July 29, 2007

The Ultimate Headliner

"School Days"
Hail, hail rock'n'roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock'n'roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock'n'roll
The feelin' is there body and soul

"While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. ……. Berry wrote and performed rock and roll for the ages. To this day, the cream of Berry’s repertoire—which includes “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”—is required listening for any serious rock fan and required learning for any serious rock musician.” -- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Nicknamed the “Prime Minister of Rock and Roll”, Chuck Berry’s music impacted on peoples worldwide influencing such luminaries as John Lennon and The Beatles, Keith Richards, who inducted Berry into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, and the Rolling Stones, and notably the Beach Boys who’s Brian Willson borrowed from Berry to score their first number one hit in the 60’s with Surfin USA.

Berry was invited and performed at the White House by former President Jimmy Carter, and has appeared on film with the likes of James Brown, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes as well as Bob Dylan. He even played himself in the classic American Hot Wax” the Alan Freed story.

He performed and recored “Live at the Filmore Auditorium” backed by the Steve Miller Band and in 1985 was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards. He is cited as “one of the most influential and creative innovators in the history of American popular music.”

Berry will be appearing at the UC Musicfest in September at Nomahagen Park, after touring to what is expected to be sold-out venues in Scandanavia. At the age of 80 yrs Berry is going strong and appears almost monthly at the Duck Room at the “Blue Berry Hill” in St Louis as well as venues from Las Vegas to London.

Chuck Berry is an American Icon but according to the UC Board of Chosen Freeholders he is not a Headliner.

That’s right, according to the latest press release coming out of the public information office in Elizabeth on July 23rd, a headliner for the Musicfest is soon to be announced.

Are they kidding?

I think not, as at the last meeting the board approved a resolution increasing the amount of the contract with This is It Productions of Hoboken, for talent performing at the Musicfest to $328,800.00.

Call me crazy, and I know that there are some who think that anyway, but isn’t this getting a little out of hand?

Do the taxpayers of Union County really want over a quarter million of their tax dollars spent on a concert in the park that most of them will not be attending, or who have no interest in Rock and Roll in the first place.

Three years ago when the board voted to purchase the UC Arts Center in Rahway, I opined that it appeared that they were getting into the entertainment business which was not part of their role to look out for the welfare, health and safety of the residents of the county. Though at that time they assured me that they were not it certainly does seem that they have changed their minds big time.

My question to the board is this, if Chuck Berry is not a headliner who do you think is, and I would venture to guess that any performer would be tickled pink to appear on the same stage with someone who paved the way and who’s inventiveness they certainly respect and would probably be more than willing to take second billing.

In my eyes Chuck Berry is the ultimate Headliner – Hail Hail Rock and Roll!!!

No Particular Place To Go
Ridin' along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel
I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile
My curiosity runnin' wild Cruisin' and playin' the radio
With no particular place to go.

Learn more about Chuck Berry at http://www.chuckberry.com/index.php

July 23, 2007


Is She Caught In Her Own Web???

The County Watchers just learned that Chairwoman of the Union County Democratic Committee and Director of the Union County Improvement Authority Charlotte DeFilippo's request to have the suit filed against her by a former county employee dismissed has been denied.

Though there will not be a change of venue to another county, as petitioned for by the employee, the case will be handled by a different jurist who is said not to have extensive political ties.
(see posting below "Charlotte's Web" - Is the County's Early Retirement Program Really Voluntary?)

High profile individuals are said to be involved in the forced retirement of a long term, civil service county employee who it appears has decided that he is not going to allow himself to be a victim of insensitive, illegal political manuvering of his livlihood and self esteem. The case will be an interesting one to watch.

July 22, 2007

"On the Road to Kathmandu"

When the hot “Dog Days of Summer” would drag on the kids in my neighborhood would band together and hold a backyard carnival for Muscular Dystrophy. Our clientele would be the kids who lived on other blocks and we would send the nickels and dimes that we collected from the bean bag toss or selling cookies and lemonade to the mail man off to Jerry Lewis for “his kids”. This was my first exposure to fund raising.

