November 26, 2007
At the October 11th freeholder meeting the annual election time ritual of the Open Space Trust Fund Grant distributions to municipalities was performed. Officials from 18 towns traversed to Elizabeth and paid homage to the freeholders for giving them back a fraction of the money their taxpayers paid into the fund. You can view the spectacle on our Veotag account HERE.
Although the county performs the grant distribution ceremony with lots of photo ops and press releases sent to the local media, they never mention how much towns have paid into the fund. Since the fund’s inception in 2001 municipalities have paid $58,565,562.02 into the fund and have collectively received back $10,165,402.84 in grants. You can view our spreadsheet HERE.
You can’t miss where this money has gone in your town. Municipalities have to sign an agreement with the county which includes agreeing to hang a “We’re connected to you!” sign pictured above. There is no stipulation in the agreement which states when you can take the sign down but you do have to agree to have the county install it “for you!” exactly where “they want it to hang!” You can view a agreement template HERE.
I wouldn’t mind the spectacle so much, if once in a while the freeholders would come down from their thrones and show a little humility. They should acknowledge that they get their money from the towns. If they want ceremonies like the annual Open Space Trust Fund ritual, to be fair, why not have all 21 mayors present the freeholders with blown up prop checks in the amount the towns sent the county that year? The freeholders would have to say thank you and give an explanation as to what they are spending your money on.
I’d purchase a ticket to see that show.
Rocks in our heads
Trust fund grants show signs of propaganda
November 18, 2007
On December 31, 2006 Time Magazine announced their 2006 person of the year on their cover which consisted of a mylar computer screen with a title “Person of the Year” “You”.
“You control the information age”. Wrote time…. “for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you”.
We here at the Countywathers blog graciously accepted the honor, and as we had been doing since June 2005, we spent the next 12 months proving TIME right. I keep a framed copy of the cover on the shelf above my computer to remind me if the Countywatchers didn’t report on Union County government, then who would?
The Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains Times is the only newspaper that maintains a presence at freeholder meetings. As of September 2007 the Star-Ledger officially abandoned Union County government coverage. Ledger reporter Brian Murray left and there are no plans to replace him. Ledger reporter Robert Missek’s coverage of Union County consists of doctored press releases which come directly from the county. Sensational stories, such as the recent jail break, are handled by seasoned reporters, but what little investigative reporting the Ledger did in the past regarding the day to day operations of Union County government is now non-existent.
Although the freeholders have over a 400-million dollar budget and commands approximately 1/4 of our property tax bills, and more importantly is largely in charge of over a half a million resident’s public safety, most of what you read in the printed media are positive stories which come directly from the county's extensive office of public information. Union County is spending more on Public Information salaries than any other county in the state. The government is in control the printed media but they will never have control over our digital democracy.
Since its formation the Union County Watchdog Association has maintained a presence at every regular meeting of the freeholders. In February 2007 we began to air freeholder meetings on the web. One of our initiatives for 2008 will be to encourage all 21 towns in the county to begin to air freeholder meetings on their local cable access stations. This is not to be confused with the ½ hour show called “"Freeholders Forum" which is produced by the county’s public information department and is pure propaganda featuring freeholders who are up for re-election. We will encourage the towns to abolish this show.
A Countywatchers Year in Review "2007"
The freeholder’s reorganization meeting held on January 7, 2007 is something to be seen to be believed. All Union County Democrat political dignitaries were in attendance. Also present were the Chairwoman of the National Democrat Committee and Governor Jon Corzine who gushed on about his beloved home county……
Freeholder Meetings now available on the web
The January 18, 2007 video meeting minutes of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders are now posted on the Union County Watchdog Association's website. Although the county spent $110,000 on new video and audio equipment you will see that the footage is blurry and the audio is scratchy. It's just what we've come to expect of Union County services.
County will not allow budget hearings to be recorded
The Union County Watchdog Association recently requested permission of the County of Union to video tape their budget hearings. It was our intent to then upload the hearings to our website for free public access. The county initially refused, however, on the heals of a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision allowing for public tapings and reporter Joe Ryan of the Star-Ledger nudging around the county relented and taped the hearings themselves.
The Plainfield Plaintalker reported this week that Freeholder Adrian Mapp will be replaced by Plainfield Councilman Rayland Van Blake. The only questions to be answered are will Mapp put up a fight and how soon will Van Blake replace Mapp on the Board?
Bergen Record Reports: State investigating Union County's voting machines
"Nobody can understand what it's all about; we have no idea," said Dennis Kobitz, deputy administrator of the Union County Board of Elections, who spoke with his counterparts in other counties.
