January 31, 2007

Freeholder video meeting minutes now on the web

Contact: Tina Renna, President UCWA 908-709-0530

Union County Watchdog Association Posts Freeholder Meetings on Website Using Veotag, a Service That Makes Web Video More Useful and Convenient

Union County, NJ – The Union County Watchdog Association announced today that it will be posting complete video coverage of Union County Freeholder’s meetings on its site, www.unioncountywatchdog.org. “Union County government accounts for 1/4 of our property tax bills and constituents have a right to see and hear what goes on during local government meetings,” said Tina Renna, president of Union County Watchdog Association. “Posting video of Union County Freeholder’s meetings on the web gives constituents an easy way to stay informed and it helps government be more responsive and connected to their constituents.”

The Association is using Veotag, a video enhancement service, to make the video footage of the meetings more convenient and useful for constituents to view. With Veotag, constituents can see a clickable table of contents alongside the video as it plays on their screens. They can click on any item in the table of contents to jump to that moment in the video. This table of contents is also searchable on search engines. A search for “Union County Freeholder Meeting”, or any other word or phrase that is in the table of contents will provide a link to the video.

“Because freeholder meetings can be long and cover many topics, we were concerned whether people would watch the videos” continued Ms. Renna. “By enhancing the video with Veotag, citizens can click directly to the parts that interest them and skip the rest. We believe Veotag is an essential tool for governments to use online video to be transparent to their constituents.”

“Last year Union County government spent approximately $110,000 to replace their audio and video equipment and $6,000 to upgrade their website without providing for web-cast meetings” said Renna, “Currently only a small amount of the 21 towns air freeholder meetings on cable. This new technology is an opportunity for county government to leverage their tax-dollar investment and be connected to anyone with a computer.”

The Union County Watchdog Association utilizes the Open Public Records Act to obtain and then post to their website for free public access many records that aren’t available on the county’s official site. “I’m proud and excited to add video meeting minutes to our extensive on-line library which shines a light on Union County government” said Ms. Renna.

An example of a Union County Freeholder’s meeting video that has been enhanced using Veotag can be viewed by clicking HERE.

January 29, 2007

The County Blame Game - Part II

When Union County Manager, George Devanney, released his executive budget for 2007 he placed the onus for the 5.7 percent tax hike almost entirely on the shoulders of the county residents.

He is quoted as saying “the tax increases were necessary to preserve popular services that the residents expect.” It certainly seems as though he was awarding this year’s top winning prize to the principal players in the County’s Annual Blame Game, the hapless taxpayers.

I must admit that I am just a tad confused by the services that Mr. Devanney mentions as contributing to this years increase in the tax levy. He cites Meals on Wheels for seniors, a prescription drug program, outdoor concerts and the development of new parks; this is all a bit odd.


It is doubtful that Meals on Wheels has created a major impact on the tax levy unless they plan on appropriating a couple of additional million over last year. There is a suggested contribution of $3.00 a meal from those seniors who participate and can spare the cash.

The program is certainly one that most county residents would gladly support as worth every penny since no one wants grandma to go hungry. The mere hint of its being threatened in anyway would have seniors lining up with their walkers at the polls come November to reelect the incumbent Democrats, not a bad tactic to ensure the support of this large voting block. As Sharpe James, the former Democrat Mayor of Newark always said “you feed'em - you lead'em.


Touted as a means to assist all Union County residents bear the rising cost of prescription medications, the Prescription Drug program was presented as having no cost to the taxpayers, as the county was only a conduit responsible for steering consumers to a company called Add Health. Residents can join up, for an annual fee and receive some drugs at discounted rates at select pharmacies. Since this is at no cost to the county it is doubtful that it has increased the tax levy by much more than a bit of clerical time to answer the phone occasionally and space on the website; after all the resident is dealing with Add Health themselves and bearing the cost themselves.


When the concerts in the park, complete with VIP tents, deluxe portable water closets and catering which includes alcoholic beverages are called an unnecessary expense the freeholders vehemently object by saying that there are corporate sponsors who help defray the costs and these events actually cost the taxpayers a mere pittance. So Mr. Devanney share with us all how these events are now suddenly impacting on the budget??


