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BREAKING NEWS, INFORMATION AND REPORTS FROM AROUND SALEM COUNTY
The Salem County Watchdog, through videos, photographs, reporting and commentary endeavors to foster accountability in government throughout the county by exposing the inter-workings of government and politics to the taxpayers. 
An all volunteer effort, the Watchdog represents the public interest in challenging waste, fraud, abuse, poor judgment and mismanagement. At the same time, the Watchdog delivers praise when well earned. 
In fulfilling this mission, the Watchdog relies on the vigilance of citizens who alert us through tips to unpublished facts of genuine interest. 
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Steve Sweeney's Hissy Fit

hissy fit saving face

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) is having another tantrum.

The puerile legislator who called Governor Chris Christie a prick over a budget veto and responded to Superstorm Sandy by calling for the elimination of beach badges on the Jersey Shore is upset that he will face competition in November.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) had the audacity to recruit a strong candidate, Niki Trunk, to challenge Sweeney in the 3rd legislative district. Sweeney’s been pissed about that for months, as if he is entitled to being reelected without having to make his case to the voters in November.....READ MORE CLICK TO VISIT MORE MONMOUTH MUSINGS SITE



ON THE RECORD, APRIL FREEHOLDER MEETING:

April 17 2013 Freeholder Minutes

Freeholder Vanderslice read the following statement:

Earlier in the budget process I stated going forward we need to look for other sources of revenue. During one of our budget workshops I asked that we would with the assistance of our auditors and our bond counsel do a cost benefit analysis of one specific revenue possibility and at that time all of the Freeholders agreed. Also at that time we were unaware of the budget struggle that our neighbors to the North, Gloucester County, were experiencing. The solution to their problems was to close the correctional facility and transfer the inmates to Cumberland and Salem Counties. While some officials wanted to rush through this deal and potentially negatively impact the stake holders of Salem County and cause the taxpayers to pay for that mistake the leadership on this Freeholder Board took the time necessary to correct some major errors with the original proposal. We corrected those errors by one insuring that we would maximize the monetary benefit for Salem County by demanding that the contract be structured in such a way that no Salem County Correctional Officer would experience a layoff as a result of this contract. By insisting that Gloucester County would defend, indemnify and hold harmless Salem County for any action brought against Salem County. Our due diligence helped us protect the taxpayers in Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties and I am proud that this Board did not cave to the political pressures from politicians outside of our County. With that said, I would like to make a motion that the agreement between us and Gloucester County be approved.

Motion was second by Freeholder Bobbitt.

Freeholder Timberman stated she was making everyone aware of a trend that has happened on this Freeholder Board much more common than it is uncommon. There is no resolution to review, no waiver on the Agenda. When the roles were switched if a resolution wasn't received by Friday we were given a hard time about it being waivered. It seems that most of the important business being done on this Board is being done so without prepared resolution without discussion and find it appalling that this is not on the agenda so our corrections officers can be here, FOP and the public doesn't really know that this is happening tonight. So I will be voting no for this resolution out of the thin air.

On roll call vote Deputy Director Cross-for, Freeholders Laury-for, Vanderslice-for, Ware-for, Bobbitt-for, Timberman-against and Acton-for motion carried 6/1.



IF YOU CAN'T PUT IT IN CLOSED SESSION AND YOU STILL WANT TO FIND A WAY TO KEEP IT AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC... 
THERE IS ALWAYS THE SECRET ADMIN COMMITTEE TO THE RESCUE!! 

RESOLUTION FOR CLOSED SESSION COMMENTS APRIL FREEHOLDER MTG:

Resolution Authorizing the Exclusion of the Public from a Meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Salem

Director Acton stated were we going to discuss the County Adjuster.

County Solicitor Michael Mulligan stated change in staffing is a public sector matter.

Freeholder Vanderslice stated I think we should do it at the next Administration Committee Meeting.

Deputy Director Cross second the motion. As there was no further discussion, the motion for adoption of the foregoing resolution carried a hand vote of 7/0. 8:20 pm.

The Freeholders came out of executive session at 8:37 pm. Freeholder Laury moved to adjourn the regular meeting, second by Deputy Director Cross, carried 7/0.





How Do Salem County residents and Freeholders feel about the IAC report findings?


IAC concludes Homelessness problem mandates future public policy that:

(i) insures construction of additional taxpayer subsidized low income and accessible housing, p. 20;

(ii) re-education of Woodstown that Homelessness is a problem, in order to get weighty support to increase Homelessness funding, p. 21.

