Today’s news from PoliticsNJ.com

 

THE FINE, UPSTANDING PARKING AUTHORITIES OF HUDSON COUNTY

“During his tenure as mayor of Bayonne, state Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph V. Doria Jr. arranged for the firing of two employees who aided an investigation into corruption and ticket-fixing at the Bayonne Parking Authority, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the former workers.

In the civil lawsuit, filed in federal court last month, former BPA Director Peter Hilburn and Executive Secretary Felicia Ryan claim they were fired this summer for helping the state Attorney General's Office with an ongoing probe into the alleged corruption at the agency. When they first tried to report the misconduct internally, the suit says, Doria had told them to keep quiet.

Hilburn said he then went to the attorney general, and told his personal lawyer, Peter Cresci, that he was an informant. Cresci, who also was the BPA's lawyer and an assistant city attorney, told Doria, who had Hilburn fired, according to the lawsuit.

Through a DCA spokesman, Doria said the parking authority is an independent agency, and any decisions regarding staff are made by the agency's commissioners. But the spokesman, Chris Donnelly, declined to comment directly when asked if Doria was responsible for Hilburn's termination. Doria — who stepped down as mayor and state senator to take over DCA in October — said he was unaware of an investigation in Bayonne until subpoenas arrived at City Hall this summer, Donnelly said. Cresci, now the BPA's acting director, declined to comment.

In the lawsuit, Hilburn and Ryan allege that they became suspicious when Hilburn was asked to sign a $2,400 check for a party at BPA Chairman Rocco Coviello's restaurant, The Chandelier, without having an invoice or a receipt for the party.

Ryan also claims she once found two envelopes in then-Assistant Director Kathy Lo Re's filing cabinet containing unreported cash and a third containing three parking tickets and a thank-you note to Lo Re from BPA Commissioner Michael Pierson. Lo Re also allegedly forged Hilburn's signature to dismiss hundreds of parking tickets, according to the lawsuit. ” (Judd, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-8/1196055834253430.xml&coll=1

“At least three former Bayonne Parking Authority officials have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, likely in connection with an investigation into possible criminal activity at the BPA this summer, said Bayonne's top lawyer and an attorney for two of the officials.

Peter Hilburn and Felicia Ryan, who were fired from the Bayonne Parking Authority this summer, were subpoenaed last week to appear before a state grand jury on Dec. 10, said their attorney, Karen DeSoto.

City Law Director John Coffey II added that Kathy Lo Re, who was also fired in what was then called a "streamlining" of the BPA, has also been subpoenaed to testify before a state grand jury.

Neither DeSoto nor Coffey knew what those subpoenaed would be testifying about, they said.

Coffey said that Lo Re, who did not return phone calls to her home, would not be speaking to reporters. Calls made to Lo Re's brother – City Council President Vincent Lo Re Jr. – asking him to notify her that reporters would like her to comment were not returned.

"There's no way you're going to talk to anybody before a grand jury hearing," Coffey said. ” (Judd, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/news/jjournal/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1196060302103600.xml&coll=3

 

FOR THE NEXT TRICK, WILL CORZINE MAKE HIS POLITICAL CAREER DISAPPEAR?

“Expectations were high when one of Wall Street's wizards arrived on West State Street nearly two years ago, promising to work his magic on a nearly bankrupt state government, but Gov. Jon Corzine has yet to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

He's promising to do just that in his State of the State address in January, when he'll reveal his grand plan for using toll revenues to restructure the state's finances.

"The overall program will set a pattern not only New Jersey will use, but other states," he said.

At the very least, Corzine's plan could result in the largest public bond sale in the nation's history, said Kurt Forsgren, a Standard and Poor's analyst.

The prospect of a blockbuster deal is intriguing, Forsgren added, not only to other states, but to many of Corzine's old Wall Street buddies, who wonder if they will again be dazzled by the man who took Goldman Sachs & Co. public.

At home, anticipation has given way to impatience to see the plan Corzine originally promised to deliver in April, before his near-fatal car crash. Republicans accused him of keeping the plan secret to avoid scrutiny before the recently concluded legislative elections.” (Howlett and Donohue, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1196055445253430.xml&coll=1

 

COMMISSIONING MONETIZATION REPORT: $800,000. KEEPING IT FROM THE PUBLIC TO AVOID LOSING LEGISLATIVE SEATS: PRICELESS

“It cost $800,000 in tax revenue, yet it's been kept from the public, waiting to be rewritten, for seven months.

It is the hotly sought-after final report of the state's traffic and revenue consultant.

The British consultant was hired to figure out the maximum motorists would pay on the state's three major toll roads and how much those roads would be worth to investors if tolls are jacked up.

But the report's not ready for public review, state Attorney General Anne Milgram has said in legal papers, because it's deliberative — a "draft final report" still being tweaked.

And in any event, she said, Democratic Gov. Corzine hasn't decided whether to use it to pursue a way to "monetize" the value of the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway, Atlantic City Expressway and part of Route 440.

To many state Republicans, that's a dodge that may have saved Corzine's party from the wrath of the toll-road drivers on Nov. 6, when all 120 seats in the Legislature were up for grabs.