Last but certainly not least is the development of new parks, which the residents supposedly are demanding. Where did the Open Space Trust Fund go? Was not this separate tax a three pronged vehicle to be used for not only historic preservation but for the purchase of land and the development of recreational facilities? Don’t parks fall under this category? Could it be that when the voters approved this additional tax on their homes that this is just what they had in mind?


Devanney went on to elaborate that “while the county looks for efficiencies the administration believes that the residents also expect services”, which of course is true. The residents expect the county roads to be in top shape, including ice and snow removable when necessary, the existing parks to be usable and in good repair, they expect the county police to provide law enforcement, the prosecutors office to pursue criminals, the jails to be safe environments for both adults and juveniles as well as provide the rehabilitation of offenders, and assist those who are down on their luck and need a hand to get on their feet. In short the taxpayers expect and deserve county government to look after the safety, health and well fare of the residents.

I am sure I am not alone when I say that VIP commodes at outdoor concerts are not on the top of my list of the services I expect.

January 24, 2007

New Jersey Press Association joins the UCWA in OPRA lawsuit

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Richard Gutman, Esq. 973-744-6038
Contact: Tina Renna, President Union County Watchdog Association, Inc. 908-709-0530

Union County, N.J.­ – The New Jersey Press Association has been granted a motion to participate as a friend of the court on behalf of a lawsuit filed by Tina Renna on behalf of the Union County Watchdog Association against Union County government over its recent policy change that requires citizens to submit any and all public records requests on the county's official request form.

A copy of the NJPA Amicus Brief can been seen by clicking HERE

A copy of the lawsuit, filed in Superior Court can been seen by clicking HERE

The County's policy change came on the heels of a Feb. 17, 2006 Advisory Opinion issued by the Government Records Council (GRC). The GRC is the agency created by law in 2002 to enforce the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The GRC's advisory opinion can been seen by clicking HERE

Renna, who is also a board member of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, said that she is challenging this new procedure on behalf of records requesters throughout the state.

"The whole idea behind OPRA is to make public records access quick and easy to get," she said. "Under the new policy, a person seeking a public record must now get a copy of a government agency's official records request form before even being able to submit a request." This causes a significant delay, she noted, because most agencies, do not post a copy of its official record request form on their official Web sites.

Under the Federal Freedom of Information Act you can verbally request federal public records. New Jersey's Open Public Records Act simply states that a request must be made in writing.

“The fact that freeholders and county management are given electronic tools such as Blackberries and cell phones and have their home internet service all paid for at taxpayer’s expense yet a taxpayer can't simply send an email to place an OPRA request is outrageous and just an attempt to discourage and hinder the public from seeking and accessing information," she said.

The Union County Watchdog Association routinely acquires public records and posts them on their website for free public access. You can access their site by clicking HERE

January 18, 2007

The Laws of Union County - NOT

The Freeholders list their policy and procedures in a document called “The Laws of Union County”. In the preface it declares ….. Legislation must be more than mere chronological enactments reposing in the pages of old records. It must be available and logically arranged for convenient use and must be kept up-to-date. It was with thoughts such as these in mind that the Board of Chosen Freeholders ordered the following codification of its Administrative Code, general ordinances, resolutions, and policies in this Volume.

I’ve only referred to this document on two occasions and on both I found that the freeholders and county manager are blatantly breaking their own laws. How convenient for a government body to enact laws but put no one in charge of law enforcement.

What county police officer is going to walk into the freeholders VIP tent at a taxpayer funded concert and ask to see a permit for the alcohol and then fine the freeholders and county manager when they don’t have one?

The second time I referred to the so called Laws of Union County I was researching the employee portal to portal vehicle policy. Apparently there is no one that follows or enforces county vehicle policies.

Hear ye! Here Ye! It is recorded in the Laws of Union County, it shall be the policy of the County of Union that the use of a County-assigned vehicle by an employee shall be limited to official County business, and said vehicle shall not be used for personal purposes with the exception of authorized community use to and from the employee’s workstation.

Hear ye! Here Ye! It is recorded in the Laws of Union County; all County cars assigned to those individuals who reside outside of Union County will be restricted to Union County.