We don't know what the residents of Woodstown think about the IAC's need to RE-EDUCATE them or if the Freeholders support it yet, The IAC (Inter-Agency Council) Report, which the County of Salem was asked to validate and adopt at last week's Freeholder meeting, Resolution was tabled. 

Issue: Contrived and non-sensical findings of fact and conclusions as to future policy

-Key Data: 2012 Homelessness Survey establishes 28 homeless people out of the 60,000 Salem County residents: 8 males; 20 females who are Homeless means there's a Homelessness problem in Salem County in 2013 and in future years. See p. 12.

Yet, 2012 Homelessness Survey participants identified education, legal assistance and healthcare, but not homelessness as their major concerns. Id.


Also of interest is this Homeless Assistance Award HUD report, which displays the FY2012 Tiers 1 and 2 renewal homeless assistance projects awarded by HUD on March 11, 2013 and May 1, 2013 under the FY2012 Continuum of Care (CoC) Program competition. Approximately $1.54 ($1,542,450,847) was awarded for the Tier 1 projects and $72 million ($72,189,033) for the Tier 2 renewal competitive programs for a total of $1.61 billion ($1,614,639,880) . The CoC Program provides funding for transitional and permanent housing and supportive services. These reports are organized by state and then by CoC, or community. 

Within each listed CoC are the organizations that will be assisted with these awards.

http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/new_jersey/news/HUDNo.2013-08



WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON AT THE COLLEGE?? 
SCCC Website does not have a link to meeting schedule or minutes. 

Watchdog along with other media outlets received the redacted open letter, but you probably won't read about it anywhere else
READ THE LETTER HERE









Video of Pennsville Township meeting April 4, 2013
From time to time Watchdog will visit public meetings around the County to test OPMA compliance and bring you the news from other areas in the county. Please contact me if you are interested in a particular public body meeting. Watchdog will make and effort to stop in. 
Watchdog volunteers are always welcome, please message me if you have time to video, write articles or submit info. 

I need YOU to help WATCH government. tips@salemcountywatchdog.com

Pennsville Township welcomed Watchdog cameras to the meeting, elected officials put no limit on the time or number of questions the public could ask and engaged residents concerns. I look forward to visiting again.




APRIL 3 2013 FREEHOLDER MEETING VIDEO
BUDGET INTRO







Watchdog Editorial

POLITICAL RHETORIC TIME ON 9-1-1 IS OVER. COOPERATION TIME IS HERE.

Once again, on March 20th, the Republican freeholders gave the bully pulpit to the various non-law enforcement groups involved in the 9-1-1 communications center. Each of the groups used the limelight that was graciously provided to lambaste the Republicans, not so much because the Sheriff has been designated as the overall supervisor of the 9-1-1 center, but because they each felt there should have been more meetings for them to air their views before any transfer of authority occurred.

Uniformed fire fighters make an impressive lobbying group. The other groups do not have a diminished voice merely because they are without uniforms. The right to assemble and speak is a First Amendment privilege under the U.S. Constitution.

That said, no one should assume that these protest appearances at the freeholder meetings are devoid of partisanship.

The public statements of protest on March 20th rehashed ground previously covered, claiming they were not sufficiently warned or consulted in advance of the freeholders decision to transfer 9-1-1 supervision to the County Sheriff, Chuck Miller. However, their repeated attacks targeted only the current "majority" on the freeholder board, and Deputy Director Dale Cross in particular. That was very partisan. The fire fighters demanded rescission of the transfer. The dispatchers delivered a petition to have Cross moved to another freeholder committee, rather than the Public Safety committee that he heads.

This was all red meat for the Democratic minority on the board. They smiled admiringly at the speakers, and were repeatedly poised to condemn and offer resolutions to rescind the transfer of 9-1-1 to the Sheriff. Each such motion has been defeated by the Republicans on straight votes of 4-3.

What was most interesting about this repeated round of protests is the open admission by these groups that the 9-1-1 center clearly has significant problems, particularly in handling the law enforcement side of the call center. Moreover, the groups all have known about the problems for some time, which means well before the Republicans became the majority on the freeholder board.

The fire fighters wondered where the money was coming from this year when their proposals for 9-1-1 call center remedies in the past had been ignored because of cost. It was not mentioned by any protesters that the past boards that ignored the problem were controlled by the Democrats.

Dale Cross actually handled a delicate task with under appreciated skill. He fully briefed his colleagues on both sides of the aisle with all the details contained in the Sheriff's assessment. At the same time, he honored the Sheriff's mistaken belief that the report should not be released because the flaws that were identified easily could be traced to particular individuals.

