November 26, 2006

Union County Prosecutor tells freeholders to do a better job of informing the public

Union County freeholder meetings will be a lot sunnier now that the freeholders have been told by Assistant Union County Prosecutor Ann Rubin to adhere to the Open Public Meetings Act by keeping more comprehensive meeting minutes as well as to pass resolutions at open meetings which would inform the public of what they will be discussing when they adjourn into Executive Session.

In a complaint filed with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office on March 27, 2006, the Union County Watchdog Association charged that the Freeholder Board had been routinely violating N.J.S.A. 10:4-13. That statute requires a public body, before going into closed or executive session, to first adopt a resolution, at a meeting to which the public shall be admitted: a. Stating the general nature of the subject to be discussed; and b. Stating as precisely as possible, the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in closed session of the public body can be disclosed to the public.

Rather than pass the required resolution, the Chairman of the Board would simply “call for a motion” to go into executive session which is then approved unanimously. As a result, the public is deprived of any knowledge of the topics that the Freeholders are privately discussing behind closed doors or when those discussions would be made public.

During a public meeting held on February 10, 2005 the freeholders simply “called for a motion” and without any further explanation adjourned into their private chambers to discuss, among other things, a tawdry sexual harassment law suit that had been filed a month prior, involving a freeholder who would be facing re-election that year and a county employee who he was allegedly having an extramarital affair with. The law suit was filed on January 26, 2005. N.J.S.A. 10:4-12 b. states “when a lawsuit has already been filed with the court and is, therefore, a matter of public record, there is no reason why the title of the case cannot be set forth in the resolution and in the Executive Session minutes”.

Instead what the minutes reflected in this matter was: Minutes redacted under Attorney-Client privileged communication in a matter involving on-going litigation.

If the freeholders were following the law that day, they would have passed a resolution and this resolution would have been recorded in the meeting minutes which would have stated:

RESOLUTION: 2005-123 Introduced by Chairman Sullivan, who moved for its adoption, seconded by Board Member X Be It Resolved by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders that the Board met in private session from which the public shall be excluded, to discuss the following personnel matters: Alyssa Scala v. The County of Union, v. Rick Proctor, v. Denise Santiago…..

Rubin has also instructed the board to continually review and cross-reference the matters discussed in Executive Session so that the minutes can be updated in a timely fashion and the redacted portions of the minutes disclosed to the public to reflect with their current status. In a letter dated November 17, 2006 Rubin states “Based on my review of the minutes provided, there is a need for improvement in this area which can be accomplished through better communication between the Board and its counsel and those persons responsible for updating the Executive Session minutes and releasing them to the public. By copy of this letter, I am advising the County Counsel's Office of our position on this matter. I trust that County Counsel will act upon the contents of this letter and that further action in this regard will not be necessary."

The Union County Watchdog Association maintains that there should be better communication between the Board and the public. The Board has only recently started posting their regular meeting minutes on their tax-payer funded official website. They do not currently post their Executive Session minutes which we therefore, find it necessary to tediously post for them on our volunteer funded and staffed website.

A good open government practice would be for the Board to not only post their Executive Session minutes on their site but to indicate which minutes are redacted as well as indicate when they have been updated with new information.

In an open democratic society it shouldn’t take an independent watchdog group to monitor government meeting minutes to be sure that government is complying with the law and disclosing information to the public in a lawful manner.

View complaint to UC Prosecutors office by clicking HERE

View second correspondence to UC Prosecutor’s office by clicking HERE

View Executive Session minutes dated February 10, 2005 by clicking HERE

View Prosecutor’s response to UCWA complaint by clicking HERE

View previous post regarding the Freeholder Proctor/Scala sexual harassment law suit, by clicking: Dontcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?

View previous post regarding Freeholder Rick Pric-tor and sexual harassment in Bloomfield: Freeholder Rick Pric-tor Appointed and elected twice with no mention of abusive history

November 19, 2006

They could put a turkey in every pot

As previously posted, this years freeholder campaign saw the incumbent one-party ruled county government spending upwards of $250,000 tax-dollars promoting incumbent freeholders in the weeks leading up to the election.

