|Posted by Occh on March 25, 2011 at 6:20 PM||comments (2)|
Rather than doing the job he was elected to do, reduce the size ofstate government, Chris Christie has instead spent his timeinvestigating regional agencies that he said are heavens for politicians to hand out patronage jobs to family and associates. Two of these regional agencies are the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and the Passaic Valley Water Commission. Now it is true that both ofthese entities were used by the appointed commissioners to give high paying jobs to their cronies and family members, but what the Governor wants now is nothing less than the power one would expect of adictator. He wants the power to veto the minutes of all regiona lauthorities and agencies in the state.Currently Governor Christie can only veto the minutes of an interstate authority like the Port of Authority of New York and NewJersey and the Delaware River Port Authority. This is a privilege that is enjoyed by the governors of the states that these authorities serve. With this arrangement, the theory is that each governor will police the actions of the other. In this manner, the authorities cannot be used as rewards for political patronage. But, itd oes not quite work that way.
I have told you before about the cup cake job former state senator Bill Baroni got. Governor Christie appointed him to the Port of Authority of New York and New Jersey as the Deputy Director at a salary of $291,252.
Another appointment by the Governor to the Port of Authority of NewYork and New Jersey goes to show just how he can reward those who “playball” with him. In the past month, David Samson was named as Chairman of the Port of Authority. Although I could not find his salary, common sense would place it greater than a subordinate like Baroni. Now Samson, a former Attorney General of New Jersey was also chairman of Christie’s transition team and many of the members of his law firm found positions in the Governor’s administration. But, the topping on the cake is that the law firm that David Samson is a partner in, Wolif Samson, has been appointed general counsel of the Turnpike Authority.
It sure looks like the Governor has no problem using positions on interstate authorities to reward those who help him, but since there are only a few of these interstate agencies, it could present a problem for him. He might not have enough of these gravy train jobs to go around. If this is the case, his request to take over control of intrastate authorities might be the answer to that problem. This is why his request to be able to have the ultimate control over regional agencies must be denied him. It would concentrate too much power in the Governor’s hands that might well become his own employment agency for political hacks. Instead, another system has to be put into place to prevent this situation from becoming the new norm. The following is one that should be considered.
All the mayors of the towns, municipalities and cites that are members of the regional authority will form a “Board of Directors” for said authority. They will then hire, via a super majority of two-thirds a Director of Operations for the authority. The “Board of Directors” will approve by the same vote all hiring by the Director o fOperations along with the salaries being offered for those positions. In this manner, if an attempt was made to get political hacks into positions within the authority, it would require a fairly complicated conspiracy amongst a group of politicians who will most likely represent a broad spectrum of political view points. But, one other level of administration can be introduced to serve as a final check on preventing an authority becoming a haven for nepotism.
The meeting minutes of the mayors “Board of Director” meetings will be submitted to a board that is made up of the County Executives that the authority is located in. They would be required to approve the meeting minutes by a unanimous vote for the minutes to be accepted and the directives of those minutes to be implemented. If they are not accepted, the minutes will be delivered back to the “Board o fDirectors” with the changes that the Executives believe have to be made to gain their approval. The mayors can then decide to make those changes, or via a unanimous vote by the “Board of Directors” of mayors to accept the minutes themselves. In this manner the mayors will serve as a check to the County Executives, just as the County Executives serve as a check to the mayors. The process would have to be totally transparent to the public and the media. It is system that would work and still allow local control of the authority.
To place total control of any governmental agency or authority in the hands of one person is the recipe for corruption. It must not beallowed to exist. Governor Christie must not be allowed to have this power.
“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”, Lord Acton
|Posted by Occh on March 14, 2011 at 12:57 PM||comments (0)|
AN OPEN LETTER: To the officers who responded while Robert Ellis blasted away with his rifle the other night: You are all heroes. Not only to neighbors and Ellis's parents, whom he put in grave danger. You are also heroes to family members terrorized by this heroin addict who, just a short time ago, confided that he intended to “go out in a blaze of glory.”
