May 31, 2006

Top 10 list of things taxpayers can do without

On June 8 the Union County freeholders will be adopting a budget which will once again raise property taxes without quitting spending more money. In the past freeholders have ominously threatened “If you want us to cut spending, then tell us where we should cut, senior services, safety services?”
Here’s the Union County Watchdog Association’s top 10 list of things freeholders can cut in 2006 and residents won’t miss a bit.

1) Pay to play – adopt a resolution banning it

Countless dollars could be saved if ‘extraordinary and unspecifiable service contracts’ were sent out to bid instead of being given to campaign contributors.

2) Pension padding – adopt a resolution banning it

In 2005 the county hired Gov. Richard Codey’s brother. Although they could have had Robert Codey for free with the state picking up his salary, Union County supplemented his pay by $46,731 putting his total salary at $140,000. This boosted his pension to about $33,000 dollars more than what he would have been eligible for had he retired a year earlier. After working a short time in the prosecutor’s office, Codey retired at the age of 55 with an annual pension of $98,000, automatic annual cost of living adjustments and health insurance throughout his retirement.

3) County vehicles – sell them.

There are approximately 163 employees with 24-hour car privileges with gas, insurance and maintenance provided by taxpayers. There are very few county employees that need a car to get them to work in an emergency. The county manager isn’t one of them. George Devanney is not certified in any emergency management techniques. There is no good reason why he and most other county workers can't drive their own vehicles to and from work, during lunch time and especially after hours.

4) Gas pumps – close them

The county spent approximately $182,000 on gas in 2005. The county claim’s that there is no paper trail for a citizen to inquire about employee’s individual gas consumption. With taxpayers paying about $3.00 a gallon for their own gas, the county needs to adopt a system where gas fill-ups can be accounted for - or better yet - stop the perk.

5) Blackberry’s

Most executives in major corporations aren’t given blackberry’s at company expense. In 2005 the taxpayers paid $61,656.42 for county ‘public servants’ to have this gadget.

6) Cell Phones and Pagers – hang them up

In 2005 over 7-million tax dollars were spent on Union County phone services. Divide that by 2,981 county employees and it comes to $2,349.86 per employee. Privileges are clearly being abused with $249,346.92 being spent for employee cell phones and $25,578.00 on pagers.

7) Home Internet Service – unplug it

In 2005 $60,469.11 was spent on internet service. Many county employees have their home internet service paid for by the taxpayers.

8) Creative consulting services

The county has been awarding the same $72,000 annual contract for creative consulting services for at least nine years, as well as paid millions of dollars for the actual work which was produced in the form of marketing pieces and commercials which are released mostly during the campaign season (see #9). MediaSquared, Inc. also does work for the Union County Democratic Committee for freeholder campaigns. We 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 undocumented consulting work.

9) Mailings and commercials at election time

Freeholders spent over $375,000 on mailings and commercials in 2005. Most featured freeholders who were up for reelection and resulted in ELEC complaints which are still pending. As if this wasn’t humiliation enough for taxpayers the freeholders continued this practice into 2006.

10) Raises & nepotism & cronyism – oh my!

In 2000, 868 employees made over $50,000. Today that number has almost doubled to 1,530 employees. In 2000, 29 employees made over $100,000. Today that number has almost tripled to 74. We find it to be no small coincidence that there are 542 employees who have the same surnames as elected Democrat officials. We can’t say for sure that all these people are related, but we can say for sure that we have no way of knowing how many cousins, in-laws, etc. with different surnames are on the payroll. An example of this is the appointed county manager, George Devanney. He is the nephew of State Senator Raymond Lesniak. Devanney’s mother-in-law is on the county payroll. All three have different surnames.

May 27, 2006

“Walk the Walk and not just Talk the Talk”

The Number 1 issue in last years gubernatorial campaign was property taxes, and according to the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute the lack of any forth coming relief is a key factor in our governor’s slumping approval ratings. It seems that eighty-four percent of voters polled said that property tax reform proposals during last year’s campaign season proved to be “more talk than action.”

New Jersey residents have been pushed to the limit of their pocketbook’s endurance and in some cases are considering selling their homes and moving out of state to escape the highest property taxes in the county.

Though I try not to give too much credence to polls, there was one earlier this year that bears paying attention to. A Quinnipiac University poll’s results released in January of this year showed that some 92 percent of New Jersey voters say that state is facing a serious budget problem this year and a majority say they would rather cut services than raise taxes to reduce the projected budget deficit. It would seem that folks would rather be able to stay in the old homestead with less help and interference from government, this makes sense, but is anybody listening?