I attended the freeholder meeting the Thursday following the election. I knew the freeholders and their in-house campaign staff would be puffed up like Tom Turkey’s gobbling on about their victory; this is exactly why I wanted to be there. I wanted to pluck some of their feathers and laugh in their faces as they grandiosely congratulated themselves.

I wanted to remind them of why they win elections and ask them to ponder what an organization like the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless could do with $250,000, and would they please consider using this money to help people in the future?

I wasn’t surprised at their win. Statistically it is almost impossible to change the course of a freeholder election in Union County. Whoever Charlotte DeFalippo puts on the Democrat line will be elected.

“The people have spoken” freeholder Sullivan pontificated. He claimed that there was a 60% voter turnout in the county and that “this was a landslide victory”. Subsequently, it’s been reported that there was a 49.5% turnout. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Union County 2-1; most registered voters in the county are unaffiliated. What really keeps the Democrats in power is that most registered voters don’t bother to vote. All 9 freeholder seats are at large therefore the Democrats don’t have to do much to turn out the votes in the cities in order to win. They have 3,000 county employees to squeeze into volunteering and unlimited pay to play money to add to the tax-dollars that they spend on their campaigns.

Sullivan also bragged about how they “get out the vote”. If you’re around places like Elizabeth on Election Day you will see county employees getting out the vote.

Whenever I venture into the County Administration building, the county’s public information officer always makes an attempt to harass me before I leave. Waiting for the elevator at the end of the meeting Seb D’Elia, who doubles as an in-house campaign manager, passed by and hissed “It’s good to win”.

It is illegal to have public employees working on campaigns while they are on the clock.

Freeholder Scanlon thanked these employees “I want to thank all the Department Heads and employees; I know that you were pulling for us”.

Strangely enough, on Election Day the County Manager, who is Senator Ray Lesniak’s nephew, was seen pulling for Republican Mayoral Candidate David Cohen in Berkeley Heights. Voter fraud is being alleged there, but I’ll save that for another post.

Freeholder Mirabella bellowed “I will continue to be proud of our record, personally and collectively, I am only humbled by the trust and support the people have put in us.” Mirabella, who was the chairman of the board this year, has consistently refused to answer the public’s questions regarding a host of topics.

The county is planning on building an animal shelter, during the freeholder debates Mirabella spoke about how the “municipalities have been doing a terrible job of taking care of the animals” and that many “are needlessly euthanized”.

Mirabella, nor any other freeholder, has ever publicly acknowledged their responsibility in regards to the two prisoners who were needlessly euthanized in their jail cells. In two separate recent incidents prisoners died very preventable and agonizing deaths. Another 22 year old prisoner had to have his voice box removed because his cancer went untreated. A 17 year old hanged himself on an exposed sprinkler head which the county left unrepaired for 17 months.

The voters that cast a ballot for Mirabella obviously have no idea that he shouldn’t be trusted, even with their dogs.

Mirabella delivered the biggest laugh of the evening with this closing act “I’d like to congratulate all the winners of this years election” he then blabbered on about only Democrats that won and finished his segment with Linda Stender “She is a terrific lady who worked very hard…, she was up against a machine…., she was outspend by a million dollars…”. Mirabella did not offer similar condolences to his opponents on the Republican line.

Freeholder Sullivan stated “The voters are very smart in this county and very discerning”.

I questioned the intelligence of the people who blindly vote down the democrat line. I will back this up with the freeholders own campaign literature of which I am an avid collector of. No one could insult their voter’s intelligence any more than the county democrats. If they truly believed that the voters who keep them in power are smart and discerning then they wouldn’t send their voter base literature that suggests that they are running for the office of President of the United States of America: Click HERE

Sheriff Ralph Froehlich signed two letters endorsing the Democrat freeholders. What makes his letters noteworthy is that they were on phony official Sheriff's Department letterhead. The longest serving law enforcement official in the nation sent his constituents a flim flam campaign piece worthy of Boss Hog: Click HERE

Freeholder Holmes, who doesn’t quite get the concept of the First Amendment, stated “I don’t believe anyone has the right to criticize the voters”.

