October 27, 2007

County public information spin is as negligent and twisted as their prisoner care

It was brought to the Union County Watchdog Association’s attention this week that another prisoner held in the Union County jail was near death after possible medical mis-treatment. Allegedly several memebers of the medical staff have been released from their duties. The staff work for Correctional Health Services, the contractor in charge of medical treatment at the jail. The firm is a heavy democrat party contributor and has also contributed upwards of $10,000 to Union County concerts.

The County of Union uses it’s website as a campaign tool. Only fluff stories that mostly feature freeholders that are up for re-election are posted, negative press releases are only sent to insistent media.

When we learned that a press release was sent to just a select group of media and not placed on the county website we placed an Open Public Records Act Request for all releases sent to media outlets and was sent the following release which was issued 10 days after the prisoner fell ill and fails to inform us of any details while strongly implying that the county had nothing to do with this prisoners illness and care. Notice the county makes sure they mention the prisoner’s crimes in case anyone should feel sympathy for a human life and forget that this isn’t a ‘law abiding citizen’.

The county to date also refuses to accept any responsibility for the death of a 17 year old held in their juvenile detention center despite a report released by the States Child Advocate which stated “the county set the stage for his suicide” and other strong evidence of neglect of the center and its inhabitants. This lawsuit is scheduled to be officially settled conveniently after this upcoming Election Day.

An email to Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jean Kowalski asking for information regarding this prisoner’s health has gone unanswered. Because of the lack of public information and freeholder accessibility, the Union County Watchdog Association will now include asking for all press releases in our weekly routine OPRA requests. It is very tedious keeping an eye on Union County government, all the more reason for the need for government watchdogs.

Other recent prisoner deaths and abuses: In February 2006 The Star-Ledger reported that the county was facing its second lawsuit in five weeks for the death of an inmate who died in custody because of a lack of medical treatment. Aaron Pittman was convicted for drug possession. He died 18 days after he was detained and his medication for Crohn’s disease was confiscated. Another inmate, Donald Davis, died from an untreated stomach infection on Oct. 25, 2005. Davis was arrested and locked up at the Union County Jail for stealing an undershirt from a store in Elizabeth. Five days later, the 44-year-old man from Newark was found dead in his cell, from an untreated stomach infection -- peritonitis. It was also found that a 22 year old prisoner had to have his voice box removed, and is currently fighting for his life, due to a cancer that went untreated. (Management in charge of the jail were given raises in December 2006.)

OPRA response:

From: Sebastian Delia
Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2007 6:07 PM
To: Marlena Russo
Subject: This is the one not on the website

October 23, 2007
For immediate release
Contact: Sebastian D’Elia
Communications Director, Union County


ELIZABETH--Jonathan Dawkins, an inmate at the Union County Jail, is in intensive care at the University Medical Hospital in Newark.

On Saturday, October 13th Dawkins had to be removed from his cell after exhibiting behavior that posed a potential risk to himself and those around him. During the course of his removal by a specially trained team of corrections personnel, medical intervention became necessary. Dawkins was transported by Elizabeth Emergency Medical Services to University Hospital in Newark.

Dawkins, a 35-year old resident of Newark, was in jail on Union County warrants for aggravated assault and resisting arrest. He had been in the Union County Jail since October 1st, awaiting pre-trial processing.

This information has been released following the notification of Dawkins’ family members.

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the County Police Department are conducting a joint investigation of the matter.


October 23, 2007


“Shame on You Ralph Froehlich”

A Message to Sheriff Froehlich:
Take Down Those Illegal Pole Signs

We realize that old habits die hard and that this guy is an old time politician but come on already!

One would think that since he is among the highest ranking law enforcement officials in the county and probably the longest serving sheriff in the country he would simply comply with the law instead of thumbing his nose at it.

Sheriff Ralph Froehlich currently has hundreds of campaign signs illegally posted on public utility poles from one end of Union County to the other including the one pictured above which is posted right outside of the building bearing his name. Besides being an unsightly blight on the landscape of Union County, the pole signs represent a slap in the face to the very residents who have repeatedly entrusted him to uphold the law. These signs are not only in violation of state law but local ordinances in some of our municipalities as well.

We would like to point out that Sheriff Froehlich rarely misses an opportunity to publicly commend himself for running his department in what he believes to be an up-to-the-minute cutting edge style frequently bragging that he is always looking to institute new, inventive programs and technologies. That being the case one would think he would step into the 21st century when it came to campaigning and expect that he would not feign innocence again this year by blaming others for this unsightly barrage against good taste.

Why than does he continue to campaign in an old fashioned manner plastering the county with these ugly and illegal signs reminiscent of the days of Boss Tweed and high button shoes?