Here in Union County our Board Chosen of Freeholders is getting ready to approve this year’s budget of over $410 million, which will increase the tax levy on real estate owned by the residents to 50% since the year 2000. I came to the realization reviewing county spending over the years that part of the problem is that county government is attempting to be all things to all people. What has gotten lost somewhere along the line is the purpose that county government is meant to serve, and that is to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the residents.

Somehow they have managed to insinuate themselves into our lives in areas that quite honestly they do not need to be and we are paying for it dearly.

A starting point to manage revenues would be to seriously consider Zero Based Budgeting, a system that simply provides for necessary services first and the frills later, much like one would do at home. Providing a means to see where the money is actually going would probably be an eye opener to those who insist that there is no wasteful spending on the part of county government. For example, telecommunications has been brought to light this week as the Freeholders enter into an agreement to provide internet service between county offices via a fiber optic network. I can only hope that this maneuver will save some money as the total cost of telecommunications to include cell phones, pagers, Blackberrys and telephone service was over $7 million in 2005, or an average of $2,349 per employee. Looks like someone went over their minutes.

I challenge the tax payers to look around and think hard about just what do they get from a county government which spends over $1million dollars a day? Where does all the money go? Your tax dollars are being wasted on high salaries for administrators, that there are too many chiefs getting cars, cell phones and Blackberrys and that is taking away from fulfilling the needs of the residents such as making much needed and timely repairs to county roads, thus ensuring your safety. It is time that these Freeholders start to “walk the walk and not just talk the talk”.

May 25, 2006

Everyone and their mothers'-in-law are on the county payroll

Rubbing the nepotism in our faces

During the Union County budget hearings recently it was announced that county run Runnells Specialized Hospital is expected to run a half million dollars in the red this year. This didn’t keep the all-Democrat controlled freeholder board from adding the county manager’s mother-in-law to the Runnells payroll with a salary of $40,430 in the new year.

Glenna Bowen is the new Assistant to the Foundation Director. Assemblywoman Linda Stender is the Foundation Director with a salary of $72,858 up from $66,083 in 2005 when her title was Director of Volunteer Services. Stender is now running for Congress where as I’d presume getting paid to supervise people who are working for free doesn’t look as good on the campaign trail as being a Foundation Director.

Tina Renna


Union County Watchdog Association, Inc.


Clerk/ Asst To Foundation Director

Fund Raiser / Foundation Dir


Press release totals as of May 1, 2006: Mirabella, Scanlon and Holmes are up for reelection.

Number of Releases; Number of Photo Captions

Mirabella: 5; 33

Scanlon: 1: 23

Holmes: 4; 18

Proctor: 2; 1

Devanney: 3; 0

Kowalski: 25; 26

Froelich: 1; 12

Rajoppi: 2; 1

Lacort: 0; 1

Estrada: 2; 4

Sullivan: 1; 3

Map: 0; 3

Ward: 0; 5

Stender: 0; 1

Press release totals as of October 1, 2005: Freeholders Proctor, Estrada, Ward and
County Clerk Rajoppi are up for reelection.

Number of Releases; Number of Photo Captions
Rojappi: 47; 21
Proctor: 69; 38
Estrada: 7; 29
Ward: 6; 20
Sullivan: 15; 8
Mirabella: 14; 28
Mapp: 9; 4
Holmes: 16; 23
Scanlon: 3; 14
Kowalski: 31; 39
Devanney: 1

May 21, 2006

$100 Million Dollar Man

During a pre Election Day interview with the Westfield Leader in October of 2000, then UC Freeholder Vice Chairman Alexander Mirabella was quoted as saying “We are looking at ways to control the budget and keep costs down.” At that time the County budget was a tad over $300 million. Within the next few weeks the UC Board of Chosen Freeholders is expected to approve a budget which is a tad over $400 million. Freeholder Mirabella, now Chairman of the board, can truly be referred to as Union County’s very own “$100 Million Dollar Man”.

Taxes increased 50% since Y2K

The all Democratic Freeholder board will argue that under their guidance taxes have not increased 50% since the year 2000, for anyone can see that the budget has increased only 33.3%. Well let’s get real here, there is a difference between the words taxes and budget and herein lies the truth. County government arrives at a figure that they say is necessary to run the county, which includes payroll (this year making up a whooping 39% of the budget), insurance, building maintenance costs, debt service (loan payments), county cars, utilities, concerts in the park etc, etc.

The issue now becomes, “How are we going to pay for all of this?”

