July 06, 2008
July 02, 2008
Submitted by: Richard Lenihan
The Coalition to Stop the Train has sent copies of Resolutions passed by five municipalities to 19 lawmakers and state officials, including the Governor, Attorney General, and the Union County Manager.
The main impetus for the municipalities' common demand to "terminate funding" is Union County Freeholders' failure to enforce definite and specific stipulations listed in the May, 2002, contract with the Morristown and Erie Railway. The Union County Freeholders thereby have breached their June, 2000, contract with the State Department of Transportation, which charged the County to "monitor and supervise all provisions" of the M&E contract.
All of the taxpayer funding, $14.6 million to date, for this freight railway has been squandered. Now in the seventh year of a ten year contract, there is no due compliance to each of the breached contracts.
All supporting documentation can be found HERE
Coalition to Stop the Train
Who really will benefit from the freight rail project?
YO!......Look Out for the Locomotive
Trucks, Trains and Union County
M and E Railway Taking UC for a Ride Back to the Future
June 28, 2008
NOTE: Among its priorities the Alliance lists the following on its website - Continue to Publish Countywide Newspaper. The newspaper is distributed to more than 200,000 Union County homes and businesses. It serves as a keepsake tool of valuable information, which contains various service and program directories, a calendar of events, and important municipal and county news. The Alliance will continue to provide advertising opportunities from organizations in various sectors in Union County.
Reviewing the latest edition of the Directions it is clear that it has veered far from the original intent.
The first and third pages have been hijacked by State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak sharing his spiritual beliefs and how they aided him in seemingly single handedly getting the death penalty abolished in New Jersey. But what is more annoying is that for the second consecutive year Lesniak has used the newspaper to bash the Elizabeth Board of Education. Not only did he bash the Board of Ed as a whole but he singled out its officials by name which was totally tasteless.
The Union County Alliance receives approximately 80% of its funding from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders which means that it is paid for with tax payer dollars. Though there is some advertising in the paper, it must be noted that those ads are mostly from public entities therefore these ads would be paid for with tax dollars as well. If this newspaper is to be a useful tool of information for the residents and paid for with their hard earned monies than Ray Lesniak’s opinion of the Elizabeth BOE has no place in the publication. Senator Lesniak can certainly well afford to self fund a mailing to every house in Union County as there are many county residents who would prefer to not be a part of his attacks paid for with their tax dollars.
What was once a worthy publication, years ago, has now transgressed into a publicly funded birdcage liner loaded with platitudes for the wonderful ways that the freeholders have developed to spend the taxpayers money without their approval. The front page article about the new Countywide Performing Arts High School at the Vo-Tech is proof positive that the freeholders could care less what the voters think. It would seem to be common sense that a borrowing scheme putting the county $20 million further in debt should really be subject to voter approval and not left to the total discretion of the gang of nine who are able to just quietly take what they want whenever they want passing the costs on to the taxpayers. Something is wrong with this picture especially since we learn about this additional debt by reading about how we all got screwed in this taxpayer funded political newspaper.
And where are the other members of the UC Alliance?
Conspicuously absent in this latest edition is the list of the Board of Directors as well as what companies comprise the coalition. Have they backed away and taken their funding with them preferring not to participate. And if they have good for them as it would certainly be long overdue.
June 27, 2008
Photo of Chris Christie having some down time with States Attorney General Anne Milgram. Both offices are investigating Union County Government.
U.S. Attorney Chris Christie was interviewed by the publisher of Westfield/Scotch Plains Leader, Horace Corbin on June 19, 2008.
“Anyone who’s breaking the law in Union County has to be nervous – and beyond that, I will not be making any comment about any particular individuals,” Mr. Christie said.
Judging last night’s freeholder meeting and the behavior of the Union County Manager, George Devanney, and the freeholders and even county employees, that is an understatement.
Chris Christie asked anyone with a complaint of government or suspecting wrongdoing to call him in Newark at (973)645-2700; or if they prefer, call the FBI in Newark at (973) 792-3000. He said he has e-mail but prefers to talk to people directly. He said they need not be concerned and he doesn’t record his phone calls. “I’m here to serve you, the public.”
You can view the interview here:
goleader.com Video June 19, 2008
U.S. Attorney Chris Christie
Interview with Publisher Horace Corbin (40 minutes)
June 26, 2008
When skeptics of the plan were cautioning that it was not in the best interest of the county residents to go into the entertainment business a smiling Estrada merely bobbled his head and ended any further discussions. The county managed to come up with $7.2 million to include money from the Open Space Trust Fund, to cover the costs of improvements and the Union County Performing Arts Center opened it‘s doors this past March. The line-up of performers appears as though it should appeal to enough patrons to keep the UCPAC’s head above water with ticket prices set at $100 for the likes of Neil Sedaka, Jay Black and Connie Francis, however only time will tell.
According to the minutes for the Board of Chosen Freeholders Executive Session for May 15, 2007, Dr. Thomas J. Biostocchi, Superintendent Union County Vocational Technical Schools, requested $20 Million in Capital funding to develop and construct a performing arts academy intentioned to provide students with career track training in dance, acting, stage management and stage technology. According to Chairman Estrada, the performing arts are becoming a vital part of Union County’s economic landscape and the academy will provide the opportunity for young residents to grow into careers.
Almost exactly a year to the day of receiving the request the board approved the $20 million in funding for Biostocchi’s new project. $15 million is slated for construction of a new 42,000 square foot high school facility on the Union County Vo-Tech campus in Scotch Plains. The remaining $5million will be used for classroom space at Kean University as well as studio space and other resources, the school will be opening in September 2008 with a freshman class of 55 students.
One has to hand it to the freeholder board they certainly have the ability to get their ducks in a row quickly when a project is one that is high profile, one that will make them look good. It took the all Democratic Freeholder Board over 8 years to bring the much needed Juvenile Detention Center to fruition, yet the UCPAC came together in less than four, a two day rock music event for thousands takes them less than a year to plan and execute; yet a simple foot bridge for school children languishes on the county drawing boards for months and months.
The most repugnant of crimes are those which are perpetrated upon innocent children. For more than 25 years the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has operated the Union County Child Advocacy Center which has been providing legal and counseling services to child victims of physical and sexual abuse and their families. Housed in a Victorian era house since 1995 the Child Abuse Unit has handled referrals of possible child abuse from police, hospitals, DYFS and schools with the number of cases growing to over 500 a year. The Child Advocacy Center or CAC has not been updated in the 13 years that it has been in service and currently houses eight detectives, two clerical staff, three assistant prosecutors and a coordinator.
It has been reported that Prosecutor Romankow has been working with an architect to create a state of the art Child Advocacy Center that would include space for attorneys, detectives and other staff of the prosecutor’s office but also space for DYFS workers, and on-site nurse examiner and counselors. The new CAC would also include child-friendly age-appropriate interview rooms with digital recording capability and a waiting room, Romankow said “We would like to be able to provide every service the children and their families need under one roof, and make sure that the victims receive the proper medical, psychological and legal services.”
Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado authored a successful $500,000 grant request which was awarded by the state in April, and combining that amount with the value of the current house Romankow says that they have $1 million but will still need about $2 million to complete the project. A local businessman has created a non-profit corporation, The Friends of the Child Advocacy Center of Union County Inc., to raise the rest, $2-1/2 million, from private sources.
* Why is it necessary for the county prosecutor to turn to private sources of financing for such an important public service such as the Child Advocacy Center?
* Why haven’t the Freeholders stepped up to the plate and supplied the funds required to update this facility?
* Why is it that the Board of Chosen Freeholders can come up with over $7 million to rehabilitate an entertainment venue for the benefit of one politically connected municipality and not $2-1/2 million for the benefit of the county’s most vulnerable residents?
* Why is it that $20 million can be had for the asking for a high profile construction project which will benefit only 55 students its first year when a project requiring less than $3 million which would benefit approximately 500 per year has to go begging for private monies?
