Council votes to close major road without public comment

Without any meaningful effort to obtain public comment from affected residents, on June 22 Mayor Brian Mullay and the Clinton Township Council voted to endorse the permanent closure of a major township thoroughfare — the section of County Road 629 that goes over Round Valley Reservoir. The proposal for the closure was made by the New Jersey Water Supply Authority to the Hunterdon County Engineer.

None of the council members live in the vicinity of the road they voted to close.

Road closure without notice

public commentThe road is an important connector between Cherry Street, Old Mountain Road and County Route 629 to points south including the nearest hospital emergency room.

Its closure will impact thousands of county residents , and in particular over 100 households on Old Mountain Road and hundreds of residents of The Lebanon Commons and Lebanon Heights.

Clinton Township has three paid announcements in the current edition of the Clinton Township Newsletter, promoting a “Green Fair,” a “Food Truck Festival” reminding residents to “Sign up for Email Alerts!”

But there was no notice or explanation in the newsletter to affected residents about the impending decision to close the road — no letter in the mail or any “Email Alert.” However, township e-mail records show Mayor Mullay was aware of the impact of a permanent closure months ago.

On April 7, 2022 he e-mailed township administrator Vita Mekovetz:

“Many will be disappointed if it is closed as people frequently ask when it will reopen.”

Mullay had two months to adequately notify affected residents.

Mayor gets the facts wrong

The mayor noted that the road “has been closed for 2 years.” In fact, the road has been closed for over 4 years.

The closure has posed a significant hardship for affected residents that rely on the route to Flemington. They say they have been waiting patiently for it to re-open upon completion of massive work on the north dam.

Councilman Bill Glaser, running for reelection in November, thinks the reservoir “was opened in the Fifties.” In fact, it was opened in the next decade.

The NJWSA made a point of telling Clinton Township to get public input on the proposed closure above and beyond normal “public notices” in the newspaper.

The mayor said that “while it would be an inconvenience, it’s ultimately the county’s decision.”

A public comment: “Security by Obscurity”

Mayor Mullay wrote this to Lebanon Borough Mayor  Jim Pittinger in a June 17 e-mail:

“It would be nice if we could talk a bit more about the actual security concerns to help folks understand, but I understand why we can’t…”

A concerned Old Mountain Road resident who had heard nothing about the proposal to close the road had this response:

“I don’t understand ‘why we can’t talk about it,’ and I mistrust anyone who uses that kind of statement to hide their work. This doesn’t seem to be an area where Security by Obscurity would be effective. What’s obscure about driving a shit-ton of explosives on top of a dam?”

The NJWSA has said the road would be kept open to pedestrians and bicycles, suggesting such recreational use would not pose risks to the dam. However, none of the other dams on Round Valley have ever been open to such uses.

The NJWSA implies there are Homeland Security issues, but has provided no risk assessment or statement from that federal agency. In fact, the Authority admits it doesn’t even have the formal support of its own parent agency, the NJDEP.

In a July 1 e-mail, an official of the NJWSA stated (emphasis added):

“Please note that the Authority has received verbal support of this proposal from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Dam Safety.”

The council has no supporting evidence

After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously on the closure without presenting any documentation or supporting evidence to the public. No one from the NJWSA or the County Engineer’s office appeared to speak or take questions, nor was any township engineer present.

An OPRA request (NJ Open Public Records Act, or sunshine law) to the township confirmed the council has no reports or documentation to support the need for the road closure from the NJWSA, the county or any other relevant body — such as Homeland Security.

Everything is “informal” except for the council’s vote.

Two questions keep arising:

  • Does anyone have anything in writing from pertinent agencies like the DEP, Homeland Security or the US Army Corps of Engineers about this specific road and this specific dam?
  • Why did the Clinton Township council vote without supporting documentation?

“Give us back our road!”

One affected resident said she had heard nothing about the closure even after the council voted. She said she was part of the group of Old Mountain Road residents that for 10 years fought to save Windy Acres from development with over 1,100 housing units.

“We gave them Windy Acres for hiking and recreation for all township residents, after they called us NIMBYs and worse. Now they advertise the recreation that we made possible, but they make a decision to close our major access road to the rest of the township without taking a little extra trouble to let us have input on it? I guess we’re still NIMBYs if we don’t want the road in our backyard closed!”

Prior to voting, Councilwoman Amy Switlyk said, “So, just to reiterate, we have no choice in the long run… I’ll support it [closing the road permanently] because we don’t have a choice.”

Switlyk seemed nervous that she had no choice but to vote to close the road. The same resident said:

“Ms. Switlyk should consider that if the residents of Old Mountain Road had accepted ‘We have no choice’ when Pulte Homes planned to build 1,100 housing units on Windy Acres, she’d have no place to build hiking trails and gazebos. Give us back our road!”

What we know

An official at the NJWSA said the Authority has asked Hunterdon County to consider closing the road since it is a county road. At the county’s suggestion, the Authority sent e-mails to Clinton Township and Lebanon Borough requesting input from the governing bodies and from the public before the Authority makes a formal proposal to the county.

The official said the rationale for the road closing is “dam safety and security concerns” but also expressed the Authority’s desire to learn whether closing the road might cause “significant hardship” to affected residents.

However, said the official, while the Authority heard back from Lebanon, Clinton Township has not responded about getting public input.

It seems a little late for that.

No effort made to obtain public input

Township records as of June 27 show that the NJWSA is under the impression that only three residents have spoken up — all asking for the facts, and one of them asking whether there would be a public forum to discuss the matter.

Certainly the NJWSA and the county know that the NJ Open Public Meetings Act requires all public meeting agendas to be published in advance so the public is afforded a chance to comment. So for these agencies to specifically request public input, the intended message was that the township should do more than the legally require minimum.

From an e-mail from the NJWSA to the towns, expressing the county’s concern about potential public outcry (emphasis added):

“The County has suggested that the municipalities publicly discuss this matter on the record to minimize potential for complaints in the future if the closure becomes  permanent.”

Township e-mail records show that the township for all intents and purposes ignored requests from the county and the water authority to make any special effort to obtain public input.

What we know has confirmed that, other than informal communications, neither Lebanon nor Clinton Township have any documentation of any justification for closure of the road, nor did Mayor Mullay present any verifiable facts or documentation.

In other words, the council voted blindly.

Mayor Mullay said at the June 22 meeting that there are reasons for the closure that he knew about but that could not be discussed in public, implying they were about security.

An OPRA request to Clinton Township for all communications about the matter between Clinton Township, Lebanon Borough, Hunterdon County and the NJWSA produced pages of documents but none related to security reasons for the proposed closing. There was one small redaction unrelated to the matter itself. Nothing was redacted that might suggest confidential information or any Homeland Security information was delivered to the township to aid the council’s decision making.

Lebanon Borough

At the June 22 meeting, Mayor Mullay was asked about Lebanon’s position on the matter.

“I suspect that they will probably adopt a similar act as I suggested,” he responded.

Lebanon officials, however, say they have serious reservations and concerns about the closure, and that the borough’s position has not yet been formulated or communicated to the NJWSA. The borough is seeking input from the public. Lebanon’s Facebook page has a lively public discussion going about the matter.

Neither the Clinton Township website or Facebook page have any information or notices about the road closure, no requests for public input as requested by the county and the NJWSA. There is no public discussion on social media.

