Entries in New Jersey Herald (42)

Tuesday
Apr242018

Disappointed in the guys running the Freeholder Board

In 2015, the New Jersey Herald supported the election of two local mayors -- Jonathan Rose and Carl Lazzaro -- to the Freeholder Board.  They beat an incumbent Freeholder and his running mate.

On election night, the defeated incumbent said:  "(My running mate) and I didn't only have two individual opponents, we also had the New Jersey Herald as an opponent." 

That's true, along with many regular Republicans who looked at the solar project as a scam and a taxpayer rip-off.  For these reasons, Watchdog also supported Rose and Lazzaro. 

The Herald called the failed solar project "far and away the biggest issue of the campaign."  Rose and Lazzaro were elected on the promise of either making the solar project run efficiently or getting our money back.  

But after getting elected, they formed a Freeholder Board majority with incumbent George Graham that left millions worth of valuable solar panels and equipment unused and rotting away in a warehouse.  

Instead of taking legal advice to go after the bond attorney whose responsibility it was to protect Sussex County taxpayers -- they re-hired him and accepted a large campaign contribution from him. 

They spent more than $500,000 to "study" the problem -- by giving a no-bid contract to the same lawyer whose office had approved the solar project in the first place.  That's right, his office was the taxpayers' last line of defense -- but said "do it" anyway.  Why was hehanded the contract to figure out what had gone wrong? 

Rose and Lazarro praised that report -- which never once mentioned the failure by the bond attorney or the lawyer who wrote the report -- but cost taxpayers $8,064 per page and is all but useless in pursuing a case to claw back some of the millions lost by Sussex County property taxpayers. 

The solar fiasco happened because there were no taxpayer controls over borrowing.  So when a Republican candidate for Freeholder named Herb Yardley suggested that Sussex County adopt the same ordinance that Warren County uses to curb debt -- that no new borrowing occur without the approval of the voters -- you would've expected the majority on the Freeholder Board to support him. 

But that's not what happened.  Freeholders Graham and Lazarro came out in opposition to taxpayer control over borrowing -- leaving the door wide open to future solar-type scams.  To make matters worse, these Freeholders refused to support fellow Republican Yardley because he was in favor of this conservative, common sense proposal.  

Warren County is cutting property taxes because of this reform, while in Sussex County property taxes continue to go up.  But these Sussex Freeholders actually opposed giving property taxpayers controls over debt so much that they would have rather seen a liberal Democrat win than elect a conservative Republican who supports such a reform measure.

Then there's the Freeholders' recent vote to borrow to spend millions more on new buildings for the county community college at a time when community college enrollment is shrinking by 8,000 hours a year and county population is in decline.  It makes no sense -- and the voters had no voice to stop it. 

Why?  It all comes back to transparency and open government.  Rose and Lazarro campaigned on being transparent but have been anything but.  No-bid contracts negotiated and handed out without the knowledge of the Board.  And backroom dealing is so commonplace that county insiders knew Jonathan Rose was the next Freeholder director before he did.  Before the vote was taken, it had been published in the Freeholder agenda.  

If Rose and Lazarro want to be re-elected, they are going to need to explain how the next three years will be different from the last three.  They will need to own up to past mistakes and set out an agenda to correct them.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday
Apr112018

On Facebook, two Freeholders contradict their vote for more debt.

Politicians sometimes forget that Facebook is public.  In all that fake bonhomie and throwing around of "likes" they forget.

And so it was a couple days ago, when a Newton councilman reflected on how the sale of a large commercial property in Newton would negatively impact residents in terms of property taxes.  Just days before, the Sussex County Freeholder Board had voted to fund the purchase of that property by the Sussex County Community College, through incurring more debt.

Curiously, two of the Freeholders who voted for that purchase and for more debt put up "likes" next to the Councilman's comments in opposition to what they had done.  Strange.

Now here is a question for voters:  Do you know who your elected freeholders are well enough to identify the names of the two?

Comments are open.

Tuesday
Apr032018

Watch county insiders bully Freeholder Yardley into voting for more borrowing

This is how it's done.

The elected officials in on the deal express shock that one of their own would even question borrowing more money -- and then the paid "experts" on the county payroll start talking about how the sky will fall in if you don't spend this money and spend it now! 

At the March 28th Freeholder meeting, Freeholders Jon Rose, Carl Lazzaro, and George Graham got Freeholder Herb Yardley to change his vote from No to Yes using this high pressure sales method.  The Freeholders approved a $2.8 million bond ordinance that Sussex County property tax payers will be paying back for the next 23 years.

One argument made by one of the county "experts" was that the state would assume "half the responsibility" for the debt "thanks to a state-backed debt service program known as Chapter 12."  The New Jersey Herald noted:

"According to information released by the state Department of Education, Chapter 12 funds, which are only made available to community colleges, may be used either for new construction or for capital maintenance. There is no limitation on the kind of facility that can be built." 

Sussex County Community College President Jon Connolly was ecstatic over the chance to get his hands on more money:  "This is a very unique program that no other states offer.  We are very lucky to be able to take advantage of it."

Yes, New Jersey is nearly bankrupt, with the highest property taxes and worst business climate in America, and a declining bond rating because of "unique" programs like this.  The state can't fund its pension programs and is running out of places to borrow from, but what the heck, right? 

The community college appears to be taking an "if you build it, they will come" attitude towards new construction at a time of declining enrollment.  While pushing for more spending/borrowing, Freeholder Rose seemed to echo this: 

"This was a tough decision to make even though the Chapter 12 program will assume half of the financial burden of this bond.  Enrollment hours at the college have been dropping by as many as 8,000 per year, which was certainly something we needed to consider."