No discipline for freeholder in Farber traffic case
Freeholder Estrada doesn't have to worry about his patronage state job and can be as happy as he was pictured here....
Click Here f0r a complete history on the Farber/Estrada flap
Christmas in February
The Countywatchers reported that On December 22, 2006, the Friday before Christmas, a “staff meeting” was held for county Juvenile Detention Center employees.
The Courier News- a Gannet Newspaper, reports Freeholder Adrian Mapp’s car was hit by a bullet.
Union County Superintendent of Schools Displays Questionable Behavior
Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage appears to have the inside tract when it comes to obtaining government records and reports even when those documents are not obtainable under the Federal Freedom of Information Act, it has been reported by the Star-Ledger.
The UC “Virtual” Improvement Authority”
It has been about six years that the Union County Improvement Authority has been renting space in a shop worn office building on Cherry Street in Elizabeth; the current rent is $2,500 per month. The commercial building is a short sprint, about 2 blocks from the county administration building. The UC Freeholders are in the process of purchasing the structure for $1.275 million to house the Improvement Authority.
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.
Another bloated Union County Powerbroker-Controlled Budget is adopted
The Westfield Leader reported that a $414.4-million budget that called for taxes to be increased in 18 of the 21 municipalities as part of a $238.6-million tax levy. County taxes would jump 5.27 percent, or $11.6 million – about $66 per household countywide, according to county officials.
County taxpayers have nothing to celebrate on 150th anniversary
Bills are still adding up for harassment lawsuit against Sheriff Ralph Frohlich, Inc.
Union County's Early Retirement Offering - Is It Really Voluntary??
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.
Union County Watchdog Association wins OPRA lawsuit
Recommended Labor Day weekend reading
New Jersey Policy Perspective released a report in July titled: How Much is Enough? Drawing the Lines on Multiple Public Job Holding in New Jersey. And this being New Jersey, the media didn’t pay any attention to this important work, no wonder that media disenfranchisement is mentioned in the report as a key problem.
Musicfest VIP compound
After being caught on film last year feasting and drinking in their exclusive tax-payer funded VIP tent, fit with celebrity port-a-potties, the county made sure they didn’t do it again - get caught on film that is.
County owned Runnell's Specialized Hospital is being run by a contractor
Freeholders caught voting on something they knew nothing about
At tonight’s freeholder meeting confusion ensued over the freeholders second reading of a Bond Ordinance which provided their consent to the issuance by the Union County Improvement Authority of up to $7-mill in bonds to fund an organization that the freeholder’s knew nothing about, the Black United Fund-Plainfield Project. They also didn't know who would be responsible for the bonds should the 501(c)3 organization default on their payments.
County public information spin is as negligent and twisted as their prisoner care
Union County served with subpoenas
Peek into Union County machine politics
The Westfield Leader taped an interview with Freeholder Mapp. Mapp was thrown off the Democrat party line and is running as an independent.
County Manager goes to katmandu
Title Insurance Agency under investigation was to benefit from legislation
It is certainly interesting that other high ranking Union County Dems just happen to own shares in a title insurance company, “Camelot Title Agency LLC" in Woodbridge, NJ. They are said to be Union County Democrat Committee Chairwoman/Director Union County Improvement Authority/Legislative Aide to Neal Cohen - Charlotte DeFilippo who has had personal and business records subpoenaed by the State of NJ and Assemblyman/ NJ Democratic State Chairman/Union County Undersheriff - Joe Cryan, both appear to hold shares in the company and both are also Union County employees.
Employee nepotism lawsuit settled
"We were able to establish that Mike Florio had repeatedly bragged to several people that he was going to get the job because he was a Democrat, his father was a Democrat and that they had made connections to Sen. (Raymond) Lesniak," stated Todaro's attorney David Corrigan in a Star-Ledger article.
Christmas bonuses for Lesniak’s nephew and the freeholders
Got Out of Jail - What an Embarassment!!! Unseen by corrections officers, inmates Jose Espinosa and Otis Blunt apparently spent days - if not weeks - boring through their cells' cement walls. They broke free, leaping some 30 feet over razor wire sometime last weekend. Their escape was not discovered until Saturday evening, when the men failed to rouse from their bunks for dinner.
County's new recording equipment malfunctions "again"
The Union County Watchdog Association has requested an investigation by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office into the malfunctioning of the recording equipment during the December 20, 2007 freeholder meeting. “I believe there may have been statements made during this meeting that could aid the current investigation into county management’s role in the prisoner escapes as well as past practices in the jail. Namely, prisoner health care, politically connected prisoners being given preferential treatment and the lack of cameras inside the facility” said Tina Renna, President of the UCWA.
