Entries in Sussex County Freeholders (67)

Sunday
May272018

Failing to lower property taxes, Freeholders take up foreign policy 

Talk about being desperate.   

They’ve raised property taxes every year they’ve been in office, increased county debt, failed to start litigation to get our money back from the solar scammers, but spent a half million dollars to “study” the problem, re-hired the lawyers responsible for allowing the scam in the first place, and handed out no-bid contracts to people involved in the scam.  Now, after screwing up all that, the three-member majority who run the Sussex County Freeholder Board – Jonathan Rose, Carl Lazzaro, and Boss George Graham – have decided to involve the Board in international affairs.   

Yes, they are putting Sussex County on record as siding with Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.  

Freeholder Jonathan Rose, who runs the Skylands blog , put out a statement on behalf of himself and Freeholders Lazzaro and Graham, that attacked Franklin Borough Councilwoman Dawn Fantasia. For the record, Councilwoman Dawn Fantasia is a Roman Catholic.  According to Rose and company, the inner-city charter school at which she is currently employed, is affiliated with an Muslim religious leader named Fethullah Gulen who finds himself the target of the Islamist regime of Erdogan. 

There is some debate over just how affiliated the school is with the religious leader, but that did not stop Freeholder Rose and company from labeling Gulen… and by extension Councilwoman Fantasia… terrorists. Unfortunately for Freeholders Rose, Lazzaro, and Graham (and, by extension, Sussex County government), most of the West – the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the European Union, etc. – consider the religious leader Gulen to be a Muslim moderate. 

That is why the religious leader Gulen lives under the PROTECTION of the government of the United States of America– in Pennsylvania, as a matter of fact.  And if that isn’t enough, no less than the Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, has shown his support for the religious leader Gulen and has called him a moderate.  That’s right, the Pope says Gulen is a good guy.

But according to Freeholder Rose (and Lazzaro and Graham) anyone who has anything to do with the religious leader Gulen is a “terrorist”.  Hey, that’s three Freeholders of the five… does this mean that Sussex County is on record as declaring the Pope a terrorist – along with Gulen and Fantasia?  If so, that is some foreign policy statement!

And Gulen’s moderation isn’t something new.  In the 1990’s Gulen began working with Pope John Paul II of the Roman Catholic Church, Patriarch Bartholomew I of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron of the Sephardic Hebrew congregation.  All of these faiths would be shocked to learn of the condemnation by a majority on the Sussex County Freeholder Board.

Freeholder Rose’s assertion that the religious leader Gulen is a “terrorist” is nothing more than a parroting of Islamist dictator Erdogan’s propaganda. As the United States State Department has stated over and over again, “Gulen has condemned terrorism.”  In fact, he was the firstMuslim religious leader to condemn terrorism, warning that it “has no place in Islam.”  Gulen wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Poston September 12, 2001, one day after the September 11 attacks, and stated that “A Muslim cannot be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.”    

But international affairs expert Jonathan Rose (NOT!) calls this guy a terrorist?  And Rose and company imply that all who can be linked with Gulen – like Fantasia and the Pope – are terroriststoo, by association. And the fact that it is three Freeholders behind this, a majority, really makes this a very serious allegation and one that could end up getting the county sued big time! 

Here is the story behind the story of why officeholders like Jonathan Rose have been looped into recycling the propaganda of an Islamist dictator. 

A number of New Jersey political insiders – major players in the New Jersey political establishment – work for an international lobbying firm called Mercury Public Affairs.  For example, Juan Melli was recently hired as a Vice President.  Melli is the founder of BlueJersey.com, a former associate editor and columnist for David Wildstein's PolitickerNJ.com, and communications manager for Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.  Melli joins several other members of the New Jersey political establishment at Mercury Public Affairs.  These include Mo Butler, United States Senator Cory Booker's campaign consultant, former chief of staff, and "longtime advisor"; Michael Soliman, United States Senator and former Chairman of the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations Robert Menendez's political advisor and former State Director; and Michael DuHaime, Governor Chris Christie's campaign consultant and someone who has GOP contacts throughout the state. 