That’s right: Someone who knew Ellis (photo, below) told me he'd planned this all along. He just didn't explain it. But we know now: You were only filling the pre-determined role he put you in. He even placed the call that brought you there.
As happens when you’ve been in the public eye as long as I have, I know someone close to the Ellis family. And this person says there are people right now who want you to know how grateful they are.
“Bob Ellis was as evil as they come,” she said. “The officer [who] shot him is a hero.
“Tell [the officer] that.”
It was just a short time ago, this person told me, that Ellis made his then-vague "blaze of glory" comment.
Ellis’s three 20-something children, who must suffer the shame of their father’s madness, can perhaps find closure. But those of you who responded will always live with the memory of that awful night. It’s small comfort, I know, but at least he won’t be able to hurt anyone ever again, especially those who loved him most.
Unfortunately, Robert Ellis left you no choice.
Not when he’d blown out the window of the first police cruiser that pulled up to his parents’ house -- after he himself summoned you there (it’s on the tape). Not when he came out from around the house like Tony Montana, trying to take as many police officers’ lives as he could before the inevitable fusillade came, leaving his lifeless body in the bushes of his parents’ front lawn.
They provided for him, those two, after his wife fled the madness a decade ago. They bought him his own pet shop in Glen Rock, rather than see him go on welfare. It didn't last long.
His mother even excused him after he pushed her down the steps, and supported him during his frequent mental hospital stays.
Then the elderly pair took Ellis in with them after someone who left a cigarette burning in his Ridgewood apartment nearly burned the place to the ground.
Ellis repaid his quiet, prideful parents by first unleashing unholy terror -- on an otherwise quiet night on their otherwise quiet street. He finished it by turning their house into an Amityville-style curiosity.
“He was a monster,” the close family friend told me. “That’s something that everyone should know."
At a time when it seems officers of every stripe everywhere are literally under fire, at a time when the bully elected to govern our state would inexplicably try to portray you and your brethren as selfish and insensitive, you weren’t thinking about maybe having to take a second job to be able to cover your family’s health insurance. You weren’t calculating the hit your pension would suffer if this paper tiger in Trenton gets his way.
You were doing your duty, fulfilling a sworn oath to protect us all by any and all means necessary, holding your own fears at bay, focusing all of your energy. And in that moment of truth, you were able to do what no critic of your supremely noble profession would have the guts to even imagine.
To which we say: Thank you.
WRITTEN BY: JERRY DEMARCO, CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM
|Posted by Occh on February 28, 2011 at 5:37 PM||comments (0)|
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Police and firefighters from throughout New Jersey plan to descend onTrenton on March 3 in a “Stand Up for Safety” rally aimed at countering Gov. Christie’s plan to roll back public employee benefits. “We have had enough and want to send a message,” State PBA member Jim Ryan told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
“Our hope is that politicians will think twice after they see our numbers,” said Ryan, of South Brunswick.
Christie continued his assault this morning on public servants’ unions -- first on NBC's "Today Show" and then on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” -- blaming them for everything from layoffs to rising property taxes to the state’s under-funded pension system.
“We’re not trying to break the unions,” he said. “The unions are trying to break the middle class in New Jersey.”
It is a message that other governors have been selling -- with national attention focused on the battle in Wisconsin -- as part of what clearly is a coordinated campaign (SEE: Christie a wanna-be union buster among many in U.S.)
Christie has been conducting his campaign “in the court of public opinion," one officer told CLIFFVIEW PILOT. "He held it without ‘the defense‘ (the Unions) screaming ‘objection.’He [is] able to state his case, rest his case, and now, has worked with allies in government to sentence our pension system and financial stability to death.”
The only way to pay the state’s health carebill, Christie insists, is to significantly boost insurance premiums for hundreds of thousands of police, firefighters and teachers.
“What has been done to the police and fire pension in my opinion is no different than what Bernie Madoff did to all of those who entrusted himwith ther reirement/401K plans,” Monroe Twp. Police Sgt. Lisa Robinson told CLIFFVIEW PILOT.