The Democrats retained control of the Legislature in the election.

"The governor has done a terrible disservice to New Jersey by not unveiling the details so they could be discussed over the autumn campaign," state Senate Republican Minority Leader Leonard Lance said. "I make the charge that the report is being hidden. It is cynical to say the details are not yet completed; I suspect the toll increases will be dramatic."” (Prado Roberts, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/NEWS/711260318

 

THE TOLL OF BROKEN PROMISES

Politicians have touted the state's toll roads as fiscal panaceas for decades. But seldom has the wishful thinking proved true. Here is a list of the most egregious of the broken promises:

· 1952: No tolls. The Garden State Parkway would be toll-free when its $330 million in construction bonds was paid off around 1988, or so said proponents of the new superhighway. More than 50 years later, tolls are omnipresent. The original toll charge was 25 cents at 11 toll plazas and from 10 cents to 25 cents at exit and entrance ramps.

· 1997: Free E-ZPass. The new, high-tech E-ZPass toll-collection system would be so smart that it would fund itself, costing motorist nothing more in fees. The system not only would catch toll cheats, but it also would collect millions of dollars in fines, estimated to be $300 million by 2003. A 2004 State Commission of Investigation report showed that only about $15.5 million in fines had been collected by 2003, with the larger amount of revenue, more than $84 million, coming from the lease of new fiber-optic lines. The SCI report said the E-ZPass contract and award was "an administrative and financial debacle of immense proportions." E-Z Pass users are now charged $12 a year to help maintain the system.

· 2001: No more tolls. Gubernatorial candidates James E. McGreevey and Bret Schundler said they would eliminate roadway tolls if elected. McGreevey was elected. Tolls remain.

· 2003: Cost savings. Gov. McGreevey pushes through a merger of the state's major toll road authorities, the Turnpike Authority and the Highway Authority, in a move he said would "end wasteful duplication and save our taxpayers' money." Four years later, predictions of large-scale savings have not materialized. The Turnpike Authority's expense budget is $465.7 million this year, compared with the combined expense budgets for both roadways of $405 million in 2003, the year before the merger.

http://www.thedailyjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/NEWS01/711260316/1002

 

HE’LL BE MISSED BY SOMEONE

“The chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority no longer will walk with trepidation to pick up his paper, wondering what mess George Zoffinger has created this time.

Senate President Richard Codey will have to re-direct his verbal assaults somewhere other than at East Rutherford.

And owners of the state's sports teams won't have to worry about their landlord waging war against them each week.

Stubborn, loud and occasionally crass — but always candid — Zoffinger is about to leave the building as CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. On Friday, he will depart the job he held through nearly six years of political fights, layoffs, litigation and pitched battles in the press with his rivals at the Meadowlands and in Trenton.

Zoffinger, 59, will be remembered for transforming the state's sports properties into a money-making operation and also his seeming inability to control his tongue or back away from a fight.

He is the multimillionaire who took to referring to then-Gov. Codey as "Sponge Bob" to reporters. He said people would be crazy to go to an arena in Newark because of the city's rampant crime, even though Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura sits on his board of directors. He called Giants co-owner John Mara a "pig-skinned prince.”

"I don't really like these guys, the politicians, because I'm really a business guy," Zoffinger said last week during an interview in his office. "I tell people how I feel. I don't hedge.

"In business that is appreciated. In politics it's not."

That attitude turned Zoffinger, a former banker, into one of New Jersey's most colorful and controversial figures.

It also helped contribute to his downfall.” (Futterman, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-8/1196055920253430.xml&coll=1

WINTER IN NEW HAMPSHIRE IS A LOT WORSE

“For the first time in state history, voters will brave February's elements to help decide presidential candidates. And that winter primary has municipal clerks fretting about bad weather and about getting reimbursed.

State lawmakers have moved the primary to Feb. 5 from the long-standing June vote, hoping to increase New Jersey's profile in determining who will ultimately run for president.

But municipal clerks, responsible for planning and running elections, say they are worried about how icy conditions may wreak havoc even as they try to make sure polling places are safe for workers and voters.

For instance, they say that in the event of a major snowstorm, there aren't enough Department of Public Works employees to plow roads and keep walkways and parking lots clear for 14 hours at polling locations.

"I can't pull DPW workers from clearing roads to come plow out the American Legion Hall," said Antoinette Battaglia, township clerk in mountainous West Milford. "Many of my poll workers are elderly and don't drive in the snow. How am I going to get them to the polls by 5:15 a.m.? And what is my liability if they are in an accident?

Senate President Richard J. Codey, who pushed hard for the date change, responded last week to the clerks' concerns.

"Look, I know town clerks aren't happy about this extra election, but it only comes once every four years," Codey said. "If a major storm is predicted the night before the election, the governor has the power through executive order to postpone it."” (Williams, Star-Ledger)

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UMDNJ

“Two years after the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey ceded control to a federal monitor, the U.S. attorney could soon end the unprecedented oversight.

