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.