I have tried over the years to limit myself to contributing and working for two specific charities, Lions International and Autism Research. I choose them because of the manner in which they distribute and use the monies that they raise. Also, in the case of the Lions, as a member, one can take a very hands on approach and see the fruits of this organizations labors in ones own community.

Please get me off your mailing list!!!

A few years back I made a contribution to a major organization in memory of my uncle, as desired by his family. The production costs for the volume of printed mail solicitations I have received in exchange for that $25 contribution has to far exceed the value of my original donation. The experience has served to solidify my resolve to stick with supporting my chosen two and now I rarely make any exceptions.

Like many others I support my charities for personal reasons, because somehow the particular cause has impacted my life in some way: Lions Int’l because I have a teen that is legally blind and Autism Research because that same child has a high functioning form of the syndrome.

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders will once again be hosting their annual MusicFest in Nomahegan Park, Cranford this coming September, in conjunction with that event there will also be a walkathon raising money for cancer and stem cell research and support.

Though I don’t mention it often, like Freeholder Deborah Scanlon, I too am a survivor of the dreaded disease, stricken when I was in my very early thirties I thought that perhaps I might expand my charitable horizons and help others to be as fortunate as I am, but first I would check the situation out in depth. http://www.ucmusicfest.com/

County Manager George Devanney has had articles in many local newspapers and an insert in the recent Union County Directions newspaper regarding his recent cancer scare and how it has impacted on his life. Recently he managed to team up with his college rock idol, a two time cancer survivor and put together the “Rock On! Walkathon” benefiting the performers Love Hope and Strength Foundation, this same entertainer will be walking and performing that day as well.

The sign up sheet to participate, alongside George is featured on the county’s website and list the premiums walkers are eligible to receive depending on the level of money which the walkers raise. One hundred dollars will garner a t-shirt, $250 the same along with a surprise gift bag and walkers raising $1,000 will receive a shirt, gift bag and invitation to a VIP Reception on Sept. 14 with surprise guests.

Devanney has made it no secret that he would like to accompany the singer and others when they make a fund raising trek to the Base Camp of Mount Everest, in Nepal, for an event called “Everest Rocks” which appears to be a mountain climbathon. The foundations website explains that Mike Peters, the performer will be “leading 40 musicians, mountaineers, cancer survivors, those who lives have be affected by cancer and invited friends on the adventure of a lifetime and is a 14 day trek and acoustic concert at the base camp with a grand finale rock concert in Kathmandu.”

The site goes on to say that the entire journey will be captured by an MTV and BBC documentary team as well as a writer and photo journalist for a feature in Outside Magazine and funds raised from the Everest Rocks Event will provide funding to the Nepal Cancer Society.

The site also has links to the Trekkers bios and reasons for wanting to participate in the trip with a meter showing the money they have raised so far. About a quarter of the way down is George Devnney’s link and it appears that the needle on his meter has barely moved. In the Directions article he thanks “So many who have offered to help raise the money needed for the trek” and “others who have lent their kind words and spiritual support”. http://lovehopestrength.com/everest/archives/category/george-devanney/

Another link states that a requirement to join the trek of a lifetime is a $25,000 donation which appears to be raised thru donations. At the tail end of Devanney’s article he states: “I hope others join with me to help educate and bring about a cure” urging readers to obtain more information at the website http://www.lovehopstrength.com/ followed by “To make a contribution in my name, click on Everest rocks, than trekkers to view participants.” It appears that the premium to entice participants in this fund raising effort is a trip to Mt. Everest which will be viewed on TV around the world.

Admittedly I would have personally raised money to buy air conditioners for Eskimos if the opportunity to spend two weeks with John, Paul, George or Ringo had presented itself. And please don’t think for one minute that I am trivializing Mr. Delaney’s personal trauma or that I don’t believe in finding a cure for cancer and especially early detection however I find it rather distasteful that our county manager appears to be enriching himself personally with the assistance of the Freeholder Board and other legislators by using the county’s resources so he can rub shoulders with the idols of his youth.

