Entries in Sussex County Freeholders (73)

Thursday
Aug092018

Be careful of folks spreading b.s. about Clerk/ Sheriff

County Clerk Jeff Parrott and Sheriff Mike Strada are both reformers who have reorganized their departments, cut spending, increased revenues, and saved taxpayers millions.  Over the past few years, certain freeholders have attempted to mess with their offices which are – by design and by law – INDEPENDENT of the Freeholders who, as we have seen time and time again, have enough to do to keep from messing up what they’re in charge of. 

But that hasn’t prevented them from casting a jealous eye at two departments that are reducing staffing while increasing revenue to the taxpayers (Also-Known-As “property tax relief”).  The opportunities by the Board to slip in a favored employee or two are great, but have been resolutely resisted by Parrott and Strada.   

And so it seems that those certain someones on the Board have leaned on the county’s largest (?) newspaper to stir the pot and lay out some propaganda with which to smear our Clerk and Sheriff.  After all, the Board and the newspaper share the same lawyer. 

Take the Clerk’s office as a for instance.  At a Board meeting earlier this summer, one of the Freeholders crowed and scratched like some bellicose rooster.  He was on and on about a word he had just discovered, called “breakage.” 

He was so fond of the word that he used it over and over again… whether it was the appropriate word or not.  He liked the sound of the word. It made a pleasant, romantic sound, not unlike the word “garbage.”  But there you are.

What he was actually talking about was people.  Good people who work for the county’s taxpayers and who are earning for the taxpayers from their good work hundreds of thousands in revenue that wasn’t there before – revenue that is going back to the county as property tax relief.  If only those certain members of the Board will allow it, not spend it, on shit like lawyers studies, at over $8,000 a page… to tell us silly stuff that we already know. 

Under Jeff Parrott, the Clerk’s office has cut its staff and has not hired extra staff – even when two employees became seriously ill and could not work. Instead, their duties were split up and reassigned to those remaining staff.  And they still handled more documents, collected more fees, and earned more revenue for the County and property tax relief for the taxpayers. So one would think that, having come out so far ahead, nobody would begrudge those hard working employees (who made do with less staff and covered for their two grievously ill compatriots) a small bonus in their pay packets, by way of a thank you. 

Oh, but that’s where our rooster comes in.  “It’s breakage” he snorts!  Of course, it’s not “breakage” when they spend a half million on a no-bid contract for a friend who produces a thin report that isn’t worth the paper to wipe your bunghole with.  “Why that thar is goooood gov’ment,” says the rooster.

So let’s be very wary about a rooster who crows to distract us from the real issues facing the county’s taxpayers.

Wednesday
Jun062018

Was Lonegan’s defeat an inside job?

Well, at least Jay Webber won… and Seth Grossman.

Bob Hugin won’t totally have his way in wrapping the State’s Republican brand in a plain brown paper.  He’s going to have a Reagan conservative and an eccentric libertarian to provide some color to the package – not to mention the incumbents, starting with the staunchly Pro-Life Chris Smith.  

What Hugin won’t have is a genuine Trump-style populist bouncing around in the orchestra, stealing the stage of an election that he plainly believes he is paying for.  Like Grossman, Steve Lonegan is decidedly his own article, but enough in the Trump mold to easily wear the costume.

McCann you say?  The most baldly dishonest campaign in memory will now be set aside, and with it, all the Trumpian rhetoric.  No, John McCann was not endorsed by President Trump, even though his campaign communications led you to believe he was.  More on this later. 

It is enough for now to compare the post-truth campaigning style of a certain southern political consultant to the rather insufficient counter-measures of the Lonegan team, whose messaging was done by a consultant shared with the Hugin team.  Although completely false, McCann’s consultant had the discipline to dominate his candidate, confine him to those tasks of which he was capable, and to run the kind of sharp, focused, MESSAGE-driven campaign that we don’t often see here in New Jersey. 

If McCann’s consultant survives the recent raid on his office by the FBI, the inquires by the United States Justice Department and such, he could become a formidable presence on the field in New Jersey.  It takes a certain toughness to come up with a message so at variance with a candidate, to bully the candidate into silence, and then to brazenly run with it to victory.

