October 22, 2006

Stender is the best choice to represent corrupt New Jersey

Former New Jersey Govs. Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean had the following to say today in their weekly Star-Ledger column in answer to the problem of double-dippers in the state pension system. Kean –“We’ve had a very high tolerance for corruption in this state for too long. … The press has not highlighted these cases, as they ought, to get them cleaned up.” Byrne – “The timing is right for reform. If we can’t get it now, we’re never going to get it.”

In the same edition of the Star-Ledger, Ledger editorial staff endorsed the Congressional candidacy of Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Union 22) as the best choice to send to represent the 7th District in Washington.

Stender began her political career in 1988 as a Fanwood Borough Councilwoman, in 1994 she was elected to the Union County Board of Freeholders and in 2001 she became Assemblywoman of Legislative District 22.

Stender, who I've heard somewhere is a Spender, has been a double dipper since the day she left her Union County freeholder seat in 2001 to be an Assemblywoman. She was promptly placed on the county payroll that January with the title “Volunteer Coordinator”, with all the implications that title suggests, she was paid $66,083 to supervise people who were volunteering selflessly for free.

Around the time Assemblywoman Stender announced her run for Congress, her county title changed to Runnells Hospital Foundation Director. The Foundation was established as a non-profit 501(c) 3 with Stender’s salary being paid in part by grant money. This organization has not met the threshold of raising over $10,000 which would require them to file an IRS 990 form. This doesn’t stop the taxpayers from having to pay Stender's $72,858 county salary for her fundraising efforts along with her staff. The Union County Manager, who is the nephew of State Senator Raymond Lesniak, mother-in-law was hired to be Stender’s assistant with a salary of $40,430.

When Stender was a freeholder her husband’s printing business was given no-bid county contracts.

None of these documented facts have been highlighted in the press. Now the Star-Ledger who calls themselves “The Voice of New Jersey” would like us to export our worst sample of a New Jersey politician to represent us in Congress. Beleaguered New Jersey taxpayers may never see reform when the media sends the message to elected officials like Stender, “Corruption pays in New Jersey why not export the operation to Washington?”

October 16, 2006

AG is asked to investigate county

For Immediate Release:

Today the Union County Watchdog Association has submitted three separate requests to the State Attorney General’s Office, asking for investigations.

1) Freeholders relative profited from 2-million dollar no-bid contract
Union County Freeholder Deborah Scanlon’s sister, Diane Papst, was allegedly involved in a 2-million dollar no-bid contract awarded in a business deal that was not conducted in public view. View complaint by clicking here.

2) Open Public Meetings Act Enforcement
Although the Union County Prosecutor’s office was diligent in quickly enforcing the OPMA on four occasions, that we are aware of, the UCWA complaint against the power-broker backed Union County freeholders appears to be dragging along. View complaint by clicking here.

3) Union County Prisoners being inappropriately sent home on wristlet monitoring devises
This request, which involved a county employee who is alleged to be a close friend of the County Manager, was originally submitted to Attorney General Farber in May 2006. A response was never received from Farber’s office. In light of recent revelations which have shown Farber’s close relationship to Union County Freeholder Angel Estrada, the UCWA has resubmitted our request for an investigation to the new Attorney General Stuart Rabner. View complaint by clicking here.

In other UCWA complaint news:
1) The New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Commission acknowledged receipt of our complaint regarding the Music Fest today; Click HERE to view video footage of the illegal drinking that went on in the V.I.P. tent.

2) An ELEC complaint is pending. The county has recently spent $163,938.75 tax-dollars airing a commercial which stars a freeholder who is up for re-election. They have also spent approximately $60,000 on a mailer sent to every county postal patron last week. Because we are sure that there will be more tax-payer funded campaigning featuring fat cat Al Mirabella, we will hold off and file one fat ELEC complaint after Election Day.

October 13, 2006

Freeholder Scanlon's sister profited from $2M phone system

Freeholder Debra Scanlon’s sister was allegedly involved in a $2 million no-bid contract awarded in a business deal that was not conducted in public view.

The meeting minutes of the regular meeting held on January 22, 2004 show that freeholder Scanlon was present. However, when it came time to vote for a $1,907,739.65 no-bid contract awarded to Consultedge, in which her sister, Diane Papst, is reported to have been the sales rep, she left the room when the vote was taken and she was marked not present. (view resolution by clicking here)

On August 23, 2004 it was Chairwoman Scanlon who moved Bond Ordinance No. 578-2003 forward which put county taxpayers in debt for over 28-million dollars for various improvements in which her sisters deal was lumped in with. (view bond ordinance by clicking here)

Because the freeholder meeting minutes do not show any discussion of this no bid contract, I tried to gain insight into this $2 million deal through the Open Public Records Act.

Several responses to my requests for records added up to the county wanting to charge $360.95 dollars for the pertinent documents. The few I did receive had all the employee names redacted.

