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.