Unfortunately, now the candidate will think the victory his… he will start to talk again.  Like he did last week when, in an unguarded moment, he let slip his true feelings about abortion (he won’t vote for ANY Pro-Life legislation if elected to Congress) and guns (he opposes the NRA and supports universal background checks).  Did the New Jersey Family Policy Council know this when its (c)4 lobbying arm was induced into doing an openly political mailer that buttered the Pro-Choice candidate but trashed the Pro-Lifer?  Or did they know and did they not care?  More on this later. 

Not to worry though.  John McCann has served his purpose.  The candidate with the money lost (and now that candidate is a wounded, angry animal, sitting on a million dollar war chest).  But John McCann is broke.  He has eaten his seed corn.  Don’t look for him to trouble Josh Gottheimer.  And there might even be a reward in it for him.  Another lucrative patronage job perhaps?  He might end up a judge. 

So the money that would have been spent in the 5th fighting off the visceral attacks of a Lonegan candidacy will now be heading… where?  Which Democrat will be the beneficiary of yesterday… perhaps they will all share in a piece of it? 

Among the other lessons learned… 

The party potentates who opened the bottle  of a Tony Ghee candidacy did so before its time.  They gave the newcomer no time to breathe.  It’s a solid vintage that will hopefully be available again. 

And speaking of which.  We learn from the former Wally Edge that Peter Murphy is about to assume the throne of the GOP in Passaic County – the place he occupied before a certain United States Attorney, named Chris Christie, sent him away.  It’s a bad business – especially for Bob Hugin, who has made political corruption his ONLY issue.  Lonegan’s polling showed Murphy’s support to be the strongest negative against McCann.  More than 80 percent of Republicans were less likely to vote for a candidate who had his support… that’s REPUBLICANS.  You would have hardly guessed it from Lonegan’s campaign communications, but there you have it.

Surprisingly enough, Lonegan did have coattails of a sort.  In Sussex County, Lonegan-backed challengers to two incumbent Freeholders annihilated the incumbents.  It is the first time in living memory that a ticket with two incumbents was defeated in Sussex County.

Dawn Fantasia is the principal at a charter school.  Josh Hertzberg is an administrator with the ILA union.  These are what Republican candidates look like in our populist era.  Fantasia supported Senator Steve Oroho’s negotiations over the refinancing of the Transportation Trust Fund.  She learned about it and patiently explained the details to others – and ended up cutting a radio spot to that end. People warned that it would hurt her politically, because the final deal raised the gas tax, while cutting or eliminating a host of taxes (including the estate tax) and providing property tax relief.  Another lesson learned? 

John McCann injected himself into the Freeholder race, on behalf of the incumbents, who supported him.  He ran a radio spot that attacked Senator Oroho by name on the gas tax.  Former Congressman Scott Garrett came out in support of the incumbents and ran a robo-call on their behalf.  More lessons?

Lonegan won Sussex County, but by a much smaller margin – about 500 votes.  Why the difference?  Well, in Sussex, the Lonegan freeholder ticket had a strong message that they pursued relentlessly – and were quick and sharp with their counterattacks.  The Lonegan campaign proper lacked this, especially the quick counterpunches.  Fantasia and Hertzberg also had the full attentions of Kelly Hart, who had been “let go” by the Lonegan campaign in April.  She had been field director for Sussex County. 

Curiously enough though, when the dust settles after the General Election, the only big changes to the line-up of elected officials in CD05 will be the election of Lonegan’s running mates in Sussex County.  Everyone else… McCann and all his running mates in Bergen and Passaic will have lost. 

A few years ago, Ralph Nadar wrote a book called “Unstoppable” – in which he predicted the rise of populist movements on both the Left and the Right in response to the disconnect with the mainstream political parties.  He suggested that Left and Right reformers had much in common and therefore, the basis of a genuine “resistance” movement.

How will this translate with Dr. Murray Sabrin on the Libertarian Party ticket for U.S. Senate is anyone’s guess, but there are Libertarian candidates in Districts 5 and 11, and a Constitution party in District 3.  A Center-Left populist, Wendy Goetz, is also running in the 5th. 

