August 28, 2007
I began my watchdog activities with a huge respect for the media. I now find myself bitterly disappointed and can still be shocked by what the Star-Ledger chooses to ignore. Unless it is sensational, the Star-Ledger backs off from exposing power brokers and their machines. When the self proclaimed “Voice of New Jersey” is afraid of the powerbrokers, it makes it that much harder for the local weekly papers to stand up to them. Lesniak, Cryan and the Chairwoman of the Union County Democratic Committee Charlotte DeFalippo, pull the strings of all 9 freeholders in Union County. Freeholders are hired and fired by the powerbrokers and exhibit no individuality. They are elected, but they have no power, they are simply replaced when they don’t please the bosses.
Along with dual office holding, we have found that nepotism is rampant in Union County government. A study which compared elected democrat officials with county employees found that 542 employees, out of nearly 3,000, had the same surnames of elected Democrat officials. We included the elected Democrat municipal committee people in our study; we believe that these positions are central to the party bosses to hold on to their power.
Of course we can not prove that all 542 employees are actually related to the elected officials, but consider that we have no way of knowing how many employees/relatives with different surnames as elected officials, such as in-laws and cousins, are on the payroll!
For instance, our appointed county manager, George Devanney, is the nephew of State Senator Raymond Lesniak. Devanney’s mother in-law is a county employee, her surname is Bowen. Another example is Freeholder Angel Estrada's son-in-law who is the U.C. tax administrator, Christopher Duryee. He started in 2003 with a salary of $65,000.--- 2007 his salary is $98,399. I don’t know of anyone, outside of public employment, who gets $10,000 annual salary increases.
We also have no way of knowing what relatives are working directly for, or are involved with, contractors and vendors. Following an anonymous tip we received, we investigated and found that Freeholder Debra Scanlon’s sister, who goes by her married name, was given a 2-million dollar no bid contract in 2005 which was awarded in a business deal that was not conducted in public view. Scanlon simply left the freeholder dais when the contract was voted on, therefore she did not have to explain herself. There is nothing illegal about this.
Unethical? Forgetaboutit. It isn't an issue in this state.
The report also analyzes the legal background of an Undersheriff serving in elective office. We have Assemblyman Joe Cryan as an Undersheriff which is considered a full-time position here in Union County. It pays $109,582 and comes with a take home car. Assembly people are required to spend 2 days a week in Trenton, yet along with this Cryan is also the Union Municipal Democrat Chair and the State Chairman of the Democrat party. The hours necessary to complete all these commitments aren't humanly possible. Yet here in New Jersey it isn’t illegal.
You can see our research into what Union County municipal officials are compensated and what other public jobs they hold HERE.
You can read the NJ Policy Perspective Report HERE. Since you labor so hard all year to pay your property taxes, it would be appropriate to print it out and read it this Labor Day weekend.
How Much is Enough? Drawing the Lines on Multiple Public Job Holding in New Jersey examines the more than 700 elected state, county, and municipal officials who hold another, non-elected position in the public sector. The report is one of several NJPP research projects funded by a grant from The Schumann Fund for New Jersey. The series of reports will examine key aspects of the state's political and governmental systems.
Among the report's findings:600 men and women elected to municipal office have at least one other job on a public payroll besides their elected positions-more than 30 percent are employed in public education either as teachers or administrators; 20 percent work in county government; 14 percent for public authorities.
In the state's 10 most populous municipalities, just over half of council members have their day jobs in the public sector.
At least 56, or more than 40 percent, of the state's 137 county freeholders hold at least one other public sector job. Some 23 freeholders hold another elected office.
A dozen men and women in the 40-member State Senate in 2006 held at least one non-elected public job, and 26 of the 80-member State Assembly earn at least part of their living from public sector employment.
When the same people hold multiple elected and non-elected jobs the system suffers from less accountability, fewer checks and balances and less competition. Those who hold these dual offices may skimp on their duties in one of the positions. Their independence may be constrained by the need to keep the favor of the political leaders whose approval is needed to keep not just their elected position but also the job that provides their principal source of income.
The supervisor of an elected official may well be deferential when it comes to attendance and performance.
The checks and balances built into the system by the doctrine of separation of powers can be violated when, for instance, a law enforcement officer serves as a legislator.
An elected official who enjoys the perquisites of a low-show job in a public agency is shielded from competition that could open up the system to competitors.