Over a week after council voted, it appears residents know nothing about it.

“We want the road open again!”

Politicians routinely point out that they post required legal notices about council agenda items and that it is the public’s obligation to check the agendas.

Old Mountain Road residents asked by for their comments say they are upset that their tax dollars support the township’s advertising about social events and the township’s “Email Alerts” — but that no one thought that plans to close a major thoroughfare was worth “advertising.”

Another resident stated:

“We’ve been waiting patiently for 5 years for the dam reconstruction to end so we can use the road. We’ve been driving extra miles through  the borough, burning expensive gas, through four stop lights and at least one jug handle to get to Route 31. We’re not worth an e-mail? They want our votes? We want the road open again.”

Hunterdon Eco-Tourism?

There is a related fly in the ointment.

While the county is funding an aggressive “Eco-Tourism” initiative to bring visitors to Hunterdon, does it make any sense to close the most stunning, gorgeous drive through nature in Hunterdon County?

The council “discussion”

Watch and listen to the entire “discussion” of the council about the road closing. Note that no factual details to justify the action are presented and no documents from the county or NJWSA are referenced.

[Complete meeting audio is available on the township’s website.]

Mayor Brian Mullay, council members Marc Strauss, Tom Kochanowski, Amy Switlyk and Bill Glaser never make mention of the hundreds of households that their decision will affect. Nor do they wonder out loud what those residents might have to say about the matter. They come up with no questions or concerns to be directed at the NJWSA or the county before making a decision.

Switlyk and Glaser are running for reelection. Neither of them suggested making the extra effort to make sure their constituents actually know what council was about to vote on.

They repeatedly emphasized that It’s not our decision. It’s not our fault. We have no control.

Mayor Mullay asks if anyone in the council chamber has a comment. There are only two people and a reporter present. He gives no indication of surprise when no one has any concerns about this.

“Many will be disappointed if it is closed as people frequently ask when it will reopen.” — Mayor Mullay, over two months earlier

This does not seem to satisfy requests from the county and NJWSA that affected residents be given a chance to participate in a public forum.

“Don’t blame us! It’s somebody else’s decision!”

When Clinton Township bungled the “new turning lanes” at Blossom Hill Road and Route 22, Mayor Brian Mullay explained that it was a State project. He said the township was not involved.

When questioned at a public meeting, he admitted the township had not reviewed the plans for the project, had not sought to provide any input to the NJ Department of Transportation, and had no idea how the DOT was designing the project.

That new intersection is now a line of orange cones defying the entire intent of the project — to make it safer to make left turns at a deadly intersection. Now drivers cannot make left turns at all.,

Mullay and the council blamed it all on the State, while failing to exercise their own prerogative to protect the interests of their constituents in Blossom Hill.

Don’t blame us! It was the state’s decision, or the county’s!

Is it a done deal?

Is it a done deal?
Nothing is a done deal. Council can rescind its decision and take time for public input, then vote again.

You can insist on your right to state your opinions, wishes and questions. Attend the next council meeting and/or contact the mayor and council. Ask them to hold a well-publicized public forum on the road closure.

Suggestion: If you contact one, contact them all, and ask for a personal reply. Council contact list.

Please cc:

Remember that Switlyk and Glaser are up for reelection in November.

Now Mullay is once again taking no action to protect the township from another State decision. This time Mullay is blaming the county and the NJ Water Supply Authority for closing a major through road in Clinton Township and adversely affecting hundreds of households — without securing their input.

As if Clinton Township has no influence at all on what goes on within its borders.

What’s interesting is that the NJWSA keeps referring to its “informal proposal” to Hunterdon County to permanently close the road, yet insists the township and Lebanon deliver formal resolutions of municipal and public support — in the absence of any evidence to support the need to close the road permanently.

Without anything concrete on which to base its vote, and without anything to defend its action, the Clinton Township Council voted 5-0 to let Route 629 be closed without any public comment.

Happy 4th of July. Let the fireworks begin.

Video credit: Hunterdon Review, Michelle Lacamera (video incorrectly lists Maria Lacamera)

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Whose fault is it that there are no Democratic candidates on the Clinton Township ballot?

Look at your June Primary Election Ballot carefully.

Who needs elections?

Why should you care? The incumbent council (all GOP) has already:

  • Raised taxes 4% for 2022 (after increasing the tax rate 13% in 2019)
  • Donated $45,000 to lawyers who’ve been suing CT
  • Approved massive housing developments with no voter input
  • Approved a pedestrian walkway across 4 lanes of Rt. 31 at taxpayer cost for the benefit of a private developer
  • Billed taxpayers for a new frisbee golf course non-residents can use for free
  • And much, much more…

If you’re a Republican, you will see only 2 choices for 2 Clinton Township Council seats — the incumbents. In other words, you have no choices.

If you’re a Democrat in Clinton Township, you will see no candidates on your Primary ballot for council. You have no choices.

In fact, in the November election incumbent Councilwoman Amy Switlyk is guaranteed 12 years on the council and incumbent Councilman Bill Glaser is guaranteed 3 more  years — without having to campaign, with no opponents, with no problem. These 2 don’t have to answer for their record, knock on your door, or answer your questions about how they’re spending your money. As shoe-ins, they’re not accountable to anyone.

Who needs elections?

Democrats? What Democrats?

This is where corrupt local government starts. Representative government is an illusion. Your vote does not count in the council election.

Whose fault is it that there are no Democratic candidates on the Clinton Township ballot?

The Clinton Township Democratic Committee, which is elected every two years by registered Democrats, is responsible for putting Dem candidates on the Primary ballot. They choose the candidates. (Most people have no idea what their party Committee is or what it does.)

But the local Democratic Committee didn’t nominate anyone for the ballot — so, there will be no Democratic choice on the November ballot for township council seats.

This is the Democratic Committee’s #1 job. What are they doing? They’re guaranteeing that Republicans will keep running Clinton Township.

Why are there no Democrats on the ballot?

Each township voting district has 2 Democratic Committee members. Voters in each district elect them every 2 years. Look up your Committee member here (scroll to page 6 to find your voting district. Their names and addresses are public information.) Or, contact Vicki Fresolone and Kira Lawrence — they chair the Committee responsible for giving you candidates to vote for. Ask them why they’re not doing the job they were elected to do — put Democratic candidates on the ballot!

This is where corrupt politics start, because council incumbents are “elected for life.” They can do whatever they want without fear of ever losing their seats.

Local party Committees are the lowest elected positions in every town. When they don’t do their job, voters suffer. Worse, without candidates on the Democratic ballot in June, the Dems fail to build a “bench” for higher level office.

In case you’re wondering why there have been no Dem freeholders in Hunterdon, it’s because the local Dem Committees in Hunterdon have no “bench.”

In case you’re wondering why you don’t have anyone to vote for in the Democratic Primary in June, it’s because your voting district’s Democratic Committee member (you elected them!) didn’t do their job — and don’t seem to care.

