May 17, 2007

County taxpayers have nothing to celebrate on 150th anniversay

The County of Union will be staging a 150th Anniversary celebration on Saturday. The only history mentioned in their press release is the county’s creation.

The county hasn’t mentioned the most famous part of its recent past, the creation of the county manager plan. This has been referred to by historians as the biggest mistake in county government history (reference New Jersey Politics and Government).

In 1976 The Elizabeth Daily Journal let a crusade to endorse this form of county government to of all things, end widespread patronage. County charter reform forces won in a close race and George Albanese was named the first county manager. Historians have noted that Albanese was a respected and talented administrator who swiftly restored fiscal responsibility and they fretted that he would be hard to replace.

Thirty years later we have State Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew appointed as the county manager. A 2006 study conducted by the Union County Watchdog Association found that 542 county employees have the same surnames of elected Democrat officials. We can’t say for sure that all these people are related, but we can say that we have no idea of knowing how many employees don’t share the same surname, such as in-laws and cousins. For instance, Senator Lesniak’s nephew’s name is George Devanney. Devanney’s mother-in-law is on the county payroll, all three have different surnames - So much for ending patronage.

Union County is the only county in New Jersey which adopted the county manager plan of government. It was considered a mistake and has become the poster child of bad county government.

Senator Tom Kean, Jr. introduced a bill in 2004 to study the effectiveness of county government. With the 21 counties in New Jersey being under home rule of one powerbroker or another who dole out patronage and contracts to political contributors who keep them in power it is little wonder that this bill didn’t get far. Other states have had recent success with getting county governments off of their tax backs. Connecticut got rid of county government in the 1970’s. In 1997 Massachusetts abolished 8 of its 14 counties.

While the freeholders and politically connected in Union County have plenty to party about on Saturday, property tax payers, who will be no doubt picking up the catering bill for the festivities, have nothing to celebrate to date.