Want to save $1,000 on your Clinton Township taxes?

taxesYou once had the right to vote on school taxes every April in Clinton Township. Remember?

Actually, you had that right for over 100 years, until the Clinton Township Board of Education (BOE) took it away from you in 2012.

At 7pm on Wednesday, August 10 you can get back your right again to vote on the biggest part of your tax bill: local schools.

You had the right to vote on school taxes

When they had the vote, Clinton Township taxpayers rejected the last 7 out of 8 school budgets because the proposed school spending was over the top and wasteful. (See Clinton Twp budget rejected: Board has no credibility.) Under the law, when voters reject school budgets, the Clinton Township Mayor and Council have the power to reduce the school tax.

During 2006-2008, that’s exactly what the Council did 3 years in a row when voters rejected school budgets. It cut millions worth of waste and administrative spending by the schools — without cutting a penny out of teachers, the classroom, or instructional materials. (Teachers even supported the action because it helped re-route school funds back into the classroom  — because many of them were paying for school supplies out of their own pockets!)

As a result, the average homeowner in Clinton Township saves over $1,000 per year in school taxes, every year, forever.

Not any more!

whistling_dollarsBut in 2012 years ago the school board eliminated school tax elections — without asking taxpayers! This was permitted by Governor Christie in a bid to gain political backing.

The result? School spending in Clinton Township K-8 is out of control. The BOE used to spend about $11,000 per child per year. Now they spend over $19,000 per child. And they keep spending more!

Over 400 kids have left Clinton Township schools —more than the population of any of the 4 schools. (See Clinton Township needs to be serious about school consolidation.) But the BOE refuses to even consider closing a school building to reduce our taxes. It just keeps spending more! (See 26 Questions.)

What you can do

At the Wednedsay, August 10 (7pm) Council Meeting, you can tell the Mayor and Council you want back your right to vote on school taxes again!

LOCATION:

Public Safety Building (Court & Police Dept.)
1370 Route 31 North
Annandale, NJ  08801

spinAt this public meeting, the Mayor and Council will decide whether to give you back your right to vote every April on school taxes.

They can reinstate your right to vote on August 10, by a simple resolution.

Playing politics

But in a game of politics, the Mayor & Council are spinning a story and talking about passing the buck.

Instead of just doing the right thing and reinstating school tax elections, they’re planning a “referendum” to ask you to vote on whether you want back your right to vote.

Sheesh! You can’t make this stuff up! Do they really think anyone doesn’t want back the right to vote on taxes?

We know the school board is afraid of taxpayers voting on school taxes. Are the Mayor & Council afraid of letting you vote again on school taxes?

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Do you want to get back your right to vote on school taxes?

Who could possibly suggest that taxpayers should be deprived of their right to vote on how much we are taxed?

In Clinton Township, the answer is: Your school board, which took away our 100-year-old right to vote on school taxes. (See Clinton Twp. board of education approves moving school election to November.) The board’s behavior reveals it wants no interference from the public.

How bad it’s gotten

no-voteIn February 2016, board president Maria Grant didn’t want photos of protesting teachers in the newspaper, so she confiscated a news reporter’s photographs after trying to take her camera’s memory stick – and threatened to bar the reporter from the board meeting. To avoid scrutiny, Grant violated the First Amendment. (See Maybe Clinton Township school board needs civics lessons?)

In 2004, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia didn’t want a speech he gave recorded, so federal marshals confiscated a reporter’s taperecorder. Scalia later issued an apology:

“I have learned my lesson (at your expense) and shall certainly be more careful in the future. Indeed, in the future I will make clear that recording for use of the print media is no problem at all.”

Does Grant have more right than a Supreme Court Justice to violate the First Amendment?

Grant cited the board’s “policy” about cameras, but the reporter did not violate it. And who believes Grant has the power to confiscate private property? The board owes the public and the reporter an apology.

Here we go again

This isn’t the first time the board broke rules about transparency. A few years ago, the County Prosecutor found the board violated the NJ Open Public Meetings Act, citing it for repeatedly lying in official meeting minutes about its actions in meetings.

Does anyone see a pattern?

A few months ago, the Asbury Park school board voted unanimously to give voters back the right to vote on school budgets.

“One of the things we are determined to do is be more transparent and to work cohesively,” Board President Nicolle Harris said. “We decided to move the election from November to April to allow voters a chance to have a say on the school district’s budget… This change will allow more transparency. It is our goal to work together with the community and not to keep them in the dark on this, or any issues that affect the education of our children.”

When the Clinton Township Council recently asked questions about the school budget, the school board attacked the Council. The board makes it clear that transparency is not a priority. The board tries to keep us in the dark by interfering with the press, manipulating meeting minutes and accusing critics of hurting the schools. What is our school board afraid of? Voters? Taxpayers? The Council? Perhaps the board should visit Asbury Park to learn about transparency.

Fight Back! Demand your 100-year-old right to vote on taxes!

voting-rightThe Township Council can at any time give us back our right to vote on school taxes by a simple resolution — especially given the school board’s efforts to keep us in the dark.

Why would the Township Council hesitate?

Do you want to get back your right to vote on school taxes?

Attend the Council Meeting:

Wednesday August 10 at 7pm
1370 Route 31N, Annandale, NJ  08801
(the Court & Police Dept. building).

During the public comment section of the meeting, ask the Council to give us back our right to vote on school taxes NOW — not by playing politics and running a referendum to ask us whether we want back our right to vote!

Or course we want back our right to vote on taxes!

The Council can take action to reinstate our right to vote at the August 10 meeting. Don’t let them play politics!

You can also e-mail your Mayor & Council here.

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Marra & Imbriaco: The Windygate Legacy

Councilman Peter Marra

Councilman Peter Marra

It’s Windygate all over again.

In 2010, Clinton Township councilmen Jim Imbriaco, Peter Marra and Spencer Peck filed a fraudulent affordable housing plan with COAH (Council On Affordable Housing). Mayor Cimei voted against it, but lacked a majority. Call it Windygate. Now they want to file another just like it.