State and federal officials are discussing whether to finally terminate the monitoring by year's end, change its terms or extend it for up to another year, according to those involved.

While talks are ongoing, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said it all hinges on whether the state wants the supervision by former federal Judge Herbert J. Stern to continue.

"I had always contemplated that this would be a two-year arrangement," said Christie, who will have the final say in the matter. "We would be willing to consider staying if the state asked us to."

Jane Oates, executive director of the state Commission on Higher Education, said Gov. Jon Corzine has not decided whether to ask to have the monitoring extended or terminated, but noted UMDNJ has made "tremendous progress." UMDNJ knowingly committed Medicare fraud through systematic double billing.

In a dramatic, closed-door meeting, Christie told the trustees at the time that the university would face a criminal prosecution that would cut o
ff federal funding and shut its hospital unless it accepted a monitor to oversee university operations and UMDNJ's $1.6 billion budget.”(Margolin and Sherman, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1196055756253430.xml&coll=1

 

CORRUPTION – BAD FOR BUSINESS. EXCEPT THE BUSINESSES THAT PAY BRIBES.

“Pay-to-play fund raising, dual-office holding, bribery, extortion — the heart of political problems in New Jersey, right?

Not entirely.

New Jersey's business community is about to deliver a devastating message to Trenton: The political corruption that has saddled the state in recent years also is hurting New Jersey's economy.

In a major report, scheduled for release Wednesday, the Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University-Newark takes aim at political corruption as a key factor in holding back the state's business growth.

The study suggests that New Jersey ban all pay-to-play political donations in every form of government, from the Legislature in Trenton down to the smallest of school boards. The study further calls for an across-the-board statewide ethics code, an immediate end to dual- office holding by elected officials and the formation of a bipartisan group, modeled after the 9/11 Commission, to assess the ethical problems in state politics.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this study is not what it says but the man who says it: Raymond Bramucci.

Bramucci, a longtime Democrat, can't be dismissed by either political party as just another partisan grandstander with an ax to grind. What's more, his advisory panel for the study includes leaders from the Republican and Democratic parties as well as independent groups such as the League of Women Voters.” (Kelly, Bergen Record)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk1JmZnYmVsN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk3MjI2MTcyJnlyaXJ5N2Y3MTdmN3ZxZWVFRXl5Mw==

 

“WHAT’S (THE NEW MAYOR’S) NAME? SCOTT EVANS? I THOUGHT IT WAS SPEEDY”

To be fair, Atlantic City hasn't had a monopoly on mayoral problems this year.

The mayor of Centerton, Ark., for example, recently resigned following his claims of having been abducted and brainwashed by Satan worshippers. So in comparison, Atlantic City's situation doesn't seem that strange.

But as the 2007 Christmas Parade prepared to kick off Saturday afternoon, marking the first public appearance of the city's third mayor in as many months, firefighter Scott K. Evans, spectators and participants from Atlantic City and elsewhere reflected on the city's recent leadership troubles – and what it all means for the city's reputation.

"You've got musical mayors here," said Franny Foy, of Delran, Burlington County, traveling along with the Hegeman String Band of Philadelphia. "It puts the city in a very poor light, if you ask me. It shows it to be a very unstable government. Who actually is governing Atlantic City?"

In terms of who occupies the mayor's office, the answer is Evans. The 42-year-old, chosen Wednesday night by City Council from a group of three candidates, spent his first day on the job Friday getting acquainted with the 1,600-member city government he now runs.

"I feel like they've been playing games," said Atlantic City native Ivette Torres, watching the parade with a group of teenage girls.

Nicolette Rivera, 13, thought she had been keeping up with the news, but it just moved too fast.

"What's (the new mayor's) name?" she asked. "Scott Evans? I thought it was Speedy."”(Lemongello, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/top_story/story/7518785p-7418338c.html

SCHOOL FUNDING

“With most of New Jersey's sky-high property taxes going to pay for local schools, and most state help to pay those bills going to poor districts, redoing how the state funds public schools is a major unfinished property tax reform piece.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine is expected in the coming weeks to unveil a new public school funding plan that likely will need to pass state Supreme Court scrutiny because it will change how the state funds 31 poor, mostly urban school districts.

While an exact plan hasn't been unveiled, Corzine has essentially detailed what it will propose — basing state aid for schools not by whether a school is in a poor community, as the state has done for decades, but by the needs of children in each community.

"The essence of the plan is to allocate dollars by children and their needs, not by geography or ZIP codes," Corzine said.

It won't be cheap.

The state already gives local schools $11 billion per year. That's the single largest expenditure by the state, and means about $1 of every $3 spent by the state goes to schools.

When asked if the new plan would require the state to increase school funding by $500 million to $1 billion, Corzine said it'll be "something in that range."” (Hester, AP)

http://www.thedailyjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/NEWS01/711260312/1002

 

NUCULAR ENERGY

“The columns of white smoke visible when you look downriver are a constant reminder that one of the nation's biggest nuclear power plants is just a few miles away from this rural town in South Jersey.

The owner, Public Service Energy Group, is considering adding a fourth reactor to its complex, known as Artificial Island.