The purpose of county government is to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the residents but obviously here in Union County that is not the case. The long overdue Juvenile Detention Center, upgrades to our correctional facilities and projects which deal with crimes against children don’t make for upbeat snappy ribbon cutting ceremonies or photo ops for freeholders who are up for reelection but rather make us turn our thoughts to our short comings as a society. It is just plain wrong that the county can find money for those high cost extra frills projects, such as the UCPAC and the new performing arts high school but not for something as important as the health, safety and welfare of our children, our most precious asset.
June 22, 2008
That pretty much sums up Union County government’s rampant incompetence and utter contempt for the public.
The Union County Watchdog Association endeavors to provide citizens with tools to do their own research into county government and about 2,500 visitors hit our website monthly. We also field several requests for documents monthly. The Countywatchers blog endeavors to pick-up where the media left off, the Star-Ledger hasn't had a reporter on county government since last August, and inform the public as issues come up and unfortunately, we never run out of things to report on.
It is evident that the all democrat controlled freeholder board is a visible tumor of the powerbroker cancer infecting county government. Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew being appointed the county manager has proven to be a disaster and the final stages of this government disease that is afflicting the entire state of New Jersey has been set in place. Many believe it is now hopeless. Spending has already straddeled future generations with impossible debt and societal problems have been set in place by government which is not for the people, its by and for the powerbrokers.
Some costs and affects when machine politics run government
In 2000 there were 24 employee’s earning over 100,000
In 2008 there are 127 employee’s earning over 100,000
Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, is the appointed county manager - George Devanney
In 2000 the County Manager’s salary was $132,498 today it is $163,831. George Devanney’s arrogance is raging on. It's always been outrageous from when he jointed the county payroll when two part-time positions were created for him, to this current year in which he had his office remodeled and will be issued, after this budget is signed, a brand new Chevy Tahoe for which no purchase orders have been provided to date – to his yearly retroactive pay raises, to his wife’s mother-in-law being put on the county payroll – to his wife being the Open Space Trust Fund Administrator and giving a children’s museum $500,000 with nothing to show for it - to selling government land without an auction to a group that was listed on his wife’s website as a client - to the taxpayer funded Union County Directions Newsletter where recently his Uncle Ray Lesniak promoted his book and Devanney promoted his juvenile fantasy to climb a mountain because he thought he had cancer - to the Music Fest which is Devanney's birthday party. Any sane government that is accountable to their constituents would cut back on a music fest in these hard financial times but our county government has doubled it to two days to fulfill Senator Lesniak’s nephew's fantasy of being a music promoter. The county also created a department and staff to oversee the musicfest and promoted Freeholder Sullivan’s niece to be the department head.
George, take a good look at this picture. You’re middle aged, fat, doppey looking and untalented – get over the music promotion thing and off our tax backs.
Union County Democrat Chairman and Executive Director of the Improvement Authority Charlotte DeFilippo
In 1999 the democrats took control of the freeholder board and replaced a part-time Union County Improvement Authority director position with a salary of $40,000. Since then this salary has gone up $103,409. Charlotte DeFilippo’s salary in 2000 was set at $104,000. Charlotte’s current 2008 salary is $143, 409. This year the county added 6 new captain positions to the sheriff’s department, most likely because DeFilippo’s daughter-in-law scored 7th on the Lieutenant’s exam and she needed a spot to move up to. The promotions waiting list was replaced with a new one. In 2000 Melissa’s salary was $37,213 today her salary is $94,503, Charlottes son is also on the Sheriffs payroll he currently makes $86,089. It would have been so much more cheaper for taxpayers had we simply hired a tutor for Melissa to improve her test score. Her scoring 7th caused an approximate added annual cost to payroll: $300,000. Cost to future pension payments – priceless.
Lawsuits and investigations
This past week DeFilippo was scheduled to give a deposition in a lawsuit in which a county employee is charging her with political interference in eliminating his job. She’s accused of running county government operations from her dining room table in Hillside. I can’t wait to read all the depositions stemming from the Robert Travisano lawsuit. It’s expensive entertainment. It cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to date with no end in site. Charlotte is also under investigation by the State’s AG’s office, there is no official word on what she is being investigated for but chances are that one issue is that she also runs the Union County Improvement Authority from her dining room table. Taxpayers are also paying the legal bills in connection with this investigation.
Freeholders and campaiging
Summit recently passed a resolution calling for a more equitable way to have representation on the freeholder board. Freeholder Adrian Mapp who fell out of favor with the Democrat machine last year and lost the line went on to serve several more months on the board. In that short time he proved how even one outsider on the freeholder board could make a huge difference in not only saving tax dollars, but keeping things under control. It was Adrian Mapp who introduced an ordinance that lowered the cost of copies for public records to 10 cents a page (down from .75). When Mapp was in office the county canned it’s taxpayer funded election season kick-off by not producing and airing a TV commercial and following up with a 4 page glossy color mailer. This campaign initiative historically cost taxpayers $200,000, I fully expect this cancer symptom to reoccur this August. The county manager’s furniture was built by the county carpenters, but not installed until after Mapp left the building. I imagine if Mapp was elected to another 3 years Ray Lesniak’s nephew would not have had his office remodeled, nor would he be getting a brand new Chevy Tahoe, ahh the possibilities for more competent government are endless…and gone as I do not see any relief from powerbroker controlled county government in the near future.
The 2008 Budget
I didn’t get a copy of the 2008 proposed budget until the Star-Ledger ran the county’s press release on it. The UCWA has filed a complaint with the States Government Records Council, because budgets are supposed to be made available upon request. This goes to further prove that the county has so much to hide and they fear public scrutiny.
They lost 500,000 last year.
The county feigned outrage over prisoner fugitives and praised the prosecutor’s office for a quick capture, even though, it took them 26 days to recapture the prisioners. It was George Devanney who squashed a plan to install camera’s. Where is the freeholders outrage over Devanney’s incompetence? Instead he was rewarded with a renovated office, a Chevy Tahoe and a 2 day musicfest birthday party.
Some of the measures the county has taken after this international embarrassment and destroying a young family because of the county’s handling of the escape: Hired 51 new corrections officers to help improve the operations at the facility and cut down on overtime; A phase I installation of additional cameras (Budget doesn’t mention how many more phases are in store) cost $800,000; Razor wire around the jail’s perimeter and sub-roofs $56,000; Hired a new jail director who used to be in charge of transportation at Rikers Island, he lives approximately 2 hours away in Atlantic County and drives a county vehicle with free gas too and from work, and wherever else he damn well pleases just as the county manager does.
Created a new Department of Corrections. Given the complex issues that include overtime, physical structure, and manpower that have historically plagued this facility, the freeholders now believe that should have the same access and accountability to the county manager’s office and freeholder board as a Department Director. This will serve to simplify communication, provide better oversight, and response to all situations. What this doesn’t say is what the freeholders used to believe, that although the jail is a basic service of county government, and pretty much all we need county government to do, the freeholders never believed the jail was something they needed to fret about in order to get reelected.
Vo Tech Schools
They are bonding $20 million dollars to add a performing arts high school. They are also spening $150,00 for fitness center upgrades and $170,000 for new furniture – the county manager’s sister-in-law is a furniture saleswoman.
Runnells Specialized Hospital
Lost 500,000 last year and is projected to lose 2-million this year. The Runnell’s Director retired and is now receiving his pension and was hired back as a consultant. The county manager’s mother-in-law was added to the Runnells payroll where she joined an illustrious long line of cronies as the hospital is a patronage pit. She originally worked for Assemblywoman Linda Stender who became a Runnells employee when she left the freeholder board to be an Assemblywoman, Stender left the Runnells payroll when she announced her run for Congress and hasn’t returned yet, she’s still running for Congress.
The Overall County Budget Spin
The county maintains their commitment to funding popular county services, what they don't mention is that these services are mostly funded by the state, such as meals on wheels (State grant funded), road repaving (state grant funded) and infrastructure improvements (state grant funded), VoTech Schools, Homeland Security (Federal grant funded), the Sheriff’s Office (6 new captains $300,000; Union County is one of only 2 counties that have both a Sheriff’s and Police Department. Neither patrol the jail, the public safety department does that), the Prosecutor’s office (will be getting 50 new personal computers), our county parks system (Lenape Park Bike Trail is State grant funded), and child safety seat inspections (State grant funded and cost only $37,250.00. This "service" is used annualy in campaign literature).