In the Herald, Rose added that "graduating high school classes are also getting smaller."  "Ultimately, Rose said, the decision to support the ordinance came amid hopes that the extra investment would help the college to address some overdue issues."

So let's get this straight.  The taxpayers of Sussex County are paying to expand the community college's real estate at a time when less people are using it?  It almost sounds like some well-connected vendor needed a quick dose of cash.  Weird.

Freeholder Rose offered this explanation:  "When the economy suffers, people are more likely to go back to school to learn a new skill.  Right now, we're in an upswing, so fewer students are signing up for classes." 

We get the idea of having something in case of an economic downturn, but what happens if that downturn takes a different form than expected and a different set of skills are sought after than those on offer?  The taxpayers are still on the hook for buildings that they might never fully utilize -- and on the hook for 23 years. 

Wouldn't it have been better for the Freeholders to try to attract for-profit trade schools into Newton?  For-profit businesses would pay a share in property taxes and reduce the burden to residential taxpayers. 

We like Jon Rose and have supported him in the past, but this is the reason Sussex County needs to follow Warren County in adopting a no borrowing without voter approval ordinance.  There would be no rush-jobs with the voters.  No hard sell by so-called county "experts."  Just the facts, transparency, open discussion, and then the voters -- the taxpayers -- decide.

 

Tuesday
Feb202018

Lawyer in porn case pushes discrimination against veterans

Last week, the New Jersey Herald ran a story about a drug offender who is suing the Sussex County Sheriff's Office and the County over its hiring practices.  In the story, the attorney for the drug offender calls into question the hiring of veterans.

The attorney told the Herald, "You can't just hand a combat veteran a badge and a gun."  The attorney explained that while he "fully supports the hiring of veterans," his lawsuit is focusing on "the interview process" and "psychological profile." 

Wow!  Here in New Jersey, the Democrat-controlled Legislature recently made it very difficult for a business to refuse to hire someone with a criminal record.  The idea was that having done his or her time, an employer did not have the right to make a determination to hire someone based on his or her past criminal actions. 

An employer can't discriminate against a convicted criminal but the suggestion is being made by this attorney that having served in the military in a combat role should be a red flag for certain kinds of employment.  In other words -- it's okay to go to Iraq but not okay to come back home and expect to be hired as a local police officer or deputy sheriff.  Putting your life on the line in service to our nation makes you a "special case."

The attorney making this ridiculous argument is a former county politician.  A few years ago he got caught up in a State Police operation that shut down a child porn ring.  Police arrested 36 people in New Jersey and claimed in newspaper headlines that the suspects had sought the video in question. 

For whatever reason -- his status as a member of the bar, his political contacts, or the facts of the case -- the attorney who is now advocating that military combat veterans undergo special scrutiny got himself a very good deal.  According to news reports in the Herald and elsewhere, he avoided trial and was granted PTI (pre-trial intervention) on the charges.  The State Attorney General's office declined to appeal a State Superior Court judge's ruling to allow PTI in this case.  PTI is a probationary program that is generally used for low-level offenders.  When successfully completed, the criminal charges are removed from a person's record.  In the case of this attorney, we understand that the those charges have been removed, although a public record -- the extensive media coverage of this case -- remains. 

According to the Heraldthe Deputy Attorney General prosecuting the case "would not say why the state's Office of Attorney General decided to not challenge the ruling."

Given the very understanding treatment that this attorney received by the state, we would suggest that he extend the same consideration to those whose only apparent fault is being placed in harm's way by their government, dutifully engaging in combat on behalf of the American people, honorably serving, surviving, and then returning home.  Don't make it more difficult for them to find employment.  Don't turn them into a pariah, suspect class of job seekers.

Monday
Nov062017

Frankford firehouse fiasco coughs up a candidate

The situation at the Frankford firehouse is shameful.  The guy who runs the Frankford Volunteer Fire Department hasn't fully explained what led to the decisions that ultimately lost his community $360,000. 

This could have been avoided by doing a simple background check.  The contractor could charitably be characterized as a "bad apple" who has had contract compliance issues before.  So why wasn't a background check done on the contractor hired to do the work? 

And why no performance bond?  A performance bond would have protected both the Fire Department and the community it serves.  It would have provided a needed failsafe in the event that this contractor did not perform as promised (which ultimately happened). 

As the New Jersey Herald reported (September 8, 2017):

The community pays for volunteer fire departments through donations and the firefighters themselves -- all volunteers -- pay in their sweat and toil.  It is a difficult and, as has been recently shown, dangerous duty that they freely sign up for.  More care should have been given to the purchase and construction of the new facility in Frankford.  With a bit more transparency, there would have been more community involvement and oversight.  Somebody could have caught this earlier and prevented the current mess.

Instead, the guy in-charge kept his cards too close and there were questions raised about transparency.  And so Frankford is in for a rough time, as the Herald story makes clear:

You might think that such a spectacular screw-up would have led the guy in-charge to offer his resignation or to make some other gesture of taking responsibility.  No, not in this case.

Instead, the guy in charge, Mr. Mike Fox, decided to run a write-in campaign for township committee.  No, we are not kidding.  He even has a campaign Facebook page.

Is it a case of "having screwed up at the volunteer fire department I want to have a chance to move up to bigger things"?  Whatever it is, you got to hand it to this guy, he has some balls.  After a colossal screw-up under his watch, now he wants a promotion.

Well, maybe the people of Frankford will give it to him, but they'd better think long and hard about it first.  We all make mistakes but just because you forgive, you shouldn't forget -- and you most certainly shouldn't reward.