March 29, 2007

Christmas in February

The Union County Watchdog Association sent the following letter all elected municipal officials in Union County. It was labeled "Something to chew on while your struggling to manage your budgets."

Dear Honorable Mayor and Council Members:

On December 22, 2006, the Friday before Christmas, a “staff meeting” was held for county Juvenile Detention Center employees.

The tax-payers of Union County treated 45 members of the staff to a buffet catered by Costa’s Ristorante at a cost of $930.00.

The staff enjoyed 2 trays each of flounder francese, stuffed shells, chicken parmesan, sausage and peppers; 1 tray of lunch meat and cheese; 6 bottles of soda; and for desert they had 45 mini-pastries.

What is most important to note about this $930.00 catering bill is that the voucher wasn’t processed until 2 months after the meeting. It was dated February 28, 2007 and marked in the check registry as “Food for Meeting” without mentioning the date of the meeting. Gee I wonder if they were trying to hide the fact that….. THEY HAD A CHRISTMAS PARTY AT TAX-PAYERS EXPENSE?

The county caters meetings all the time. A typical voucher in the check registry will read “Hershey’s Subs & Deli “Food provided to Employees” $283.93”. No date, no explanation. A citizen would have to place an Open Public Records Act request to get the details.

Given the deceitfulness behind this two month old catering bill the public can’t believe that this was the only tax-payer funded Christmas party. Why would Juvenile Dentition center employees get a Christmas party and not the jail guards? Or how about the Prosecutors Office, Sheriff’s Office, County Police, County Clerk, County Manager, Parks & Recreation, etc.? Other vouchers must be more cleverly hidden throughout the check registry. And then there’s that petty cash that I can’t seem to get an accounting of.

The one Christmas party is bad enough, but we’ll also have to assume that there are dozens more.

Just to note a few other interesting food vouchers that were turned up in 2006: Freeholder Proctor’s $49.00 room service breakfast while staying at the Hyatt Regency in VA; a staff meeting held at a restaurant in Berkeley Heights before a press conference to lure the Jets to the county manager’s wife’s lair $286.63; Dara’s Catering $1,715.00 for 100 for Breakfast, snack and lunch for the employee golf tournament on 5/13/06; and the catering of freeholder meetings:

In 2006 taxpayers picked up a $10,510.83 tab for 27 freeholder meeting refreshments. There were 35 freeholder meetings scheduled for 2006. Seven bills are unaccounted for.

There is not one payment to a food bank in the check registry but there was a voucher dispersed on 2/28/2007 for Napoli Deli “Food for Homeless Clients” $210.00. The juveniles in detention were also treated to a Christmas party of sorts on 12/20/06 with $375.85 worth of pizza. It’s comforting to know that the county does throw the poor and imprisoned a slice of pizza once in a while.

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.

For anyone who thinks this is trivial, imagine your own town council doing the same thing. It is long past due for all good elected men and women, no matter what your party affiliation, to come to the aid of their beleaguered tax-burdened residents and demand accountability from a county government that is clearly out of control.


Tina Renna
Union County Watchdog Association, Inc.

The UCWA is a nonpartisan nonprofit 501(c)3 organization working on behalf of the residents and taxpayers of Union County monitoring the activity of county government and advocating change to eliminate waste, corruption and incompetence.

March 26, 2007

Freeholders Buy Now and Residents Pay Later

New Jersey Employment Agencies must be registered with the Dept. of Law and Public Safety this applies to Executive Search Firms, Temp Agencies and Talent Booking firms among others. Under the heading of Temp Agencies falls many health care providers who supply nursing staff members and sometimes physicians and other therapists, as well as nurses aides who work temporarily in private homes and institutions.

Once a very tightly regulated industry the business was deregulated somewhat back in the 90’s which allowed headhunters such as me to legally work from the comfort of their own homes. However, there are still large fines levied against those businesses who try to circumvent the remaining existing regulations, such as becoming legally licensed or properly advertising.

Another Contract
On March 8th the UC Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved a resolution entering into a one year contract with Correctional Health Services of Verona, in an amount not to exceed $4,228,368 which was a 9 percent increase of what had been paid the same company previously. They would continue to provide medical services to the inmates and residents of the county jail and JV center.

At the appropriate time I voiced my concerns about this vendor, I asked the freeholders if any of them ever, on their own, just out of curiosity Google any of their vendors, just to check them out. Of course the response was the typical “deer in the headlights” stare, which I had expected, and I knew that the answer was no. I went on that regardless of what I had to tell them about this company that they would approve the contract anyway, and of course they did.

Even after sharing the abysmal track record that this company has including the deaths of two inmates in Essex County facilities, for the same reason on the exact same day (Star Ledger 8/04), and in NY of withholding necessary medication, understaffing and unqualified personnel leading to inmate deaths(NY Times 2/05). And of Morris county taking back the medical care in their facilities and hence saving tax dollars and still providing quality care.

Correctional Health Services, Verona is listed in McRae’s blue book as having a temporary agency providing medical staffing services, however a search of the NJ state website did not turn up a trace of them in the latest agency listings, so are they licensed?

A subsidiary of Prison Health Services out of Tennessee, a company who has numerous complaints filed against them in facilities around the country, CHS appears to have been awarded their first UC contract in excess of $4 million in early 1999, for the period 10/1/98 thru 12/31/99.