Though the prospect of a nuclear reactor might cause an uproar in most communities, it's largely welcome here.

"We need it bad," said customer Henry Spencer, a graduate student and unemployed social worker. He says the jobs another reactor would bring would far outweigh any safety or health risk.

After 30 years of living next to a nuclear plant – and for those in Lower Alloways Creek Township, reaping the considerable tax breaks that come with it – many people in this rural, marshy a
rea near the mouth of the Delaware River see the nuclear plant as a good neighbor.

With about 1,500 employees and contractors, the plant is Salem County's largest employer and a big donor to area charities.

A cozy relationship between nuclear plants and their home communities is common across the country, said Tyson Slocum, the director of the antinuclear Public Citizen's Energy Program in Washington.

"It's part of a challenge of folks who have concerns about nuclear power," Slocum said.” (Mulvihill, Philadelphia Inquirer)

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20071126_Nuclear_foes_scarce_in_Salem_County.html

 

 

EVERYONE GETS A LOBBYIST

“Organizers of a New Jersey-based group representing recreational and commercial fishermen are scrambling to raise money and political muscle for a fight over next year's summer flounder season.

The outcome could frame how the United States rebuilds and manages an ocean resource that's come back strong after years of decline, under a management regime helped by federal reforms a decade ago.

"The stock is rebuilt. It's the highest it's ever been. Ever," said Greg Hueth, co-chairman of the new Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund.

The near-collapse of summer flounder, cod and other Northeast fish species in the early 1990s got fishing communities and Congress focused on reforming fisheries laws. The 1996 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act laid out a road map to bring back depleted fish stocks, and Congress' 2006 reauthorization of the law sought to fine-tune the recovery phase.

Flounder, or fluke as they are also known, have been saved — and are prospering in their numbers, according to sport anglers and commercial trawl fishermen. But a fight has brewed up over preliminary limits on the 2008 summer flounder catch.

A scientist with New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife last week cautioned the Shore's sport harvest could be cut by one-third in 2008, to make up for estimated excess catch in 2007, and meet biological targets.” (Moore, Gannett)

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/NEWS01/711260345/1006

 

IN RUTHERFORD

“RUTHERFORD — Most of the professionals contracted by the borough are inefficient and will be replaced when Republicans take control next year, Mayor-elect John Hipp said.

By cleaning house, Hipp said his administration will be able to run the borough more cheaply and have a better chance of controlling property taxes as a result.

But Democratic Councilman George Fecanin said he envisions the Hipp administration holding back on maintenance for key infrastructure, such as roads and drainage systems, which could hurt quality of life and lead to costly emergency repairs.

"I don't see them doing anything but cutting. I don't see a lot of projects being completed. I think the town is going to be stalled," Fecanin said.” (Clunn, Bergen Record)

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IN CHERRY HILL

“CHERRY HILL — They are Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Greens. They are old, young and middle-aged. They are from the township's east side and west side.

And they are of one mind-set.

The surest path to good government is increased civic participation.

They call themselves the Cherry Hill Reform Committee and to date the group has proposed five different ordinances to township council, one of which was unanimously adopted this summer after a successful petition drive that netted more than 3,600 signatures of registered voters.

"We're trying to make democracy work again," said township resident Bob Shinn, the group's founder and one of its leaders.

To illustrate his point, he pointed to low voter turnout in recent elections — only 28.5 percent of Camden County's registered voters cast a ballot in this month's general election — and low public attendance at local government meetings. Such apathy is a symptom of a larger problem, Shinn said. People feel hopeless and believe their opinions don't matter, he said.” (Grzyboski, Courier-Post)

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/NEWS01/711260342/1006

 

IN OCEAN GROVE

“The controversy over prohibiting same-sex civil unions on property owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association can't fairly be described as having completely split the community, but it does have people talking.

Or avoiding talking, as the case may be.

"It's kind of a hot topic," said Abbott Avenue resident Dolores Shanahan. "Of course, there are some people you wouldn't broach the subject to."

"The subject" is the refusal of the camp meeting association to allow two lesbian couples to hold civil union ceremonies in the boardwalk pavilion.

The dispute has escalated into charges filed by the two couples through the state Division on Civil Rights — alleging that the refusal violated the couples' civil rights — to a federal lawsuit brought by the association against the DCR.

The lawsuit, which contended that the DCR violated the association's free speech and religious freedom rights by investigating the allegations, was recently tossed by a federal District Court judge. The association's lawyers have vowed to appeal that decision.” (Bowman, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071126/NEWS/711260326

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT – NEWS FROM THE WEEKEND

WITH F
RIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEED ETHICS?

“New Jersey lawmakers receive $110,000 annual allowances to hire the aides who run their offices, handle constituent complaints, even drive them to and from appointments.

Some legislators prefer a few well-paid professionals, while others hire larger staffs with small individual salaries.

And many use the money to reward friends and political allies with a little extra income — and, more important, state health insurance and pension benefits.

A Star-Ledger review of legislators' payrolls found a system peppered with county party leaders, local politicians and their relatives, and part-time workers chalking up credit toward government pensions.

