In his own words: Solar was Crabb's idea.

Just whose idea was the Solar scheme that has gone spectacularly bust and had to be bailed out by borrowing taxpayers' money?   

Under considerable heat for being one of three county bureaucrats on the committee that sold the project to the entire Board, County Administrator John Eskilson is telling anyone who will listen that it was Rich Zeoli and Phil Crabb -- both Directors of the Freeholder Board at key points in the process -- who brought the project to Sussex County, courtesy of Zeoli's political connections in Morris County.

That sounds about right, but then we came across this.

It is April 2011.  Two of the Freeholders have been on the Board for less than four months.  Freeholder Phil Crabb is a senior member of the Board and the others look to him for direction. This is Freeholder Crabb, talking about the Solar scheme:

"This appropriation is a small sum when you consider the long term energy savings that could result from the program."

"The solar developers that take on the projects will own the equipment and sell the power generated to the town or school at a reduced rate while reaping the benefits of state and federal sustainable energy incentives."

"Participating municipalities and school districts do not invest any money in the installation.  Rather, the (Morris County) Improvement Authority provides low-cost loans to the developer through its public authority to sell bonds.  These loans are then used by the developer to install the solar facilities."

What is left out is the part about the taxpayers of Sussex County being on the hook for the bonds that funded the "low-cost loans" to developers.  Oh, and also the fact that a lot of politically connected lawyers and consultants got paid millions of taxpayers' money.  So Phil Crabb -- an experienced member on the Freeholder Board -- was also its biggest cheerleader for the Solar scheme.

Instead of leading the newcomers on the Board and asking tough questions, Crabb was too busy being a pop-pom boy for the solar scammers.



Will Phil Crabb be the John Dean of the solar scandal?

Legendary Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein was in Sussex County this week and the timing couldn't have been better.  Sussex County residents are getting an inside look at how their government is run as a scandal unfolds involving a solar energy project sold by county bureaucrats as a sure thing, a failed corporation concocted by a group of Wall Street bankers, and a bailout that endangers more taxpayers money in a process gone bad.

And what Sussex taxpayers are finding out is that the county government they pay for isn't being run by the people they elected to run it. 

While elected Freeholders come and go, real power in the county is wielded by a couple professional bureaucrats who have occupied positions of power for decades.  County Attorney Dennis McConnell has held his position for over 25 years, while County Administrator John Eskilson joined the County in 2002 --coming from Hardyston Township, where he took over as administrator ten years earlier, when Wendy Molner was mayor.

Eskilson and McConnell are masters at always keeping control of three of the Freeholder Board's five votes.  They do so in a number of ways.  For instance, when Freeholder Rich Zeoli's wife needed a job, she was accommodated at the company where Eskilson's wife was Director of Business Development, ThorLabs.

The pair of bureaucrats prey on incoming freeholders whose minds are open to suggestion.  Often unsure of the job and insecure,  the bureaucrats school them on the ways of county government.  And so you get a Freeholder like Richard Vohden, who will tell you that he believes his role is to "ratify" whatever the county bureaucrats decide.  Seriously, he actually believes this.

The two bureaucrats operate like rogue managers at a corporation whose Board of Directors has become enfeebled and unable to exercise authority.  Every mistake -- from the AmeriPay scandal to the near theft of the county dump -- is brushed over lest the shareholders, the taxpayers, get up in arms.  "Don't look back, look forward" is what they say.

They control information and communications.  That was why Eskilson talked then Freeholder Director Vohden into giving him the job of Clerk of the Freeholder Board -- in addition to County Administrator.   A very unusual arrangement, but it leaves the Board with no independent staff.  It is like turning over your corporate governance committee to the CEO and it is why an official letter from county freeholders goes out to municipal governments without it even being discussed by the Board.

It is why county freeholders are forced to hire their own attorneys for honest representation and forced to use the state's Open Public Records Act to obtain basic information from the county that should be made available to them by the people who ostensibly work for them.  But if anything is clear, these two bureaucrats don't work for the elected representatives of the people, they work for themselves.  And they have made a pretty penny doing so.

Now Eskilson is in an open policy battle with some of the people he is supposed to work for, pushing his agenda and undermining the initiatives of his elected bosses.  He's even gone so far as to push his policy preferences with the political campaigns of candidates for freeholder.  None of this is very ethical, so far as his profession is concerned.  It undermines who they are, their status, and the protections generally afforded them. 

If Eskilson wants legitimate political power he has the opportunity to run for elected office.  That way the voters get to decide.  And if he wants to transform his office into that of an elected County Executive, he probably has the votes on the Freeholder Board to accomplish that, but again, the voters will have the final word and John Eskilson seems to want to avoid that.

Which brings us to Freeholder Director Phil Crabb.  Like John Dean, "the master manipulator of Watergate," Freeholder Crabb has played the role of chief explainer and apologist for the Sussex solar scandal.  Frequently incorrect in his facts, flip-flopping on tactics, always fudging what he "meant" to say.  First Crabb was for public disclosure in advance of voting on the settlement, then he was against it.  At various times he supported and then opposed reviews of what went wrong.  Then he was for public meetings to explain the solar settlement, and then he opposed them.  The word "flannel mouth" comes to mind.