Undoubtedly the question that can be raised is will the credit for the efforts of the Union County walkers go toward Devanney’s $25,000 donation to enable him to make the trek?

The walkathon could have been an admirable endeavor if the monies to be raised were to be turned over to charitable causes here in Union County such as the Center for Hope Hospice rather than going to, what some believe to be controversial, embryonic stem cell research or overseas to Nepal.
Click here to see the Everest Rocks link http:http://lovehopestrength.com/everest/

Baby sitting message boards

The CountyWatchers blog used to have a message board. I quickly found it to be too much trouble to baby sit the anonymous posters so I took it down.

Nearly ten years ago Cranford resident Mark Dingelstedt founded a message board with the intention to provide good-natured Cranford discussion. In a recent article Dingelstedt is quoted as having stated that “the increasing prevalence of negative posts that insult and demean residents and other posters are the driving force behind the end of CranfordTalk”. Dingelstedt went on to say that a group of individuals who continually post offensive and unsubstantiated comments about local politicians and township residents has made the board all but impossible to police. "I've kind of had enough," he said. “That's the sad part about it if I asked people to sign their names; they wouldn't be talking the way they do,"

The decision is one he came to, Dingelstedt said, after it became clear to him that the forum had changed from a place to exchange ideas and information to a hotbed of innuendo and political potshots.

I stopped reading Cranfordtalk and other message boards like it a few years ago. I found that the boards went from being informative to just being a way for posters who use sign-in names to create personalities for themselves without ever having to claim them. And they would harass citizens, who have the courage to publicly stand up for what they believe in, with complete anonymity from the comfort of their homes and the County Administration building. About 120 people post on Cranfordtalk, yet there are only a handful of people that regularly speak out at public meetings and write letters to the editor.

A friend sent me a recent post by Cranford Commissioner George McDonough who is a tireless defender of Union County government. McDonough accused the Union County Watchdog Association of taking illegal contributions. This is wildly untrue, and a good example of why these message boards are bad for a community. Editors of newspapers have to be responsible when they print letters to the editor. No letters are published that are unsigned, and a good editor will make sure that the facts stated are backed-up with documentation. When CranfordTalk goes offline it will leave a void, McDonough is quoted as saying "There's no other source like that for Cranford," McDonough said. "I'll miss it."

I’d like to publicly thank Mark Dingelstedt for providing the community service and for hanging in as long as he did. But shutting down was the right thing to do. It went from being a great way to draw the community together to something that made our community look ugly and un-neighborly. Which isn’t representative of the good people of Cranford. Neither is George McDonough who is up for re-election. Hopefully my hometown of Cranford has had enough of him as well.

And Tina Renna questions the legality of taking text messages from citizens
Posted by George McDonough on June 13, 2007, 12:29 am, in reply to "interesting meeting"
User logged in as: George McDonough | Edit Message
I guess she's unaware of the fact that she runs a not-for-profit organization (501c3) "The County Watchers" which has ILLEGALLY accepted funding from the Union County Republican Committee. I'm so glad that the R's are tied to this inarticulate loose cannon.
Yeah, these are fine examples of open and HONEST government!

McDonough partying with the Union County Democrat party faithful at taxpayers expense.

At last year's Musicfest catering was provided for 425 people who were invited to the freeholders VIP tent at a cost to taxpayers of $5,525. The bill for the VIP tent alcohol hasn't been provided to date. The county has written that this was an in-kind contribution and no documentation has been offered as to who the contributor(s) were. No permit was issued for the serving of the alcohol in a county park.

July 15, 2007

"You Are Either In ... or ... You Are O-U-T"

A letter regarding the upcoming UC Board of Chosen Freeholders sponsored MusicFest 2007 and other events including a walkathon that morning reads:

“I am personally committed to these causes, and have joined forces with those organizations benefiting from the walkathon, including the Love Hope Strength Foundation and the NJ Citizens Coalition for Cures. Once you have had a chance to read the enclosed material, I hope you will register for this walkathon. I will be walking on Sept 15….and we look forward to having you join us!”

