not only do they not discuss county resolutions before all 9 freeholders unanimously vote “yes” on their passage, they don’t answer the public’s questions.

I attended two freeholder meetings in the month of June and during public comments I asked for the board to provide me with an explanation as to how the county liability insurance works in regards to lawsuits in general and also particularly in the case of the lawsuit that was recently settled stemming from the harassment of the former decorated Sheriff’s Officer Virginia Fanelli which cost taxpayers millions of dollars in attorney’s fees alone (perhaps the most expensive employee lawsuit in Union County’s history). It has been reported that the county had to sue its insurance carriers because this harassment complaint wasn’t reported to their insurers properly.

Although the attorney’s have been getting paid all along and Fanelli was compensated for her suffering on June 14, 2006, as is shown in the county check registry, there has been no public information regarding what the outcome of this misreporting and subsequent insurance company suit has cost the taxpayers.

Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella said he would get back to me on June 8th. I am writing this on July 8th and haven’t received a piece of information regarding the expenditure of millions of tax-dollars, the harassment of a county employee, and the misreporting of the incident to county insurance carriers.

An OPRA request for the original settlement suit which the Fanelli suit stemmed from titled Malcolm vs. MacDonald was returned “Document can not be located”.

The county has no qualms about sending the public on wild goose chases to obtain information regarding the expenditure of our tax dollars and their managerial inefficiencies. We desperately need to cook the incumbent freeholder’s gooses on election day and elect freeholders that will be accountable to residents.