April 30, 2006

"They were sent there to harass us."

Union County spokeman, Sebastian D'Elia, denied taking pictures of women while harassing them at a polling station this past election day. The above is a picture of D'Elia taken by one of the women while he was taking pictures of them.

Thursday, April 27, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff
……..In a lingering issue from last week's school election, Nathalie Yafet has filed a police report about an incident that allegedly occurred outside a polling place at A. P. Morris School.
Yafet, whose husband, Steve, finished fourth with 629 votes in the school board race, charged she and former mayor Barbara Rowen were harassed by county employees supporting the rival Democratic slate of Daniels, Smith and Katina Ginyard.
She charged communications director Sebastian D'Elia confronted her and Rowen as they were handing out fliers and persisted at taunting them.
"Had they just come there and handed out their flyers, nothing would have happened," said Yafet. "They were sent there to harass us." Yafet said D'Elia accosted her and Rowen, and took pictures without consent of them with an unidentified voter. D'Elia, who denied the allegations .........Hillside Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo defended D'Elia.
"He is a friend who I sent out to help with a campaign," she said,.......

April 27, 2006.........I am submitting for the public record testimonials from county residents regarding the behavior of your PI department. Some of which accuse this department of outright harassment. I myself have been a victim of this harassment on 2 occasions. Both were witnessed. The head of this department has a salary and benefits package of well over one hundred thousand dollars. This is an executive’s salary and would be considered conduct unbecoming of an officer in the private sector.

We have a county government that has a public information machine that apparently exists to keep information away from the public and disengage them from the democratic process. This department appears to be an in-house campaign staff.

Tina Renna, Cranford

To the Editor:On Tuesday, April 18, 2006 I was handing out flyers for Yafet, Menza & Simmons for Board of Education at the A. P. Morris School polling place on Coe Avenue in Hillside. There were two other people there passing out materials for the opposition candidates. Late in the afternoon, they were joined by two county workers - James Pellettiere and Sebastian D’Elia. Mr. Pellettiere raised his voice to me several times, particularly after I had just spoken with a voter, but he did not threaten me nor did I feel threatened.

However, Mr. D’Elia began by taking an unsolicited photo of me and two other women. I told him that I did not want my picture taken and he replied, “Now I have all I need.” Then he continued harassing me and taunting me even going so far as to hint that he might try to get a friend of mine fired.

One of the women with me asked who he was and - since I had seen him last year at the same polling place bothering one of the mayoral candidates I knew who he was - I told her that he was Sebastian D’Elia. At this point, I was also extremely tired from having been there all afternoon in the sun and upset because Mr. D’Elia would not leave me alone, so in my response to my friend I added that he was, “The Lord High Minister of MIsinformation for Union County,” but that was the only “name” that I called him.

After this exchange, he followed after me when I went to speak to a voter, reached across to me while jabbing his hand towards me and said, “I ain’t through with you yet,” which I perceived as a direct threat especially in connection with the unsolicited photo.

I asked the other county worker for his name and he would not give it to me so my friend photographed this worker as well as Mr. D’Elia for identification purposes. He took additional unsolicited pictures of us as long as he remained at the polling place.

Mr. D’Elia went on a tirade, at one point, and called me an “idiot” and then remarked that he “loved lunatics like you because you help my people get elected.” He refused to stop the harassment, although we kept walking away from him and I asked him several times to leave us alone. Eventually, he got in his car and left but he yelled out the window at us as he drove away.

On Thursday, April 20 I made a report to the Hillside Police Department on Sebastian D’Elia’s harassment of me and his threats.

Election days do tend to bring out heightened behavior in people and I certainly understand that. However, there can be no excuse for D’Elia’s actions and his threats. And why are county workers sent to polling places to harass residents and voters? Are they being paid by taxpayer money to do this? If so, I am in the ironic position of reimbursing Mr. D’Elia for harassing me during the last school board election.

Nathalie Yafet, Hillside

Open Letter to the Union County Freeholders,
In the Fall of 2002, Freeholder Nicholas Scutari sent the residents of Roselle a letter assuring them that the county had no intention of reactivating the defunct Staten Island Line. County Manager Devaney, and Chairwoman Scanlon are quoted in newspaper articles assuring residents that the County would not go against the will of the governing bodies of the 8 affected municipalities regarding the M & E Freight taking over the line. During that period of time, Sebastian D'Elia was also quoted in newspapers denying any intention of the freight line reactivation. All these people publicly contradicted the fact that the contract with M & E Freight line was signed by the Board of Freeholders in May, 2002. I question how D'Elia let all the newspaper articles quote these people promoting lies regarding the M & E freight line. Is D'Elia the problem or has D'Elia become a problem because of the nature of what is required of his office by his superiors?

