“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 http://www.scmua.org/

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:  http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/new-jersey/open-meetings-laws-new-jersey

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.