The answer is anticipated revenues which is made up of monies the county takes in through fees charged to use the parks or play a round of golf, grant monies received from the state and federal governments, income from investments and of course the tax levied on real estate appearing on the back of your tax bill and paid through your municipality. The county will also throw in some of its own money that it has sitting around in the surplus, which is by the way rapidly dwindling.

In the year 2000 after evaluating the anticipated revenues versus the proposed spending it was determined that the tax payers would have to kick-in $151 million thru the tax levy. Now, in 2006 it has been determined that the tax levied directly on the residents must be $226.6 million, an increase of $75.6 million clearly a 50% increase over 2000.

"Fun with numbers"

The figures do not lie; county taxes have increased 50% in 6 years. The Freeholders can have fun with numbers and spin the story all they want but 50% is still 50% and 50% in 6 years is unacceptable.

When comparing the 2005 budget to the 2006 budget nothing has changed, they appear to have started with what was spent last year and just added on more, than put out a press release in January that there would be cuts and every department would have to reduce expenditures.


Well, what happened? What was cut? Where is the belt tightening? We have been waiting since the year 2000 for the Board of Freeholders to control the budget and keep costs down, they have failed miserably.

It is time for the residents of Union County to send a message to the “$100 Million Dollar Man” that they do not have “Bionic” wallets.

May 20, 2006

County employee harassment will cost upwards of 2.5 million $$

A law suit against the County of Union which was brought by a former decorated Union County sheriff’s officer is about to be settled. The legal bills alone, stemming from this arrogant and petty case of employee harassment, will cost a total of $2,463,753.82.

Virginia Fanelli's lawyer is applying for $,1523,452.34 ($1,487,078.80 for fees and $36,373.54 in cost and disbursements). The county will be paying her $1,340,000 ($500K now an $70K a year for 7 years, subject to reduction if she gets disability) PLUS $6K a year for her individual health care until plaintiff is eligible for retirement health coverage or other group health insurance.

As for the County's legal fees – We’ll wait a few months for all the bills to be submitted and then we’ll get the adding machine tape out! All the usual gang of county pay to play attorney’s made out big time. To view preliminary settlement document click here. To view county resolutions pertaining to this case click here.

Fanelli's suit was tied to one brought by sheriff's officer James MacDonald. This suit was settled in 2001 for $70,000. The county attorney’s fees alone for this were approximately $128,000. The Union County Watchdog Association has filed several OPRA requests and is waiting for documents that will show MacDonald’s legal fees and settlement.

The county sued their insurance company because they refused to cover this claim. Apparently the county didn’t report it properly. The UCWA is also waiting for documents that would show the attorney’s fees stemming from what appears to have been a pathetic attempt at a cover-up.
The county managed to keep this out of the press since 2001, since then the legal bill meter has been tick, tick, ticking out of the public view….Maybe, just maybe, if the media had kept some light on this the county would have stopped harassing Fanelli and settled this case before the legal bills mounted to over (3) THREE MILLION DOLLARS.

It’s a shame that Fanelli didn’t get a bigger settlement. She deserved that and more for what these arrogant bastards did to her.

Virginia Fanelli is still listed on the county payroll with a salary of $67,700. William Malcolm currently has a salary of $77,960. James MacDonald is no longer employed by the County of Union. Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who is the longest serving law enforcement official in the U.S., still enjoys a stellar reputation.