They made their first political contribution to the UC Dem Committee on 10/25/98, followed by another $2500 on 11/5/98 and have given in the neighborhood of $20K in Union County alone with thousands more spread around the state.

It should be pointed out that here in UC we have had three deaths in three years in our correctional facilities which could be attributed to a lack of medical attention under CHS’s watch, and that the families are in the process of suing the taxpayers for millions.

Closing remarks

During their closing comments at the meeting County Manager George Devanney reported that CHS received the contract because they were the lowest bidder, and Chairwoman BJ Kowalski related that with regard to the medical services “we do the best we can”.

People are not paper clips

Well it seems to me that this contract is not about the purchase of paper clips and rubber bands, and since the freeholders defend the no bid contracts which they award for roads and bridges as going to the most qualified companies with good track records certainly they can do the same when they are dealing with human life. I am sorry to say Madam Chairwoman that the best you can is definitely not good enough for the taxpayers of UC and especially for the families who lost their loved ones all too soon.

Third Death In 2 Weeks At Essex County Jail
Apr 3, 2004 6:55 pm US/EasternAn Essex County Jail inmate died of an apparent heart atack Friday, the third death of a prisoner in the county correctional system in the last two weeks. Harold Hardy, 55, had a history of heart problems and hypertension before he arrived at the jail March 15 after being arrested for wandering around Newark. He was receiving medication, according to Essex County Counsel Francis Giantomasi. On March 20, 50-year-old Stanley Washington was beaten to death in his cell. Last Monday, 44-year-old Debra Brown died after suffering an aneurysm. There were 13 deaths in the county correctional system last year, more than three times the yearly average for years before 2003. The recent deaths have occurred at a time when the county has opened a new, $416 million county jail that officials say provides improved security and better medical facilities than in the past. Inmates were transferred to the facility on Doremus Avenue last weekend. But many people have complained of problems at the new jail. T. Gary Mitchell, an attorney and advocate for county inmates, said he found leaking pipes and toilets during a tour of the jail Friday. "For a brand new facility, the physical plant is extremely disappointing," he said. Giantomasi said the problems have been minor and that some have been caused by inmates and by a work slowdown by a small number of corrections officers. He said 15 to 20 percent of the staff has not been coming in to work. "That sort of activity has got to stop," he said. Representatives of the unions that represent the corrections officers said the officers have not received enough training to run the new jail.© MMIV Infinity Broadcasting Corp
Families file suit in deaths of 2 inmates Diabetic Essex prisoners did not receive insulin, complaint states Thursday, August 19, 2004BY NIKITA STEWART Star-Ledger Staff The relatives of two inmates who died in Essex County correctional facilities last August have filed a joint wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the county and a private health care firm that provides jail medical services. Henry Sipp, 43, and Mary Barber, 50, died within hours of each other on Aug. 27, 2003, of diabetic ketoacidosis, an emergency medical condition caused by a severe lack of insulin, according to the lawsuit. Thomas Howard, the relatives' attorney, said they are still trying to find out what happened to Sipp and Barber, but they know the county and Correctional Health Services failed to properly treat the inmates. "I can't think of any legitimate reason why they were denied insulin," he said. Assistant County Counsel Harry Del Plato said he could confirm only that Sipp and Barber died in county custody. He would not disclose whether the man and woman were given insulin or if the county knew they were diabetic. "Because this is a potential matter that is going to be litigated ... I can't give you any more information than that," Del Plato said. Correctional Health Services, the private firm that has furnished medical services to the county jail system for nearly 15 years, did not return phone calls for comment. The lawsuit comes at a time when Essex County is re-examining its $9 million contract with CHS, which is based in Verona and was founded by Robert Detore, that town's mayor . CHS was hired to improve medical services since the county employed only a part-time physician to care for 2,000 inmates in the 1980s. This month, the county did not renew its annual contract with the firm, opting instead for a two- month extension of its current contract through Oct. 31. Five firms, including CHS, are reviewing the county's needs and are expected to submit bids to the county in about two weeks, said Paul Hopkins, the county treasurer. In March, the county opened its new $416 million jail in Newark. The medical facilities, which include equipment for on-site dialysis, have been hyped by the county as contributing to better health care of inmates. The "state-of-the-art" infirmary has attracted more bidders than in the past, when private firms worried about working in the poor conditions of the medical wards at the county's former jails in Newark and North Caldwell, Hopkins said. County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said the county also is searching for a medical director who would oversee medical care. "I want to have someone here who is watching the shop to hold these people accountable," he said. The medical director would also monitor the actions of corrections officers, DiVincenzo said. The lawsuit filed by Tamika Barber, Barber's daughter, and Aletha Luckey, Sipp's mother, names a physician, nurses and corrections officers as the people responsible for the deaths through negligence. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court last week. Barber was found dead shortly after 6 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2003, on the floor of her cell at the county jail annex in North Caldwell, county officials said at the time. Barber, who had been arrested on drug charges in a sweep of Seth Boyden housing complex on Aug. 21, 2003, "pleaded for insulin but defendant denied her that medication," according to the lawsuit. Barber was in pain, suffering from headaches, vomiting and other ailments, according to the lawsuit. "Defendants were adequately informed of Mary Barber's condition and treatment information was available but displayed deliberate indifference toward providing treatment," the lawsuit reads. Sipp, of Newark, was arrested on Aug. 25, 2003, and taken into county custody about 9 p.m. that day and taken to the county jail on Market Street in Newark, according to the lawsuit. County officials said last year that Sipp had been picked up on a 1996 arrest warrant for simple assault. He was later taken to Raritan Bay Medical Center to be examined and was determined to be "an insulin-dependent diabetic," according to the lawsuit. "While in defendants' custody, Henry Sipp pleaded for insulin but was denied such medication." The nursing staff at the jail said Sipp was found unresponsive and in cardiac arrest at 5:30 p.m. and that the last contact with him was two hours earlier, according to the lawsuit. The final report of the Regional Medical Examiner's Office listed the cause of death to be diabetic ketoacidosis, the same cause of death as Barber.

