Thoughts about the last freeholder meeting

My friend Haystacks Calhoun offers these thoughts about last Wednesday’s freeholder meeting.

Having listened (more or less) to Wednesday night’s freeholder meeting, I have the following comments. LC they’re pretty long, so once again I provide you with an abridged version: Carl Johnson (again!) stole my bike and peed on my lawn (really getting tired of this Carl).

1. The Chapel.

The 6-1 vote was expected, but a few things are worth reporting and commenting on. Whelan was a bit grumpy about the “false accusations” out there that if he voted for this it would be proof that he is influenced by Magazzu. Jannarone and Pepitone dismissed as political spin comments that the election served as a referendum on the chapel. Dunkins was “disenchanted” by the Rs’ labeling the Ds as “free spending Democrats” and hoped this wasn’t a sign of partisan politics entering the freeholder board. Magazzu blasted opponents of the chapel saying they ought to be “ashamed of themselves” for using this as a political issue. He said he would be proudest of this vote, stating that sometimes you have do the right thing and not what is necessarily popular, likening this situation to Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, poll tax opposition, and women’s suffrage.

They all have me shaking my head. Magazzu’s rant was classic Magazzu. He framed the debate such that anybody opposing this is “saying that the veterans are not worth 20 cents a year.” In his political Oz it is simply not possible to be for veterans and against the chapel. And this is where Whelan disappoints big time. He just sits there right next to Lou and says nothing as Lou distorts things and corrupts the process. And that’s why people think you’re in bed with Lou, Mr. Whelan. Your silence lends consent to Lou’s outrageous behavior and you sir are always silent, in your own Oz, when Lou is engaging in his shenanigans. Jannarone and Pepitone conflate facts and spin, the facts being spin and the spin being facts in their political Oz. In Dunkins’ Oz the letter to the editor by Fiocchi, Kirstein, and Sheppard about the chapel represented the injection of partisan politics into the board, even though Magazzu is by far the most partisan
politician Cumberland County has ever had. In Thompson’s — he was Harpo Marx at the meeting, saying pretty much nothing (and, by others’ accounts, texting during the meeting) — Oz he gets paid by the public to just sit there. In my Oz, I find a pair of ruby slippers that fit me so I can click them together (three times) and get out of the Freeholders’ Oz.

2. The Return of the Lou Math

Back in February, I described “Lou Math” in which figures are just invented to suit Magazzu’s needs. Lou Math returned Wednesday, as Lou’s backside was busy churning out numbers for Lou to pull out and use to justify his position. The fact they had no basis in reality means nothing in Lou’s political Oz. Lou admitted the $0.20 figure was based on the entire population of the County, as if the County’s children and huge population of indigent contribute to the County’s tax rolls. A classic Lou tactic to keep the people’s eye off the real number – $500,000 to build a chapel – a number that doesn’t even get into sewer and water hookups and post-construction maintenance. Of course, Lou never applies Lou Math to matters that would make him look bad. For example, how about those people the County laid off? Under Lou Math, each one of their jobs and was worth a couple of cents a year. For less than a few pennies Lou could have kept them on the payroll; instead, he chose to lay them off. Lou, you’re the one who should be ashamed, not those opposing the chapel.

3. The Surrogate Salary Issue

This has already been reported on here at MWatch. However, it is worth noting that Lou hung his D colleagues on the board out to dry on this one. Lou, the last vote caster, voted no on the pay raise, the other D freeholders having already provided the majority to pass the resolution. Thus, Lou gave himself some distance on this blatant flip-flop, while those up for re-election next year had no such luxury. When it comes to political capital Lou is a tightwad: why should he spend his when he can get his colleagues to spend theirs? And that is exactly what Dunkins, Jannarone, and Whelan – all up for re-lection next year (assuming they run) – did by voting yes on this resolution. Also, I do not believe this resolution is in the agenda that is available on the County’s website. Thus, it truly was a stealth resolution, not appearing on the advance agenda, passed at the end of a meeting held on the evening before Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas, Surrogate Rainear; enjoy your holiday bonus, while other former County employees will be trying to get by with a puny unemployment check. People get laid off, so you can enjoy a monstrous salary that you vowed you would not take. You sir are a disgrace.

