Sunday, December 30, 2007

EnCap - Bergen Record - Wisler-Robinson connections laid out

Published in the Bergen Record, Sunday, December 23, 2007

How EnCap pair played winning hand


State officials investigating the EnCap Golf debacle are probing the close personal and professional relationship between EnCap's lead attorney and a major dirt vendor who won a $14 million contract at the troubled landfill project.

The lawyer is Eric D. Wisler, a senior partner in the powerful DeCotiis firm of Teaneck.

The contractor is Leroy I. Robinson, a part-time political operative from Essex County who managed to win millions in government contracts while working as a maintenance foreman for the Garden State Parkway.

He is also the unindicted co-conspirator mentioned in federal documents from a corruption investigation in Monmouth County, according to one of the disgraced officials involved in the scandal.

The 10-year relationship between Wisler and Robinson has been beneficial to both.

Robinson, as a commissioner of the Essex County Utilities Authority, approved millions of dollars in no-bid legal work the authority gave to Wisler as general counsel.

And Robinson gave Wisler's wife, Merry, a job working for yet another of his ventures, a title-insurance company with offices on the 15th floor of Newark's landmark One Washington Square.

For his part, Wisler helped Robinson set up a private fill-supply partnership with the chairman of the utilities authority. And it was Wisler who led Robinson to the EnCap contract.

"I was out with Eric and they were looking for a fill provider,'' Robinson said last week in an interview at his attorney's office. "That's how it all got started.''

Robinson and his attorney, Patrick Collins of Franzblau Dratch in Livingston, said they have been questioned extensively by investigators working for state Inspector General Mary Jane Cooper, who for the last 10 months has been probing how EnCap secured $300 million in public financing.

Robinson acknowledged that Cooper has forwarded information about his dealings with Wisler to the state Attorney General's Office, which is evaluating Cooper's findings for possible criminal prosecution. Both Cooper's office and the Attorney General's Office declined comment for this article.

In a statement Friday, Eric Wisler denied that there was anything improper in his relationship with Robinson:

"EnCap urgently needed to bring in a contractor who could provide immediate fill that met state standards. [Robinson's company] was a qualified fill and transfer operator who EnCap believed would get the job done. They were brought on after others had failed, and any suggestion that my wife's brief time there in a clerical position was a factor is an absolute lie."

A separate statement from EnCap itself echoed Wisler's.

Many of the cost overruns and construction delays that hobbled the project stemmed from EnCap's inability to obtain and manage the 8 million cubic yards of fill material needed to cover the old Meadowlands landfills at the heart of the golf village venture.

While Robinson's 2004 contract with EnCap obliged him to supply clean fill at a price of $2.85 a cubic yard, he was largely unable to deliver material at that price, and later submitted estimates as high as $20 a cubic yard.

Robinson's company has sued EnCap, saying it still is owed $1.3 million for the dirt it delivered before the project collapsed earlier this year. Robinson said the company received $5.7 million.

Robinson blamed fill problems on EnCap's incompetence and "complete failure" to manage daily operations at the 795-acre site in Lyndhurst and Rutherford. The developer, he said, also reneged on promises to furnish a processing center onsite.

"They're trying to lay all the blame for EnCap at my feet, and that isn't fair,'' Robinson said. "This project was messed up beyond belief.''

Robinson and his attorney also downplayed his 10-year business and social relationship with Wisler, and dismissed the suggestion that their mutual success in collecting taxpayer money through public contracts was at all related. He said he employed Wisler's wife for only two to 2½ years, and claimed she was paid nothing at first and just $20,000 to $30,000 total, doing secretarial tasks.

"Leroy Robinson is a qualified fill contractor and Eric Wisler is his friend, that's the end of the story," said Collins, Robinson's attorney. "Leroy gave Merry Wisler a job because she was a friend, a bored housewife looking for something to do. The idea that there is any quid pro quo is ridiculous.''

Collins did, however, concede that Merry Wisler's employment with Robinson was "a serious lapse of judgment on Wisler's part.''

"I'm sure he regrets it, because now he's answering questions about it from the state,'' Collins said.

Tied to scandal

Court documents filed in September by U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie in the ongoing Monmouth County scandal describe a kickback and money-laundering scheme involving someone identified only as "C-1," a "co-conspirator not named as a defendant."

Former Keyport Mayor John Merla, the brother of the defendant in that case, told The Record last week that Leroy Robinson was "C-1."

The former mayor was one of 11 officials arrested in 2005 in Christie's "Operation Bid Rig" investigation of public-contract awards. He has pleaded guilty to bribery in the scheme and has been sentenced to a 22-month prison term.

Robinson and Collins declined to answer any questions about the federal investigation.

Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for Christie, declined to answer questions about Robinson.

The court papers describe how undercover federal agents wearing concealed wires recorded a series of meetings in 2004 between Keyport businessman Joseph "JoJo" Merla and "C-1."

Federal prosecutors say "C-1" greased the conspiracy's wheels by writing money-laundering checks for consulting work that never happened. On one check, "C-1" wrote: "Consulting Services Fill Protocol.''

In state documents concerning the EnCap project, Robinson is described as a fill-protocol consultant. One of Robinson's companies, LIR-Consulting, was set up by Wisler, who is listed as the partnership's registered agent.

State records also list the DeCotiis firm as registered agent of the Uptown Keyport Bar and Grill LLC. According to John Merla, Robinson and his mother were once partners in the business; another brother, Charles Merla, owns it now.

Joseph Merla pleaded guilty to conspiracy in September of this year; federal authorities have requested that his sentencing be postponed until March, pending his "continued cooperation in an ongoing investigation."

Won dubious loans

In recent months, The Record has reported extensively how Wisler and another DeCotiis attorney won a series of lucrative concessions for the EnCap projects from state regulators overseeing the project.

State documents and interviews with top regulators showed that the firm was instrumental in engineering an unprecedented series of low-interest state loans that made the project possible. Former Department of Environmental Protection Chief Bradley Campbell and Treasurer John McCormac both said they opposed a loan but were told by the Governor's Office to make it anyway.

With the loan now in default and EnCap verging on extinction, state officials admit taxpayers may be stuck with a $51 million bill for part of the loan proceeds that cannot be recovered.

Terms of the loan and a series of environmental breaks -- including permission to bring millions of tons of contaminated materials to the EnCap site -- were largely negotiated by Wisler during the McGreevey administration.

At the time, Wisler's law partner, Al DeCotiis, was James McGreevey's chief fund-raiser, while another Wisler partner, Michael DeCotiis, was McGreevey's chief counsel.

Documents recently obtained by The Record show that McGreevey's first attorney general, David Samson, scolded Wisler for holding inappropriate private meetings about EnCap with McGreevey Cabinet officers. "This is not the first time you have been warned,'' Samson wrote in a 2002 letter to Wisler.

"This project was clearly one that the Governor's Office wanted, and there was little chance that anyone could stop it,'' Campbell, the former DEP commissioner, said in a recent interview. "Eric Wisler and the DeCotiis firm clearly had a lot of influence.''

Checkered past

It is unclear if the state ever looked into Robinson's checkered employment record with the state before approving his exclusive contract to supply 2.5 million cubic yards to be placed near the surface, above the landfill caps that were to be installed at the EnCap site.

In 1999, Robinson was suspended from his $92,000-a-year job for allegedly stealing paint from the New Jersey Highway Authority. Investigators said he gave the paint to a friend in South Jersey who owned a chicken farm and was seeking poultry contracts in Atlantic City -- where Robinson served on the convention center board.