December 12, 2001
A highly decorated Union County sheriff's officer who was once considered a rising star in the department is suing five of her bosses over her involvement in a colleague's lawsuit against the office.
Touted by Sheriff Ralph Froehlich as one of his department's outstanding officers, Virginia Fanelli went from the fast track of moving up the ranks to being the victim of a campaign to fire her, according to the lawsuit she filed last month.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in Elizabeth, are Froehlich, Undersheriff William Malcolm Sr., Lt. Anna Buckley and Capts. Vincent DiTrolio and Barry Migliore.
Fanelli, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff's office, claims the effort to oust her was the result of her refusal to back her bosses' allegations against a fellow officer who was accused in 1998 of falsifying an overtime report.
County officials, however, insist their actions against the former detective came from her failure to follow department rules.
Fanelli's suit is tied to one brought by sheriff's officer James MacDonald, who was charged with falsifying a report that showed he was working overtime when he was actually at Fanelli's house in Roselle Park on June 7, 1998.
During the investigation, Fanelli insisted that MacDonald showed up at her house after he had finished his overtime duty. She supplied MacDonald's attorney with a copy of a credit card receipt indicating she was not even home at the time Malcolm alleged MacDonald was visiting her, according to court papers.
According to the lawsuit, DiTrolio told Fanelli not to give the information to MacDonald's attorney. It also claims that DiTrolio, Malcolm, Migliore and Buckley, a good friend of Fanelli's, tried to get her to change her statement. The suit, filed by attorney Bruce P. McMoran of Tinton Falls, alleged that when Fanelli refused, her superiors had employees concoct stories that she was having an affair with MacDonald.
"They pulled out all the stops here," McMoran said. "In our view, they expected her to support the statements they made about MacDonald, and when she didn't do that, they went after her. She knows what the truth was and told them up front from the first day. Nevertheless, they went forward with the action."
According to court papers, Fanelli was barred from going into the administrative area of the sheriff's office. She was demoted from her job as a detective who had worked undercover narcotics investigations to an officer who provided security at the front doors of the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. Her service weapon was confiscated and she was ordered to undergo psychological counseling, the court papers said.
Initially, she was charged with conduct unbecoming a public employee, insubordination and neglect of duty for filing a false report. She eventually pleaded guilty to conduct unbecoming and received a 30-day suspension in return for the rest of the charges being dropped. She did not admit to filing a false report.
However, the rest of the charges were not dropped, her attorney said. In July, she was charged with similar offenses. The outcome of her disciplinary hearing is pending. She has been out on medical leave since around October, McMoran said.
Froehlich said there was no campaign to oust her. He said she violated the rules and regulations of his office by failing to inform him that she was providing information to MacDonald's attorney.
"Our rules and regulations specify certain procedures that an officer's supposed to go through," Froehlich said. "She did not do that."
He declined to discuss details of the case, but said he has worked hard to be fair with all his employees.
"I have a reputation with the men and women in uniform and civilians that will withstand any of these allegations," he said. "I do the best I can to see that everyone is treated fairly and impartially."
He initially was named as a defendant in MacDonald's suit but the allegations were dismissed against him. In May, MacDonald accepted a $70,000 settlement after a jury found Malcolm defamed him by bringing those allegations. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ MaryAnn Spoto covers the Union County Courthouse. She can be reached at or (908) 527- 4011.

May 18, 2006

Union County gets another pass in the press

Press coverage this week of the contaminated soil dumped in a Union County owned quarry fails to answer any questions that would be important to the health and safety of the community. As usual the reporter wrote what the county spokesperson tells him as if he's a reliable source. Whenever a serious issue arises the County Manager or the Freeholders never go on record and never answer questions. Their response this time, as always, is to tell the press to “refer all questions to county spokesman Sebastian D’Elia". The only problem with the press contacting D’Elia is that he’s a paid employee who answers to the freeholders not the taxpayers who pay his salary.

In this case, as always, D’Elia hands the reporter a prepared written statement which is vague and does not offer any useful information. For example the article states that “engineers contend the soil does not pose an imminent health threat.” What engineers? What is the level of contamination found? Is the F.B.I. investigating? The D.E.P.? If not than why? Why can’t the reporter ask questions of the director in charge of overseeing the site? Why can’t the reporter ask the County Manager or the Freeholders? They’re given Blackberry’s and cell phones at taxpayers expense why can’t they be reached to be held accountable?

Reporters must be more diligent in dealing with our county officials. There are very few New Jersey politicians that can be trusted. None of them are Union County freeholders. Information is the only thing that can keep people healthy and safe. People need the facts and names of experts and officials to be held accountable for those facts, not unsubstantiated opinions of a county spokesperson whose allegiance is to politicians.

D’Elia’s quote in the article made absolutely no sense, “Its contamination level is comparable to dirt taken from an excavated home heating oil tank.” Really? Oh O.K. Mr. D’Elia we should believe you just like we should believe that you didn’t harass those women.

May 14, 2006

Ooops Devine gets caught $liming taxpayers again!!!

As reported in Worrall Community Newspapers
Linden overcharged for advertisement

By Dan Burns, Staff Writer

LINDEN, NJ - The city of Linden was overcharged more than $1,600 to run a legal advertisement in a local newspaper in March, calculations by The Progress show.

Devine Media Enterprises Inc., which publishes three Rahway-based newspapers, charged Linden $4,503.60 to run notice of a tax sale in four separate issues of the News Record in March. The company should have charged Linden $2,866.50 to publish the ad four times, according to state law.

Government bodies are required by law to advertise notices of public meetings — and items such as budgets and ordinances — in a newspaper so the public is informed about the actions its public officials are taking. The rates for public notice advertising are determined by New Jersey state law and are calculated based on a newspaper’s paid circulation.

Devine Media submitted statements to the New Jersey Press Association that the paid circulation of the News Record for 2005 was 13,388. Figures for 2006 are not available because Devine Media is no longer a member of the NJPA.