As Carl, has already pointed out, let’s not let Dunkins, Jannarone, and Whelan off the hook on this. They must be reminded of Fact 5 from their campaign flyer: “Freeholder Bill Whelan and his running mates Jane Jannarone and Jim Dunkins have promised to take the…savings from the Austino-Rainear cuts and apply it directly to property tax relief.” Now that the Rainear “cut” is an increase how are they going to make good on their property relief promise?

(And no Jimmy Sauro we can’t sue Rainear for breach of contract. If we could, we should also sue LoBiondo for breach of contract, since he signed one back in 1994 promising to serve only six terms.)

4. Magazzu’s Rules of (Dis)Order

Listening to the freeholder meeting, I was baffled at how some motions are voted on. Toward the middle of the meeting, after the chapel resolution was voted on, the freeholders took up a huge number of separate resolutions involving a lot of routine matters (I guess they’re routine; someone should take a hard look at what was approved). They chose to bundle all of these under one large omnibus motion. However, when the votes were cast on this motion, freeholders were permitted to break up their vote, voting aye on some things but abstaining on others. I deal with Robert’s Rules of Order a lot, and I have never heard or seen of a situation where people are allowed to vote differently on various items that are presented under a single motion.

My experience is that bundling can only occur when one will vote the same way one all the items in the large resolution. For example, let’s say there are twenty resolutions that all the freeholders will vote aye on and another five resolutions that six freeholders will vote aye one and one freeholder will abstain. Passage of these matters would require two motions one for the twenty that will pass unanimously and another one for the five where the vote will be six ayes with one abstention. However, Wednesday night they bundled all “routine” matters together, with all the freeholders voting aye but then often “abstaining” from pieces of the omnibus resolution.

I can’t find anything in Robert’s Rules of Orders that allows this. When a motion is up for a vote a participant has three options: aye, nay, abstain. If someone wants to vote differently on parts of a motion then the question has to be divided into multiple motions.

Under Magazzu’s Rules of (Dis)Order important documents, like the N.J. State Constitution (it explicitly says you can’t use taxpayer monies to build chapels, yet the freeholders have passed a resolution on first reading authorizing exactly that!), and classic references, like Robert’s Rules of Order, have no standing.

5. Show Me the Money (Spent)! Bills Paid Lists Go Missing

A citizen raised a great point that the minutes published on the County’s website are usually missing the bills paid statements. I reviewed the minutes for all meetings for 2010 and could not find a bills paid list (with the Cumberland County Administrator’s certification) for any meeting, except the 23 September meeting. Meetings for all other months (Jan-Aug; Oct) had resolutions passed authorizing bill payments but they do not provide a bills paid list but rather refer the public to a “supplemental binder.” This information is critical and worthy of including in the minutes (the minutes of the Millville City Commission always contain a bills paid list) because it allows citizens to track how its government is spending their money.

For example, from the 23 September bills paid list one learns that the County spent 19.5 million dollars, including three payments to Albert Kelly’s Tri-County Community Action Partnership totaling $46,283.79. Besides paying Brendan Kavanagh’s salary, other lawyers paid in this period included $42,064.30 to Lipman, Antonelli ,et al. (current judge and previous County counsel ,Gary Wodlinger’s former firm), and smaller sums to Edward Duffy, Florio et al., Genova et al. (Newark), McManimon & Scotland (Newark), Robert Pryor, and SJ Legal Services (all this money for lawyers and yet the County appears to be on the cusp of passing a resolution authorizing something – the building of a chapel – that the state constitution explicitly forbids!). Wheat Road Cold Cuts was paid $65,114.66. That’s a lot of boiled ham! Maybe they’re feeding the prisoners or those living at the Manor. Also the accounting firm Bowman & Co was paid $16,750. Big deal you
ask. Well, remember back on 26 October, I reported an incredible coincidence that on 8 June 2010 ten out-of-County people each donated $500.00 to the Pepitone/Thompson campaign. The coincidence was even remarkable in that they all worked for the same firm – Bowman & Co.!