And finally, election night parties.  The people you meet at such things are not average Republican voters.  Many earn a living from politics – whether as a lobbyist or a vendor, a job holder or a consultant.  They are in the business of politics – even those that just secure from it a certain status, as a member of a local government perhaps, or a school board.

That is not the case with 99 percent of Republican voters.  All they get out of voting is the idea that they are checking the box for someone who thinks like they do.  Most have a general idea of what the Republican Party stands for and that they stand for that too.  That “general idea” is provided to them, largely, by the mainstream media.  And yes, it includes the points that Republicans are Pro-Life and pro-Second Amendment.  

New Jersey’s Republican political class needs to learn to live with this.  Bring to a close their 40 years war with Reagan and their contempt for our base.  Trying to pretend that you are something else or “a different kind of Republican” is not a message, it is a deflection.  For all his money spent on advertising, Bob Hugin was able to convince just 52 percent of Republicans in Sussex County to vote for him.  He will need to do a great deal better. 

Let the political class make its money… but leave average GOP voters someone they can vote for. 

Sadly, the party took a step back yesterday.  They took away someone who meant something to a great many average Republicans – and they did so by telling voters that McCann was just a newer Lonegan, only more conservative, and that Donald Trump endorsed him.  We all know that isn’t true.  

And on that note, we begin the General Election.

Monday
Jun042018

Sheriff Mike Strada endorses Fantasia & Hertzberg for Freeholder

Sunday
Jun032018

Why does Sussex County pay its administrator more than more populated counties do?

The Sussex County Freeholder majority of Jonathan Rose, Carl Lazzaro, and Boss George Graham reward their cronies – while they continue to piss on average county workers.  Take the County Administrator as an example.

The current County Administrator was installed by Boss Graham and the boys at a salary that is over-sized for the population of Sussex County.  But that is okay by them, because this guy follows the script they hand him to the letter.  We’re concerned actually, because if Boss Graham ever stopped short, the county administrator might find his head lodged up Graham’s backside.

Sussex County has a population of 142,000 and falling.  But its new county administrator pockets $180,000 plus a packet of perks and benefits that would choke a horse.

On the other hand, Bergen County, with a population that rivals some states (approx. 939,000) pays its county administrator just $171,182. 

Essex County – with Newark in it and all the problems that come with a big urban area (population: approx. 796,000) – its county administrator makes $142,640. 

Hudson County – with Jersey City – and a population of 677,983, pays its county administrator $167,028.  And this guy has been on the job for decades. 

Another populous (approx. 555,000) county, Union, pays its county administrator $172,000.

Morris County, population 498,423, has a county administrator who earns $171,844. 

Passaic County, population 507,945, pays its county administrator $177,012. 

Neighboring Warren County (population: approx.. 106,000) pays its county administrator $143, 235 – and he’s been on the job since 1999! 

Smaller counties tend to pay less for their county administrators, on the order of Salem ($80,000) or Cape May ($110,000).  So why do we pay so much, here in Sussex County? 

Well, boys will be boys – or rather, the boys will be the boys.

 

Wednesday
May302018

Why did Rose & Lazzaro hand a solar scam enabler a $518,000 no-bid contract? 

Matthew Boxer was the State Comptroller from January 2008 until December 2013.  Before taking this position, Mr. Boxer was an associate with the New York City law firm of Lowenstein Sandler.  After leaving office, he returned to that firm as a partner.

Most residents of Sussex County are aware of the scandal that involved a public-private partnership to install solar panels on local government buildings, using federal subsidies.  As it turned out, the private entity responsible for the work was under-capitalized, failed to pay the contractor doing the work, was sued by the contractor, and the project stopped.  The cost to taxpayers in Sussex County is estimated at upwards of $40 million. 

Sussex was one of three counties involved in this project -- Somerset and Morris were the others. Lacking its own agency, Sussex County worked through the Morris County Improvement Authority (MCIA), although each county made its own individual contracts with the entity, called Sunlight General, a new creation with a board of directors drawn largely from a French bank.  