NJ Elec.














March 22, 2007

Star-Ledger reports: No discipline for freeholder in Farber traffic case

Update as of 3/23/07:

According to the State Ethics Commission the MVC did take action in this matter. The State Ethics Commission affirmed the basis for the action that the agency took. The administrative code regulations stipulate that disciplinary matters are not public record.

Angel Estrada doesn't have to worry about his patronage job and can be as happy as he was pictured here...

Click Here f0r a complete history on the Farber/Estrada flap

Freeholder Estrada gets to cha-cha away and a fed-up with corruption public deserves to know exactly why not!

On September 20, 2006 the Countywathers blogged:

Will freeholder Estrada be indicted and charged with the same crime a former MVC Employee was in 2005?

It was a rhetorical question of course and today the Star-Ledger confirmed that back in December the State Ethics Commission declined to discipline Estrada. Unlike MVC employee Grace Hoogliviet who was fired and indicted for helping her friend with paperwork. This story bears repeating:

Countywatchers 9/20/06:

It has been over a month since it was widely reported that New Jersey's motor vehicle agency has launched a probe into how Union County Freeholder Angel Estrada, who is the manager of the Elizabeth office, helped former Attorney General Zulima Farber's boyfriend update his delinquent driving status.

The Union County Watchdog Association has learned that a MVC employee who committed a very similar act as Freeholder Estrada’s was forced to resign and was indicted for helping a fellow employee renew a driver’s license in 2005. Sharon A. Harrington, the head of the Motor Vehicle Commission, said regarding Estrada’s investigation that the agency would take action against employees if the investigation finds any wrongdoing. The agency "is working expeditiously to complete this investigation," Harrington said in a prepared statement. "At the end of this process, MVC will take action, if warranted."

According to an inside source at the MVC, who is surprised that Estrada is still reporting for work and is concerned that this is a sign that his political ties are going to put him above the law, a recent incident involving an MVC employee committing a similar offense involved Grace Hoogliviet and Tracey Scott.

Allegedly Hoogliviet was an investigator with the Security and Investigation Unit, Scott was a secretary in the same unit. Scott was unable to renew her driver’s license as she did not have a certified copy of her birth certificate. Hoogliviet escorted her to the Trenton Agency and approved the transaction. The matter was reported, and resulted in both employees being terminated. Documents obtained through the Open Public Records Act show that both employees resigned this past May. (You can view these documents by clicking here.)

Hoogliviet was also indicted and charged with conspiracy, tampering with public records and false records entry in 2005. Ultimately a deal was agreed to, and both employees were allowed to resign, with the agreement that they could never accept state employment. A check of court records backed up the sources claim that Hoogliviet had been indicted. View indictment document by clicking here.

According to a clerk at the Mercer County court criminal records division there was no conviction. He said there had been a pre-trial intervention, and that if Ms. Hoogvliet completes the program, the charges will be dismissed.

A probe into Farber’s actions that day showed that after being allowed to Angel Estrada personally took charge of the matter and renewed Goore's expired car registration before he even arrived at the MVC office to sign official forms and pay a $137 registration fee. Motor vehicle agencies require that proper Identification such as a driver’s license be submitted to renew a registration. If the owner of the vehicle is not present for the transaction, they must submit a power of attorney; this documentation is kept on file with the transaction. "Mr. Estrada's handling of this matter before Hamlet Goore arrived at the MVC agency raises questions about the propriety of his practices and whether they were in compliance with MVC procedures," prosecutor Williams wrote in his report.

Farber was forced to resign because of her actions that day. Her boyfriend Goore also resigned as director of the Department of Community Development in Irvington. "He's on vacation and won't be returning," Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith said, declining to state the reason why Goore was leaving the $81,000-a-year post.

There are other allegations of Estrada being on a MVC tape helping Gore take a test for a motor cycle license. Freeholder Daniel Sullivan is also Estrada’s boss at the MVC, there is no word on what his involvement was in all of this, if any. I doubt we’ll ever hear the entire story of what transpired between the three friends that fateful day. But if Angel Estrada doesn’t join his friends on the unemployment line and face criminal charges as Grace Hoogliviet did, the public deserves to know exactly why not.