Keep in mind that these tidbits I have provided are only from the 19.5 million dollars the County authorized spending during its September meeting. Imagine what else I could write about if I had ready access to the specifics (i.e., bills paid lists) on what the County did with the other 187.8 million dollars it has spent in 2010. I think someone should ask for these specifics. In 2010, there is no need whatsoever for maintenance of a “supplemental binder.” Save paper and put the damned bills paid lists online as part of the minutes. Our local papers should demand that this happen.

6. Bad Manners I: Texting

At the end of Wednesday’s freeholder meeting, one citizen got up and strongly objected to many of the freeholders texting during the meeting. He asked if he would be able to OPRA the text messages. While I don’t want nor need to see the content of these messages, I also strongly object to the freeholders doing this. It is rude and sends the message that the meeting is not important to the freeholders.

As bad as the texting was, the explanations for this given by Dunkins and Whelan were worse. Both admitted to being sensitive to the criticism, but stated that there were times when they needed to communicate with their families and that technology now allowed them to do this. Whelan went so far as to say that his family “comes first.” No one disputes that Mr. Whelan, but does exchanging routine greetings, pleasantries, and updates with your family take precedence over doing the County’s business? Your explanation last night indicated that that was exactly what you were doing. There was no emergency in the Whelan household. Freeholders should not be using their cell phones during freeholder meetings, except in exceptional circumstances. There were no exceptional circumstances last night.

7. Bad Manners II: Bipartisan Talking During the Meeting

Jimmy Sauro, I like your show (most of the time) and agree with you a lot, but you and Warden Balicki and another as yet unidentified person were also guilty of bad behavior at the freeholder meeting. As anyone who goes knows, the freeholder chamber is less a public hearing chamber and more like a broom closet, with little room for citizens to attend. Thus, when attendance is high, the public is forced to stand out in the hallway just outside the chamber proper. My volunteer recorder was just inside the chamber near the hallway. When she gave me the tape she apologized that it might not be good as some “bozos” were just outside the chamber yacking it up during the meeting making it hard to hear what was going on up front.

Sure enough when I listened to the tape, what do I hear? Jimmy Sauro and Warden Balicki and someone else blabbing away even during the moment of silence. What is worse is that you guys kept on with your gabfest even though you got shushed twice, once being told to take it down the hall. Yeah, you may have been outside the chamber proper but so were a number of people who were attending the meeting. And remember, if you are gabbing away, there’s a good chance it is being recorded – perhaps an even better incentive for you jokers to shut your pieholes.

I don’t want to be the schoolmarm here with my rants about manners, but it is a symptom of the decline of society, especially when there are such blatant cases during public meetings. A good rule of thumb: if what you’re doing would get you detention in school, then don’t do it at public meetings. Many of the freeholders, Sauro, and Balicki should have received detention.

8. Miscellaneous Observations from the Freeholder Meeting

Unless, Don Olbrich is working for free he is getting paid too much. Whelan isn’t all that Hummel cracks him up to be. Sure he may be the most talented D freeholder but that isn’t saying much. His silence during Lou’s rants, lame justification for the chapel, poor excuses for why he reads and sends text messages during meetings are all disappointing. Whelan is the last regular D I voted for in freeholder elections, but I will not be voting for him next year. Dan Mourning was the best speaker. Let’s hope he does indeed go to additional freeholder meetings. County officials acknowledged (before Kavanagh could advise them not to!) that someone has filed a complaint with EEOC regarding the County’s 911 program and that the complaint is being investigated. Lou was upset (perhaps it was feigned) that the legal opinion on eliminating health benefits for part-time employees had not been received. Why does the County need a legal opinion on this? Millville just got rid of them with no long drawn out process.