Keep in mind the salary increases mentioned above and read what the county wrote in their budget introduction: “We cannot ignore the steady rise of mandated salary, pension and health insurance costs continuing to eat at revenue”. So they are implementing fiscal measures to provide budget relief in these areas where they have had “traditional” shortfalls. First they have delayed salary increases for all exclusionary county employees until July 1st of this year, but this didn’t include the county manager. George Devanney got his retroactive pay raise check on time. Why bother to read the rest of the spin?
June 17, 2008
Although an agreement to establish a children’s museum in Union County was entered into with much fanfare in 2003, recently the county very quietly terminated their agreement with the Children’s Museum of Central New Jersey (CMCNJ) after blowing through $377,499.
Of what was to be a $1,00,000 grant the CMCNJ had received an initial payment of $500,000 for seed money to better their fund raising capabilities. They spent $377,499 during the period of August 2003 through March 2007 on efforts to locate the museum in Union County with $181,052 spent to locate the museum at a Liberty Hall Museum site. The balance of the money $196,4456 was spent trying to locate the museum elsewhere in Union County. The CMCNJ has returned the unspent $122,501 of the $500,000 grant money.
The county and the CMCNJ have agreed that the Children’s Museum will return approximately $200,000 under terms and conditions that might as well state “When Pigs Fly”. The $377,499 is gone for good.
Although the county wasn’t recognized for blowing through $377,499 tax dollars, with little to no accountability, the termimation agreement incredulously states that if the CMCNJ “continues as an ongoing entity and should it succeed in locating and operating a children's museum anywhere else in New Jersey, the CMCNJ has agreed to recognize the Union County Freeholders as a founding donor and to undertake appropriate commemorative and programming recognition for the county’s contribution.”
All the freeholders contributed was the tax payer's money. Their is no evidence that they, or any employee of the county was overseeing the CMCNJ's efforts.
An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request seeking all correspondence, including but not limited to reports, letters and emails for the period of January 2001 to present between the CMCNJ and any member of the Union County freeholder board, county manager, and Open Space Trust Fund administrators was returned NO DOCUMENTS TO PROVIDE.
According to the minutes of the monthly museum trustee meetings, no freeholder, nor the county manager ever attended a meeting. The meeting minutes show a one-time visit from the Open Space Trust Fund Administrator on January 23, 2006. The responsible parties for this $377,499 loss of tax dollars is the county manager George Devanney, his wife the former Open Space Trust Fund Administrator Angie Devanney, current administrator Victoria Drake Durbin and all nine Freeholders especially the ones that were named as trustees to the CMCNJ, namely freeholders Debora Scanlon, Alexander Mirabella, Angel Estrada and Daniel Sullivan.
The county freeholders unanimously passed Resolution #650-03 on June 19, 2003. The reso authorized the county manager, George Devanney, to enter into an agreement with the Children’s Museum of Central NJ (CMCNJ) of Westfield, NJ, to provide grant funding in the amount of $1,000,000, from the Union County Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. At the time the county manager’s wife, Angie Devanney, was the administrator of the trust fund. This was for preliminary support toward the development of a Children’s Museum. This $1,000,000 was seed money. In 2003, the project was projected to cost $12 million to complete.
Meeting minutes obtained through the OPRA shows the CMCNJ board of trustees met 9 times in 2004; 5 times in 2005 and 1 time in 2006. The minutes show that appeals were made to trustees to contribute to the cause. Excerpt from mintues: Only 9 trustees have made gifts this fiscal year…It is a requirement of the Trusteeship to contribute financially according to one’s ability to do so. If you haven’t contributed yet, please do so before the end of the fiscal year, June 30. It is very bad form to ask others to make contributions when our own Board does not do so…..
In a Worrall Community Newspaper article dated August 7, 2003 then editor Mark Hyrbna quoted Freeholder Mirabella, who was chairman of the trust fund committee, at the time said the county’s contribution will help the organization get started with serious fund-raising. “It’s not a concern because I don’t think they’ve rally started fund-raising,” Mirabella said of the group’s fund-raising to date. “I don’t think they got outta the blocks yet.” This is a group that has a good vision, it knows what it wants to do.”
At the time documents filed with the state, the CMCNJ had raised $17,615, with all but $4,000 in “direct public support,” while spending $11,958.80 for “management and general expenses, leaving a balance of $5,656.10. The CMCNJ was aiming to raise between $10 million and $12 million for the project, with an expected timeline of three to five years before a facility would be in operation.
“They seemed to have some pretty good ideas of where they’re getting money from,” Freeholder Mary Ruotolo, who was chairman of the Open Space Trust Fund Committee in 2002 said. “It’s much easier to fund-raise when you have seed money; then fund-raising becomes a better sell.” “It’s certainly not our intention to pay for the construction of a museum” Ruotolo said.
In a Worrall Community Newspaper article dated May 20, 2004, it was explained that representatives of the children’s museum report to the county on a quarterly basis. They must provide reports of what they spent so the county can see if the m money is being spent in a way that is consistent with the Open Space Trust fund. “If they haven’t totally pent the $250,000 yet, they’re not permitted to come back to us for the next round of funding,” said Open Space Trust Fund Administrator and wife of county manager Angie Devanney.
By early 2007 the CMCNJ exhausted its efforts to find a suitable location for the museum in Union County, event though its board and stakeholders remained committed to locating the museum somewhere in central or northern New Jersey. The CMCNJ notified the freeholders that it would discontinue its efforts to site the museum in Union County and provided the freeholders with an accounting of grant funds.
Design & Feasibility $358,599
Accounting Services $12,650
Legal Services $6,250
Total: $377,499 – not to be reimbursed to taxpayers
$196,466 was spent trying to locate the museum elsewhere in Union County. The CMCNJ has agreed to return the money under conditions that seem to be impossible. But rest assured if they do successfully open a museum our trusty freeholders will be on hand for a photo op. I don’t expect any public comment until the pigs fly.
CMCNJ By Laws
Worrall Article 2003
Worrall Article 2005
Memo of Understanding
CMCNJ Termination of Memo of Understanding
CMCNJ Trustee and Committee names
CMCNJ 2004 Minutes
CMCNJ 2005 Minutes
CMCNJ 2006 Minutes
June 10, 2008
WHEREAS, all County residents deserve a greater voice in the manner by which they are governed; and
WHEREAS, if the County layer of government must remain existent here in New Jersey, then, as a matter of fundamental fairness, a more proportionate distribution of our County Freeholders should be derived so as to better reflect, and daily represent, our County’s diverse population, demographics and needs; and
WHEREAS, at least two of our peer Counties here in New Jersey have commendably already implemented some degree of Freeholder representation “by District” -- as opposed to having all of their Freeholders merely serving “At-Large”; and
WHEREAS, when a Union County Charter Study Commission recommended (and voters then approved) our current County Manager form of government, it did not specifically address the Freeholder selection process.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Common Council of the City of Summit, as follows:
That the current provision for choosing our Freeholders entirely at-large is fundamentally unfair, as it is not sufficiently representative of our County’s diverse population, demographics and needs.
That we hereby request that the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopt a resolution to better, i.e., more democratically, “seek the will of the people” by having eight (8) – or, at least four (4) – of our Freeholders henceforward elected by smaller geographic Districts instead of all nine (9) being “At-Large”.
That this Charter question be placed upon the November 2008 election ballot.
That a copy of this resolution be sent to the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and all Union County Municipalities.
Dated: June 4, 2008
I, David L. Hughes, City Clerk of the City of Summit, do hereby certify that the foregoing resolution was duly adopted by the Common Council of said City at a regular meeting held on Wednesday evening, June 4, 2008.
Previously posted: The banana republic of Union County
June 08, 2008
Twenty years ago the Daily Journal of Elizabeth covered Union County politics. Many municipalities had their own weeklies. The Star-Ledger covered state and national issues but rarely bothered with this county. At least some things don't change.