“I am concerned that after all of my years of dedication and service, there will be no money available when I retire that was promised to me.
Christie’s plan requires public workers to pay for a third of their individual plan.They now pay 1.5 percent. Using teachers as an example, he said, one who makes $60,000 would go from paying $900 a year to $7,333 for the same plan.
Christie said that would stem the $4.3 billion a year paid from state coffers for current and retired public servants.
What it will also do is force many to choose plans with higher deductibles and co-pays. Those plans also limit the pool of providers.
Citing “fairness and shared sacrifice,“ Christie also wants to roll back a 9-percent pension increase granted a decade ago and require all public servants to pay in 8.5 percent toward retirement. This, he said, would chop $34 billion worth of unfunded liability in half over three decades.
For the state’s public workers, it amounts to a breached agreement.
"This tough-guy attitude might play well for awhile with some [who] can't think for themselves," said Richard Scalzo, a retired Secaucus police captain. "The taxes in the state are high, no doubt about it. Yet he seems to think destroying the public services are the way to save money."
Forty years ago, a police officer or firefighter made roughly $7,500 a year -- double the minimum wage at the time. But as the economy exploded, and the cost of living swelled, towns found themselves begging for public servants.
Legislators in Trenton actually had to pass a law in 1984 setting the minimum salary of public employees at $18,500, about 2.5 times minimum wage.
They also began requiring police officers and firefighters to contribute 8.5 percent of their salaries into a ‘secure’ pension fund, saying the money would be there when the public servants retired.
Municipalities originally were mandated to match. But then-Governor Christie Whitman began drawing down from what had been a pension fund that topped out at $100 billion to pay for tax cuts and to balance the state budget.
She then signed a law that allowed municipalities to duck the match. Before long, they owed $2 billion -- a figure that has since ballooned to $54 billion.
By JERRY DEMARCO, CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM
|Posted by Occh on February 28, 2011 at 5:32 PM||comments (3)|
"The claim that any harm would come to your pension when I'm elected Governor is absolutely untrue. It is a100% lie," Chris Christie wrote to New Jersey law enforcement officers during his campaign against Jon Corzine. The 2009 letter, and a near-carbon copy sent to firefighters, has resurfaced amid Christie's bid to overhaul public servants' pension system.
"Nothing will change for the pensions of current officers, future officers or retirees in a Christie Administration," says the "Open Letter to Members of Our Law Enforcement Community," simply signed "Chris."
"I have repeated time and time again that the pension agreement we made with our member our law enforcement community must be respected," the 2009 letter adds. "It is a sacred trust."
Christie sent a similar "sacred trust" letter to firefighters through the state, adding: "The notion that I would eliminate, change, or alter your pension is not only a lie, but cannot be further from the truth.
"No one will stand up for you more than I will."
"Do not believe the lies that have been spread about my proposals,"Christie told both groups. "Your pension will be protected when I amelected Governor."
BY JERRY DEMARCO, CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM
|Posted by Occh on February 28, 2011 at 5:23 PM||comments (0)|
YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The latest bombshells in the battle between Gov. Christie and NewJersey public servants -- just days from a huge rally in Trenton --come in the form of advisory letters that say state lawmakers can'tchange a public employee's pension once he or she has put in five yearson the job.
In an August 2006 letter to the state treasurer, then-Attorney General Zulima Farber wrote that the state Legislature in 1997 "set the benchmark" at five years of service for police, firefighter and teachers union members to have "non-forfeitable right[s]" to current pension benefits.
In addition, a letter that same weekfrom the state Legislature's legal counsel bluntly states that the right to benefits for anyone who has completed five years of service "cannot be reduced."
"[L]egislation that has the effect of detrimentally altering the retirement benefits of active members of State-administered retirement systems who have accrued at least five years of service credit, or of retired members, would be unconstitutional as violative of the federal and State constitutional proscription against impairment of the obligation of contracts," the letter to the Joint Legislative Committee on Public Employee Benefits Reform says.
