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.