Well isn’t it ironic that Union County Counsel Robert Barry lives is Essex County? If his car is restricted to Union County how did he rack up 6,946 miles and 463.1 gallons of gas in 2006 by driving across the street to the Court House?

The county’s Building Facilities Management Director racked up 17,453 miles last year. I’m not aware of any county buildings or facilities that are located in Monmouth County where the director allegedly lives. This is the same employee who was renting a county house for several years for a few hundred dollars a month. He consumed 1,034.8 gallons of gas in 2006 and is rumored to be a very good bathroom and kitchen tiler.

The county manager racked up 27,247 miles and consumed 692.8 gallons of gas for his Suburban which, according to their advertisements, is designed for heavy hauling. This doesn’t add up. Many of the employee’s mileage and gas usage don’t add up. Perhaps they are justifying their personal vehicle use, which is against their policy, by claiming they are partially purchasing their own gas for personal use.

Last year I placed an Open Public Records Act request for credit card information. I was told that there were no county credit cards issued to employees. There are no payments to credit card companies in the check registries and I haven’t come across many reimbursements, as of yet, in employee’s personal expenses for gas. Ahhhh but that petty cash that fly’s around sure is a mystery.

Hear ye! Here Ye! It is recorded in the Laws of Union County, Vehicle Distribution within the law enforcement area shall be to: Sheriff: two; Undersheriff: two; two plus two usually equals four, but according to the county’s vehicle portal to portal list Sheriff Department personal have 6 vehicles assigned to them.

Last year Sheriff Froehlich used 17,339.00 miles and 1,140.4 gallons of gas and Undersheriff, Assemblyman Cryan used 22,821 and 1,194 gallons of gas. Undersheriff Green, who is Assemblyman Green’s son (there are 8 employee’s named Green on the county payroll), used 8,854.00 miles and 619.8 gallons of gas. Undersheriff Detrolio used 10,364 miles and 651.5 gallons of gas. Are undersheriff Cryan’s duties causing him to travel over twice as much than his fellow undersheriff’s?

All of the Sheriff Department management mentioned above combined salaries add up to over ½ million dollars a year. Is it too much to ask that someone, somewhere, within county government enforce county laws?

A model of shared services

The latest vehicle list I was given by the county listed Frank Dann being issued a vehicle even though he retired last year. I had noticed several months ago that Michael Murray who is the president of the supposed separate entity, the Union County Alliance, vehicle number had changed. I checked past vehicle lists and it showed that he was issued the newly retired Frank Dann’s vehicle. When I questioned whether Murray was given a new vehicle I was told that he wasn’t issued a new vehicle. See OPRA docs by clicking HERE

The latest portal to portal list shows Murray and Dann driving the same vehicle. Are they sharing it? Murray racked up 13,126 miles with 506.8 fuel usage. What makes this even more interesting is that this switch occurred sometime this past summer when Murray allegedly married the county manager’s ex-wife. This would make Murray weekday daddy to the county managers children. Weekday daddy's usually spend more time with children then their biological daddy's who would generally get to see their children maybe every other weekend. Therefore, weekday daddies are usually the ones driving step children to and from scool, activities, etc.

Hear ye! Here Ye! It is recorded in the Laws of Union County, Where determined by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to be appropriate, economy cars will be utilized by the County of Union.

The Crown Victoria is a full size car and represents the top-of-the-line sedan in the Ford lineup. There are 70 portal to portal vehicles issued to employees and no economy cars are on the list. The other models issued are: Suburban 4WD, Dodge Stratus, Explorer XLT, Durango, Intrepid, Blazer LS, Jimmy 4X4, Jeep Cherokee, 2500 Pickup, Sierra Pickup;

The Prosecutors office is excluded from having the public review their vehicle list. It is rumored that there is wide-spread abuses in the vehicle policy. With all the money the taxpayers pay for county law enforcement, there is no one to enforce the Laws of Union County.

More irony:

Three Runnels Hospital employees have portal to portal vehicles and the Director, Joseph Sharpe, isn’t one of them.

In sharp contrast to the “Laws of Union County” Federal government vehicle policy is strictly overseen and enforced. Federal employees are responsible for paying for their own gas between their residence and place of work. Only Federal employees are allowed in Federal vehicles. They are not allowed to drop their kids off at school or stop at the store for a gallon of milk on the way home. If caught the Federal employee is fired immediately.