The mayors of the towns began to realize that the county was not telling them the truth about their dealings with Gordon Fuller of the Morristown & Eire Railine. Mayor Croteau of Roselle called me and asked if I would serve as the Roselle member of the Coalition formed by citizens of the towns to STOP this freight line. I agreed to serve.

As part of the effort to stop this freight reactivation, the Coalition began getting signatures on petitions against this county contract which paid M & E more than 10 million dollars to use the 23 acres of right of way in Roselle alone. The borough provided a booth at the street fair in Roselle that Spring to inform citizens what was happening and to have them sign the petition. Sebastian D'Elia made his rounds at the Fair, observing the large number of residents at our booth. He began screaming at me saying, "Why don't you go back to Kenilworth where you belong! These people aren't against the train!" His tirade continued as he ran from our booth. I tried to tell him that I am where I belong. I have lived in Roselle for 30 years. There was no dialogue, just his shouting me down. We, the citizens of Roselle, were obviously doing something unacceptable.

This is very bizarre and intimidating behavior for a county employee, especially since he is on the payroll for disseminating correct information to the people of Union County. He is not supposed to be paid for promoting the party line, right or wrong. His public behavior is unacceptable.

Arlene Murphy, Roselle

The Westfield Leader November 3, 2005

Letter to the editor:

I sat in awe (at the Union County Candidates Forum) as I watched some terrible behavior, not from the candidates, but from the audience. One guy kept coughing and making some very rude comments with others about other people who were there. Then after the debate was over, these same people went to speak with the Democrats, and I saw them speaking with them in the parking lot outside.

Why do the Democrats have to stage the audience?

Did you have someone covering this debate? Did they see the same thing?

Kurt Mueller, Cranford

Publisher's Note: Our reporter noted harassment of Mrs. Tina Renna at the forum by those believed working for the DEM Campaign. Her husband Joe Renna chased these individuals to their car after the event without further incident.

A chronicle of harassment:
While attending the freeholder debate held in Cranford in 2005 I was harassed by county public information department employees.

One employee sat directly behind me and insistently made comments about myself and my family and other things that were incoherent. A reporter who was sitting right in front of me heard the whole encounter and this was reported in the Westfield Leader. I wondered why a public information department employee would behave so badly right in front of the press.

At the end of the debate several of these employees posed for pictures while standing behind me and making faces and comments. The harassment only stopped when my husband entered the room. This was also witnessed by a reporter and an Editor from Worrall Community Newspapers. The public information department apparently had no fear of the media exposing their bad behavior nor did they care that there were approximately 200 people in the room including 4 freeholders.

Harassment while recently obtaining OPRA records in the county administration building:
When viewing public records in the county administration building recently Seb D’Elia made several passes through the freeholder room where I was seated. When I was paying for the records Seb passed by Clerk Marlena Russo’s desk and said “Hang in their Marlena” as if to imply I was causing a problem. When I was waiting for the elevator D’Elia came into the hallway and said to me “Who are you going to sue next?”.

This was all witnessed by a friend who accompanied me that day.

Tina Renna, Cranford

Dear Editor,
An article by Joe Ryan about Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) president, Tina Renna, and the county rule which violates the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) did not substantiate the facts. County spokesman, Sebastian D'Elia is not the person to call to verify information about County problems. The Ledger has to back up what D'Elia claims with pertinent records. Ryan took D'Elia's word in preparing this article. This is unfortunate since D'Elia is the PR person the County uses for all kinds of political promos. Do reporters skirt getting Open Public Records concerning facts in their stories because the Union County information office makes it difficult and expensive to obtain them?

The County is actually saving time and money because of the UCWA. Instead of many citizens requesting the documents from the county, they can become informed, free of charge, harassment, and aggravation, by clicking on the UCWA Website (unioncountywatchdog.org). Anyone wanting to know who is wasting County money should check the salaries of D'Elia and his large staff on the UCWA Website. Tina Renna, by requesting information from the county information office makes the staff work for the UC citizens, not for county political campaigns, preparing fliers, press releases, mailings, etc. During the last election year, my family received 32 lbs. of campaign mail.

In the past I requested OPRA records concerning the County contract with the M & E freight line running through 8 UC towns. Sebastian D'Elia called me at work asking me a number of questions, including why I wanted these records. Thank you, Tina Renna and the UCWA for challenging these OPRA policies as applied here in Union County.

Richard Lenihan, Roselle

Hi Tina,
Please note the following PR message that I received from Union County in response to my request for copies of their 2005 financial statements and 2006 budget. A simple request-- but a long-winded B.S. response that now requires me to submit an OPRA request. Now I see what you have been going through!