State finishes probe of incident that led attorney general to resign
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff
State officials have declined to discipline a Union County freeholder for helping Zulima Farber's boyfriend reinstate his license following the 2006 traffic stop that led to the former attorney general's resignation, according to a state Motor Vehicle Commission official. An internal investigation into the actions of Freeholder Angel Estrada, who manages the state Motor Vehicle Commission's Elizabeth office and is a longtime friend of Farber, concluded in December, according to Michael P. Horan, the commission spokesman. Horan declined to discuss the investigation's findings and refused to say whether Estrada had been punished, saying the issue was an internal personnel matter. But a Motor Vehicle Commission official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed the agency has not taken disciplinary action against Estrada. Estrada, who has denied all wrongdoing in the episode, declined comment. Farber resigned last summer over the May 26 traffic stop in Bergen County, where her boyfriend, Hamlet Goore, was driving an unregistered van with a suspended license. The attorney general arrived at the scene in her State Police SUV with lights flashing, a move that a special prosecutor's report concluded violated state ethics rules. Estrada came under scrutiny in July, after Farber acknowledged telephoning him shortly after Goore was pulled over. The freeholder agreed to meet Goore at the Elizabeth MVC office. Before Goore arrived, Estrada ordered a subordinate to renew his registration and record that a payment had been submitted, even though Goore had not signed necessary documents or submitted his check. In August, the Motor Vehicle Commission launched an internal investigation into whether Estrada overstepped his authority. In September, the commission forwarded its findings to the state Ethics Commission, which completed its own review in December. An ethics commission spokeswoman failed to return calls yesterday. Joe Ryan may be reached at or (908) 302-1508. © 2007 The Star Ledger

March 21, 2007

Bergen Record Reports: State investigating Union County's voting machines

NOTE: During the 2007 Budget Hearings Dennis Kobitz, deputy administrator of the Union County Board of Elections, and "Allegedly" former Hillside Democratic operative for powerbroker Charlotte DeFalippo, reported that all Union County voting machines would be retrofitted with paper ballots by next election. Tina Renna

SCI requests county voting machine files Saturday, March 17, 2007 By OSHRAT CARMIELSTAFF WRITER

The State Commission of Investigation has asked Bergen County to produce volumes of paperwork about voting machine and absentee-vote-counting scanner purchases.
The March 13 request also was sent to at least two other counties, Union and Essex, election officials say.

"Nobody can understand what it's all about; we have no idea," said Dennis Kobitz, deputy administrator of the Union County Board of Elections, who spoke with his counterparts in other counties.

In Bergen County, Elections Superintendent Patricia DiCostanzo said Friday that she sent the request to the county's legal counsel for review. Officials at the SCI declined to discuss the letter Friday and declined to say how expansive their document request is.

"We can't comment," said spokesman Lee Seglem.

The letter sent to Bergen County is "in lieu of a subpoena," it reads, and casts a wide net for any and all records about the purchase of voting machines, equipment and software from Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. and its subsidiaries.

Sequoia is cited in an ongoing lawsuit in state Superior Court which challenges the reliability of electronic voting machines used in the state. Bergen and Union both use Sequoia machines.
Last month, Judge Linda R. Feinberg gave state officials a May deadline by which to prove that existing machines can withstand voter fraud -- and if not, to have them replaced.

Election officials could not confirm whether the SCI probe was related to the lawsuit.
In its letter to Bergen County, SCI requests all bids, contracts, licenses, canceled checks and warranties relating to the purchase of voting machines from Sequoia. But it also asks for paperwork relating to any other voting machine manufacturer that does business with the county.

It also asks for a list of all people authorized to enter into a contract with Sequoia and for any letters or e-mail correspondence between those officials and Sequoia. It asks for correspondence between members of the Board of Freeholders and Sequoia, as well as correspondence between the freeholders and the state Division of Elections.

Also requested: a complete inventory of all of the county's voting machines and a list of all political contributions received from Sequoia and other voting machine manufacturers.
The commission gave the county a March 28 deadline to produce the documents.

Staff Writer Josh Gohlke contributed to this article. E-mail:
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March 18, 2007

County's slanted spin speaks for itself

Submitted by: George DeCarlo
Board Secretary of the Union County Watchdog Association & State Chair of the Green Party of New Jersey

The Union County Watchdog Association puts considerable time, energy and funds into shining a light on Union County government.

Our newest endeavor is making freeholder meetings available on our website According to a study conducted by the UCWA, the county of Union is spending more on public information than any other county in the state, outside of Ocean County, who maintains a booth in the Ocean County Mall.

Taxpayers need to demand to know why it takes a volunteer citizen group to offer state-of-the-art public information. For much less than the cost of one taxpayer-funded glossy mailing featuring freeholders at election time, the County of Union could be providing citizens with web-access video meeting minutes as the Union County Watchdog Association is doing.

In a Worrall Newspaper editorial this week the county complainted that we present the meetings with a partisan slant, I’ll let their examples speak for themselves. One example was “The $110,000 new video equipment malfunctions”. This was tagged because the video equipment cost $110,000, and it did malfunction during their February 15, 2007 meeting (see for yourself by clicking HERE).