CT Dem Committee Members

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Economic development in Clinton stymied by Reefer Madness

Businessman Mihir Patel apparently takes the Hunterdon County Commissioners seriously when they claim to promote Economic Development. He recently made a presentation to the Town of Clinton council about opening a prospective retail cannabis business in the old TD Bank building at 92 West Main. Patel’s plans are based on overwhelming approval of voters for cannabis businesses. But the elected councils of both Town of Clinton and neighboring Clinton Township both decided to ban any and all cannabis operations in direct contradiction of a public referendum.

cannabisThe clear majority wants cannabis. This is in accord with Hunterdon County’s costly initiatives to promote economic development. The County Commissioners even hired a full-time Economic Development Czar, Mark Saluk. You’d think he would have been at the Clinton meeting, cheering Mr. Patel on. Why isn’t Saluk encouraging towns to get a move on? For that matter, why are the Commissioners themselves not shouting Cannabis Tourism! from the barn tops?

Over a year ago politicians told us they had to work out the details to make sure the new state law was implemented properly. It’s become clear these politicians have no intention of abiding by the will of their own constituents.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinions. But when local elected officials rationalize their rejection of cannabis because a minority of residents shout the loudest against it, all should fear for representative democracy.

What dismays and alarms is the disingenuous (or possibly ignorant) commentary from councilwoman Megan Johnson. The Hunterdon Review reports that “Johnson said…because children use the parking lot for playing, she asked how Patel would accommodate for their safety.”

Seriously? How did TD Bank account for “children using the parking lot for playing?” How do the nearby gas station and nail spa account for it? Since when is a business liable for the activities of local children playing on its property when they shouldn’t be? (Hello, parents?) Do the planning board approvals for the gas station, nail salon and bank site include accommodations for playgrounds?

Ms. Johnson should know better as an elected official. Has she asked her planning board whether it can legally require Mr. Patel (or a gas station) to ensure the safety of children playing on their site?

It’s worth noting that 912 Clinton voters approved Ms. Johnson in 2020. 1,125 approved cannabis.

Commentary from the public is also troubling.

“Sean Lyon, a Clinton Township resident [at the Town of Clinton meeting], suggested that a nurse who has been educated in medical cannabis use should also be on property at all times because bud tenders do not know how medicines would interact with the cannabis, and it would be safer for the community to have a trained medical professional on staff.”

A truly bizarre suggestion. Under Lyon’s logic, every pharmacy should now have a cannabis-trained nurse on site “at all times” because pharmacies “do not know how medicines would interact with the [now legal] cannabis.” For that matter, should our towns now have a trained nurse on site in every bar and liquor store because these establishments don’t know how alcohol interacts with prescription medications customers may be on? Council members might ask the bartender — when they adjourn for a glass of wine after their meetings.

Councilwoman Sherry Dineen seems forgetful and confused: “We have opted out of cannabis licensing. All of this is just exploratory.” No, Ms. Dineen opted out of cannabis licensing. The majority of voters opted in.

In Clinton, Ms. Dineen got the approval of only 741 Clinton voters. 1,125 voters approved cannabis in Clinton.

The Review article doesn’t say whether any Clinton residents spoke to support a cannabis business like Mr. Patel’s. Do they need to? Over 65% of them already voted to support it.  Yet municipal officials like Johnson and Dineen in Clinton and Mayor Brian Mullay and Council President Marc Strauss in Clinton Township keep voting against voter-approved Economic Development.

When elected officials fail to do the majority’s will and actively subvert county-mandated economic development, the majority should remember that in the next elections. It seems a lot of self-righteous local officials suffer from a kind of uneducated anti-cannabis fever — “Reefer Madness.” But before you drink to that, consult “a trained nurse.”

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Who wants an EV charger at Windy Acres?

At its June 23 meeting the Clinton Township Council spent considerable time demonstrating they can talk at length about a subject they know absolutely nothing about — just because someone made a request.

The mayor and council discussed an “initiative” to install public electric vehicle (EV) chargers — and debated which public open space site is the best place for them. They hope to get some grant money to pay for the project. No factual or research information was presented or discussed.

Do ya think anybody on the Clinton Township council owns an EV? Or bothers to do any research before bringing up kooky ideas at council meetings?

Who requested an EV charger at Windy Acres?

ev chargerCouncilman Mark Strauss, liaison to the Environmental Commission, said he’s received “a specific request for [an electric car charging station] for Windy Acres.”

The Hunterdon Review reported that Strauss “passed along some research about the possibility of an ordinance or amendment to accommodate electric car charging stations at some selected open space locations in the township.”

It’s not clear whether the councilman studied the research himself. It’s quite clear that Councilwoman Amy Switlyk did not. Nonetheless, reported the Review, she “agreed that an electric car charge station is a great idea for the Environmental Commission, but the she doesn’t think Windy Acres has the traffic.”

Green chargers on Windy Acres because it’s “green?”

Taxpayers pay to toss the Frisbee
Councilwoman Switlyk also thinks it’s “a great idea” that the township should fund, build and maintain a Frisbee Golf Course that would be open and free for use of non-residents as well as residents.

One need only remember the township’s skate park, which was dismantled and its parts sold for pennies on the dollar over a decade ago after it was over-run by unruly non-residents.

The Frisbee Golf Course project is already underway, off Regional Road. Green Acres requires that the course be open to non-residents.

This is what happens when policy making is a free-for-all of “great ideas” before anyone has studied anything.

Let’s see — EVs are “green” so this must be a “great idea” for the Environmental Commission since much of our preserved land was acquired with “Green” Acres funds from the N.J. Department of “Environmental” Protection. So let’s let the environmental volunteers handle the mechanics and economics of fueling up EVs!

But, Switlyk said, “Bundt Park would be better” because it  gets more traffic.

Mayor Brian Mullay likes the “green” connection, too. He said that “the State is really pushing for electric car charging and could be amenable to stations at Green Acres locations.”

Then the motivation for this became clear: There might be grant money available! Maybe they could use some of the Open Space trust fund money they set aside for “maintenance” of open space to install those chargers on our preserved lands.

Logical, intelligent, fruitful  discussion about policy making is not possible without preparation — not if you’re going to do it in public. Council meetings quickly deteriorate into a free-for-all when a town doesn’t have a full-time Administrator who oversees what’s on the agenda. Without someone responsible for a reality check, council meetings turn into a meandering talk show — and taxpayer dollars pay for it.

Clueless in Clinton Township

The council is clearly clueless about EVs, charging and EV user behavior. Strauss, Switlyk and Mullay could have asked a local EV user or two for a quick lesson. The council could  also do its own research before its meetings on Google. It’s free. And it would make for more productive council sessions.

It doesn’t take long to learn that a charging station at an open space preserve or a playground makes no sense.

The Pew Trusts reports that “electric vehicles used for short commutes can be plugged in at home daily; the worry stems from longer trips.”

In “Electric Vehicle Charging 101,” the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) reports that “according to the US Department of Energy, over 80 percent of EV charging happens at home, where EV owners have set up their own chargers.”

It’s telling that the most recent installation of EV chargers in Hunterdon County is at the Flemington Wawa, at the nexus of 3 highways, and an easy stop for travelers passing through. You still can’t get a cup of coffee at Bundt Park.

Windy Acres: Hike while you charge!

A quick survey of Google reveals that local EV owners aren’t going to drive over to Windy Acres or Bundt Park to charge their cars. They don’t need to because they charge at home.

A single charge can power an EV for up to 350 miles, and the average U.S. car owner (any kind of car) drives only 31 miles per day. Even low-capacity EVs can get by locally without ever charging anywhere but at home.

Would anyone use a charger at a “Green Acres location?” The NRDC did some serious test driving to study EV charging, and reports that “being dependent on public charging… is the exception — not the norm.”