Once upon a time, campaign managers were locals who came up through the ranks alongside the politicians whose careers they helped to manage.  But as more money washed into DC and was funneled into campaigns, that changed.  Consultants proliferated and firms became larger.  Following the money, a few either merged with or morphed into public relations and lobbying (government relations) operations.  Why not?  Corporations paid big for access to politicians and there is nobody politicians love more than the person who got them elected. 

It was only a matter of time that things went global.  And that is why these New Jersey political operatives became members of an international firm representing the interests of quite a few unsavory foreign governments.  Mercury Public Affairs is itself a subsidiary of an even larger international firm that handles the image-making  for Russian President Vladimir Putin, receiving credit for, among other accomplishments, getting Putin's face on the cover of Timemagazine -- as the "Person of the Year" for 2007. 

Mercury Public Affairs began in 1999 as a decidedly Republican shop with connections to the RNC and politicians like John McCain and Mitt Romney, around 2013 it embarked on a mission to "diversify" -- meaning making the firm "more bipartisan and full-service."  Mike DuHaime joined the firm in 2009, first as a "managing director" but swiftly rising to partner.  Michael Soliman joined Mercury in 2013 and became a partner this year. Mo Butler joined as a "managing director" in 2016.  Mercury Public Affairs has 10 partners and 160 employees.  Omnicom purchased Mercury in 2003. 

Mercury Public Affairs has 18 offices worldwide -- including London; Mexico City; Washington, DC; New York; and Westfield, New Jersey.  The New Jersey offices (a satellite operates out of Trenton) of Mercury are the haunt of Messrs. DuHaime, Soliman, Butler, and other connected operatives like newspaperman Darryl Isherwood (former top political reporter for the Star-Ledgerand editor of PolitickerNJ), and "Christie campaign vet" Mark Mowers.   

In January 2015, Michael Soliman registered with the United States Justice Department, pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as a person representing the Embassy of the State of Qatar.  You must have read about Qatar in the news...Amnesty International has accused Qatar of being complicit in human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Yes, slavery.  In fact, the United Nations recently gave Qatar one year "to end migrant worker slavery" or face an international investigation.   

Qatar is just one of freedom's garden spots represented by Mercury Public Affairs. Remember the controversy in Uganda, when the President of that country decided that homosexuality was a crime that should be punishable by death?  Well, the law he wanted passed was "moderated" in December 2013, substituting life imprisonment for the death penalty.   In 2015, Mercury was brought on to provide public relations, lobbying, and media monitoring services with regards to the Office of the President and the Ugandan government in general on subjects beginning with "human rights" and ending with "good governance."  For which the contract calls for Mercury to be compensated at the rate of $50,000 per month, with $150,000 up front. 

Mercury also represents individuals.  Folks like Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi, who in 2003 led an anti-American demonstration in which he personally burned an American flag.  For its work, Mercury pocketed a $30,000 monthly retainer, plus expenses.

In January 2016, Mercury Public Affairs partner Morris Reid negotiated a contract with Amsterdam & Partners, an international law firm with offices in London and Washington, DC.  The document is marked "confidential and privileged" but is public information under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  In August of 2015, Amsterdam & Partners signed a contract with the Turkish Ambassador to the United States to provide legal services related to a "matter of importance" to the embassy.  The government of Turkey paid Amsterdam a retainer of $50,000 a month. 

While the contract stipulates that the greatest security and confidentiality be observed, under the terms of the contract between Amsterdam and Turkey, third parties may be hired "as the Firm and the Client agree in writing are necessary to further the Engagement."  And so, in March of 2016, Amsterdam hired Mercury to perform work on behalf of the Turkish government for $20,000 a month -- above and beyond what was being paid to Amsterdam by Turkey.  It is in the contract between Amsterdam & Partners and Mercury Public Affairs that we learn what all this cloak and dagger is in aid of:

The Amsterdam-Mercury contract references an "investigation into Fethullah Gulen and his organization in the United States."  So who is Fethullah Gulen?