Depending on how you look at the new information the Union County Watchdog Association has gathered regarding this bond issue, the plot either thickens or the fog is lifted on the workings of and between the Union County Improvement Authority and the freeholder board who usually unanimously votes 9-0 on every ordinance and resolution without public discussion. One thing is crystal clear – the freeholders follow their boss lady blindly and vote on ordinances they have no knowledge of.
The Improvement Authority is headed by Charlotte DeFilippo who is also the Union County Democrat Chairman. The Freeholder board is made up of 9 democrats who, because of a myriad of reasons for which people vote down the Democrat line, are quite literally appointed and fired by DeFilippo and her machine.
In defense of his vote, Freeholder Sullivan, who works for the State Motor Vehicle Commission stated “Based on the county rules of governance, we have to approve any and all projects that the Improvement Authority puts forward,” said Sullivan. “Based on their track record and my faith in the Improvement Authority, they have done their due diligence and understand what the risks are with all projects. That’s why they have my support.”
But who is doing the Authority’s due diligence? A copy of the following letter was obtained through the Open Public Records Act. It was addressed to the Clerk of the Board of Freeholders and shows how a vendor of the Improvement Authority wrote the ordinance the freeholders approved without having any knowledge about it:
Dear Ms. Tedeschi:
Enclosed herein for consideration by the Freeholders for their next regular meeting is an ordinance requesting the County’s consent to issuance by the Union County Improvement Authority of its bonds in the amount of not to exceed $7,000,0000 to finance African American Fund of New Jersey Plainfield Project, a pre-school facility.
Should the freeholders approve this financing, I ask that you kindly forward a certified copy of the Ordinance as introduced, and as adopted to my office.
If you have any questions or comments, please do no hesitate to contact me.
Very truly yours,
John G. Hudak, Esq. (Not Charlotte DeFilippo, the Director of the Union County Improvement Authority)
The above letter, which can be viewed in its entirety HERE, included an attachment with the language for the ordinance that the clerk placed on the freeholders September 27, 2007 agenda and was approved 8-1. The one abstention being from Freeholder Adrian Mapp, who has fallen out of favor with the machine and was not given the party line during his bid for reelection.
An OPRA request to the Improvement Authority seeking to find out how the Black United Fund went about requesting funding from the Improvement Authority was responded to via email:
Dear Mrs. Renna:
During your OPRA review of the Black United Fund materials from the law office of John Hudak you asked if we had any preliminary documentation to how the Black United Fund was bonded. I have found that the Black United Fund went directly to our bond council, Mr. John Hudak, Esq. office.
If further information is requested, please let me know.
Union County Improvement Authority
10 Cherry Street
Elizabeth, NJ 07207
So, you see, Sullivan and the other Freeholders admittedly blindly voted to approve the ordinance without any knowledge of what it contained. And even though he said he did so because the ordinance was presented by the Improvement Authority, records show that it wasn’t. This has been the motus operendi of the Freeholder Board for the past ten years and has put the County government in financial crisis.
I was tossed out of the meeting because I reminded Sullivan that DeFilippo gave him his state job and that she could take it away. Before I left the mike, I asked if the meeting was being video taped because besides having spent $110,000 on new video equipment the Freeholders had stopped tapping meetings.
They taped the meeting.
Is this all just for an opportunity to reward ‘friends”? Plainfield Today: Friday, September 28, 2007 $7M bond for nonprofit may leave Plainfield on the hook..
Miscellaneous Documents obtained through OPRA:
Draft Summary & Terms of Purchase
Black United Fund Plan of Finance
Union County Improvement Authority Resolution
Hudak Letter & Ordinance
Nepal Considers Nudity Ban on Everest
Nepal's Mountaineering Authorities Call for
The Associated Press
Last year, a Nepali climber claimed the world's
"There should be strict regulations to discourage such
Other record-setting attempts that sparked controversy
November 15, 2007
“Union County Freeloaders” was the message emblazoned across this photo dipicted on t-shirts worn by protesters during a May 10, 2007 vigil which ended with a visit to a freeholder meeting.
The County of Union has recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit in the matter of Edward Sinclair, Jr., the 17 year old who died in their Juvenile Detention Center on May 10, 2003.
After the death of Sinclair, the State’s Child Advocate released a blistering report of the facility which stated that “Union County’s “disregard” of rules let the teen hang himself. The advocate went on to report that the county “set the stage for his death”. The Child Advocate also stated that the county had a disregard for basic human rights and held "juveniles" three to four to a cell for 18 - 20 hours a day in which they ate and slept in 8 x 10 cockroach-infested cells.”