Why is the plan fraudulent?

The 2010 plan includes a construction schedule that promised completion of 124 units on Windy Acres by end of 2013.

Not one unit of the obligation has been built, nor has the state-of-the-art sewer plant been built that’s required to support any units.

Why is the plan fraudulent?

The Imbriaco-Marra COAH plan promises to deliver another 26 units by 2015. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell. The plan was phony from the start. Why have they left it in place? How did they pull this off for so many years, while Mayor Cimei objected?

Between 2010-2014, Imbriaco and Marra controlled the majority of the council — along with Spencer Peck, and later Harmen Vos — and ensured it was a do-nothing governing body. They ensured not one COAH unit was built.

In 2014, a new majority took over the council. They immediately started work to produce a new COAH plan — a real plan — that would require a new site for the housing. Imbriaco and Marra played along for months — then voted the new plan down and left the other three council members holding the bag.

Imagine The Mews X 9

The plan Marra, Imbriaco and Peck (and then Vos) kept on file in Trenton continues to expose the Township to enormous risks. Any developer could point to the failure to deliver the units, and sue for the right to build them. Under affordable housing law, the builder would get the right to build 1,755 “bonus” units for building the 195 COAH units the Township owes.

Councilman Jim Imbriaco

Councilman Jim Imbriaco

Today, there are only about 3,400 housing units total in Clinton Township. If this catastrophe seems remote, look at The Mews — 222 units built under such a lawsuit. So was Water’s Edge. So was The Hills in Bedminster. (The Mews was approved while Imbriaco was chairman of the township’s planning board. So was Water’s Edge. He’s a master at letting developers get bonus housing.)

Look , it’s a COAH solution!

At the June 11 council meeting, after months of hard work, the council was ready to vote to acquire a new piece of land that could actually support the housing units required for the COAH obligation. The 60+ people at the June 11 council meting understood what the Township’s planner, engineer, and project manager said.

Windy Acres is dead as a COAH solution. The enormously risky sewer plant for a Windy Acres COAH solution would take 5 years at best. That means Windy Acres is just as dead today as it was in 2010 — and Imbriaco and Marra have known it all along.

Pulte Homes abandoned Windy Acres for this very reason — and lost an estimated $25 million. Ignoring all facts and testimony, Jim Imbriaco and Peter Marra kept looking around on June 11, saying, “Look, it’s a COAH solution!”, chanting that the units can be built on Windy Acres and that sewer service is no problem.

When they were confronted, Imbriaco stood up and, rather than defend his position, walked out of the council meeting before it adjourned. He did the same thing at the last council meeting when he was questioned about his COAH promises.

Imbriaco & Marra put township at risk for more lawsuits

While Imbriaco chaired the township’s planning board, the township was always being hit by lawsuits from developers suing for the right to build housing under affordable housing law — and they kept winning. They got The Mews, they got Water’s Edge, and they almost got Windy Acres — until 3,600 residents organized to stop Imbriaco. Now Imbriaco and Marra are positioning the township for yet another builder’s lawsuit.

The 2010 plan exposes Clnton Township to loss of its “substantive certification.” This is COAH’s protection against builders suing for the right to build the 195 COAH units we owe — along with a “bonus” of 1,755 more units with automatic high density zoning. To put that in perspective, the township presently has about 3,400 housing units.

Imbriaco & Marra have already cost the township a higher obligation

While Imbriaco, Marra, Peck, and Harmen Vos controlled the town council and avoided building any units, 103 COAH credits against the obligation expired. Governor Christie’s failed effort to “abolish COAH” did not eliminate or suspend the pre-existing obligation.

Last week Imbriaco and Marra voted against the new council’s plan to acquire land where they can actually fulfill the obligation. (4 votes were necessary.) In spite of months of technical work they were privy to, Imbriaco and Marra said they didn’t have enough information. They want it on Windy Acres, and claimed Readington will provide sewer capacity.

The township’s COAH project manager reported that Readington said it has no capacity to spare.

Imbriaco: AWOL but voting

Councilman Jim Imbriaco missed the preceding 4 council meetings when plans for the new COAH site were detailed and discussed. Marra played along until it was time to vote. It was explained that time has run out — COAH requires a shovel-ready plan. Marra and Imbriaco voted NO.

Once again, the township “relies” on that same 2010 fraudulent COAH plan. Imbriaco and Marra made speeches after the vote, “explaining” that what they did was the right thing. But in four years they have delivered no COAH units for their own plan, or done any work to develop any alternative sites.

A history of reckless bad judgment

Councilman Imbriaco chaired the planning board when it approved The Mews and Water’s Edge. In 2005, he tried to approve the Windy Acres “settlement” with Pulte Homes – 500 units. But a judge called Imbriaco and his planning board “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and hostile” and said their actions were “unlawful and indefensible.” The NJ DEP commissioner said Imbriaco’s planning board failed to meet its legal obligations to protect the the state and Clinton Township. Then-State Senator Leonard Lance and the Hunterdon Freeholders intervened to stop Imbriaco and protect the Township — but he ignored Lance and attacked the Freeholders for “interfering.” The Hunterdon Review said:

“… it would have been in Planning Board Chairman James Imbriaco’s better interest to spend less time fighting with residents and more time listening to their concerns…”

Windy Acres died under Imbriaco’s nose. He and Marra are still trying to resurrect it. And Imbriaco continues to fight without listening.

Imbriaco was removed from the planning board chairmanship in 2008, and from the planning board a year later. He left behind a legacy of appeasement, sprawl and higher taxes. His arrogance and disrespect are on the public record, complete with an audio record that he still tries to avoid.

In 2009, when he ran for council, Imbriaco wrote a letter to the editor:

“Having spent more than 15 years on the Clinton Township Planning Board, 12 as its chair, I can speak with authority and experience about land use matters and planning in our community…

…I’m running for council to insure the balance of our COAH obligations for the foreseeable future is developed at Windy Acres.”

In 2010, Imbriaco got his wish: His very own COAH plan, in which he promised to build 124 units on Windy Acres by 2013.