In February 2011, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Sussex County authorized a shared services agreement with the MCIA to implement the solar project.  In July 2011, the project was sent to the Office of the State Comptroller for review.  After reviewing all the project documents, the following month (August 2011), the project was given the okay by the Office of the State Comptroller -- headed up by Mr. Matthew Boxer.  Based the affirmative review given by Mr. Boxer's office, the Sussex County Freeholders went forward with the project. 

Apparently, the project was so fashioned that by October 2011, Sussex County had received just one bid -- from Sunlight General.  And so, in that month, the Sussex County Freeholders awarded the contract to Sunlight General.

The Freeholder Boards of Morris, Somerset, and Sussex Counties all signed agreements -- reviewed by the Office of the State Comptroller (Mr. Boxer's office) -- that used taxpayer-secured debt to back up SunLight General's operations. Unfortunately, the contracts were poorly written, the expected flow of capital was fanciful, the projects poorly planned and executed.  Allow us to quote from the documents supplied by the federal court: 

- SunLight General Capital and its subsidiaries were formed "with virtually no assets, such that they were undercapitalized at the time of formation." 

- The SunLight Entities "have drawn on the Public Bond Funds and diverted such funds for non-trust purposes in violation of the New Jersey Trust Fund Statute." 

- The SunLight Entities have admitted that "millions of dollars of Public Bond Funds" have been used to "make lease payments" and to "fund the SunLight Entities' required contributions under the Program Documents, and to pay the 'soft' costs (including attorneys' fees) of the Authorities and the SunLight Entities." 

- "The SunLight Entities owe Power Partners millions of dollars as a direct beneficiary under the New Jersey Trust Fund Statute and there are no longer sufficient funds in the Public Bond Funds to pay Power Partners and to complete the projects." 

- The SunLight Entities "participated in an additional scheme to draw down over $6.3 million in Public Bond Funds and misdirected more than $2.7 million of such funds for non-trust purposes." 

- Those who controlled the SunLight Entities treated corporate assets as "their personal piggy banks, repeatedly transferring assets from one entity to the next for the purpose of ensuring that there would be insufficient assets in each entity to satisfy its obligations to Power Partners." 

- "The corporate form of the SunLight Entities was used to commit conversion, make fraudulent transfers, and other improper acts." 

Yes, the Office of the State Comptroller -- Mr. Matthew Boxer's office -- let down the taxpayers of Sussex County.  Matthew Boxer got to move on to his law partnership and the Office of the State Comptroller just keeps on reviewing what it reviews and the residents of Sussex County are left to deal with the $40 million loss in their (higher) property tax bills.  In March 2015, the Freeholder Boards of both Sussex and Morris Counties reached out to the Office of the State Comptroller and formally requested that the State Comptroller review the project -- for a second opinion. 

About this time, the name Matthew Boxer resurfaced again, only now it was as part of a proposal to bring in "outside counsel" to review the solar project and what went wrong.  Sussex County Freeholder Boss George Graham – the guy Freeholders Rose and Lazzaro follow -- pushed for Mr. Boxer to be brought in for this purpose. 

In April 2015, the Office of the State Comptroller turned down both Sussex and Morris Counties' requests to review the solar project.  No official reason was ever provided.  However, there is an "unofficial" explanation provided in a May 26, 2015, memo from the MCIA to the Morris County Freeholders.  It goes as follows: 

"The County is still awaiting a written letter from the Office of the State Comptroller, as a follow up to the phone conference with Morris County on April 27, 2015.  In the absence of the written response, and as a reminder, the State representatives (OSC) advised the County that it undertook an internal review of the Solar II Program and conducted its own analysis and evaluation of the Solar II Program.  Following this review process, the Comptroller's Office concluded that, based upon the information that Morris County had forwarded to them, it was not going to pursue a further review of the Solar II Program." 

