Stumbling from Scandal to Scandal
Three years ago, Sussex County Freeholders were asked to agree to a settlement with the creditors of the AmeriPay corporation, another too-good-to-be-true idea that was sold to the Freeholder Board. It turned out to be part of a Ponzi scheme that according to the FBI ripped-off 14 school districts, seven houses of worship, five schools, more than 300 other private and public entities, and one county -- Sussex County. We got done for $2.3 million of the total $10.2 million defrauded.
That scandal was uncovered in 2009, through the efforts of the FBI, the United States Attorney's Office, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The guilty were sent to prison and Sussex County's settlement was reduced to $38,464. According to today's Herald editorial, the latest scandal to rock Sussex County isn't going to turn out so well.
It deals with a solar energy scam that was sold to the Freeholder Board by a group, including representatives of the corrupt and convicted Birdsall Services Corporation, that was led by none other than Sussex County's Administrator, John Eskilson. It leaves Sussex County taxpayers on the hook for between $6 million and $29 million or maybe more, because the public isn't allowed to know the details, so we have to take the word of the critters who screwed us in the first place. It's like being raped and then finding out that your rapist is also your gynecologist.
Two details of the settlement that was discussed in "executive session" were leaked to the Herald by the same county officials who are ethically bound to keep them confidential. Of course, these officials don't know the first thing about ethics, so while they bleat like sheep about the public not having the right to know what is in the settlement they will pay millions for, they go behind the public's backs and release bits and pieces smothered in their spin. But at least the Herald was good enough to pass it along to its readers:
Of concern are provisions in the settlement that hold the principals and their agents, officers, etc., harmless from all claims, actions, suits, etc., stemming from the beginning of the solar program.
Additionally, the documentation includes the standard non-disparagement provision stopping any negative comments against any of the involved parties.
Those provisions should not preclude a full accounting of what happened, though if wrongdoing is discovered, they may prevent holding parties accountable.
And get a load at what happened at the Somerset County Freeholder Board last night. Rob Jennings of the Herald probably couldn't believe his ears when he heard this exercise in democracy emanate from the bowels of that all-Republican board:
Full details of the settlement were not provided at the meeting. Instead, officials passed out a 13-paragraph press release offering some details and a history of the project.
In response to a question from Bill Eames, a resident of Hanover in Morris County, the county counsel said that while the settlement would preclude Somerset from initiating a legal action, it would not prevent the county from complying with any outside investigations.
That's right, the taxpayers don't get to know what they are paying for. "And this is what we think of you," say the GOP Freeloaders.
In answer to a question from the Tea Party's Bill Eames, they told him that "yes, the guilty -- those who screwed the taxpayers -- we signed an agreement to let them off the hook and richer for it." That's how bailouts work, right?
Poor Freeholder Director Phil Crabb, said that he wanted to let Sussex County taxpayers know about the settlement they'll be paying for -- but then some south Jersey Democrat hired as special counsel gave him a wedgie and now Phil is too scared to stand up for the people and do the right thing.
Phil really is going to have to learn to kick those out-of-town lawyers in the balls once in a while. Or just give up and let someone else do it.
Freeholders Gail Phoebus and George Graham are the only reliable voices on the Board for transparency and for guarding the taxpayers' interests. Freeholder Rich Vohden is Dr. Doom, glumly accepting anything Eskilson flushes his way, while Freeholder Dennis Mudrick seems to be somewhere else, occasionally waking to vote with the pack.
After the last scandal, John Eskilson asked everyone on the Freeholder Board to hold hands and join him in a chorus of "Always look on the bright side of life." Now it's a few years later and a bigger scandal, so maybe this time try what they do in the military when something goes wrong -- have a debriefing. Take a look at what you did to screw up so you don't do it again.
Or not. . . alright then, everybody hold hands, now follow me. . .