Having never built anything to fulfill the obligation they authored themselves, on June 11 Imbriaco and Marra displayed a new level of bad judgment and arrogance while township professionals testified that Marra’s and Imbriaco’s “COAH solution” was impossible in the required time frame and inadvisable in general.

The Imbriaco-Marra Legacy

presidential-placeIn 2008, Clinton Township sued COAH and the State of New Jersey because COAH’s rules are ridiculous. But the township’s COAH obligation was never suspended or eliminated — it was owed all through 2010-2014 while Imbriaco and Marra avoided fulfilling it. The township still must fulfill it — without the 103 credits, and without a good site to build it on.

Now, because Imbriaco and Marra voted against a solution for 195 units in a low-density, low-rise affordable housing plan, the only site the township owns that meets COAH requirements is the “Marookian” property on Rt. 31 across Regional Road from North Hunterdon High.

Residents of Clinton Township thought Windygate was over when the town bought the property. Now it’s Windygate all over again.

The “195 on 5” COAH project will require 195 units on 5 acres in 7-8 storey buildings, higher and denser than Lebanon’s Presidential Place on Cokesbury Road, 4 storeys of 150 units on 7.7 acres.

It’ll be Peter Marra’s and Jim Imbriaco’s enduring legacy in Clinton Township. They deserve to have their names on it: The Imbriaco-Marra Legacy Towers.

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Clinton Township: The wolf is at the door

It will soon be open season again on Hunterdon County municipalities. After Clinton Township led a coalition of 20 towns to launch a legal battle in 2008 against unfunded state mandates for affordable housing, we both won and lost.

The court remanded the issue back to the state for new affordable housing rules. Unfortunately, the Christie administration’s Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), despite all its rhetoric, seems incapable of addressing a court order to develop new rules by the Feb. 28 deadline. That will trigger an onslaught of builder’s remedy lawsuits, and any town that’s been sitting on its hands the past five years without fulfilling its old “Round 2” COAH obligation will be a target.

COAH requires each town to take steps to provide its fair share of affordable housing. The problem is that the state obligates municipalities to, in effect, subsidize private builders, through zoning and tax breaks or outright cash payments, to build affordable housing units at the expense of all of the residents of the town who are expected to pick up the tab.

But the real cost to towns isn’t those affordable housing units. It’s the “5-times more” high-density market housing units that come along with them.

If a town doesn’t fulfill its obligation, the “remedy” is a lawsuit from a developer asking the court to overturn local zoning. The town loses control over its land use, and decisions regarding its future are put it in the hands of the developer who has one motivation — profit.

If you remember the Windy Acres nightmare Clinton Township suffered for over 10 years, you know the problem. Why would builders sue to build cheap housing? Because for each “affordable” unit built, the court allows the developer to build five more market units as a “bonus” — all on just one acre or less.

targetThat’s where sprawl in Hunterdon comes from. Once it subjects itself to the builder’s remedy, there is nothing a town can do to stop it. The Mews in Clinton Township, the Hills in Bedminster and Presidential Place in Lebanon Borough are all products of builder’s remedy lawsuits.

We can argue ‘til the cows come home that this unfunded obligation is unfair, and some towns stick their heads in the sand and do nothing to address it. That’s like telling the judge the law is wrong as the cell door slams shut. Today, specialist law firms are coaching builders in the art of — as one such lawyer put it — “clubbing these towns like baby harp seals.”

Today, there’s a big red target on some towns’ backs — and they’re the ones likely to have more Mews monstrosities covering their landscapes, along with all the traffic, legal costs, school kids and tax increases that follow.

Clinton Township has done absolutely nothing since 2009 to fulfill its long-overdue affordable housing obligation, pretending the threat would go away. The wolf is at the door.

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Clinton Township’s COAH Plan: A bogus political campaign promise?

A recent story in the Hunterdon County Democrat about Clinton Township’s old municipal building and the township’s affordable housing (COAH) planning is wrong.

old-muni-planIn 2008, many people invested a lot of time and energy to create the plan in the published photo that would have converted the old municipal building to senior apartments. Fast on the heels of getting rid of Clinton Township’s other white elephant — the Old Beaverbrook Homestead — we had the design completed, all approvals in hand and we had a developer on board ready to build it.

Contrary to the article, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) gave its blessing to tear down all but the oldest part of the structure — the small, original Fox Seals store, which was to be converted to a community meeting area and offices for a newly-constructed affordable senior housing project. The story that it must now be completely rehabbed is inaccurate and misleading. SHPO never told us we had to keep the entire building. We included this project, with this design, in our COAH plan.

In 2010, Jim Imbriaco, Spencer Peck, and Peter Marra quickly killed our COAH plan and any hope of bringing the old municipal building project to fruition. For another four years, Annandale would have a dangerous eyesore as its village centerpiece.

Mismanagement long plagued the old municipal building. In 2003, then-Mayor Tom Borkowski and Councilwoman Antje Doyle spent $100,000 on a “plan” to bond $4 million to renovate the building as a museum. Helen Mataka and Rosemary Malaker led the fight against it. The idea of bonding $4 million for 1,400 square feet of space was ridiculous.

Since 2010, the township neglected the old municipal building and failed to construct any affordable housing, leaving it exposed to lawsuits like the one over Windy Acres that consumed Borkowski and Imbriaco for more than a decade. Will Imbriaco and Marra now try to resurrect the $4 million bond ordinance?

Mayor Kevin Cimei tried to proceed with our COAH and old municipal building plans in 2009 until Imbriaco, Marra and Peck out-voted him. Now someone at the township has a lot of explaining to do. How we went from approvals to denials in the last four years with absolutely nothing to show for it is completely astonishing. What the township did to its relations with the SHPO and this project is shameful. SHPO had no problem in 2008 with demolition of most of the building or with the plan in the photo published by the Democrat.

When Imbriaco, Marra and Peck took control in 2010, they submitted a new plan to COAH in fulfillment of their campaign promise to put all the township’s affordable housing on Windy Acres. We warned them that was impossible. With a court-ordered COAH deadline looming, it will be interesting to see who was right, and whether their promised “All Windy Acres” COAH plan is bogus.