After the Daily Journal folded in 1992 a gap developed in coverage of county issues. Some weeklies consolidated but focus remained on the towns, which is what their readers primarily cared about. So for the last few years the freeholders have essentially gotten a pass on coverage by the media and gotten fat. Maybe with the Local Source consolidating countywide there will be much-needed light shed on what the freeholders are doing.
Though most things thrive with sunlight when it comes to government budgets it's a lack of sunshine that induces growth. Since 2000 the county tax levy has risen 68% from $150.1 million to $251.7 million. Included in those are vanity projects like the restoration of the UCPAC, studies for a children's museum, and annual musicfests where the costs get passed on to taxpayers with only token debate and apparently little forethought. If the taxpayers don't care, why should the county? But taxayers would care if they were fed the information from a reliable source.
The internet was supposed to supplant newspapers for local coverage but it remains unreliable and sporadic often consisting of little more than rumor and innuendo. There are a lot of writers but not a lot of editors. You can easily get information out there but, without an effective filter, anyone with an internet connection can propagandize, sometimes under various aliases, about whatever would benefit them personally. Couldn't a job of a county public relations department be to go on websites anonymously and denigrate any critics of their policies?
A newspaper editor might get ten items to choose from for inclusion in a paper and pick three. On most internet forums all ten items would be viewed, with quantity trumping quality, leaving it to the reader to also adopt the role of editor. The problem comes when readers often have time to read only the three items and they gravitate to stories that feed their prejudices or taste for sensationalism.
It's as if your mother were to set out ten food items for dinner and you could only eat three. Too many people would be subsisting on diets of chocolate cake, jello, and pork rinds. The spinach and kidney beans that you need for sustenance would go to waste with their necessary nutrients. Hopefully, the new Local Source will lay out a balanced diet and we will all be stronger, wiser and richer for it.
June 05, 2008
The Star-Ledger has posted that another Union County inmate, Addison Wilcox, 33, died at the Union County Jail. The post doesn’t mention what day the death occurred. The Ledger reported that Newark attorney Gerald Saluti, who represented Wilcox, said members of the family told him that Wilcox had been complaining since Monday of having shortness of breath and upper respiratory problems. "The family complained that nothing was done about it," Saluti said. "I saw him the day he went into the jail. He was as healthy as a horse. He had no respiratory problems whatsoever," the attorney said. "From speaking to the family, it sure doesn't look like he got the attention he needed."
Sadly Wilcox joins a growing list of dead and mistreated prisoners.
On May 22, 2008 Dexter Gelfand posted on the Countywatchers about his son. “On April 15, my son Geoffrey Gelfand passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He experienced much unnecessary and unfortunate suffering at the hands of the powers that be during his imprisonment in Union County Jail in 2004. He was frequently denied medication for his removed thyroid, to the point where he was debilitated mentally and physically as often as not, and as his disease returned to his throat, causing bleeding, and pain to the point where eating was so difficult that he'd lose as much as 30 pounds a month. His jailers denied proper medical examination and treatment despite his pain and suffering, which was quite alarming to his cell mates.”
On October 13, 2007 Kathy Figgs posted on the Countywatchers about her brother, Johnathan Dawkins, who was an inmate in the Union County jail. “He was pepper sprayed and restrained by jail personnel. He was then transported to a hospital where he was placed on life support and remains to this day. He was not breathing and unconscious. He had two black-eyes, bruising on his neck, and a swollen face.”
In 2006 within just weeks of each other Union County inmates Aaron Pittman died of Crohns disease and Donald Davis from a stomach infection. According to family members, both were left untreated and their screams of pain were ignored. Both families have filed separate lawsuits against the county which are pending.
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.
Just after Eddie’s Death his family and friends visitied a freeholder meeting.
Isn’t it ironic don’t you think that every postal patron in Union County received the taxpayer funded Union County Directions newsletter just before Primary Election Day on Tuesday which headlines the appointed county manager George Devanney’s uncle, Senator Raymond Lesniak, and his book, The Road to Abolition: How New Jersey Repealed the Death Penalty.
George Devanney is responsible for the running of the Union County jail and oversees the publishing of the Union County Directions Newsletter.
June 04, 2008
It haunts me that a young corrections officer, Rudy Zurick, needlessly died in connection with the county’s handling of the escapes. It was a tragedy that the young father had to fend for himself when the county purposely threw the spotlight on him and brought down what turned out to be an unbearable media frenzy.
The county immediately released a note from one escape which taunted Zurick and thanked him for helping them escape. Rudolph Zurick’s attorney stated in a Ledger article regarding the note left by the escapees -- his client was not involved and does not deserve punishment. "He was not there during the time of the escape," attorney Michael Mitzner said. "With all the publicity, it's not a fun time for him. He did not do anything wrong."
In the tense days after the escape, Zurick, 40, shot himself to death in his home on Jan. 2, hours before he was to give a statement to authorities.
I hope Zurick’s family will find a way to sue the county. The county never allows me to talk about lawsuits filed against them during public meetings. Claiming that it’s ‘just allegations’ they try and shut me up, I have it all on film. Yet when world media shined a light on Union County after the jailbreaks it took them a hot minute to cough up that note written by prisoners to deflect attention away from management. Where are the corrections officers on this? Why are your unions allowing this outrage to go unpunished? What happened to not commenting on investigations? What happened to not commenting on personnel matters? What happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Today’s Star-Ledger reports that the five corrections officers and supervisors who were on duty in December when the two inmates tunneled their way out of the Union County jail are returning to work after their bosses agreed to impose six-month suspensions instead of outright dismissals. The five men -- two corrections officers and three sergeants -- worked out the deal that allowed them to keep their jobs and pensions.
All of the men were on duty during the overnight hours of Dec. 14, when Otis Blunt and Jose Espinosa escaped. The inmates had spent weeks chipping through cinder blocks between their cells and to an outside wall. Their disappearance was not detected until dinnertime Dec. 15.
The escapes showcased deficiencies at the jail and prompted the county to make wholesale changes. Cameras were installed, inside and outside. Additional razor wire now rings the facility.
Director Frank Crose, who had overseen the jail since 2001 was reassigned after the jailbreaks and subsequently retired, but it was Frank Crose who wanted the cameras installed and prepared the original bid for the purchase and installation which Devanney rejected under pressure from the Corrections Officer’s Union, who didn’t want cameras installed. I suspect that’s what shut them up about Zurick being thrown to the media.
Crose’s top aid, deputy assistant director James Dougherty, was fired as a result of the jailbreaks. But Dougherty wasn’t in charge of the day to day operations of the jail; he was an administrator whose duties included disciplining corrections officers.
Frank Crose reported to public safety director Harold Gibson, Gibson has also retired since the December jailbreaks.
The media and the county allowed the buck to stop at Harold Gibson, but Gibson reported to Devanney. Devanney is ultimately responsible for all county operations. That is why he was able to reject the bid to install the cameras.
In today’s Ledger article regarding the five corrections officers and supervisors who are being allowed to return to duty at the Jail Union County Manager George Devanney said it was a difficult decision to make.
"The harder decision was to settle this case and bring them back," Devanney said. "The easy decision was to fight this to the end."
That’s a pretty arrogant statement considering the facts of the matter which are the County Manager is ultimately responsible for the jail, and he was the only person not held accountable for the “systematic problems that festered for years”. He also didn’t protect his employee, Rudy Zurick, who took all the media heat off of Devanney.
Star Ledger coverage on the jailbreak to date
June 03, 2008
The 2008 Union County budget was introduced last Thursday and in the time it took Sheriff Ralph Froehlich to get an award and someone from the United Way to present a Needs Assessment I got to take a peek at that budget. I wasn't really able to pay attention to the United Way presentation but if I were to assess what Union County residents need I would start with lower taxes. They won't get it this year.
Revenue needed to be raised by taxes will go from $238.6 million in 2007 to $251.7 million in 2008 out of a total budget of $437.7 million, up from $435.4 million. That translates into a 5.5% increase for the county portion of a property tax bill. However, the county is still waiting for the state to finalize its budget to find out about any grants. Unfortunately that state is New Jersey which has made news recently regarding its own fiscal crisis. I wouldn't count on much relief from that corner as long as New Jersey's priorities remain spending and taxing, in that order.