Can a voter be smart and discerning yet not care about domestic violence? During my comments I did poke fun at the voters who keep this regime in office, scandal after scandal, although most of their scandals are only reported on this blog and don’t make the local main stream media, therefore voter ignorance is justified to some extent. I brought up the fact that in 2004 70,000 people cast a vote for Freeholder John Wholrab despite the fact that he was arrested and charged with allegedly beating his live-in-girlfriend just 6 weeks prior to the election.

Despite it all....Let us give thanks

I sat down at my computer today with the intention of writing about being thankful as well as hopeful for a better future.

A few days ago I sent out an email to our watchdog list asking for donations. The immediate response I received has been overwhelming and inspiring. I am thankful that there are intelligent Union County residents that care where ¼ of their property tax bill is going and how it is being misspent and misused. Even though we are in the minority, together we can make a difference by shining a light on government. Despite the statistacal fact that the Union County Democrat machine will not be out of power any time soon, I am still confident that change is in the air and it is attainable.

I’m also grateful to know that there are good people at a higher level who are committed to changing the culture of corruption in this State. The abuses the freeholders so freely get away with stems from the lack of law and the lack of commitment to enforce the ineffectual laws that are in place. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of meeting Paula Franzese who heads the State Ethics Commission. She is pushing for a complete overhaul of the state’s ethics system. Among the priorities of the Commission are to enact a uniformed and meaningful ethics code for not only the State, but the county and local governments as well.

As a member of the Board of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside passionate open government activists from across the state. We are working towards increasing government transparency by putting some teeth into the Open Public Records Act and will push for legislation to overhaul the antiquated Open Public Meetings Act.

One day last week I helped out at my favorite charity. It is quite humbling to see people lined up for a free bag of food; seeing these seniors, young people with children and the disabled all needing assistance for their daily basic needs left me inspired to rage on against the machine. Property taxes are a regressive form of taxation; therefore we all suffer from government waste and corruption.

As I watched these people standing in line I wished the freeholders were there to experience the desperate need for help that is all around us. Maybe then they wouldn’t misuse over $250,000 tax-dollars on their campaigns as well as the other misspent and misguided millions. If they wanted to, they could use their absolute power and unlimited resources to literally put a turkey in the pot of every Union County family and so much more.

November 08, 2006

"GET ACTIVE" in the Democratic party for a successful public service career

To get ahead in a public service career consider taking the advise of a party insider and try to "GET ACTIVE" in the Union County Democrat party.

John Salerno is an example of a successful ACTIVE county employee.

Salerno who's title is currently County Director of Special Projects & Graphic Compliance, (annual salary $81,546 up from $52,084 in 2000), is shown on video recently BEING ACTIVE in the Democrat party. Click HERE to see video.

John Salerno’s Union County employee history:
2000 - $52,084 - Clerk/Public Relations I
2001 - $56,467 – Clerk/Public Relations I
2002 - $60,286 – Clerk/Public Relations I
2003 - $69,375 –Confidential Assistant
2004 - $72,844 – Confidential Assistant
2005 - $72,844 – title N/A
2006 - $81,546 – "Director of Special Projects & Graphic Compliance". For a job description see previous post: Costs to taxpayers to date for incumbent Democrat freeholders fall campaign: $245,926.
2007 - Raises will be announced in January