These low-paying jobs can yield big perks and benefits.

Workers earn pension credit starting at $1,500 a year. At $10,000 to $15,000 a year, a worker is considered full-time and eligible for the state's generous fringe benefits package. These benefits include medical and dental coverage as well as a prescription drug program.

Some of the more striking examples include:

· Passaic County Administrator Anthony DeNova makes $4,000 as a part-time aide to Sen. John Girgenti (D-Passaic) in addition to his $131,600 county salary. Gerald Volpe, the county's $104,880-a-year purchasing director, picks up an additional $3,000 as an aide to Girgenti.

· Charlotte DeFilippo earns $132,910 as director of the Union County Improvement Authority. She is also the Democratic Party chairwoman for the county — and is on Democratic Assemblyman Neil Cohen's legislative payroll for $10,000.

· The Sussex County Republican Party's vice chairwoman, Joan Kubik, was on the payroll of Assemblyman Guy Gregg (R- Sussex) for 13 years until she retired this summer at a yearly salary of $24,400, Gregg said.

· Jack McGreevey, the father of former Gov. James E. McGreevey, has been an aide to Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) since 1994, at $15,000 a year.

· Roseland Mayor John Arvanites is on the payroll of Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), earning $2,000 a year.

Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale's daughter, Francesca, was an aide to Assemblyman Alfred Steele (D-Passaic) — who in turn was employed by Speziale as an undersheriff. That was before Steele was arrested in a federal corruption sting this fall and resigned both offices. Passaic County Democratic chairman John Currie also was on Steele's payroll, for $1,500 a year

Assemblyman Tom Giblin, the former Essex County Democratic chairman, hired the cur rent county party chairman, Phil Thigpen, as his policy adviser at $13,013 a year.

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/1195969366248600.xml&coll=1

 

PAGING LORETTA WEINBERG

Dennis J. Oury is the lawyer of choice for Bergen County's governing Democratic Party, the preferred legal mind for the county's bonding authority, and the man several towns turn to for zoning, planning and general advice.

Though they are all part time, these public sector jobs in Bergen County have brought Oury and the law firm that bears his name at least $2.4 million within the past three years and have added to his mounting pension payout from the state. In one town, he qualifies for public health insurance benefits.

By many accounts, Oury, 57, is the premier beneficiary of Bergen's Democratic spoils: lucrative public contracts awarded, without competitive bidding, to the most loyal of loyal party members who have track records as political donors. His son Dennis also holds a job in the county — earning $64,000 as a messenger for a local utilities authority.

Coveted by many and secured by few, professional contracts, and who gets them, are the stuff of high drama in local government. And on Bergen's stage, Dennis Oury is the star, the most pronounced symbol of "pay-to-play" — a practice that appears to reward private party patrons with public sector dollars.

It’s all legal. And Oury is about to bet, in court, that no one really cares.

He's announced plans for a lawsuit to challenge a state ethics law designed to sever the perceived link between political contributions and government contracts. On behalf of the Bergen County Democratic Organization, Oury will claim that the state's pay-to-play restrictions — which limit how much government work is awarded to firms making political donations — are an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.” (Carmiel, Bergen Record)

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MORE GRIPING THAN WORKING ON FRIDAY

Sue Wright was at her desk in Trenton yesterday, and none too happy.

"We're all disappointed. This is supposed to be family time," said Wright, a state computer system manager in the Mercer County Courthouse.

Wright was among thousands of state employees who showed up for work on Black Friday. It has been an extra day off granted to state workers by governors going as far back as 1962, according to records.

But Gov. Jon Corzine put an end to the practice this year, a decision that stirred considerable protest, including 5,500 calls and e-mails by unionized workers.

Eighteen states open for business the day after Thanksgiving, according to Statesline.org, while most others use it for a non-federal holiday, like Lincoln's Birthday. A lawmaker in Trenton this week proposed making the day a state holiday called Family Day.

Corzine, who arrived for work at 8:30 a.m., said he was open to moving one of the existing holidays, but backed away from the idea of adding one. The state's nearly 80,000 workers get 13 paid days off a year in addition to vacation time.

"We feel we have a very generous holiday policy. We feel quite comfortable with that," Corzine said during a noontime visit to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. "There are a lot of people who would like to be working the day after Thanksgiving." ” (Howlett, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-12/119588255364260.xml&coll=1

The Wednesday caller was an unnamed Hudson County employee – and he was mad.

"How come we have to work on Friday?" he said referring to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. "We're always off (that) Friday. Why's DeGise doing this to us?”

At first I had little sympathy. After all, plenty of people work the day after a holiday unless they have a contractual day off. Then I realized what happened.

To set an example of getting the most for the tax dollar, Gov. Jon S. Corzine had ordered that state employees work yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving. This includes keeping the court system running.

What the governor may not have realized is that many of these state courts are in county buildings and county employees have to be working if state government is open for business. This also probably means that all county government workers might as well be on the job……….

Corzine set an example by being at his desk yesterday. It would have been more impressive if he had not already taken off Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and, of course, Thursday, according to several state legislators.