Three years later, Robinson was placed on leave again after a private detective hired by the authority videotaped him routinely cutting hours from work to run errands or relax at home.

Robinson denies any wrongdoing on his parkway job, from which he retired in July 2005 with a pension of $3,200 a month. He said he was easily able to manage all his part-time ventures, including political fund raising, fill work and affirmative-action consulting, while working for the parkway.

Robinson's success in winning major public contracts while working as full-time highway foreman for the state underscores how closely private and public interests can intersect in New Jersey.

Consider Robinson's record with the Essex County Utilities Authority, an agency where he served as one of nine commissioners -- including periods as vice chairman and a steering-board member -- from August 1997 to February 2003.

Robinson won his appointment to the authority after volunteering as a fund-raiser and minority-outreach worker for Gov. Christie Whitman's 1997 reelection campaign. He was officially nominated to the board by then-Essex County Executive James Treffinger, another Republican, who was sentenced in 2003 to a 13-month prison term on a federal corruption conviction.

As a board member, Robinson voted on millions in spending, including legal fees paid to the authority's general counsel -- Wisler -- with whom Robinson was forging close ties as a friend and legal adviser.

Robinson also formed a business partnership with another board member, Nutley Township Commissioner Mauro Tucci. In 2001, Wisler filed papers with the state declaring himself the registered agent for G & I Associates, a fill-supply company that had Robinson's suburban Maplewood home as its address.

Under Tucci's chairmanship of the authority, the agency board approved millions in fees to Wisler and the DeCotiis firm. In Bloomfield, where Tucci worked as township administrator and Robinson was awarded a lucrative "affirmative-action" consulting contract, the DeCotiis firm was paid $350,000 for legal work between 2001 and 2003.

Robinson resigned from the utilities authority in June 2003 as it was preparing to get bids on a five-year, $9 million contract to dispose of ash from the county incinerator. Although five firms submitted bids for the exclusive contract, the winner and low bidder turned out to be a business partner of Leroy Robinson.

Robinson and Newark demolition contractor Ted Fiore formed a company called LIR-Fiore registered to the address of Robinson's consulting and insurance office.

Tom Barrett, a spokesman for the utilities authority, said that after winning the contract in February 2004, Fiore directed the authority's financial officer to send all paperwork, including bimonthly payments and invoices, to LIR-Fiore's office in Newark.

"We had no way of knowing Robinson was involved,'' Barrett said.

Robinson denied being partners with Fiore at the time the ash contract was awarded to Fiore, and said he didn't join the partnership until several days later, when, he claimed, Fiore approached him to help finance a bond needed in connection with the contract.

Robinson disclosed his financial interest in the contract on a 2005 state ethics form.

Competitor removed

For Robinson and Fiore, who did not respond to requests for an interview, the Essex County contract tied in nicely with their developing plans for EnCap. Robinson said he planned to mix some of the highly contaminated incinerator ash with sewage sludge and dump the mixture at EnCap.

EnCap demurred on the ash, but Robinson and Fiore moved ahead with their plans to supply other fill.

The Robinson and Fiore team was the third in a succession of haulers who had at one time been tabbed by EnCap as a main fill provider for material above the cap.

One of the spurned companies, owned by prominent New Jersey hauler Nicholas Mazzochi, lost out to Robinson after obtaining a DEP permit to do the EnCap work and building a $5 million facility for the work.

Mazzochi said Wisler engineered his removal from the site so EnCap could gain control of a huge amount of clean material he already had placed there.

"They forced me off the site, ordered me to remove my fill, but then a year later take control of it themselves and plow it under,'' said Mazzochi. "I was screwed beyond being screwed, and it was all engineered by Eric Wisler to make money in that rats' nest they created in the Meadowlands."

Robinson's contract gave him huge influence over the environmental health of the future EnCap development, a site where 5,000 people were to live eventually. As a "fill broker" for the project, Robinson was charged with finding clean material and policing hundreds of haulers who arrived there every day.

He was, in essence, a watchdog for the largest redevelopment project in New Jersey history.

Video: Trump tours EnCap

Video: Guided tour of the development site

Letter to Senate Pres. Codey from Inspecter General Cooper

DEP list of violations by EnCap

Meadowlands Commission Web site

More coverage on Encap

* * *

Some key figures in probe of EnCap deals

Eric D. Wisler: Partner in DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler; lead attorney for EnCap; former attorney for the Essex County Utilities Authority.

Merry Wisler: Wife of Eric Wisler; former employee of Leroy Robinson.

Leroy Robinson: Partner in LIR-Fiore, a major fill provider for EnCap; former member of the Essex County Utilities Authority board.

Ted Fiore: Partner with Leroy Robinson in LIR-Fiore; partner with Robinson in Essex County ash-disposal contract.

John Merla: Former mayor of Keyport; pleaded guilty in January to a single federal bribery count and is due to begin a 22-month prison sentence next month.

Joseph "Jo-Jo" Merla: Brother of John Merla; pleaded guilty in September to a single federal count of money laundering.

Mary Jane Cooper: New Jersey inspector general; expected to release a report in coming weeks on her office's investigation into the EnCap project.

Mauro Tucci: Former board chairman of the Essex County Utilities Authority; formed fill company with Leroy Robinson.
Staff Writer James Quirk contributed to this article. E-mail: and

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Connolly Properties - Ledger - East Orange orders building fixes

Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, December 27, 2007

East Orange orders action to fix Connolly building


Citing continuing code violations and safety concerns at 150 S. Harrison St. in East Orange, city officials ordered the owners of the residential building to take immediate corrective action yesterday.

A team of inspectors from the city fire department, office of emergency management and division of property maintenance visited the building several times yesterday and gave its owners until 4 p.m. to take care of problems, said Regina Perry, city spokeswoman.

By the time the deadline approached, the officials found that some of the remedial work had started, she said. They intend to return today to see if anything else needs to be done.

"The inspectors are actively working with management" to resolve the difficulties, Perry said.

Raw sewage that backed up into the building caused some tenants to be evacuated from the building on Christmas, as well as water to be turned off. Inspectors also found the fire alarm wasn't working.

Water service was restored yesterday, allowing for the return of the tenants, city officials said.

According to East Orange, the owner of the building is Mayfair Hall LLC - D. Connolly of Plainfield. The company's phone number was not working yesterday.

Tenants said about half of the apartments in the 47-unit, five-story building are occupied. Perry said the city has taken the owners to court on numerous occasions over poor living conditions at the building and that the company had been fined for violations.

"It hasn't gotten to the point of evacuation, but we're going to monitor things and see what happens," Perry added.

This story not posted online; transcribed by DD.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Plainfield - Courier - FY2008 Budget - Tax increase

Published in the Courier News, Sunday, December 23, 2007

Plainfield seeks ways to trim tax increase


PLAINFIELD -- As the holidays draw near, many shoppers are spending their season of giving in a frantic search for that elusive gaming system or coveted pair of Hannah Montana tickets.

In Plainfield, city officials are in the height of budget season, combing their proposed 2008 spending plan for excesses and devising more ways to shrink a tax increase that once stood at 8.7 percent.

In a scene that is repeating itself across New Jersey this winter, cash-strapped government leaders -- while working to slash the local tax burden -- are attempting to avoid a Grinch-who-stole-funding persona at a time residents generally expect good cheer.

"The underlying thing here is that we have to scrutinize everything in the budget because taxes are hurting people," said Democratic Councilman Rashid Burney, chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee and a self-described fiscal conservative. "So everything is being looked at. There are no sacred cows. There are no sacred departments."