EV owners need chargers mainly when they’re traveling out of town, when they need a charge to continue or complete their trip. This means the most likely user of any local  charging station is a non-resident who’s passing through.

A full charge at a Bundt Park station for a Chevy Bolt, which has a range of about 220 miles, would take about 40 hours on a Level 1 charger. A Level 2 charger would add about 25 miles to a Tesla Model 3’s battery in an hour.

How much hiking at Windy Acres would a non-resident Tesla driver want to do while waiting to charge? Maybe they’d like to shoot a few hoops at Bundt — for a few hours — while their EV charges.

Level 3 chargers are much more powerful and much more expensive. Usage at even Bundt Park, which, according to Switlyk, “has the traffic,” would never deliver the necessary ROI. As the EV industry pushes the limit with massive investments in ever-faster charging, slow chargers become less attractive to EV users.

EV Charging 101

Charging time is no small matter in the EV business. That’s why most Level 2 and 3 chargers are located in shopping center parking lots where there’s access to a Panera, Wawa, Starbucks or other fast-food establishment. You can get a full charge in about the time it takes to have lunch, or a quick boost on the highway while you have a cup of coffee.

Any Clinton Township EV owner could explain that they charge at home unless they’re on a long trip. A public EV charger would most likely be used by non-residents who are passing through — and the best place for such a charger is at a commercial establishment. The benefit of low-speed public chargers seems to be purely political: “Look, we’re green! We’re hip!”

Just because EVs are green doesn’t make EV chargers a project for the Environmental Commission. Just because our preserved lands are funded by Green Acres doesn’t mean they’re the right place for chargers.

It seems this entire misguided display of government in action may have been driven by nothing more than someone reading that there’s grant money for “green” projects.

Public funds — grants or otherwise — should not be spent on chargers on our preserved lands. It’s not “a great idea.” A great idea would be for our mayor and council to do some homework and demonstrate that they know what they’re talking about — before they embarrass themselves in a public meeting.

But that’s a long-shot for a council that makes policy based on what a select few want, without consulting the community as a whole.

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[edited 7/8/21]



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WWWCT? Republicans & Democrats

What’s wrong with Clinton Township? (WWWCT?)

Republicans and Democrats.

In the upcoming Primary Election (June 8), and even in the November election, you might as well not vote. That’s a shocking suggestion. But it’s apt.

Because your vote doesn’t matter. The Republican party and the Democratic party have seen to that. What’s wrong with Clinton Township is Republicans and Democrats.

No choices

The Republicans are letting you vote to re-elect 3 incumbents, whether you like them or not. The GOP gives you no choices in their Primary. Only the incumbents are on the ballot — Tom Kochanowski, Marc Strauss and Bill Glaser. They’ve already “won” the Primary for lack of competition. So your vote literally doesn’t matter.

But wait — you’re a Republican and you’re not happy about hundreds of affordable housing units being built in the township? Blame it on Kochanowski, Strauss and Glaser. They just voted to approved yet another affordable housing deal in a “special” 7-minute meeting with no public present. In one secret deal after another this council keeps approving ultra-high density units — soon in your own backyard.

In the upcoming elections you have no choice but Kochanowski, Strauss and Glaser.

By the way: Kochanowski and Glaser got onto the council without an election. Nobody voted for them. They were appointed. (These shenanigans go back years. See Clinton Township Republicans play hardball.) More about this below.

No competition so you can’t “Vote the bums out!”

In America, the strength of our government lies in competition. That’s how voters get to choose between ideas, plans, agendas and promises. It’s also how we “Vote the bums out!” in order to ensure we get people in office that represent us.

But the Democrats are running no candidates at all for council. The 3 Republican incumbents are guaranteed re-election in November. The incumbent all-GOP council has no competition in the November election. The Dems have seen to that.

You voted for cannabis to be legal in Clinton Township? (Over 60% of you did.) Well, the GOP mayor and council just banned any and all cannabis businesses from the township — and relinquished cannabis tax revenues to other towns. You can blame the Democrats that you can’t vote the bums out in November.

The Clinton Township Supreme Soviet:
Government of politicians, by politicians and for politicians

Oh, you could write a candidate in as a protest vote, but you’d be pissing up a rope. Not only doesn’t your vote matter in Clinton Township; nobody’s listening.

Clinton Township is run by a Supreme Soviet, a government of politicians, by politicians and for politicians.

When elections are uncontested, the incumbent candidates don’t bother to campaign. They won’t knock on your door or otherwise ask your opinions, or about what’s most important to you, or what problems in the township you want to see addressed. They don’t have to. They don’t care. They are guaranteed their seats and their power.

You’re not happy about lack of leaf pickup every fall? (Or winter, since that’s when they get around to picking up leaves.) Blame your Supreme Soviet, then go pound sand. You can’t vote the bums out. You don’t have any choice because there’s no competition.

There are no politics in Clinton Township

For the first time in years, 3 council seats are in play. (Normally it’s just 2.) That means a majority of the council, which means whatever 3 candidates win, they will have control of the council.

You’d think the Democratic party would be all over this election. But they haven’t put up even one Democratic candidate on the Primary ballot.

No Democrat has been elected to the township council in over 30 years.

Republicans might see this as cause to cheer. In fact, former Hunterdon County Republican Committee Chairman Henry Kuhl used to say:

“We don’t care whether they’re doing a good job. Our job is to make sure Republicans keep getting re-elected!”

This is why there are no politics in Clinton Township — just politicians serving a select few friends and special interests that keep them in office.

There are only politicians in Clinton Township

So, if you’re a Republican and you have issues or problems with anything your government has done, blame it on the GOP, which keeps new blood, new ideas, and fresh thinking off your council.

If you’re a Democrat unhappy with your mayor and council, blame it on the Democratic party, which cannot be bothered cultivating and developing candidates for local office. They’re too busy asking you to attend rallies and to make donations to state and federal level elected seats.

You think Comcast rates are too high? Blame your GOP council. They control Comcast’s franchise deal with Clinton Township — and they let Comcast get away with information-highway robbery. And residents keep paying. Where does all that money go?

The Republican party gives you more of the same, year in and year out.

The Dems don’t give Democratic voters a choice — and they don’t provide disaffected Republican voters a choice, either.

The Republican and Democratic parties are what’s wrong with Clinton Township.

2 of 5 council members didn’t even get elected

You’re mad your taxes keep going up (+5% this year alone) while services are being cut? You’re mad you can’t reach the township CFO or Administrator because they work only 3 days a week? Don’t worry — your taxes are still paying them the highest salaries ever given to any township employee.

No choice and no competition is just a part of the problem.

2 of the 5 council members were not even elected when they got onto the council. Under a questionable New Jersey law, councilmen Tom Kochanowski and Bill Glaser were  appointed by the Republican party (2017 and 2021), not elected by voters. As incumbents, they’re guaranteed re-election because voters have no choices because there is no competition.

And that’s also how council members stay in office for a decade or more.

9 years of the same old, uncontested, guaranteed trouble

How many uncontested, guaranteed years in office does any politician deserve?

Councilwoman Amy Switlyk is coming up on her ninth year in office. Brian Mullay has served in office as long, as a councilman and as mayor — and he’s in for at least 2 more years. When he was elected mayor in 2020 voters had no choice; there was no competition from the Democrats.