9. Summary

Weird procedures, unconstitutional resolutions, rude behavior, missing paperwork, numbers that don’t add up, an unexpected pay raise for a crony. This freeholder meeting had that and more.

However, we must end on a positive note. Kirstein and Fiocchi were there and they were impressive. They stood up to Lou without stooping to his level. I look forward to when they are freeholders. Kirstein was even – perhaps unintentionally – humorous when he stated during the chapel debate that a synagogue was not a chapel and then went on to state that he wasn’t Jewish even though his name surname ended in “stein”.

Change is a coming. Hurry up 2011.


9 Responses to Thoughts about the last freeholder meeting

  1. Steve Tatz says:

    This is starting to sound like Mayberry…where’s Barney?

  2. Hang 'em High says:

    The Vets Chapel Issue may be just a smoke-screen to minimize the fallout of the obscene pay raises granted to the surrogate and the sheriff.

    Wonder how these raises will effect the pensions of these 2?

  3. mango says:

    Great job, Calhoun. Thanks for the in depth report and analysis of the Freeholder Follies.

  4. GoGoCumCo says:

    The Surrogate’s salary issue makes me sick………enough said…..

  5. Wheat road coldcuts there not even in Cumberland COUNTY What is wrong with this picture. Did the county line move! It’s time that in 2011 we get people on that board who cares about Cumberland County.Lou has to be releived of his duties as Director.Then off the board.Cumberland County deserse better. Shame on you Lou and the rest of his puppets.

  6. ignatz says:

    Thanks Calhoun for this very indepth piece.
    To add to the Raniear salary increase, it is not surprising. He spent two (2) years in an elected position that carries a term of five (5) years. Easy math has the remaining term as three (3) years. Not surprising is that three (3) years is the period of time that State Pensions are based on unless the pensioner is a Vet, which I do not believe Raniear is. Hence a precalculated move to get elected on false pretenses, followed by a salary increase when the political “heat” dissipates, thereby effectively increasing the salary that his pension will be based on.
    The Magazzu “No” vote is calculated also. While he did throw his political cronies on the board under the bus (he has been known to do this many times before) he had the ability to vote no because the rest, besides the level headed Tom Sheppard, all voted yes. Magazzu as the Chair votes last, a privilege he abused in this case to make himself look good to the masses. All part of his calculated trickery.

  7. jennifer swift says:

    Calhoun’s comments are so complete and on target. I didn’t attend the Freeholder meeting, but have heard from many about it.
    Whelan spent so much time talking about how Lou doesn’t control him that all I can hear is “thou dost protest too much”.
    He also said (from what I am told) that this is the hardest decision he has had to make as a Freeholder. That is because all the facts point toward a “no” vote, but he would really like to build something nice for the veterans. It’s unconstitutional, unnecessary, too expensive, but wouldn’t it be lovely.
    If laying off all those county workers and what it did to their families wasn’t the hardest decison, then I have misjudged his character.
    Lou just enjoys manipulating his fellow democrats. It’s hard to watch. His constant thrill at gamemanship really undermines our county government’s ability to be productive.
    Rev. Dunkin? What did you expect him to vote about a chapel.
    Thompson,Pepitone and Jannarone just don’t get the problems our citizens are facing, or they just don’t care.
    Every vote should be analyzed by asking “Could this money have saved a job?”

  8. Uol Uzzagam says:

    If Nelson had balls he would surprise us all and vote no on the second reading. That’s a big IF ! I would consider voting for Nelson in the future if he did this one thing.

  9. Mark says:

    I have tried to ignore this but its so blatent of an insult to every hardworking citizen of the County. If Idid not have work all the time, I would be there and take photos and videos just to make em nervous. Hell, they should be nervous. I might just contact the ACLU. What liers and boobs.

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