Stay well, and keep up the great work!

John Marquardt, Fanwood
----- Original Message -----
From: Sebastian Delia
Sent: Thursday, February 23, 2006 11:47 AM
Subject: RE: Union County 2005 Financial Reports and 2006 Budget

Dear Mr. Marquardt:
Thanks for writing with your concerns about government. The documents you are seeking are available through the Clerk of the Board’s Office by filing an OPRA form. The Clerk’s number is 908-527-4140
We agree with the fact that New Jersey’s over-reliance on property taxes continues to hit homeowners hardest.
During the past five years, the inequities and inadequacies of this regressive system have been exacerbated by an enormous increase in mandated governmental costs. At the same time, State and Federal aid to local governments has remained flat or in some instances decreased. As a result, all County and Municipal governments across New Jersey have struggled with balancing their budgets, and homeowners, regardless of their situations, have borne the brunt of an unfortunate set of consequences.
Governor Jon Corzine has said he wants to hold a special legislative session and a constitutional convention to finally address the property tax problem in our state. We have pledged to work as partners in any effort to reform the property tax system, and over the past year, have asked Union County taxpayers to support a constitutional convention. Meanwhile, structural budgetary problems persist.
Unfortunately, this has become an all too common problem at all levels of government throughout the state: we are facing down a $23 million increase in appropriations mostly due to uncontrollable mandated costs.
Our increases include:
 A $6 million increase in health insurance.
 A more than $3 million increase in pensions.
 A $4.2 million increase in contractual salaries.
 A $1.8 million increase in public safety and correctional services.
 A $1.2 million increase in the Welfare program.
 A more than $2 million increase in operational costs, including utility, lease and energy costs.
While the problems have become common, our plan to address this year’s budget is not.
This will not be a budget without pain and hard choices. We asked every department to put all options on the table during our budget hearings.
The way to address this budget will have to be with an eye toward sacrifices across the board coupled with innovative revenue enhancers.
Thus far, the following steps have been taken administratively:
We started by continuing many of the reforms we have initiated during the past few years including the vacation buy back program, and a re-implementation of the employee furlough program. Under the employee furlough program, we will ask employees to take two days without pay---Department Directors and Freeholders have also agreed to participate.
Upon consultation with the Freeholder Chairman and the Fiscal Committee, we implemented a hiring freeze effective for positions funded by County tax dollars, with the exception of essential and emergency positions. The freeze will be ongoing throughout the budgetary process.
Working with our Department Directors, we will identify $6 million in annualized program cuts. During the budget hearings, we will look at each and every program with a goal of minimizing any potential layoffs. Many tough decisions will be made, and we look forward to active budget hearings and presenting the Freeholder Board with as many cost-saving options as possible.
Additionally, We’ve spoken with our state legislators to work on legislation that would allow counties to once again offer an early retirement program. In order for any early retirement program to have a long-lasting financial impact on government, it will have to be coupled with the elimination of positions.
While working to save tax dollars, we also will examine ways that would enhance our revenues, including sponsorships and private partnerships. Some revenue-raising ideas we will explore include the sale of several County-owned properties, sponsorship opportunities involving our parks facilities and vehicles, advertising, and vending machines as a way to provide service to people using our facilities and generate revenues.
We are also re-examining all of our fee structures throughout the County to realize additional revenues.
We will continue to use economic development as a tool to build an increased tax base. We have worked to jumpstart more than $5 billion in private investments over the past decade in Union County. For most of us, our most significant investment is in our homes.
The good news is we have succeeded in doubling our ratable base over the past decade, and this has led to a 77 percent increase in home values over the past five years alone. This has enabled us to once again reduce the tax rate from .36 cents per $100 to .34 cents per $100. However, as homeowner property values increase, so does the burden of property taxes.

April 28, 2006

Renna: County Taxes, Employees Out of Control

Public Comment to the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders April 27, 2006
Tina Renna, President, Union County Watchdog Association, Inc.

In his inaugural address, Gov. Jon Corzine said ethics reform is his top priority.

Corzine then asked for the resignations of 463 political employees. Many were public information officers.

Your budget and our taxes are about to increase again without one county job, raise or perk turned in. You certainly didn’t cut back on your mailings and TV commercials at election time in 2005, which cost the taxpayers over three hundred thousand dollars and resulted in ELEC complaints being filed against the democrat freeholder campaign, which are still pending.

The ELEC complaint didn’t keep you from continuing this abuse of the public trust into 2006 as is evidenced in Freeholder Al Mirabella’s recent mailing in Berkeley Heights which cost $630.00 for postage. You claim that there was no cost for printing this piece because it was done in house by the county. You’ve claimed this with most of your past mailings. You’ve also claimed this about a billboard sized portrait of the freeholders which is on your public information van. This portrait was changed several times in 2004 when freeholders were replaced right before the election.