So even if Christie does convince the Legislature to accept his reforms, a court could overrule any attempts to "substantially impair" pensions for those public servants who've already put in five years, according to Assistant Attorney General John P. Bender, who prepared the advisory letter for Farber.
The state would then have to show it had a "significant and legitimate purpose" -- and, more importantly, that lawmakers basically had no other choice, it says.
"[A] court will look to whether the legislative objectives could have been achieved by a less drastic alternative, including one that does not impair contractual rights,"New Jersey case law states.
"The more substantial the impairment, the greater the level of scrutiny to which the law will be subjected," it adds. "[T]he courts will not simply allow the State to walk away from its financial obligations."
Farber's letter cites "the well established treatment of pension laws by New Jersey courts."These traditionally have been decided "most favorably to the employee's interests."
"Because the length of service varies for each employee covered by a state pension system, this act has had the effect of creating different categories of employees," the letter says:
While the law automatically vests anyone with 10 years of "creditable" service," the extent of the non-forfeiable benefits for individual employees is determined not at the time of vesting but with reference to the benefits provided by law for that pension system whenthe employee accrued 5 years of service credit... but have not yet vested."
Those with less than five years aren't totally out of luck. Farber's letter points out that a court could reject pension cuts for that group if they "result in large tax liabilities for the trusts and the plan members."
Lawmakers can still "alter, modify or amend" the pension system, the advisory letter says. The current pension law in New Jersey also doesn't apply to post-retirement medical benefits, it notes.
"Pensions for public employees serve a public purpose," wrote Albert Porroni, then the state Legislative Counsel.
“Itis common knowledge that a pension is an element in encouraging qualified individuals to enter and remain in public service,” Porroni quotes from state law, adding: “Deferred compensation benefits have been earned by an employee and are no longer considered a gratuity.”
By reducing pension benefits for those who already, under state law, are protected "would be impermissably impairing the obligation of a contract to which it is a party," Porroni's letter says.
When state legislators enaced the law, they "did not reserve the right to unilaterally adopt substantial modifications of the pension program,"it adds. "More modest means of saving or raising money are available to the State that do not affect contractual obligations."
By JERRY DEMARCO, CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM
|Posted by Occh on December 12, 2010 at 7:59 PM||comments (0)|
SOMERSET COUNTY — Somerset County unveiled an ambitious proposal last week that would combine the county’s 19 police forces into one countywide department by summer 2013.
Now, a group of municipal, county and law enforcement officials will spend the next six months figuring out how that idea can work. “It’s a worthwhile concept, and we need to take a look at it,” said North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, who also is president of the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police. Each of the 21 municipalities in Somerset County has until late this month to name two representatives to serve on the task force, and Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano will select from county and police officials to round out the group. (Rocky Hill and Millstone do not have their own forces.) The members will be charged with fine-tuning the merger plan, such as working out patrol schedules, standardizing procedures and integrating labor contracts.
The proposal is the idea of consultant Thomas Banker, a former Essex County deputy administrator who teaches public administration at Columbia and Rutgers universities. The county freeholders hired him more than two years ago after they decided to embark on a sweeping examination of possible shared services in one of the state’s wealthiest and safest counties.
Banker said a full police merger would save local towns nearly $18 million annually, with the towns joining together to govern the force. The county government would not manage the department but would provide support. One chief would oversee the department, with captains steering three precincts in the northern, central and southern parts of the county. Towns ultimately would be billed an amount adjusted each year based on the police activity in their borders.
The plan also means cutting 86 police officer positions, which would be eliminated through attrition over the next five years. A nearly equal number of police-related civilian jobs, such as secretaries, would be shed, Banker said. “We’re just trying to point out what we think people should think about,” he said.
Parenti lauded the effort, but cautioned that there were still flaws that needed to be addressed.
He said Banker’s study put too much emphasis on patrols and not enough on “quality-of-life” officers, such as those who specialize in narcotics or gang-related law enforcement.
Franklin Mayor Brian Levine said he wanted to find out how a reduction in officers would affect crime- and drug-prevention programs, and he wanted to learn how a countywide police force would affect local ordinances. “I’m not saying I’m sold, but it’s something I’d consider,” he said of the proposal.
