Morning News Digest: December 20, 2011
By Missy Rebovich
The ‘north,’ no surprises, and maybe a fair fight: Congressional redistricting, Day 1
In day one of Congressional redistricting, sources said guidance from the 13th member was fairly straightforward: the win-or-go-home face-off will happen in the “north,” according to two sources close to proceedings.
Also, John Farmer Jr., the former state attorney general and current tiebreaking vote, implored both Democrat and Republican representatives to continue with an “open” process. Farmer has given both sides the directive to work from the maps that have been submitted – that is, no last map surprises. Both sides are expected to submit a second map to Farmer tonight. (Carroll, PolitickerNJ)
Former Hoboken Parking Utility director pleads guilty to official misconduct
The former director of the Hoboken Parking Utility has pleaded guilty to official misconduct for his role in the theft of $600,000 by a Toms River contractor whose company was hired by the City of Hoboken to collect coins from city parking meters, according to the state Attorney General’s.
John Corea, 47, pleaded guilty on Friday afternoon to a second-degree charge of official misconduct before Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson Jr. in Ocean County. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
Ex-North Bergen township recreation employee files state ethics complaint against Sacco
Supplying what she says are eight-year old voice recordings of Mayor/state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32), a former North Bergen Twp. recreation department employee filed a sexual harassment complaint on Dec. 15th with the State Legislative Ethics Committee against Sacco.
“Ms. Coleman hopes to expose the culture of sexual harassment that is plaguing the women who work in the Board of Education, the Vocational Schools, and township offices to this day,” said Mario Blanch, attorney for Lydia Coleman. “Mr. Sacco has abused his power for years and finally someone is stepping up to blow the whistle on Sacco and expose the way he uses people who work for either the town of the school board.” (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
NJ gov hopeful new map for Congress will favor GOP
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hopes congressional redistricting goes better for the Republicans than when state legislative districts were reconfigured earlier this year.
Christie says the party couldn’t do worse than when the state districts were redrawn to favor Democrats.
A bipartisan commission tasked with whittling New Jersey’s congressional districts from 13 to 12 will be holed up at a New Brunswick hotel starting Monday, trading ideas for new district maps. (Associated Press)
Christie: No compromise on ending sick-day payouts
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he won’t compromise on a proposal to end sick-leave payouts for retiring public workers.
Christie vetoed legislation last year capping the amount of unused sick time public employees could cash out at $15,000.
Democrats then offered to cut the amount in half, to $7,500, but Christie rejected it.
The Republican governor says unused sick days should have no cash value at retirement. (Associated Press)
Politics jam N.J. court
A political fight has made getting a divorce—never an enjoyable prospect—more painful in New Jersey’s busiest county court system.
Contested divorce trials have been suspended indefinitely in Essex County Superior Court because of an escalating spat between Gov. Chris Christie and Senate Democrats over judicial and other appointments.
Mr. Christie has refused to act on nominations for six Essex Superior Court vacancies in retaliation for Democrats holding up the governor’s appointments to boards and commissions—including the education commissioner, Christoper Cerf. (Haddon, The Wall Street Journal)
Two Northeast lawmakers aren’t too pleased with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for raising tolls to cross bridges into New York City. They are angry enough that they want the federal government to step in. The Port Authority announced in August that cash tolls for cars will go from $8.00 to $15.00 by 2015. Five-axle trucks that currently pay $40 dollars will have to pay up to $125.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Rep. Michael Grimm, a Republican from New York, introduced legislation to restore the Transportation Department’s authority to determine whether toll hikes are “just and reasonable.” The toll-review authority was eliminated in 1987 under a deregulation law. Without going into detail, Lautenberg and Grimm cited “fiscal mismanagement” at the Port Authority as one reason their bill is needed. The measure would order a report from the Government Accountability Office on the transparency and accountability of tolling authority budgeting practices. (Johnson, National Journal)
Monmouth Park deal complete, beating Gov. Christie’s deadline, track to remain open in 2012
State officials and representatives of a horsemen’s group agreed on a deal late Monday to keep Monmouth Park open in 2012, narrowly beating Gov. Chris Christie’s deadline to have a contract in place.