Heads up for 2006 tax returns!

According to a new IRS policy which limits vehicles for which cents-per-mile may be used to value personal use. When an employer provides an employee with a vehicle that is available for personal use, the value of such use is includable in the employee’s wages. The simplest cents-per-mile valuation method may be used only for vehicles not exceeding a certain value. The IRS has now announced that for new vehicles placed in service in 2006; this value is $15,000 for a passenger automobile and $16,400 for a truck or van. Note: Special rules apply for firms with fleets of 20 or more vehicles.

For instance the appointed county manager, who is Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew will have to claim an additional $16,400 of income on his Federal Tax returns. That’s in addition to his $157,530 county salary (he is currently the second highest paid county administrator in the state behind Camden by just $669) and his $6,000 state salary for being an Advisor to Senator Scaturi.

Which makes George Devanney a double-dipping pension padder just like county employee Assemblywoman Linda Stender the spender. Actually, Devanney’s wife is also in the pension system at least once. Therefore his family will be receiving, at the very least, a triple dipper pension.

Senator Raymond Lesniak has been publicly demanding that Boards of Education make neoptism policies mandatory. Is it too much for the taxpayers to ask of Lesniaks nephew that he drive his family around in his own vehicle?

If you suspect a county employee isn’t reporting his vehicle as income you can send an anonymous tip to:
Internal Revenue Service
Information Referral
Fresno, CA 93888

View the Laws of Union County by clicking HERE

View county employee vehcile list by clicking HERE

January 14, 2007

Passing the "Buck"


For years the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders have been taking a pass the buck approach to the property tax problem facing county residents. And though county government is currently in the process of its annual reorganization it is doubtful that the board will make any notable changes in their “modus operandi”. Rather, they will most likely proceed with business as usual simply because the cast of characters is the same and they will be not be changing anything other than their seating arrangement on the dais. So for those who are expecting anything new, anything daring, anything in the form of even an itty bitty cut in the county portion of their tax bill I am sad to say that based on past performance you can expect to be disappointed.

Within the next couple of weeks, County Manager, George Devaney, will be releasing his proposed spending plan for 2007, complete with a vague explanation of why county government needs to generate X number of dollars of additional income over last year. The board will cast sympatric gazes and heartfelt sighs will be heard as he explains that things have just gotten more expensive with certain costs such as health insurance for county employees going up considerably and of course, contractual obligations have made it impossible to come up with a lower figure.

He will conveniently leave out that certain individuals received bloated raises just weeks ago, and that about 68 new people were hired during a self imposed hiring freeze in ‘06. But alas, he will go back to the drawing board and do his best, "but you know the state is having the same problem."

It is predictable that Gov. Jon Corzine will be drawn into the equation complete with assurances that he will provide the silver bullet that will allow the county freeholders to lower county property taxes and we should just all be patient and wait for that glorious day.

The problem here is that we have a governor who two weeks ago, on the radio, during the teacher’s demonstrations in Trenton, referred to the voting residents of New Jersey who put him in office as “Joe Six-Pack”, this poor choice of words makes one wonder how much respect he actually has for those not as well heeled as himself.

Somewhere along the way and in Trenton especially two words have mistakenly become interchangeable; relief and reform. Tax relief can be thought of as the decongestant a doctor prescribes for a patient’s cold symptoms controlling the running nose till the two week/14 day infection runs its course and the patient is surely the hapless victim of another one. Tax reform on the other hand is like the vaccine administered for Polio, a permanent, life saving measure to eradicate the problem. So far no one has burst on the scene in NJ as the Jonas Salk of the property tax epidemic, certainly not Jon Corzine, though the all democratic freeholder board would like us to think otherwise. Using these maneuvers they put the responsibility of what is going on in their own backyard, Union County, on anyone other than themselves.

If the past few years are any indication of what is to come we will see the continuing blame game being played out on the 6th floor. Blame the contractual employees, blame the legislators in Trenton, blame the health insurance companies, blame the municipalities, blame Wal-Mart, blame George Bush, blame the custodian, blame the Union County Republicans, who by the way haven’t had a sitting freeholder in 10 years. But when one looks closely they are saying blame the voters who keep electing us because they apparently approve of the way we are doing things and are spending their hard earned money.

