December 10, 2006

Feeding at the public trough

There were 35 freeholder meetings scheduled for 2006. To date with 6 bills unaccounted for and 2 more meetings yet to happen taxpayers have picked up a $10,510.83 tab for 27 freeholder meeting refreshments.

On average this comes to $389.25 per meeting; $43.25 per freeholder. This doesn’t include miscellaneous bills for groceries at local supermarkets ($9,978.00) or bills for bottled water ($9,853.00 - What do the freeholder’s know about the drinking water in Union County that we don’t, and why aren’t they doing something about it?).

Dinner meetings of a public body of which there is a quorum and the public isn’t invited to attend and minutes aren’t kept are less than transparent. Who could believe that these elected officials are getting together before a meeting and not discussing public business?

There are many other ‘refreshment’ bills in the check registry and the Union County Watchdog Association will keep a monthly tab on these in 2007. A total for all catering bills marked ‘meeting or refreshment’ for the first three quarters of 2006 is $42,454.03.

Also not included in the above numbers are meeting refreshment bills that turn up under employee reimbursements. The UCWA doesn’t have hard numbers for these but here are some examples:

A staff meeting for a press conference for the Jets held in Berkeley Heights where the County Manager’s wife is the town administrator cost $286.63 at the Trap Rock Brewery in Berkeley Heights. There is another bill for $69.04 marked “lunch mts: Re: NJSEA also held in Berkeley Heights where the County Manager lives.

Freeholder Rick Proctor had a $49.00 room service breakfast at the Hyatt Regency on 2/18/06, since no one can eat a $49.00 breakfast alone, we have to assume he was meeting with someone.

The above numbers also don’t include the VIP catering for the so called “free” county concerts. The catering bill for the Music Fest where over 300 people attended the Freeholder’s VIP tent was never provided despite an OPRA request and inquires made during public comment at Freeholder meetings. The bill for the VIP tent alcohol hasn’t been provided to date either.