New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association consultant Dennis Drazin and New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority attorney Ralph J. Marra put the final contract language in place at 10:30 p.m. Monday, capping a marathon negotiating session.
Craig Domalewski, special counsel to Christie, and state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, also participated at different points in the final drive through the homestretch. (Jordan, Gannett)
NJ senator: All public contracts warrant review
A state senator says she’ll reintroduce legislation requiring review of all public contracts after data from a watchdog agency showed consistent errors in the agreements entered into by local governments.
Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat from Edison, told The Associated Press she’s preparing a bill that would require state review of all municipal contracts, regardless of their dollar values. Current law requires the comptroller’s office to review local contracts worth $10 million or more before they are put out for bids. (Delli Santi, Associated Press)
Legislators seek to expand open-records law
Two Republican lawmakers want to pull back the curtain on the state’s public records law by removing some provisions that exempt legislators.
Assemblyman John Amodeo and Assemblyman-elect Chris Brown, both of Atlantic County, plan to introduce in January a bill to allow the decade-old Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to apply to communications between legislators and other governmental agencies.
“Legislators should be as open and transparent as every other public official in New Jersey,” said Amodeo. “Removing this exemption will provide assurance to the public that their elected officials are working for them, not special interests.” (DeFalco, Associated Press)
Court continues suit challenging residency rules for candidates
A Superior Court judge denied a request Monday from a state assemblywoman-elect for dismissal of a residency lawsuit filed by her opponent.
He continued the hearing to Jan. 5 in the case against Democrat Gabriela Mosquera of Gloucester Township, who won election to the state Assembly in the 4th Legislative District in November, and asked the lawyers to submit more legal briefs.
Republican Shelley Lovett of Gloucester Township challenged the victory because Mosquera did not live in the district a year before the election — a state requirement. (Comegno, Gannett)
State, federal agencies clash over sewer plans
Gov. Chris Christie’s environmental commissioner, Bob Martin, made “very unfortunate” and incorrect assertions that former Gov. Jon S. Corzine and his environmental commissioner — now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson — knew proposed sewer rules would fail in New Jersey, said Judith Enck, the EPA’s regional administrator.
“Lisa Jackson would never have spent years and years working on these regulations if there was no chance of those plans working,” Enck said, after Martin said last week that the Christie administration inherited unusable guidelines for water quality management plans. (Moore, Gannett)
Broker a big contributor
A Bergen County insurance broker under federal scrutiny and members of his family have contributed more than $400,000 to a who’s who of local New Jersey Democrats ranging from U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez to councilmen in Passaic and Jersey City.
The contributions from Joseph Bigica, his wife and other family members — often in lump sums of $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 — in many cases benefited the same municipal officials responsible for awarding the multimillion-dollar insurance contracts Bigica managed across North Jersey.
The contributions kept coming even while he was being pursued by the federal government for back taxes. Starting in November 2008, the IRS has filed liens for unpaid taxes in each year since 1999, in amounts ranging from $100,000 to well over $1 million. In addition, a state tax lien of $145,000 was filed against Bigica in August. (Pillets and Jackson, The Record)
2 South Jersey mayors urge N.J. to stop unemployment insurance for beach workers
It’s a way of life for some lifeguards, badge checkers, police officers and public works employees who report for work at the Jersey Shore in May and collect their last paycheck shortly after Labor Day:
Work all summer at the shore, maybe work another job, and collect unemployment in the off-season.
But now two South Jersey towns — Cape May Point and Cape May City — facing tighter budgets are urging the state to end the practice. They contend the intent of unemployment insurance is not for workers who take a job knowing it has a definitive ending date. (DeMarco, The Star-Ledger)
N.J.’s anti-bullying law gets slow start as school violence grows
Bullying can happen anywhere, anyplace or anytime. Whether bullies choose to taunt face-to-face, by text message or over the internet, it is not limited by age, gender, or education.