There has been hardly a peep heard anywhere that the substance of the assessment is completely off target. All the complaints are about the "assessment" document not being produced in a timely fashion. Deputy Director Dale Cross was unwilling to let the 9-1-1 problems continue to fester. Something had to change. Obviously, the operation had not self-cured for many years. It was time for a dramatic alteration of the way things are handled out there. He has taken a overdose of criticism for a hard call and for pushing through a remedy that clearly is worth trying. Making tough decisions is called leadership in some circles. That goes for Cross and it goes for his Republican colleagues.

The Republican freeholders have pulled the trigger on this issue. 9-1-1 is now under the Sheriff. Enough already.

Let's drop the complaining about the process, and get behind the cure. 

March 22 is Day One of the new arrangement. 

It is time for teamwork. 

It is not time for sabotage of efforts in order to re-emphasize a stale political point.




SALEM COUNTY FREEHOLDERS EARN LEGAL PRAISE FOR SLOW MOTION

by John Evans

Attorney Mark Cimino of Deptford (pictured above) appeared at the Salem County freeholder meeting on March 20th as the legal representative for three Gloucester County law enforcement organizations/unions (Fraternal Order of Police). Cimino has already filed suit in Superior Court for his three clients organizations to enjoin enforcement of the shared services agreement between Gloucester County and Cumberland County and the closing of the Gloucester County jail. As designed, that agreement would have permanently transferred a large percentage of prisoners from Gloucester County to Cumberland County and caused layoffs of Gloucester County corrections officers. The suit seeks to prevent the agreement from going forward.

Cimino briefly advised the Salem County freeholder board about "bumping" rights under a statute applicable to any possible Gloucester/Salem shared services agreement applying to inmate transfers. That provision of the bumping rights statute will cause layoffs of Salem County corrections officers because the surviving jobs are required to be offered to the most senior personnel from Gloucester and Salem Counties. If Salem County and Gloucester County were to enter into an agreement similar to the one between Gloucester and Cumberland the bumping rights statute would kick in and apply to Salem County corrections officers. He also explained that other requirements set forth by law were not followed between Gloucester and Cumberland, including adoption of a comprehensive hiring and layoff plan that must then be submitted to the State civil service about how the merging and seniority issues are to be handled.

Cimino praised the Salem County freeholder board for going slow on the proposed transfer of inmates from Gloucester County to Salem since it could have saved them being involved in litigation.

That brought guffaws from the emergency management supporters who turned out in force to assert that the Salem County freeholders had moved much too hastily in switching the 9-1-1 operation over to the Sheriff.


STRONGER WORDS SAME RESULT

by John Evans

Fire fighters, emergency responders, and 9-1-1 dispatchers turned out in force again on March 20th at the regular freeholder meeting to deliver harsh words to the freeholder majority, and to Dale Cross in particular. They came to lay blame, and they made it clear they did not like the process involved in assigning the 9-1-1 center to be supervised by the Sheriff, Chuck Miller. It was Miller's report, compiled for his signature by two undersheriffs, that was the basis of the freeholder vote to move the 9-1-1 center supervision to the sheriff and his new assistant.

Curiously, none of the speakers seemed willing to attack the Sheriff, and many agreed begrudgingly with some of the points made in the Sheriff's written assessment of the 9-1-1 operations. In fact, it was argued that many of those points had been raised in prior years but had been ignored because of lack of funds to address the cure. The question from Fire Marshall John Turner was, why is there money now? 

The spokesman for the dispatchers brought a petition with 285 signatures to have Cross assigned to a different committee. There was more than one reference to "winging it," a phrase extracted from the Sheriff's assessment of 9-1-1 operations which had been applied in the Sheriff's report to dispatchers handling law enforcement emergencies.

After the speakers had delivered prepared statements, Freeholder Beth Timberman moved to rescind the transfer of the 9-1-1 center to the Sheriff's supervision. The motion lost 4 Republicans to 3 Democrats, meaning the Sheriff remains in charge of solving the criticisms raised in his report. The same motion had lost on at least two prior occasions.



TWO Salem County residents in the LD3 race for a seat in Trenton!

Great news for Salem County, we haven't had representation in Trenton for almost 10 years. 
Not since Jack Collins left office.

Republican attorney Niki Trunk of Salem County has emerged as the candidate to run against Senate President Steve Sweeney. 

A former Harrison Township deputy mayor, she initially ran and won her seat in the 2007 municipal election. After winning re-election, Trunk gave up her committee seat in 2010 to go work for the comptroller's office. She has since moved to Salem County. Trunk worked for the Office of the State Comptroller in the Medicaid Fraud Division, in early February 2013 she reportedly resigned from her job in the comptroller's office in an effort to avoid any conflict of interest while considering her bid for Senate candidacy. 