When a Jersey City school superintendent spends part of the week in Trenton as an Assemblyman it is clear that he is spending less time as superintendent than his $210,520 salary should require.
Clearly New Jersey needs some general rules to be used in guiding the way through the wide range of incompatibilities and conflicts created by combining elected and non-elected positions.
New Jersey has chosen for years to deal with this problem by ignoring it. Such a policy is no longer tolerable. The first step forward is for the public and political leaders to recognize the threat the current system poses to government accountability, performance and perception. The study includes a detailed analysis of the problems created by legislators who are employed as undersheriffs, as 3 have been in recent years.
Now is the time for New Jersey to make combined elected and non-elected job holding the exception rather than the rule. Some states, such as Louisiana, explicitly forbid holding many dual offices that place officials in an unresolveable conflict of obligations. New Jersey should follow that course.
August 25, 2007
The needler in the haystack.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
PoliticsNJ post by Wally Edge recovered
Below is a reconstruction of the 'disappeared' Wally Edge item from PoliticsNJ that was put up and taken down on August 22nd, as captured by a reader.
August 21, 2007
There are coincidences and than there are those coincidences which are just too unbelievable to be coincidental…....take for instance the article below from the blog "Plainfield Today" regarding the new Senior Citizen project in Plainfield, the construction is being managed by the Union County Improvement Authority.
The Needler in the Haystack provided a photo of the billboard erected at the project bearing the logo of Century 21 Atlantic Realtors Inc. rather inconspicuously in the lower right hand corner.
The Needler also provided another piece of information in his rather inconspicuous note:
(An aside: While sorting through some business cards recently, I found I had picked up one of C21 Atlantic's agent's cards somewhere in my travels. It was the card of Sebastian D'Elia, sales associate. Who also happens to be Union County's public information officer)
It is certainly no secret that Sebastian D’Elia is in the county’s employ as the Public Information Officer/Spokesperson, but what may not be on the top of the average person’s need to know list is that Mr. D’Elia is also listed as a member of the Union County Improvement Authority, see above 6/6/07 minutes of the UCIA. See http://www.unioncountywatchdog.org/
Checking the State of NJ website to find out if Mr. D’Elia was still a licensed real estate sales person, presented a bit of a mystery:
COUNTY WIDE REALTY INC 325 EAST WESTFIELD AVE ROSELLE PARK , NJ 07204
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm….that is odd isn’t it?
Who the heck is County Wide Realty Inc.???
But, wait a minute…notice below the address of Century 21 Atlantic Realty taken from the NJ Multiple Listing agency roster:
C-21 ATLANTIC REALTORS
325 E. WESTFIELD AVE.
That is certainly a coincidence isn’t it???...
Perhaps both the companies just coincidentally have suites in the same office building, that could happen, couldn’t it????
Naaaahhhhhh…….Check out the following business profile compiled by D & B (Dun & Bradstreet)
County Wide Realty Inc (Century 21)
325 E Westfield Ave, Roselle Park, NJ 07204-2317, United States (Map) (Add Company Info)
Phone: (908) 245-6767
Also Does Business As:Century 21; Century 21 Atlantic Realty
SIC:Real Estate Agents and Managers
Line of Business:Real Estate Selling & Leasing Agent & Mortgage Broker Arranging For Loans Using Money Of Others
Detailed County Wide Realty Inc Company Profile
This company profile is for the private company County Wide Realty Inc, located in Roselle Park, NJ. Century 21's line of business is real estate selling & leasing agent & mortgage broker arranging for loans using money of others.
Company Profile: County Wide Realty Inc
State of Incorporation:NJ
Location Type:Single Location
Also Does Business As:Century 21; Century 21 Atlantic Realty
Est. Annual Sales:$2,500,000
Est. Employees at Location:82
Contact Name:Leonor Dominguez
Contact Title:Vice President
Data above provided by D&B.
Points of Interest:
- UCIA is managing the construction of the new Senior Citizen Project with 63 for sale units in Plainfield.
- Century 21 Atlantic Realty Inc. 325 E. Westfield Avenue of Roselle Park is the agency on the billboard who appears to be handling the sale of the 63 units.
- Sebastian D’Elia has an active real estate sales license listed with County Wide Realty Inc. 325 E. Westfield Avenue of Roselle Park
- Mr. D’Elia’s business card once read Century 21 Atlantic Realty Inc. County Wide Realty also does business as Century 21 Atlantic Realty Inc.
