“Transparency” Sussex County style

The setting:  Sussex County Community College. 

The host:  The New Jersey Herald. 

The event:  A debate between challenger Ron Bassani and incumbent Freeholder Phil Crabb. 

The menu:  More b.s. than a Sussex County resident should be forced to stomach.

Yesterday’s debate between Wantage Committeeman Ron Bassani and Freeholder Phil Crabb was a gentlemanly enough affair.  For 90 minutes the two sparred in a gentle, sleep inducing back and forth that produced no waves, no froth – until the last minutes.  In his final question to Committeeman Bassani, Freeholder Crabb asked him to identify the appointment to the SCMUA Board that he had objected to in an earlier campaign communication.  In a long and rambling answer, Bassani did finally drop the name “Gary Larson”, with Crabb blankly stating that he had no knowledge that Larson had ever been under consideration for the appointment to SCMUA.  The Herald moderator ended the discussion by characterizing it all as “hearsay”.

Remember that this is Sussex County, a corrupt rural suburb of New York City.  If ever a book is written about the goings on here it should be called “Corruption in a Small Place”.  This is the place where the Sunshine Law has set and where Open Meetings consist of the blank stares and uniform Ayes or Nays of unanimous vote after unanimous vote by the Freeholder Board.

It is a good thing for the citizens of this overtaxed county, with fewer jobs and mounting foreclosures, they have Watchdog to help dig up and report the facts. 

You will all remember that in last year’s Republican primary, Gary Larson ran for Freeholder against George Graham.  Graham, who was closely allied with Surrogate Gary Chiusano, won that contest.  Larson, an ally of Glen Vetrano, lost.  Both were well qualified candidates having served in local elected office.  Graham, of Stanhope, ran as a “Ronald Reagan conservative”, while Frankford’s Larson, a member of the teachers’ union, was the liberal in the race.

Phil Crabb has served as the Freeholder liaison to the SCMUA or Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority Board.  For more information on what SCMUA does and how it affects your life, visit it on the web at

So Crabb has this relationship with SCMUA and there’s this open seat on the SCMUA Board (SCMUA Board members are called “commissioners”, which is a title with “status” we’re told).

Larson was considering running for Freeholder again this year, much as Dennis Mudrick had done after his loss to Crabb in 2011.  Then in January, Freeholder Director Rich Vohden told people that a deal had been struck and Gary Larson would be appointed to the SCMUA Board and would not be a candidate for Freeholder challenging incumbent Crabb.

That’s when the push back started.  A couple of the Freeholders objected.  Among their reasons for objecting was that (1) Larson was from Frankford and Frankford isn’t serviced by SCMUA, and (2) the vacant seat didn’t need to be filled and leaving it vacant was a savings to taxpayers.

Now all this maneuvering was going on behind the backs of the taxpayers of Sussex County – out of sight of the public.  Kind of makes you wonder why they even have laws like the Open Public Meetings Act?

If you want more information on the NJ Open Public Meetings Act (also called the Sunshine Law), you can access it here:

Larson was never appointed to SCMUA.  We don’t know why, but we do know that at least one Freeholder complained in writing about the way the pros and cons of the appointment was being discussed as “gossip” and not discussed in open public session the way the law said it should be done.

Freeholder Crabb must have had a lapse of memory.  It happens.


The political education of Phil Crabb

When he was first appointed to the Freeholder Board in Sussex County, Phil Crabb was a self-proclaimed "moderate" Republican, following the way of Glen Vetrano and Sue Zellman.  And while it was his friendship with Hal Wirths that got him the job, Crabb was never part of the Wally Wirths' conservative crowd -- Crabb was a Bob Littell guy. 

Crabb's appointment coincided with a new political paradigm in Sussex County.  In 2007, longtime District 24 Senator Bob Littell decided not to run for re-election.  While conservative on issues like guns and abortion, Littell was an old-school moderate Republican.  He found consensus with the Democrats and avoided partisan rhetoric. 

In 2007, the Littell wing of the Sussex County GOP was faced with a dilemma and a choice.  The dilemma was popular District 24 Assemblyman Guy Gregg, a well-known conservative from Morris County, who wanted to become Sussex County's Senator.  To face him, the Littell forces had to choose between two well-qualified Freeholders:  moderate Glen Vetrano or conservative Steve Oroho.