A controversial proposal

A suggestion to move what officials described as unused money from the city's recreation department prompted dozens of residents to jam City Hall for a special hearing Monday on the nearly $70 million budget.

In an effort to protest a perceived cut of $75,000 that a parade of residents said would impact athletic programs, locals involved with the department relayed their success stories.

The first, and arguably most dramatic, speaker was 10-year-old Brandon Steele, who quickly chastised city leaders for even thinking about shifting money away from recreation programs.

"In the schools, they say No Child Left Behind, but when you're taking it (funding) from us, we are being left behind," said Steele, who at one point gripped the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyelids shut in a struggle to maintain his composure.

Following Steele were a line of parents and other residents who coaxed one another to deliver passionate testimonials as they lobbied for funding, some telling officials that athletics gives many children the opportunity they need to avoid the pitfalls of gangs and drugs.

Officials have maintained that any supposed recreation cuts will not impact programs. According to current budget documents, the department stands to get a substantial increase in 2008 -- to more than $725,000 -- from this fiscal year's allotment of nearly $678,733, of which $657,409 was spent. Burney said council members are merely discussing whether recreation programs can efficiently operate with a steady funding level.

But Councilman Cory Storch said the massive turnout could sway official opinion.

"I believe that the council is thinking very seriously about the input, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw money restored from the council's supposed cut," Storch said a few days after Monday's meeting.

"People coming out, or even calling and e-mailing, it definitely has an impact," he added. "Especially when it's a lot of people at the same time. I think the council members have to assess who's advocating for something that may be a different kind of agenda because it's not unheard of that staff who are impacted by the cuts will rally the troops."

So it goes in this volatile time of year, when the city's proposed budget still is very much a living document. Already, with the recent announcement of $800,000 in extraordinary state aid -- though $100,000 less than the amount in this year's budget -- city administrators have pegged the current tax increase at 6.3 percent, well on its way to the 4 percent hike some officials say they would be happy to approve because it generally mirrors the rate of inflation and abides by state guidelines capping property tax increases.

As it stands, the 3.46 percent tax rate proposed by officials would equate to an annual tax bill of $3,909.80 for a homeowner living in an average house valued at $113,000. If the budget was passed today, residents would see a property tax increase of $167.30, officials said.

But there still is painful work ahead. Next month, city Administrator Marc Dashield is expected to discuss the results of another budget review, which will pinpoint promising line items officials can tweak without unduly impacting services.

Dashield, who practically is a budgeting Army of One thanks to the recent departures of the city's chief financial officer and finance director, said officials are hoping to locate up to $650,000 in additional cuts. The City Council finalizes changes through the formal passage of budget amendments.

One less job in planning

Another budgeting sore point for some vocal residents and officials is the proposed elimination of a $30,000 job in the Planning Division. Opponents of the cut say the position will play an increasingly vital role as the city wades through what some have called a historic amount of redevelopment plans.

Those same critics, who have questioned whether the duties will be outsourced to hired hands with little knowledge of the city's character, also say the overworked planning staff can't absorb the additional work.

"I totally do not buy the claim on the part of the administration that this position can be absorbed," said Storch, the council liaison to the Planning Board. "I think it's just wishful thinking. I have a very, very strong bias toward strong planning with a lot of local input, and I think the way to do it is to have the internal resources to get the input, to reach out into the community and understand the community."

But as residents and officials wrangle over some points in the budget, other proposals have advanced with less attention.

According to a Courier News review of city documents, the fiscal year 2008 budget promotes a mantra of "fiscal realism," with "making the hard decisions for the future of Plainfield" working as a tagline of sorts. Its core services are police, fire and code enforcement, as well as the expansion of the city's tax base.

Infrastructure, such as information technology and road maintenance, also ranks high on the priority list, with technology netting a new $125,000 line item to fund and manage upgrades to outdated city computer systems. Meanwhile, fixed costs -- think health insurance and pensions -- continue to soar, further limiting the city's financial wiggle room.

State aid is expected to account for about 42 percent of projected revenues, with receipts from delinquent taxes adding another 19 percent. Other money generators include municipal court fines, parking meters, interest on investments and revenue sharing with the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, among others.

In all, projected revenues will net about $25 million, leaving the city to raise more than $44 million of its budget through taxes.

To lighten the tax load, officials appear to be targeting just about every department in the city. When comparing appropriations from fiscal year 2007 to the next, reductions are shown in the public information office, community relations/social services, public works/urban development, corporation counsel and community development, among others.

The city's auxiliary police force, described by some as dysfunctional and championed by others, requested $14,000 for the 2008 budget, the same amount it received in fiscal year 2007. The administration is requesting its elimination.

"It's tough," Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Plainfield, said of the city's budgeting process in times as tight as these. "That's why 98 percent of the people in this city know Jerry Green, 75 percent of them support Jerry Green. Those other 25 are because I can't give them what they want.
I have to make business decisions, and the business decisions I make outweigh people's personal agendas."

What a difference state aid makes. Though the $800,000 in extraordinary aid Plainfield is receiving for its proposed spending plan is $100,000 less than what's included in the 2007 budget -- and far less than $2.9 million officials asked for -- it sure doesn't hurt. A comparison of Plainfield's budget with and without help from the state:

Proposed budget 2008
Introduced budget With Extraordinary Aid
Projected revenues $25 million $25 million
Extraordinary aid $0 $800,000
Base budget $65.4 million $65.4 million
Cost drivers $4.4 million $4.4 million
Core service investments $125,000 $125,000
Total projected expenditures $69.9 million $69.9 million
Gap to be raised by taxation $44.9 million $44.3 million
Percentage increase in taxation 8.7 percent 6.3 percent
Brandon Lausch can be reached at (908) 707-3175 or

Online story here. Archived here.

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(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Schools - Courier - Davy: Funding plan will fix Abbot flaws

Published in the Courier News, Monday, December 17, 2007

Corzine's education chief:
School-funding plan will fix Abbott flaws


A week after Gov. Jon S. Corzine unveiled his long-awaited school funding formula, the push is on to win legislative and court approval, and to convince the public that the plan is the right way to secure equity in the state's education spending.

Education Commissioner Lucille Davy met with the Courier News editorial board Friday to discuss the plan. She said the new formula will replace the Abbott district system and base its funding on the current demographics of each individual district.

"There were some Band-Aid patches that we had done to address these issues, but this is the first time I think a formula looks at this (demographic changes)," she said.

The program wouldn't negatively impact any district's state aid right away. A "hold harmless" provision would ensure that no district would lose money during the first three years of the plan, and every district would see at least a 2 percent rise in state aid next year.

But over time, the plan would correct what many say is an inequity in the current funding structure. That structure was established by the state Supreme Court in its 1997 Abbott v. Burke decision.

In that case, the court ordered the state to assure that per-pupil expenditures in the state's poorest school districts were equivalent to the average per-pupil expenditures in the state's wealthiest districts.

Those poorer districts, dubbed Abbott districts, now number 31, including Plainfield in Central Jersey.

Too far in one direction

But while the ruling was designed to instill equity, Davy said it has pushed the system of state aid too far in favor of Abbott districts.

"Under the current system," Davy said. "Abbott districts come in and tell us what they want."

She said increases to the state's education budget often are absorbed mostly or solely by the Abbott districts, leaving non-Abbotts to pay higher and higher taxes.

"A lot of communities have had to bear a larger and larger share of the burden through property taxes," Davy said.