Law enforcement officials as well as educators agree it is neither a phase some young people may experience, nor a joke. Experts say bullying can cause lasting harm when not stopped in its tracks, where young bullies in the schoolyard can grow-up to be big bullies in the workplace.
Despite the Garden State’s latest efforts to fight back against bullies with a stronger anti-bullying law that took effect in September, its public schools reported an increase in violence as well as drug, weapons and alcohol abuse. (Sammarco, New Jersey Newsroom)
Panel tosses ethics complaint vs. state senator, Union City mayor
A committee that oversees legislative ethics has dismissed a complaint against state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), who is also the mayor of Union City, for allegedly using a legislative aide as a city spokesman.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics voted 5-1 on Tuesday to toss it out based on lack of sufficient evidence.
The complaint was filed by Joseph Blaettler, a private investigator and Stack critic. Blaettler alleges that tax dollars are being used to pay his legislative staffer, Mark Albiez, to serve as Union City’s spokesman. (Friedman, The Star-Ledger)
Poll: U.S. voters split on sports betting
Although New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing sports betting in the state’s casinos and racetracks, voters nationwide are evenly split on whether expanding gambling on sporting events is a good idea, according to a recent poll.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind survey shows that 42 percent of Americans favor and 42 percent oppose changing the federal law to allow sports betting in their own states. (Staff, Gannett)
Newark to adopt national college entrance exam
Not satisfied with New Jersey’s state tests, the new superintendent of Newark schools will turn to a national college entrance test to help her gauge whether high school students are meeting college and career needs.
Superintendent Cami Anderson said she would start testing students this year on the ACT, a college entrance exam comparable to the SAT, which is popular in the South and Midwest. The testing would start in 8th grade with some of ACT’s companion exams for the younger grades.
The move is one of Anderson’s most sweeping yet in trying to improve the high schools in New Jersey’s largest and arguably most troubled district, where only about half of incoming 9th grade students graduate four years later. (Mooney, NJ Spotlight)
Reducing hospital readmissions
Congestive heart failure landed Peter Parham in the hospital twice in one month this past fall, and the 77-year-old retiree would much rather have been home in Ewing — taking his medicine, watching his diet and keeping the disease in check. To help patients like Parham avoid readmission to the hospital within one month of discharge, Robert Wood Johnson Unversity Hospital Hamilton launched a new program in October that provides a “transition coach” who visits Parham at home to make sure he understands what he must do to stay out of the hospital. (Fitzgerald, NJ Spotlight)
Extended incinerator deal means lower garbage bills in Union County
Union County residents in more than dozen communities will see their garbage bills drop because the county has negotiated an extension of a deal to send trash to an incinerator in Rahway for another two decades.
The Union County Utilities Authority announced it has approved an extended lease that will reduce disposal costs for the 14 towns sending garbage to the energy-from-waste facility, saving approximately $100 million over the length of the new lease, now scheduled to end in 2031, eight years longer than the existing lease. (Johnson, NJ Spotlight)
If Rutgers merges with UMDNJ, watch out Harvard
Rutgers University says the proposed collaboration with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey would improve the school’s research abilities so much that the university would be on a par with Harvard and Purdue.
The merger would move Rutgers’ research and development spending up to 33rd in the nation from 54th, according to the Republic.
A task force appointed by Governor Chris Christie is expected to give final recommendations this month on the possibility of two of New Jersey’s three universities of public research being merged. (Holt, New Jersey Newsroom)
Ipsen relocating U.S. headquarters from California to Bridgewater, N.J.
Ipsen will relocate its U.S. operations headquarters from Brisbane, Ca. to Bridgewater in an effort to enhance its North American commercial organization, the company announced Thursday.
In line with the company’s increased focus on such key products as Somatuline Depot and Dyport, Ipsen is reorganizing Biomeasure, its U.S. subsidiary, including moving the headquarters to Bridgewater in an effort to better serve the company’s commercial and medical objectives. (Hester, New Jersey Newsroom)
“Occupiers” fear new rules will force them out
Amid the clean lines of the statues and murals marking event timelines that make up the World War II Memorial on West State Street sits a clutter of tarps, folding chairs and plastic storage containers.