Applicant was asked: Which party are you?Friday, November 03, 2006
Cranford Chronicle
A job applicant for a Union County post was asked about his political affiliation and encouraged to "get active" in the Democratic party to improve his chances of being hired, Republicans say -- and they've got the emails to prove it. But the county employee who made those comments was not responsible for the hiring decision, and a county spokesman said this week that her comments did not represent the county's position "in any shape, way or form."
Carolyn Vollero, a former county employee and chairwoman of the Cranford Democratic Party, asked Garwood resident Dennis Clark about his partisan affiliation while Clark was seeking employment with the county in 2004. The written request is made in a chain of emails shared with the Chronicle last week by Phil Morin, the chairman of the Union County Republican Party and a former Cranford mayor.
Vollero, who is also a former Cranford mayor, recently retired from her post as chairperson of the county Bureau of Mosquito Control. She did not return repeated calls for comment regarding the correspondence.
Clark, who is a registered Republican and is currently running for a seat on the Garwood Borough Council, said that he and Vollero met when she was invited to judge an essay contest for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post in Garwood. At the time Clark, a disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, was looking for employment. He applied for a job as a part-time clerk with Union County Division of Veterans Affairs and in an email dated March 24, 2004, thanked Vollero her for her involvement in the VFW contest and asked for assistance in the application process.
That day, Vollero responded to say she would reach out to a woman she knew in the Veterans Affairs office.
She also asked Clark what she called a "personal question." "(A)re you a registered voter & how are you registered? Dem. OR Rep.??" Vollero wrote.
Clark responded less than 10 minutes later, telling her that he is a registered Republican, though he rarely votes along strict party lines. "I hope that won't preclude my getting the position, if I'm qualified," he wrote. In another email two days later, Clark wrote that he had had an interview and was hopeful he would be offered the job. "I think this job is tailor-made for me and I would greatly appreciate any help you would be able to give me," he wrote.
Ultimately, though, the job went to another applicant -- a veteran with ties to the Democratic Party. In an April 5 email, Vollero wrote that she had been told Clark was "a wonderful candidate, but only one position was open." She offered him encouragement for the future and then wrote, "Also consider trying to get ACTIVE with the DEMOCRATS in Garwood. Think about it."
Clark responded later that day, writing, "How if I'm a registered Republican can I get active with the Democratic Party of Garwood? I don't think it should matter what party I'm affiliated with, if I meet the qualifications for a County position." Clark said he kept the emails and sent them to Morin about a year ago, after reading a story in a local newspaper about the impact of political affiliation on employment opportunities. Asked if he feels his political views affected his application, he said, "Absolutely."
Morin called the emails the "most blatant example of partisan politics as the deciding factor of getting a job in Union County," and he said Vollero's role is significant because of the "senior position" she held with the county. "She certainly bragged in her emails (about) her ability to assist him," Morin said.
However, county officials said this week that Vollero's comments do not mirror the county's position. "Carolyn Vollero's views and opinions expressed in these emails do not represent those of this administration or the County of Union in any shape, way or form," said Sebastian D'Elia, a county spokesman. "Ms. Vollero's employment duties did not include hiring or the development of hiring policy for the County." "The County of Union hires the best suitable candidates for all our positions (and) is an equal opportunity employer," D'Elia said.
He also said that the county employees mentioned in the correspondence between Vollero and Clark did not recall the interview with Clark, nor did they remember any conversations with Vollero about Clark's application for employment. The county does not typically allow department heads to speak to the press, and D'Elia declined the Chronicle's request to interview the individual who made the hiring decision.
According to the New Jersey State Department of Personnel, which deals with discrimination in the workplace, political affiliation can not be considered when evaluating a job applicant. "It is totally and unequivocally inappropriate to ask an applicant about their political affiliation," said George Laufenberg, communications director for the department.

November 04, 2006

County resident submits an in-dept spend analysis of Union County Government to Freeholders

Dear Freeholder Sullivan:

As a resident and taxpayer I am greatly concerned about wasteful spending by Union County government and alarmed at the resulting 50% increase in county property taxes over the past 5 years. With a 2006 budget $413 million dollars and a bloated payroll of nearly 3000 employees Union County is well on the road to fiscal disaster and taxpayer revolt. What is needed is a top down change from a "tax and spend" and "business as usual" culture to one that is more disciplined, financially prudent and focused on cost savings.

In an effort to address these concerns I attach a "Spend Analysis of Union County Government" based upon my review of 2005-2006 check registers that were obtained via OPRA requests. This pro bono and non-partisan analysis was prepared to 1) identify wasteful spending and purchasing practices of Union County government and 2) provide some insight and recommendations that, if implemented, will save the County (and taxpayers) millions of dollars annually. If you are really serious about achieving meaningful cost savings in county government I urge you to read this spend analysis and forward it to the appropriate Union County financial and procurement managers to act upon.