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NHVSD Board President Beverly Thorne: (Oops! I did it again!) Ignores NJ Open Public Meetings Act

Subjected to questioning by the public about the letter she did or did not write, Bev Thorne couldn’t even get the Open Public Meetings Act right. How can the public trust her to manage public business?

The special August 15, 2013 North Hunterdon Voorhees school board meeting had barely started when board president Beverly Thorne announced the board was immediately going into closed (or “executive”) session, and then she promptly ignored the NJ Open Public Meetings Act — the same sections of the Act that she ignored at the April 23 meeting. Were it not for the quick thinking of one board member, Thorne would have gone on to conduct a closed session that would have to have been invalidated.

Who’s running these meetings, anyway — and who is running the North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District?

School board presidents and school board attorneys should know the law… and follow it to the letter

Thorne asked for a motion to move to executive session, accepted a motion and a second, asked for a vote, and thereby ignored the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act because she failed to follow the prescribed steps required by law.

Thorne has been a school board member a long time. She should know the law, and so should the school board attorney, who sat idly while Thorne started taking the vote.

The OPMA (NJSA 10:4-12) requires that closed session may be conducted only under one or more of nine exemptions from the requirement that the school board’s meetings must be conducted in public.

violationThorne failed to cite which of nine exemptions she was using to conduct the closed session.

In addition, NJSA 10:4-13 requires that, prior to conducting a closed session, a specific statement be read into the record prior to executive session:

a. Stating the general nature of the subject to be discussed; and

b. Stating as precisely as possible, the time when and the circumstances under which the discussion conducted in closed session of the public body can be disclosed to the public.

Thorne, president of the school board for many years, failed to clearly state the subject to be discussed. What she said about the topic was unspecific, unclear, and incomprehensible:

“There is one item that we will be discussing in executive session, and it is the legal issues related to the discussion that we will then have in our discussion.”

(If some wag responds that, “Well, we all know what she means…” the answer is that the law requires the details to be stated on the record.)

Thorne also failed to state when the discussion from the closed session would be disclosed to the public.

The law is clear: If you don’t state (a) and (b), you can’t go into executive session. Period. Then, slam, bam, thank-you-m’am and Thorne was taking a vote after accepting a motion and a second. All the while, attorney Liss sat silently permitting a violation to be committed.

Listen to the recording of Thorne’s resolution and the motion, second, and call for a vote — which was interrupted by one board member who takes the law seriously:

(Recording courtesy of school board member Robert Becker, who brought his own recorder to the August 15 meeting and then posted the two-hour recording to both YouTube and DropBox. It seems that NHVSD can’t afford a little digital recorder… According to Superintendent Mike Shaddow, who called the editor of this blog on the phone, the matter of recording school board meetings is “still in committee” and he has “no control over it.” It’s been in committee forever, and board president Beverly Thorne and the rest of the board took no action to record this important meeting after being asked to please record it.)

Come on, folks! If you can’t follow the simple process required by law to conduct your meetings, do you really expect anyone to take you — this means all of you — seriously? Right about now, every school board member looks like a rube on a power trip… except maybe one…

Only one board member seems to know the law

Elected members of public bodies have an obligation to know the law and to obey it. Yet one board member made a motion to adopt Thorne’s faulty resolution and another seconded it. Time for both to go to John Paff’s “Open Public Meetings Act” workshops — and to be joined by the rest of the board and its attorney.

Only one board member — Robert Becker — caught the failure and insisted on discussion, during which he asked the questions that Thorne should have answered prior to taking a vote. (Is it any wonder he also recorded the meeting?)

Wake up call to the rest of you on the board: Have you ever read the Open Public Meetings Act? It’s a lot like the New Jersey Driver’s Manual — you need to know what red lights are before you can drive on public roads… Right now, you’re all looking like a bunch of provisional drivers in a pile-up on I-78…

It isn’t the first time

Thorne’s disregard of the Open Public Meetings law isn’t a first. She disregarded the same law at the April 23, 2013 board meeting. At that meeting, Thorne again started taking a vote to go violation-secondto closed session, and was interrupted from the audience by a call for a point of order — and was notified that she was breaking the law and going into closed session illegally. (That time, the vote was completed and the violation committed.) Board attorney Liss was again asleep at the wheel. (How much is Liss being paid to attend these meetings?) Awakened from her slumber, Liss conferred with Thorne on April 23, then Thorne amended her resolution to comply with the law.

Just four months later, Thorne and Liss are at it again — demonstrating disregard of the law.

At the very least, it’s time for the board to dismiss attorney Liss for her callous failure to protect the board from its own ignorance.

Where’s the proof?

How do we know what happened at the April 13 meeting? The editor of this blog was present and heard it all. Unfortunately, the NHVSD board of education does not record its meetings, so there is no verbatim record of what Thorne and Liss did. The minutes of the April 23 meeting note — barely in passing and without detail of what actually happened — that a member of the public made “a comment” — but the resolution is not noted as having been faulty.

So much for getting all our information from the board’s “meeting minutes.”

It’s time for this board to start recording their meetings.

It seems Thorne and Liss still don’t get it. How is the public expected to trust anything this crew does if it can’t follow the most basic laws about Open Public Meetings? How is anyone to believe anything this crew says about the larger mess about sports coaches, bullying, forged letters to the editor, lack of oversight, and manipulation of public opinion — if they don’t know and respect the law?

Meanwhile, what is the rest of the board of education doing? And what is the New Jersey Department of Education doing? Uh, Commissioner Cerf…? Up here in Hunterdon — you know, the people who send a lot of money to Trenton to educate kids in other counties? Can you please come up here and clean up this mess?

see-no-evil

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North-Voorhees School Board: Why don’t you record public meetings?

This is an open letter sent to the North Hunterdon Voorhees School Board today, regarding the August 15 “special meeting” to be held at 7:00 pm at the District Office. (See Hunterdon Democrat, North Hunterdon-Voorhees Superintendent Shaddow could face calls for his resignation.)