Further, Davy said, changing demographics have meant that Abbott districts aren't always the most in need anymore.

Today, Davies said, "half of the free and reduced lunch students live outside of the Abbott boundaries."

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free school lunches. Children from families making up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for reduced-price lunches.

The new funding formula would be calculated each year, allowing the state to account for demographic shifts. The plan is based on "adequacy budgets," a term that aims to quantify how much money it takes to educate a pupil to meet state standards. The base amount for an elementary student is $9,649. Middle-school students require about $400 more, and the base amount for a high-school student is $11,289.

Those per-pupil numbers are adjusted for each at-risk (students eligible for free and reduced lunch), special education or non-English proficient student.

The formula also includes adjustments based on income and poverty values within the district, plus incentives for districts that have full-day kindergarten and more funding for special-education students whose education costs exceed certain limits.

In addition to its "hold harmless" provision, the department also would cap the rate at which the districts that would benefit from the new formula will receive their increases. For districts currently spending below their adequacy budgets, the annual increase in state aid is 20 percent. For districts currently spending above the adequacy cap, the increase is capped at 10 percent annually.

All told, the plan would add about $530 million to the state's 2009 budget, not counting benefits payments the state pays on behalf of the districts.

Getting it passed

Corzine and Davy hope the new formula is in place by the next school year, but in order for that to happen, the Legislature must pass it quickly, and the state Supreme Court will have to agree that it complies with the goals of the Abbott v. Burke decision.

Davy said she's optimistic.

"Not only is the governor fully behind it and fully supportive, but the Legislature, a majority of the Legislature, also understands this is a good formula," she said.

Davy said the general public has been generally warm to the proposal.

"I would say it's been relatively positive," she said. "There are always going to be people who say no matter what you do it's not enough. But the state's resources aren't limited."

In recognition of that fact, Davy said, the funding formula includes an emphasis on accountability.

Davy points to the Legislature's recent strengthening of the county superintendent role, and to the Department of Education's new performance evaluation guidelines, known as the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum.

NJQSAC, as its known, grants the commissioner more authority to intervene when a district is under-performing and to set the district on a plan for improvement.

The Legislature could also play a role in deciding how districts that benefit from the new formula will deal with the excess money. Davy said that ideally, the extra cash would mean tax breaks for residents, as opposed to unnecessary excess programs. But she said that either way, the money will be back in taxpayers' hands.

"But if the taxpayers are willing to pay for all the extras, then that's a different issue," she said.

Jared Kaltwasser can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Schools - APP - Funding plan puts aid cuts off 3 years

Published in the Asbury Park Press, Monday, December 17, 2007

School aid cuts put off 3 years
Formula caps extra aid, too


If Gov. Corzine's new funding formula were applied today, Jersey City schools would be out $111 million in state aid.

Under the new criteria, other big cuts would be in store for city schools in places such as Newark ($88 million), Camden ($48 million) and Vineland ($42 million).

These districts are among the 31 historically poor, urban Abbott districts that in recent years have received more than half of state education aid, helping them keep their own property taxes down.

The new formula, if strictly applied, would take some of that money away as it requires all communities to pay their local "fair share."

But a "hold harmless" provision in Corzine's plan says no schools will lose money for at least the first three years of the new program, even if the formula says they are already spending more than necessary. In fact, every district will get at least a 2 percent increase this year, regardless of what the formula says.

The hold-harmless provision would cost $860 million next year and help roughly 40 percent of the state's school districts. That's more than the $532 million in aid increases being touted as help for the largely middle-class schools that have received limited increases in state support over the past six years.

And, among the districts now due for massive aid hikes, increases will be capped at 20 percent. For many of those communities, that means a continued reliance on local property taxes to pay for most school costs.

While Corzine hopes his plan will move beyond the two-tier system that has dominated education funding for a decade, the caps and hold-harmless provision represent nods to political, financial and legal realities. They also limit the help and harm the formula could bring in its first year.

If Corzine imposed large aid cuts, the new formula could force urban schools to slash spending and put more pressure on property taxpayers in those communities. A plan with such cuts also would have almost no chance of winning legislative approval and might face a tougher challenge in court, because many of the potential losers are among the districts covered by the Abbott v. Burke state Supreme Court rulings, which mandated enhanced aid for needy schools.

"We are in no way backing away from our commitment to adequacy funding for all of our children, including those in the Abbott districts," Corzine said. "We are trying to draw a different approach to that, and we understand there's going to have to be a transition period."

Administration officials say the aid caps will prevent runaway spending that might result from floods of money heading to some districts. The caps also help control the price tag on the new formula, cutting its immediate cost by $1 billion. Education Commissioner Lucille Davy said the approach ensures an orderly transition into a new, more fair system.

"We didn't get here in one year," Davy said. "I don't think it's really practical to expect us to change the entire thing overnight."

Overall, many districts would do well under the new formula. Roughly half of the state's 616 school district would see aid increases of 10 percent or larger, far more than they have received in recent years.

But Sen. Robert Martin, R-Morris, said that doesn't make up for years of stagnant aid.

"Twenty percent after almost six years of flat funding doesn't begin, at least for some of us, to provide the kind of relief a middle-class community like Washington Township would deserve," Martin said.

Edison is one of the middle-class districts that would receive the maximum 20 percent boost, but the Central Jersey suburb would still have to rely on property taxes to pay at least 80 percent of its school costs. With the added aid, property taxes won't rise as much as in the past, but the township might have actually cut taxes if it received the full complement of aid from the new formula, Mayor Jun Choi said. With limits on annual increases, Edison will have to depend on the state continuing to ramp up funding.

"We're expecting a few years of gains, assuming the state has the money for it," Choi said.

Corzine said he hoped all schools could receive the amounts they are entitled to within four to five years.

Despite the limits, Choi said the caps are generally a good idea.

"You don't want to expand programs too quickly without quality controls on it," Choi said.

With the hold-harmless provision in place, Abbott districts will still receive 56 percent of all state support.

But David Sciarra, an attorney for the Education Law Center, said the hold-harmless funding conceals the impact of a formula that could hurt schools in poor areas. He said that aid was "larded on top" to win lawmaker support and hide what would otherwise be an overall cut in state education support.

Davy said districts would only lose money after the first three years if they have decreasing enrollment or large demographic changes — fewer special-needs students, for example. They also may be required to chip in more money from local property taxes if they have significant wealth gains. The formula generally calls on more affluent communities to pay more of their own costs and sends more state support to poorer ones.

"There's an expectation that communities provide their local fair share, and that's going to be applied to the state as a whole," Davy said.

Asked if some districts will be spared the full ramifications of that requirement by having their state funding sustained at old levels, Davy responded, "I think you could say that."

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Webcams - Ledger - Woodbridge watches skate park

Published in the Star-Ledger, Friday, November 30, 2007

Live, from Woodbridge

Star-Ledger Staff

Forget to wear a helmet at the Woodbridge skate park and kids may expect a stern text message from a tech-savvy parent before landing their first jump. Go without a coat on a chilly day, and mom may stop by the park to drop off another layer.

Woodbridge's skate park is now live on the Web courtesy of a $19,000 camera system that allows parents to log on to watch kids flip, turn and grind the rails.

After vandals damaged the park earlier this year by prying ramps from the concrete base and scrawling graffiti, township officials installed a 24-hour surveillance camera for police and parents to keep an eye on the popular recreation venue.

"Any parent at home can click on it and make sure their kids are where they're supposed to be," said Charles Kenny, a Woodbridge councilman.