Over the past few years, your council:

  • Raised taxes year after year: About 5% this year. In 2019 they raised the tax rate over 14%.
  • In 2017, voted to approve “affordable housing” that will generate over 800 new housing units total in the township without any citizen input. Taxpayers are on the hook for decades.
  • Donated $30,000 of your tax dollars to Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), which sued the township. [UPDATE: Since this column was posted, Strauss, Kochanowski and Glaser voted to donate another $15,000 to FSHC, for a total of $45,000 in taxpayer donations.]
  • Approved suing Readington Township to confiscate its sewer capacity to appease FSHC.
  • Caused a $908,000 budget deficit — unprecedented, according to their auditor.
  • Got sued by the school board for failure to deliver millions in school taxes to the school district.
  • And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Mullay, Switlyk, Kochanowski, Strauss, Glaser — all get re-elected without competition to speak of, year after year — going on a decade for some of them. They know they can do anything they want.

The public loses every Clinton Township election. What’s wrong with Clinton Township is Republicans and Democrats who pretend we have a vote.

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Mayor Brian Mullay and council decimate Police Department

police department

What’s wrong in Clinton Township?

On March 24 newly elected Mayor Brian Mullay and council will make dramatic changes to the Police Department that will affect public safety.

1. Council will reduce the number of patrol officers by 21%, from 19 to 15

But the number of sergeants, who supervise officers, will remain at 6. In 2006 the township had 23 active-duty officers. In office less than 3 months, Mullay is quietly decimating the township’s police force to an unprecedented level — after announcing taxes are being raised 5%.

2. Council will eliminate the position of Police Director, which was created in 2007 to modernize and professionalize the department

In 2007 the new Police Director, Robert Manney, took over the police force from the last Police Chief, who retired, and the Chief position was eliminated. Manney is a retired State Police Officer, Captain and Statewide Chief of the Internal Affairs Investigation Bureau.

A key reason for switching to a Director is that Police Chiefs in NJ are essentially tenured and have the job for life — an antiquated management concept. It is virtually impossible to remove a Chief. A Director can be hired, fired and changed at the township’s will. A Chief’s powers are enormous and are defined by State law. A Director’s powers are narrowly defined and can be changed by the township.

3. Council is changing who the head of the police department reports to

Another reason for replacing the Chief in 2007 with a Director was to eliminate “day-to-day” political interference and influence over law enforcement.

The Police Director reported to the Township Administrator. But the new Police Chief will be “directly responsible” to the mayor and council for the “routine day-to-day operations of the department,” thus re-introducing the kind of  political interference that created problems in the past.

OIC: The middle ground

For the past several years, Clinton Township’s Police Director position has been vacant. The last director was let go and replaced with an “Officer In Charge” (OIC) — an existing lieutenant who is assigned to lead the department. Council explained that they did this to save money by not paying a Director’s salary.

The CTPD can be managed by an OIC as long as the council likes — without re-creating the Police Chief -For-Life position. The OIC does not serve “for life.” In fact, several lieutenants have capably served in this position during recent years.

Higher taxes, fewer cops

Council has announced that they are increasing municipal property taxes by 5%. But they are reducing the police force by 4 patrol officers. And, after recently acquiring the department’s first police dog, council just announced they’re acquiring a second.

When council changed from a Police Chief to a Police Director in 2007, the public was informed well in advance. The public hearing audience was so large that the meeting was conducted in a high school cafeteria. Lots of people had lots to say. Today, council is hiding behind an online webex meeting.

Is this transparency?

It seems Mayor Brian Mullay and the council intentionally hid their plans by burying this item on their March 10 agenda when they introduced the ordinance for these changes. Here’s how it was listed:

“An Ordinance of the Township of Clinton in Hunterdon County, New Jersey amending various provisions of Section 4-52 of the Code of the Township of Clinton pertaining to the Clinton Township Police Department”

Would you read that and know what it really means?

On March 24 they will approve the ordinance to cut cops and hire a Chief for life. They have not even pretended to explain to taxpayers the differences between a Police Director and Chief, or the relative costs and benefits, or their reasons for making this dramatic change, or justified the elimination of 4 patrol officers.

It’s worth noting that the 2007 action to change from a Chief to a Director was done in part at the urging of the township attorney. The same attorney wrote the new ordinance to change back to a Chief-for-life. The attorney has offered no explanation to the public.

Mayor Mullay’s explanation, according to a Hunterdon Review report:

“Mullay said changing the ordinance to recreate the position of police chief makes the most sense for the township now.”

Paying higher taxes to have 8 fewer cops than 15 years ago

Click to read the ordinance that will dramatically change the CTPD and public safety in Clinton Township. Mayor and council “introduced” it quietly on March 10. They will vote to adopt it just as quietly at the online March 24 7 pm meeting after a public hearing.

Normally, council allows more time between introduction of an ordinance and a public hearing, to allow the public time to study and understand a proposed ordinance — especially momentous ones. In keeping with its apparent desire to act quietly, council is also acting swiftly.

Here’s how council lists the public hearing for the ordinance on its agenda:

“An Ordinance of the Township of Clinton in Hunterdon County, New Jersey amending various provisions of Section 4-52 of the Code of the Township of Clinton pertaining to the Clinton Township Police Department”

Do you understand this version of the “notice” any better than the one issued for the March 10 meeting?

Note that the agenda includes no presentation explaining why council is doing this. Mayor Mullay makes no effort to educate residents about these changes, provides no clear and transparent description of how he and and council are dramatically decimating Clinton Township’s police department — after raising taxes 5%.

The public gets just 3 minutes at the March 24 public hearing to speak up and ask questions.

So, where’s all the money going?

The council recently changed the Township Administrator’s job, which has always been full-time, to part-time — 3 days a week.

The council also changed the Chief Financial Officer’s job, which had always been full-time, to 3 days a week.

Both positions pay in the vicinity of $90,000 for 3-day work weeks. Annualized, these are effectively $150,000 salaries. The township has never paid any employee that kind of money.

So, where’s all the money going? You could check here and here.

But it’s best to ask your mayor and council.

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School board forced to hand over 50 minutes of budget meeting recording it erased

Who illegally erased 50 minutes of a 3-hour recording of a school board meeting and passed it off as official — and why?

The Clinton Township School District Board of Education tampered with the official recording of its April 27, 2020 public meeting, then published it on the school district’s website, apparently in violation of New Jersey statute.

Almost 50 minutes of the 3-hour long public online meeting, which focused on the proposed school budget, were erased from the official recording.

The erased parts were largely audio of board member Maria Grant. confirmed this after obtaining a copy of the complete recording. Several of Grant’s supporters on the BOE lost their re-election bids last year, and the new majority ousted Grant as board president in January.

Parents complain

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, CTSD board meetings are conducted online. Township parents complained about the erased recording on the Clinton Township Cares Facebook Group, where parents gather to discuss school matters. They wanted to hear the entire meeting.

The New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) protect rights of the public to attend, and obtain official recordings and minutes of, public government meetings.

The board has not made minutes of the April 27 meeting available. For the past 2 weeks, since the meeting, only the altered recording has been made available to the public on the district’s website. (While Grant was board president, minutes were notoriously unavailable for 5 or more months at a time.)

One resident who attended the online meeting reported that “grant [sic] was grandstanding for over an hour… attacking all the new BOE members!!!! I’m livid!!!”