Gloucester County Freeholder Larry Wallace is also in the LD3 race for an Assembly seat, along with Salem County Freeholder Bob Vanderslice. 


SHERIFF MILLER CALLS FOR 9-1-1 "CONTINUITY"

by John Evans

Sheriff Chuck Miller learned a good lesson on March 13th at the freeholder meeting. His reports go over much better when he delivers them in person.

The sheriff is well spoken, articulate, impressive in person and a good speaker. He speaks without notes. He is organized and clearly has mastered the facts. So, why did he wait so long to do it right?

The sheriff told the freeholders he was there to "clarify" things about his 9-1-1 assessment because he felt people were getting the wrong idea about why his written report did not surface until March despite having a January date on it, and whether he was trying to add 9-1-1 to his resume in order to build an empire.

He was correct that the whole process needed some explanation, and that it was definitely lacking in clarity.

In fact, the sheriff was acting as if the 9-1-1 center had not budged and was still under emergency management. That was wrong, of course. He seemed to be there at the freeholder meeting not to say what he was going to do, but to counsel the freeholders on what he felt should happen to make things come together regardless of who had supervision.

He did convince the freeholders that he was not trying to enlarge his operations. Just the opposite. And, he explained the reason that he kept the written report close to his vest was out of deference to the people at emergency management. He felt that he needed to be candid with the freeholders about issues of management of 9-1-1, but did not want to throw out criticisms in a circulated report that would adversely affect some of the people involved.

As to the question of empire building, Sheriff Miller addressed that issue directly, and asserted, "My plate is full. I do not need another job. I represent the taxpayers, and I work to make Salem County a better place. This should not come to me if it makes it look like I am building a dynasty. If you think this should go elsewhere, that's O.K. (with me)."

The sheriff gave an overview of how his job of making an assessment came into being. "This all started over a year ago when freeholder Cross expressed to me that he had heard of concerns at 9-1-1, and that he had heard consumer complaints regarding operations out there." The sheriff then told the freeholders. "I offered to help in any way I could," Miller said, "I have colleagues (fellow sheriffs) around the state who are doing 9-1-1 in their counties. I took a group of local police chiefs up to Monmouth County where the sheriff up there gave us a presentation. I wanted to see if we could mimic what they were doing."

The sheriff said that additional complaints about the Salem County 9-1-1 came in over the summer months, and by November (2012) freeholder Cross "asked me if I could provide some sort of assessment of the operation." Later that November, said Miller, "I directed (undersheriffs) Wright and Mabey to look into the 9-1-1 operations and interview police chiefs." Miller said that at the same time he met with the firemen's association and the ambulance association. "The full report was assembled by Undersheriffs Anthony Wright and Warren Mabey and was verbally recited to freeholder Cross by me," said the sheriff. "Because it was specific about personnel at the 9-1-1 operation," said Miller, "we decided to give the assessment as a verbal report rather than a report in writing." He concluded, "There was no intent to hide anything."

The floor was then opened to questions by the freeholders. Miller told the freeholders, "There are areas that need to be fixed. They have no rules and regulations for the operation. One of the biggest problems is continuity of the way they operate out there."

The Democratic freeholders continued to show through their questions that they thought the transfer happened too quickly, and that they wanted to revert to the status quo.

Miller proposed the formation of a subcommittee that would include fire fighters, ambulance personnel, emergency responders, law enforcement, and the public (because they are the one who use the 9-1-1 system) to make the system work equally well for all situations. Obviously, inferring from the sheriff's remarks, it was clear that the current issues have arisen because of a sense in the law enforcement community that the system is not geared toward their specific requirements. It was developed initially for fire emergencies and that has dominated development.

The sheriff's assessment ultimately was issued in the form of a written document. Freeholder Dale Cross, who is the freeholder liaison to the sheriff''s office, reemphasized that in February he had given the freeholders the full scope of the sheriff's report even though it was only verbal, rather than written.

In the end, the sheriff came off looking pretty good. Same for his two undersheriffs. They did much more work than the oral report or the written report would indicate.

The Democratic freeholders tried some parliamentary maneuvering to reverse the transfer of the 9-1-1 center to the sheriff's jurisdiction. They first want to go back to having things still being under emergency management, then they are willing to start the process of everyone meeting together to see how to fix the problem. The Republicans stuck to their guns, and defeated the maneuver.

9-1-1 is under the sheriff now.

Freeholder Director Julie Acton said, "We need to move forward."













Feb 20, 2013 Regular Freeholder Meeting

Freeholders transfer County 911 Department to Sheriff

No report released to the public

WATCHDOG IS DIGGING...