Addressed “To all County Employees” on County of Union letterhead bearing the official county seal and signed by George W. Devanney, County Manager the letter also says that the first step is to register for the Rock On! Walkathon by signing up and viewing updates by visiting http://www.ucmusicfest.com/.

Showing the letter to one of my grown children, click HERE to view the letter who is not at all political and lives in another county I posed a question to her.

Inquiring that if she received that letter from the Chief Operating Officer of the chain of hair salons she is employed by, what would she think and do.

She responded without hesitation, “I would be on the website signing up because I want to keep my job.” I would have to speculate that there are many of the 3,000 county employees who reacted just that way upon receiving this written communication.

Federal and State laws exist which address promoting Politics, Religion and Charity/Volunteerism in the workplace and employers must be careful that their “encouragement” does not lead to compulsion which poses legal risks under these laws.

How an employer approaches a volunteer situation is of paramount importance because in some cases for some types of off duty charity projects employees can actually expect to be monetarily compensated for the volunteer work that they undertake for the employer.

Stacey Mark, Chair of the Labor and Employment Group at the legal firm Ater Wynne LLP in her 2006 “Employment Roundtable” memo entitled “Pushing Politics, Religion and Charity at Work” offers two examples of communicating volunteerism to employees for comparison:

“Employer will sponsor a team of volunteers at the homeless shelter next Thursday evening. Please contact human resources for information if you are interested”.

As opposed to:

“Employees are encouraged to show their community spirit and civic- mindedness by participating in next Thursday’s company volunteer event at the homeless shelter. Sign up today with human resources”.

According to Mark though the later version is more effective, it may be characterized as more coercive and employers are advised to have the charity organization do the recruiting for them and have the activities directed by the charitable organization with managers staying out of the mix, to include the day of the event, steps that the county manager has not taken so far.

In his letter to county employees Mr. Devanney states that “MusicFest will also offer you an opportunity to change the world” who wouldn’t feel compelled to be a team player and sign-up to be part of the team, after all team players are those who see the raises and promotions aren’t they? And what would the county manager think of an employee who wasn’t interested in saving the world?

The letter to the county workforce really should have been a simple announcement that a walkathon would be taking place the same day as the MusicFest and probably should not have directed employees to the county owned and operated website which prominently features an online sign up sheet listing the Co-Chairs, who just happen to be Democrat Assemblyman Neil Cohen, Assemblywoman Linda Stender and Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jean Kowalski. The pressure to be a team player is certainly evident as is the pressure to support one of their favorite politically charged causes, publicly funded stem cell research..

The New Jersey Citizens Coalition for Cures is a not-for-profit group which says they are dedicated to educating the public about the importance and potential benefits of increased public funding for biomedical research including both embryonic and adult stem cell research in NJ. The NJCCC’s website clearly states that contributions to NJCCC are NOT tax deductible; this may create a fundraising issue for volunteers.

The Love Hope and Strength Foundation website states that proceeds from their various events will go to local charities, they list three. The Ryan Gibson Foundation in Texas who’s only goal is to find a cure for Leukemia and DKMS of NYC which connects bone marrow and stem cell donors with patients in need, these are commendable. And lastly and especially interesting is the Nepal Cancer Relief Society who educates the Nepalese people against the use of carcinogens.

Nepal happens to be the home of Mount Everest which Devanney is planning to climb in the near future with the founders of the Love Hope and Strength Foundation, a trip he describes as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Undoubtly, our county workforce has been backed into an unfortunate situation and may have to compromise their personal values from a political or religious standpoint if they do not personally support embryonic stem cell research and/or the co-chairs of the event who are all up for reelection this year.