Gulen has been in the news since the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016.  Gulen is a religious leader from Turkey, and a one-time political ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan is the increasingly authoritarian and Islamist President of Turkey.  He has been repeatedly in the news for purging the judiciary, jailing journalists who write unflattering reports, and successfully intimidating the opposition.  Erdogan had a law passed to allow the government to ban websites and he has promised to "rip out the roots" of Twitter.  He has even attempted to censor speech in other nations, in 2015 Turkey demanding that Germany prosecute a poet who had written some verse critical of Erdogan. 

Erdogan and Gulen had a falling out over allegations of political corruption by Erdogan in 2013.  Gulen's books were banned.  First, he was indicted on charges that a Turkish judge threw out, but then was indicted a few months later for treasonable offenses that carried the death penalty.  Gulen fled Turkey, came to the United States, and was convicted in absentia.  According to Wikipedia, Gulen was one of the first Muslim leaders to condemn the attacks on September 11, 2001, writing a "condemnation article" in the Washington Post, the next day.  He wrote:  "A Muslim cannot be a terrorist, nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim."

Gülen teaches a Hanafi version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursi's teachings. Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book, and multi-party democracy. He has initiated such dialogue with the Vaticanand some Jewish organizations. 

Gülen is actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state, and Islam in the modern world. He has been described in the English-language media as an imam "who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education" and as "one of the world's most important Muslim figures." 

The government of Turkish President Erdogan has attempted to extradite Gulen back to Turkey to face punishment, but the government of the United States hasn't cooperated.  In the hours after the coup attempt, Erdogan was quick to blame Gulen, while Gulen put forward the theory that Erdogan had staged the coup himself in order to consolidate power.

TheAssociated Pressidentified Amsterdam & Partners (the firm Mercury is working for) as "lawyer(s) for the Turkish government" and quoted Robert Amsterdam:  "There are indications of direct involvement (in the coup attempt) by Fethullah Gulen." Amsterdam added that "according to Turkish intelligence sources, there are signs that Gulen is working closely with certain members of military leadership against the elected civilian government."

Why does Mercury Public Affairs want to be a part of extraditing a moderate religious leader to satisfy the rage of an Islamist dictator?  The answer is simple:  MONEY… FOREIGN MONEY… THE FOREIGN MONEY OF AN ISLAMIST DICTATOR.

Why are members of the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders associating themselves with an effort to tarnish the reputation of a moderate religious leader, which will make it easier to extradite and murder said religious leader? 

The close relationships with many in New Jersey politics that Mercury's partners and employees enjoy is a matter for deep concern.  Freeholder Boss George Graham operates a political consulting business.  Has he been hired by Mercury, a client of Mercury, or an associate of Mercury?  His public disclosure reports require him only to list his political consulting firm, not its clients or sources of money. 

Both Freeholders Jonathan Rose and Carl Lazzaro operate similar businesses that hide their sources of income from the public, making it impossible to know whether or not their assault on this moderate religious leader was inspired by Mercury Public Affairs.  In any case, as the three members of the Freeholder Board constitute a majority and they have launched this attack, they should publicly come clean about it

Wouldn't it be better if the Sussex County Freeholder Board stuck with figuring out how lower property taxes and cut debt instead of shilling for foreign governments?  With all this money from foreign powers floating around, the Board should avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. 

Calling a moderate religious leader a terrorist? A Sussex County mother of three, a terrorist?  The Pope, a terrorist?  What a rotten way to spend Memorial Day!

Monday
May212018

Does Sussex County government have its own #MeToo problem?

Which member of the Freeholder Board majority told a Franklin councilwoman that she belonged on a pole in a strip joint?  Was it George Graham, Jonathan Rose, or Carl Lazzaro?  

In a letter printed in the Sparta Independent today, Franklin Council President Dawn Fantasia recounts some of the things said to her, a Republican local elected official and mother of three.  Fantasia writes: 

"...my opponents' supporters have labeled me a 'political prostitute,' 'pimping' a message as a 'spokesperson.' I've been in a public meeting when referred to as a 'lackey' who 'belongs in a cage like the animal you are.'

It's been said directly to me by a currently elected county official and those in his circle that my name 'sounds like you should be dancing on a pole.' 

And last: that 'you don't belong in MY Republican party.'" 

