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