Woodbridge is among a handful of towns across the country experimenting with Webcams at public recreation areas -- both as a way to fight crime and to give parents another way to keep up with their children. The Webcam images are recorded digitally by the police and may be reviewed if another incident like the recent damage at the skate park occurs.

"A lot of people were upset with the vandalism," said Mayor John McCormac, who came up with the camera idea. "Now we have extra eyes and ears on the job. Anybody can see something happening and report it."

The camera sits atop a 50-foot metal pole and provides a wide-angle view on the skate park as kids launch from various ramps and rails into twisting turns and tricks. Most of the skate boarders at the crowded park earlier this month had no idea their skills could be viewed on the Web anywhere in the world.

"It's pretty cool because people can see us skate," said Ryan Berg, 13, of Cliffwood Beach.

The resolution of the color broadcast is sharp enough to pick out skaters by their clothes.

Ocean Township Mayor Dan Van Pelt said his municipality spent $23,000 to install a similar Webcam that has the ability to rotate and zoom for views of the new skate park in the Waretown section of the Ocean County township.

With the proximity of the park to busy Route 9, the camera also gives parents another way to make sure kids arrive safely at the park.

"If we are going to make that kind of capital investment, we want to protect it," Van Pelt said. "It's a valuable tool. I like to see the kids enjoy the skate park."

A link to the Woodbridge's skate park Webcam is available at the bottom of the township's main Web site:

Not everyone is thrilled to be online, said some kids at the park on a recent afternoon.

"It's pretty radical, but I don't know -- it's an invasion of privacy," said Dylan Sobin, 15, of Cliffwood Beach. He said he was worried it could be a way for pedophiles to scout victims.

Parents visiting the park voiced support for the added measure of security.

"It's very nice," said Barbara Moore of Avenel, who was waiting for her grandson. "You can see what they're doing. You can keep an eye on them."

Other kids seemed willing to accept the Webcam as added protection.

"It's good," Chris Camplos, 12, of Woodbridge, who was riding a razor-scooter. "Everybody was sad when the skate park was vandalized. Now all parents can watch everything."

Sharon Adarlo may be reached at or (732) 404-8081

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Warwas - Courier - Judge orders official reinstated

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Judge orders Plainfield to reinstate fired health official
Employee fired on allegations that she was working from home
for another city while on sick leave.


PLAINFIELD -- A former city health officer stands to win back her job more than a year after she was fired on allegations that she concealed from supervisors that she worked from home for Paterson while on extended sick leave from Plainfield.

Jadwiga Warwas, who appealed her Sept. 11, 2006, firing for insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee, won over a state Office of Administrative Law judge who dismissed the charges against her and ordered Plainfield to reinstate Warwas to her position with full back pay, benefits, pension rights and legal fees.

A health officer in Plainfield earns around $83,700, city administrators say.

"Indeed, there is nothing about Dr. Warwas' work from home, not in Paterson, at a computer on her own vacation and sick time that violated any rule or regulation governing her employment," Judge James A. Geraghty wrote in his nine-page opinion, decided Dec. 12 and obtained Monday by the Courier News.

Warwas, a licensed physician, began her tenure as Plainfield's health officer on Oct. 1, 2003. During Warwas' time in the Queen City, an employee accused her of harassment for shouting at her -- a claim later dismissed in municipal court -- and she was subject to two minor disciplinary actions, which are pending Warwas' appeals.

She also is involved in a discrimination case against the city and "figures as a witness" in the administrative law challenge of the firings of three former Health Department employees.

"Due to stress from these contentious matters, Dr. Warwas developed peptic ulcers and clinical depression, which resulted in her taking sick leave" last year from late July through early September, according to the ruling. The verdict states that her attending physician certified that Warwas, on five occasions, was restricted to home because of poor health.

While off from work, an anonymous tipster alerted city officials that Warwas was working part time for Paterson. According to the ruling, officials in that city confirmed the claim, notifying their counterparts in Plainfield that Warwas worked from home as a quality assurance coordinator, logging a total of 109 hours as she collected and disseminated information about infectious diseases to Paterson officials and residents.

Warwas testified that when she was hired by Plainfield, she submitted a resume that disclosed her part-time job. Though that document, "for some unexplained reason," was not in Warwas' personnel file nor produced during evidence gathering, the judge wrote that Plainfield officials did not require Warwas to abandon her work for Paterson as a condition of her hiring.

Both Warwas and her attorney, Stephen E. Klausner, did not return messages seeking comment. The special counsel representing Plainfield in the case, David I. Minchello, referred questions to city Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson, who said he could not comment on the ruling because he had not seen it.

A sticking point in the case appears to be Warwas' undisputed failure to submit a written request to continue her work for Paterson before beginning sick leave, despite a municipal code at the time of Warwas' hiring that prohibited outside employment without official approval.

Warwas testified that she was not aware of the requirement, "given the fact that the resume itself constituted written disclosure," the ruling states.

Plainfield amended its employee handbook in March 2004 -- well before the flap over Warwas' work -- to allow city employees to seek other work "as long as it does not interfere with their city job responsibilities" or require the use of official property, according to the ruling.

Though the city argued that firing Warwas was justified because of her prior disciplinary record -- including two suspensions for the confusion surrounding her alleged failure to designate an acting health officer while on vacation in summer 2006 -- the judge ruled that "Warwas did not in any sense fail to comply with the Employee Handbook by not submitting a written application for permission to do what she had already disclosed in 2003."

The judge's initial decision will be forwarded to the state Merit System Board for consideration. The five-member panel may adopt, modify or reject the verdict at its Jan. 16 meeting, said Henry Maurer, director of Merit System Practices and Labor Relations for the state Department of Personnel.

If the board backs the judge's verdict, Warwas and city officials would be asked to settle the amount of back pay and other fees. If they can't reach a compromise, Maurer said the board could resolve the issue for them.

Brandon Lausch can be reached at (908) 707-3175 or

Online story here. Archived here.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

County Party Organizations - NY Times - Bill would set rules

Published in the New York Times, Sunday, December 09, 2007

On Politics
Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Open County Primaries



CONVENTIONAL wisdom says that most elections in New Jersey are decided in the primary, because most districts are drawn so that the dominant party doesn’t have to break a financial sweat in the general election. But in practice, the primary is often a fait accompli, too, because the real drama occurs at the county political conventions, thanks to the influence of county political bosses.

So imagine what chaos and suspense might unfold if a proposal offered by two of the most prominent women in the State Legislature becomes a reality.

State Senators Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County, and Diane B. Allen, a Republican from Burlington County, introduced a bill last week that would open up the process by which county parties operate. Senator Allen has complained that the process is rife with back-room deals and is dominated by men.

Under the bill, the parties would be required to adopt constitutions and bylaws; use voting machines when committee members fill vacancies in the Legislature; and keep an updated list of committee members on file with the county clerk.

The bill, called the Party Democracy Act, has a bipartisan group of sponsors in the Assembly, too: Linda R. Greenstein, a Democrat who represents Mercer and Middlesex Counties; Amy H. Handlin, a Republican from Monmouth County; and Ms. Weinberg’s two running mates in Bergen County, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gordon M. Johnson.

Guiding the legislators from the outside is Harry S. Pozycki, chairman of the Citizens’ Campaign, a nonpartisan group devoted to government reform.