Regarding shared services....In order for Union County government to demonstrate to our over burdened taxpayers and dedicated municipal government leaders that shared services is a viable initiative you must first take steps to make cost savings a corner stone goal of county government leadership. Spending nearly $200,000 on your shared services commercial and promo mailer to publicize a $104,500 state grant for shared services did not send the right message! if you want to be perceived as a role model for cost savings and an innovative resource for municipalities to reduce the growing cost of government you need to make some hard decisions and take bold action to change from a mentality of business as usual to one of cost conscious and accountable government.

I hope you will consider the attached document with an open mind and I look forward to hearing from you.

View Spend Analysis of Union County Government by clicking HERE

John Marquardt
Retired Procurement Officer
Fanwood, NJ

November 03, 2006

Costs to taxpayers to date for incumbent Democrat freeholders fall campaign: $245,926

The Union County Republican Committee has issued a press release today stating that it has asked both the State and Federal governments to investigate the spending of tax dollars which promote incumbent freeholders at election time.

During the recent freeholder debate Freeholder Al Mirabella defended the practice of spending taxpayer money on mailers and commercials. Mirabella contends that they need to inform the public of services. Why they only need to inform the public of services at election time wasn’t mentioned. Mirabella also didn’t offer a reason why the county spent approximately twice as much touting their shared services initiative as the $102,000 State grant they received to explore ways to save money.

Pay close attention to the messages you get from Union County government and the timing of when you get them. After all, you are paying for them. Don't expect the freeholders to show you the bill or even tell you that they are behind it, but be sure that their pictures and names will be prominently featured in the hopes that you'll remember them in the election booth. I hope you remember them too, here they are again: Democrat Freeholders, Al Mirabella, Debora Scanlon and Chester Holmes.

The taxpayer costs to date for the Democrat freeholders fall campaign are $245,926. The following is a breakdown.

Union County Day at Trailside mailed 9/21/2006 featuring Al Mirabella:
Cost: $148.00
for postage (County claims that this piece was printed in-house therefore there are no costs associated with printing 500 4 color 2 sided glossy piece.)
View postage bill by clicking HERE.

Union County shared services program in which the freeholders tell us “We’re going to be even more connected to you”. Commercial which has been running these past weeks leading up to Election Day features Al Mirabella and Freeholder Daniel Sullivan who will be up for re-election next year when no doubt this same commercial will be run during the 2007 campaign season:
Cost: $159,925.
View commercial bill by clicking HERE.
View commercial by clicking HERE.

Shared Services mailer sent 10/12/2006 featuring Al Mirabella and Daniel Sullivan:
Cost: $32,369.42 for postage (County claims that this piece was printed in-house therefore there are no costs associated with printing 200,000 4 color 4 page glossy piece.)
View postage bill by clicking HERE.
View mailer by clicking HERE.

Senior News Letter featuring all 3 freeholders who are up for re-election and a mention of all 9 on the back.
Cost: $3,483.83 for postage mailed 10/20/2006 (County claims that this piece was printed in-house therefore there are no costs associated with printing approximately 13,350 of the 8 page news letter.)
View postage bill by clicking HERE.
View newsletter by clicking HERE.

Every household and business in Union County received a copy of the Union County Directions Newsletter this week. You receive two every year, one right before the primary and general elections.
Cost: Approximately $50,000 for the postage and printing. This piece is produced by county employees during their taxpayer funded work day.

November 3, 2006
Contact: Phil Morin – 908-451-4995

GOP Says Democrats Fail To Disclose
Use of Taxpayer Money to Pay for Political Mailings, TV Ad

Today, the Union County Republican Committee (“UCRC”) sent a formal request to the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) and the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (“ELEC”) for an investigation of the Democratic freeholder candidates’ last-minute mailers paid for with taxpayer dollars and the Union County Alliance’s failure to comply with FEC and ELEC regulations, including the failure to file as a continuing political committee under New Jersey election law. The UCRC alleges that the Democratic freeholder candidates violated election law by using taxpayer funds to fund a six-figure media campaign and that the Alliance’s blatant political mailer requires the Alliance to file with ELEC.

