May 31, 2007

Camp Berkeley Heights - New Providence & Summit Look Out!!

We first talked about Camp Berkeley Heights back in 2005.....See article "Berkeley Heights soon to be Linden West."

It seemed a natural that the following letter, from a concerned Berkeley Heights resident and activist should be shared as it illustrates perfectly what appears to be going on up in them there hills.

It should be pointed out that former Union County Open Space Administrator Angie Bowen Devanney is the town's Administrator. Angie is married to Union County Manager, George Devanney, who is one of the individuals who was on the committee that studied the change in Berkeley Heights form of municipal government and led the charge at the polls to effect that change. George now has himself sitting on the Berkeley Heights planning board, which could constitute something of an unethical appointment, even though George is a resident of the municipality. George, mind you, is the nephew of State Senator Raymond Lesniak who has referred to himself as a political power broker here in Union County and assuredly is a buddy to Charlotte DiFilippo, the current Chairwoman of the Union County Democratic Committee. Ms DiFillippo is a Hillside resident, the Devanney's hail from Elizabeth and Lesniak from Linden, one could call them all the "new carpetbaggers".

And now for the letter:

I guess We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!

A week or so ago the Independent Press printed an article released from the “seat of Democratic Power” in Union County, Ms. Charlotte DiFilippo, who serves as the Union County Democratic Chairwoman. I wondered why Ms. DiFilippo felt compelled to insert herself into the politics of Berkeley Heights from her home in Hillside. Apparently, her intrusion revolves around Township Councilman John Bonacci, one of the brightest, most articulate, caring and concerned individuals that we have on the Council. Mr. Bonacci has tirelessly fought to contain the budget, get better roads, continue an efficient and cost effective sewer plant, look out for the senior citizens and establish a government that works for the people not against them. What is so wrong with that?

Word has it that Ms. DiFilippo received a telephone call from our Boss DeVanney, insisting that Berkeley Heights Councilman John Bonacci not be given the Democratic Line in the upcoming election for Township Council, despite the fact that Mr. Bonacci had just won a one-year term to Council in 2006 as a Democrat. Moreover, the Berkeley Heights Democratic Chairman, Councilman Tom Battaglia wanted Mr. Bonacci to run for reelection on the Democratic Ticket. Apparently, John Bonacci isn’t the “right kind of Democrat” for Boss DeVanney and Boss DiFilippo’s liking. Perhaps he doesn’t “toe the party line”, or blindly prostrate himself in front of the party “bosses.” Or, maybe he simply independently represents the interest of Berkeley Heights over the interests of the County Bosses. One thing is for certain, he doesn't have a political patronage job at the County so the Bosses have to resort to press releases because they cannot control him though promotions or demotions or flimsy disciplinary actions. I do not think that Boss DiFilippo's diatribe will dent Mr. Bonacci's independent stand on the issues.

Over the next six months, until the election in November, we here in Berkeley Heights will be hearing a lot about political machines and political bosses. Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines boss as “2 a person who controls a political machine or organization, as in a county; often political boss.” When was it that Berkeley Heights adopted the politics of the Big City Political Machines? Our Town is not Chicago, New York or Union County. The Berkeley Heights that I know is made up of independent thinkers, Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliated folks who pride themselves on judging each issue on its own merits and making up their minds based on the facts as they see them. Our issues are local and unique to our small town community, they transcend party label. We don’t need to be told how to think, or for whom to vote. We talk to our friends and neighbors, listen to the candidates and decide for ourselves what’s right for our community. That’s how “politics” used to work in Berkeley Heights. Apparently, we are too small-town minded for the Political Bosses' tastes. They want to change us to their liking. They would rather have us a subservient colony of taxpayers who should just pay their County Tax bills and do what we are told, or else. Or else they won’t let you have proven candidates to vote for.

I fully expect that over the next couple of months our mailboxes will overflow with trite campaign material from the “Union County Democratic Machine.” You can also expect to receive those annoying recorded telephone messages encouraging you to get out and vote for the machine candidates. Just like any other “scheme” designed to separate a fool from his money, this election has the potential for doing much worse. It really is “now or never” in Berkeley Heights. Forget the party designations, they don’t mean a thing at this level of government. Forget the fancy mailings, and the dressed-up promises and remember, behind the curtain where the big, booming voice shouted “I AM THE WIZARD OF OZ” sat a very small individual. Listen carefully to the politicians who would separate you from your vote and never forget, the future of your community is at stake.


