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.
The 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.”
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?
Councilman 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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. ExMayor.com 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.
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 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.”
(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, ExMayor.com 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 ExMayor.com, 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 ExMayor.com.
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.
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?
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.”
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
ExMayor.com 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.
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.
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 althunterdon.com, 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, ExMayor.com 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.
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, businessinsider.com 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.
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 – altHunterdon.com. 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 ExMayor.com 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 altHunterdon.com 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’ altHunterdon.com 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 altHunterdon.com shut down, Hunterdon County residents now have virtually no independent source of news about their local and county government’s activities. ExMayor.com 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.
The comments below were submitted to ExMayor.com 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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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)
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.
“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.
At the September 3, 2019 Hunterdon County Freeholder meeting, the editor of this publication announced that ExMayor.com is offering for sale official recordings of freeholder meetings going back to 2017 — recordings that the freeholders have destroyed and are thus no longer available from the County. Meeting recordings are routinely posted online by other counties, by municipalities and school boards for the convenience of citizens who don’t have time to attend public meetings. But not by the Hunterdon County Freeholders.
Then Freeholder John Lanza told a whopper.
It’s on the recording
Lanza, who is running for re-election, claimed he personally…
“…ordered those tapes be preserved. By state law we’re only required to keep them for 90 days. And in anticipation of one day having all of these recordings posted online, I ordered those tapes be preserved, and that order was continued by my successor, Deputy Freeholder Director [Matt] Holt, and continued by my friend — my present successor — Freeholder Director [Suzanne] Lagay. So best of luck… selling things to people that they can get for free… that we have preserved here since 2017 since I was director of this board. Good luck. [chuckles heard from Director Lagay]”
Lanza claims he “ordered the tapes be preserved,” but the county says they were destroyed during the year Lanza served as freeholder director.
For example, two of the recordings that ExMayor.com obtained and now offers for sale are for the March 21 and August 22, 2017 freeholder meetings. These were obtained under the Sunshine Law while Lanza was appointed freeholder director — during the 80-day window when the county is prohibited from erasing them.
Yet when TAPinto Flemington/Raritan requested those same two recordings just last month (September 2019), they “were not provided ‘because they were disposed of,’ County Records Custodian Samantha M. Gravelle wrote” to TapInto.
Lanza exclaimed that he should be thanked because people who want the recordings can get them for free.
Lanza told a whopper. And it’s captured on the audio recording above — which you cannot download on the freeholders’ website.
It’s clear the freeholders have relied on this method to keep the recordings from the public. The Schedule allows their destruction after “80 days or until either summary or verbatim transcript have been approved as minutes, whichever is longer.”
In 2016, Freeholders Matt Holt, Suzanne Lagay, John King and Lanza decided not to publish meeting recordings online because they were “concerned about the security” of the audio files. (See TAPinto.) Lanza promised to resolve those concerns and “step on it” to get them posted. That was three years ago.
You still can’t get them on the Freeholder website
For all the talk and bluster about recordings of freeholder meetings, no recordings of any freeholder meetings are available — for free or otherwise — on the freeholders’ website.
One can only ask:
What are the freeholders hiding?
Why did Lanza tell a whopper?
Why don’t the freeholders want you to hear their meetings?
The only place the destroyed meetings can be obtained online is ExMayor.com. One can only wonder how taxpayers would feel if the freeholders needed recordings and had to spend tax dollars to purchase them at ExMayor.com.
We’d love to see the Freeholders put us out of business and do what any ethical government body would do — make their meeting recordings freely available for download on their website.
But that means we first need freeholders who aren’t hiding anything and who are not afraid the public will hear how they operate. Lanza and his running mate Zachary Rich are on the November ballot.
Digital audio recordings of public meetings that the Hunterdon County Freeholders refuse to publish on their website are now available for sale via instant download here on ExMayor.com. Dozens of recordings go back to 2017.
The freeholders record their meetings, then delete or erase the recordings. During a narrow window of time, the law requires that the recordings be retained by the county. For the past two years, ExMayor.com has obtained these recordings under New Jersey’s Sunshine Law before they are destroyed.
The recordings are public records and in the public domain.
The freeholders have not cited cost as a reason for not publishing their recordings. They have cited “security” concerns as their reason for not publishing recordings that you may now download anyway.
We’re offering these recordings to the public because the freeholders won’t. We believe the public wants to hear audio records of the county’s business, and that the recordings are useful to:
state and municipal officials
attorneys and litigants
the freeholders’ political rivals
and other parties interested in freeholder board proceedings.
Why is it important to have public access to these recordings?
