Monday, November 29, 2010

Let the Sunshine In

Anyone got $10 million they can send me?  Sheriff Deborah Trout, Under Sheriff Michael Russo, Former Sheriff’s investigator John Falat Jr., former Democrat Councilman in Lebanon Borough, former Flemington police officer and former candidate for freeholder Christopher Foley, New York City dentist Douglas King, and a New York City resident Serena Dean, a stem cell research scientist, are all suing me Freeholders Holt, Melick, Mennen and Sworen, Assemblyman Erik Peterson, former Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes, Administrator Cindy Yard, County Counsel Gaetano De Sapio, and other yet to be named John and Jane Does for $10,000,000.

They claim an “ongoing pattern and practice of violation of State and Federal laws.”  They allege that there was if not a conspiracy a concurrent effort to besmirch them and their associates.  Trout, Russo and Fallat were indicted by Barnes’ office in April.  Those indictments were later tossed unceremoniously and Trout claimed that action vindicated her and her friends.

Not so fast says William McGovern.  Reported in the Hunterdon County Democrat, “McGovern claims that representatives of the Attorney General’s Office and the criminal justice division, “formulated a plan to dismiss the indictments, and force the removal… of certain individuals associated with the investigation and/or prosecution,” of the case.  He basically claims this is part of a grand cover up foreshadowed by Undersheriff Russo’s claim that this would all go away.

In short all of these individuals filing tort claims want the same thing.  They want to know as Ray Donavan stated "Which office do I go to get my reputation back?"  Ray Donovan, secretary of labor under President Reagan, was indicted but subsequently acquitted of charges that he defrauded the New York City Transit Authority of millions.  Mr. Donovan is part owner of Fiddler’s Elbow so I am sure he is doing fine now and given the fame of his quote, I hope his reputation has been restored. 

My answer is to all of this is to make all of the documents related to this open to anyone who wants to see them.  Allow the Hunterdon County Democrat, Lambertville Beacon, the Express-Times, Courier News, Trenton Times, Hunterdon Review, Star Ledger, or better still the New York Times, Wall Street Journal,  for that matter any paper to come and review the documents, emails, anything from the County’s emails, the Sheriff’s emails, the Prosecutors emails, all evidence, court filings, personnel documents, campaign ledgers, anything.

We can put it all in the Historic Courthouse for the public to read them.  Post all of it online for people to access.  We need to close this chapter in Hunterdon history so we can move forward on the larger issues facing us, recession, property taxes, school administration costs, sharing services.

Allow the cleansing light of sunshine to straighten this whole thing out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sharing Services

There have been two recent letters to the editor in the Hunterdon County Democrat regarding sharing services.  One from Committeeman Spencer Peck (R-Clinton Township) and the other from Councilman Gerry St. Onge (D-Frenchtown) encouraging more sharing, but in particular sharing police, fire and EMS.  Mr. Peck has called for the County of Hunterdon to take over Police for all 26 municipalities.  This has been seized on by others calling for the Sheriff to be the County Police Chief.
First, the County should not be coming down on municipalities with an edict any more than the State.  Mandates are just as bad when they come from Flemington as when they come from Trenton.  Second, studies are often performed but rarely implemented.  Especially in this economy, government cannot engage in fruitless endeavors.    And that is exactly what any study of County wide police in Hunterdon would amount to without buy in from two very different groups of municipalities: those that get State Police protection at no impact on municipal budgets and those that pay for local Police from municipal tax revenue.  The former are getting something for "free" and the latter enjoy a relatively high level of service.
We have seen Police Departments closed in Califon and Lebanon in recent years opting for sharing with a neighboring community and State Police respectively but Flemington experienced a citizens revolt when it was revealed consolidating Police services was being discussed.  So far, we have one township and one Councilman calling for abolishing local police in favor of a county model.
At this point it is my opinion that the County can serve as a facilitator in ascertaining the level of desire for such an arraignment. A Police Summit for elected officials could be a good first step.

Some threshold questions that such a summit should reveal:
  • How many towns believe their residents are ready to have a lower level of service in exchange for lower municipal budgets?
  • Would municipalities with police departments cut there budgets by a commensurate amount if the County created a Hunterdon Police department?  In other words if a town's budget is 25% police, would it cut spending 25% or just spend that money elsewhere.
  • Are there any towns whose residents are willing to see taxes rise in exchange for a County Police force and perhaps a better level of service?
What I believe is the best strategy, from both a likelihood of success, a likelihood of support and an operational efficacy is a regional approach where neighboring towns of similar character create a multi-municipal force or share an existing force (see Califon & Washington Twp, Morris County and Washington Borough & Township, Warren County).  There is still no guarantee of success (i.e. the Amwells and Lambertville) but it seems to be a much better approach.

Whatever we do, continuing what we are now doing is not working and we in County elected office need to be willing to help our municipal partners better how we deliver services.


More later on Fire Companies, EMS and Schools sharing.