At its heart, Mr. Pozycki said, the bill is intended to muzzle county political chairmen, who have long been perceived to wield an inordinate amount of power in picking candidates for local, county and statewide offices. Securing the blessing of the county boss has long been crucial to victory in any race, because of the way loyal blocs of voters in low-turnout elections follow the cues of their party leaders.

“We move from tyranny to democracy,” said Mr. Pozycki, a former chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Party. “We have the rule of law, instead of the clubhouse rule.”

But this being New Jersey, you can bet there is personal animus underpinning the bill as well.

In Bergen County, Senator Weinberg has been engaged in an increasingly bitter battle with Joseph A. Ferriero, the Democratic Party chairman. To get into the whys and whats of their feud would require a master’s thesis worth of paperwork. But some of the bad blood dates back two years, when Senator Weinberg, then an assemblywoman, went to court in a battle over disputed ballots to edge a candidate preferred by Mr. Ferriero to fill a Senate vacancy.

Senator Allen has most recently been engaged in a standoff with Glenn Paulsen, a former Burlington County Republican chairman who still wields a lot of influence. She had wanted the county party’s help in a primary to fill the seat of retiring Representative Jim Saxton, but she quit when she became frustrated with the process.

“We need to get rid of the county bosses,” Senator Allen said. “Back-room deals have been made in New Jersey for years, and only now, when we seem to have a lot more women in the Legislature, are we starting to gain momentum in saying, ‘You can’t do that anymore.’”

Asked about Senator Allen’s remarks, Bill Layton, the new Burlington County Republican chairman, who is not exactly an Allen supporter, declined to comment. But he said that her bill was, in general, a good one.

“I think anytime the Legislature or anyone wants to make the political process for political parties more open and transparent, I think that’s a great thing,” Mr. Layton said. “I think it’s a great piece of legislation.”

But he said he did not like the requirement for voting machines because “to close that process off would be like asking the senators and assemblymen who come up to Trenton every day to go in a back room and vote on bills, so no one really knows how they stood on the issues.”

The fate of the bill is unclear. Gov. Jon S. Corzine said that while he had not looked at the bill, “I’ve tended to support most of the things that Senator Weinberg has been on the side of.”

Legislative leaders have offered lukewarm opinions. And both Tom Wilson, the state Republican Party chairman, and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, his Democratic counterpart, expressed concern about the constitutionality of such a bill, noting that the United States Supreme Court has ruled that government cannot regulate private political organizations.

So leave it to Charlotte DeFillippo, the Union County Democratic chairwoman, to weigh in, too — on the side of the existing system.

“While Senator Weinberg is certainly prolific as a bill writer, I think that the legislation is gratuitous,” said Ms. DeFillippo, the only woman leading a county party in New Jersey. “Individual political problems should not forge general public policy. I also believe this is constitutional. So I agree with both state chairmen, and that’s a rarity.”

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

County Party Organizations - Ledger - Bill would set rules

Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bill targets power of county bosses
Legislation sets internal rules for parties,
which chairmen say is unconstitutional

Star-Ledger Staff

Several legislators launched a bipartisan drive yesterday to end one of New Jersey's oldest traditions -- the power of county political bosses.

But two state party chairmen said doing so would violate the state constitution.

Led by two women senators who have both recently tangled with their respective county leaders, the legislative contingent wants to curb the influence of county bosses by adopting minimum standards for how county parties operate.

"All it does is make sure our parties run officially in an open manner," said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who has had several high-profile clashes with Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero.

Under the Party Democracy Act, all county parties would have to adopt party constitutions and bylaws, use voting machines for filling committee vacancies and abide by other rules of operation that would make it harder to manipulate the nominating process. Weinberg and others said some leaders exploit the weakness of their parties to create their own fiefdoms and tend to exclude minorities and women.

"We need to get rid of the county bosses. We need to give power back to the people and do things in a democratic way," said Sen. Diane Allen (R-Burlington), another bill supporter. When Allen recently decided not to run for Congress, she said her decision was influenced in part by a falling out with longtime friend Glenn Paulsen, former Burlington County GOP chairman and still a major force in local politics.

Tom Wilson, chairman of the Republican State Committee, said while there may be good ideas in the legislation, it would be as unconstitutional as telling Chambers of Commerce or the Little League how to run their private affairs.

"The Supreme Court already has made it clear that government cannot intervene in the workings of private organizations," he said. "For purposes of the constitution, political parties are considered private organizations."

Democratic State Chairman Joe Cryan agreed there are constitutional questions about such a proposal. "If the goals are to increase representation of women and minorities and to give grassroots party activists a voice, we are already succeeding," Cryan said.

Harry Pozycki, chairman of the Citizens' Campaign, a nonpartisan group promoting citizen involvement in government, said the bill was drafted with an eye toward respecting the constitution. Lawmakers cannot micromanage parties but can set broad operating guidelines, he said.

"Party constitutions and voting machines are critical to ensure that county party committee people know the rules of the game and are able to vote their conscience, free from the threat or perception of intimidation from party leaders who in many cases control their livelihood," he said.

Ferriero could not be reached for comment. Paulsen, Burlington County chairman from 1990 to 2004, said no Republican county party in the state nominated more women and minorities during that period.

Brigid Harrison, political science professor at Montclair State University, said the influence of bosses, a New Jersey tradition that dates back at least a century, is too strong to eliminate overnight.

"You have to chip away at their base of power and how they go about conducting their business. This is one step in that direction," she said. "Party chairs need to be responsive to a set of rules that may not necessarily be of their making."

Joe Donohue may be reached at or (609) 989-0208

Online story here. Archived here.

(Note: Online stories may be taken down by their publisher after a period of time or made available for a fee. Links posted here is from the original online publication of this piece.)

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weddings - Bergen Record - Fee and Salary Ordinances required

Published in the Bergen Record, Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mayors adjust to new wedding rules

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


North Bergen Mayor Nicolas Sacco marrying township residents Johnny Restrepo and Maritza Carvajal during his lunch break last week.

Mayors around the state are adapting to changes in the longtime tradition of performing weddings at town hall.

Legislation now requires any mayor or official who performs weddings to also solemnize civil unions. Municipalities must now also account for the money that mayors earn from conducting nuptials.

So far, the honeymoon hasn't ended for the new regulations, adopted in February. A survey of North Jersey mayors by The Record showed only a handful have decided to stop performing weddings because of the changes.

The fees for having one's union blessed by a municipal official were largely unregulated by the state. For decades, when a couple chose a town hall wedding, whether for simplicity, convenience or economic reasons, the fee, if any, could vary widely by town. In some cases, weddings had become a lucrative side business for mayors who weren't always declaring the extra income.

"It's a cottage industry in some of the Shore towns," said Susan Jacobucci, director of the state Division of Local Government Services. "Shore town mayors were making 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars a year. They had schedules they had booked well into the future."

Jacobucci's office received a complaint about the practice, which prompted the new regulations. Now municipalities are required to pass an ordinance setting the fee for performing weddings and requiring the depositing of the money into a town's general fund. If a mayor or town official is then paid for the services, a separate salary ordinance is required. The regulation does not place any cap on the fees.

Jacobucci said some mayors had complained that they were paid so little to hold public office that marriages had become an important source of income.

"The reason you have the ability to marry people is because you're mayor," Jacobucci said she told them. "It's not really your money; do you charge a per-diem for signing ordinances or performing other functions?"

Most North Jersey towns where mayors perform ceremonies do not charge a fee, or suggest a donation be made to a local charity -- a practice that does not require an ordinance. In towns that do charge, fees range from $50 to $200, with some tacking on additional costs if a ceremony requires a mayor to travel or rent a tuxedo. Most of the North Jersey municipalities that charge fees have either passed the required ordinances or said they are in the process.