Mainly because it seems the freeholders don’t want the public to hear them at work.
Conduct their public meetings when most people are at work, at 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Routinely change the time and location of their meetings.
Delete their meeting recordings.
Government transparency is a trend
Other governing bodies routinely publish audio of their meetings. For example, the Somerset County Freeholders record and publish both audio and video of their meetings and stream meetings live on their website. More and more Hunterdon County municipalities (Readington Township, Tewksbury Township) and school boards (North Hunterdon-Voorhees, Clinton Township) routinely publish their public meeting recordings so people who cannot attend meetings can hear the proceedings.
Technology makes it easy for busy citizens play audio books, stream video and rely on podcasts to listen to news and events at their convenience. In the interest of transparency — not to mention keeping voters engaged and educated — government has learned to make its proceedings available on the fly.
Why aren’t the recordings available for free on the Hunterdon County website?
The freeholders want you to go to their website to find out whether their meeting is at 4:00 or 4:30, or whether the time has been changed to 5:00 or 5:30 p.m., and whether it’s being held in Flemington or Kingwood, Clinton or Raritan.
But you can’t go to their website tomorrow to hear what they said at their meeting last night.
The freeholders have repeatedly refused to publish their recordings. In fact, based on responses of the county to our Sunshine Law requests, the freeholders destroy the recordings as soon as the law permits, after around 80 days. (Destruction of Public Records Act, Chapter 410, PL 1953). The recordings are apparently used only to produce required written minutes of meetings. The minutes are archived and available, but they are edited summaries, not transcripts.
The matter came to a head at the December 20, 2016 public meeting, when freeholder Rob Walton made a motion to publish the recordings like other governing bodies do. Freeholder John King seconded the motion but then withdrew it, so the motion could not be voted on.
The freeholders have taken no action in the almost three years since then to publish the recordings.
Why won’t the freeholders publish the recordings? “Security.”
Led by freeholder Matt Holt, the freeholder board engaged in an embarrassing “deliberation,” about posting the recordings to their website, for over 15 minutes. The following audio excerpts are from the December 20, 2016 meeting.
Holt nervously stumbled and bumbled through an almost incomprehensible explanation about the “security” of the recordings.
Matt Holt: Just out of curiosity, what prevents, what I want to understand is, how are they archived later on, what is the prevention measure? I have no objection to being recorded, the, the, the concern is, the, the security of those recordings, and the inability to have them manipulated in any way, shape or form, beyond, beyond the actual security of our website, and with our own data files.
Whispered by someone: “Or used for any other purpose.”
Holt: “Or used for any other purpose… My objection is not about recording our meetings, my objection is how we’re going to ensure that those recordings are in fact, um, secure and…”
Whispered by someone: “Cannot be tampered with.”
Holt: “And cannot be tampered with, and are, like every other document we have, um, archived in a fashion that, uh, ensures, the, the, the, uh, the overall, um, in, in their entirety… I don’t think you can just arbitrarily say, take our recordings and put them up on a website…I think you have to be sure that you understand what the process is so that the recordings exist in their correct format and, and are, and are secure. ”
But the recordings would be secure
While other governing bodies freely distribute their meeting audio, Holt frets. Freeholder Rob Walton explained security for the audio mp3 files to Holt:
“They would be on our secured server, which has the same security as any other document that we have in the county.”
Duh. Just like any song you listen to on Spotify or Apple Music. Or on your mobile device.
Walton explains there’s nothing to this, it’s a no-brainer, that the public wants it, and that it would enhance government transparency:
But freeholders John King, Suzanne Lagay and John Lanza echoed and reinforced Holt’s Luddite paranoia. Maybe they don’t listen to podcasts or download mp3 files or understand how this marvelous technology works. They could ask a fifth grader.
Freeholder John Lanza wants your vote
Freeholder Deputy Director Lanza is running for re-election in November. At the December 20, 2016 meeting Lanza showed how he’s perfected political double-talk. He wants the recordings published, but he doesn’t.
Lanza said he’d approve publishing meeting recordings — but not now. Later.
“I agree with Mr. Walton. I agree that this stuff should be online. I have no problem with this whatsoever. How long would it take for us to be able to figure out what the security issue is, resolve it so that we can just move ahead? Because I’m willing to withhold my yes vote [to publish the recordings] conditionally, now, but I’m not willing to withhold it that much longer. This is something that has to be done and for the sake of, um, allaying legitimate concerns that my colleagues have regarding security, I’m willing to withhold the yes vote for now, but I do intend to vote yes on this at some point in the near future, very soon, so I think we should really step on it.”