As for Hudson County, workers are being told by their superiors that the administration is "following Gov. Corzine's lead."” (Torres, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/columns/jjournal/insider/index.ssf?/base/columns-0/1195887398258280.xml&coll=3

SAXTON’S RECORD

“He fought for more fluke, pushed conservation measures to bring back striped bass, initiated a study to find out where the bluefish had gone and advocated cutting back commercial landings of a forage species, menhaden, which anglers need to feed the fish they target.

U.S. Rep. James Saxton, R-3rd, has certainly been a friend of the recreational fisherman over the years.

Saxton, a fixture in the House since 1984 on the Committee on Natural Resources, and more importantly on its Subcommittee for Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, said he will not run for re-election next year due to health issues.

Some are concerned about the void this will leave. Saxton had a seat at the table when fisheries issues were discussed and often introduced his own bills to make sure fishermen in his district got their fair share.

Saxton often fought the larger commercial fishing interests, such as factory trawlers and menhaden reduction fleets, but he also went to bat for the smaller commercial fishermen in his district. He emerged as a strong advocate of the marine environment, fighting to find out why dolphins were dying off the coast and battling to stop the dumping of waste offshore. He even fought potential ocean industries, such as oil exploration and offshore sand mining, amid concerns on how they would impact the marine environment, fishing and the shore tourism industry.” (Degener, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/top_three/story/7518783p-7418280c.html

MORE MONETIZATION

“The state's toll roads may not be paved with gold, but they are worth a fortune to Gov. Corzine. He is banking on using the highways to pay down New Jersey's massive debt, a tricky, high-stakes game that could end up costing motorists plenty.

Corzine has kept his so-called roadway monetization plan under tight wraps, saying that he will unveil details in January.

The plan most likely will call for the selling of bonds to unlock the total value of the roadways — a principle similar to getting a home-equity loan — to help retire $16 billion in state debt.

The monetization plan, one roadway expert says, could spike tolls by 2-1/2 times what they are now. Others say toll booths could spring up on currently free highways.

"Think about the average commuter whose toll is $2," said Peter Humphreys, a Wall Street lawyer and spokesman for "Save Our Assets" a New Jersey group opposed to all types of monetization. "If it goes up 2-1/2 times, that becomes a $5 toll, and the same guy who was paying $20 a week is now paying $50 a week or an extra $1,500 a year. That is a big chunk of change."” (Higgs, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071125/NEWS/71125001

“Gov. Corzine has said he intends to ask lawmakers to increase tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway to try to tackle chronic state fiscal problems. But his plan often changes.

Here is a lookz at where it stands as Corzine readies it for a Jan. 8 introduction:

Question: What's the goal?

Answer: To pay at least half the $32 billion in state debt, which has doubled since 2000 and is costing New Jersey about $3 billion this year, or about 10 percent of the state budget.

Q: Where did this debt come from?

A: Nearly all was rung up before Corzine became governor last year, during both Republican and Democratic administrations that, among other things, borrowed money to balance the budget and to fund pensions for government workers.” (Hester, AP)

Q: So what's his plan?

A: Corzine wants to create a nonprofit corporation that would manage toll roads. The corporation would issue bonds to raise a huge chunk of money up-front. The bonds would be paid back with increased tolls.

Q: How much would tolls increase?

A: Corzine isn't saying. He said that would largely depend on whether the new agency was allowed to sell cheaper, tax-exempt bonds. Corzine said that he had a range of toll increases in mind, but that revealing it now might cause problems getting the plan approved.

http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/nj/20071125_Q___A__Whats_with_Corzines_toll_plan_.html

 

 

LET THE JOCKEYING BEGIN

“Passaic County freeholders are jockeying to succeed Elease Evans as freeholder director, a position that has traditionally been little more than a figurehead but could become more significant in 2008.

Evans, D-Paterson, wants to devote her full energies to serving in the 35th District state Assembly seat she was sworn into earlier this month. She has said repeatedly that she will step down from the all-Democratic Board of Chosen Freeholders sometime before the end of 2007, the end of her freeholder term.

Before the Thanksgiving weekend, Evans still had not set a departure date with Passaic County Democratic leaders.

"We'll discuss all of that after the holiday," Evans said.

Freeholder director is a yearlong appointment granted by four freeholders' votes at the first meeting in January. The director presides over and sets agendas for the bimonthly meetings. Signing contracts on behalf of the board and appointing freeholders to the board's committees are duties also performed by the director.

While the extra responsibilities may appear to be only ceremonial and clerical duties, former Freeholder Peter Eagler of Clifton noted that significant challenges face county government in 2008.” (Brubaker, Herald News)

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXkzJmZnYmVsN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk3MjI2MDgwJnlyaXJ5N2Y3MTdmN3ZxZWVFRXl5Mw==

 

BROKEN PROMISES

“Touting the construction of the brand-new Garden State Parkway, literature from the early 1950s bragged about the road's safety features and its scenic route. It also promised that the roadway someday would become toll-free.

That may have been the first broken promise in the history of the state's toll roads, but it certainly was not the last.