Democrat Freeholder Ware, "..System may need to be tweaked, but you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.."

 Republican Freeholder Laury, "..we need to trust the people who work with us and for us.."

watch video below, motion presented by Freeholder Cross near the close of meeting.
CROSS -LAURY-VANDERSLICE-ACTON-BOBBITT = YEA
TIMBERMAN-WARE = NAY
MOTION PASSES 5-2

Salem Community College asks for 
flat funding, no tuition increase, staff reduction possible, will seek creative grant funding help - details in Workshop presentation, video available on our you tube channel.


"YOU CAN FOOL SOME OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME..."

READ ME THOSE NUMBERS AGAIN..............
by John Evans

A local developer is going to convert the Nelson House and Washington Hall, two vacant side-by-side buildings on Broadway in the center of the City of Salem, into 30 condominiums. Salem's mayor and council president were both quite supportive. The undertaking is projected to cost $4 to $5 million dollars. 

The plan is that the condominiums will sell for $65,000 to $85,000 apiece.
The Watchdog was contacted by a reader who posed the question: 
who is doing the math on this?

Few projects come in at the low end of estimates. That probably means this development will cost the high end figure of $5 million dollars. If all 30 units sold at top dollar -- $85,000 each -- then 30 units would yield slightly over $2.5 million.

That leaves someone short $2,500,000 even if all the condos sell at the highest price on the first day the project is completed. If it turns out that the condos do not sell right away, or all are not sold at the highest price, the math is even more painful.

You get the feeling that this is not going to work out well for the taxpayers.

The arithmetic is not the only source of confusion. As reported in the South Jersey Times, the developer insisted that deed restrictions that will be imposed on the condos will prevent them from ever becoming low income housing or rental units. Yet the announced source of financing is the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. The agency's website states that their mission is to provide "affordable" home ownership and promote rental housing. In New Jersey the term "affordable" is a euphemism for low income. "Rental", of course, means rental, even in New Jersey.

Another reader wondered about the demand for condos with granite countertops and ceramic tile floors in this price range in Salem. No mention was made by the developer about demographic studies showing demand for these kinds of units, who the likely buyers would be as far as incomes, and whether the units are intended for people already living in the area or for people who would move into the area from other locations.


In Salem, the Fifth Street offices of the formerToday's Sunbeam still carries the name/logo of the iconic Salem County
newspaper. The building is now identified by a small white banner as the Salem County offices of the South Jersey
Times. Consolidation of newspaper operations in three counties may cause staff to be moved to other locations which
would eliminate the need for the Salem building. 




SCIA; BUREAUCRACY COMPOUNDED

by John Evans

The idea that the press is acting as a surrogate for the members of the public that cannot regularly attend public meetings or closely monitor the activities of a local governmental agency totally escapes the people at the Salem County Improvement Authority.

Even the simplest request for information is treated as an imposition and is rejected if requested by phone or in person. The answer from SCIA: "You will have to submit an OPRA request for that." Under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) the public body is supposed to send you the papers immediately if they have them in their possession. SCIA thinks they have an automatic seven days no matter what, and they use all seven -- and then some. Make a request. You are talking weeks for the answer.

You get the distinct impression that if you walked up to someone standing at the SCIA shredder feeding in extra copies of a recent agenda and you asked for one of the copies, they would continue the shredding and tell you to make an OPRA request.

OPRA has its place, to be sure. It is frequently a fair protection to the governmental body and imposes a discipline on the requester, also fair. But for simple, almost conversational, stuff, it is an unnecessarily difficult way to do business, especially for uncomplicated information that is readily available and does not require interpretation.

A recent example is Watchdog's request to learn when SCIA posted the February reorganization meeting date on their website. It had been up on the site for a month or more when the Watchdog request was made. Instead of simply giving the easy to determine date, SCIA said "Make an OPRA request." The interpretation of that statement is: "wait three weeks." Watchdog was simply trying to make a point that the reorganization date has not been a mystery and it has been sitting up there on the website for a long time. Note: four hours after the story was posted SCIA reversed its position and disclosed the date that the reorganization meeting was first posted. That makes this example less persuasive, but not altogether without illustrative value. Timing is important. The story was edited accordingly.

What raises this ridiculous SCIA posture to the height of bureaucracy is the fact that Chairman John Ober hardly ever misses an occasion at a public meeting to bemoan how horrible is it that so much time and cost is devoted by SCIA employees to answering OPRA requests. What?

