December 28, 2007

UCWA requests investigation into $110,000 equipment


The Union County Watchdog Association has requested an investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office into the malfunctioning of the recording equipment during the December 20, 2007 freeholder meeting. The county recently spent $110,000 on updating and installing new video equipment.

The UCWA routinely requests a copy of the meeting recordings and then has them converted to be available to the public on the Internet. An Open Public Records Act request for a copy of this meeting was returned “no document to provide”. Also not available to the public is a written statement which was read by the County Manager regarding the county’s response to the recent prisoner escapes.

During this meeting there was input from the public on many important subjects both on and off the agenda. It is the county’s habit of taking care of messy business such as retroactive pay raises at their end-of-the-year meeting. This meeting was held 5 days before Christmas.

Although the announcement hadn’t been made yet regarding the done deal of Richard Childs becoming the new County Public Safety Director the freeholders were asked repeatedly what qualifications Childs had for this position considering he was currently a part-time investigator in the County Counsel’s office and why a national search wasn’t performed to fill this position as was being done to fill the Jail Director position. The new Jail Director will be reporting to Childs.

No explanation was given or public statements made regarding this all-important position of public safety. There is no record of this position being discussed during public or closed session meetings of the freeholders.

Consider that Childs will now be in charge of a department with about 400 employees, including 74 County Police. The Public Safety Department also includes the operations of the county's Divisions of Correctional Services, Emergency Management, Medical Examiner, Weights and Measures, and Health. Childs will also be responsible for the supervision of the Bureaus of Domestic Preparedness, Hazardous Materials, the Fire Training Academy and Fire Investigations Task Force, and the Office of Consumer Affairs.

The UCWA is requesting an investigation because we believe there may have been statements made during this meeting that could aid the current investigation into county management’s role in the prisoner escapes as well as past practices in the jail. Namely, prisoner health care, politically connected prisoners being given preferential treatment and the lack of cameras inside the facility.

Other important business during this meeting was the creation of 6 new captain positions in the Sheriff’s Department. This will bring the total number of captains to 11 and will allow for 6 Sergeants to be promoted to Lieutenant including the Union County Democrat Chairman, Charlotte DeFilipo’s daughter-in-law. Sheriff Ralph Froehlic’s step-son will be promoted to Sergeant. There are also 7 Lieutenants and 10Sergeants under 1 Sheriff and 3 Undersherriffs (one undersheriff is an assemblyman and another is the son of an assemblyman).

The main function of the Sheriff’s department is to guard the Courthouse which doesn’t include the prison. The freeholders were asked why six new Captains were needed. No explanation was given. These new captain positions and the other promotions will cost approximately $300,000 annually. Also created were 3 new lieutenant positions in the County Police Department.

Raises for the County Manager, who is appointed by the freeholders and is Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, and the freeholders were also on the agenda and voted on as well as raises for all constitutional officers - including the prosecutor and sheriff.

The county allows citizens 5 minutes to speak. Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jean Kowalski repeatedly tried to keep me from speaking on all of the above, and I repeatedly asked her why I wasn’t allowed to speak the truth. Kowalski eventually had me escorted from the meeting by a county police officer. Now the recording of the meeting isn’t available. hmmmm

Union County government takes approximately ¼ of our property taxes and can not be held accountable to the public. Citizens of Union County should be very concerned about their public safety as well as their Democratic freedoms as dictated by the county freeholders.

View OPRA response HERE