The primary cost increases for 2008 come from employee health and pension benefits. Health insurance premiums will rise from $78 million to $90 million. Since there is no trust fund set aside to cover these costs, everything being pay-as-you-go, the double-digit increases in this country's health care costs will translate directly onto government budgets.
Pension costs went up from $10.3 million to $16.6 million. Here we have a trust fund for future benefits but because of gross state negligence in funding these costs, beginning with Governor Christie Whitman's contribution holidays in the mid-1990s, there is a severe underfunding even with the increased contributions. If the state pension plan were to be funded on an actuarially sound basis this line item by itself would triple.
Debt payments rose from $40.5 million to $42.8 million. A slight increase to be sure but in this relatively low-interest-rate environment this too is a line item that will increase substantially in future years when interest rates return to even historic levels. If we were to get runaway inflation, which is possible as the value of the dollar falls, debt maintenance costs would balloon.
To sum up, the good news is that it could be worse. The bad news is that it will be worse. Benefit and debt costs are time bombs that will explode with a booming retiree population sapping more resources. The accountants and actuaries are out of gimmicks and someone will have to pay the tab without draconian cuts in government spending. If you live in Union County, that someone is you. Enjoy the Musicfest.
May 31, 2008
As was previously posted on the County watchers: Election Day was November 4th, 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 the Star-Ledger was “late in breaking the news”.
In direct contrast to that policy on Friday, May 30, 2008 just 4 days prior to the Primary Election, and today May 31 just 3 days prior to the Primary Election, in which Elizabeth Board of Education board member president, Armando Da Silva, an outspoken opponent of Elizabeth Mayor Bollwage and the Union County Democrat Committee is running for City council, the Star-Ledger chose to break a story and continue by publishing another story the following day about the Corzine Administration sending a team of inspectors to the Elizabeth school district that week after auditors alleged they have found far-reaching spending abuses. Lucille Davy, the state’s Education Commissioner whose husband James was in Governor James McGreevey’s cabinet and currently has a no-bid county consulting contract, issued the subpoena on behalf of the state Board of Education.
Quoted in today’s Ledger article is Kirk Nelson, general counsel for the Elizabeth board “The politicization of the state Board of Education is frightening on the weekend before a municipal election.”
What is more troubleling and of a great public concern is the Star-Ledger is Union County’s only daily newspaper and it appears they are playing politics in support of Senator Raymond Lesniak, Inc.
The Star-Ledger should include the names of those politicians who apparently are influencing their reporting on the mast head along with their editors and publisher.
Although they boast in advertisements that they are the most read newspaper in Union County The Star-Ledger has not had a reporter covering Union County government for over 9 months now.
May 29, 2008
Excerpt from the LAWS OF UNION COUNTY,NEW JERSEY ADMINISTRATIVE CODE & POLICIES AND GENERAL LEGISLATION Updated through 2-6-2008:
H. It shall be the policy of the County of Union that the use of a County-assigned vehicle by an employee shall be limited to official County business, and said vehicle shall not be used for personal purposes with the exception of authorized commuting use to and from the employee's workstation. [Added 1-23-1986 by Res. No. 69-86]
Below is a photo of Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew, who is the appointed Union County Manager, George Devanney, approaching his unmarked County issued Dodge Durango (silver and Union County Police Chief Daniel Vaniska's unmarked county issued vehicle dark blue).
D. The County Manager shall implement this policy by revision and dissemination of new policies and procedures concerning motor vehicles within 60 days of the effective date of this article.
Below is a photo of Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew, who is the appointed Union County Manager, George Devanney, getting into his unmarked County issued Dodge Durango thereby disregarding the Laws of Union County right in front of the police chief, and a fed-up taxpayer who snapped the photos.
Senator Raymond Lesniak's nephew will be turning in his 2005 Suburban, which was designed for heavy hauling and will be driving a new Chevy Tahoe any day now. According to their website the amenities are plentiful, inside and out. An array of 18" and 20" aluminum wheels announce you've arrived in style. Both large families and image-conscious urban professionals will appreciate the Chevrolet Tahoe for its superb blend of cargo room, towing power, and luxury amenities.
This Youtube promises that "all will worship you and your tahoe":
May 26, 2008
NOTE: In most past years the news letter would arrive just prior to the primary election and be jammed with the faces of incumbent Democratic elected officials who were seeking reelection. . Mysteriously last year the Spring ’07 edition was rather late and we can only speculate the reasons why the Freeholders would suddenly pass up a free drop of campaign literature. However, judging by their past performance that won’t be happening again this year.
On Valentine’s Day 2008 the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved the annual contract with the UC Alliance for the contract period of January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008 in the amount of $332,125 to provide comprehensive research and communications services.
The contract appears to overlap the preceding one year contract by six months which covered the period of July 1, 2007 through June 20, 2008 in the amount of $265,125. There does not appear to be any resolutions which account for the overlap in coverage or an adjustment of the contract costs. However it should be mentioned that the board also approved $29,000 (resolution 2007-797) for advertising in ’07.
In three years time, since January 2005 the Freeholder Board has forked over One Million, Two Hundred Seventy Eight Thousand, Eight Hundred and Seventy Five Dollars, $1,278,875, of taxpayer hard earned money.
And for what? One might ask.
The Freeholders provide approximately 80% of the Alliance’s funding so one could think that they would be some type of an extension of government and thus subject to OPRA. The Alliance claims they are not and are unwilling to release requested documents regarding their activities and associated expenditures. (That is another story for another day and can be read about here in a previous blog or two or three.)
Curious as to what they have been up to lately and how they have been spending our money we decided to check it out. A visit to their website, just click here, http://www.ucalliance.com/index.htm provided absolutely no clues at all. Except for a change in their address, and advertising rates for the “ upcoming” Spring 2005 edition, the site has remained unchanged since 2004.
It is unbelievable that the UC Alliance has taken over $1.2 million of the taxpayers’ money in the course of the last three years and all that can be shown for that investment is two over blown newsletters annually in time for Election Days and an outdated website.
Happy Valentines Day from the Freeholders to the Residents of Union County……personally, I would rather get the chocolates.
May 22, 2008
On April 15, my son Geoffrey Gelfand passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He experienced much unnecessary and unfortunate suffering at the hands of the powers that be during his imprisonment in Union County Jail in 2004. He was frequently denied medication for his removed thyroid, to the point where he was debilitated mentally and physically as often as not, and as his disease returned to his throat, causing bleeding, and pain to the point where eating was so difficult that he'd lose as much as 30 pounds a month. His jailers denied proper medical examination and treatment despite his pain and suffering, which was quite alarming to his cell mates.
The jail's idea of medical responsibility was to give him access to a doctor who told him "You're fine". Well, he wasn't fine at all. When he complained about pain and bleeding from his throat, this "doctor" callously responded, "You didn't care about that when you were out on the street, did you?", ordered no tests, and sent him back to his cell to suffer.
By the grace of God, after 6 months of degradation and suffering, my son Geoffrey was transferred to state prison. By this point his condition was so obviously dire that within 48 hours of the transfer he was mercifully brought to a hospital intensive care unit. I received a phone call from the prison to give me the horrifying news: my son had a new incidence of cancer. Had he remained in Union County jail, it would not have been long at all before he'd have expired. Ultimately, delay in treating his tumor necessitated his losing his voice box. He spent his last 2-1/2 years unable to speak.
Geoffrey spent the last months of his life preparing for his passage-more precisely, preparing others. He carefully planned out gifting his loved ones, spending time with them, saying all that he wanted to say, giving and leaving something for everyone. He spent much of his last year trying to prepare his father to be able to accept his coming passing. Despite his pain and fear, he was magnificently thoughtful of those he loved.
His character dwarfed that of the petty and small minded children charged with responsibilities at the Union County Jail. I hope each person who made that choice to be so inhuman to my son and others reads this story, and through some small miracle, in some slight way, feels just a little ping of conscience about what a vicious and hurtful being they have reduced their self to. Maybe, just a little bit, they will think about this the next time they find their self in a position to treat a defenseless prisoner with or without consideration for that person's well being.