Perhaps the residents of Union County should look to place the blame on themselves because they are the ones who should be holding the freeholders feet to the fire, they are the eternal optimists who want to believe that this year will be different, this year they will do something about their out of control spending. But it is doubtful that things will change as the Freeholder Board has done an excellent job at pulling the taxpayers into playing their blame game.

January 10, 2007

UCWA makes additions to its on-line library

The Union County Watchdog Association’s website has been averaging about 700 hits per month. This traffic has been increasing steadily. The UCWA mission is to SHINE A LIGHT ON GOVERNMENT by offering an on-line library for the public to have free and easy access to public records in order to monitor county government. In comparison to the information we offer the public, Union County government has just recently begun to post agenda’s and regular meeting minutes on their tax-payer funded site.

Two new features have recently been added to www.UnionCountyWatchdog.org:


In 2006 the Union County Watchdog Association filed a complaint with the State’s Government Records Council and the County Prosecutor's Office charging that the county routinely excessively redacts their executive meeting minutes. So as not to bog down the complaint with dozens of examples of meeting minutes that had been improperly redacted, the UCWA chose just one meeting at random. What was uncovered was that a law suit had been filed against a freeholder who was up for re-election that year – and the one-party ruled county government managed to keep this out of public view. What else had they managed to keep in their back room?

Not being able to rely on freeholder meetings to obtain information we learned how to look-up court cases at the courthouse where we came across a law suit charging that operators of a Union County Para transit van were oblivious to the fact that a passenger had fallen, or was ejected from the rear door of the van, until approximately one block down the road. The passenger died.

These two cases being kept out of the public view coupled with the fact that a lawsuit involving the county Sheriff was kept out of the media for years while the county racked up 2.5 million dollars in legal bills alone. In what was an apparent attempt to keep this case from the public, the county did not report the employee complaint to it’s insurance company which resulted in a lawsuit against the insurance company and a large tax-payer cash payment to the victim.

Shining a Light on Government

The UCWA found it necessary to embark on a huge investigative task of finding and documenting all county government lawsuits of the recent past and which were still generating legal bills. Ultimately we would like to include court costs and settlements on all cases as well as the judges and attorney’s involved, some of this information is presently missing from our spread sheet, we've decided to publish what we have so far. Gathering this information will be a constant work in progress.

We will keep a close watch on the courthouse going forward. Two developments in 2006 will ensure that these suits will no longer be kept from the public. 1. Following a complaint by the UCWA the Prosecutor’s office has ordered the county to be more forthcoming with what they are discussing in executive session and 2. We can’t rely on the freeholders being forthcoming, no matter who orders them to be, so we learned to look up court cases on the GSP terminal in the Courthouse. View law suits filed against the County of Union by clicking HERE.


We have developed a spreadsheet of Union County Improvement Authority Bonds and listed it on our website for free public access. You can view it by clicking HERE.

Asbury Park Press Data Universe: If you ever wondered how much the governor is paid, how many math teachers are in your child's school, or what prices the homes on your block sold for, look no further. Click HERE.

January 01, 2007

A County Watcher’s Year in Review

The County Watchers have been publishing this blog since June 2005. Looking back on all that we uncovered in 2006 it is hard to believe that we could accomplish this much work in the year 2007. Although my name gets the credit for the work, it is a team effort made up of dozens of concerned citizens with many professional talents that produce the end product.

In some instances more than one source reported on the following events; I credited the organization that reported the event first.

.....We started off the year 2006 with the county announcing its first hiring freeze in seven years. The county wanted to appear to be trying to stabilize costs as they began work on the 2006-07 budget. This came just three weeks after the freeholders and county manger voted themselves a 5.3 percent pay hike. In April 2006 the County Watchers reported that the county had been hiring employees all along. This was followed up by the Star-Ledger who reported in June that the county hired 41 employees since instituting the freeze.

.....Union County resembled a democracy when over 300 residents stormed a Scotch Plains Zoning Board meeting to protest the county’s plans to lease the Ponderosa Farm property in their town to a children’s petting zoo. The freeholders later recanted their zoo plans and are currently planning the use of the property with residents.