In the end, a single police force should mean greater efficiency, said Gina Genovese, who runs the consolidation advocate group Courage to Connect NJ. Most of the investigative work would be able to be done in-house, she said. Although county-wide forces have been seen or discussed in states such as Maryland and New York, Genovese said that a successful plan in Somerset County could inspire similar deals across New Jersey. “It’s definitely the direction the state has to go in,” Genovese said. “We just can’t afford the (police) structure we currently have.”
|Posted by Occh on December 12, 2010 at 7:52 PM||comments (0)|
TRENTON — With more than 200 young police officers already laid off statewide and hundreds more facing a similar fate, Gov. Chris Christie has signed a bill that could make their road to re-employment a little smoother.
Under the bill, which Christie signed into law on Thursday, officers laid off for "reasons of economy" during their first year of police work will no longer have to re-take the civil service exam or repeat the police academy. The law also gives laid-off officers five years of priority status, meaning cities can re-hire them ahead of people on future civil service lists.
"This isn’t as good as having a job but at least these kids know they don’t have to give up on their careers," said Assemblyman Albert Couthino (D-Essex) who, along with Sen. Ronald Rice Sr. (also D-Essex) drafted the bill after cutbacks in Newark were first discussed.
Rice said the old system, under which laid off officers with less than a year on the job would have to return to the academy and retake civil service tests, was unfair.
"It gives them a little bit of hope," he said. "We’re doing whatever we can to give them some hope and some faith, and hopefully get them back to work."
The bill cleared the governor’s desk less than two weeks after Newark laid off 167 officers and Camden announced plans to dismiss half of its police force due to budget problems. Atlantic City laid off 60 officers earlier this year, but hired back 17 in recent weeks, and Jersey City also stands to lose ten percent of its cops without union concessions. Orange is planning to lay off several officers next month.
Under state guidelines, rookie cops must complete one year of service in good standing to hold the title of police officer. Previously, if officers failed to complete that first year for any reason, including a layoff, they would have to essentially "start from scratch," Couthino said.
Derrick Hatcher, president of Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police, called the bill "historic" and said it will bring some comfort to younger cops who have lost their jobs.
"I applaud all the legislators involved for moving the bill so quickly and looking out for the officers of the city of Newark," Hatcher said. "This means a lot to them as they weather the storm of the layoffs."
It may also help keep a lot of officers in New Jersey. Dozens of young officers in Camden and Newark have been contacted by recruiters from Nashville, Atlanta and other southern police departments hoping to supplement their agencies with New Jersey’s castaway cops.
For 30-year-old Dustin Antonio, a rookie officer in Newark who was laid off two weeks ago, the new law is the first glimmer of hope he’s seen since Mayor Cory Booker started discussing layoffs in June.
"I’m appreciative of the assemblyman. He actually called the FOP to start that bill, so we appreciate that," he said. "It’s the only positive thing to happen in the past few months."
By James Queally and Chris Megerian/The Star-Ledger
|Posted by PBA 334 on December 10, 2010 at 5:13 PM||comments (0)|
Senate and Assembly Committee pass binding arbitration changes
The Senate and Assembly today released from Committee legislation to temporarily amend the binding arbitration law after Governor Christie, Speaker Oliver and Senate President Sweeney came to an agreement today.
Under the provisions released today in S-5 and A-3393 arbitration awards will be limited to an average of 2% per year for increases in "base salary" for any contract that expires between January 1, 2011 and April 30, 2014. The cap on awards does not apply to voluntary settlements or to agreements reached through mediation and does not apply to contracts expiring this year or that are already expired.
Arbitrators will now be selected randomly and all arbitrations must be complete within 45 days of filing for arbitration.
A task force will be established to review the impact of the law similar to what PERC does in analyzing the arbitration law.
The entire law ends at the end of the sunset period and arbitration returns to the current rules.
Click to download a Summary of the new legislation
*Source: NJ State PBA Website