So it appears that the Office of the State Comptroller had conducted a review of the solar project it had signed-off on, but was unwilling to share said review.  The memo continued: 

"The Comptroller's Office noted several factors in its post-review decision not to review the matter further: 

a. Noting that the Solar Programs and original agreements were a local policy decision, approved by the County Freeholders, and; 

b. That in the view of the Comptroller's Office, both the change in the SREC Market, as well as the legal dispute between the developer and the contractor (SunLight/MasTec) contributed to the Solar II Program not proceeding as originally expected." 

The "post-review decision not to review the matter..."  Wow.  

The Office of the State Comptroller's recalcitrance to share the review that they had already conducted or to take that review further was a loss to the taxpayers of Sussex County, but a boon to former State Comptroller Matthew Boxer, who was now being touted as the onlyman to do a review that was to be paid for by fresh taxpayer's money.

And so, it came to pass that in January 2016 a new Freeholder Board in Sussex County -- now controlled by the very same individuals who had been for months advocating for the selection of Matthew Boxer as the onlyman to review the solar project -- handed Matthew Boxer a contract for $500,000 to conduct said review. 

The guilty parties in handing out that ridiculous contract – Freeholders Graham, Rose, and Lazzaro. 

The manner in which this contract was provided to Mr. Boxer was curious, and remains unexplained to this day. In a letter, dated January 19, 2016, a Sussex County official wrote to Mr. Boxer's firm inquiring how he came by the contract.  Here is what he wrote: 

Dear Mr. Boxer,

On New Years’ Eve, Dec 31, 2015, I received a phone call, about 5:00 PM, informing me that a resolution had been submitted to the Sussex County Clerk of the Board regarding an agreement with Lowenstein Sandler, LLC to provide professional services to conduct a review of the facts and circumstances involved in the Sussex County Renewable Energy Program. 

This was the first time I had any knowledge of this negotiation and agreement. 

I spoke to our Freeholder Director, the other sitting Freeholders, our County Administrator, our County Council, our Clerk of the Board, our County Treasurer, our Director of the Department of Central and Shared Services, our Purchasing Agent, and our assistant purchasing agent. 

...I believe that the governing body has had no part in negotiating an agreement with your firm. 

I would like to know, and now ask, who represented Sussex County in these negotiations, especially the negotiation of the “blended” hourly rate and the understanding that the Board of Chosen Freeholders has provided that fees are not to exceed $500,000.00? 

To this day, this official -- a respected member of the community in Sussex County and a veteran of the Korean War -- has never received the courtesy of a reply.  Why not?   

So the official wrote to the State Ethics Commission and noted the following: 

He stated that this agreement was negotiated with two phone calls with a Matthew Boxer, Esq. 

In 2011 Matthew Boxer was the New Jersey State Comptroller.  

Matthew Boxer led a staff responsible for overseeing audits and performance reviews at all levels of New Jersey government. The office audited government finances, examined the efficiency of government programs and scrutinized government contracts.  

On August 23, 2011 the State Comptroller's office, after a review, signed off on the procurement of a Photovoltaic Systems Developer with respect to certain local government facilities in the County of Sussex and the RFP as approved for advertisement. 

I have been asked by many Sussex County residents if Matthew Boxer has a conflict of interest representing Sussex County as Special Counsel in order to review its participation in the Sussex County Renewable Energy Program. 

To which the State Ethics Commission replied that Mr. Boxer claimed that he “did not have any personal involvement in the Office of the State Comptroller's review or approval of Sussex County's procurement related to the Program.”   

It seems strange that the person in charge of the office directly charged with reviewing the contract -- the failsafe in the approval process – would claim no personal involvement.  That is a curious statement.  How about professional involvement?   

Was Mr. Boxer so lax as to have no knowledge of what was a three-county project involving -- to start -- $100 million? His office reviewed nearly a dozen similar contracts involving many more millions in public money.  Okay. let's accept that Mr. Boxer was a "delegator" without direct, day-to-day knowledge about the office he was responsible for.  How did he come to be recommended as the sole recipient of a $500,000 contract to review what his office failed in reviewing at the start?   

The answer to that is simple: Freeholders Graham, Rose, and Lazzaro.  

And now, Rose and Lazzaro are asking us to give them a second chance to make breathtakingly stupid decisions like this one. Decisions that have to do with spending our money.

Really?