- Mr. Sebastian D'Elia is listed as a voting member of the Union County Improvement Authority
Major Conflict of Interest????
Decide for yourself.
August 15, 2007
The needler in the haystack.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Jerry Green's million-dollar poke in the eye
Did Assemblyman Jerry Green mean to give Plainfield Realtors® a million-dollar poke in eye, or was he just powerless not to?Tooling by the new Senior Center construction site on East Front Street yesterday, I was put in mind of the photos I took of the project's billboard from the groundbreaking on July 3rd.Billed as 'The Monarch' (are we supposed to draw our own conclusions about the reference?), the billboard contains blah-blah details about who's involved in the project, including this --
This is the million-dollar poke in the eye.Plainfield Realtors® are being cut out of the sales of the 63 condos in the new Senior Center project, which will go instead to Century 21 Atlantic Realtors.That means that the projected $1.3 million in commissions earned will not be going into the local Plainfield economy, but will be siphoned off to ... Roselle Park.
I cannot even begin to comment......Pat Q
August 07, 2007
During public comment I asked for an explanation of the complaint noting the fact that the County Manager was being sued by a county employee again. The flustered County Counsel (who by the way came to Union County directly from working for Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski until he joined the F.B.I.’s Witness Protection Program) responded with obvious distain for the nuisance that I fully acknowledge that I am, that the County Manager wasn’t being sued, it was a mere “employee benefits issue”.
Not being one to take the county council, (especially one that worked for Bobby J., who if you don’t remember was the county executive that was found to have file cabinets filled with cash), or anyone else sitting up on that dais’ word on anything, I placed an Open Public Records Act request for the complaint which I picked-up today.
The Union County Watchdog Association continually requests to view public documents despite the fact that we are frequently lambasted by the county Public Information Department for what they call excessive records requests.
As if we could rely on the county to inform us. If it weren’t for our records request the public may have not know for some time that the “employee benefits issue” involves 7 former employees of the Prosecutor’s Office who all responded to the Union County Early Retirement Program in 2001 and all are suing the Union County Manager, who was authorized by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders to offer the Early Retirement Incentive Program to the Plaintiffs.
Richard P. Rodbart
James A. Hart
Peter A. McCord
David F. Regal
Kenneth N. Siegel
Lawrence C. Wlazlo
At issue is “removal of the existing cap on the retiree health benefit subsidy to provide fully paid health benefits for life”. The plaintiffs are taking issue with the county for not paying Medicare supplement payments which will be due and owing upon reaching the age of 65.
View complaint HERE.
I have no idea what the costs of this could be to the tax-payers. If it isn’t in a document that can be obtained by the OPRA than the county simply doesn’t answer questions.
The cost of this lawsuit is added to the fact that recently the Assistant Prosecutor’s contracts include retirement packages with life-time health benefits. The early retirement for 183 employees last summer has cost the County of Union $9.3 million instead of saving $8.5 million over five years as originally thought by county officials, according to a Star-Ledger article published on October 8, 2006, which quoted a study commissioned by the state Division of Pensions and Benefits.
County Manager George Devanney called the report “flawed.” The county’s own study, he said, determined the program would save $15 million over 20 years.
August 05, 2007
I recently requested documents from Union County that would explain what has been done in the years since they made this agreement regarding Morristown and Erie Railway's responsibilities. The only records my OPRA request provided were created by M and E prior to November, 2001. County taxpayers have a right to know about these critical areas the county has entrusted to this privately owned company that our public funds are subsidizing.
I was quite disturbed to find out through these Open Public Records, a number of alarming facts that the Freeholders knew before the signing of the contract. Among them are, according to M and E's Business Plan, Executive Summary: "The Staten Island/ Rahway Valley RR will be incorporated as the Union County Central Railroad, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Morristown and Erie Railway, Inc. with Wesley R. Weis as president, and Gordon Fuller as CEO."
Weis' association with MMBI and MIKAB Corporation gave me reason to be annoyed with our Freeholders. Check the company website (http://www.mikabcorp.com/history.html). Their clients are Verizon, T Mobile, ATT Wireless, Nextel, etc.