Adding the number of lines in the Linden ad and dividing that number by the amount charged shows that Devine charged an equivalent of 55 cents per line.

Based on the News Record’s 2005 paid circulation numbers, Devine Media should have charged Linden only 35 cents per line to run the ad. Even if the News Record’s paid circulation tripled to 40,000, in the last year it would legally only be able to charge one cent more per line, according to the law.

News Record Publisher James Devine declined comment on how his company calculated the amount it billed Linden for the ad. He also declined an opportunity to go over the calculations of The Progress with a reporter.

Devine did say he plans to sue multiple parties at Worrall Newspapers for the content of its article “District overpays for advertisement,” which appeared in the April 20 edition of The Progress.

The story claimed the Rahway Board of Education paid $297.38 more than it should have to legally advertise its proposed school budget in the March 23 edition of Devine’s News Record.

Devine would not comment on whether the information that appeared in The Progress was correct. He would only state that he is suing Worrall Community Newspapers, its Publishers Raymond and David Worrall individually, and Managing Editor Kitty Wilder, who wrote the story.

“I was libeled twice by an economic competitor for the malicious purpose of depriving me of an economic advantage, which is actionable in this state,” Devine said.

The Progress story stated the Rahway Board of Education paid $730.02 to advertise its school budget in the March 23 edition of the News Record, when it should have, by law, paid $432.64.

Rahway Board of Education Attorney Mark Tabakin confirmed at the board’s April 24 meeting that Devine Media had “exceeded the rate” it was supposed to charge for the ad. The board then voted to stop use of the News Record for legal advertising while rates are investigated.

The Rahway City Council stopped publishing public notices in the News Record in 2004, when the council determined Devine Media had overcharged the municipality.

Most legal advertisements — with exceptions such as sheriff sales and zoning-related hearings — are paid with taxpayer dollars. A legal advertisement is a public notice advertisement.

State law establishes specific criteria that must be used by paid circulation newspapers in determining the space they charge to publish a public notice. That criteria describes the size of type that must be used, as well as the length of a line.

The font Devine Media used in the ad in question is larger than the criteria set forth by the law. That is legal as long as the company charges based on the legal definition of a line, not on the total area of the ad, according to New Jersey Press Association Attorney Tom Cafferty.

Publishers can print the lines of their legal ads in as large of a font as they wish, but they can not charge more for it, according to Cafferty. Costs must be determined prior to the inflation of the lines, Cafferty said.

In the 1971 case of S. Gamrin et al vs. Palisades Newspapers, Superior Court Judges Goldmann, Collester and Mintz ruled the “newspaper was required to charge city for official advertisements on basis of agate line count rather than on basis of agate rule measurement of space occupied.” Palisades newspapers had allegedly been using a larger font than state law set forth and was charging the Bergen County city of Englewood for the space its inflated ads occupied.

Devine declined comment on whether he is familiar with the law.

“I’m sure my attorney would advise me not to say anything at all,” Devine said.

Lynn Maguire of the Linden City Clerk’s Office said Linden usually sends legal ads to its official newspapers on a Thursday or a Friday after a council meeting and is usually billed at a later date. They find out what the charge is at a later date.

Maguire said she isn’t aware of any system Linden uses to ensure a newspaper has not overcharged the city.

Linden Council President Robert Bunk said this is the first he has heard of Devine’s company potentially overcharging the city.

“It’s never come up before in council. As far as I know, we’ve never had a problem with him,” Bunk said.

Devine Media also does public relations work for Linden. The city pays the company an annual salary of $35,000 to inform local newspapers, including his own, of positive happenings within the city.

May 08, 2006

Hello taxpayers?....

In 2005 over 7-million tax dollars were spent on Union County phone services. So why is it you can never get a freeholder on the phone to answer questions about tax expenditures?

The $7,004,949 spent on phone services in 2005 divided by 2,981 county employees comes to: $2,349.86 per employee

A quarter million dollars for cell phones is a bit outrageous don’t you think? $61,656.42 for Blackberrys? Does your company give you a Blackberry? And pagers too! $25,578.00 worth OH MY!!

You can view all expenditers by cliking here. Just a few of my favorites are:

Phone Service:

Cell Phones:



It seems that the county installed a new phone system which began back in 2004. I searched back to 2002 and couldn’t find a resolution authorizing the contract. Hmmmm

Consultedge phone system replacement (only the 2005 expenditure is included in the total 2005 figure):
Total spent to date: $1,324,206.20:
2006: 116,740.00
2005: 358,927.14
2004: 848,539.06

Tomorrow we'll take a look at what county employee's internet service is costing the taxpayers.