Did you get an illegal robo-call?

On Monday, January 25th, Sussex County residents got a prerecorded "robo-call" asking people to attend Wednesday's meeting of the Sussex County Freeholder Board and oppose an investigation of the Sussex solar bailout that has cost county taxpayers millions.  The recorded message repeats the argument advanced by Freeholder Richard Vohden -- that the Freeholders should hold off commissioning an independent county investigation until after the status of state and federal criminal investigations are determined. 

Vohden knows that means holding off on a county investigation indefinitely because the state and federal investigations now underway are criminal investigations.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Justice Department, the NJ State Police, and the NJ Attorney General's office are not permitted to comment on active criminal investigations.

The reason Sussex County needs a independent investigation is simple.  The solar scam cost $88 million.  Sussex taxpayers are on the hook for $24 million and they just borrowed another $7 million and the bill for that is coming due shortly.  It will likely cause a sharp increase in property taxes.

It is not the job of those law enforcement agencies to protect the interests of Sussex County.  They could even cite Sussex County officials for malfeasance and who would pay for that?  The federal authorities will try to claw back the federal money involved in the scam.  Who is looking out for Sussex County taxpayers?

That's where an independent county investigation comes in.  It is a fact-finding mission to build a case to get some of those millions back through civil action. 

The FBI and State Attorney General's office are looking for criminal indictments.  That may punish those responsible, but it won't get our money back.  That is why the investment in an independent county investigation is money well spent.

Vohden is joined in his opposition to the independent county investigation by the corporate vendors, legal counsel, consultants, and political players who made millions off the solar scam.  Unfortunately for whoever paid for the call, they appear to have not followed the law under which robo-calls are permitted.

First, "the prerecorded message must truthfully disclose who is responsible for the call and the telemarketing-related purpose of the call."

Second, "the prerecorded message must disclose a call-back telephone number which would allow the recipient to call back within normal business hours and make an opt-out request."

The prerecorded message sent into the homes of Sussex County residents did not abide by these legal rules.  In fact, it could be argued that the call was deliberately misleading and made it appear to come from the County Clerk's office.  A prosecutor would have to determine if the robo-call was an attempt by those who paid for the call to hide their identity and to impersonate an innocent party.  In 2009, the State Attorney General brought a successful prosecution against a similar incident in Bergen County. 

In any case, there is enough to warrant action by the Federal Communication Commission under the expanded Telephone Consumer Protection Act regulations that came into force in June of last year.  So look for this issue to figure in the Freeholder races in both Sussex and Morris counties.

If you would like to add your name to those reporting this robo-call to state and federal authorities, please contact Watchdog at:



The dishonest attacks on Congressman Garrett

Guest Columnist:  V. Rubashov

The reason America's politicians are so dishonest is because establishment opinion DEMANDS that they be dishonest.  Look at what happened to Congressman Scott Garrett when he raised the question as to why a party that opposes same-sex marriage actively recruits candidates who support same-sex marriage.  You can read for yourself here the official position of the Republican Party of the United States of America:

"Congressional Republicans took the lead in enacting the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of States and the federal government not to recognize same-sex relationships licensed in other jurisdictions. The current Administration's open defiance of this constitutional principle--in its handling of immigration cases, in federal personnel benefits, in allowing a same-sex marriage at a military base, and in refusing to defend DOMA in the courts--makes a mockery of the President's inaugural oath. We commend the United States House of Representatives and State Attorneys General who have defended these laws when they have been attacked in the courts. We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so."

2012 Republican Party Platform , Aug 27, 2012

As we can see, it wasn't really out of line for an inquiring mind to ask why a political party that adopted the position above would be activity recruiting candidates who opposed that position.  The Defense of Marriage Act, around which the Republican Party organized its position was passed in the United States House of Representatives with 342 members of congress -- 224 Republicans and 118 Democrats -- voting yes.  Only 65 Democrats and 1 Republican voted against it.  In the Senate it passed with the support of 84 Senators.  32 Democrats joined every Republican in voting for it.  Only 14 Democrats opposed it.  Bernie Sanders, then an Independent Socialist member of Congress voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.  President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, proudly signed it into law.

First Lady Hillary Clinton stood by her man.  A few years later, when she was an elected official herself, the beautifully coiffed United States Senator from New York took an unmistakably conservative position on same-sex marriage.

We wonder which Clinton speechwriter wrote those words?  Was it the one who is now running for Congress against Scott Garrett?  The one filling his campaign coffers with money from what Vermont's Senator Bernie Sanders calls "corrupt Wall Street operators"?