Like Corzine, the county should first cut costs by making ethics reform a top priority and cut your public information department. It is this department’s job to inform the public about county services, yet they won’t inform the taxpayers about their own departmental costs which ultimately deflects money away from other services.

These employees were frequently on the campaign trail in recent years during and after business hours, as well as on the ELEC reports as getting paid as much as $1,250 for get-out-the-vote efforts.

When I asked for the budget of this department I was told it would take forensic accounting and the county would charge me $30 an hour for the service, which in the end the number would be the best guess of the department’s head.

We have a county government that has a public information machine that apparently exists to keep information away from the public and disengage them from participating in keeping an eye on county government.

There are nine freeholders yet they churn out press releases featuring only the three freeholders and other incumbent elected officials who are up for reelection, as can be found on the county Web site - as well as produce the 30-minute infomercial called 'Freeholder Forum' which usually stars a campaigning freeholder. I have statistically proven, going on 4 years now, that this practice is true.

This department appears to be an in-house campaign staff.

Speaking of campaigning, you have also refused to give a full accounting of the long-standing no-bid contract with the firm Media Squared, Inc. The county has been awarding the same $72,000 annual contract for creative consulting services for at least eight years, as well as paid millions of dollars for the actual work they produced in the form of marketing pieces and commercials which are released mostly during the campaign season. Several of these mailers, also resulted in ELEC complaints being filed against the democrat freeholder campaign in 2005 and are still pending.

MediaSquared has also done work for the freeholders' campaign, which is no wonder that the taxpayer-funded pieces look exactly like the campaign pieces sent out by the Democrat freeholder candidates. A recipient would have to look very closely to tell if the message was coming from their county government or from a campaign committee. Taxpayers have to wonder if the freeholders are getting their campaign work produced at a reduced fee by this firm because the taxpayers are paying them $6,000 a month for unspecified consulting work.

Documents obtained through OPRA have shown no description of these creative consulting services. A proposal dated March 9, 2005, consists of just four short paragraphs which Freeholder Chairman Rick Proctor states that this no-bid contract was awarded for monthly creative consulting.

Another document states "The services to be offered by MediaSquared, Inc., are based on the extensive involvement with the County of Union in the planning and development of a marketing plan for the county. An OPRA request for the marketing plan mentioned was returned "document does not exist."

I would doubt that even a major corporation could award a $72,000 no-bid contract for creative consulting services without a concrete marketing plan, proposal or contract specifically outlining what the company could expect for their money. The Union County taxpayers deserve to know exactly what the county is being consulted about for $6,000 a month. Perhaps there is a crumb of advice in there that would benefit a local business.

MediaSquared states in a certification: "This firm specializes in assisting government sector organizations like yours explain the process of government to its constituencies and make public services more readily accessible to the people who need them the most."

What the constituency needs explained by Union County government is this $72,000 annual creative consulting service as well as the costs of the Public Information Department. You should also cut out the three hundred thousand plus per year taxpayer-funded campaign pieces.

I am submitting for the public record testimonials from county residents regarding the behavior of your public information department. Some of which accuse this department of outright harassment. I myself have been a victim of this harassment on two occasions. Both were witnessed. The head of this department has a salary and benefits package of well of one hundred thousand dollars. This is an administrative salary and would be considered conduct unbecoming of an officer in the private sector. Also attached is an email from seb D’Elia to a Ledger reporter in which he states absolute lies about my quests for public information.

It is disingenuous to call this department ‘Public Information’. If you truly wanted the public informed and engaged you would:

• Release and post meeting agendas on your website at least 48 prior to a meeting. Post meeting minutes in a timely fashion, as the Union County Watchdog Association has been doing for you.

• Release Video tapes of freeholder meetings to the public access cable stations as they’ve been in the past. Freeholder Angel Estrada was quoted in a Westfield Leader article in August 2005 as having said that the reason they don’t release VHS tapes to be aired on cable any longer is because of the poor quality of the recordings of the meetings. If the freeholders can tape their freeholder forum and not only release it to the public, but advertise the show on the county website, then there is no excuse for not taping freeholder meetings. I’ve acquired 3 VHS tapes of freeholder meetings through OPRA. They are all of excellent quality. Bruce Paterson especially comes across clearly in every one.

