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.