Other commenters said of Grant’s performance:

“Nothing like ripping into the BA that you hired to replace the other one that you hired and the one before that.”

“She’s just bitter. Let her rant. She’s mad that she blocked settling the teachers’ contract for the better part of almost a decade and now the teachers are finally getting the contract they deserve.”

Some residents demanded the full recording:

“The BOE member [Grant] expressed her comments, knowingly, during in the public portion of the meeting… not the executive session. It would then be public record.”

“Who should we be requesting g to make this available? I think people should submit requests ( would be nice if we had standard language). Agree that it is very concerning to be edited.”

Who is advising the board about the law?

Board President Lana Brennan announced at the beginning of the meeting that the board meeting would be conducted under the laws of New Jersey. Board attorney Vito Gagliardi was present at the online meeting. In 2012, under Gagliardi’s watch, the board was sanctioned by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor for fabricating official meeting records.

New Jersey law is clear.

2C:28-7. Tampering with public records or information.

A person commits an offense if he:

(1)Knowingly makes a false entry in, or false alteration of, any record, document or thing belonging to, or received or kept by, the government for information or record, or required by law to be kept by others for information of the government;

(2)Makes, presents, offers for filing, or uses any record, document or thing knowing it to be false, and with purpose that it be taken as a genuine part of information or records referred to in paragraph (1);

Who is advising the board about the law?

Recording demanded under Sunshine Law

On May 6, used New Jersey’s Sunshine Law to challenge the school district’s publication of the erased, altered April 27 meeting recording. We submitted an OPRA request demanding that the district produce the complete, true recording. The OPRA requires a government entity to deliver a public record within 7 business days. The recording was received by this publication on May 11.

However, at the time this article was published, CTSD has still not published the true recording on its website. Only the altered recording is there.

The description of the April 27 recording says that “Board Members’ Comments Were Edited On Request for Legal Reasons.”

The public deserves answers

The board has not explained:

  • Who altered and erased the true meeting recording?
  • Which board members’ comments were edited (erased)?
  • On whose request or order?
  • For what “legal reasons”?
  • Under what legal authority did the board make a “false alteration” of a public record?
  • When will the full recording be published on the CTSD website along with a full explanation?

The public deserves answers. Not the now-routine, “Sorry — that information is attorney-client privileged.”

Listen to the full recording

The full recording of the April 27, 2020 CTSD BOE public meeting is the property of the public.

It is dismaying and troubling that the board was apparently advised to publish an altered and erased version of the true recording and that, even after delivering a full copy to, the district has not made it available to parents and taxpayers on its website.

This copy of the recording is exactly as it was received from the CTSD. Nothing altered, nothing erased. It is approximately 50 minutes longer than the official version made available to the public on the district’s website.

Who is running the schools?

Last year, a new group of capable citizens got elected to the school board under a banner of change, responsibility and transparency. They formed a new majority and have accomplished much to improve Clinton Township schools.

Who is responsible for this?

It is difficult to imagine the CTSD board’s attorney was not consulted by board President Lana Brennan about the alteration and publication of the meeting recording.

It is likewise difficult to imagine that the attorney was not consulted about the release of the unaltered, true recording in response to the OPRA request submitted by

The public deserves to know the process whereby these events were permitted to occur.

A history of legal tomfoolery

More than one of the newly elected members has been aware of the legal problems the CTSD has faced under the long tenure of its law firm, Porzio Bromberg & Newman, and its attorney, Vito Gagliardi.

In the 2012 sanctions issued against the CTSD by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor, Gagliardi was the attorney to whom the notice of multiple violations of the OPMA was addressed.

The Prosecutor notified Gagliardi that the school board in his legal care was publishing official records of public meetings that did “not reflect what actually happened at the… meetings” in question, and that “This Office is concerned that the minutes demonstrate a pattern as to how the Board regularly conducts itself.”

The Prosecutor wrote that he or the Attorney General “may bring an action for imposition of penalties for violations of the Sunshine Law” against individual members of the school board.

Ironically, the Prosecutor in that case relied on accurate BOE meeting recordings as evidence that written minutes of meetings were false.

And who did it again?

However, just a few weeks after the board violated the OPMA in 2012, the board did it again — with Gagliardi in attendance on its legal needs.

Who advised the BOE president to threaten residents and BOE members?

In early 2012, then-BOE President Jim Dincuff said on the record that he was acting on the advice of attorney Gagliardi when Dincuff launched protracted public attacks from the dais against members of the public, and threats of legal action against other board members for repeated “ethics violations” — all of which were revealed to be baseless and purely political. (See Ducking Integrity, Abusing Power: All on advice of the school board attorney.)

During those debacles, Maria Grant and recently deposed BOE member Kevin Maloy were on the board, egging Dincuff on.

Who got paid by taxpayers to sue the taxpayers?

In December 2018, Gagliardi and then-board president Maria Grant ginned up a 73-page lawsuit against the Clinton Township mayor and council, accusing them of illegally withholding millions of dollars worth of school tax revenues from the school district.

The same day Gagliardi delivered his lawsuit, Township attorney Trishka Waterbury Cecil slammed him with a demand to withdraw it — or she would apply to the court to “seek an award of sanctions, costs and attorney’s fees.”

Gagliardi withdrew the worthless action the next day.

According to documents obtained under the OPRA, CTSD paid tens of thousands of tax dollars on legal fees and associated costs for Gagliardi’s action — while Grant continued her decade-long crusade to avoid settling the teachers’ contract.

Whose DNA courses through the school board?

For well over a decade, many CTSD school board members, board presidents, superintendents and business administrators have come and gone while the district has suffered controversy after ugly controversy, costing taxpayers more and more money, and costing teachers seemingly endless grief and contract failures.

But the board’s attorney seems to be the DNA that survives each iteration of all the elected officials and administrators. And the legal troubles, the lack of board transparency, and board misbehavior seem to continue — on the advice of legal counsel?

Taxpayers and parents can only continue to wonder, Who really controls our schools? and Why are they preventing us from hearing a public meeting?

The newest iteration of our school board can do better.

Atone for the chicanery strongly recommends that the school board atone for its chicanery — Transparency indeed! — by devoting an entire meeting to a lesson about the rights of citizens in the management of their schools.

Inasmuch as the board has — for 2 weeks — disingenuously suggested to citizens they could legally have only an altered official recording of a three-hour meeting with 50 minutes erased, the presentation should be conducted by an independent attorney qualified to deliver forthright, candid and thorough lessons in the New Jersey Open Public Meetings and Open Public Records Acts — including open Q&A.

These laws guarantee the rights of citizens to fully participate in, and to have access to, the full proceedings of public government meetings of their elected representatives.

These laws also define the obligations of school board members to operate in complete transparency.

The school board owes it to citizens to tutor them in the tools of government transparency, and owes it to school board members to tutor them in the practice of transparent government.

Fix it, and fix the school board

Needless to say, the board must publish the unaltered, true recording of its April 27 meeting.

Finally, the school board owes the public an apology and a full accounting of who erased one-third of a meeting recording and why it was done.

And is long past time for the school board to retain new legal counsel.

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Raritan Township bails as Lanza DUI cover-up drags on

By Curtis Leeds


Recently re-elected freeholder John Lanza. Photo: Curtis Leeds

RARITAN TWP., NJ – Officials here on Friday agreed to comply with a court order to release details regarding DUI charges police filed against Freeholder John Lanza.

