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.