May 19, 2008
Isn’t it a pity that the Board of Chosen Freeholders justify dragging their feet when it comes to their complicity in Cranford’s flooding problems by putting the blame on Cranford’s governing body?
And isn’t it a pity that even though there is a Freeholder hailing from Cranford itself that that Freeholder, even when she was board chairwoman and up for reelection, didn’t position herself as a champion for the interests of central Union County residents, after all the water doesn’t stay in Cranford alone.
One has to wonder exactly why she recently decided to go on the attack against her home town rather than hold accountable the highest paid county employee for his lack of common courtesy to simply return a telephone call or two to an elected Cranford official. County Manager George Devanney has taken this tact before when he ignored the repeated telephone messages and requests for a call back from a Summit Councilwoman who was hot on the trail of information for the “Summit Report” on the relationship of county services received vs. county taxes levied against the municipality.
The county manager seems to repeatedly forget exactly what his role in county government really is, very simply put he is an employee, and an over paid one at that. That he has the audacity to not return the phone calls of elected municipal officials is cause for concern because he has admitted, in the Summit situation at least, that it was politically motivated . Devanney has inferred that there was no love lost between the all Democratic county administration and the Republican Common Council, but was confident that now that there was a Democratic Mayor in Summit that relationship and communications were sure to improve.
Perhaps Devanney has taken it upon himself to act as a self appointed monitor of which municipalities gain favor and which ones don’t. It is a sure bet that in the corporate world any CEO would receive his walking papers for not taking calls from a major investor. Residents of Summit and Cranford contribute a healthy chunk to the county coffers and therefore could certainly be considered major investors.
It is interesting that Freeholder Kowalski, rather than Chairman Estrada released a statement on behalf of the rest of the board and it is very obvious that the county information department drafted it for her.
As a life long Cranford resident Kowalski would be well acquainted with the history of flooding in the town. She certainly should be able to recall the flooding of her youth when in 1968, Springfield Ave, Nomahagen Park and parts of the Boulevard near the skeet range were under water as were many other parts of Central Union County near the county parks.
Surely she realizes the impact that Hurricane Floyd and the Tax Day Storm had on not only Cranford but her neighbors down river. But the tone of the statement almost makes her appear foolish and uninformed when she scolds her own mayor and governing body for not going through the proper channels. Perhaps Devanney in his infinite wisdom squelched any communications to open those channels and decided to put Cranford in its place.
Did it ever occur to the Freeholder that perhaps she could be pro-active? Did she at any point in this saga pick up the telephone or shoot the governing body an Email asking “yo, what is up here?” Does she read the local newspapers? Was she ever the least bit curious about what was going on, was she ever prompted to put a fire under anyone by following up with her state and federal representatives asking where does the county fit in?
An internet search for information on Rahway River Flooding turns up a plethora of government studies, reports and analysis going back decades from everyone from the Army Corp of Engineers to the DEP. There are those who would be surprised to learn that the City of Rahway uses the Rahway River that causes flooding in Cranford as its source of city drinking water. Also, in the early eighties that drinking water was contaminated with chemicals from manufacturing plants located on Fadem Road just off Route 22 in Springfield. That the same Rahway River that hosted canoe races caused flooding so bad in Rahway that they had to declare their public library a total loss and build a new one.
Cranford officials have long recognized that the flooding is a regional issue and not just confined to their town but where have the county freeholders been all of these years. One has to wonder why two long time freeholders Chester Holmes and Rick Procter both from Rahway have remained silent on the flooding issue even though they have also been heavily impacted in that city costing the taxpayers money. Could the anchor of the downtown revitalization, the Union County Performing Arts Center paid for by the county, somehow hold the answer?
To his credit Cranford Mayor Bob Puhak is trying to be optimistic now that he has recovered from getting Kowalski’s ill guided missive. Cranford would do well to proceed with caution when working with the county and it is imperative that they keep the residents and neighboring communities appraised of any discussions and progress that is made as the county has a knack of placing the blame for their own short comings and screw-ups on everyone else. And that would be a pity.
May 12, 2008
11. On May 10, 2003, Mr. Hamilton witnessed the suicide of a teenaged resident. This event left Mr. Hamilton psychologically scarred, and required extensive psychological care.
12. During this event, Mr. Hamilton entered the cell, loosened a sheet that had been tied around the teen’s neck, lowered the boy, removed the noose from around his neck, and immediately reported the incident and requested assistance for the resident as there was no onsite medical staff.
13. Mr. Hamilton reported to the shift commander, Senior Officer Louis Gray, that the room where the youth resident was being held was dangerous because it was a “suicide threat,” but because the facility was over crowded, the county disregarded safety protocol.
14. In fact, the youth’s parent’s sued the county as a result of this incident and revoked monies for the facilities wrongdoing.
19. …due to the work environment and the witnessing of the suicide, Mr. Hamilton took a leave of absence.
28. When Mr. Hamilton returned from his 10 ½ month leave of absence, he was placed back on the 7:00 am to 3:00 pm shift, however due to his depression, and the medication he was taking, he had great difficulties making the 7:00 am shift.
29. At this point, the county issued Mr. Hamilton a notice of discipline for “lateness.”
34. Mr. Hamilton again requested for a shift change, and formally applied for said shift change, but was again denied.
36. In 2006, after Mr. Hamilton returned to duty, and during said time, he witnessed an incident which involved a sexual relationship between a guard, and a youth resident which comprised of a daily fraternization and even sex.
37. Based upon a search of the youth’s room, Mr. Hamilton found handwritten letters that had lipstick and perfume, as well as typed written letters from the guard.
38. Mr. Hamilton submitted a report detailing his findings to Senior Officer Brian Koon.
39. Mr. Hamilton’s accurate report detailed the sexual relationship, which was also corroborated by other guards as well as evidence found in the youth’s room.
41. The acts of the guard where clearly illegal and of serious public importance and were being swept under the rug because of her close relationship with superiors.
43. The allegations of the sexual affair resulted in an investigation which found that Mr. Hamilton’s allegations were accurate.
Read complaint HERE
May 07, 2008
2. County park lands are largely going unprotected from encroachment (too many votes to lose?)
3. Encroachers are pursued “selectively by the county depending on the identity of the encroacher”
4. County lost 5 million dollars in Green Acres funding because of mismanagement “Union County has the worst encroachment situation in the state” stated a Green Acres official.
Sham employee numbers
In a lawsuit filed in Superior Court on January 24, 2008, former county employee Catherine Alexander charges the county regularly avoids the law prohibiting the employment of a seasonal employee for longer than six months, the county engaged in a sham procedure by which they fired Alexander every six months and immediately rehired her without even notifying her and without her losing any time from work.
The complaint states “Union County has repeatedly engaged in a pattern and practice of illegally placing full-time employees in the “seasonal” category in order to avoid civil service tenure rights and to cheat them out of benefits.”
Seasonal employees also aren’t included in an employee “head count”. Remember that sham hiring freeze?
County lost over five million dollars in Green Acres funds
Alexander was singularly responsible to investigate and correct encroachments of publicly owned parklands of the county. Alexander was surprised and deeply concerned by the number and extent of the encroachments – literally in the hundreds. It was her job to identify, confirm and rectify each encroachment, appraising the county to take the necessary law enforcement and legal actions to ensure that the public parklands were stewarded according to the public trust and County and New Jersey Laws.
1,000 acres of the 6,000 acres of the county park system are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The remaining acres have either been nominated or are considered eligible to be nominated to NRHP. However, Alexander was concerned that since an eligibility criterion for NRHP listing was the integrity of the originally designed boundaries, many acres could be rejected from the historic record that would otherwise have been accepted.
Alexander helped the county counsel’s office prepare two ordinances, the Tree Protection Ordinance and Encroachment of County Property ordinance which were passed in 2003. Alexander states in her complaint that she learned that actions against known encroachers in a growing number of egregious cases were pursued selectively by the county depending on the identify of the encroacher. Most wrongdoers were never pursued at all. (Imagine all of those votes they could lose). Not a single summons was issued by the County pursuant to the two Ordinances designed to fight the ever increasing encroachment problem.
After becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of action by the county she then contacted the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Green Acres, Bureau of land Stewardship, which oversees the open spaces within the State. Since Green Acres provides millions of State money to Union County in furtherance of Green Acres programs, it has the power to oversee the county in its proper use and maintenance of the parklands by imposing certain regulation and responsibilities.
On or about August, 2006 Alexander spoke with an employee of Green Acres and he advised that each and every encroachment, particularly once identified by the county, had to be addressed regardless of its size and the identity of the encroacher. The matter was turned over to Mike Hennahan, a Green Acres employee who concentrated on encroachment problems, after investigating county parkland boundaries and the encroachments Mr. Heenahan expressed his opinion that Union County had the worst encroachment situation in the state.
Upon information and belief, Green Acres subsequently withheld over five million dollars from Union County for its indifference to correcting its hundreds of encroachments of public parklands.
Alexander refused to bow to pressure to resign, and was terminated on April 20, 2007.
View complaint in its entirety HERE
May 04, 2008
Monday afternoon I set up a fresh pot of coffee and went to my computer to review Emails while I waited for the java to finish dripping. My Black and Decker pot makes some gurgling sounds heard throughout the apartment, the signal that the brewing has finished, at that precise moment my screen went black and the kitchen down the hall went dark. My immediate thought was “Rats”; my husband will kill me for overloading the circuits yet again. An occurrence that usually takes place in the summer when the air conditioners are all humming and one has to turn one unit off to brew a pot of coffee or use a blow dryer, I snapped to reality when it sunk in that this was not the case. That got me off the hook as the culprit and saved my husband a trip from our third floor walkup to the basement to reset the breakers. Determining that it was either our entire building or our part of town, and that surely the electric would be on again shortly, I looked out the window, coffee cup in hand, to watch the spectacle on the street below.
Living on North Ave. (Route 28) has always been interesting to say the least but with a power outage and no traffic signals operational the next hour and a half of surveying the stalled traffic at what is a peak commuting hour got me to thinking about those services which we have come to rely on everyday as just being there and being necessary. The day before the power outage that stalled traffic from Westfield thru Roselle Park I had been talking to some individuals at a street fair who are fighting the closure of Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield. A fixture for some 130 yrs, the hospital has been providing those services that area residents rely on everyday to keep their lives running smoothly and like the traffic jam on North Avenue created by the power outage, one has to question what will happen if the hospital closes in June, and how will that closure impact on not only the residents but on the other hospitals in the region. The group has been telling the story of the multi-faceted Muhlenberg situation and they are attempting to get investors to buy shares in an effort to purchase the hospital and keep it operational. They also are calling for assistance from legislators to use their influence and resources to help keep this much needed community asset offering its varied services to the public.
Healthcare and the associated financial matters of hospitals in New Jersey are in the news daily as several facilities have recently closed citing money troubles specifically the cost of mandated charity care on their bottom line. Gov. Corzine recently announced cuts in state funding to hospitals as he attempts to jam his state budget through the legislature without making any real cuts in expenses in state government operating costs. And, hospitals have morphed into cash generating companies as divisions of healthcare conglomerates expected to perform. In the case of Muhlenberg owned by the Solaris Health System, a community based non profit created in 1997; they have cited $17 million in operating losses due to reduced reimbursements by Medicare, Medicaid and state charity care as the reasons for closing the facility. Solaris also operates JFK Hospital in Edison, click here to learn more about Solaris and their services. http://www.solarishs.org/about-us/
Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center has been described as a 396-bed acute care facility that provides inpatient and outpatient services in all major medical specialties. Other specialized services include a complete array of cardiac services (including emergency angioplasty), a Bar iatric Surgery Center, Vein Center, Lithotripsy Center, Wound Care Center, hem dialysis, home care, hospice and adult medical day care. It is the sort of resource that communities dream of having available for their emergencies as well as routine care. In addition to their many community wellness programs, they host New Jersey’s premier cancer center.
As with anything that affects the community politics is part of the mix with the Muhlenberg closing, there have been calls from the public that local, county and state legislators haven’t done enough to prevent the closing and that may well be the case. Located in Plainfield, in New Jersey’s 22nd legislative district, the Queen City is home to Assemblyman Gerry Green. Green is the chair of the local Democratic Committee and is said to control what happens in Plainfield. At this point in time he seems to have himself stuck in an extremely awkward position as on one hand he would be expected to advocate for the residents of the city and work to keep the beleaguered hospital afloat. But, on the other hand he would also, if only subconsciously, be trying to please his campaign contributors. It has been said that Green along with his protégé, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, haven’t come through for their constituents who will have to travel to Rahway Hospital, JFK Edison or Overlook in Summit for their medical care, these facilities are not easily accessible using public transportation.
Assemblyman Green’s running mate in the last couple of elections, Assemblywoman and Congressional candidate Linda Stender has been conspicuously silent on the issue of the hospital’s closing, leaving one to ponder what is up with her. Stender and Green have been the beneficiaries of campaign contributions from executives at Solaris to the tune of $1700, with the bulk of the money donated in 2007. Further, Stender received another $500 in Sept. 2007 for her upcoming congressional campaign from Mr. John McGee CEO of Solaris Health Systems. Could their loyalty to a financial supporter be getting in the way of their making a major stink over the hospital’s closing? Assemblyman Green has almost begrudgingly succumbed to local pressure and taken action and assembled a task force to formulate recommendations to handle the fall out and possibility an arrangement to save/merge services. See Courier News article of May 2, 2008 http://www.mycentraljersey.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080502/NEWS/805020384/1018/NEWS0401
According to the March 6th agenda meeting of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders vice Chair Al Mirabella asked for an update regarding the announcement that Muhlenberg would be closing, at that time the closure was projected to be August. Rookie Freeholder Ryland Van Blake, a Plainfield resident, “implored the Board to help keep the doors open and lend support in any way possible.” Chairman Angel Estrada “commented that there is nothing that can be done on the County level to help Muhlenberg keep its doors open”. He added that the Board could certainly pass a resolution asking the State to develop a regional plan addressing the hospital closing and the pending closings, and Van Black said he would speak with Assemblyman Green to see what support the County can lend. Minutes of the March 20th meeting show that the freeholders discussed potential litigation regarding the Muhlenberg Hospital in Executive Session, could there be something there but later in the month resolution #2008-356 opposing the closing of Muhlenberg Regional Hospital in Plainfield was approved with copies to be sent to the Plainfield Mayor and Council at the request of Van Blake.
The County’s Office of Emergency Management Director, Frank Guzzo, made an important observation at the March 6th Freeholder meeting when he commented that “this closing affects the county’s disaster preparedness plans, which will have to be reviewed and revised.” County residents could have cause for concern as this is the second hospital closing in Union County in approximately a year and it was pointed out that Raritan Bay Hospital in Perth Amboy will also be closing its doors.
Just recently a candidate for the Plainfield City Council, Olive Lynch, assembled a meeting of elected officials from surrounding communities which will feel the full impact of the hospitals closing, neither Green nor Robinson-Briggs showed up. According to the Blog “Plainfield Today”, click here for the complete story and other tidbits on the closure http://ptoday.blogspot.com/index.html Attendees were given an eye-opening presentation on Solaris' moves over the years of profitable operations out of Muhlenberg to JFK -- radiology, pathology, and ob-gyn. Plans to move cardiac rehab to JFK were stymied by massive opposition from Muhlenberg's cardiac rehab user community. In addition, it was reported Solaris has sold off its dialysis unit (the property subdivision was previously reported here) and, most recently, its cardiac catheterization lab.
As one participant said, "Basically, what we have here is a non-profit entity behaving like a corporate raider."
Where is Muhlenberg Now?