Years ago, U.S. Senator William Proxmire, Democrat from Wisconsin, presented the annual "golden fleece award" to government agencies and bureaucracies that were responsible for wasting money, that is "fleecing" the taxpayers. If the county freeholders ever want to introduce such an award, Watchdog has a shoo-in for the first prize.


SCIA MEETINGS AS WACKY AS EVER.......
  • Reorg meeting held on government holiday....
  • New appointee was a no show...
  • As soon as we know if Bestwick will accept the appointment and be sworn in at future meeting we will post it, calls to confirm have not been returned...
  • SCIA Board is a five year appointment and it is not a paid position



ALL FIXED?
The north side of the court house in Salem looks like the "big dig" with large dirt piles and earth moving equipment next to deep holes all marked to alert pedestrian traffic. Parking along the east and west sides of Market street is prohibited while work proceeds. According to Salem County Facilities Director Jeff Ridgeway, older eight inch terra cotta piping finally lost the battle to tree roots which resulted in damage to underground waste water pipes and traps. Crews are replacing the damaged pipe and the old terra cotta pipe with new six inch PVC pipe. It is not clear how long the project will take to complete.

After a short closed session at Saturday's Budget Workshop Meeting the Freeholders appeared set to make an announcement, but quickly decided to wait because Freeholder Bobbitt was not in attendance.
Watchdog expected the Freeholders to reveal the results of a MUCH anticipated OEM/911 assessment at this meeting. However the issue was not addressed by the Freeholders on Saturday, we believe this may have been the mystery announcement that was delayed. 

The Freeholders could make the mystery results public information as early as Feb 20th, which is the next regularly scheduled Freeholder meeting. 


 New Johnson Hall resident and Visitor Center update!

It's official. Meals on Wheels, a Salem County nonprofit entity, is the taxpayer owned Johnson Hall's newest occupant.

Watchdog readers will recall the lease history of Johnson Hall, a pre-Victorian built in 1806, located at 90 Market St in Salem City beautifully renovated and made ADA accessible with use of grant funding in recent years.

According to press accounts in January 2011, the Freeholders inked a $1 (one dollar) lease to the Chamber of Commerce. The plan also included moving the County Visitor Center (which has been temporarily housed around the corner on New Market St during renovations) into Johnson Hall with the Chamber.

On July 20, 2012 the County held an official grand re-opening & ribbon cutting celebration for the building, the event was attended by locals as well as county, congressional & state assembly elected officials. The local news reporters came, they took lots of nice color glossy pictures for the paper, while both Republican and Democrat Freeholders cited the "good economic sense & accessibility" marrying the chamber and visitor center to the wonderful first impression the historic building represents.

But a short 5 months later the “good sense” plans became another page in the history of Johnson Hall. Just a few short months after the grand re-opening of Johnson Hall the Chamber gave County officials notice of their intent to vacate the building. By December 2012 the Chamber was asking the Sheriff Dept for inmate labor to help move them out. Citing the need for more room and an exciting new partnership with Salem County Community College (SCCC) business program, the Chamber office moved around the corner to a location with SCCC.

On Feb 1, 2013 the Freeholder board granted a lease agreement to another nonprofit entity, Meals on Wheels.

Watchdog has obtained a copy of the lease agreement signed by the County and MOW, you can read the full legalese lease HERE (click), but these are the terms in plain English..

The terms:3 years commencing on Feb 1, 2013 and terminating on Jan 31, 2016.

Rent: $500/month or $6,000/year

Space: First floor of Johnson Hall building with storage space upstairs, room for freezers in adjoining county complex and four (4) parking spaces.

Landlord (taxpayer) agrees to provide: trash removal, snow removal, maintenance of lawn and landscaping, pay the cost of utilities (which include heat, water/sewer, electric).

Tenant (mow) agrees to: conduct usual nonprofit business and keep the premises in good condition. Pay for insurance, telephone, web access and other services provided to the premises (including but not limited to security systems, if any) for the benefit of the tenant. Once a year the tenant (MOW) will provide the County Treasurer/CFO with a report of activities and continues tax exempt status of organization.

According to the lease it does not appear that the historic building would be open to tourists or any other activity outside of MOW organizational operations.

The Salem County Meals on Wheels organization is a true labor of love and Watchdog wishes them well in the move.

So what becomes of the County Visitor Center? 

Well it's moving out of Johnson Hall also...

The Visitor Center is being relocated to the newly renovated offices in the 5th Street Complex, just inside the Health Department's Office.

Watchdog has confirmed the County is considering plans to post a receptionist at a desk just inside the glass doorway of the Health dept, which is the first office seen by the public upon entry to the building. The desk responsibilities will include direction to County offices and services as well as visitor information. The County is looking at staffing options for the position which include the possibility of having a One-Stop employee (volunteer) assigned to the desk.