The consent letter to Superior Court Judge Yolanda Ciccone ends the township’s role in concealing what happened in August when police found Lanza slumped over the steering wheel of his black Ford Explorer, although some questions remain.

The cover-up

Initially, police didn’t release any information about charges related to Lanza’s Aug. 5 incident, which included driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and reckless driving. But acting on tips, reporter Michele Blood filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request with the township for the facts. When the township withheld many of the details — and while what was released dribbled out –- a lawsuit was filed to get the documents.

Editor’s note: TAPinto correspondent Michele Blood and long-time Hunterdon journalist Curtis Leeds began this probe last year when he was editor of TAPinto Flemington, eventually filing suit to obtain public records that Raritan Township refused to produce. Leeds then left TAPinto and planned to publish his follow-up on, a new local news website he created. But TAPinto issued Leeds a cease-and-desist order, as explained here. Because Raritan Township, Freeholder John Lanza and TAPinto have all sought to stymie Leeds’ reporting, is providing him a platform so that the public can be informed.

Until last week, the township vigorously opposed release of the records. Raritan Township attorney Edward Purcell claimed Lanza had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and that the suit sought “information relating to medical, psychiatric or psychological history, diagnosis, treatment or evaluation” which should be shielded from disclosure under the law.

Purcell also said that the township’s “interest in confidentiality” outweighed any interest in disclosure, that the suit was “frivolous” and release of the records was “barred by public policy.”

Later, Flemington attorney Carl Taylor filed with the court on Lanza’s behalf, also seeking to suppress release of the records. When management at TAPinto Flemington changed last month, Taylor sought to use that to keep the records secret.

But after hearing oral arguments in the OPRA suit and reviewing the records and multiple motions, Ciccone ordered the unredacted release of almost all of the documents related to the charges against Lanza.

The township “violated OPRA and the common law right of access” by not supplying the records, the judge wrote on Feb. 5. She ordered that the material be released within seven days.

Photo: Curtis Leeds

In multiple motions, Taylor sought to have the court delay release of the records pending Lanza’s appeal. But the court posted the newly-released documents to its website, prompting TAPinto editor Audrey Blumberg to follow-up on the story the next day, including revealing Lanza’s blood alcohol level.

“I was surprised and disappointed not only by the decision, but more so by the court disseminating the records immediately,” said Taylor in an interview Friday, “foreclosing our rightful ability to seek a stay and appeal.” Taylor added that the court knew of his intent to appeal, which he mentioned during oral argument in court and in a letter last month.

Because of Lanza’s public office and local prominence, the DUI case was moved to Sparta Municipal Court in Sussex County where it was heard by Judge Paris P. Eliades. reported that Lanza pleaded guilty on Feb. 3 to the reckless driving charge, and that the judge entered a “not guilty verdict at the state’s request” on the DUI charge.

New information

The newly released documents show that what Lanza has publicly acknowledged as “a potentially life-threatening situation” was a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .34 percent, more than four times the .08 percent legal limit.

Reporting on a different story and quoting a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, characterized that level of intoxication as “dancing on the edge of death.”

Taylor called Lanza’s BAC reading “faulty and disputed.”

The court records show that when police arrived Lanza “was drooling and his head was resting against the steering wheel.” Patrol Officer Connor Gallagher reported, “I could not tell if he was breathing and I became greatly concerned for his well-being,” leading police to force their way into the SUV by breaking the passenger window, to which Lanza did not initially react.

After getting Lanza out of the vehicle, Gallagher noted that while he did not smell of alcohol and did not have blood-shot eyes, Lanza “was unable to walk or maintain balance on his own.”

Lanza’s blood alcohol level registered .34 percent, according to the police records, a reading Taylor calls “faulty and disputed.”

Lanza was taken to Hunterdon Medical Center, where police said, “Though Lanza said few words, he slurred the ones he used.” When asked to consent to blood and urine testing, Lanza replied with a firm, “No.”

The cover-up continues

The township also redacted police dashcam videos, which may provide clues to another aspect of the case, and that’s the $12,500 in cash that police found in Lanza’s SUV. Through his attorney, Lanza has previously said that police returned the cash to him, which he used to pay a contractor.

Those videos are also subject to Ciccone’s order that records be released and while Raritan Township is willing to provide them, it said it would wait until Taylor’s most recent motion is decided, unless otherwise directed.

Taylor filed for an “emergent motion” with the Appellate Court to block Ciccone’s order to release the videos, which was denied on procedural grounds and sent back to Ciccone.  She’s expected to hear the motion on Feb. 18.

The OPRA suit was filed on behalf of TAPinto Flemington by CJ Griffin of the Hackensack-based law firm Pashman Stein. Oral arguments were made before Ciccone by Michael Zoller of the firm.

Reporter Curtis Leeds can be reached at

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TAPinto “disappears” Hunterdon’s investigative journalist

tapintoCurtis Leeds has been “disappeared” by TAPinto, the New Jersey news chain whose Flemington/Raritan franchise Leeds ran for the last four years.

The well-known reporter and former editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper ran the TAPinto Flemington/Raritan online news site from June 2015 through December 2019.

Investigative reporting gets “disappeared”

Over the past 30 years, local investigative journalism didn’t get any better than Leeds. At TAPinto alone, he doggedly ran down controversial stories such as how school boards spend their money, the potential hazards of taking your dog to PetSmart for grooming, and how local officials kept secret from a family the details involving their loved one’s death in a fatal ATV crash.

To get the facts, Leeds often spent his own money to hire lawyers, and then went to court to obtain public records that revealed how government really works.

After he left TAPInto’s group of franchised news sites at the end of 2019, Leeds started a news site of his own – We stumbled across the pre-launch version and eagerly awaited Leeds’ first columns. Then Leeds’ new site disappeared.


Cease and desist being the new alternative!

Leeds told that TAPinto howled about his alternative news site, and sent him a cease-and-desist order threatening him with a lawsuit if he didn’t shut it down and “disappear” for a year.

According to Leeds, TAPinto claims violated a non-compete agreement (NCA) Leeds had with TAPinto. Leeds and his attorney say the NCA is invalid. They contend TAPinto ignored the NCA when it was convenient to do so — but then the franchisor cited the NCA when it wanted Leeds’ site taken down.

In a time when most local news reporting is little more than press releases, police blotters, school sports and reprints of syndicated articles, Leeds was one reporter who looked under the rug and delivered the inconvenient truths on Hunterdon County government. His editions of TAPinto Flemington/Raritan were chock full of incisive stories about what local and county government seems to be hiding.

It makes you wonder what TAPinto is really thinking, and what kind of local news outlet it really wants to be. It is worth noting that TAPinto founder and CEO Mike Shapiro launched his online news chain as an alternative to local newspapers and originally named it The Alternative Press — TAP. (Get it?)

Curtis & Goliath

It seems Shapiro has forgotten how he got his start in the news business. In a 2014 press release announcing his website’s name change, Shapiro said:

“The Alternative Press… was the alternative to the local hardcopy newspaper…Today, we are no longer the alternative. We are the press covering our towns.”

Now a chain of 80 online news sites, TAPinto plays Goliath to Curtis Leeds’ David — the well-established news magnate deploying his corporate lawyers to knock down Leeds’ before it could stand up. Shapiro seems bent on killing competition and news alternatives.