If you are a supporter of this Clinton speechwriter or of Clinton for President don't think that you are going to get away with criticizing Congressman Scot Garrett for holding the same position you held until you collected millions in contributions from pro-LGBT corporations and lobbyists who commissioned  polling to show that you could safely execute a flip-flop on the issue.  That's not being a statesman. That's just allowing yourself to be bribed.  Think Steve Sweeney:  New Jersey's Senate President, south Jersey political machine apparatchik, sometime lobbyist for the Ironworkers Union (also known as "the church burners"), and flip-flopper extraordinaire -- when the price is right.

The ONLY people who have the intellectual honesty to criticize Congressman Garrett are those who support the United States Senator from the great State of Vermont, the former Mayor of Burlington and Chairman of the Liberty Union Party, Bernie Sanders.  THEY have the standing to criticize Congressman Garrett -- not the imperial Clintons or their paid mouthpiece.

The hypocrisy of those who support the imperial Clintons and their speechwriter is beginning to show signs of wear.  Supporters of the Clinton speechwriter recently went on line to criticize Congressman Garrett's attempt to make nice to the LGBT community.  One such creature claimed to be a college professor and advanced an argument both illogical and illiberal.  He says that because Garrett holds today the same view that Bill and Hillary and Barack and most elected Democrats held yesterday, he has no right to even hold office and should resign immediately and not run again.  Who would want to be in his class?  You know this so-called "educator" would likely fail you if you disagreed with him, even if he was disagreeing with the position he held only yesterday.

The imperial Clintons and their lackeys must not be allowed to advance their hypocritical line of attack against an honorable public servant like Congressman Scott Garrett.  Hold them to account.


Calls for probe of energy agency

It seems that at every Freeholder Board meeting we are treated to the incontinent rages of Freeholder Richard Vohden about how he now no longer wants to do the independent county investigation that last year he insisted he wanted to do.  Guess he lied to us then.

There's been a lot of energy-related corruption lately come to light.  Similar investigations are going on around the country, all with the idea of finding a legal basis with which to claw back some of the taxpayers' wasted money.

Some groups are even trying to investigate the way regulators are said to favor one aspect of the energy industry over another.  The story below was reported in today's New Jersey Spotlight. 


NJ and Neighboring States Call for Probe of Agency's Natural-Gas Stance

Tom Johnson | January 15, 2016

Coalition of 165 groups accuse Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of rubberstamping projects and playing favorites with natural-gas industry

An independent investigation of the federal agency that oversees construction of natural- gas pipelines is being sought by 165 organizations in New Jersey and neighboring states.

Saying the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is biased in favor of the energy industry, the groups are asking two U.S. senators to formally request a probe of the agency by the Government Accountability Office.

In the past few years, the energy industry proposed a widespread expansion of natural-gas pipelines, taking advantage of plentiful supplies of the fuel found in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. In New Jersey alone, there are about 15 pipeline projects in various stages of planning and construction, not all of which have come before FERC.

The projects have lowered heating costs for hundreds of thousands of customers, but they also have aroused fierce opposition from residents, conservationists, and others, partly because they frequently cross public lands preserved with taxpayer money as open space and farmland.

Opponents also question the savings generated by the newfound gas, saying it is more than offset by environmental problems caused by the way the fuel is extracted using a practice called “fracking.’’ The technology involves injecting huge quantities of water, and a smaller amount of toxic chemicals, deep into the ground, a process critics say can contaminate drinking water.

In seeking a probe by the GAO, the organizations accused the federal commission of abuse of power, noting that it has approved 100 percent of the gas-pipeline projects that have come before it, the highest approval rate of any independent federal agency.

The request for the investigation was made in a letter to Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Both sit on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“FERC has time and again prioritized the advancement of gas infrastructure projects over the wellbeing of the communities it should be protecting -- misusing legal loopholes and ignoring court orders while ordinary citizens play by the rules,’’ said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, the organization that initiated the campaign for a GAO probe.

Beyond the rubberstamp nature of the projects before it, there is, the groups argued, a revolving door between the federal agency and the industry it regulate. They also said the commission approves the seizure of land through the use of eminent domain for projects that benefit private companies rather than the public.

Industry officials counter that the pipelines and natural gas have led to significant savings for consumers by making available cheap fuel to heat homes and run power plants, where costs also have gone down. The Christie administration, which strongly supports the rapid expansion of gas infrastructure and the building of new natural-gas-fired power plants, also credits it with lowering energy bills.

But a recent poll found that most of those surveyed would rather the state increase its reliance on cleaner forms of energy, such as solar and wind, instead of natural gas. The benefits of lowering greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global climate change should be more of a driving force in setting state policy, according to clean-energy advocates.