• Public Information would include a system for the public to actually get information. Freeholders do not answer questions at meetings, emails to the info address on your website are returned with instructions to place an OPRA request and a long list of excuses as to why the county finances are a mess; If a question can’t be answed with a document than it isn’t answered. It is inexcusable to have a huge Public Information Department yet residents can’t have questions answered. Some questions of mine that have not been answered:

• The Public Information Departments budget
• Why there is a hand check registry and why it has not been presented when I asked for “the check registry”
• Why are county employees who no longer in your employ still listed on the county employee list? Does this mean that new employees aren’t listed? Does this list reflect all raises?
• How many third time D.W.I. prisoners were released from the county jail without permission of their sentencing judge? Did a county employee receive special treatment this past summer by being allowed to go home on a wristlet program? Why was this county employee held in the medial department of the jail yet two prisoners recently suffered very preventable deaths because they couldn’t get medical attention? Another 22 year old prisoner had to have his voice box removed because his cancer went untreated.
• A full accounting of the long-standing no-bid contract with the firm Media Squared, Inc. The county has been awarding the same $72,000 annual contract for creative consulting services for at least eight years, as well as paid millions of dollars for the actual work they produced in the form of marketing pieces and commercials which are released mostly during the campaign season. Several of these mailers, as well as the commercial and some letters produced by the PI department, resulted in ELEC complaints being filed by the Republican challengers in 2005.

All of these questions reflect on your budget and the resident’s tax burden. The fact that you will not answer to them shows you are not committed to providing the public with ‘true’ information just propaganda.

Reigning in all of the above abuses of the public trust would no doubt result in at least a $1.5 million reduction in the budget and restore some integrity to Union County government.

All freeholder seats are at-large and it is a fact that you do not win elections in the majority of the towns. On average you are elected by just 21 percent of the voting public. Most people don’t vote for you, you win because most people are disenfranchised and don’t vote at all. In this respect your office of public information has been very successful. You have disengaged the public which results in a 9-0 democrat lock on this board and our taxes spinning out of control.

April 23, 2006

Caught: Devine $limes Taxpayers (Again)

As reported in the Progress
Wednesday, April 19, 2006 1:40 PM EDT

District overpays for advertisement
By Kitty Wilder, Managing Editor
RAHWAY, NJ - The Rahway school district paid nearly double what it was required to advertise its 2006-07 school budget in a local newspaper in March.

The district paid Devine Media Enterprises Inc., publisher of the News Record, $730.02 to legally advertise the budget March 23. According to state law, and based on circulation numbers provided by publisher James Devine, the advertisement should have cost $432.64.
Fees for public notice advertisements are calculated according to state law. Rates determined by the law ensure that municipal, county and school governing bodies are protected when providing information to the public.

Public notice advertising provides citizens with information before a governing body votes on a matter. The advertisements are meant to provide citizens with time to research and question an action before it is taken.

Rates for public notice advertisements are calculated based on a newspaper’s paid circulation, a number figured annually by all newspapers.

Devine said Tuesday his weekly newspaper’s paid circulation was approximately 13,000 last year.

Based on that circulation and according to the law, Devine should have charged the district $0.35 per line of type for advertising the budget.

Calculations show Devine charged $0.59 per line — a rate that is used by newspapers with a circulation of 100,000.

The width of a line is determined by law. Lines are measured by a unit called a pica — equal to one-sixth of an inch — and must be 8 picas wide.

Devine declined to comment on the cost of the budget notice, saying he hadn’t seen the advertisement. He also declined to examine the advertisement in order to determine if there was a discrepancy in the rates.

Devine refused to comment on whether he considered himself familiar with the law.

School Business Administrator Albert DiGiorgio was unaware of any disparity in advertising costs. He said the Rahway school district has used the News Record for public notices for at least the 20 years he has worked in the district.

The district uses Devine’s newspaper because state law says a district must use a newspaper published in the municipality, DiGiorgio said.

According to the New Jersey Press Association, the law states that school budget information must be published “in at least one newspaper published in the district.”

DiGiorgio said last week he had questioned the News Record’s rates after the Rahway City Council confirmed in 2004 that Devine had been overcharging the city for public notice advertisements. But he again said he was bound by the law.

“I’d rather not use it (the News Record), but I have no choice,” DiGiorgio said, adding Tuesday that he planned to discuss the charges with the school district’s attorney and with Devine.

The Rahway City Council hasn’t published public notices in the News Record since 2004, when the council determined Devine Media had overcharged the municipality.

Managing Editor Kitty Wilder can be reached at 908-686-7700, ext. 127, or theprogress@thelocalsource.com.

Note: Devine Media was paid at least $17,620.34 by the County of Union in 2005.

April 20, 2006

County Budget Waste - Even on the Paper It's Printed

Someone recently gave me a copy of the publication Union County Government 2006 Executive Budget. Long an advocate of smaller government and fiscal responsibility, I immediately knew right off the bat that I wouldn’t have to look too far to find one place to save a few taxpayer bucks.