Crabb's latest tactic is to make the claim to the media that (1) people don't care about the scandal; (2) there is a "backlash" against those who do care; and (3) that if you do care about a failed project and a bailout that is costing taxpayers $26 million it is all because of "politics". 

Crabb sounds remarkably like John Dean in the early days of Watergate.  That's because people like Crabb always forget that the public is busy trying to earn a living to feed the kids, keep a roof over their heads, and pay the property taxes screw-ups like Crabb stick them with.  But they aren't stupid, as Crabb seems to think.  They notice.  It takes time, genuine public outrage is usually a slow burn, but burn it does.  And when it does, watch out.

Anyway, Crabb doesn't have any data to back up his claims, he just pulls these things out of his butt.  It is the way of a man who has been very lucky in politics.  In the aftermath of Steve Oroho's hard-fought victory over Guy Gregg, Crabb was handed Gary Chiusano's Freeholder seat -- the seat Gary had to take from an incumbent.  Then he screwed up, didn't file his campaign finance reports for four years -- while he raised and spent money on stuff for someone -- and almost got asked to step down.  Rich Zeoli went to NJELEC and pleaded on his behalf and Crabb got caught up.  He was lucky in not being fined last year when he was up for re-election but those fines are coming. 

If not for the intervention of Steve Lonegan with a negative attack on opponent Dennis Mudrick, Crabb would have lost his 2011 re-election bid.  Last year, Crabb spent a lot of money against someone who didn't campaign at all, but still only won 60-40.  That was largely due to Crabb not having done a poll and not knowing that the issue he based his campaign on, the sale of the Homestead nursing home, isn't very popular with voters in Sussex County. 

Once again sans data, Crabb's  current performance is especially weak.  "All will be well..."


Some thoughts on a really stupid letter to the editor

Marie Bilik is a Virginia resident who is moving back to Sussex County to run for Assembly in Sussex, Warren, and Morris counties.  Don't take our word for it, that is what she tells her followers on Facebook.

For some strange reason, Bilik has allowed her campaign manager to blunder into the middle of the solar scam mess.  Worse still, Bilik's campaign manager has taken the side of the county bureaucrats who sold the deal to the Freeholder Board.

The most contentious issue is the "non-disparagement" clause, a gag-order really, that is part of the "settlement" agreement Sussex County negotiated in order to borrow more taxpayers' money to bail out the failed solar project.  The Herald described it this way:  "Under the settlement's non-disparagement clause, the county freeholders are barred from voicing public criticisms of the professionals, consultants and other entities that were involved in the original solar project and in the recently concluded settlement negotiations."

This may serve the interests of Bilik's campaign manager, but it doesn't help the candidacy of Marie Bilik.

Bilik's manager is Wendy Kuser Molner, who was mayor of Hardyston decades ago.  Molner worked for the Corzine administration before becoming a lobbyist for an energy engineering company.

As a member of the administration of Governor Jon Corzine, Molner helped sell projects cooked up by NJ Transit and the NJ Department of Transportation.  You know, those people who want to raise the tax on gasoline to pay for those projects that cost, per mile, twelve times what the rest of the country pays.

Molner is listed as the Vice President of Government Relations on the website of Concord Engineering, an energy engineering company from southern New Jersey that sells to county and local governments.  Concord is affiliated with the NJ Clean Energy Program, which promotes  "renewable sources of energy including solar." 

Concord is also affiliated with the U.S. Green Building Council, among other organizations that promote the use of taxpayer subsidized solar energy.  So let's be clear about who Molner lobbies for.

And yet, in her latest letter to the editor, Molner attempts to mislead voters by claiming that she opposes solar energy.  In fact, Molner is paid to appear at municipal meetings in Sussex County and to lobby on behalf of a program called the Passaic County Energy Cooperative.  This program has an solar component to it.

In her letter, Molner writes that she opposes government energy programs but fails to mention that she gets paid to pitch for one.  The Passaic County Energy Cooperative is the brainchild of the Democrat Freeholders who run Passaic County.  The current program was passed by the Democrat-controlled Freeholder Board in 2013, according to a Concord press release.  So how can Bilik's campaign manager be against something she is paid to market?

 But she doesn't stop there.  Molner goes even further and tries to nail the Bilik campaign's colors to the infamous "non-disparagement clause" that has so outraged all right-thinking voters.  Molner writes:  "Clearly, the 'non-disparage' clause in the settlement is a basic clause in most settlements."

Maybe between private business entities it is, but not between a private business entity and a legislative body.  Sussex County is plowing new ground here in the cause of corporate Fascism.  Tell us when the Congress of the United States has signed such an agreement, or a state legislature?  If it is so usual, produce examples. 

Molner seems to vaguely remember doing so back when she was on local government, but offers nothing concrete.  She writes:  "Moreover, I am sure as a former mayor and councilperson, I voted for similar settlements with this clause without screaming about my First Amendment rights to disparage."  Is that a nutty statement or what?