 


Dear NHVSD School Board Members:

I’m sharing with you an e-mail thread between me and your communications coordinator. I am just totally mystified at what I’m being told.

Twice I asked Ms. Smagala why the district does not use this mailing list [the “parent e-mail distribution list” used by NHVSD to communicate almost daily with parents] to announce board meetings, since the list includes some of the district’s most important stakeholders — parents. Ms. Smagala has not answered my question.

Especially because the district is in the middle of an important communications controversy to be covered at tomorrow night’s special meeting, I cannot fathom why the district would not use this important channel of communication to announce the meeting, to encourage people to attend. In the current climate, no one can be faulted for drawing the conclusion that the district prefers to keep quiet about this meeting. Posting notice on your website and in newspapers is a “pull” sort of notice. Sending the notice to this list is a “push” notice. Ask anyone on the board who knows about the Internet what that distinction means. It means you’re not using the best methods to announce the meeting.

It’s bad enough that a meeting like this is being held in the middle of August when so many people are away — but it’s even worse when the district does not use every means at its disposal to announce such a meeting to as many people as possible as efficiently as possible.

Ms. Smagala notified Superintendent Shaddow about my question to her. He called me on the phone about it. We had quite a discussion. But he did not answer the question, either.

So, I ask that the board discuss this at the meeting: Why is this list not being used to announce board meetings, especially THIS meeting?

I would like an answer.

I cannot attend the meeting tomorrow night. Like many people, I will be away on vacation, but I would like to attend. Since I cannot, I would like to ask that this important meeting be recorded and the audio file be posted to the board’s web site — and that this e-mail list of Ms. Smagala’s be used to distribute a link to the file. I’d like answers to the questions that will be covered tomorrow night — and since I can’t be there, I think it is reasonable to ask that the board do what my town council and what my own local school board both do — RECORD THE MEETING! Dr. Shaddow says he wants the public to know the truth. I cannot imagine a better way for the district’s own explanation of the facts to be communicated firsthand.

NHVSD has an enormous investment in technology — media, audio, video, communications. Get some recorders out of the school and use them so taxpayers, parents and the public can hear this important meeting. With all due respect, it is ludicrous that in this day and age, with the taxes we pay, that Dr. Shaddow tells me “It’s up to the board to record the meetings” and that “it’s in committee,” and that the decision has not been made to operate transparently by publishing this audio. That this silly debate has been going on for so long makes it look an awful lot like the board does not want its public business on the public record. (I’ve read some of your “minutes.” I’ll take recordings, please.)

Let’s get with it. It’s no surprise that the press is covering the district’s failures of communications almost every day now. I expect the August 15 meeting to be recorded and the audio to be published promptly.

(Why are the e-mail addresses of board members Jobson and Costa not on the board’s website? Will someone please forward this e-mail to them promptly? Thank you.)

Sincerely,

 

 


Since this mail was sent, school board president Beverly Thorne wrote to say she had instructed District Communications Coordinator Maren Smagala to distribute a notice of the special meeting to parents. The notice went out at 9:00PM Wednesday, August 14 — less than 24 hours before the meeting.

Thorne would not commit to recording the meeting. Maybe the problem is they don’t want to spend the money on technology?

News item in the March 22, 2013 Hunterdon Democrat:

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Tom Borkowski: Who wants big taxes, big bonding, patronage jobs & dysfunctional leadership for Hunterdon County?

The problem with Tom Borkowski running for Hunterdon County Freeholder with Will Mennen is Borkowski’s public record.

Big Taxes

During 6 years as mayor of Clinton Township, Tom Borkowski raised the municipal tax levy 39.4%. (Did Mennen do his due diligence?)

Borkowski talks about lowering the “tax rate,” but that’s political hocus pocus. The tax bills Clinton Township residents paid went up 39.4%.

In 2004 alone, Borkowski raised tax bills 11.7%, the biggest soaking of Clinton Township taxpayers in 15 years. But his campaign flyers claim he’s a “champion of the taxpayer.”

Take a look at the tax levy increases in other mayoral terms after Borkowski’s (above right). Why did Borkowski stick it to taxpayers so hard for 6 years?

Big Bonding, More Debt

Between 2000-2005, Mayor Borkowski issued a staggering 21 bond ordinances totalling almost $16 million without once asking voters for their approval.

Yet freedholder candidate Will Mennen claims running-mate Borkowski is a “fiscal conservative.” (Not even close, Will!) In 2006, right after Borkowski left office, millions in unspent bond funds turned up in Borkowski’s budget — money that belonged in unsuspecting taxpayers’ pockets.

Borkowski swings both ways

But wait a minute… in 2009 Borkowski sought to fill a vacant seat on the Freeholder board.

He said he opposed bonded debt without approval of voters, and claimed that he endorsed NJ bill A-1880, which would require voter approval of bonded debt.

So why did he do 21 bond ordinances without voter approval while he was mayor?

Good question. Borkowski has never answered it. But his supporters tried to get him onto the Freeholder board stating that:

“Tom will fight hard to put an end to the increased bonding indebtedness.”

This was part of a vicious mailer that accused one of his opponents of behaving “unethically.” That mailer so shocked Republican Committee members that Borkowski lost the vote for the Freeholder seat.

Borkowski claimed he had nothing to do with the mailer. His supporters denied they put out the mailer. It’s not clear what’s worse: Borkowski’s hypocrisy or the people Borkowski associates with: his political “friends.” Perhaps they’re waiting for patronage jobs.

Borkowski’s got a public record on that, too. One he’d probably prefer not to see online. But public contracts are public documents. Let’s take a look at Tom Borkowski’s idea of how to take care of his friends while making taxpayers pay for it.

The Patronage Game

Borkowski has attacked the exorbitant contract the Freeholders gave their attorney, Guy DeSapio. Borkowski briefly served on a “Legal Services Advisory Board” and says in his campaign flyers that he “saved county taxpayers over $700,000 annually in legal fees” by helping get rid of DeSapio. But Borkowski knows all about unconscionable employment contracts that waste taxpayer money. He’s written and signed them.