Another example was “chairwoman says you can comment but we will not answer questions.” This was tagged because Chairwoman Kowalski actually stated this during the meeting. This statement by freeholders has been made countless times through the years. In fact, during the February 15 meeting a Linden resident asked a question and was told this; and what was tagged were the Freeholder Chairwoman’s exact words, “There is a misunderstanding this is for public comments if you want to raise questions we have a procedure for that which you can discuss with the clerk afterwards. But if you have something you’d like to comment on we’d be happy to listen”. The citizen then just sat down without commenting. (See for yourself by clicking HERE.)

Mrs. Renna then approached the microphone and explained the procedure to the Linden resident, “The procedure is that you place an Open Public Records Act request with the Clerk and if the answer to your question isn't in a document than you don't get an answer.” (See for yourself by clicking HERE.)

Worrall's editorial was correct stating that videotaping public meetings is only one tiny step toward truly open government because most county decisions seem to be made behind the scenes. The UCWA is striving to expose the lack of public information at the county level of government which spends well over 1-million of our tax dollars a day and is in charge of our public safety. What better way than making freeholder meeting videos conveniently accessible and allowing the freeholders to speak for themselves without the expensive taxpayer-funded ad campaigns and press releases they call public information?

These meetings show residents more of what isn’t happening at public meetings than what is happening.

March 11, 2007

Another one quietly bites the dust

Note: I would have liked to have put a photo of Freeholder Adrian Mapp in this spot, but the county no longer alows you to download photos of freeholders from their taxpayer funded website.

Although it hasn’t been officially announced or reported outside of blogs, rumors have been circulating for weeks that Freeholder Adrian Mapp of Plainfield will not be getting the Democrat line this Primary Election Day.

The Plainfield Plaintalker reported this week that Mapp will be replaced by Plainfield Councilman Rayland Van Blake. The only questions to be answered are will Mapp put up a fight and how soon will Van Blake replace Mapp on the Board?

Mapp is up for election this year and the Union County Democrat machine runs their freeholder candidates as incumbents taking full advantage of the tax-payer funded county Public Information Department press releases; upwards of $250,000 of county publicity from a commercial that runs right before election season kicks off, and mailers that arrive in the weeks before Election Day; and the supposed ‘free’ concerts in the park which showcase the incumbent freeholders.

During the 2004 campaign I remember Mapp stating during a freeholder debate, “with my financial skills I can’t wait to get my hands on the budget and go over it with a fine tooth comb.” There is no doubt in my watchdog mind that the clock started ticking at that moment and Mapp’s freeholder days were numbered before he was even officially elected. Mapp never appeared to be accepted by the freeholder board. He rarely appeared in photo ops.

When Mapp packs up his belongings from his county office he will have to wipe off the dust that has collected on his ‘fine tooth comb’. If Mapp ever got to examine a financial record he didn’t reveal his findings to the public. I doubt the county let him near a financial document during his tenure as freeholder. Although Mapp has accounting skills he has never served on the Budget Committee.

Mapp joins a long line of freeholders who were recently replaced after falling out of favor with the Union County Democrat machine. Freeholder Mapp replaced Freeholder Louis Mingo in 2004. Mingo fell out of favor when he backed Plainfield Mayor Al McWilliams for Mayor that year. McWilliams had begun a new political party in which Mapp became a member of called ‘The New Democrats’. Mingo didn’t put up a fight. He left office quietly, so quietly that it wasn’t found out until months later that the county created a job for him and he was allowed to keep his county car and cell phone.

2004 was a big year for replacement freeholders. Freeholder Nicholas Scutari was nominated for the Senate after Senator Joseph Suliga announced that he would not seek re-election after a drunken casino incident in Atlantic City.

When Freeholder Scaturi was promoted to Senator he was then replaced briefly by Freeholder John Wohlrab of Linden who served until he was arrested and charged in an alleged domestic violence incident two months before the 2004 election. Wohlrab was then replaced by Freeholder Nancy Ward of Linden. It was so close to the election that Wohlrab’s name remained on the ballot even though Ward was the candidate. Despite his recent arrest over 70,000 people voted for Wohlrab but it was Ward who was sworn into office. This election proved that anyone on the County Democrat line will be elected.

It was widely rumored that the real reason Wohlrab was forced out was because he wasn’t getting along with Union County Democrat Chairwoman Charlotte DeFalippo. But, like Mingo, Wohlrab chose to go away quietly. He is still involved with the Democrat machine in Linden and was Mayor John T. Greggorio’s campaign treasure in 2006.

Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski of Cranford came to the board in September 2004, she replaced Freeholder Mary Ruotolo on the ballot. Ruotolo was aligned with the former county manager, Michael LaPolla, who had been recently unwillingly replaced by Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew. Rutolo had been appointed to the freeholder board shortly after her husband; the late Union County Prosecutor Andrew Rutolo’s passing. Rutolo also chose not to go public with her political career demise. She stated the old "I want to spend more time with my family" and accepted a position at the Turnpike Authority.

Mapp recently accepted a position with the town of Roselle where two fractions of Democrats are currently fighting a hand to hand combat of sorts. It would be a breath of fresh air in county politics if Mapp would honestly tell the public what his experiences were as a freeholder and why he never got to review the budget and report what he had found as was promised during his campaign.