The Annual Report for AT&T is Only 63 Pages!!

Weighing in at almost three pounds, 219 pages in length and bound with a plastic fastener, the tome is a detailed guide of how our county government is structured, the services provided, a rundown of the accomplishments each department has managed to pull off this past year and how they intended to spend the taxpayer’s money this coming year.

Wedding Invitations

As I paged through it I couldn’t help but be impressed by the quality of the stock that was used. Expensive wedding invitations came to mind. As I reviewed it I realized that there was so much blank space on the pages, some contained only one or two words, that a talented calligrapher or engraver could probably pump out a couple of dozen invites from the clean areas not having to be to careful because the backs of the pages were blank as well.

Very Large Print

Another interesting aspect is that I could actually read this thing without my eyeglasses - and truth be told, at my stage of the game, I now need my specs to read anything smaller than a 16-pt font. Just think of the large print Readers Digest in the local eye man’s office and you will get the idea.

Now, I do believe that there are requirements that the county government has to fulfill, regarding the content, when releasing the proposed budget to the public. I seriously doubt that those requirements include specifications about the weight of the paper, the font size and that the department reports must be separated by sheets of actual cardboard.

Doing Things in a Big Way

It occurred to me that this publication is indicative of how our Union County Freeholders waste money. After all, why use a report folder with built-in Acco fastener from Staples when a printing job can be awarded to a favored, connected, commercial printer possibly from outside Union County?

No Cost???

The other alternative is that the County produced this publication by what they call “in-house” means, doing it at what they say is at “no cost.” But is it really at no cost? After all, the stock and ink aren’t free nor is the electricity to run the duplicating equipment - not to mention the cost of the man hours which see this project through from cradle to grave.

Disappointing if one expected some cut backs.....

Anyway you look at it, the county budget is loaded with waste, spending has not been curtailed one bit, salaries plus overtime account for 39 percent of the budget (the same as last year), parks and facilities management increased 100.5 percent and debt service is up 3 percent over 2005 - yet they keep borrowing. Go figure.

The real story is in the anticipated revenues with grant monies down $14.5 million from last year and the surplus dwindling. They had to get the money from some place so they hit the taxpayers for an additional $12 million this year. They are also counting on increased income from investments from $900,000 in 2005 to $2 million in 2006. Wish I had that crystal ball.

Seven Pages

By the way, the Executive Budget actually contains seven pages of financial information, notably the proposed budget from County Manager George Devanney.

April 11, 2006

Freeholders, Booze and Public Safety

In a press release issued by the New Jersey State Police in November 2005, 270 of the 731 motor vehicle fatalities in New Jersey in 2004 were alcohol-related. That comprises 37 percent of the total number of deaths.

Nationally, impaired drivers kill over 17,000 people each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 97 percent of Americans view drinking and driving by others as a threat to their families and themselves and they support tougher enforcement.

Last week in a press release published in a few local papers titled “Parents, assume the worst when it comes to alcohol” Freeholder Chairman and candidate Al Mirabella emphasized the importance of the issue of underage drinking. He gives us a number to call to find out more information about this issue.

This would be laudable if Mirabella would offer county residents some explanation as to why a county employee serving time in the Union County jail for his third D.W.I. conviction was inappropriately let out of jail this past summer.

According to a court transcript obtained by the Union County Watchdog Association - which can be viewed at www.unioncountywatchdog.org/docs/macdermant.pdf - Judge Walter Barisonek ruled that county employee Thomas MacDermant was allowed to leave jail on a wristlet without the permission of his sentencing judge. The New Jersey Law Journal reported this on Monday, March 13.

The transcript states that MacDermant was sentenced to a mandatory 180 days in the Union County jail by Judge Jones out of the Roselle Municipal Court.

The Judge received an anonymous letter informing her of MacDermant’s freedom. She then had him re-arrested, sent back to jail and, as usual, the taxpayers had to pick up the tab for legal fees stemming from the county’s mismanagement. To dat, $10,000 has been appropriated in resolutions.

If MacDermant was given special privileges by being released remains to be seen. An Open Public Records Act request, in an attempt by the Union County Watchdog Association to investigate how many third time D.W.I. defenders were allowed to go home and attend AA meetings of their own free will, would cost $364 for the public to obtain these records.

Contrary to what's been reported in the Star-Ledger, the UCWA does not get any information for free out of the county and this is a perfect example of why a media commited to the community they serve, and not the politicians paying their advertising rates, is so important.

During a public comment portion of a freeholder meeting, I attempted to ask questions about this incident and Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella had not a word for me. So much for public information.