John Miller

Note: John Miller was a write in mayorial candidate who was narrowly defeated in the last Berkeley Heights election.

Wanting to make the situation abundently clear, I am not endorsing any candidate with this post but rather beleive that the residents in not only Berkeley Heights but New Providence and what could be called the Jewel in the Crown, Summit, must make informed,educated decisions at the polls, not only in the upcoming primary but the general election as well. Do they want to be ruled with an iron fist from a dining room table in Hillside or do they want to make decisions which are in the best interest of themselves for them selves and preserve the quality of the life that they have enjoyed.

May 29, 2007

Union County elected municipal compensation study

How does your municipality fare against others in compensating your elected officials? What mayors and council members are also holding other public employment?

The Union County Watchdog Association compiled the answers to these questions which you can view by clicking HERE.

May 17, 2007

County taxpayers have nothing to celebrate on 150th anniversay

The County of Union will be staging a 150th Anniversary celebration on Saturday. The only history mentioned in their press release is the county’s creation.

The county hasn’t mentioned the most famous part of its recent past, the creation of the county manager plan. This has been referred to by historians as the biggest mistake in county government history (reference New Jersey Politics and Government).

In 1976 The Elizabeth Daily Journal let a crusade to endorse this form of county government to of all things, end widespread patronage. County charter reform forces won in a close race and George Albanese was named the first county manager. Historians have noted that Albanese was a respected and talented administrator who swiftly restored fiscal responsibility and they fretted that he would be hard to replace.

Thirty years later we have State Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew appointed as the county manager. A 2006 study conducted by the Union County Watchdog Association found that 542 county employees have the same surnames of elected Democrat officials. We can’t say for sure that all these people are related, but we can say that we have no idea of knowing how many employees don’t share the same surname, such as in-laws and cousins. For instance, Senator Lesniak’s nephew’s name is George Devanney. Devanney’s mother-in-law is on the county payroll, all three have different surnames - So much for ending patronage.

Union County is the only county in New Jersey which adopted the county manager plan of government. It was considered a mistake and has become the poster child of bad county government.

Senator Tom Kean, Jr. introduced a bill in 2004 to study the effectiveness of county government. With the 21 counties in New Jersey being under home rule of one powerbroker or another who dole out patronage and contracts to political contributors who keep them in power it is little wonder that this bill didn’t get far. Other states have had recent success with getting county governments off of their tax backs. Connecticut got rid of county government in the 1970’s. In 1997 Massachusetts abolished 8 of its 14 counties.

While the freeholders and politically connected in Union County have plenty to party about on Saturday, property tax payers, who will be no doubt picking up the catering bill for the festivities, have nothing to celebrate to date.

May 12, 2007

Just How Many People Hold the KEY to Your Wallet

How comforting it is to know that the Union County Director of Finance is so dedicated an employee that he can be found on the job at his “satellite work station” located at a local fitness center on weekdays at 5:45AM. Check out the Vehicle Lists
Evidenced by the repeated presence of the county owned 2003, Ford Crown Victoria issued to him at taxpayer expense, complete with gas and insurance one is left to marvel at the mental and physical dexterity of a guy who can balance the county’s books while doing his cardio, I must confess I am jealous.

The vehicle and driver appear on the County of Union “Portal to Portal” vehicle list along with several other directors to include the county Tax Administrator and the Director of Administrative Services. Also making the cut, according to the Laws of UC are the County Manager, Deputy Manager, Counsel and County Clerk.

County policy for the “use of an 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 commuting use to and from the employee’s workstation” according to Res. No 69-86. Further, nonmotor pool vehicle usage outside of normal working hours and on weekends must be justified in written detail and approved.

Publications of the US government to include the IRS and Dept. of Labor refer to Portal to Portal as meaning door to door, from home to work and back specifically for those employees who are “on call” 24/7 or a portion thereof, or from home to job site to job site and back home again. And there are intricate reporting rules regulating what portion of employer owned vehicle use should be reported as personal taxable income and when those vehicle’s expenses can be taken as a tax deduction.

It must be noted that the sightings in question, which occur on a regular basis, come via an outraged taxpayer who is doubtful that the director is on his way to work since he does not carry a gym bag or extra clothes; rather he arrives and departs wearing his workout attire. This has led to the question: “are the tax payers now footing the bill and providing county employees showers at the office?”