I truly would like to believe that there are organized ‘New Democrats’ in Union County that are willing to do something about the machine politics running their party and destroying residents quality of life. They can't reform their party by quietly accepting banishment. This allows them to keep their public employment and protects the machine and affords them a chance to remain somewhat a part of it with hopes of being an insider again one day. If the new democrats don’t expose the system, they won’t be able to fix it.

Freeholder Mapp is the fourth freeholder in three years to be tossed to the political graveyard heap by the Union County Democrat machine. What more proof is needed that Union County Freeholders have to answer to the powerbrokers who appoint them to office and not the people who elected them?

A clueless public, dominated by registered Democrats, elects freeholders to serve “They the powerbrokers” and not “We the people”.

March 09, 2007

"Blame it on the Boomers"

While most Union County residents were at the grocery store, bank or perhaps just sleeping-in on a recent Saturday morning they were unaware that another round of the County Budget Blame Game was well underway. The winners deemed deserving to wear the mantle of blame on this particular morning were “The Baby Boomers” as well as “Assisted Living Facilities”.

We're No Where Near Ready

Both were cited among factors responsible for creating a $3.5 million shortfall for the county run Runnells Hospital in 2006. Undeniably we Boomers are heading into our senior years as the healthiest Americans in history. Most of us are not ready to check into a nursing home any time soon and likewise our aging parents have preferred to remain living on their own for as long as possible. According to those running the hospital we have created a shortage of likely county residents willing to sit back and wait for God.


A 1986 NY Times article said it was costing Union County $1 million a month just to run the 300-bed hospital which specialized in geriatric care. The cost of repairing and maintaining some of the old buildings had driven up the operating deficit substantially. County officials came to the conclusion that the only way to increase efficiency and to cut long-term costs would be to build a new hospital, an option that was first .reviewed in detail but discarded way back in the mid 1970’s.

As the result of a 5 to 4 vote the then board of freeholders sold a chunk of the hospital’s land to the Connell Realty and Development Company then knocked down the existing buildings and built new. Opposed to the project at the time, UC Prosecutor, Theodore Romankow, then mayor of Berkeley Heights had questioned whether the county should continue to be in the business of running what was basically a nursing home when there were private operators willing to do so. From that time till 2004 when it briefly operated at a profit and barely breaking even in ‘05 and ’06 Runnells Hospital continued to run in the red for another full 17 years since building the new facility.

RETIRED HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATOR - of course he wants the hospital to succeed, he collects a taxpayer funded consulting fee.

At the Saturday budget hearing Runnells Hospital Administrator Joseph Sharp, a retired county employee kept on as a paid contractor, cited a change in billing procedures which would bring in some sizeable additional revenues. And, his exploring some new ways to get the word out about Runnells is commendable and shows Mr. Sharp is serious about making the hospital a success.

Apples to Oranges

However he compared apples to oranges when he spoke of the impact of Assisted Living facilities on the hospital’s bottom line. Mr. Sharpe stated that the hospital possessed an “Acute Care License”, though on the state of NJ website it is classified as a “Special Hospital” but from the services offered it appears that both these classifications do apply. Further, the state describes Assisted Living facilities (ALR’s) as ‘appropriate for someone who is unable to live at home but may not need the type of care provided by a nursing home’. ALR’s are also state licensed and regulated, often referred to as communities and certainly not offering the types of acute care services, for the types of patient situations which Runnells handles because after all they are not hospitals.


Blaming Assisted Living facilities for contributing to the deficit when they obviously are not in direct competition with Runnells Hospital is nonsensical and blaming the “Baby Boomers” for being too healthy could make one laugh out loud.
An intelligent man, Mr. Sharp cannot possibly for a minute believe these scenarios to be plausible. However, he can be perceived as an admirable paid player of the Blame Game in the eyes of the freeholders. He has managed to deflect the blame for Runnells 20 plus years of repeated and continuing failures away from the board putting it back on the taxpaying Baby Boomers and he has managed to do it with a most creative flair.

