August 03, 2007

Union County Watchdog Association wins OPRA lawsuit

The Union County Watchdog (UCWA) recently announced that the county has settled out of court their complaint which challenged the county's charging an $8.00 an hour fee when the watchdog group placed an Open Public Records (OPRA) request for back up documentation supporting certain county expenditures found in the county check registry.

"The UCWA regrets that it has become necessary to take legal action to secure for the general public the ability to view or obtain whatever public documents that they are entitled to by law" said UCWA president Tina Renna. "The taxpayers now have to add these legal costs, $,1,857.45, to the cost of the freeholder meeting refreshments and travel expenses, the County Manager's mother's catered luncheon, and his home internet bills, and various other perks included in the withheld vouchers" Renna continued. "These types of financial roadblocks are intended for the sole purpose of discouraging tax-burdened residents from demanding accountability from a county government that is clearly out of control and unconnected to the people" said Renna upon filing the lawsuit.

The OPRA states that bills, receipts and vouchers should be made available immediately upon request. The UCWA maintains that every citizen has the right to walk into the county administration building and ask to see the bills which they are ultimately picking up the tab for. No taxpayer should be hindered by economic means and have to pay a $8.00 an hour fee for these bills to be compiled. The fact that these bills represented $1,606 worth of refreshments for freeholder's meetings; $1012.78 reimbursed to the county manager including payment for his home internet service and $1,773.75 to the county manager's mother (Sen. Lesniak's sister) to cater a luncheon for her job at Kean University was a slap in the face to every taxpayer.

The Union County Watchdog Association will continue to fight for transparent government practices with the one-party ruled Union County freeholder board and the appointed County Manager, George Devanney, who is Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew.Highlights of the bills/receipts:

$1,773.75 for Gourmet Dining c/o Kean University was ordered by the County Manager's mother, Margaret Devanney (Sen. Lesniak's sister), who works for Kean. Although county taxpayers paid for this gala there are no press releases regarding this event on the county website.

The county managers $1012.78 reimbursements included 2 months of home internet service, 2 work related dinner meetings, one lunch meeting, one breakfast meeting and $300.00 to establish petty cash.

Freeholder refreshment bills included:

$300 to Costa's Restaurant
for freeholder meeting held on March 12. The freeholders were served Penne Vodka, Linguini Carrbonara, Sausage and Peppers, Chicken Parm

$127.55 to stock the freeholder office with soda.

$295.00 to Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant for freeholder meeting held on January 8. The freeholders were served Eggplant Parmigiana, Baked Stuffed Shells, Chicken Cacciatore, Fried Mushrooms, Meatballs, with NO CHARGE being marked for Garlic Knots, Zeppoli's, loaf of bread, and Ziti Marinara.

$166.00 to the Gourmet Deli for the freeholder budget hearing held on February 21. The freeholders were served an assorted sandwich platter with foccacia and tossed salad.

$380.00 to the Gourmet Deli for freeholder meeting held on March 1. The freeholders were served (can't decipher the bill)

$166.00 to the Gourmet Deli for freeholder budget hearing held on February 28. The freeholders were served an assorted sandwich platter with foccacia and tossed salad.

$42.00 for a cake for a nutrition meeting at Ehrhart Gardens held on 2/27/07.

$171.72 to the Pizza King for freeholder meeting held on 3/2/07. The freeholders were served assorted pizzas and salad.

$225.00 to Napoli Deli for a Department of Human Services meeting held on 3/21.

$1,200 to Shades of Green to maintain the plants in the courthouse atrium and at police headquarters. Each location costs $200 a month to maintain. (Note: the county employees 2,842 people)

$2,983.50 for registration for 3 conferences including $1,320 for the NACO legislative conference for three freeholders to attend @ $440.00 each (this does not include expenses).

The Sheriff was reimbursed $519.78 for petty cash reimbursements including $26.60 for Dunkin' Donuts.