Almost three years later, the only thing Freeholder John Lanza has stepped on is the public’s right to know. He has not “moved ahead” with publication of the recordings. But he wants taxpayers — especially those much-prized Millennials who love their podcasts — to re-elect him in November.
“Freeholder Mat[t] Holt… asked that Freeholders wait before acting on posting the audio until an upcoming 45-day technology security review is complete.”
“‘Diving half-blind into something makes no sense,’ Holt told the Freeholder board. Freeholder John King agreed and said, ‘We want to defer to the results of the IT security and infrastructure review.’ Freeholder John Lanza said that while sharing audio is ‘something we should be doing,’ he, too, has security concerns.”
Over two years after that “IT review” of “security concerns” was completed, the freeholders have taken no action to publish the meeting recordings they continue to make. After spending tax dollars to make the recordings, they spend more tax dollars to destroy them.
It’s taking longer for Holt and his crew to decide what to do with their mp3s than it takes Taylor Swift to write, record and release a new album.
Millennials Want To Know: Where’s my government?
The Hunterdon Freeholders have explained that they conduct their public meetings at 4:30 p.m, or 5:00 p.m., or 5:30 p.m., and sometimes at 10:00 a.m. (it depends — last-minute changes in time and location are common) to avoid conflicts with local municipal government meetings, which are typically held at 7:00 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.
By meeting hours earlier, the freeholders suggest people can attend both county and local meetings. The freeholders also move their meetings around, holding them in government chambers in towns around Hunterdon County — to make it “easier” to attend.
But most taxpayers work. They’re not able to attend meetings in Flemington or elsewhere at 5:00. Busy citizens — and the Millennials the freeholders claim they’re trying to attract to the mp3-less Hunterdon County — want to know, “It’s 5 o’clock — do I know where my freeholders are and what they’re doing? Where’s my podcast?”
Why worry about freeholders?
The county freeholders collect and control a huge chunk of local property taxes, which they decide how to channel and spend. Their 2019 budget is $88.491 million. Freeholders also funnel enormous funding from the state and federal government — to whomever they wish.
Their power over the distribution of money is immense, but few taxpayers even know who they are, much less what they do. And it’s clear that the freeholders prefer it that way.
Why has Lanza quietly buried the matter during his re-election campaign? Why do the freeholders still meet while everyone else is at work?
The Sunshine Law
As far as government transparency goes, one law taketh away, and another law giveth.
One New Jersey law permits the Hunterdon County Freeholders to record their public meetings and then to destroy those recordings. Another law requires the county to produce those recordings to any citizen that demands them, while the recordings still exist. That’s why we’re making them available for sale.
It’s long past time the State of New Jersey required local and county government to record and publish the recordings of public proceedings.
It’s no accident that the excerpts of the December 20, 2016 meeting provided above are not available. How’d we get them? The online news outlet, TAPintoFlemington/Raritan obtained and published the recording of that meeting before ExMayor.com started its collection.
What the freeholders are afraid of
The freeholders admit what they are really afraid of — someone might “manipulate” or “tamper” with their meeting recordings, “in any way, shape or form, beyond, beyond the actual security of [the county’s] website.”
Or, are the freeholders afraid of you?
Do the freeholders prefer that we elect them — then leave them alone to operate while taxpayers have no reasonable chance to see or hear what their elected officials are doing?
A taxpayer who enjoys podcasts might say to Matt Holt, “Gimme a break! MP3 security???”
Public Hunterdon County Freeholder meeting recordings now for sale
Now anyone can purchase and instantly download official recordings of Hunterdon County Freeholder meetings here on ExMayor.com. Including the freeholders.
Update July 23, 2020
Our offer to sell recordings of freeholder meetings has had its intended effect to publicly shame the Hunterdon County freeholders into providing recordings of their meetings online for free. (Heck, your taxes have already paid for them!) Perhaps public scrutiny about Freeholder John Lanza’s recent scandal helped the august body realize the public is fed up with secrecy and hints of corruption.
Just 3 months after Hunterdon Medical Center measured Lanza’s blood alcohol content (BAC) of .34 percent (more than four times the .08 percent legal limit) after being found unconscious by police in his car, the audio recordings suddenly started appearing for free on the freeholders’ website. They go back only to July 20, 2020. The freeholders have older recordings but will not publish them, claiming a right to erase them.
ExMayor.com is no longer selling its cache of recordings (March 2017 – September 2019) online. However, we are glad to make them available upon request at our discretion. Drop us a note.
No thanks to the freeholders for doing what they should have done years ago.