The hospital closing appears to be moving forward rapidly, originally slated for closure in August some employees have been informed that they can expect to loose their jobs in June. Some services have already been moved to JFK and Solaris has also quietly subdivided and is disposing an adjoining piece of real estate. Jerry Green is scrambling to make up for lost time by attempting to get some kind of legislation through in a manic effort to save face and votes next time he is up for reelection and Robinson-Briggs has for all intents and purposes done nothing. Assemblywoman Linda Stender has remained quiet and her cronies on the UC Freeholder Board have taken a hands off approach by simply passing a resolution opposing the closure and sending it off to of all people Robinson-Briggs, like that will help when there is a disaster in the county requiring extensive medical expertise to treat the masses.
There does appear to be a glimmer of hope coming out of Green’s “Accidental Task Force” as Somerset Medical Center, Somerville may consider a partnership with some other investor to save the hospitals acute care services. Or perhaps the citizens group which has sought outside help and presented the full picture can pull off a save in the eleventh hour. It is hard to imagine the region without Muhlenberg Hospital and just like the power outage we will never really understand the full impact of the closure of the medical center until it takes place and than it will be too late.
Click here to see what Solaris recently sold off http://www.njbiz.com/article.asp?aID=95189056.3167993.953979.3715435.0495351.926&aID2=73374
Click here for Citizens Group info
Click here for the full story on Robinson-Briggs no show
April 29, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Tina Renna, President
Union County Watchdog Association
Walter Lauers, esq.
UNIOIN COUNTY WATCHDOG ASSOCIATION FILES RECORDS COMPLAINT SEEKING TO VIEW $64,624.96 IN IMPROVEMENT AUTHORITY’S LEGAL BILLS
The Union County Watchdog (“UCWA”) announced today that it has retained attorney Walter Lauers, to file a complaint with the states Government Records Council against the Union County Improvement Authority (“UCIA”).
This action has been brought because the Records Custodian of the UCIA, Charlotte DeFilippo who is the Executive Director of the UCIA as well as the Chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee, has violated the Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) by redacting nearly all of the information in law firm invoices totaling $64,624.96 for UCIA’s legal work and by not providing a specific, legal basis for doing so.
The Union County Watchdog Association routinely obtains the UCIA’s bills lists and posts them on their website for free public access. “We ordinarily don’t ask to review legal bills, there are so many of them, but these two submitted at the end of the year caught my eye” said Tina Renna, president of the UCWA. “The amounts $28,529.66 and $36,095.30 respectively for a total of $64,624.96 seemed rather high to be marked “general file” and not assigned to a specific UCIA project.”
“Given the knowledge that the taxpayers are footing the bill for DeFilippo’s lawsuit, which was brought by a county employee who alleges DeFilippo routinely intermingles her political business as the Union County Democratic Chairman (She prefers to be called Chairman) with the management of county government, I thought a closer look at these legal bills was in order” Renna explained.
Records obtained from the UCIA through the Open Public Records Act show that the law firm DeCotiis, FiztPatrick, Cole & Wisler was paid $1,306,634.35 in 2007 and $1,085,552.68 in 2006. This includes $41,879.40 to defend Charlotte DeFilippo in the employee lawsuit which is ongoing.
On March 10, 2008, the Union County Watchdog Association, acting through its President Tina Renna, requested certain legal bills from a UCIA law firm, DeCotiis, FiztPatrick, Cole & Wisler. On March 17, 2008, the UCIA records custodian responded to the request, and provided two heavily redacted invoices. Specifically, the “Date,” “Description,” and “Hours” fields were completely blotted out. Other information may have been blotted out too, but that is impossible to determine. In a rather obvious violation of OPRA, the Records Custodian did not say why the records were redacted, she merely stated that “You will note that information has been redacted.”
Presumably, if the UCIA had given a specific, legal reason for its redactions, it would claim that such information was redacted pursuant to the attorney-client privilege exception in OPRA.
Only communications between a lawyer and client “in the course of the relationship and in professional confidence, are privileged[.]” N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-20. The privilege is limited to “those situations in which lawful legal advice is the object of the relationship.” In re Gonnella, 283 N.J. Super. 509, 512, 570 A.2d 53, 54 (Law Div. 1989). Therefore, not every communication between a lawyer and her client is privileged; rather, only those communications that are in confidence and where lawful legal advice is given.
Under New Jersey law, “the attorney-client privilege . . . does not apply to insulate billings from disclosure.” Hunterdon County Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 188 v. Township of Franklin, 286 N.J. Super. 389, 394, 669 A.2d 299, 302 (App. Div. 1996) (affirming trial court’s holding that billing records are not privileged and are, therefore, accessible under former Right-to-Know law). Rather, legal fee invoices are only privileged if they reveal client secrets or would reveal strategy. Mundane statements that appear in typical invoices, such as “conference call with client” or “review and digest Smith deposition” are not privileged. “In the experience of this court, [attorney billings] will contain a few word description of the general category of the work performed, the number of hours required to perform the work, the date of the performance, and the total cost to the client.” Id. (quoting lower court). In addition, no privilege would attach to the dates on which work occurred, who performed them, or the time spent on those tasks.
Therefore, the Records Custodian violated OPRA because she did not give a specific, legal basis for redacting the records she produced. In addition, assuming that the basis for the redaction is the attorney-client privilege, that privilege does not apply to legal billings unless they reveal client secrets or reveal legal advice or strategy. Therefore, we request that the GRC review the redacted documents in camera to determine whether the redactions were proper.
Redacted Bills HERE
Travisano lawsuit HERE
Very interesting inside view of the players in the Union County Courthouse View Travisano change of venue request HERE
April 26, 2008
PRESENTED BY UNION COUNTY AND OVERLOOK HOSPITAL
I say new and improved because this year’s invasion of a quiet residential neighborhood will not only feature a repeat of last years Rock On!! Walkathon but a 5K Rock N’ Run, a third stage is being added for your musical pleasure and the event will take place on Friday night as well as the traditional Saturday from dawn till whenever. You have to hand it to these guys they just won’t give up a great free reelection campaign event when they see one.
I am sure that the local residents can hardly contain their enthusiasm at the prospect of having cars blocking their driveways on narrow residential streets for two days and nights instead of the usual one on a lovely fall weekend. And even better yet excitingly anticipating the possibility of finding some devoted concert attendee camping out under the shrubbery on a finely manicured front lawn because they didn’t want to spring for a hotel room at the Springfield Holiday Inn and loose their much coveted parking space.
This year the walkathon and newly added 5K run will again raise money for the Love Hope and Strength Foundation, “Nephew George’s” favorite charity, and it looks like Devanney will once again benefit with an opportunity to travel to the far reaches of the globe. Last year he was with the help of sponsors, able to climb with his “teen idols” to the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal this year they will be sending him off to Machu Piccu in Peru. (Inquiring minds can check it out here for details http://www.perurocks.org/ and click trekkers, you will find George there).
Part of the proceeds raised from the walk will be sent off to Peru but at least the Freeholder Board wised up this year and the second charity that will benefit is The Valerie Fund; a venerable New Jersey organization that supports children stricken with cancer and blood disorders and their families. "Atta Boys" go to the board for making a good choice this time around and keeping at least part of the money here in the states.
Last year you will recall they turned over thousands of dollars to an organization that in essence was a group that lobbied for our tax dollars to be spent on embryonic stem cell research. The ill fated effort was defeated at the polls last election day when wise NJ voters decided that the state shouldn’t plunge deeper in debt by pursuing this controversial science.
What looks like a serious effort to legitimize the two day campaign event the Freeholders have managed to suck Overlook Hospital into the mix as their main sponsor. Hopefully the hospital hasn’t dug too deep into their pockets to lend financial support to recreate “Woodstock in Cranford” as even a few grand could go toward a charity care bill for someone who cannot afford health insurance.
The Freeholders claim that they are merely giving the taxpayers what they want and as a side bonus they are showcasing Union County and contributing to the local economy as they say concert goers are likely to shop and eat dinner in downtown Cranford.
They also point out that last year the event drew 50,000 attendees and this year even more are expected to come making Musicfest one of the fastest growing events of this type in NJ. The press release encourages that lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets be brought along but what the heck why doesn’t the “Gang of Nine” just go for it and erect a tent-city on the campus of Union County College.