“It is beyond question that the Directions newspaper, shared services flyer and television ad violate ELEC regulations regarding political communications within 90 days of an election,” said Phil Morin, Union County Republican Chairman. “What’s worse is that this election time propaganda is paid for with taxpayers’ dollars.”

Late this week, county residents received a 24 page newspaper from the Union County Alliance, which is funded with taxpayer dollars and was found by the Government Records Council earlier this year to be subject to the Open Public Records Act because of their close links with the all-Democrat Union County government. The thinly-veiled campaign piece featured at least 12 photos of freeholder chairman Mirabella, and 10 photos of Deborah Scanlon, who is also up for reelection, and numerous articles touting the freeholders’ alleged “governmental or political objectives or achievements,” a clear violation of the political communications regulations.

Additionally, the inclusion of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s photo in the Directions newspaper raises the question of whether federal election law requirements were violated we are calling on the FEC to investigate this matter as well. “The inclusion of a candidate for federal elected office in the Alliance’s election eve newspaper appears to be a violation of federal election law which we will prosecute to the full extent of the law,” Morin said.

That same freeholder chairman is featured in a television ad that conveniently began to run this fall and is linked to the county’s web page at . Ironically, the brochure and the TV commercial highlight the County’s receipt of a $104,500 state grant for promotion of shared services. The all-Democrat freeholder board has spent over $200,000 – twice the amount of the grant -- promoting the fact that they received this grant, according to bills for postage, printing and production of a TV ad were paid for with taxpayer funds.

“The brochure, Directions publication and the television commercial are “political communications” under ELEC’s regulations, and the cost of these communications must be disclosed as “in-kind” contributions on their campaign reports by law. The Democratic freeholders failed to disclose these expenditures on their 29-day pre-election day October 2006 filing with ELEC, which is a violation of law. The Democrats could be facing thousands of dollars in fines from both the FEC and ELEC as a result of failure to report the misuse of taxpayer dollars to fund what is essentially campaign literature.

“It’s time for the County Democrats to stop using taxpayer’s hard-earned money to pay for trips to Chicago and Hawaii, for no-bid contracts for their relatives and for their political campaigns,” Morin said. “The all-Democrat Freeholder Board is spending over $1 million of our tax dollars a day, is it any wonder why Union County is one of the top ten highest taxed counties in the country?”

(See below for text of ELEC regulation regarding “political communications.” Copies of all alleged political communications and bills relating to mailer/TV ad available upon request.)
N.J.A.C. § 19:25-10.10 Political communication contributions
. . . .
(b) A written statement, pamphlet, advertisement or other printed or broadcast matter or statement, communication, or advertisement delivered or accessed by electronic means, including, but not limited to, the Internet, that does not contain an explicit appeal pursuant to (a) above for the nomination for election or for the election or defeat of a candidate shall be deemed to be a political communication if it meets the following conditions:

1. The communication is circulated or broadcast within 90 days of the date of any election in which the candidate on whose behalf the communication is made is seeking nomination for election or elected office; except that in the case of a candidate for nomination for the office of Governor in a primary election, the period of time that a communication shall be deemed political shall be on or after January 1st in a year in which a primary election for Governor is being conducted, and in the case of a candidate for election to the office of Governor in a general election, the period of time that a communication shall be deemed political shall begin on the day following the date of the gubernatorial primary election;

2. The communication is circulated or broadcast to an audience substantially comprised of persons eligible to vote for the candidate on whose behalf the communication was made;

3. The communication contains a statement or reference concerning the governmental or political objectives or achievements of the candidate; and

4. The production, circulation or broadcast of the communication, or any cost associated with the production, circulation or broadcast of the communication, has been made in whole or in part with the cooperation of, prior consent of, in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of the candidate.