Is there a case against Dennis McConnell?

Well, for one thing, he's been at the public trough for a very long time.  He's pushing three decades of pocketing taxpayers' money and his law firm has made millions.  And that isn't the only thing.  A few years ago he talked the Freeholders into making him an employee -- ostensibly to save money -- but that also put him in line for a very nice pension.

Quoting County Administrator John Eskilson, the Sparta Independent and the Advertiser News report that McConnell receives a salary of $195,649 plus benefits.  His law firm, according to Eskilson, receives an additional $88,358 from the county "on litigation matters".

According to the Asbury Park Press, which keeps a record of these things, Dennis McConnell's base salary is $189,256 per year and he is enrolled in the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).   You can calculate what he will continue to receive from the taxpayers by visiting the state webpage below:

None of this should surprise anyone.  In every county in New Jersey, whether run by Republicans or Democrats, there is always a cabal who takes care of each other on the taxpayers' dime.  We would like to see a little more turnover, a new set of eyes once in a while, but it is what it is.

The problem with Dennis McConnell is that he's been making a lot of eyebrow raising calls for a very long time.  Let's pick a random year -- 1989 for example -- and see what Sussex County Counsel Dennis McConnell was up to way back then.

In 1989, George Bush Sr. was America's brand new President.  Matt Damon was eligible to vote for the first time.  The Soviet Union still existed.  Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law School.  Less than 15% of American households had a personal computer.  And 3 million people in the U.S. owned a cell phone (today it is more than 300 million) and they weighed a couple pounds.  Oh yeah, Sussex County had the same legal counsel it has today.

In 1989, County Counsel Dennis McConnell told the Freeholder Board that the taxpayers had to eat a $648,078 loan the county had made to another agency because apparently the professionals at the county had forgotten about it.  The Board, led by Freeholder Vic Marotta, said no way.  Marotta noted that, with interest, the agency owed the county $2 million, and he wanted to collect.

In 1989, the Star-Ledger and the Herald reported that county officials had met with a Democrat candidate for Sheriff who was also a county employee.  One of those officials was the County Counsel, Dennis McConnell.  They advised this candidate that he no longer had a job.  That led to the indictment of another one of those officials, the incumbent Sheriff at the time.  He was charged with exercising improper influence for threatening to fire the county employee if he ran for sheriff, and was accused of "official misconduct, criminal coercion and threats and other improper influence in official and political matters in a three-count indictment handed up by a state grand jury in Trenton."

The New Jersey Attorney General said that the county employee's "constitutional right to run for public office" was threatened, adding that "any attempt to thwart or undermine an election or political candidacy is a grievous offense against the state."

And again in 1989, County Counsel Dennis McConnell advised the Freeholder Board to invalidate the employment contract of 68 county workers simply because the county agency that had negotiated the contract had been merged into another department during a restructuring of county government.

Pick any year and you will find a lot of head-scratchers like these.

We believe that the case against lawyer Dennis McConnell rests on his support for and justification of a "non-disparagement" clause, a gag-order really, as part of the "settlement" agreement Sussex County negotiated in order to borrow more taxpayers' money to bail out the failed solar project.  The Herald described it this way:  "Under the settlement's non-disparagement clause, the county freeholders are barred from voicing public criticisms of the professionals, consultants and other entities that were involved in the original solar project and in the recently concluded settlement negotiations."

And McConnell is quoted by the Herald as clearly defending the public gagging of everyone in the know, calling the non-disparagement clause "a material part of that binding agreement approved by them (the Freeholders) in their official capacities for the benefit of the citizens of Sussex County."

We believe that any lawyer who supports and justifies such a thing simply doesn't understand or respect the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of these United States.  We're sorry, but to us it borders on being un-American.

It is bad enough that money has corrupted the political system and has molded the politicians of both parties into pawns of special interests.  It is bad enough that Wall Street can wreck the American economy and then keep their bonuses with bail out money from working taxpayers.  It is bad enough that banks can do whatever they want to do -- from illegal foreclosures to laundering the money of drug cartels -- and never go to jail for it. 

But to try to set a precedent on behalf of a group of scumbag Wall Street operators like SunLight General -- to try to tell the people and their elected officials that they cannot even complain about it -- that simply goes too far.  It's like something some Fascist would think up.

And for that reason we think that the County Counsel should do the honorable thing and resign.