And what of damage to the vehicle when being used for non county business, as was the case with Assemblyman/State Democratic Chairman/Union Township Dem Committee Chair/Undersheriff Cryan’s county owned car while it was parked in a Trenton parking garage last year, just who pays for that?

The use of county owned vehicles for personal purposes is the same as stealing in my book, especially with the cost of gas and auto insurance these days, it is not only dishonest but unethical as well. What happened to the governor’s reform on ethics, are county employees exempt from this reform?

69 Vehicles X 10 miles a week X 52 Weeks a year Equals 35,000 miles ++++

There are, according to available county reports, at least 69 “portal to portal” vehicles; imagine if each one clocked only 10 miles per week for what can be called illegal personal use, that would conservatively calculate to over 35,000 free miles a year to go to the gym, grocery store or visit grandma all on the tax payers dime.

Union County residents are urged to think of this county worker every time they go to the pumps and shell out $3.00 a gallon or more for gas this summer just so they can go to work to earn enough so he can say “fill’er up” for free.

Definitely think of him as holding the key to your wallet when you go to the voting booth in the upcoming primary election and again in November.

May 09, 2007

Mom to hold annual prayer vigil

Submitted by Yolanda Padilla
For Immediate Release:
Annual Prayer Vigil to be held on Thursday, May 10th at 6 pm outside of the Union County Juvenile Detention Center, located above the County's Employee Parking Garage on Elizabethtown Plaza in Elizabeth (There will be a freeholder meeting following the prayer vigil at 7pm)

My son, Edward Sinclair Jr., was found dead on May 10, 2003, while being detained in an unsafe cell in the Union County Detention Center. The state's Office of the Child Advocate investigated and released a report, which blamed the county for setting the stage for my son's death. The advocate cited deplorable and dangerous conditions and stated that the county had a fundamental disregard for basic human rights.

I have vowed to hold a prayer vigil every year on the date of my sons death for not only the memory of my son, but for all the juveniles who were held under these same deplorable conditions, until I feel these children are safe and receiving decent county services.

For over 10 years, the county has ignored the juvenile detention center problem while building several other county buildings. One building project that took precedence over a new detention center was the new Prosecutors building in Elizabeth. A site which was originally slated for a new detention center. The sign on the front of the facility reads, "The Andrew K. Routolo Justice Center." Justice for who?

It unnerves me that they would have the disrespect to post the word "justice" on one of their brand new facilities while still holding juveniles in that run down, unsafe facility which is located on the top floor of their parking garage.

While ignoring the juvenile detention center problem county leadership took no responsibility for what they had done and what they had failed to do. On Dec. 16, 2005, Freeholder Angel Estrada spoke at a freeholder meeting where he blamed my son for being "Caught in a loop that he couldn't get out of." Freeholder Estrada did not know my son; how dare he judge him. He went on to say "...society and individuals in society have to take on the responsibility of things that they actually do that may cause harm to other individuals." No other county official present commented on Estrada's public statement.

If only his statement were true and the freeholders and county manager would have to take on the responsibility of things that they actually did that caused harm to my son and all the juveniles who passed through that center and were held under the same deplorable, unsafe conditions.

I will hold a vigil at the detention center every year on May 10th until I am satisfied that justice has been served and juveniles are safe.

May 06, 2007

2007 Union County Budget Hearings are now available on the web

The Union County Watchdog Association has posted the 2007 Union County Budget Hearing’s on their Veotag site. You can view them HERE.

You may recall that the UCWA wanted to tape the budget hearings but the county refused to grant permission. After a Star-Ledger reporter asked them about it the county decided to tape the meetings themselves. The UCWA then purchased the meeting tapes ($90.00 worth) and veotaged them and placed them on the web for free and easy public access.

I attended budget hearings last year, and this year and I believe the camera rolling made a huge difference in the process. For one, this year there were six freeholders in attendance who tried their darnedest to look like they were paying attention, when in last year’s hearings I only counted up to three who seemed to barely stay awake. Although they didn’t discuss much internal hard stuff (the freeholder handouts were not offered to the citizens in attendance), there were many more questions asked of the department heads this year which made the process a little bit more informative for the public.

In a Star-Ledger article about the county not wanting the public to tape their budget hearings the county tried to paint my motivation for being a watchdog as political in an attempt to discredit me. This does a disservice to not only me, but to all the board members and active members who contribute to the UCWA. There is no way just one person could accomplish all that we do on their own.

In the article the county pointed out that the Union County Republican Committee has been a supporter of the UCWA. This is true, but they are by far not the only contributor as many of you know. The UCWA would not refuse any monetary donation from the Union County Democratic Committee or any other political group who is interested in bringing about good government practices to Union County government.