In 2004 Borkowski hired Ulrich “Al” Steinberg as township CFO and gave him a one-sided, ironclad 3-year contract. (You’d love this contract yourself, if your boss were goofy enough to give it to you!) Steinberg got full pay and benefits to work 2.5 days per week, from home if he wished:

“This schedule may be modified at the Employee’s discretion at any time”

…so that Steinberg could go to his other job… in Marlboro!

The contract Borkowski signed paid for any “meetings, conferences and seminars” Steinberg wanted to attend, “but not limited to meals, travel and lodging” — even if they had nothing to do with Clinton Township business.

But only the CFO could cancel the contract. Borkowski made sure Clinton Township was stuck holding the bag — there was no way the next mayor and council could cancel it:

Borkowski, a lawyer, ensured there was no way out of this sweetheart deal: If the Township cancelled, it would be “liable for compensating the Employee” for the entire 38 months. That’s the deal Borkowski gave his CFO to handle tax and bond money. For Borkowski, political supporters come first. And taxpayers pay.

Is Al Steinberg is helping Borkowski with his current campaign?

Bogus Claims

Borkowski’s campaign resume says he “Led fight to stop 1,000 plus unit Pulte Homes residential development known as Windy Acres.”

But the public record shows that for 6 years Borkowski led the charge to build Windy Acres and fought anyone who tried to get in Pulte’s way. (He even offered Pulte an outrageous $25 million of public funds for the land. Later, the Township bought it for $7 million, half what Pulte paid for it.)

Rushing to approve a deal to build Windy Acres, Borkowski cut short the public hearings after “too many” citizens showed up to speak. (The Hunterdon Democrat and the Hunterdon Review blasted him for it.) When state senator Leonard Lance and — ironically — the freeholders submitted letters asking for extended public hearings, Borkowski told them to butt out.

Next, the Commissioner of the New Jersey DEP tried to help stop Windy Acres. Borkowski responded with an unbelievable nastygram demanding that the Commissioner withdraw his complaints. Then Borkowski voted to sell Clinton Township out to Pulte Homes in a “settlement” deal so bad that the State of New Jersey made good on the DEP Commissioner’s warnings and rejected it.

For six years Borkowski, his lawyers, and his planning board sat on their hands while the country’s biggest housing developer took control of virtually all the Township’s land-use policy making. Pulte used COAH (the Council on Affordable Housing) to lord control over the Township — and Borkowski did nothing but cower and cry the sky was falling.

Shortly after Borkowski lost the next mayoral election, Clinton Township led 20 towns to sue COAH. Clinton Township quickly smashed the Pulte “damages” lawsuit that for 6 years Borkowski kept warning would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. It turned out the claim was insupportable and merely an empty threat that Borkowski used to intimidate the public — and to fatten the wallets of his attorneys.

Dysfunctional Leadership

So many of Borkowski’s cops went afoul of the law that his police department was taken over by the County Prosecutor. (“Appeals court rules against Clinton ex-cops who falsified patrol reports,” Hunterdon Democrat.)

Borkowski’s director of Public Works and head of Recreation were fired or convicted for unlawful activities.

Taxpayers Be Damned!

Every time voters rejected outlandish school budgets, Borkowski ignored them and voted YES to approve an unbelievable $11,211,307 in school tax increases during his tenure. He was terrified of “the school board lobby.” (Between 2006-2008, after Borkowski was gone, the Township council respected voters’ decisions and cut millions out of school budgets. Today those cuts are worth about $1,000 per year to the average homeowner forever.)

Borkowski kept Clinton Township in the North Hunterdon Court while the Township lost $90,000 per year to patronage jobs and mismanagement. Then Borkowski fought to stop Clinton Township from getting out of the court. The Clinton Township Court today processes more cases than the North Court did and is very successful. With less 1/4 the staff, the Clinton Township Court services two other towns and has always more than paid for itself and always operated in the black. Throughout his tenure, Borkowski cowered beneath the political pressure of his political “friends,” who demanded that Clinton Township taxpayers keep subsidizing the bloated North Court budget.

Fed Up

Fed up voters in Clinton Township booted Borkowski in 2005. In 2009 Borkowski’s backers backfired — and he lost the Republican Committee vote to fill a vacant Freeholder seat.

Now Tom Borkowski is back — on the June 4 Republican Primary ballot. And his public record once again precedes and dogs him.

Clinton Township couldn’t afford Tom Borkowski’s politics. Can Hunterdon County afford to give him control over tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and the power to make deals and set policy?

Who wants big taxes, big bonding, patronage jobs, and dysfunctional leadership for Hunterdon County?

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At It Again: It’s time for a Clinton Township school board member to resign

Oooooh…  Tarnation! They just keep flubbing the law! Teacher’s gonna be mad…

The bad boys and girls of the Clinton Township school board are at it again.

A candidate in the November 6 Clinton Township school board election misused a Clinton Township recreation department Commissioner’s mailing list for his personal benefit, to tell parents of young soccer players to vote for him and his running mates.

New Jersey statute prohibits using an official position “to secure unwarranted privileges.” Even a fifth grader is smart enough to get this — you don’t need to check the ethics laws, or to consult a lawyer, to know you should not cheat to win.

What does it take for this crowd to behave like adults?

The 3 Ms: Campaigning with a municipal mailing list

Daniel McTiernan was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the school board in 2012. On November 6 he was elected for a three-year term along with Kevin Maloy and Rachel McLaughlin. The three campaigned as a team against just one unknown, newbie candidate, and call themselves “The 3 Ms.”

None of them had ever been elected before. All three were appointed to fill vacated seats. McLaughlin ran in school board elections twice before, but lost.

It seems their campaign needed a little last-minute boost.

Township Commissioner of Soccer

McTiernan is also a Commissioner of girls’ soccer for the Clinton Township recreation department. According to the township’s recreation director, McTiernan is provided with an Excel spreadsheet listing names and contact information of parents whose children play on the rec soccer team.