Watchdog has confirmed tips which indicated the grant funded http://wp.stockton.edu/njhistory/files/2011/01/Salem-NJ-Seven-Steps-to-Freedom.pdf museum quality prints of the 7 Steps to Freedom have been moved from Johnson building to the hallway walls of the 5th Street Office Complex. 

Click HERE to learn about 7 STEPS TO FREEDOM, a new self-guided audio tour exploring Salem County's Underground Railroad and African-American history. The prints are stunning and the new county building location will allow them to be viewed by the larger volume of public visitors to the office complex. Watchdog is reaching out to the County Tourism Director Kathleen Mills to find out more about what the county plans and confirm the finalized decisions for the Visitor Center.

Just a thought...It would be nice if the county plans included showcasing local artist works in the buildings as well as 7 steps to freedom prints. The newly renovated $6 million dollar building with ample parking is a perfect site to showcase & promote Salem County services, artists and history to locals as well as visitors.

As soon as we know more we will post an update to this information. 

Send Watchdog your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and comments on the visitor center move to confidential tip email:

Tips@salemcountywatchdog.com or post on our Facebook page.

www.facebook.com/salemcountywatchdog  Elected officials read this page daily, they will hear from you.



FREEHOLDER BOB VANDERSLICE WANTS SALEM COUNTY TO SEND HIM TO TRENTON...

Watchdog had the opportunity to ask Freeholder Bob Vanderslice about his possible 2013 run for a seat in New Jersey State Assembly. Vanderslice confirmed a letter of intent will be filed this week, his candidacy will then go before the state republican committee. A formal announcement will come from there. 
"I am a public servant, not a politician. I am looking forward to the race, Salem County has not had representation in Trenton for more than 10 years and we need it" - Freeholder Bob Vanderslice

 Robert J. Vanderslice
Chairman - Public Services 
Bob Vanderslice
Mr. Vanderslice is a resident of Pennsville serving his first term as Freeholder. Born and raised in Salem County, Mr. Vanderslice graduated from Pennsville Memorial High School and attended Goldey-Beacom Business College.  He graduated from Liberty University with a bachelor of science degree in finance.  Mr. Vanderslice is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsville National Bank and Vice President of Penn Bancshares, Inc. He served a three year term on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Locally, Mr. Vanderslice chaired the Salem County Chamber of Commerce board of directors in 2005. He serves on the boards of the Salem Community College Foundation and the Memorial Hospital of Salem County.  In addition, he is chairman of the Salem County Technical & Vocational School Advisory Board.  He is active in the Sharptown United Methodist Church where he serves as lay leader and teaches an adult Sunday School Class.  He also is a member in the Rotary Club of Penns Grove.
 
Mr. Vanderslice was honored with the Old Colony District Good Scout Award in 2004 and was Salem County Citizen of the Year in 2009.



PREACHING WITH BAD STATISTICS IS NO HELP FOR THE DISABLED
by John Evans

Last freeholder meeting a woman used much more than her allotted time in the public comment portion of the meeting to berate the freeholders over what she perceived to be inadequate accommodation for the disabled, mainly complaining about wheelchair access in the Old Court House where the freeholder meetings are held. She had an abundance of criticism, and even took a shot at the Watchdog video camera.

She did not think the Disabilities Office in the building next door to the court house was suitably accessible either. She criticized the perceived shortcomings of those quarters in considerable detail.The woman spoke of people with "disabilities" but her emphasis was plainly on wheelchair access, which she found wanting. She emphasized in that context that there are 20,000 disabled persons in the county as if mention of that volume alone was sufficient to have the freeholders reallocate funds immediately for more and better ramps and wider doorways and hallways.

20,000 people with disabilities in Salem County?

In a rural county with a population of only 65,000 people?

That would be nearly a third of the population!

Arithmetically, 20,000 is actually a slim fraction over 30% of the population. At first blush, that seemed like a very high figure particularly if being advanced in relation to the number of people needing structural adjustments to buildings in order to have physical access.

On further review, that number is both high -- and wrong.

The search for the actual figures began in the Salem County Office of Disability Services....

The 20,000 figure is definitely wrong. Stated another, less challenging way, there is no statistically demonstrable evidence of the total number of people in the county with disabilities. At best, according to Debbie Behnke, director of the Office of Disability Services for Salem County, the number used by her office is an estimate or projection based on demographics and census figures. Behnke said that in 2004, the estimate for the number of disabled in the county was that 20% of the county population was disabled. This year that figure is down to 13.8%.
At 13.8%, that puts the real estimated figure for all disabilities at closer to 9,000. Keep in mind that those estimates include people disabled by strokes, age, sight, hearing, mental development, and many with physical limitations resulting from various causes including injury, disease and birth impairments.

