A guest commentary by our friend Haystacks Calhoun
Each year the National Association of Counties holds an annual meeting at which it elects a second vice president. This title seems rather mundane but it is the only position in NACo, which is typically contested. Also, the 2nd V.P. ultimately becomes president of NACo, which is somewhat significant.
Lou Magazzu ran twice for this position. In 2008, he ran against Glen Whitley a judge from Texas and lost (Whitley is now NACo’s President). In 2009, he ran against Lenny Eliason, a county commissioner from Ohio and lost again. (Apparently only Cumberland County has trouble figuring Magazzu out.) As MWatch readers know, Magazzu’s run in 2008 was infamous as it gave us NACo-gate. Lou’s NACo donors grace the right hand portion of this site’s webpage as a sort-of perverse masthead that reminds us each visit why we do indeed need to watch Magazzu. Lou, lest he become NACo’s version of the Buffalo Bills, did not run again in 2010.
However, loose ends remain on the NACo front. While much was made of Lou’s trip to Washington D.C. in March 2009 (at a cost of $7,000 from Lou’s NACo account) and Nashville, Tennessee in July 2009 ($20,000 from Lou’s NACo account), less has been made of his 2008 run. As best I can tell, Lou has never made a full accounting of expenses for the 2008 run. EyesEverywhere in a 29 October 2009, post noted: “In 2008, Lou charged the county thousands for flights, lodging and even advertising during his first NACo campaign. We find no evidence that any of that money had been reimbursed.” Indeed! Furthermore, during both of Lou’s runs for this national NACo office, Lou did national campaigning. For example, according to the minutes for 15 Nov. 2007 meeting of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) Board of Directors in Oakland, Magazzu was there to discuss “his candidacy for National Association of Counties (NACo) 2nd Vice President in
2008 and requested CSAC’s support.”
Thus, we have to ask how many times did Lou leave the County to campaign for his 2008 and 2009 NACo runs and who paid for these trips? His account of his NACo slush fund covers only his 2009 run and only accounts for his trips to official NACo meetings in D.C. and Nashville. There is still no accounting for anything from his 2008 run (which would include campaigning in late 2007, such as his trip to California) nor any additional campaign trips he may have for his 2009 NACo run.
The fact that Lou packed his bags and left the 2009 conference in Nashville after being defeated is proof positive that this wasn’t about Lou serving Cumberland County but was simply about Lou serving Lou. And, of course, we heard nothing about this year’s NACo conference in Reno, Nevada, since Lou was not on the ballot.
If you want more Lou serving Lou there is his new business, QES Energy Solutions. As reported by MWatch, QES recently became a (regular) corporate member of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), the same organization he tried to get the support of when he was running for the NACo office in 2008 and 2009. Earlier this year, the following announcement appeared in an alumni newsletter for University of Maryland (http://www.odk.umd.edu/pdf_files/odkleader-spring10.pdf): “Lou Magazzu ’79, while continuing his law practice and serving as a member of the Cumberland County, New Jersey, Board of Chosen Freeholders, has started his own company, Quantum Energy Solutions, LLC. He is planning to expand it nationwide in the near future.” Can there be any doubt that Lou was talking up his national business plans when gallivanting beyond NJ’s borders on his national NACo campaign, paid for by the County and his special NACo slush fund?
While Lou had a lot to gain from his NACo involvement what has Cumberland County gained? Best I can tell we have a crummy drug card program that Lou could have just as easily learned about by visiting NACo’s website. (When Jane Christy was freeholder she raised some question about one of the companies running this programs and Lou cautioned her that if she didn’t stop she might end up getting sued.) NACo does have a good model code of ethics that counties can adopt. Instead, our county’s code of ethics was watered down to allow Lou to raise funds for his NACo campaign (see MW post on 26 July 2009); also the county’s ethics board is pretty much moribund.
We could benefit from NACo through its local affiliate, the NJ Association of Counties, for which Lou used to be president. However, NJAC and its Executive Director, Celeste Carpiano, have come under heavy fire of late due to Ms. Carpiano’s outrageous salary and enrollment in the state pension plan, as well as other excesses (all of this reported on MW). Of course, Lou has always said good things about NJAC and Ms. Carpiano.
Furthermore, if NACo is so great, why are only ten (Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hudson, Ocean, Salem, Somerset, Union) – less than half!– of NJ’s 21 counties members of NACo (see http://www.naco.org/Counties/Pages/NACo_FindACounty.aspx)? Are the other eleven counties (Burlington, Camden, Essex, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren) worse off due to their nonmember status with respect to NACo? I doubt it. They’re saving in annual membership dues.
Given all of these unanswered questions, not to mention the questionable nature of the contributions made to Lou’s NACo fund by many prominent politicians, (this thoroughly covered by MW), one would think things would be boiling over around Magazzu. Instead all seems to be quiet on the Magazzu front. Indeed, there appears to be a move afoot for a graceful exit from the political scene for Magazzu. He is behaving himself these days, the last quintessential Magazzu outburst occurring way back in July when he attacked Jim Begley in BEN after Begley’s loss to Al Kelly in Bridgeton’s mayoral election.
The powers that be are hoping that the new polite Lou will allow the controversy around him to fade, so that he can quietly exit the scene. He is taking no role in this year’s County elections (Nelson and Joe you’re own your own). Barring Magazzu getting snared by an investigation, he seems destined to ride into the political sunset, possibly set up in a position courtesy of his political cronies.
While the county would certainly benefit from Lou’s exit, given all he has done, is Lou deserving of a graceful exit and plum position?