The list is supposed to be used only for official communications about the soccer program.

But on November 2, McTiernan improperly used his official Township position and the Township mailing list to boost his team’s political prospects by telling soccer parents to vote for the 3 Ms. It’s a benefit their sole competitor — Jill Setaro — didn’t have. It’s a “benefit” that New Jersey law prohibits.

“Vote the 3 M’s”

Signing it with his official title, “Commissioner u 15 girls soccer,” McTiernan sent an e-mail to 62 addresses ostensibly about soccer — but turned it into a political pitch for “the 3M’s”: Dan McTiernan, Kevin Maloy, and Rachel McLaughlin.
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Unwarranted Privileges

The law is clear.

“No local government officer or employee shall use or attempt to use his official position to secure unwarranted privileges or advantages for himself or others;”
N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(c)

A Township sports Commissioner using a Township mailing list to campaign: Was it just an innocent boo-boo?

Hardly. All through 2012 the school board has created a climate marked heavily by ethics issues, ethics accustions, and discussion of ethics at virtually every board meeting. Additionally, McTiernan is a human resources executive; a field in which regulatory compliance is more than half the job. McTiernan knows very well how important it is to understand ethics rules and to behave ethically. In the current school board climate, McTiernan’s unethical behavior is inexcusable.

A History of Unethical Behavior

McTiernan, Maloy, and McLauglin have been key players in the mockery that school board president Jim Dincuff has made of the Clinton Township school district. They have repeatedly violated the law, misled the public, spent money they promised to return to taxpayers, attacked teachers publicly, and made insupportable accusations against citizens and board members who spoke against their budget and questioned their behavior.

Several newspaper editorials have railed against their behavior throughout 2012:

Clinton Township School Board should have been punished for Sunshine Law violations, Express-Times

Sunshine serves many purposes, Hunterdon Democrat

Taking sunshine seriously, Hunterdon Review

Misusing Municipal Lists for “Unwarranted Personal Benefit”: More of The Same

It started with squandering of property tax relief funds sent to the township by the governor — which the board spent, after promising to use it for the purpose it was intended. It turned into abuse of teachers in public during contract negotiations, and abuse of citizens during budget hearings. The misbehavior quickly expanded into abuse of two board members — Freda and Sullivan — who were accused of ethics violations and badgered by McTiernan and other board members to confess. Dincuff admitted he had no “irrefutable evidence” against them, and the public record shows there is no evidence against them whatsoever — or any indication that either of them did anything improper. Dincuff and the board have refused to withdraw the accusations.

Then the board graduated to serious violations of New Jersey law. Faced with a draft lawsuit from public-rights advocate John Paff, the board quickly admitted wrongdoing and passed a resolution promising to stop breaking the law.

Enough? Not by a longshot. Close on the heels of Paff’s suit, Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns notified the board in July that it had violated multiple sections of the Open Public Meetings Act on multiple occasions. Even after the Prosecutor’s warnings, the board continued to break the law again and again in 2012.

That’s the record The 3 Ms ran on and won. (Never underestimate the ignorance or apathy of voters.) They won in part thanks to McTiernan’s misuse of municipal lists in his role as a soccer Commissioner for the township. This unethical use of an official Township role is just more of the same for these school board members.

It should be no surprise

It should be no surprise that school board president Jim Dincuff’s key flunkies on the board campaigned as a gang to stop one unknown candidate. They couldn’t afford any more dissenting opinions on the board.

The effort seems to have been masterminded by the 4th M — board member Maria Grant — who owns the domain name 3ms4ctboe.com behind the political campaign. (If just one more board member had been directly involved in the campaign, it would have been an illegal quorum.) Here’s the public record:

Some parents were so upset at the politicization of Clinton Township girls’ soccer that they shared the e-mail with ExMayor.com.

Yada-Yada-Yada: The Core Values Statement

The school board has been working on a “Core Values Statement” which was initiated at two public board meetings with a special consultant — meetings which violated the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act when the board failed to provide statutorily-mandated public comment periods. (This school board just can’t stop breaking the law.) Dincuff has announced the board will be voting on the “Core Values” shortly.

But the “Values” include no mention of obeying the law or respecting the public — they merely define how board members shall behave toward one another, apparently to avoid embarrassment in public.

The Core Values statement says nothing about misusing one’s official position for unwarranted personal benefit. The Core Values statement, distributed in draft form to the public, reveals that it’s a meaningless collection of feel-good yada-yada-yada.

Welcome Your Politicized School Board

Say HELLO a new breed of “new” board members — seasoned political players.

Last February, “3 M” member Kevin Meloy voted against moving school board elections to November. He gave an impassioned speech, worrying that  the change would politicize school board elections by encouraging political alliances during campaigns.

How right he was.

McTiernan Should Resign

Daniel McTiernan will have to vote on the Core Values Statement. He votes on matters relating to a $30 million budget and to childrens’ education. Having demonstrated blatant disregard for ethical behavior by using his Commissioner’s role for his own political benefit, and for that of his cronies, McTiernan should resign his positions in the Township recreation department and the school board.

Or, what  is McTiernan teaching our kids on the soccer field? That they should look the other way when the coach cheats to win? That one little, itty-bitty transgression is okay… for adults?

We Don’t Need No Stinking Values

Say HELLO to another new year of legal violations by a team that has shown again and again that it doesn’t give a rat’s batootie about the law, while they “manage” over $30 million of public funds, four physical plants, and the education of over 1,600 children.

You elected them. Say HELLO to the school board’s new values — same as the old values. Nada.

Jim Dincuff’s Last Stand

On March 29, 2012 Dincuff suggested board members Marc Freda and Michelle Sullivan should consider resigning, for “ethics violations” that existed only in his own fantasy. A few minutes later, Dincuff violated multiple sections of the New Jersey Open Public meetings Act — after his own attorney advised him not to conduct an illegal executive session.

Dincuff later admitted he had “no irrefutable evidence” against Freda and Sullivan — who denied any wrongdoing — but he refused to withdraw his accusations. But the accuser turned accused — and a few months later, Dincuff was reprimanded by the County Prosecutor for leading his board to commit violations of state laws. The evidence was irrefutable.

