September 10, 2006

Billing concerts as F R E E is a cheap trick

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
Id love you to love me.
Rick Neilson, Cheap Trick

“The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, led by Chairman Alexander Mirabella (pictured above performing at a concert), invites the public to attend this free concert”…is how every press release for the summer concert series reads. The series will end this Saturday with Music Fest. The rock band Cheap Trick will be the headliners.

In researching the cost to taxpayers for the so called free events, the Union County Watchdog Association found that events are free only to out of county residents and VIP’s who get to watch the concerts from a tent with free catered food and beer. Our property tax dollars are picking up the bills and we get to bring our own lawn chairs.

The freeholders present their concerts as a service brought to you by them. They’re “We’re connected to you!” banner is hung across the stage. Their information van is prominently parked on the side of the stage and it features a bill-board sized portrait of the freeholders and take home literature which has their faces and names plastered throughout.

Click here to view live video clip.
A freeholder who is up for re-election will be introduced before the concert and at intermission. This year we also saw Assemblywoman Linda Stender at every concert standing alongside campaigning freeholders who introduce her as “a great public servant”. Stender is running for Congress this year.

Last year, Stender wasn’t campaigning. She was still the Runnell’s Hospital “Volunteer Coordinator” she wasn’t seen at any summer concerts. Stender’s county coordinator salary was $66,083 the volunteers this “great public servant” was paid to coordinate volunteered for guess what? F R E E.

At around the same time Stender announced her run for Congress she changed her title. Now her county position is Runnells Hospital Foundation Director, her salary was increased to $72,858. The county manager’s mother-in-law was put on the payroll as her assistant with a salary of $40,430. It was predicted at this year’s budget hearings that Runnells would be running $500,000 in the red this year. Is that A L L?

The cost for the bands that performed in the 2006 summer concerts series in Echo Lake Park was $33,800.00. The county took in contributions in support of the concerts which totaled $18,800.00. How does $33,800.00 minus $18,800.00 add up to free? What button does the county have on their calculators that the rest of us don’t have and where can we get it? In reality this adds up to a $15,000.00 tab for the taxpayers to pick-up. This doesn’t include the county employee salaries who are on hand to pass out literature, the county police, set up and clean up crews, etc. There’s also a few loose miscellaneous bills including portable toilets in the check registry.

Deducting the contributions the county has received to date the Rhythm and Blues concert cost taxpayers approximately $130,800; Music Fest $144,500; Kids Kingdom $68,490.00. Total approximate cost of free events to taxpayers 2006 to date: $349,590.

The list of contributors is interesting. The Union County Democratic Committee contributed $2,000. Perhaps this explains why there are only Democrats campaigning at these concerts. The banking industry is barred from donating to political campaigns, but they can write a check to be used towards a free concert in which campaigning politicians cast the spotlight on themselves. Banks that have contributed include Union Center National Bank, First Bank Americano and Wachovia. The same goes for the casino industry, Harrah’s Atlantic City donated $7,500.00 to the upcoming Music Fest. Schoor De Palma no longer makes political ‘pay to play’ contributions but they donated $7,200 to this years concerts.

Freeholder Mirabella was reported in a local paper as having said “We’re out here giving back to the community; people can come out here enjoy the music and have some fun”.

People do attend these concerts, they do have fun, the county should provide these services, after all they do have a 300-million dollar budget and it shouldn’t all be spent on politicians, their family members and campaign workers salaries, but implying that these concerts are a gift from the freeholders when in fact the taxpayers are footing the bills for a campaign whistle stop is a cheap trick.

This is a 2-part series. Next up: Concert series research solves 9-0 freeholder vote mystery.

View event costs by clicking here.

View summer concert costs and contributors by clicking here.