NEW YORK TIMES - March 30, 1986
THE newest buildings at the John E. Runnells Hospital complex in Berkeley Heights are at least 25 years old, and some of its structures date to the turn of the century when the facility opened as the Bonnie Burn Tuberculosis Sanatorium.
It costs Union County $1 million a month just to run the 300-bed hospital, which specializes in geriatric care. The cost of repairing and maintaining some of the old buildings has driven up the operating deficit substantially and led county officials to the conclusion that the only way to increase efficiency and cut long-term costs would be to build a new hospital.
Last December, the county's Board of Freeholders approved an unusual and controversial approach to that goal. It accepted a bid of $13.5 million for 63 acres of the hospital's land. The money will be used to offset about two-thirds of the cost of building a new hospital on the remaining 40 acres, just north of the current buildings.
''This turned out to be a very cost-effective way for the taxpayers to meet the need for a hospital,'' said Robert C. Doherty, the County Manager. ''No one's ever going to be 100 percent satisfied, but from my perspective and the freeholders', we believe this is a good proposal.''
The only legitimate bid for the land came from the Connell Realty and Development Company of Westfield, which already owns more than 100 acres just east of the hospital site. Connell Realty is a division of the Connell Rice and Sugar Company, a rice-trading and sugar-brokerage concern that has been developing commercial properties since it constructed its own headquarters building in Westfield in 1969.
The 63-acre parcel is only a few thousand feet from Interstate 78, which runs from the Delaware River to the Holland Tunnel. It is one of the last remaining large development sites in the county, which has undergone a development surge since the announcement three years ago that the highway's missing link through the Watchung Mountains in Berkeley Heights would finally be completed this summer after nearly 20 years of delays.
Albert E. Booth 2d, vice president of Connell Realty, said feasibility studies are under way to determine the best use of the site. Proximity to the highway makes it attractive for any type of commercial development.
Connell has already undertaken the construction of two major buildings nearby. Connell Corporate Center I, a 430,000-square-foot building on 45 acres just east of the hospital, was completed in 1984 and is entirely leased to A. T. & T. Technologies.
Connell Corporate Center II, a five-story, 350,000-square-foot building with an atrium now under construction on an adjacent parcel of land, is expected to be completed by the fall. Mr. Booth said that A. T. & T. Technologies had originally signed an option to take the new building as well as the first, but terminated it last year. Rents are expected to be about $25 a square foot.
Under the agreement with the county, Connell has already paid $12.2 million for the hospital parcel, even though it will not take control of the land until the new hospital is built, sometime before 1990. Mr. Doherty said the county has put the money into an account and will apply the interest to the building fund.
''By the time we're ready to use the money, we'll have close to $18 million to play with,'' he said. The county will sell $9 million in bonds to cover the rest of the new facility's estimated $27 million cost.
Mr. Booth said the contract allows the existing buildings to be razed once the new hospital is operating. But he said that the land is now zoned as open space by the municipality, and that the company's plans for the property will be determined by the response of Berkeley Heights to any rezoning. THE new hospital will contain about as many beds as the current facility, but they will be in one structure instead of several buildings. The building site is on a bluff just north of the existing complex, overlooking I-78 and abutting a residential area of Berkeley Heights.
The county first studied the possibility of replacing the existing hospital in the mid-1970's. But it did not act until last year when it updated the study and devised the novel way of paying for the replacement.
The final vote on the proposal was 5 to 4 in favor of selling the land. Opponents felt the county should not give up the property and should find another alternative.
Concerns were also raised about the increased traffic that more commercial development would bring, as well as the difficulties that would arise at the steeply sloped new building site.
Berkeley Heights officials do not favor the county's plan. ''We're not at all excited about getting the hospital on that upper tract,'' said Theodore J. Romankow, the Mayor of Berkeley Heights. ''Our main concern is that the site abuts a residential zone, which already has a serious problem with drainage.''
Mr. Romankow said he also was upset with the county for keeping local residents ''in the dark'' about the land swap. The Mayor said he did not hear a word from county officials until six weeks ago.
''We're trying to cooperate as best we can,'' he said, ''but it's difficult when we don't know what's going on.''
According to Mayor Romankow, the county ought to have considered options other than moving the hospital to a residential area. For one, he said, a portion of the lower 63 acres sold to Connell could have been retained as a site for the new hospital. He also questioned whether the county should continue to be in the business of running what is basically a nursing home when there are private operators willing to do so.
''You know, the extra tax ratables sound real nice on paper,'' Mr. Romankow said. ''But there are a lot of important issues that affect all the people in this town.''
Mr. Doherty said that plans for the new facility are under review by the State Department of Health, which must issue a certificate of need before construction can begin. Then, he said, the plans will be submitted to various boards in Berkeley Heights for approval.

March 03, 2007

They said W-H-A-T????

Recently the Westfield Leader editorialized about a 2005 change in county government policy which currently bans county department directors from speaking directly with the press and dictates whether or not elected county officials should personally return phone calls or direct them to public information employees.

Could this be why there has been a dearth of direct quotes from the freeholders regarding the county budget and other matters of public interest? And could this change in policy be linked to some “Quotable Quotes” by Freeholders and County Managers past and present? Digging back just a few years in local newspaper archives produced some genuine gems that beg to be shared.

In January of ‘02, then County Manager Michael Lapolla told the Westfield Leader: “There will be drastic improvements to the UC Police building”. Lapolla certainly wasn’t kidding as the county increased the burden of debt on the taxpayers by bonding for and erecting a brand new building on North Ave, which could be called the Darth Vader’s Fortress and wins the prize for the ugliest building in the county.

Recently reelected to a third term, Freeholder Deborah Scanlon was quoted on Oct. 28, ‘03 in the Cranford Eagle: “We achieved an unmatched record of providing tax relief to our residents”. One has to wonder what county this freeholder was in then, since U C taxes had already increased during her tenure 48% and have continued to climb. But we shouldn’t have been surprised because she gave us a warning in 2001 in the same paper when she said: “Paying taxes is part of living in America.”

Will Save a cool Million, no make that $3Million, or could it be $4Million???

Early retirement programs are often touted as being money savers at budget time and in ‘02 a county press release quoted in the Cranford Eagle in January predicted that “early retirement will save $1 million per year,” County Manager Devanney followed up in April ‘02 stating to the same paper: “The County hopes to save $1million annually with early retirement. Initially we hoped for $3 million.” appears that there was a $2million miscommunication someplace.