At a Freeholder meeting several years ago, I told the Freeholders that the county could make more money for the people of UC, with less grief, by leasing the RR Right of Way to a communications company that would run fiber optic lines along the line. The Freeholders were visibly annoyed. Now I know why. Well, for 17 cents a month, Morristown and Erie Railway will be the one making the money. Further in the document Morristown and Erie Railway states that it will be subleasing "easements for communications and utility companies."
I am annoyed by many things in this 11-page document. Statements about "The Marketing Plan will have to be both flexible and nimble in order to EXPLOIT new and changing OPPORTUNITIES in a post 9-11-01 environment." make me know who the county went to bed with on this one.
CEO Fuller constantly talks about these "plastic pellets" they'll be hauling. Under "Plastics/Polypropylene" the document reads, "The construction of a $350 million polypropylene plant at the Tosco Refinery in Linden provides a major opportunity for industrial development." It's also a major opportunity for disaster that will be railroaded through our communities.
Local emergency service personnel will be happy to hear about Morristown and Erie Railway's detailed safety and security plan. "Local police departments and fire departments will be familiarized with our operations and will be provided with our 24-hour telephone number for emergencies." How consoling!
August 03, 2007
"The UCWA 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" said UCWA president Tina Renna. "The taxpayers now have to add these legal costs, $,1,857.45, to the cost of the freeholder meeting refreshments and travel expenses, the County Manager's mother's catered luncheon, and his home internet bills, and various other perks included in the withheld vouchers" Renna continued. "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" said Renna upon filing the lawsuit.
The OPRA states that bills, receipts and vouchers should be made available immediately upon request. The UCWA maintains that every citizen has the right to walk into the county administration building and ask to see the bills which they are ultimately picking up the tab for. No taxpayer should be hindered by economic means and have to pay a $8.00 an hour fee for these bills to be compiled. The fact that these bills represented $1,606 worth of refreshments for freeholder's meetings; $1012.78 reimbursed to the county manager including payment for his home internet service and $1,773.75 to the county manager's mother (Sen. Lesniak's sister) to cater a luncheon for her job at Kean University was a slap in the face to every taxpayer.
The Union County Watchdog Association will continue to fight for transparent government practices with the one-party ruled Union County freeholder board and the appointed County Manager, George Devanney, who is Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew.Highlights of the bills/receipts:
$1,773.75 for Gourmet Dining c/o Kean University was ordered by the County Manager's mother, Margaret Devanney (Sen. Lesniak's sister), who works for Kean. Although county taxpayers paid for this gala there are no press releases regarding this event on the county website.
The county managers $1012.78 reimbursements included 2 months of home internet service, 2 work related dinner meetings, one lunch meeting, one breakfast meeting and $300.00 to establish petty cash.
Freeholder refreshment bills included:
$300 to Costa's Restaurant for freeholder meeting held on March 12. The freeholders were served Penne Vodka, Linguini Carrbonara, Sausage and Peppers, Chicken Parm
$127.55 to stock the freeholder office with soda.
$295.00 to Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant for freeholder meeting held on January 8. The freeholders were served Eggplant Parmigiana, Baked Stuffed Shells, Chicken Cacciatore, Fried Mushrooms, Meatballs, with NO CHARGE being marked for Garlic Knots, Zeppoli's, loaf of bread, and Ziti Marinara.
$166.00 to the Gourmet Deli for the freeholder budget hearing held on February 21. The freeholders were served an assorted sandwich platter with foccacia and tossed salad.
$380.00 to the Gourmet Deli for freeholder meeting held on March 1. The freeholders were served (can't decipher the bill)
$166.00 to the Gourmet Deli for freeholder budget hearing held on February 28. The freeholders were served an assorted sandwich platter with foccacia and tossed salad.
$42.00 for a cake for a nutrition meeting at Ehrhart Gardens held on 2/27/07.
$171.72 to the Pizza King for freeholder meeting held on 3/2/07. The freeholders were served assorted pizzas and salad.
$225.00 to Napoli Deli for a Department of Human Services meeting held on 3/21.
$1,200 to Shades of Green to maintain the plants in the courthouse atrium and at police headquarters. Each location costs $200 a month to maintain. (Note: the county employees 2,842 people)
$2,983.50 for registration for 3 conferences including $1,320 for the NACO legislative conference for three freeholders to attend @ $440.00 each (this does not include expenses).
The Sheriff was reimbursed $519.78 for petty cash reimbursements including $26.60 for Dunkin' Donuts.