More importantly they may believe that “voluntary” participation in the walkathon alongside the county manager for his favorite causes may be an indicator of who is and who isn’t a team player and in the future may determine just who is in and who could be out of a job. And what caring worker would want to deprive their boss of the opportunity of his lifetime.

Could this all lead to a disgruntled former employee filing yet another suit against the county? Only time will tell.

July 11, 2007

The geese got cooked

Whether you love, hate or are indifferent to the geese population in Union County one thing is for certain, the county lied about managing the problem. The freeholders dealt with the geese the same way they deal with most every public issue; by not dealing with it much beyond a photo op.

Although geese mate for life and dote after their young, since 2003 the county has been employing a company which swoops in while the geese are molting and can’t fly away, the birds are then picked up at random, leaving other members of their group behind. The geese are then brought to a slaughter house and the meat is distributed to a soup kitchen.

Taxpayers need to be made aware that the approximate cost to slaughter the geese is $336,850 to date. A cost comparison of instilling more humane efforts of goose control as compared to killing the geese is long over due.

The claim made by the freeholders that all alternatives to killing the geese have been exhausted is an outright lie. There was never a comprehensive plan to manage the problem. If there was, then the county can’t prove it. An Open Public Records Act request seeking documentation of what methods were tried and all records that were keep regarding their efforts was returned with a brochure about managing geese populations from the US Department of Agriculture. There were no internal logs, or memos kept by the county as to how the goose problem was dealt with.

The only internal paper trail of the county addressing the geese problem are press releases featuring freeholders that happened to be up for reelection in a particular year. These include a photo of a freeholder with a shovel planting high grass in Rahway Park. There was the motorized toy boat that would zip around the lake and that would be the cure. These releases all claimed that the county had the geese problem well in hand.

A press release regarding the use of boarder collies as a means of goose control dated April 2001 featured all 3 campaigning incumbent freeholders and the Sheriff. Stated Freeholder Mingo “a significant drop in the number of geese and their unhealthy droppings has been achieved”; Sheriff Froehlich said “Border collies are extremely effective in geese control…”; Freeholder Mirabella said “….our concerted efforts will keep the flocks of geese from spoiling our parks and golf courses…”;
Freeholder Ruotolo said “The dogs arrive and the geese just fly away, the geese stay away when the dogs leave. They eventually return, but in smaller numbers each time. The program is working.”

Fast forward to March of 2004 and a Worrall news article quotes Freeholder Estrada “everything that we have tried up to now has been unsuccessful”. The county manager stated “these methods proved to be ineffective on a large scale.”

The public has a level of trust in our elected officials and would like to believe that they would tell the truth. The county had been telling the public for years that they have implemented a strategy of dealing with the geese and that their strategies were working. They have pictures to prove it. Why would we believe otherwise? Now, after the fact, the county says killing is the only means possible to control the geese populations. Should this now be believed?

The reality is that there was never a comprehensive plan in place to deter the geese population until the county instituted a plan to slaughter the geese yearly. And we will never see a photo and press release with campaigning freeholders rounding up the defenseless molting birds to be sent to their death.

July 06, 2007

Union County's Early Retirement Offering - Is It Really Voluntary??

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has almost annually touted a voluntary early retirement program as a means to save the county millions of taxpayer dollars and they stood by such a plan even in 2006 when the State of NJ notified them that the contrary would actually be the case.

In an article published on August 31, 2006, in the Star Ledger, the county spokesperson cited a possible $9.4 million savings by granting early retirement to 183 employees and lying off approximately 15 others. Further it was reported, that he went on to say, the savings would stem from eliminating positions and replacing retirees with younger employees who command lower salaries.

Statements of this nature can be problematic for the employer especially if all of the “potential retirees” are not on board with the plan.

Further, one should never, ever, allude to gender, marital status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical disability, political affiliation or age or allow any of the aforementioned to enter into the staffing picture, it is just plain unacceptable as is forcing so called early retirements, when in reality an employer is seeking to “dump” an employee.