We all know who got the nod and so began the rebranding of the Sussex County GOP into an organization with an explicitly "conservative" message.  The REAL CONSERVATIVE TEAM of Steve Oroho, Alison Littell McHose, Gary Chiusano, Hal Wirths, and Jeff Parrott carried the day on June 5, 2007.  A year later and Senator Oroho, Assemblywoman McHose, and Assemblyman Chiusano were recognized statewide as conservative leaders in the legislature.  Phyllis Schlafly called Bob Littell's daughter "New Jersey's Sarah Palin".  Bob Littell's successors had won by adopting the message of Wally Wirths.

There were some who were uncomfortable with this rebranding, Phil Crabb among them.  They faulted the political consultant team of Ed Traz and Bill Winkler who were responsible for the 2007 REAL CONSERVATIVE TEAM campaign message and accused them of over-stressing the "conservative" brand.  They criticized the connection to conservative firebrand Steve Lonegan and in return were sniped at on Facebook by Lonegan satellite Rick Shaftan.

But as election victory after election victory piled up, the moderates slowly came round.  The 2012 victory of conservative Christian candidate Dennis Mudrick, recruited by moderate Glen Vetrano, was in many ways a public act of surrender by the moderates.  A recognition that they could no longer elect one of their own.

In last year's Republican primary the HOMETOWN CONSERVATIVE  TEAM romped to victory and the final act of Sussex County's GOP "moderates" was to dutifully join the effort to elect conservative Steve Lonegan to the United States Senate.  After Lonegan was embraced by Governor Chris Christie, he was no longer the "radical" he had been on the lips of Sussex County moderates.  They rushed to embrace him and enthusiastically used their new conservative connections to scrub away their worn out moderate skins.

Which brings us to Freeholder Phil Crabb, the last of the moderates.  He sent out a very well done direct mail piece this week.  In it, he described his tenure on the Freeholder Board as "conservative", his successes on the Freeholder Board as "conservative", his leadership as "conservative", and he himself as a "conservative".

Somewhere, Traz and Winkler are smiling.


Why can't Phil Crabb tell the truth?

Once again, Freeholder Phil Crabb ends up looking a fool by trying to paint a picture of himself that isn't true.  Freeholder Crabb wants to look like an outsider, when in fact he is the consummate insider. 

Remember how he became Freeholder in the first place?  Crabb was an unknown, newly elected Franklin Councilman who was the childhood friend of former Franklin resident Hal Wirths.  It was 2007, and Franklin resident Freeholder Steve Oroho had just been elected to the Senate and to the Assembly was re-elected Franklin resident Alison McHose along with Freeholder Gary Chiusano.  Chiusano would be leaving the Freeholder Board, Wirths favored his old friend Crabb, so Crabb was plucked from Franklin Council after barely serving there and made a Freeholder.

As a Freeholder, Crabb became an embarrassment after breaking state election law for four years and failing to follow it most of the time since.  But Freeholder Crabb has been useful to certain county vendors, following the lead of Rich Zeoli when he was Freeholder.  Zeoli has a long relationship, including as a paid consultant, to the Mulvihill family of corporations.  It was Zeoli who handled the family's political operations in local elections in Sparta and Vernon and it was Zeoli, along with Crabb, who in June 2012 was at the center of an attempt to take control of Sussex County's waste disposal away from the County's 24 municipalities and turn it over to a committee of five insiders.

Freeholder's Crabb's latest whopper was delivered at last night's Sussex County Republican Committee meeting.  Crabb told county committee members that he was running his campaign without the assistance of a political consultant.  That's not true.  He has Zeoli.  The former Freeholder is now a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he works as a talk radio personality.  That hasn't stopped him from staying involved in Sussex County politics and practicing his old trade of political consulting.  Zeoli is the consultant-of-record on Crabb's media buys, according to official documents required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  It was Zeoli who shopped around and assembled Freeholder Crabb's re-election team.

We can already hear Freeholder Crabb trying to talk his way out of this one by insisting that Rich Zeoli isn't a political consultant.  He can try, but first he should read Zeoli's biography on the website of his current employer, CBS radio in Philadelphia:

Rich Zeoli represents a new generation of compelling talk radio. He grew up in New Jersey and spent his career advising candidates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania running for all levels of political office including Governor, US Senate, and Congress. He was the youngest chair of a political party in New Jersey history.

Rich is the founder of RZC Impact, a communications firm specializing in media training, public speaking, and strategy. His clients have included Fortune 500 Executives, national television personalities, and bestselling authors. He has personally trained individuals for high profile speaking engagements appearances on national programs including Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, Larry King Live, CBS Evening News, Hannity, Today Show, and many others.  

Rich is the author of “The Seven Principles of Public Speaking: Proven Methods of a PR Pro,” and a Visiting Associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Let's say it together:  "Spent his career advising candidates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania running for all levels of political office including Governor, US Senate, and Congress."  Yes, that means he's a political consultant.