Not only was this business conducted out of public view but it looks like this deal wasn’t conducted in the other freeholder’s view either. It is possible that the other freeholders had no clue as to Scanlon’s sister’s involvement and that this was another expenditure of county taxpayer dollars that was cooked up at Charlotte DeFilippo’s dining room table. This shines more light on the fact that freeholders vote yes on any matter that makes it onto their agenda with no questions asked.

It’s also possible that there was nothing illegal about this. Unethical sure, but this being New Jersey, ethics isn't something politicians are required to have. However, since I can’t follow the dollar here or get a freeholder, never mind a county employee on their new $2 million phone system to answer to this, I’ll ask the State Commission of Investigation to do it. If the state chooses to investigate, the county can charge them $360.95 for the privilege of knowing how a freeholder’s sister can profit from a multi-million dollar no-bid contract without her name ever being mentioned to the taxpayers or even the freeholders.

(view county clerks OPRA responses by clicking here)

October 04, 2006

Freeholders broke their own law

The juice down there was free: Click HERE to view video footage of the illegal drinking that went on in the V.I.P. tent during the Music Fest on a recent Saturday as well as the mess that was left unattended in the county park until Monday morning.

There is no drinking in the parks folks: Click HERE to view video footage of Freeholder Holmes telling a summer concert crowd “the only bad thing is that there is no drinking allowed in county parks folks”.

Wine and beer bottles, some of which weren’t empty, were left behind in Nomehegan Park until Monday after the county run Music Fest concert was held on a recent Saturday. Any underage person was free to walk over and have a party of their own with the freeholders VIP tent discarded left overs.

The Union County Watchdog Association has filed complaints with several state agencies asking for a full investigation into the illegal serving of alcohol at a county taxpayer and pay to play funded county event. They have also asked for an investigation into freeholders using these events to have catered parties for friends and family members as well as promoting incumbent politicians who are up for reelection.

Although it may be unwritten and assumed, it is not officially written within the Laws of Union County that “freeholders are above the law”. Although the laws strictly prohibit alcohol use in county parks without a permit, and during a recent summer concert Freeholder Chester Holmes reminded people that “there is no alcohol allowed in the parks folks” the VIP tent at the Music Fest held in September was well stocked with kegs and cases of beer and wine without the issuance of a county permit.

An Open Public Records Act request asking for permits to serve alcohol as well as any receipts for the purchase or donations of alcohol turned up no records. Freeholders are required to report gifts.

Live video footage was taken of the VIP tent from across the Lake in Echo Lake Park. Cranford's Deputy Mayor George McDonough was filmed at one of two kegs. There is no record of McDonough being given a VIP pass.

Photo of Cranford Deputy Mayor McDounough at the illegal trough.

Another Open Public Records Request seeking the VIP list was returned with a generic letter to all Music Fest contributors offering them passes. Although there appeared to be well over 300 people in the VIP tent in the heat of the night, the county claims not to have an accounting of who was there.

Although there is no record of any freeholders being given VIP passes to the Music Fest, before the headliner Cheap Trick was announced the MC of the event announced “Chairman Mirabella and the entire Union County Freeholder Board and Assemblywoman Linda Stender”. Mirabella and Stender are both on the ballot in the November election and were on hand throughout the day to “help out” the paid MC.

In a letter to sponsors of the event a value is put on these announcements. PA Exposure: Union Center National Bank will receive a :15 second announcement six (6) or more times during the course of the day. The Union County Watchdog Association believes this campaign exposure, as well as the unreported donations of several prominent county vendors, is a violation of the ELEC laws and will be reported as such.

An OPRA request asking for all bills for the Music Fest did not turn up the catering bill. However, a catering bill for a smaller gathering at the Rhythm and Blues Fest held in Plainfield in June turned up a $4,690.50 catering tab for 275 people ($15.00 per person). There was a record of VIP passes and preferred parking given to only three freeholders:

Freeholder Mapp was given 40 passes @ $15 per head = $600.00; Mirabella 20 passes @ $15 per head = $300.00 and Kowalski 8 passes @ $15 per head = $120.00

At a recent freeholder meeting after being questioned about the costs of the "free" concerts Kowalski was the only freeholder to respond. All she said was "People should attend these events and not just criticize them".

The freeholder’s abuse of the public trust in the guise of offering the public “free concerts” has been going on for years. The Union County Watchdog Association acknowledges they can not stop the abuse, but they can expose it and report it to the proverbial “proper authorities". Along with all the other scams in which the freeholders use tax dollars to bolster their campaigns, like taxpayer funded mailings, commercials, and press releases, these events will be closely monitored and reported to state authorities going forward.

The behind the scenes partying at taxpayer’s expense is over.

Taxpayer funded celebrity port a potty located in the VIP tent