The county now finds itself embroiled in not one but at least two law suits stemming from their so called early retirement offerings and layoffs:

In January of 2005 an employee in the prosecutor’s office filed suit claiming she was transferred from her position when she refused to take early retirement, freeholder resolutions indicate they have approved $40,000 in legal fees so far, the case appears to be still pending.

Superior Court

On May 3, 2007 another case was filed in the Superior Court Union County (docket # UNN-L-1592-07) against the Freeholder Board, George Devanney the County Manager, Elizabeth Genevich the Deputy County Mngr. and Dir of Admin Services, Alfred Faella the Dir. Of Economic Development and Charlotte DeFilippo the Dir. Of the UC Improvement Authority and Chairman of the UC Democratic Committee; in both their official and individual capacities. It appears that an employee of 18 yrs, R. T., is claiming that he was forced to retire in lieu of termination. It must be noted that R. T. is age 61 and disabled so he is considered a member of a number of protected classes under NJ law against discrimination.

The “Facts”, as presented by RT’s attorney at filing, state that RT scored the highest on his civil service tests and was continually promoted and received merit raises until the powers that be decided that because of his political alliances to the prior County Manager, Michael LaPolla who was not on the DeFilippo or Devanney “Political Hit Parade”, was one reason that he had to go.

Pattern of Harassment

A pattern of harassment had commenced moving RT from job to job, and office to office, at one point having shared a 20’ X 20’ office and conference area he says he ended up occupying a 3’ X 5’ cubical. Also he claims to have not been given work assignments and harassed in other discriminatory ways to include being referred to as the “man with the crooked face” by DeFilippo. RT suffers facial paralysis as the result of brain surgery. RT also asserts that Devanney and DeFilippo leaned on one of his immediate supervisors, with DeFilippo summoning that individual to her home in Hillside on what she called “County Business”. The business, it turned out, was a discussion of his, the supervisors loyalty to RT. The suit also makes mention that the home meeting was not unusual and it had been at previous meetings that she often directed county hiring and firings and what consultants to use within the county.

In all there appear to be seven counts with other allegations contained within the filing, RT is seeking compensatory damages including but not limited to back pay, lost wages, interest and other benefits of employment , punitive damages, costs of the suit etc.

Improvement Authority to Pick-Up the Tab

Chairman DeFilippo thru her attorneys DeCoitis, Fitzpatrick, Cole and Wisler has petitioned the court to dismiss the suit, RT has requested that the petition be denied and requested a change of venue, because according to papers, filed last week by his counsel Charlotte has a close relationship with State Senator Ray Lesniak and it is asserted that even the judge is politically connected. Charlotte DeFilippo’s legal fees were recently approved for payment by the Union County Improvement Authority, resolution #70-2007, which is a full roster of prominent Democratic Party members.

Fanelli case cost taxpayers over $2 Million out of pocket!!

This case will be one to watch as past history has shown that the freeholder board has spent millions defending it’s politically connected employees, such as in the Virginia Fanelli case which has cost taxpayers $2.4 million out of pocket and still is climbing.

An ironic twist to the situation is that RT says the harassment started when it was learned that he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in ’06 and Mr. Devanney was well aware of that fact. If memory serves me correctly Devanney just released the information that he, himself, was blessed because his same cancer was caught at its earliest stages.

View lawsuit HERE
View change of venue request HERE
View resolution of UCIA to cover the cost of UC Democrat Committee Chairwoman legal fees HERE

July 01, 2007

UCWA files suit in superior court against county OPRA fee


June 29, 2007
Contact Tina Renna, President
Phone: 908-709-0530
Union County Watchdog Association

Richard Brightman, esq.
Phone: 908-709-1900

The Union County Watchdog (UCWA) announced today that it has filed a law suit in Superior Court which challenges the county’s charging an $8.00 an hour fee when the Association placed an Open Public Records (OPRA) request for back up documentation supporting certain county expenditures.