It is funny to think of the Crabb campaign being run by an out-of-state political consultant from Pennsylvania who, back when he lived in New Jersey, was an out-of-state political consultant working in Pennsylvania. 

Notice something missing from Rich Zeoli's professional biography?  It mentions his work as a political consultant first thing, and that he was "chair of a political party in New Jersey".  Does that mean the whole party?  Sure sounds like it, when it fact Zeoli was the chair of a county committee of a political party.  Sussex County, in fact.

Zeoli's biography mentions his business, his clients, his book -- but there's no mention of him being an elected Sussex County Freeholder and a Freeholder Director.  Why not?

Any ideas on why there's no mention of Sussex County?






Memo to Freeholder Director Rich Vohden and Deputy Director Dennis Mudrick

Gentlemen.  We all know that you are big supporters of your colleague, Phil Crabb.

You know him.  You vote with him.  You attend political cocktails and wine & cheese parties with him.  Talk to him.  Talk to him about following the law.

Get him to file his D-1 form.

As his leaders on the Freeholder Board, you are responsible for him.

Watchdog spoke with a very helpful state employee down in Trenton yesterday.  She works with the compliance section of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC).

She said that Freeholder Crabb had failed to file his D-1 form and was in violation of state election law.

The law isn't tough to understand.  It can be found on Page 10 of NJELEC's Compliance Manual for Candidates (published in 2013):

No later than ten days after establishing a candidate committee, the candidate shall file the “Single Candidate Committee Certificate of Organization and Designation of Campaign Treasurer and Depository” (Form D-1). If any of the information contained on Form D-1 changes, the candidate must file an amended Form D-1 no later than three days after the change. If the candidate appoints a deputy treasurer or designates an additional depository, the “Designation of Deputy Treasurer and/or Additional Depository” (Form DX) must be filed with the Commission within five days of the designation or appointment. If any information contained on Form DX changes, an amendment to Form DX must be filed within ten days of the occurrence of the change.

Freeholder Phil Crabb has been collecting money for his re-election campaign since his secret kick-off event down in the Mulvihill's wine cellar at Crystal Springs.  That was December of last year.  He should have filed his D-1 six months ago.

Allow Watchdog to make it easy for you.  You can print a D-1 from here:

One great benefit about filing his D-1 is that Freeholder Crabb's campaign treasurer could become certified by attending a free campaign treasurer certification program provided by NJELEC.  Maybe Freeholder Crabb wouldn't break the law so much if he complied with this.

So how about it Freeholder Director Vohden?  How about it Deputy Director Mudrick? 

And when or if Freeholder Crabb does file his D-1, remember that the law requires him to file a copy with the Sussex County Clerk's office in Newton.  That's so Sussex County residents won't have to travel down to Trenton.  It's a courtesy.  It's also the law.

Transparency is the start of the next American revolution.




Crabb: Sussex County doesn't deserve transparency

It's the law.  New Jersey election law is administered by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC).  On Page 38 of NJELEC's Compliance Manual for Candidates (published in 2013), every candidate for county office is given notice that he or she is mandated to do the following:

"File a copy of every election fund report (reports filed at the 29-day and 11-day period and 20-day post-election period, along with quarterly reports) with the county clerk in the county where the candidate(s) seek(s) office."

Unfortunately for the taxpayers and citizens of Sussex County, Freeholder Phil Crabb couldn't be bothered with filing with the county clerk. 

We've already seen that in 2011 Crabb was years behind filing his campaign finance reports and that since 2011 he has been consistently late in filing his reports.  But that only covers what he is obliged by law to file in Trenton, with NJELEC.  As far as following the law and filing with the county clerk in Sussex County, Crabb has pretty much ignored that.

And that's a problem, because Sussex County residents shouldn't have to drive two hours each way to Trenton to get a legal copy of what their elected representatives have been up to.  It should be available from their County Clerk, in Newton.  It should be available not only as a courtesy to the taxpayers of Sussex County, it should be available because that is the law.

Ever hear of the movie Casino Jack?  It is based on the true story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

 It makes the case for citizens to be curious about who is giving their elected officials money and why.  That goes for Sussex County as it goes for the rest of America.

Since getting out of prison Jack Abramoff has cleaned up his act and now offers straight advice from someone who knows why business people, vendors, and other interest groups invest in political campaigns.

People need to know who is giving politicians money.  They should know.  It is their right to know.  It is the law.  But Phil Crabb doesn't think so.