The Juvenile Detention Center is a basic service of County government, instead of building a much needed new facility or even doing needed repairs on the old facility, the county chose instead to construct new buildings to house county employees. The state directed the county to fix the sprinkler head that Sinclair hanged himself on, 17 months prior to his being put in the filthy cell. The county never bothered to make the recommended repairs.
The county also ignored pleas from the corrections officers union. The Star-Ledger reported on May 13, 2003: “A lawyer for Council 8 representing 30 officers at the detention center said the union had filed numerous complaints with the county, warning that “Something like this would happen because of the overcrowding and under staffing” at the facility. “For the last couple of months the union has been documenting and complaining about the conditions there, but I don’t think they really addressed our concerns,” said attorney Michael Bukosky.
In a November 30, 2000 Worrall newspaper article it was reported that after spending more than $2 million the freeholder’s scrapped its plans to construct a new detention center. At that time freeholder board chairman Daniel Sullivan said the cost to build a new center “is just not worth it” given a declining population at the current facility.
According to records obtained by the Union County Watchdog Association through the Open Public Records Act it shows the center was at over capacity at the time of Sullivan’s statement. In the same article Freeholder Louis Mingo, stated he did not want to “waste a lot of money if we don’t have to. We want to make sure that if we make an investment, its on solid ground.”
The cost at the time to build a new center was projected to be $20 million. The cost of the current project is roughly $40 million - plus a 17 year old human life.
Other costs to date associated with scrapping the original 1998 plan:
Sinclair law-suit county attorney’s fees and settlement to date: $1,110,000; State mandated updates to make the old facility clean and safe(r): Approximately $800,000; Maintaining the state mandated cap on the facility and housing youths out of county: $555,952
Total wasted money since the death of Edward Sinclair, Jr.: $2,465,952
The future of the 42-year-old detention center, which is located above the county employee parking garage is undecided. The UCWA recommends the freeholders move their offices to the facility and have freeholder meetings up there to remind them and the public of what happens when government can’t be held accountable.
The new detention center is 8 months past due from its last promised opening date. With the settlement of this lawsuit only the Union County taxpayers have been held accountable for the death of Edward Sinclair, Jr. No employee or elected official of the state or the county has been held accountable for Sinclair’s death, the condition of this facility or the treatment of countless other juveniles. No one has been written up, reprimanded, fined, suspended or voted out of office.
Freeholder Daniel Sullivan was the highest vote getter this past Election Day. We get the government we deserve.
In memory of Eddie Sinclair, Jr.
Eddie's family and friends visited a freeholder meeting shortly after his death.
November 10, 2007
Appearing on the “Breaking News Page” of the NJ.com website and calling it “real time” news at 12:02 AM, Friday, November 9, and in the middle of the night, the Star Ledger announced that an investigation had been launched by state officials into the business and personal dealings of Charlotte DeFilippo the Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee and Director of the Union County Improvement Authority. The news article went on to explain that DeFilippo had been served with subpoenas in September and October so one could say that actually the Star Ledger was “late in breaking the news”, and shame on them.
Even in these times of high tech gadgets and gizmos many people get the news of their communities from the local newspapers, both dailies and weeklies. We want to know that those local papers will deliver the news in an up to date easy to read format, bringing us the facts relating to our local government, schools, sports, births, deaths and local business in a timely manner.
Yesterday’s news is basically useless as we live our lives in “real time” and need our news to be the same. We want to hear it all and prefer to decide for ourselves what information we will keep in our mental files for later use because it is important to us and what information we will discard. News in real time is what happened yesterday, today or what we can expect tomorrow, not what happed last week or last month because what are we going to do with old news, how will it benefit us now or in the near future.
The Star Ledger’s recent performance has been disappointing to say the very least. To claim that they choose to not report the details of the Union County subpoenas and their contents so that they would not be viewed as interfering with the recent elections is absurd. Should not the residents be informed of the unbiased facts of what is going on with their government and those running it in, shall we say “real time”? If the reporting of those unbiased facts coincides with some public event such as an election than so be it, and can holding back on news information be it good or bad also be viewed as interfering, why not just let it rip? Unless of course there are some forces that are actually running the presses and the newspaper is not, now, isn’t that sad?
Many would have to agree that what we really want from the news media is just the N-E-W-S!
Please just....tell me the facts,
give them to me in an expeditious & timely manner
and let me decide for myself what I will ignore and what carries some weight in my decision making.
To the Star Ledger: You are not my mother so don’t try to protect me from what you perceive to be evil or detrimental for me to know. And kindly refrain from attempting to cast the news in a good or bad light, which just annoys me because if I wanted an opinion I would have visited the editorial page.