In Union County, by statute, it is the freeholders who hire and appoint the county manager. They also hire the warden to run the county jail. Therefore it is the Freeholders, particularly the chairman, who is responsible for this inappropriate freedom for D.W.I. offenders. The fact that he has offered no explanation for this transgression is outrageous. God forbid someone would have been hurt by this prisoner while he was allowed to go free. How many lawsuits stemming from management incompetance can the taxpayers bear?

How hypocritical for Mirabella to be going about campaigning on the abuses of alcoholism and the problems it causes society when his very administration is hindering an investigation into how many D.W.I. offenders are allowed to go free in Union County.

As usual, where is the Star-Ledger on this?

April 06, 2006

Public Info Officer Doesn't Like You Asking for Public Info

In an article published in the Cranford Chronicle this week - "Resident sues over access to records" - Union County Public Information Officer Sebastian D’Elia complains that I’ve placed 150 Open Public Records Act requests in the years 2003 to 2005 which amounted to 366 pieces of information.

The county doesn’t simply answer questions. If a citizen contacts the county for information they will direct you to place an OPRA request. Ask too many questions and they turn the tables and start complaining about you.

You would think it's their money and not the taxpayers'.

Without questioning D’Elia’s math or his job title, consider that in 2005 I placed 106 OPRA requests for meeting agendas and regular and executive meeting minutes.

Times that by three years and the number comes to 318 pieces of information.

If the county is over-burdened by these requests then there is a simple solution: they can post this basic public information on their own taxpayer-funded Web site as many local governments have been doing for years.

If county employees are spending time fulfilling my OPRA "demands" it’s because they waste their time and taxpayers' money on trying to keep information from me as evidenced in the 15 Government Records Council complaints I’ve had to file to date.

Taxpayers please rest assured that I’ve gotten not one public record for free from the county. I pay $0.75 per sheet of paper. A recent court ruling found this fee to be illegal. The judge ruled that Kinko’s charges $0.60 cents per copy and it was wrong for the government to charge $0.75.

The fee set by OPRA was ment to be "up to .75". The juge ruled OPRA fees have to be based on actual costs minus labor. According to this ruling, I have been overcharged all these years.

Besides monitoring county government by reading meeting minutes, the Union County Watchdog Association uses OPRA to monitor the following:

We request the employee list six times a year. Along with keeping track of raises and hirings, last year we found that Freeholder Louis Mingo was quietly placed on the payroll with a $65,000 job.

We also found that 542 employees have the same surname as elected Democrat officials.

We request the county check registry six times a year. There isn’t enough space here to quantify the information this has revealed regarding county spending practices.

This cost the taxpayers nothing. The UCWA paid $277.60 for a service charge the county applied in order to convert this data file into a format that they deemed could be released to the public.

During the course of the price negotiations for this fee, we learned that the county kept more than one set of books.

We request the employee vehicle assignments twice a year. Last year we found that the County Manager was driving a Chevy Suburban. Also on that list were three freeholders who are part-time employees, enjoying take home vehicles. After the Star-Ledger published a story about this abuse, the three freeholders turned their cars in.

A follow-up request for the vehicle list showed the County Manager turned his Suburban in for an even bigger gas guzzler, a Ford Durango.

Every month we request all documentation from the state regarding the county-run Juvenile Detention Center. Recently records have revealed that the county is still ignoring suicide hazards cited by the state. A lawsuit has been ongoing regarding a 17 year-old who hanged himself on an exposed sprinkler head that was cited by the state as a suicide hazard yet went unrepaired for 17 months prior to his death in 2003.

Bi-monthly we request bills pertaining to mailers the county sends to residents. These records revealed last year alone the county government spent approximately $367,000 on mailings and a commercial at election time.

We’ve just begun to monitor the autonomous Union County Improvement and Utilities Authorities by routinely requesting their regular and executive meeting minutes.

All of these records, and more, are made available on the Union County Watchdog Association’s website for free public access so anyone can monitor county government. www.UnionCountyWatchdog.org

D’Elia claims that I’ve filed frivolous OPRA Government Records Council complaints. However, the GRC did not find my complaints frivolous. They ruled that the county violated the OPRA five times, placed them on their matrix which is a list of frequent OPRA offenders three times and sent one complaint to the Office of Administrative Law.

D’Elia also claims that there was never an OPRA complaint filed against the county except by me. However, the GRC Web site lists a complaint filed in 2003 and just this past Friday an OPRA suit was heard in Union County Superior Court and Judge Kathern Broch ordered the county to release records from a police investigation stemming from a prisoner's painful death, in his jail cell, in 2005.

It’s a tedious task demanding county government be open and accountable to residents and I consider it a public service - not a nuisance as the county would like the public to believe.