A combination of unreasonably high expectations and downright incompetence have led politicians and state officials to make a series of toll-road policy proposals that have turned into fiscal failures.

Take E-ZPass, for example.

In 1997, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's administration said the new electronic toll system would, essentially, be installed for free. Fines levied against toll violators, the lease of fiber-optic cable and "additional technology marketing programs" were expected to pay construction costs for the E-ZPass system.

"Motorists will soon be able to reap the benefits of advanced technology at no cost to the taxpayers," Whitman proclaimed in a press release issued by her office after the E-ZPass construction contract to MFS Network Technologies was signed.

Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately for taxpayers, it was.” (Mikle and Higgs, Asbury Park Press)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071125/NEWS/711250421

 

THIS CAMPAIGN ISSUE HAS LEGS

“In this fall's legislative races, when insidious attacks filled the vacuum of issue debates, one topic seemed ripe to move from attack ad to legislative debate: farmland assessment.

In the highest-profile legislative race, one key factor that helped propel Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, to defeat incumbent Sen. Ellen Karcher, D-Monmouth, was revelations that Karcher received a property-tax break for selling Christmas trees from woodland she owns.

The arrangement, which assesses land as farmland so long as $500 worth of crops are harvested annually, is perfectly legal and was later revealed to be one used by several prominent New Jersey names, such as former Commerce Bank head Vernon W. Hill II, rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Great Adventure amusement park.

With the arrangement apparently striking a nerve with the public, there was talk that lawmakers would revisit the idea of raising the minimum income threshold for farmers. But long before the campaign, there was legislation afoot that would do away with the harvest requirement altogether, as long as a conservation plan was submitted to and approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The theory is this: Stop mandating that owners of private forests larger than five acres cut down trees to qualify for a tax break, in hopes they take responsible steps toward conserving, in the name of improving air quality, reducing global warming and other environmental benefits.” (Volpe, Gannett)

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071125/NEWS01/711250366/1006

 

PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY

Forget about the campaign promises made by Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama and the other presidential hopefuls. The big focus for many local government officials is preparing for the upcoming primary election.

In a bid to gain more political prominence, New Jersey moved up its presidential primary race by four months this year. The logistics of holding a separate presidential primary Feb. 5 outside the regular June primary, however, could prove trickier than expected. One major concern is funding, with the need for advertisements, absentee and sample ballots, voting machines and workers.

One major concern is funding, with the need for advertisements, absentee and sample ballots, voting machines and workers.

There are 566 municipalities in the state and the election costs can range from a few thousand dollars for small towns to tens of thousands for larger communities, said Barbara Hawk, the president of the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey.

The price for advertisements and ballots alone will be about $50,934 in Cape May County, according to County Clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti, and $105,000 to $110,000 in Cumberland County, according to County Clerk Gloria Noto. Many municipalities already started to compile their 2008 budgets and some are setting aside funds for the extra election, like Egg Harbor Township, which will allocate $11,000, said township Administrator Peter Miller..” (Lee, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/campaign/story/7518458p-7418002c.html

 

ATLANTIC CITY’S MAYOR DU JOUR

You can almost pity Scott K. Evans.

"Oh, the sponge is full," the resort's newest mayor said with a short laugh as he recounted the rounds of meetings that made up his first day in City Ha
ll on Friday.

On the desk in front of him was a congratulatory letter from City Councilman John Schultz, a paperclipped stack of phone messages to return and the city's $192 million budget.

In the anteroom waited city acting Personnel Director Benay George, her arms clutching an 8-inch stack of city personnel forms that documented who was recently hired, fired or promoted.

"It's a lot of important and good information,"

Evans said. Evans spent his first day in a series of meetings at which city Business Administrator Domenic Cappella worked to get the fire battalion chief caught up on the business of the resort.

Evans has worked for the Atlantic City Fire Department for 20 years, stationed at Indiana Avenue. The size of the 1,600-person city government was what surprised him the most when he took office.

"Scott's not familiar with the municipality stuff," Cappella said in an interview earlier in the day, "so we gave him a breakdown of each department." They also discussed ongoing litigation and the remarkable number of contracts and agreements that acting Mayor William Marsh settled in his six-week term.” (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/top_three/story/7518671p-7418191c.html

ALSO IN ATLANTIC CITY

ATLANTIC CITY – A woman who resigned as the Atlantic City Housing Authority's executive director in July 2006 weeks after The Press of Atlantic City reported her petty-theft convictions has notified several public agencies that she may sue them for employee discrimination and seek $3 million.

Alesia R. Humphrey notified both Atlantic City's Housing Authority and its municipal government along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development field office in Newark. She singled out Diane Johnson, HUD's state director, as well as city Housing Authority Commissioners Mark Hamilton, Joel Clark and Shontai Nicholson.

A tort-claim notice is not a lawsuit. Instead, it reserves a person's right to sue a public agency in New Jersey. Attorneys have said many claims never translate into litigation.