Meanwhile, fears that the new civil union rule would cause mayors to opt out of performing ceremonies altogether have been largely unfounded, according to the Civil Union Review Commission, a panel created by the Legislature to monitor the effectiveness of the new law.

"One of the most overstated, non-problems of the year has been the notion of mayors refusing to perform civil unions," said Steven Goldstein, vice chairman of the commission.

Goldstein, who is also the chairman of Garden State Equality, a statewide gay advocacy group, said the main focus of complaints received by the commission have been from same-sex couples and mayors arguing the legislation doesn't go far enough, and that everyone in the state should be granted full marriage rights, regardless of sexual orientation.

"Out of the 556 municipalities in New Jersey that have mayors, maybe 20 have either refused to perform civil unions, or de-facto refused to perform them through scheduling issues," Goldstein said. "It exists out there -- we get complaints -- but there's nowhere near a widespread pattern."

In North Jersey, only a handful of mayors have expressed opposition to the civil union law or the new ordinance requirements.

Steve Lonegan, the outgoing mayor of Bogota who spoke out against civil unions before the measure took effect, said he had continued performing weddings since it was enacted. He said he had not received any requests to perform a civil union, but would refuse to perform one if asked during his remaining weeks in office, despite a requirement that any mayor who conducts weddings must also do civil unions.

"I object to being compelled by the government to perform something that the voters of New Jersey should place on the ballot and decide on," Lonegan said. "I don't think the government should be deciding for people."

Mayor James Anzaldi of Clifton, who estimated he had performed hundreds of weddings during his tenure, opted out of them altogether to avoid having to solemnize same-sex unions.

"I don't want to do anything to hurt anybody's feelings, but I don't want to hurt my own religious background at the same time," said Anzaldi, who is Catholic.

Lambertville Mayor David DelVecchio, the president of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said he felt the attorney general had made a mistake in allowing mayors the chance to opt out because they refuse to perform civil unions.

He spoke at a panel on the topic at the league's annual conference in Atlantic City last month. "You provide services to your residents," DelVecchio said. "Think about the idea of denying a service to an African-American, or an Arab, or someone who is Jewish; it wouldn't enter your mind."

North Haledon Mayor Randy George, who opted out of performing weddings and civil unions since the new rules took effect, said it was because he was angry about the ordinance requirements.

"To be honest, I don't like when the state of New Jersey tells me what to do," George said. He said he used to charge $200 per wedding, but only to raise money for a scholarship fund created in honor of a deceased town resident. George said the fund was now drying up because of the new regulations that any fees from ceremonies must now be deposited into a town's general budget.

"The thing that annoys me the most is, the state never solves problems, they just create them," George said. "They said other mayors were collecting money off weddings, so go after them! I can no longer use fees for the scholarship fund, but I can enact an ordinance that says I can get paid -- I don't want to get paid!"

George added he was exploring the possibility of becoming an ordained minister over the Internet in order to keep performing weddings to raise funds for the scholarship program.

Mayors who have continued performing weddings and civil unions say it is one of the most pleasurable aspects of their job.

"I really enjoy doing them," North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said shortly before he presided over the nuptials of residents Johnny Restrepo and Maritza Carvajal on a recent weekday. North Bergen recently passed the required ordinances making the town's $50 wedding fees payable to the mayor as a salary supplement.

As Sacco officiated at the Restrepo-Carvajal union, asking the couple if they wished to join in holy matrimony, Restrepo's young daughter, Veronica, held out the ring box and whispered: "Say 'I do.'"

Some key provisions of the new regulations on fees for weddings and civil unions:
• Any fee collected by a mayor for the performance of a marriage or civil union ceremony must be authorized by ordinance, payable to the municipality and deposited into the general fund.

• Disbursements may be made by the town to the mayor for wedding services only after an appropriate ordinance is adopted.

• No ordinance is needed for a mayor to suggest that the couple may make a direct, voluntary contribution to a charitable organization of their choice.
Source: New Jersey Division of Local Government Services
Online story here. Archived here.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Development - APP - Esperanza halted, others cut back

Published in the Asbury Park Press, Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A blip in beachfront boom
Esperanza halts condo construction

By Nancy Shields • COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU • December 11, 2007

ASBURY PARK — The Hoboken developer building the 224-unit Esperanza high-rise on the city's beachfront says it is temporarily closing down the construction site and sales office.

Dean Geibel, president of Metro Homes, said the company recently informed the city that it was halting construction and sales "until such time market conditions allow us to move forward and successfully complete this important luxury beachfront development.

"We are convinced that the national mortgage crisis now impacting real estate markets around the country represents a temporary setback, and we remain fully committed to Asbury Park and its rebirth," Geibel said in a telephone interview Monday.

Geibel said there are sales contracts on about 70 of the condominium units in the two-tower building, which is three stories out of the ground and is being constructed on the site of the failed C-8 condominium project that dogged the city for 17 years until Metro Homes imploded the unfinished steel skeleton in the spring of 2006.

Geibel said the money people put down on their units is being held in escrow. "It's too early to decide how they'll be impacted," he said.

The Esperanza promised buyers beachfront homes with hotel amenities in an architectural design that evokes images of waves and ships.

"I understand what they're going through, and I do not blame them," said City Councilman John Loffredo, who said that Metro Homes had told the city a couple of months ago that it might have to alter the design.

Loffredo, who wants the Esperanza built as is, said redesigning it would mean starting over with the city's technical review committee and Planning Board to get a new project approved.

Metro Homes' decision comes as Madison Marquette, the national retail developer, has formed a joint venture with master developer Asbury Partners and is restoring and renovating the Paramount Theatre and Convention Hall, the Casino, the Power Plant and boardwalk pavilions.
Upbeat outlook

City Manager Terence Reidy said he talked to about 50 investors at a luncheon Monday at the Market In The Middle restaurant downtown.

"I feel badly about this hiccup with Metro Homes. Dean has come to us and said he's regrouping. This is a good time to do it, in light of winter and the market. I think it's a positive strategic move for Dean. . . . We'll be there and work with him every step of the way."

"I think what is so significant about Asbury Park is a solid stream of people coming in to fix up homes, starting businesses," Reidy added. "The foundation is so strong in this city now that it's not built on one person, one developer, one project. . . . It's literally built on thousands of people who are coming in saying, "This is where I want to live.' "

Bob Davis, president of the Rumson-Fair Haven Bank, which plans to open a fourth branch to be known as the Asbury Park Community Bank in the city's downtown next April, said he did not think the news about Metro temporarily closing down affected his bank's project.

Local businessman Steve Troy, who is on the city's Planning Board and a leader in the Chamber of Commerce, did not like the news that Metro is shutting down, saying it is happening at a time when the city's revival seems to be particularly successful.

"This (Metro Homes) really is more a statement about the turmoil in the real estate market than the future of Asbury Park," Troy said.

Deputy Mayor Jim Bruno said he found out about Metro Homes' decision on Friday.

"They have to regroup, may have to downsize it, refinance it," Bruno said. "I guess they're not going to have enough money to finish this project. It won't be as high-end as they thought it would be."
South end slowdown

With the site between Third and Fourth avenues closing down, it will mean that only Paramount Homes is still building on the waterfront north of the newly reopened and renamed Berkeley Hotel.