Fantasia called the comments, "crass buffoonery," adding:

"If you know anything about me, you know that in my life, I've overcome significant obstacles and raised three outstanding children as a single parent. I've been a teacher, mentor, volunteer, advocate, and a school principal in a public charter school, empowering students and families to believe that with hard work and discipline, anything is possible.  

I fully support - and am supported by - those who also want to strengthen our infrastructure while protecting the most vulnerable: our seniors, veterans, and children. I'm a fierce advocate of our police and first responders; I've made it a priority to ensure those who protect us have adequate staffing and resources to do their jobs with fidelity.  

I support a strong, skilled workforce, and above all, our taxpayers. I'm proud of my record of fiscally-conservative spending, differentiating needs vs. wants, and I'm secure in my own moral compass, knowing the decisions I've made are good and right.  

My personal experience and interactions with the Republican party have been logical, principled, and based upon mutual respect. That is the Republican party I know in Sussex County. Regrettably, I cannot say that sentiment applies to my direct experiences with my opposition."
 
 

http://www.spartaindependent.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20180520/OPINION03/180529999

We are informed that details of the abusive and bullying behavior towards women by some county higher-ups are about to break into the open.  We're told that Councilwoman Fantasia's is only one account among many. 

Tuesday
May152018

Transparency? Freeholder Lazzaro failed to file Election Law report

According to the website of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Freeholder Carl Lazzaro has failed to file his "Certificate of Organization and Designation of Campaign Treasurer and Depository" -- also known as an NJELEC Form D-1.  This is an important document, because it provides basic details to the public about who is taking money on behalf of the campaign and where that money is going.

Not only did Freeholder Lazzaro fail to file a Form D-1.  He also failed to have his campaign Treasurer sign his latest accounting of his expenditures and campaign contribution collections (an NJELEC Form R-1). 

Freeholder Lazzaro's boss -- Freeholder George Graham -- is currently being investigated by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC).  The New Jersey Herald reported (March 4, 2018): 

The New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission has filed a five-count complaint against Sussex County Freeholder George Graham for allegedly failing to comply with state law regarding campaign contributions during the 2013 election season.

The complaint, filed on Feb. 14 and publicly released one week later, alleges that Graham and his campaign treasurer, Gail Graham, failed to report accurate contributor information, to report certain contributions, to complete payee addresses for certain expenditures, to report the correct amount for certain expenditures and reported an incorrect sum of small contributions in the 2013 primary election. The complaint further alleges that Graham's campaign filed a required form for the general election almost two years after it was due.

...Each count in the complaint carries a maximum penalty of $7,600 for each transaction not reported in the manner or time prescribed by the state Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act or ELEC regulations. 

For more on the story, readers can visit the New Jersey Herald:

http://www.njherald.com/20180304/freeholder-hit-with-election-commission-complaint#//

 

Thursday
Apr262018

After three years, Freeholders talk transparency.

847 days into their term of office and the two incumbent Freeholders up for re-election this year finally decided to talk about transparency and ways to make Sussex County government more open.  As usual, Freeholder Jonathan Rose was more enthusiastic about the prospect than was running mate, Carl Lazzaro.  You can hear the discussion here, at the 59:00 minutes point...

It is no secret that Sussex County is run by a small group of insiders and that these insiders are not necessarily elected officials.  The county administrator is one of the most powerful public officials in the county and he's not elected.  There are well-connected people who influence county government through an unregulated practice known as  "county lobbying".   These county lobbyists are both powerful and unelected.

Sussex County doesn't have a County Ethics Board where citizens can come forward to challenge an apparent conflict of interest or other case of wrongdoing. 

The county uses the personal financial disclosure statement provided for by state law.  It is weak and almost meaningless.  But there is nothing preventing the establishment of a more in depth reporting process. 

It is technologically possible to have near total transparency so that the property tax money we spend can be scrutinized by the people the county takes it from -- the taxpayers.  Every contract could be posted on line and proposals for new debt could be posted and debated on-line and then put before the voters for approval.  After all, it is their debt and they will have to pay it.

Now that the Freeholder Board is talking about transparency-- we say better late than never.  Perhaps you would like to join in?  Send your comments and ideas to Watchdog at info@sussexcountywatchdog.com.

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...