Entries in transparency (10)

Friday
May182018

FACT CHECK: First Rose-Lazzaro ad full of untruths

The first re-election ad put out by Freeholders Jonathan Rose and Carl Lazzaro is a doozy.  It appeared in some of the weekly newspapers and is noteworthy for the litany of untruths and outright lies it contains.

Here is a copy of the actual text...

We checked the FACTS and it isn't pretty:

(1) Transparency.  The Freeholder Board majority of Boss George Graham, Jonathan Rose, and Carl Lazzaro put together a so-called transparency committee made up of them and other county politicians... that's right, to judge the ethical problems of them and other county politicians.  Ridiculous!

(2) Predictable Taxes.  Yes, they are predictable in that county property taxes go up EVERY year. They outright lie when they claimed to keep tax increases "at or below the rate of inflation." Compare the annual inflation rates and the resulting tax increases for yourself...

YEAR              Annual Inflation Rate                    Property Tax Increase

2015                           0.1%                                                   4.2%

2016                           1.3%                                                   3.5%

2017                           2.1%                                                   2.9%

(3) Efficient Government.  Empire Building by Freeholder Boss George Graham has resulted in a lawsuit by Sussex County's Sheriff Mike Strada -- an attempt at keeping the Freeholders' from turning the Sheriff's department into a political patronage playpen for Graham and the boys.  And while Sheriff Strada is fighting for the integrity of his department and protecting his employees from harassment and molestation by county insiders, Graham and the boys handed out sweetheart-deal pay raises to 50 white-collar cronies.  They did this while telling every other county employee that they couldn't even have a cost-of-living adjustment -- and they did it in the middle of contract negotiations.  The Freeholders have destroyed the morale and efficiency of county government. 

(4) Solar Litigation.  Rose and Lazzaro joined Freeholder Graham in hiring back the lawyers responsible for the solar fiasco and the resulting debt and property tax hikes.  One lawyer they hired back as bond counsel after he gave a $2,000 campaign contribution to Graham.  The other they gave a no-bid contract to for a study of the solar mess -- which, of course, whitewashed his role and the role of the bond counsel. Under Rose and Lazzaro and Graham the solar mess has only gotten more messy -- and there is still no plan to get our money back! 

(5) Fix the Transportation Network.  At public appearances, Freeholder Rose has called for scrapping the planned rail line into Sussex County that legislators like Steve Oroho, Gail Phoebus, Parker Space, and Hal Wirths have long fought for.  Rose claims that the era of "driverless vehicles" is almost here and that we should wait for the future to arrive.  This is as pie-in-the-sky as is Freeholder Rose's support for legalizing marijuana sales in New Jersey in the middle of an opioid epidemic that is killing thousands.  Irresponsible. 

(6) Promote Tourism.  "Trails and bicycle lanes" won't bring people to Sussex County -- jobs and lower taxes will. Why can Warren County cut its county property taxes but Sussex County can't?  Maybe it's because Warren County's Freeholders don't borrow unless the voters say so... Maybe it's because Warren County has two less Freeholders than Sussex County does? 

Maybe it's time for Sussex County to make do with two less Freeholders?

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...

Thursday
Dec222016

A citizen victory on county transparency

Kudos to Freeholders Richard Vohden and Phil Crabb who have waged an often lonely battle for transparency at the Freeholder Board meetings.  And to citizen activists Harvey Roseff, Councilwoman Dawn Fantasia, Nathan Orr, Kathy Gorman, Ann Smulewitcz, Michele Guttenberger, Kenneth Collins, among others, who have loudly insisted on county board transparency.  To the New Jersey Herald and Straus News for their coverage of the fight for transparency.  And to Freeholder Jonathan Rose for finally coming home and doing something about it. 


We had faith in Freeholder Rose and we are glad that he finally challenged Freeholder boss George Graham on transparency.  The Herald carried Freeholder Rose's proposal on transparency in its opinion column today:

 

By a 3-2 vote, the Sussex County freeholders last week rejected a proposal to have their regular meetings videotaped.

 

Though on the surface their action was disappointing, citizens seeking a more transparent county government should not be dismayed.

 

...Freeholder Jonathan Rose confirmed late last week that a resolution is being prepared that would have a camera, already owned by the county, set up in the freeholder meeting room to record regular meetings. The video would be tied into the already set-up audio system.

 

...He intends the recording to be as clean as possible, the only editing to be inserting text of the meeting date and county seal, and if the camera is turned off during recesses or for other reasons. The recording would not be up for any Oscars; no close-ups or zoom-ins would be provided. Rose said that is preferred, as anything beyond the stagnant image may be interpreted as manipulating the recording or injecting bias.

 

The video would be what one would see if one were standing at the back of the freeholder meeting room.

 

...The freeholders should put any politicking and posturing aside, approve the resolution next week, and get a good start to a more transparent new year.

Next up: Changing the 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. meeting times, which are not at all convenient for public attendance and participation.

 

Harvey Roseff expressed the concerns of many when he commented on the Herald's opinion column:

 

"This won't work for the public good. It's but again a backroom maneuver, now to save face and continue the pretense of transparency. It follows the dark spirit of Counsel Williams attempt last week to keep Freeholder meeting video records outside of the county controlled OPRA process. 

...SECTV is a long lived, HIGHLY CAPABLE, FOCUSED media company that provides FREE live streaming capability, serves a broad audience and can deliver a DVD for the County to archive and post to internet. By law, it must provide this service free to citizens who granted it a monopoly. The internal service Freeholders Graham and Rose now promote has never delivered live streaming, is not focused on media delivery and bills the taxpayer even when failing to deliver old technology, simple audio recordings. Maybe the NJ Herald should team with SECTV and drive eyeballs to its website."

 

Ann Smulewicz added her thoughts: 

 

"Graham, Lazzaro and Rose have made their positions on keeping the public in the dark known by the way they voted. Ms. Dawn Fantasia has provided evidence that the public has a right to video. It appears that there is an effort to do that. Graham, Lazzaro and Rose have shown they are not trustworthy to be involved in video taping of Freeholder meetings. I'm in favor of the group that is responding to the public's call for transparency to be in charge of the video taping, hopefully in concert with Service Electric Cable, to make the freeholder meetings available to the public.


Thank you Freeholders Crabb and Vohden for your efforts to 'drain the swamp'."

 

SussexCounty.News is planning to videotape the Freeholder Board meetings as well.  This redundancy will work in the public's favor, because the static recording provided by Freeholder Rose will supply an important benchmark that will allow the SussexCounty.News reporter to interview citizens who make the time to attend these meetings for their perspectives.  This layering of perspectives -- reporting by traditional media like the Herald and Straus News, Freeholder Rose's static recording, and SussexCounty.News' video plus citizen commentary on the meeting -- will create a very open and accessible Board. 

 

Just one thing is missing and we agree with Harvey Roseff on this -- put it on cable TV so that the maximum number of people can see it.  As Roseff points out, it is free and it is usual and customary in towns everywhere in America and in democracies across the globe.  Why not in Sussex County?