April 25, 2007

The UC “Virtual” Improvement Authority”

It has been about six years that the Union County Improvement Authority has been renting space in a shop worn office building on Cherry Street in Elizabeth; the current rent is $2,500 per month. The commercial building is a short sprint, about 2 blocks from the county administration building. The UC Freeholders are in the process of purchasing the structure for $1.275 million to house the Improvement Authority.

It is puzzling enough that the office space should be rented let alone the building purchased for what appears to be a “virtual” operation. Charlotte DeFilippo, the authority’s exec director, earns $132K annually and has made no bones about the fact that she does the county’s business from her Hillside home.

According to a Star Ledger interview, “She is at her dining room table by 7:30 each morning, her hands shuffling papers spread across a white tablecloth. She works mostly from home. By 8 a.m., the BlackBerry is buzzing, the cell phone is ringing and the spent cigarettes are piling in the ashtray.” On more than one personal unannounced visit to the authority office no one was found to be around, just a piece of old copy paper attached to the dull Luwan door, it read “be back later”, nothing further, leaving one to guess when later actually would be, and it has been reported by those making actual appointments that the visitors usually arrive before the admin who suddenly appears from somewhere off site regardless of the hour.

The Improvement Authority has nine members, the meetings are said to be very brief often not taking place at the Cherry Street location as advertised but rather at other county office sites. Bearing all of this in mind, why is the county purchasing this building to house this “virtual authority”?

A quick check of the county board of taxation website revealed that the current owners are Albert G. Mauti, Jr. and Joseph Mauti, his cousin as in M & M Construction Company. Between ‘99 and ‘04 alone the all Democratic Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders awarded various no bid contracts to M & M Construction Co. to the tune of over $20 Million.

From ‘99 thru ‘04 M & M made contributions to the Union County Democratic Committee, of which Ms DeFilippo is the Chair of at least $30,000. Further Assemblyman Joseph Cryan represents a portion of Union County to include the town of Union where he is the Dem Municipal Chair; he is also the Chairman of the State Democratic Committee and a Union County Undersheriff.

Numerous members of the Mauti family residing outside the county contributed over $22,000 to Cryan’s election coffers between ‘03 and ‘05. Family members have also contributed to the campaign of Senator Nick Scutari and Michael LaPolla’s run for Congress, both UC Dems

In 2005 the municipality of Union awarded Al Mauti a redevelopment contract to build town houses on a piece of property owned by a local developer who had obtained the lots by purchasing tax liens. The developer planned to build townhouses himself; the all Dem town council said he wasn’t working fast enough and moved to take the tract of land from him, he filed suit to protect his investment and the town, though they deny it, changed the zoning thus preventing him from building. Litigation is still pending and no one is building anything.

One could venture to guess that the county Dems could be looking to repay a favor.

What could be better than to take this debilitated office building off the Mauti’s hands? Unfortunately the residents of UC will be the ones paying for it and it can be predicted, it’s much needed refurbishing. All of this will mean more contracts and more bonds and more debt to the taxpayers. Perhaps the county will award that contract to M&M to spruce the place up, now there’s an idea. But why bother, the Exec Director of the Improvement Authority probably won’t budge from her comfy home office anyway.