.....The Star-Ledger reported that the county manager in an effort to cut costs traded in his tax-payer funded Suburban for a Durango. The County Watchers later reported that the Durango was actually costing taxpayers more than the Suburban. (On 11/27/06 a 2007 Suburban was purchased for $37,922 we are keeping an eye out for the lucky employee who received that Christmas bonus.)View full text by clicking HERE.

.....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 due to a cancer that went untreated. (Management in charge of the jail were given raises in December 2006 and Correction Health Facilities is a steady county pay-to-play contributor. They also donated $5,500 to the Music Fest.)

.....The County Watchers reported that a county employee, who was rumored to be a close friend of the appointed county manager who is Sen. Lesniak's nephew, was let out of jail improperly while serving time in the Union County Jail for a third D.W.I. conviction. The sentencing judge received an anonymous letter informing her of the convict’s freedom. She then had him re-arrested and sent back to jail. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....A law suit is filed against Union County over its recent policy change that requires citizens to submit any and all public records requests on the county's official request form. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....In what was billed as a crash lesson in civic engagement and responsible citizenship, nearly 90 people from across the county attended a March 9 program hosted by the Union County Watchdog Association and presented by the Center for Civic Responsibility.

.....The Star-Ledger reports that a county employee has a police report filed against him for allegedly harassing two women on the campaign trail:
BY JASON JETT Star-Ledger Staff ……..In a lingering issue from last week's school election, Nathalie Yafet has filed a police report about an incident that allegedly occurred outside a polling place at A. P. Morris School. She charged communications director Sebastian D'Elia confronted her and Rowen as they were handing out fliers and persisted at taunting them. "Had they just come there and handed out their flyers, nothing would have happened," said Yafet. "They were sent there to harass us." Yafet said D'Elia accosted her and Rowen, and took pictures without consent of them with an unidentified voter. Hillside Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo defended D'Elia. "He is a friend who I sent out to help with a campaign," she said,.......View full text by clicking HERE.

......The County Watchers report on media payouts for 2005. View payouts by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report that the county manager’s mother-in-law had been added to the county payroll as the Assistant to the Foundation Director of Runnells Hospital. Assemblywoman Linda Stender is the Foundation Director.

.....The County Watchers report that a law suit against the County by a former decorated Union County sheriff’s officer is about to be settled. The legal bills alone, stemming from this arrogant and petty case of employee harassment, will cost over 2.5 million dollars. View legal costs by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report that in 2005 millions of tax dollars were spent on Union County phone services. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report on county payroll increases and that 542 county employee’s have the same surnames as elected Democrat officials:
In 2000, 868 employees made over $50,000. Today that number has almost doubled to 1,530 employees. In 2000, 29 employees made over $100,000. Today that number has almost tripled to 74. We find it to be no small coincidence that there are 542 employees who have the same surnames as elected Democrat officials. We can’t say for sure that all these people are related, but we can say for sure that we have no way of knowing how many cousins, in-laws, etc. with different surnames are on the payroll.

.....Trailside museum re-opens after expansion of its building paid for with Open Space Trust Fund monies. The museum installed $1 million worth of exhibits including fiberglass replicas of rocks and trees that can be found in the open space right outside the building’s doors. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The Star-Ledger reports Sheriff Froehlich’s step-son, who is also a county sheriff’s officer, was alleged to have manipulated a county auction and ended up with $150,000 worth of cars for $300. The car dealer sued and won however, as of the December 21, 2006 freeholder meeting, tax-dollars are still being appropriated for this law-suit.

.....The Star-Ledger reports that contaminated soil was dumped in the County’s quarry. Unlike the managers of the prison who were given raises after inmates died and were maimed, the manager of the quarry takes early retirement.