The county's Office of Public Information claimed that I am the only person who wanted these hearings video taped; However, I'd like you to know that hundreds of people have been viewing our web-posted freeholder meetings.

Comically this department, which is charged with informing the public, claimed that the county’s taping of the budget hearings, was going to cost the tax-payers money. The employee who taped the meetings was the same employee I spied sitting in the audience last year. According to the county’s claim employees who are involved in a task cost more to tax-payers than employees who are just sitting around. It must be a union thingy. That Carla Katz is such a minx.

Thank you for your continued support, without which none of the UCWA's activities would be possible. I view these budget hearing tapings and consequent free internet access as a victory for open government and ask you to consider why the county doesn’t make this sort of information available on their website. What do they have to hide? It’s another reminder of how county government is connected to their powerbrokers and not the residents.

View article Blogger, freeholders feud on videotaping
County to do its own taping after refusing woman

Star-Ledger Thursday, February 22, 2007

May 01, 2007

The Ruby Slippers

In Grand Rapids someone made off with the “Ruby Slippers” that Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of OZ; it was reported in the NY Daily News. The size 6B red shoes were actually stolen from a local museum in 2005. “The case is still active,” Police Chief Leigh Serfling said. The shoes owner, who had loaned the famous footwear to the museum, told ABC News, “When I heard they were stolen, it was like the Earth fell from beneath my feet.” When I related the story to my son’s girlfriend, a movie musical buff, her response was an alarmed, “That’s just not right!”

There are certain things that are just a part of our American culture that we seem to possess an inborn respect for like Mom, apple pie, and of course the Ruby Slippers. Than there are those non-tangibles such as a respect for another’s personal space, abiding by the Golden Rule and the expectation that we respect each other’s differing opinions/views. The Freedom to express how one feels about an issue or a situation irregardless of who you are, is just a part of the “American Way” especially when it relates to our government, after all isn’t that what the founding fathers had in mind?

An intentional ambush of those unspoken tenets has been very obvious at the most recent meetings of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, so obvious in fact that it was the subject of a recent editorial in the local Worrall Newspapers.

Rather than addressing what can be called a quality of life issue presented by county resident and activist, Mrs. Tina Renna, one freeholder has chosen to go on a convoluted attack. Not addressing the real issue, the availability of safe parking for residents wishing to attend the public meetings, Freeholder Daniel Sullivan, an Elizabeth resident, has feigned insult, pooh-poohing the FBI crime stats for the city. Further, the freeholder has twisted Mrs. Renna’s words and the intent of her comments, which was to question why directions to the administration building and available parking is not on the county website which would encourage public participation. It must be noted that the closest county lot, across the street, is enclosed by a secured iron fence and off limits, and that attendees must park about two blocks away and traverse dimly lit, lonely sidewalks like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Meanwhile, Mr. Sullivan, has the advantage of hopping in his vehicle in his driveway and depositing it at the meeting site in secured parking directly under the admin building in a reserved spot by the entrance, not setting foot on the city’s turf, a point made by Mrs. Renna and ignored by Mr. Sullivan.

Instead, during his closing comments he attempted to launch into a personal attack on her credibility because she attempted to clarify her previous week’s truthful comments, regarding the parking, earlier during the meeting. In an effort to defend herself, she requested time at the podium which of course was denied and a verbal free for all briefly commenced, which Chairwoman Kowalski appeared ill equipped to handle. Mr. Sullivan definitely was on the path to “crossing the line” something that residents who attend and express their dismay over the boards activities are frequently reprimanded for by the county’s counsel.

A smart man, Mr. Sullivan, certainly knows in his heart just why county residents from towns like Westfield, Cranford and Summit don’t venture to Elizabeth except when summoned for jury duty; in fact there are life long residents who have never been there out of fear for their personal safety. The board certainly wouldn’t relish those who pay the most in county taxes holding them accountable for their actions so why would they make it comfortable for them to do so? But, there are some hearty souls, who like Mrs. Renna, a former NYC resident and self admittedly not intimidated by the perils of the city, who do come and wish to address the issues and express their feelings as is their expected right only to be shut down. It has become abundantly clear that this Freeholder Board doesn’t want to hear it, or have the press in attendance hear it, as they appear to have adopted a policy of stealing the “Ruby Slippers” right off the residents feet, and “That’s just not right”.