May 07, 2008

Employee lawsuit reveals ....

1. County sham seasonal employee hiring practices

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