Earlier this year, Kushner Cos. made significant changes in its housing investments, and its affiliated company, Westminster Communities, halted going forward on its second block at the south end of Asbury Park next to Wesley Lake. Westminster opened a new sales office at its existing site of townhomes and condominium flats to sell those units already built.

Larry Fishman, chief operating officer of Asbury Partners, the master developer that bought up the waterfront and sold off parcels to individual developers, said Monday that a number of companies, including Madison Marquette, are interested in buying out Westminster's real estate interests.

Gary Mottola, Madison Marquette's president of investments, could not be reached for comment.

"Asbury Partners is very sad that the current financing and real estate market has caused Metro to suspend construction on the Esperanza," Fishman said.

"It's a great building in a fabulous location," he added. "Reported sales were going well in terms of pre-sales and prices despite an overall negative market. We are hopeful Metro will be able to start construction soon or sell to another developer."

Fishman said the building was designed three years ago and Metro may require certain modifications that affect both the marketability and profitability.

Fishman said he could not comment if his company could decrease the amount of money it is slated to make as the master developer on the Esperanza.

Geibel said Metro Homes is not stopping construction or sales or any of its other projects, including the huge Trump Plaza Jersey City condominium project. Metro and partner Donald Trump are the builders.

"There are some adjustments that have to be made," Reidy, the city manager, said. "We don't live in a static environment; we live in a world that is in flux. I think Metro Homes is a solid organization and I think they have a very positive vision. We'll work together."


angelface wrote:
dankaplan, if you reread my comment, there is no mention that my business failed. I simply stated I moved my business to a thriving, safe area. Not sure about the tillie guy but I do know a few business that left. I know many people who moved out of Asbury in the past year. My business did pretty good in Asbury. I left once again, because of the bs in Asbury and mainly because of the trash. Living there, I witnessed many a morning, prostitutes, crack addicts, etc. and many times heard gunshots. I simply thought my life was more deserving. If you must know I opened my business in Lavalette. I , once again, thought Asbury was going to be the Old Asbury we all loved. As for advice my dear, this is my third location I opened so I evidently know what I am doing. By the way I have been back to Asbury , I know quite a few of the merchants. They tell me the truth of what is going on. Not impressed . Did you hear about the family held at gunpoint on Cookman. ?
12/14/2007 7:30:34 PM

dankaplan wrote:
Angelface, I'm sorry to hear that your business failed. It seems like you and Tilliesdead had bad experiences in Asbury Park. Opening a business is a significant endeavor and can take planning, including a contingency for failure. I hope you have such a plan for your new business in the other town. What town is it? What type of business? I hope this time you sought the advice of someone who could develop a business plan with you. If you come back to Asbury Park sometime, you can see the families, singles, couples, young and old attending events along the waterfront. The rest of Asbury Park is cleaning up, and currently there is a variety of levels of "cleanliness". Currently, I'd recommend only about 3/4 of the city to families with children, and much less at night. That will change. It is a good feeling to support a place that has such a brighter future over the next few years and decades. I hope you have found something that you can support, be happy with, and be proud of.
12/14/2007 9:55:52 AM

angelface wrote:
I jumped on the boat 3 years ago!!!!! I JUST JUMPED OFF!!!. I not only lived in AP , I opened a business. I was so sick of the BS in that town, never mind the rapes, shootings, burglaries, gangs, etc. I was pro ASbury, defended it everytime someone knocked me down and told me I was crazy. They were right. Yes, Asbury has lots of good people living there but the bad is BAD, very ugly and scary. I now live in a very peaceful area where I hear the ocean in the still of the night, not gun shots. My business in thriving in another beach town where families cann not only go to the boardwalk but can walk ALL over the town. Yes, progress has been made but they should put more effort in cleaning up the streets first then the waterfront . Good Luck to all. Its so sad what is happening to what was once a beautiful beach town. They missed the boat trying to sell the upscale crap. The new Asbury will never be the old Asbury. The other reason I left.
12/13/2007 9:31:03 PM

AsburyFuture wrote:
I have a problem with building low income housing by the beach as well. It will not work. Just look at the souyth west section of town. That is the area that needs the most help. Fix up the neighborhoods there, not shift people around. People need to learn how to take care of themselves before they can take the responsibility of owning their own home in the tourist area. No one wants to see people throw garbage on the ground, or people who don't know how to rake leaves etc... I don't see the benefit of putting low income housing in the tourist area.
12/13/2007 4:05:33 PM

SilverSurfer wrote:
OK what was that article. That guy died for his nice or daughter or something to that extent BUT SHE WAS IN A GANG>>>>> They weren't trying to hit him; they were going for another gang member. I'm sure he knew she was in a gang. It's sad true, but think about it this way 2 gang members of the street. And maybe that girl will rethink about being in a gang and start to convince others. Unfortunately the world need martyrs. Stopping gangs starts at home.
12/13/2007 3:39:58 PM

Emile wrote:
>>>So people get shot every now and again. They probably deserve it<<< Yeah, Silver, they probably deserved it: I guess you subscribe to the Sharpe James school of sociology - "They ain't shootin' at me!"
12/13/2007 2:53:33 PM

SilverSurfer wrote:
IT DOES NOT STOP AT THE BEACH FRONT. THE BEACH IS FOR THE UPPER CLASSES which is fine . It gives me something to aspire to. If they put AFFORDABLE HOUSING ON THE BEACH I WOULD BE PISSED OFF because i would not qualify. Why give the poor the best location????? That�s Madness.
12/13/2007 2:19:24 PM

SilverSurfer wrote:
Ok I've been reading posts on all the stories. I find it pretty funny how people just go after any thing about AP. They say its a ghetto, everyone that bought there got ripped the school systems suck yada yada... I moved to AP 3 years ago I almost bought a house on the "bad side" I really did not care because its really not that bad. Secondly all the people that criticizes AP where do you live? I have A side walk a house with a nice size yard and 9 blocks from the beach. We have some of the best restaurants on the shore, an art community that can rival any jersey town. So people get shot every now and again. They probably deserve it gangs are a problem everywhere. Here people get shot Manalapan Egg harbor kids die too usually OD under their parents nose. No i don�t have kids and guess what if i did i would send them to private school anyway. One more thing there are at least 6 houses that have been redone or built on my block and 2 more in the process of being redone.
12/13/2007 2:18:19 PM

dankaplan wrote:
Emile,�thanks for pointing me to that Esperanza web site.� I never looked there before.� Yes, the advertiser could have done better with the boardwalk picture.� Asbury Park's boardwalk looks similar, but the diagonal boards give it more character.� Also, the benches in Asbury Park are a bit newer and cleaner looking.� I've never seen that particular girl in the surf and the bowling balls look newer than the ones at Asbury Lanes.� I guess they used artistic license.� On the nightlife page,�the bar picture looks similar to the Harrison, the microphone looks like something I'd see at Georgie's on Karaoke night and the mixing board scene is something I'd see at Paradise or the Circuit.� On the dining page, the latte looks like one I've gotten at Wish You Were Here, the red chairs at the long table look like one of the coffee shops, maybe�America's Cup.� The food looks like something I've seen on my dinner plate at Moonstruck, Isabella's, or Laila's.
12/13/2007 12:46:28 PM

Emile wrote:
P.S. If you go to and click on community, the site tells you "However you choose to entertain yourself in Asbury Park, you're promised something new, something fresh and something never seen before." Then you click on recreation, and they show a picture of AVON's boardwalk. If that doesn't speak volumes about where the developer's heads were, I don't know what would.
12/13/2007 11:18:16 AM

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.