· Is it because he has been in office for so long that he has forgotten who pays his salary and what they expect.
· Is it because he does not take his oath of office seriously especially where he promised to uphold the laws of the state and county.
· Is it because he thinks he is above the law.

Whatever the reason it is time that he stopped being a hypocrite and showed some respect for the taxpayers by respecting the laws that he vowed to enforce.

October 17, 2007

2008 Music Fest - Now here we go again

We previously reported that after being caught on film last year feasting and drinking in their exclusive tax-payer funded Musicfest VIP tent, fit with celebrity port-a-potties, the county made sure they didn’t do it again - get caught on film that is.

This years Musicfest VIP tent was set far off and out of sight and out of reach of a camera’s zoom lens. Therefore, it was necessary to return the next morning, which was a Sunday, and take a peek around.

Last year the county left their mess until after 9 a.m. on Monday morning. I arrived slightly before 8 a.m. on Sunday and found a Parks & Recreation crew already on the job. Next year, the county is going to have to get up a bit earlier than that if they want to hide their tax-payer funded party.

The following photos were taken of the aftermath of this year's Musicfest VIP tent party. Open Public Records Act requests were returned with the following responses:

The county has no catering bills for the VIP tent catering

The county has no alcohol bills for the VIP tent alcohol

The county has no permits to serve alcohol to their VIP tent guests

Bottles being carted away in a county golf cart:

A county parks sign:

Taxpayers Port-a-John:

VIP Tent Port-a-John complete with flowers, sink with soap dispenser, doormat and a mirror for checking your lipstick:

Previosly reported:
Freeholders VIP Compound

October 14, 2007

Taxpayers get no respect

In Union County machine politicians can't be held accountable, law enforcement is overwhelmed and taxpayers get no respect.

October 07, 2007

Paying a hell of a lot more for less

Ocean County maintains a kiosk at the Ocean County Mall, yet Union County taxpayers are shelling out $131,745 more for what the freeholder's consider "public information".

The County of Union is spending more on public information department salaries than any other county in the state. A hell of a lot more. From sightings on the campaign trail, a video on you-tube, the ELEC site, and in offices of local newspapers, citizen watchdogs and the local media can’t deny the fact that these employees are involved in campaigns.

Listed in the Laws of Union County is a code that requires that every full-time employee "shall devote his entire time during business hours" to the job.

That means when a public information department employee calls a local newspaper editor to make a campaign interview appointment –they are not devoting their entire time during business hours to their job. When a public information department employee accompanies campaigning freeholders on media interviews involving their campaign – they are not devoting their entire time during business hours to their job. Unless their job description encompasses working on freeholder re-election campaigns.

The head of this department, who is quoted often in the press as the “Union County Spokesperson” has been said to be on call 24 hours to disseminate information to the public. In a 2005 memo in which the county manager recommends this department head for a raise he acknowledges that “Seb works around the clock, and handles major issues and hostile inquires on a daily basis”.

Then when can it be appropriate for this tax-payer funded “round-the-clock spokesperson” to be working on freeholder campaigns? And why is the local media, who by the way folks are supposed to be the government watchdogs, not exposing this abuse of the public trust?

Westfield homeowners pay more property taxes to the County of Union then they do to their town. If the Mayor of Westfield had a town employee arrange a campaign meeting during business hours, would the local media wink and nod at this as well? Most likely it would be reported on the next few published editorial pages.

It is illegal
At the time of this posting, former Essex County Executive James Treffinger couldn’t be reached for comment on the legalities of this campaign staff/public employee issue. Treffinger was convicted, and was sent to prison, for having county employees working on his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Outside information
In addition to spending $445,173 on public information department salaries the county maintains a $232,000 yearly contract with Strategic Media for the purposes of providing media consulting and marketing services. They also have a separate firm “All Access Marketing and Media” which they pay $15,000 to market the Musicfest. Yet another firm provides management services for the Musicfest. Strategic Media, which has changed its name several times also does work for the all-Democrat freeholder campaigns.

What counties are spending on Public Information staff salaries:

$313,428__Ocean- Maintains a kiosk at Ocean County Mall
$243,462__Burlington- Head of PI is also Custodian of Records
$238,389__Cape May
$128,912__Warren- Confidential Assistant also takes meeting minutes
$ 83,590__Morris
$ 82,410__Hudson
$ 79,826__Cumberland- PI Officer is also the Director Dept. of Planning
$ 43,577__Gloucher- PI Director is also the Clerk of the Board
$ 41,560__Salem- PI Officer is also Head of Human Resources

Counties with no Public Information Departments:

Research is based on Open Public Records Act requests for 2006 public salary information.