Molner goes on to further confuse herself by demonstrating that she does not understand  the differing rolls of legislative and executive branches of government.  She even confuses two separately elected offices.  Hard to believe that she once held office.  Did she sleep through her entire term?

So the questions for candidate Marie Bilik, courtesy of her campaign manager, are these: 

(1) Do you support the non-disparagement (aka "gag order") clause that protects the solar scammers from public comment? 

(2) If elected to the state Assembly, would you propose similar non-disparagement clauses between the Legislature and failed corporate vendors.


Not the sharpest tack in the box.



Is there a case against Dennis McConnell?

Well, for one thing, he's been at the public trough for a very long time.  He's pushing three decades of pocketing taxpayers' money and his law firm has made millions.  And that isn't the only thing.  A few years ago he talked the Freeholders into making him an employee -- ostensibly to save money -- but that also put him in line for a very nice pension.

Quoting County Administrator John Eskilson, the Sparta Independent and the Advertiser News report that McConnell receives a salary of $195,649 plus benefits.  His law firm, according to Eskilson, receives an additional $88,358 from the county "on litigation matters".

According to the Asbury Park Press, which keeps a record of these things, Dennis McConnell's base salary is $189,256 per year and he is enrolled in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).   You can calculate what he will continue to receive from the taxpayers by visiting the state webpage below:


None of this should surprise anyone.  In every county in New Jersey, whether run by Republicans or Democrats, there is always a cabal who takes care of each other on the taxpayers' dime.  We would like to see a little more turnover, a new set of eyes once in a while, but it is what it is.

The problem with Dennis McConnell is that he's been making a lot of eyebrow raising calls for a very long time.  Let's pick a random year -- 1989 for example -- and see what Sussex County Counsel Dennis McConnell was up to way back then.

In 1989, George Bush Sr. was America's brand new President.  Matt Damon was eligible to vote for the first time.  The Soviet Union still existed.  Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law School.  Less than 15% of American households had a personal computer.  And 3 million people in the U.S. owned a cell phone (today it is more than 300 million) and they weighed a couple pounds.  Oh yeah, Sussex County had the same legal counsel it has today.

In 1989, County Counsel Dennis McConnell told the Freeholder Board that the taxpayers had to eat a $648,078 loan the county had made to another agency because apparently the professionals at the county had forgotten about it.  The Board, led by Freeholder Vic Marotta, said no way.  Marotta noted that, with interest, the agency owed the county $2 million, and he wanted to collect.

In 1989, the Star-Ledger and the Herald reported that county officials had met with a Democrat candidate for Sheriff who was also a county employee.  One of those officials was the County Counsel, Dennis McConnell.  They advised this candidate that he no longer had a job.  That led to the indictment of another one of those officials, the incumbent Sheriff at the time.  He was charged with exercising improper influence for threatening to fire the county employee if he ran for sheriff, and was accused of "official misconduct, criminal coercion and threats and other improper influence in official and political matters in a three-count indictment handed up by a state grand jury in Trenton."

The New Jersey Attorney General said that the county employee's "constitutional right to run for public office" was threatened, adding that "any attempt to thwart or undermine an election or political candidacy is a grievous offense against the state."

And again in 1989, County Counsel Dennis McConnell advised the Freeholder Board to invalidate the employment contract of 68 county workers simply because the county agency that had negotiated the contract had been merged into another department during a restructuring of county government.

Pick any year and you will find a lot of head-scratchers like these.

We believe that the case against lawyer Dennis McConnell rests on his support for and justification of a "non-disparagement" clause, a gag-order really, as part of the "settlement" agreement Sussex County negotiated in order to borrow more taxpayers' money to bail out the failed solar project.  The Herald described it this way:  "Under the settlement's non-disparagement clause, the county freeholders are barred from voicing public criticisms of the professionals, consultants and other entities that were involved in the original solar project and in the recently concluded settlement negotiations."

And McConnell is quoted by the Herald as clearly defending the public gagging of everyone in the know, calling the non-disparagement clause "a material part of that binding agreement approved by them (the Freeholders) in their official capacities for the benefit of the citizens of Sussex County."

We believe that any lawyer who supports and justifies such a thing simply doesn't understand or respect the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of these United States.  We're sorry, but to us it borders on being un-American.

It is bad enough that money has corrupted the political system and has molded the politicians of both parties into pawns of special interests.  It is bad enough that Wall Street can wreck the American economy and then keep their bonuses with bail out money from working taxpayers.  It is bad enough that banks can do whatever they want to do -- from illegal foreclosures to laundering the money of drug cartels -- and never go to jail for it. 

But to try to set a precedent on behalf of a group of scumbag Wall Street operators like SunLight General -- to try to tell the people and their elected officials that they cannot even complain about it -- that simply goes too far.  It's like something some Fascist would think up.

And for that reason we think that the County Counsel should do the honorable thing and resign.




From Chairman Hambel's personal Facebook page.

One "Like" and it's Wendy Molner

Like we said, Wendy Molner runs Ailish Hambel, which makes Wendy Molner the boss of the Sussex GOP. What does that say about the party?