A folding table with a hand-painted, hanging Occupy New Jersey banner fronts the seemingly incongruous assemblage, as a handful of Occupy die-hards gather around in the December afternoon chill. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Over $73,000 in grants to help feed hungry in N.J.
More than $73,000 will help provide fresh New Jersey produce to agencies that feed those in need.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture State Food Purchase Program will provide $66,277 to Farmers Against Hunger and Grow It Green Morristown will receive $7,112. (Staff, State Street Wire)
Proposed rules would affect protests at World War II memorial
The state has proposed new rules that could affect protesters who set up at the World War II memorial across the street from the Statehouse.
For some time now, protesters from the “Occupy’’ movement have been staging protests at the memorial, in concert with the “Occupy Wall Street’’ protesters and similar movements around the nation. (Hassan, State Street Wire)
Audit find preschool-aid calculation problems
The state Auditor reported today that while the method of calculating preschool aid in New Jersey is accurate, it found an opportunity to reduce allocations by $50 million by changing the Department of Education’s procedures.
Total preschool education aid allocations for fiscal years 2009 through 2011 were $534.8 million, $596 million, and $613.3 million, respectively, according to the state Auditor’s department. (Mooney, State Street Wire)
From the Back Room
Sources: Oxley to leave Monmouth GOP chairmanship for judgeship
Monmouth County GOP Committee Chairman Joe Oxley is poised to leave his chairmanship for a superior court judgeship, sources tell PolitickerNJ.com.
A former Monmouth County sheriff, Oxley will have served as Republican chairman for four years when his tenure likely ends, probably sometime next year.
An attorney for Scarinci and Hollenbeck, Oxley is too close to Donald Scarinci, a key political adviser to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), according to at least one GOP source. The source says Oxley would be better suited out of the chairman’s seat by the time state Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13) intensifies a public effort to challenge Menendez. (Staff, PolitickerNJ)
So, who really wants to be a VP?
John Nance Garner, who served as Vice President during Franklin Roosevelt’s first two terms, once commented that the Office of Vice President was “”Not worth a bucket of warm piss.” In 1960, when Lyndon Johnson became John F. Kennedy’s running mate, Garner told him, “I’ll tell you, Lyndon, the vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.” Given those comments, it is a wonder why so many people seek the position.
There is no defined process to becoming Vice-President. In the early years of our nation, the person who finished second in the presidential election was the Vice-President. Think of the interesting administrations we would have had if we continued with that process! (LaRossa for PolitickerNJ)
Bergen GOP chief blurs the line between party and governing
Bob Yudin often recited a non-bossism credo after seizing the chairman’s post at the Bergen County Republican Organization.
It is best distilled this way: His job is to find Republicans for public office and elect them. Once in office, it was their job to govern, not his.
He would not micromanage or dictate how his party would run county government, like the dethroned Democratic chief Joe Ferriero. The line between “Machine” and “State” would be clearly delineated.
But at an informal brainstorming session with about a dozen Bergen Republican chieftains on Saturday, officials floated an idea that would significantly blur that line. Yudin’s allies argued that he should privately – and routinely — caucus with Republican freeholders before their public meetings, so that everybody can be on the same page for “party building” purposes, according to four people who were at the session. (Stile, The Record)
Violence in Camden schools is down? Errors suspected in data records
Camden might not be the nation’s second-most dangerous city for long.
Its next generation apparently faces little threat from drugs and violence, according to new data showing Camden schools are safe and secure.
Seriously, though, that data is a travesty and city school administrators who concocted it should be fired.
For the 2010-11 school year, Camden reported just 35 incidents of violence, vandalism, weapons and drugs, according to information released by the state Department of Education on Friday. This comes off of last year’s unbelievable low of 29 reported incidents. (Rosen, Gannett)