Van Rossum said she hoped a federal investigation leads to reforms in the way the agency achieves its mission and convinces Congress and the president to check it when it goes awry.

“An independent investigation into FERC will pull back the curtain on the abuses taking place at the agency and help identify needed reforms,’’ she said. “It’s time to transform FERC into an agency that protects and serves the public -- not the natural-gas pipeline industry.’’


Vohden feeling the heat on solar investigation

Freeholder Richard Vohden loves to tell stories about his days in construction as a union operator.  If Vohden's colorful stories are to be believed, then he should know full well that law enforcement NEVER comments on active investigations.

At last evening's meeting of the Freeholder Board, Vohden suggested that the Freeholders hold off commissioning any independent county investigation into the Sussex solar scam that ripped-off county taxpayers for millions, until after the status of possible state and federal criminal investigations is determined.  That means holding off on a county investigation indefinitely.

Vohden is being dishonest and he knows it.  He told the Freeholder Board that he made a round of telephone calls to the state and federal law enforcement agencies and understands from those calls that some kind of action is underway.  What he is trying to prevent is an independent county investigation.

The reason Sussex County needs a county investigation is simple.  The solar scam cost $88 million.  Sussex taxpayers are on the hook for $24 million and they just borrowed another $7 million and the bill for that is coming due shortly.  It will likely cause a sharp increase in property taxes. 

It is not the job of these law enforcement agencies to protect the interests of Sussex County.  They could even cite Sussex County officials for malfeasance and who would pay for that? The federal authorities will try to claw back the federal money involved in the scam.  Who is looking out for Sussex County taxpayers? 

That's where an independent county investigation comes in.  It is a fact-finding mission to build a case to get some of those millions back through civil action. 

The FBI and State Attorney General's office are looking for criminal indictments.  That may punish those responsible, but it won't get our money back.  That is why the investment in an independent county investigation is money well spent.

Freeholder Vohden appears to be arguing that we simply accept the screwing, pay the money, don't ask questions, keep paying the money, and do nothing to get our money back.  That is a weak, panty-waist approach in our opinion. 

Freeholders Richard Vohden and Phil Crabb voted for the solar bail out with taxpayers' money with no intention of ever trying to find out if the Wall Street manipulators, lawyers, and consultants did something wrong.  No attempt to recover a dime of the millions wasted.  They are part of the mess and bear some responsibility for where we are today.  Freeholders George Graham, Jonathan Rose, and Carl Lazzaro opposed the bailout and campaigned with the PROMISE that there would be an independent county investigation.

Back before the June 2015 primary, even Vohden claimed to support an independent investigation because back then he was trying to deny the existence of state and federal criminal investigations.  Why the flip-flop Richie? 

It is important for the Freeholders who campaigned on the PROMISE of an independent county investigation to keep that PROMISE.  Voters are already skeptical of elected officials.  Don't give them a reason to believe the worst of politicians.



Wirths should look into local unemployment office

In Sussex County, the economy never really rebounded from the great recession that began in 2008.  For all his promises, President Obama bowed to Wall Street just like his predecessors, and despite the best efforts of Senator Elizabeth Warren the Glass–Steagall Act remains effectively repealed. 

Sussex County suffers under the restrictions of the Highlands Act and the resulting decline in growth and loss of population and tax base.  Some political leaders -- notably County Clerk Jeff Parrott and State Senator Steve Oroho, among others -- have worked to tackle the fallout from this long economic downturn.  For example, the efforts of Parrott and Oroho have sustained the county food bank, the need for which has never been greater.  Even when faced with attempts to thwart this by a top county bureaucrat who doesn't even live in Sussex County, Parrott and Oroho have quietly soldiered on to make sure that county residents have food on the table.

It is important to remember that people are not unemployed by choice.  The people who run this nation have bestowed on us the world as it is and all the middle class can do is try to cope with it.  Now Watchdog has received reports that, instead of being treated with respect, state employees (who have good benefits and a pension waiting for them) apparently amuse themselves by mistreating their fellow citizens.

At the Newton unemployment office, it was reported that some of the staff is "vitriolic, unsympathetic and abusive in speech and manner" in addition to reprimanding adult taxpayers like they are children.   The staff do not like to answer the telephone and reports claim that they rarely do. 

New Jersey Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths lives in Sussex County, so maybe it is time for him to make an unscheduled visit or two or three to the unemployment office.  If they aren't answering their phones, pull them all out and save the money.  If they are being rude to unemployed taxpayers, lay them off so that they can experience what it is to be unemployed first hand, so that they develop empathy and use it when they are brought back to work. 

We leave it in Hal Wirth's capable hands.