My hope is that the public will come to realize that the county takes approximately a quarter of our property tax bill which is about as much as our town takes from us here in Cranford. Look around you. What do we get back from the county for those millions?

OPRA is a wonderful tool for citizens to hold their government accountable. It's not a perfect law, it deffinetly needs more teeth for custodians to obey it to the fullest. And OPRA may not stop politicians, but it certainly does expose them.

April 05, 2006

'Big Government' Means Big Bucks for the Media

While discussing my disappointment with the media last week with a Democrat official, I was told, "Tina, just look at how much money the county gives the Star-Ledger. It's a business, honey."

2005 Media pay-outs as recorded in the Union County Check Registry

NJN Publishing (a division of Star-Ledger).......................11,541.78
North Jersey Newspaper (Suburban News a division of Star-Ledger).18,669.95
La Voz...........................................................42,399.73
Union County Alliance Directions Newsletter......................27,500.00
Devine [The Slime] Media.........................................17,620.34
Westfield Leader..................................................9,603.76
Worrall Commumity Newspapers.....................................8,957.08
Courier News......................................................8,485.97
Union County Voice................................................7,715.00
New Jersey Monthly................................................7,170.00
New York Times....................................................4,819.00
Home News Tribune.................................................1,946.96
Nursing Spectrum..................................................1,936.40
The Washington Post...............................................1,592.86
Union County Women's..............................................1,185.30
NJ Associaiton of Counties........................................1,050.00
Hospital News.....................................................1,020.00
Applied Recruitment.................................................700.00
Art Pride NJ........................................................650.00
The Informer........................................................320.00

This list does not include advertisements placed by event organizers. It also excludes advertisments placed by Union County College.

A detailed listing of the above can be found at http://unioncountywatchdog.org/docs/2005MediaPayOffs.pdf

This research was brought to you by the Union County Watchdog Association. In 2005 the UCWA obtained an electronic copy of the Union County Check registry by paying a fee deemed necessary by the county to redact information before releasing it to the public.

Research such as this can now be easily done by concerned citizens.

The check registry can be viewed on our Web site free of charge to the public at large. www.unioncountywatchdog.org

......“There is no such thing, at this date in the world’s history, as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinion, and if you did, you know beforehand it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with.

Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before 24 hours, my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. We are tools and vessels for rich men behind the scenes.

Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men and politicians. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

Today, some 40 years later, nothing has changed with the “mainstream” media. The plutocrats who control the press let us know only what they want us to know. They keep us in the dark and feed us garbage!

John Swinton, former executive of The New York Times, called by his peers, “the Dean of His Profession,” delivered this speech to the New York Press Club in 1953.

April 03, 2006

A County Hiring Freeze? When Hell Freezes Over

The Star-Ledger reported in Janurary that the County of Union had enacted a "hiring freeze."

The freeze was reported to prohibit departments from creating new positions or from filling any vacancies other than those left by emergency workers.

It’s been brought to the Union County Watchdog Association’s attention that this freeze was nothing more than a PR gimmick. The labor of personnel Web site shows several Union County positions are to be filled.


County declares a freeze on hiring
Mandated expenses are cited as problem
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Star-Ledger Staff

Union County is instituting its first hiring freeze in seven years, hoping to stabilize costs as officials begin work on the 2006-07 budget.
The freeze, announced Tuesday, prohibits departments from creating new positions or from filling any vacancies other than those left by emergency workers.
The measure stems from rising costs, including health care, pensions and energy, County Manager George Delaney said in a statement.
"These are mandated costs we must pay, and they are getting more expensive every year," Devanney said. "While we are examining and debating the new budget, we should be doing so in a prudent manner while maintaining a stable workforce total."
The county currently employs about 3,000 full- and part-time employees, compared with about 3,500 five years ago.
Taxes, however, have ballooned 40 percent since 2000. The county budget climbed from $306 million in 2000 to $390 million in 2005.
Devanney will submit his proposed budget for the 2006-07 fiscal year to the freeholder board later this month. County spokesman Sebastian D'Elia said it's too soon to predict the size of this year's increase.
"It is sizable enough for us to do something about it," he said.
Union County Republican chairman Phil Morin called the hiring freeze a step in the right direction.
"But I'd like to see the details and see if there would be true cost savings to taxpayers," he said.
D'Elia said figures were not yet available.
The freeze applies to all positions funded by county tax dollars. Several departments will be permitted to fill vacancies, including the office of emergency management, the county police department and Runnells Specialized Hospital, D'Elia said.
It took effect Tuesday and will continue until the freeholder board adopts a budget in the spring. Before voting on the budget, the board will hold public hearings.
"We will continue to seek ways to cut costs and come up with a budget that is honest, fair and humane," board chairman Al Mirabella said.