Further in the case of government ... the last I checked it was by and for the people, not, by the news media shaped in their image for the people, this is manipulation of the facts, and inexcusable. Perhaps the Star Ledger should include the names of those who apparently are influencing their reporting on the mast head as they appear to be the ones steering the Ledger’s ship.
November 09, 2007
Authorities probe Union County Democrats
by Ian T. Shearn
Friday November 09, 2007, 12:10 AM
State officials have opened an investigation into matters involving some of Union County's most powerful Democrats, The Star-Ledger has learned.
The focus of the ongoing investigation points toward county Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo, the former freeholder who heads the Union County Improvement Authority and is a legislative aide to Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Union).
Patti Sapone/The Star-LedgerUnion County Democratic Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo at her Hillside home last year.
DeFilippo confirmed the existence of five subpoenas that demand documents and information about her public and private business dealings. The contents of the subpoenas, which were served in September and October, were described by DeFilippo this week in an interview.
"When you wear several hats, you acquire enemies over the years," she said.
DeFilippo is a towering political figure in Union County, where Democrats dominate most town councils and have held a 9-0 lock on the freeholder board since 1997. She does not hold elected office. But as head of the county committee, DeFilippo hand picks the Democratic candidates for freeholder, mayor and council in the county.
According to DeFilippo, the subpoenas seek:
-- Financial and other documents for the last three years from the Improvement Authority, which each year awards millions in contracts to construction, law and engineering firms.
-- An explanation of her duties as Cohen's aide. Cohen said he also received a subpoena in late October, asking for any records pertaining to his employment of DeFilippo.
-- All records relating to the county Democratic Committee's involvement in last year's primary election in Roselle, in which allegations of voter fraud are being investigated by the state Division of Criminal Justice.
-- A client list and financial records from Camelot Title Agency, a Woodbridge company in which DeFilippo owns a minority stake.
See more in Corruption in NJ, Union County
November 07, 2007
Cranford Commissioner, George McDonough also lost a re-election bid yesterday, by a WHOLE LOT of votes. McDonough ranted on at a recent Township Committee meeting regarding being caught on the following video of last years Music Fest VIP Tent which cost tax-payers $5,500 for the food alone. Said McDonough in defense of his VIP treatment "…I went to a concert, along with 10,000 other people! I was in a tent for elected officials and there was beer and wine!....” ” “I think this is a slur to the Irish!”.
Wrong again George, it was a slap in the face to taxpayers, and for this and your general disrespect for them and your obnoxious absurdity, they slapped you back yesterday.
The sun is rising in Union County.....
Yesterday’s election didn’t put any watchdogs on the freeholder board; because all freeholders seats are at large, all three selected puppets were elected by the cities. But there were many victories in town races across the county. A lot of good people were elected and a lot of machine puppets were sent packing.
I’d say it’s dawn in Union County and with the looming investigations into county machine politics and their business with our tax dollars, the rooster is on the verge to welcome a new day. But don't expect the rooster to be quoted in the Star-Ledger in your morning paper. The Ledger has been suppressing news regarding the investigations for 2 weeks now so as not to have an effect on county elections. Sources have said that the Governor all the way UP the power chain to Ray Lesniak put pressure on the Ledger to keep their dirty business from their readers.
The Ledger has proven themselves to be Lesniak's bitch and it becomes more irrelevant by the day.
Click HERE to view video footage of George McDonough, who was tossed out of office yesterday, driking and eating at tax payers expense in the V.I.P. tent for cronies connected to the Democrat machine.
November 04, 2007
Many freeholders have been 'fired' by the Democrat machine in recent years. For the past decade anyone on the Democrat line is automatically elected. Mapp replaced Freeholder Louis Mingo who fell out of favor with the machine.
Mapp's interview gives some behind the scenes insight into many issues the Countywatchers blog has written about as well as the workings of county government and the control the Democrat machine has on the freeholders, although you have to squint to see it at times.
This is not a candidate endorsement. The Mapp interview along with all Union County Freeholder candidate videos can be viewed on the Westfield Leader/Scotch Plains Fanwood Times website HERE
November 01, 2007
There is no way for the public to verify this information. The truth will be told eventually and another subpoena involving political corruption served up in New Jersey at this low point in its history is not shocking. Especially if it involves De Falippo running county business along with party business from her dining room table. No secret there. The Improvement Authority’s headquarters at 10 Cherry Street didn’t even bother to have Internet service installed until this past June. With past puppet Attorney General’s like Zalima Farber and Peter Harvey why bother to put up much of a front?
What will be another blow to New Jersean's faith in their State and their institutions is whether or not the Star-Ledger will suppress the news until after Election Day.