But this is not just a story about a little guy growing into a big guy that can squash the next little guy. This is about the lack of real, investigative news reporting in Hunterdon County. Read Shapiro’s statement about TAPinto’s mission:

“With the decline of local newspapers… in many towns, if we are not reporting on it, there is no one reporting on it. We take this responsibility and commitment to report on the news in our communities very seriously.”

TAPinto’s serious attention seems to be focused not on reporting local news, but using lawyers to hide the truth and to block any new publications from reporting the news. Isn’t there enough news to go around?

Why you should care

With shut down, Hunterdon County residents now have virtually no independent source of news about their local and county government’s activities. welcomes more news outlets and additional points of view.

So, why does a corporate entity run by a CEO living in Florida want to suppress independent news publishing and reporting?

While the Hunterdon Democrat, the Hunterdon Review and the new TAPinto send reporters to selected town government meetings and report the proceedings, none of these news outlets ever look under the rug of municipal and county government operations or ask the hard questions Leeds has long been known for. Now under new management, TAPinto Flemington/Raritan seems to run little more than press releases and youth sports, which apparently reflects the franchise’s “commitment to report on the news in our communities.”

Readers may ask, “Why should I care?” about the squabble between TAPinto and Leeds.

But the better question is: “What was Leeds working on and preparing for publication that has been suppressed by TAPinto?”

The answer to the second question may shock you. And TAPinto is not the only entity that wants Leeds to just go away and STFU.

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The comments below were submitted to by the new publisher and owner of the TAPinto Flemington Raritan franchise.

February 8, 2020

This is regarding your website story posted earlier today on Facebook pages. For clarification, I am the publisher of the TAPinto site handling the business side; Audrey Blumberg (longtime experienced journalist, Woman Journalist of the Year in Somerset County) is the Editor in Chief. She supervises an expanded staff of five very experienced reporters with years of traditional journalistic experience who cover school board, Flemington Borough, Raritan Twp, Freeholder meetings, and school sports, community events for a wider community footprint than before.

I’ve known Curtis Leeds as a friend and colleague for 25+ years and have nothing but praise for him as a reporter with an excellent work ethic and sense of humor. However, the assertions in your “story” are inaccurate. TAPinto Flemington Raritan is committed to continued coverage of all issues of concern, community events, and the news in an objective and fair manner. Anyone who posts responding to your story can reach me at +19088926859 or

Regards, Joey Novick, Esq.
Publisher TAPinto Flemington Raritan

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Switlyk & Mullay: 6 years of feeble government in Clinton Township

Clinton Township council members Amy Switlyk and Brian Mullay are running for third terms. Their 6 years in office are marked by financial disasters and hiding their bad decisions. They brush off public scrutiny, mischaracterize serious problems, and avoid the truth about soaring taxes.

This year Clinton Township’s tax rate is up 13.45%, 4 times the next highest in the area. In contrast, school taxes are down 0.8%. The township’s budget is up 6.99% compared to 1.96% for Readington, the neighboring town most similar to Clinton Township. In 2018 Clinton Township’s tax rate was up 12.3%.

800+ housing units approved in secret

In December 2017, after a secret council meeting (a “closed session”), Switlyk and Mullay approved a settlement agreement with affordable housing advocate Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) to build over 800 new housing units in the township. Only a fraction are “affordable.” The rest are market-priced stand-alone houses, condos and apartments — a “bonus” for the developers who benefit from the re-zoning.

They allowed no public comment, held no hearing. There was no one in the audience when they voted “in public” to sign the deal — because no one was told they were going to do it.

They told residents that if they had comments, rather than speak up in the Clinton Township council chambers, objectors could drive to Somerville and tell it to a judge in court at a hearing. To participate, you had to file a formal objection with the court first.

Switlyk and Mullay didn’t reveal housing densities of 10 units per acre, or that 400 of them will be built on land that had been approved for only 21 units — next to a small neighborhood on a two-lane, unstriped country road near Foran Field.

Then they gave a donation of $30,000 of public funds to FSHC — the private advocacy group threatening to sue Clinton Township. They hid that, too, until a group of taxpayers found it.

Shhhh… let’s sue our neighbors!

Switlyk and Mullay approved suing Readington Township to confiscate its sewer capacity for Clinton Township’s affordable housing, without any public discussion. This was part of the FSHC settlement deal.

Even though the Clinton Township lawyers that wrote the settlement agreement also work for Readington, Readington was told nothing. Switlyk and Mullay kept mum. After being tipped off, Readington called the lawyers on the carpet because a lawyer cannot be on two sides of the same deal. They cannot represent both parties.

With the legal conflict of interest exposed, Switlyk, Mullay, the mayor and the rest of the council had to back off.

How to hide financial trouble

A town Clinton Township’s size should have about $1 million in surplus. At the May 24, 2017 budget hearing, the auditor said:

“Our surplus at the end of this past year was $49,000. It’s low…In 2015 it was $849,000. They used $800,000 to balance the 2016 budget. That left them with 49.”

In other words, to avoid raising taxes and disclosing serious financial trouble to the public, Switlyk and Mullay voted to use almost all their surplus to balance the 2016 budget.

$908,000 deficit

But it was much worse. Having depleted the surplus, Switlyk and Mullay approved sending a check to the school board for over $1 million, throwing the township into a $908,000 deficit.

While they tried to explain it away, the auditor stated that in his 11 years working on the township’s budgets, he had never seen a deficit. (See Annual Financial Statement for The Year 2017. p. 26.)

Switlyk, Mullay, the mayor and the council had to certify to the State that Clinton Township is a “Non-Qualifying Municipality,” the equivalent of getting audited by the IRS. (Hunterdon Review, May 26, 2017)

Political double-talk

When difficult questions were raised by the public at the budget hearing, Switlyk said:

“How many topics are you going to bring up?”

Asked to explain the $908,000 shortfall, Mullay said:

“It’s paperwork. I mean, I hate to put it that way but it’s paperwork.”

He blamed “previous administrations” 13 years ago.

Where’s the school tax revenue?

In December 2018 the school board sued the council for payment of school tax revenues. An expert “Municipal Finance Officer” certified that:

“the Township has created an endless cycle in which it has become dependent on the school district’s tax revenue to fund its own budget…The Township’s scheme [deferring school tax payments] is essentially like using one credit card to pay off another. It is not sustainable.”

Re-elect 6 years of feeble government?

Switlyk and Mullay have hidden 6 years of feeble government and questionable fiscal management, and covered up the costs.

Switlyk has fashioned herself as the advocate for parks and recreation, while she fumbles on the township’s big policy issues — including massive tax increases — and passes the ball with no comment.

Mullay serves as Council President and tries hard to cover up Mayor John Higgins’ shenanigans. He has stood by while Higgins spent untold sums on years’ of “negotations” with the Fair Share Housing Center — but never bothered to develop a strategy to fight off the unfunded mandate of affordable housing, which is not about the poor, but about enriching developers by giving them control over the township’s zoning.

Vote November 5 — It’s your town’s future

Republicans who vote the party line should ask, can we afford 3 more years of these two “Republicans”?

Democrats should realize their votes count, but only if they vote.

Independents should be aware that in the expected light turnout at the November 5 election, their votes could turn the tide for Clinton Township.

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