The next year, 2003, the Eagle quoted county press releases on the same topic with the following results: 1/4/03 – “Early retirement will save $1million per yr”. 4/24/03 – “Early retirement will save $500,000 per year” and finally 5 weeks later on 6/5/03 – “Early retirement will save $1million per year”. T

The following year Freeholder Mirabella told that Eagle when referring to the benefit of early retirement on the 2003 budget, “We saved $4 million per year on early retirement”.

Well what was it?

Hopefully it didn’t shake out like last year’s early retirement package which when reviewed by the state accountants was predicted to actually cost the county money.

The Open Space Trust Fund approved by the voters in 2000 became the topic of conversation in July of 2003.

When discussing a recent land purchase by the trust fund Freeholder Scanlon told the Westfield Leader “this is open space. We are proud to be protecting it from development”. Well it seems someone forgot to tell the other freeholders who one week later were also discussing the fund as well as a children’s museum. On 8/3/03 in the same issue of the Cranford Eagle Former Freeholder Mary Ruotolo is quoted: “It’s not our intention to pay for the construction of a museum”, followed up by Al Mirabella: “As for where such a museum could be built, the 5 acre property we bought in Union is an option.” Coincidently the 5 acre property was Freeholder Scanlon’s open space and the board gave $1million seed money to an unproven charity who wanted to build a museum, where did that money go?

And last but not least, Al Mirabella, quoted in the Oct. 28th 2003 Cranford Eagle just before Election Day “We reconnected county government with the people it serves.” Too bad that less than a year later at a Freeholder meeting in June of 2004 Chairman Angel Estrada’s remark: “We don’t have to answer the public’s questions.” shows just how unconnected they prefer to be. It’s no wonder that these public officials and the high ranking employees are no longer allowed to speak with the press or the taxpayers personally, because who knows what they might say.

March 01, 2007

I’ve got some nerve

In her closing comments during the last Freeholder meeting, Freeholer Chairwoman Bette Jean Kowalski remarked that she took notes of a comment I made during a meeting in the past and accused me of having stated “I’m going to bring you down”. She then went on to accuse me of practicing partisan politics.

Freeholder’s often use their closing comments to bully residents. It takes some nerve for a resident, who oftentimes is at a meeting alone with no friends in the room, to stand at the podium in front of the dais and express how they feel about the incompetent, corrupt, mismanaged county government to the nine freeholders and Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew. Over the years I’ve seen freeholders react to speakers by making stupid faces, laughing, reading a newspaper, or even getting up and walking out of the room.

There are also dozens of county employee’s in the room, some of which also laugh and make rude comments or noises during a residents allotted 5 minutes to address the board, as well as during the meeting. I know I’ve hit a nerve when I have nasty comments thrown at me by employees at the elevator when leaving a meeting. The immature and insecure always need to have the last word. This is my chance to laugh at them, they are so pathetic.

There are also county police in the room ready to drag you out on a moments notice from the hierarchy of county government. Believe me I know.

YOUR TIME IS UP! Freeholders called the cops to take County Watcher Tina Renna away when she went a minute over time discussing the boy the county government allowed to die.

Bullies are cowards. If the freeholders had an ounce of the guts that a resident needs to address them, they would make their comments to a speaker while they are still at the podium therefore, able to defend themselves. They would also straighten out their employees and have them behave in a professional manner during public meetings and in public buildings, at the very least. Alas, why else would they need these employees if not to harass residents who dare to question the Union County Democrat machine, which is what the Board of Chosen Freeholders represent in reality.

Freeholder Kowalski misquoted me. Given the county’s recent public relations push to discredit the work of the Union County Watchdog Association by labeling our work as being political and carried out by just myself, and since the public isn’t allowed to defend themselves from closing comments made by a freeholder, I was compelled to write the local newspapers to clarify what I said.

It just so happens that the Westfield Leader had reported almost exactly what I said in their November 15, 2006 issue.

….During the public part of the meeting, Cranford resident Tina Renna, president of the Union County Watchdog Association, commented on the recent Union County freeholder campaign, which was won by incumbents Mr. Mirabella, Deborah Scanlon and Chester Holmes.

“For the past four years I have been paying attention, you [have been] elected by the same margins. This isn’t because the majority of Union County residents are voting for you, it is because the majority of Union County residents aren’t voting,” Mrs. Renna said in a prepared statement.

She referenced the Democratic freeholders “longstanding practice of spending upwards of $250,000 [from taxes] on supporting incumbent freeholders right before the election. This comes in the form of mailers and commercials.”

She said that money could have been better spent helping an organization like the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.

“I have made it my mission to make sure that your regime goes down in history with the likes of (former 30-year Jersey City mayor) Frank Hague,” Mrs. Renna said, drawing laughter from a number of freeholders…..

I hope Freeholder Kowalski took better notes of all my comments that evening. Particularly the part about the Freeholders using tax dollars to promote their campaigns.

Kowalski is up for re-election this year and she can put a stop this abuse of the public trust. She can “Bring it down” so to speak. But that would take some guts and I don’t think any one of them have an ounce of it. If they did they wouldn’t be sitting up their doing a powerbroker's bidding.

The Westfield Leader left out a part of my Frank Hague comment. I believe I closed by stating that the freeholders actions and inactions have made my mission very easy. I don't recall them laughing at that.