The documents in question, 25 vouchers, represent employee reimbursements and travel expenses totaling $12,085.74. Included in the list is $1,112.78 to the County Manager, $519.78 to the Sheriff, and $210.31 to the County Prosecutor as well as 11 vouchers totaling $3,857.02 for “refreshments” including $1,773.75 for Gourmet Dining c/o Kean, and a cake for a nutrition meeting, costing $42, also requested was a voucher for $1,200 representing the cost of indoor plants.

The UCWA is a 501c3 non profit organization which strives to promote transparency in county government as well as educate the public of its operation by posting on the Watchdog website www.unioncountywatchdog.org meeting minutes of the freeholder board as well as commissions and authorities, resolutions and other documents of public interest including the check register and hand check register which can be viewed and downloaded free of charge. In early 2006 the UCWA paid the county almost $300, secured thru public donations, to convert the county’s check register data base into a format which could be transmitted electronically, via the internet, to the public. Since that time the UCWA has been requesting the register and posting it on their website, as well as reviewing vouchers on a monthly basis. The UCWA than places OPRA requests for any vouchers that they believe deserve a closer look as well as public disclosure and pays the normal service charge for any hard copies which they request.

“Since we started reviewing the check registers and vouchers not a month has gone by that we haven’t found some questionable spending item” stated UCWA spokesperson and President Tina Renna. “Last month for the first time we reported our latest questionable finding to all elected municipal officials in Union County; a $930 bill for a catered departmental staff meeting which was held on December 22, 2006, and was not processed until two full months after the meeting had occurred.” Renna went on to report that immediately after that disclosure the county informed the UCWA that an $8.00 an hour service fee would be imposed to fulfill the latest voucher request and that it would take approximately 7 hrs for an employee to retrieve the 25 vouchers requested, thus the UCWA could anticipate a bill of $56 to view the requested public information.

The Union County Watchdog Association regrets that it has become necessary to take legal action to secure for the general public the ability to view or obtain whatever public documents that they are entitled to by law. These types of financial roadblocks are intended for the sole purpose of discouraging tax-burdened residents from demanding accountability from a county government that is clearly out of control and unconnected to the people.

Complaint can be viewed HERE.

Statement from District 21 Legislative Office regarding UCWA's Concerns about
County Public Records Fees

We believe all levels of government should be committed to transparency in spending so that taxpayers can truly understand how their tax dollars are being used. That is why we are very concerned about recent reports from the Union County Watchdog Association that the County of Union might be hampering access to expense vouchers incurred by county employees by charging a newly instituted service fee to provide such records. Under Title 47 (Public Records), immediate access is ordinarily granted to budgets, bills, vouchers, contracts, including collective negotiations agreements and individual employment contracts, and public employee salary and overtime information. We encourage the Watchdog organization to challenge the legitimacy of this fee for service practice by bringing a complaint before the Government Records Council. Equally important, we ask that the county work cooperatively with the citizens it serves in a spirit of greater accountability and accessibility.

Senator Thomas H. Kean, Jr.
Assemblyman Eric Munoz, M.D.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick
Dear Tina,

I applaud your efforts to expose wasteful spending and abuse on the part of Union County government.

A few years back I attended a Southside Johnny concert in Echo Lake Park and frankly I was shocked at the self-indulgence on and off stage of some connected to county government. Are these events really for taxpayers, or are they opportunities for some over-aged groupies on the public dime to rub wine glasses on stage with rock acts? Like many others I love Southside Johnny, but should the public foot the bill for elements of a private VIP event for elected officials and their friends? Were campaign contributors VIP's too? Perhaps the VIP guest list should be released as part of the public record.

As for the newly instituted $8.00 per hour service fee to obtain what should be freely accessible public documents: please send me an address to mail a $1000 contribution to your organization to cover these and future "service" fees, and do not hesitate to contact me when and if you need additional funds for this purpose. There is one condition: please pass on all evidence of obstruction and/or abuse to the U.S. Attorney's office. Enough is enough.

Sal Caruana
Westfield Town Councilman
P.S. You have my permission to circulate this e-mail as you see fit.