Humphrey is the daughter of politically connected city insurance broker Lena Fulton. Fulton said earlier this year that she did not exert her influence to get Humphrey the job. Instead, she said, she encouraged her daughter against taking the top position.” (Harper, Press of Atlantic City)

http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/atlantic_city/story/7518641p-7418179c.html

THE LOTTERY

“Dinged by a weeklong government shutdown, the New Jersey Lottery generated $15.8 million less for the state last fiscal year than in the one before, marking the first decline in six years.

According to preliminary data released by the agency, the lottery sold $47 million less in tickets and spent about $1.1 million less on administration after it was shut for a week as a result of the budget feud that closed state government in July 2006.

"The numbers you're looking at for (fiscal year 2007) are 51 weeks of sales," said lottery spokesman Dominick DeMarco. "It's something we had to factor in."

Revised data is expected to be released shortly, DeMarco said.

The $47 million dip in overall ticket sales is a 2 percent drop, and it's equal to the lottery's average weekly sales during the budget year that ran from July 2006 to June 2007.

"That's a sizable dent," DeMarco said of the lost week.” (Tamari, Gannett)

http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071125/NEWS03/711250422/1007

 

RAILROAD WASTE DUMPS

“Congress and the White House are talking trash over waste dumps that have cropped up near freight-rail tracks in New Jersey.

The state argues it should be able to decide if such facilities can even be set up. Once they're open, New Jersey wants to be able to monitor them to ensure they comply with health and environmental codes.

The Bush administration and the industry argue that a 1995 law barred states from deciding whether railroads and their business partners can set up such waste dumps. The law, they argue, made the federal government the exclusive regulator of the rail industry's business activities, but allows states to regulate the sites for health and safety once they are up and running.

Eleven "rail waste transfer" sites, including one in Hainesport, are operating in North and South Jersey, some near homes and businesses. Eight more sites are proposed, according
to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.” (Volpe, Gannett)

http://www.courierpostonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071125/NEWS01/711250362/1006

 

HOBOKEN’S FINEST

“Four Latino Hoboken cops who have accused their former SWAT team commander of ordering them to perform manual labor at his house or the home of the police chief now have a date with a grand jury, officials involved in the case said yesterday.

The officers have been subpoenaed to testify on Dec. 18, said Luis Zayas, the police officers' attorney.

Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said yesterday he's taking the unusual step of hauling the officers before a grand jury because they haven't been willing to be interviewed by his office without Zayas present.

Zayas represents the four, plus a fifth officer, in a civil suit against the department, which accuses former Auto Theft Task Force and SWAT team leader Lt. Angelo Andriani of racist and abusive treatment.

DeFazio wants to interview the cops individually without their attorney present, calling this "the general protocol in conducting an investigation."

Zayas shot back that DeFazio is biased because of his relationship with Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno, who was chief of the Prosecutor's Office's detective unit over 15 years ago.

DeFazio dismissed the allegation. ” (Thorbourne, Jersey Journal)

http://www.nj.com/news/jjournal/index.ssf?/base/news-1/1195887581258280.xml&coll=3

 

IN EDISON

Howard Dill agreed in 2005 to work for Edison for a couple months as a member of the transition team for the administration of then Mayor-elect Jun Choi. But he never left.

Dill's role has evolved into a jack-of-all trades for Choi, and he earns $75,000 a year for his three-day-a-week position, which includes a township car for his more-than-200-mile round-trip commute from his home in Somers Point, Atlantic County.

"I didn't anticipate on being here this long," said Dill, who was first named interim business administrator, but now works as special projects manager for the township. "I believe I'm an intricate part of this operation."

Dill, who served 25 years as the head of public works in Ocean City and Somers Point, now handles everything from union negotiations to development of Edison's capital budget program.

But the township's continued employment of Dill has become a point of contention for Choi's critics, who suggest the need for his services have long expired as the administration hired other people to fill roles Dill had been assigned.

"During the transition, he was great," said William Stephens, former council president who unsuccessfully challenged Choi in the last mayoral election. "But he should have been gone a year ago." ” (Din, Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/middlesex/index.ssf?/base/news-3/1195969066248600.xml&coll=1

 

IN HIGH BRIDGE

“One of the men struck by bird shot during a Thanksgiving Day hunt in Hunterdon County was former High Bridge Mayor Al Schweikert.

Bird shot hit Schweikert in the neck, knee and thigh. A pellet in the neck of his brother, 45-year-old Vincent Schweikert, was lodged near the thyroid, and was expected to require surgery to be removed.

Authorities initially did not identify the injured men.

State Police are characterizing the shooting, which occurred at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday in the Clinton Wildlife Management Area in Hunterdon County, as a hunting accident.

The former mayor, 48, says the hunter who shot him and his brother was on the other side of a bush about 90 feet away, and was likely shooting at a bird that was on the ground.

The state Department of Environmental Protection hasn't levied any violations or penalties but is still investigating the shooting.

Schweikert, who served 12 years as mayor of High Bridge, was defeated in the Republican primary in June 2006 and then lost a write-in bid that November. ” (Star-Ledger)

http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jersey/index.ssf?/base/news-8/1195969623248600.xml&coll=1 Today’s news from PoliticsNJ.com