Now Dincuff is faced with irrefutable evidence of an ethics violation in a board member’s own hand — McTiernan’s e-mail, signed in his official capacity as Township scoccer Commissioner.

Having been busted himself, and having failed to come up with proof against Freda and Sullivan, will Dincuff call for McTiernan’s resignation, and will Dincuff file ethics charges against McTiernan?

Of course not. Dincuff hasn’t got the balls or the integrity to enforce the law against his own cronies.

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New Jersey swallows JCP&L’s “7-10 days” PR gambit

JCP&L executed a brilliant PR tactic as Hurricane Sandy approached New Jersey. Even before the storm hit, and before they could possibly know the extent of outages, JCP&L announced that “it will take 7-10 days to bring power back.”

How’d they know that? Simple: They didn’t.

It was a brilliant public relations gambit. To ward off public and government pressure, JCP&L preemptively set the expectation low — then failed to meet it. The media and government swallowed the line, and by the time anyone realized that absolutely nothing had changed in JCP&L’s disaster plans, we were well into the “7-10 days.”

The problem is not “communications”

The consultant that JCP&L paid for this bit of “communications” chicanery earned their money. But now what’s clear is that government and the media have gotten sucked into the idea that “the problem is communications.”

The problem is inability to effectively respond to a major disaster

“Better communication” is a bullshit proposition in a disaster.

Even Governor Christie has been regurgitating JCP&L’s line about “communications” being better. But the only improvement in communications is that initial line about “7-10 days.” It was a fraud. JCP&L did nothing to provide better or more accurate information day by day, much less hour by hour.

Speak up!

New Jersey residents should deluge the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities with complaints. JCP&L is a power and logistics operation, and their logistics ability was demonstrated to be virtually non-existent.

Misdirected road crews

Road crews were driving up roads blocked by downed trees and power lines — and turning around to leave. When crews were questioned, they said they didn’t know the roads were blocked, and that they were in fact on their way to another site. What a complete waste of much-needed resources and time.

Out-of-state crews with no work orders

Residents chatted with out-of-state line workers at local eateries — and were told the crews were waiting for work orders. The out-of-town workers were mystified that they had come so far to handle an emergency — only to be left waiting around with nothing to do while residents suffered without power.

JCP&L road crews with no work orders

Mayor Mark Desire of High Bridge reportedly authorized his police to stop all JCP&L crews driving through his town — and to ask them for their work orders. Drivers reported they had none. They were driving around with nothing to do, waiting for orders. (Mayor Desire reported this during the daily “update call” between mayors, Governor Christie, and JCP&L officials.) Every mayor should have ordered local police to do the same.

Inadequate parts inventory

Lack of parts at JCP&L has left residents without power still — estimates for resumption are no longer “7-10 days.” Lack of replacement transformers is leaving our neighbors in the dark and in the cold. Where is the inventory? JCP&L had plenty of time to warn us about the “7-10 days,” but had no time since Hurricane and the Halloween storm of 2011 Irene to stock up?

The bullshit gets deeper — big schools without power 11+ days

Readington Township’s two largest schools are still without power 11 days after Sandy hit — with no projected restoration date.

According to a Hunterdon Democrat report:

“JCP&L has really blown it,” school board President David Livingston said today, Nov. 8… Livingston said that JCP&L has told township officials that the problem is a substation on Ridge Road where the circuits were ‘destroyed or badly damaged.'”

What is JCP&L saying? Reports the Democrat:

“JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said this afternoon, ‘There is no issue with the substation or parts. The curcuits that serve the schools are still being worked on,’ including ‘line work along the way.'”

We’ll translate Morano’s public relations doubletalk: “Anything we tell you is complete and utter bullshit. We don’t have parts, we were unprepared, and we have no idea when power will be restored.”

JCP&L had no plan for necessary resources

President Obama and Governor Christie took over logistics for JCP&L last week. (Nice backup if you can get it. Imagine Microsoft or Apple getting technical support via the White House when they “run out.”) Obama and Christie called up work crews from as far away as Los Angeles — and flew them in on military transport planes. Where was JCP&L’s “preparedness?”

Logistics? What’s that?

You can order a music CD on Amazon and 4 hours later you can track its whereabouts by the hour until it gets to your house. JCP&L doesn’t know where its trucks are, or which lines are being repaired, or where a truck is going next?

Calls to JCP&L during the aftermath revealed one thing: The “operators” were doing nothing but repeating the press releases of the day. They said they were not provided with information about where repair trucks were, or which roads were due for repair next, or how long it would take.

That’s not communications. That’s bullshit public relations. And it sure as hell isn’t a disaster plan.

What can you do? Lean on your government leaders.

Press your municipal and county government officials to lead the effort to shut JCP&L down in NJ. There are competitors ready to step in. Create a rigorous review process that requires hard proof a power company can actually handle a situation like Sandy, and select the best. Include penalties it the agreement. We’ll get a better power vendor.

Anything less is excuses — poor management, and poor leadership.

Some of the excuses we’ve heard and read so far from officials are inexcusable — many officials are merely covering up for one of the most powerful companies in the state. Wonder why?

Thrice screwed

It’s quite a coincidence that New Jersey suffered three massive power outages due to storms in two years — two of them at exactly the same time of year.

It’s no coincidence that JCP&L was no better prepared this year than last year. The company simply isn’t in the business of delivering and managing New Jersey’s power needs. It’s time to pull the plug on JCP&L — but government officials won’t do it if residents go back about their business and wait for the next “7-10 day” outage.

File your complaint. Then attend your next municipal government meeting, and your next county freeholder meeting, and demand that your elected officials lead the charge to pull the plug on JCP&L. It’s their job. Or is their job “better communication,” too?

We should demand action, not public relations gambits.

Thousands of New Jersey residents who are JCP&L customers still don’t have power. They’re freezing their asses off. And JCP&L has no plan for a better response next time. And no one is holding the company to account. It will happen again.

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