.....The County Watchers reported that a freeholder threatened residents who made comments about the budget at a public meeting:
In his closing comments during last night's public meeting, Freeholder Chester Holmes reminded residents in the audience that “Our chairman here has his attorney sitting next to him. You need to ask yourselves do you have your attorney sitting next to you? You should keep that in mind when you cross the line while addressing this board”. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....North Jersey Media reports New Jersey's motor vehicle agency has launched a probe into how Union County Freeholder Angel Estrada, who is the manager of the Elizabeth office, helped former Attorney General Zulima Farber's boyfriend update his delinquent driving status. (In September the County Watchers report that a MVC employee, who committed a very similar act as Freeholder Estrada’s, was forced to resign and was indicted for helping a fellow employee renew a driver’s license in 2005.)View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report that a sexual harassment lawsuit had been filed against freeholder Rick Proctor. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers also find that Proctor had been involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit five years prior. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The New York Post publishes a study which rates Union County in the top ten counties in the nation for taxation. Despite the taxation madness, the democrat freeholder line manages to win re-election without ever having the word tax printed in their campaign literature or press releases.

.....The County Watchers report that the county forces municipalities to hang their “We’re connected to you!” signs on municipal property when they receive funding back from the Open Space Trust Fund. (At a December 2006 meeting the Summit Town Counsel voted to not hang the county sign on their property.) View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The state's Government Records Council, the official agency which oversees the Open Public Records Act, rules that the Union County Alliance is a public agency and is thereby subject to the provisions of the OPRA. The GRC then postponed their decision due to a technicality. The final decision is now pending. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report that they came across a law suit at the Union County courthouse charging that operators of a Union County Para transit van were oblivious to the fact that a passenger had fallen, or was ejected from the rear door of the van, until approximately one block down the road. The passenger died. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....Worrall Community Newspapers reports that the county ran up a $19,000 tab for employees to attend the National Association of Counties Conference in Chicago. This was up from $16,868 in 2005 when they traveled to the conference in Hawaii. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report that the county received a $104,500 state grant to study the possibilities of consolidating municipal services and they spent over $200,000 on a commercial and a mailer that was sent to every resident informing them that the county recived the grant featuring Freeholder Mirabella, who just happened to be up for reelection just weeks away. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....Dozens of Union County citizens took advantage of free training on using the Open Public Records Act to obtain public documents from their local governments. The free event was sponsored by the Union County Watchdog Association in response to many requests from local residents seeking information on how to utilize the OPRA. The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, the state advocacy organization dedicated to open government, provided the training and materials.

.....The County Watchers report that Freeholder Debra Scanlon’s sister was allegedly involved in a $2 million no-bid contract awarded in a business deal that was not conducted in public view. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers capture on video illegal serving of alcohol at the freeholders VIP tent at the Music Fest. (To date the county has not released the catering or alcohol bill for the VIP tent. They also haven't released a detailed list of the 300 VIP's invited to the tent.) View video and full text by clicking HERE.

.....The Star-Ledger reports that a study by the States Pension Division says long-term expenses will top savings and sees county early retiree plan, which was supposedly instated to save money - not to clean house to make room for more patronage, will actually cost taxpayers $9.3M

.....A retired procurement officer submits an in-dept spend analysis of Union County Government to the Freeholders and charges that Union County is well on the road to fiscal disaster and taxpayer revolt. John Marquardt charges “What is needed is a top down change from a "tax and spend" and "business as usual" culture to one that is more disciplined, financially prudent and focused on cost savings.” View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The Union County Prosecutor’s Office tells the freeholders to do a better job of informing the public after a complaint was filed charging Open Public Meetings Act violations by the Union County Watchdog Association. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The Cranford Chronicle reports that a job applicant for a Union County post was asked about his political affiliation and encouraged to "get active" in the Democratic party to improve his chances of being hired. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The County Watchers report that taxpayers picked up $10,510.83 tab for 27 freeholder meeting refreshments in 2006. View full text by clicking HERE.

.....The Westfield Leader reports that legislation was passed late in the evening without public input that would create a 10-year pilot program designed to make one county in NJ a regional school district. Union County was strongly rumored to be selected. Another bill calls for a “super” county school superintendent with local veto powers. This politically appointed individual would have veto power over local school boards. Since the senate did not affirm the assembly vote, these bills have not become law. The legislature is expected to return on January 8th and both of these bills are expected to be posted again for a new vote. At the December 21, 2006 freeholder meeting the county vehemently denied having any knowledge or involvement with the bills. (It was reminiscent to the time when the county freeholders and Assemblyman Cohen vehemently denied having plans to reactive a railroad.)