Director Behnke thought the drop in percentage of disabled was positive, but she was disappointed that these projections overlook children with disabilities who are not included in such calculations despite childhood disabilities like autism, physical disabilities, eating disorders, or learning and developmental disabilities.

What is relevant is that the test when talk focuses on "access" is the distinction between disabled individuals who are nevertheless "ambulatory," and those whose disabilities make them "non-ambulatory" -- that is, those who need manual or powered wheelchairs to move around.

There does not appear to be a hard figure on the number of non-ambulatory disabled persons in Salem County, but it clearly is not 20,000, or even 9,000.

The freeholders can expect a negative comment or two when they open up their meeting for public comments. They can take it. They are big boys and girls. They can handle someone talking too long during the public comment period. They seemed quite ready to roll over on that rule. The combination of free speech and that freeholder meeting soapbox also allows for some latitude in presentation of content. Some.

But when a member of public decides to go on the attack asserting that the freeholders have not done as much as is adequate in the personal view of the speaker, then the attacker should have the facts right. Throwing out unsubstantiated numbers purely for the sake of dramatic emphasis and to bolster a narrowly biased position discredits the messenger.

There is no discredit in advocacy for all the disabled, or for only the non-ambulatory who need access, even if that turns out to be two hundred rather than 20,000. But a snarky attitude and bad statistics undermines any hope of credibility and discredits the cause.

Feb 6, 2013 Freeholder Meeting Video


HEADS UP FOR OVERHEAD POWER LINES
Staff Reports
Atlantic City Electric sent a team of executives from the corporate offices in Carneys Point to the Freeholder Work Shop session on Wednesday, February 6th. The work shop precedes the regular freeholder meeting. The purpose of the ACE visit was to give the freeholders a heads up that the utility plans to install a new power line between their Orchard substation in Upper Pittsgrove Township and the existing Churchtown substation in Pennsville..
 
Large Atlantic City Electric towers located on the south side of the Woodstown Acme and the Tractor Supply in Pilesgrove Township hold transmission lines running between the Orchard substation in Upper Pittsgrove township and the Churchtown substation in Pennsville. A new line will be added and these towers replaced with large steel poles favored by farmers because of the smaller footprint. The project is scheduled to start 12-18 months from early February.


ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH
Staff Reports
All seven freeholders in attendance at a work shop meeting in the Old County Court House on Wednesday, February 6th received the preliminary budget projection for 2013 from new Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, Katie Coleman. It was not good news.
--a projected $6.1 million dollar deficit.
 
That was after the CFO had pared all departmental budget requests by 10% with the idea that that much could be squeezed out on average among all the departments with some serious soul searching.
At present, a little over a third of the projected budget goes to salaries and wages -- roughly $26.6 Million dollars.
The remainder, just under two thirds of the budget is "Other Expenses" at a whisker shy of $45 Million dollars. The "other expenses" categories have the least room for flexibility, often being mandated or having been cut to irreducible levels in prior budgets. "Salary and wages" appears to be the only area to reduce outflows.That could mean more layoffs.
Freeholder budget hearings are scheduled for February 16th.








 

HOW FREE IS "FREE"?
Staff Reports

A draft proposal from Sheriff Chuck Miller was outlined by freeholder Dale Cross at the freeholder work shop meeting on Wednesday, February 6th. The work shop precedes the regular freeholder meeting and generally is intended for the freeholders to receive departmental presentations. The sheriff had made his departmental presentation two weeks ago minus the proposal. The idea related by Cross is that the inmate crews can be used as a "sheriff service" to provide landscape and lawn care services to county buildings and grounds and public facilities. If approved, the "free" service could eliminate over $50,000 in costs paid to outside vendors to cut lawns and plant flowers and bushes at places like the Vo-Tech school in Mannington and the county court house in Salem. One location requiring special lawn care is the veterans cemetery in Mannington where trimming grass around headstones is time consuming.

Inmate crews now perform after hours cleaning services at the new Fifth Street Complex which houses county offices like the Board of Elections, the County Clerk, the County Engineer, the County Tax Board, and the County Planning Office.

Saving money sounded good to the freeholders who are facing another budget crunch this year. Discussion disclosed that inmates would be developing workplace skills that are marketable once they are released from custody. Bushes and flowers could be grown in a hothouse on county grounds. The buildings and grounds department would be freed of the current responsibility for such work and be able to focus on other duties.

The freeholders as a group seemed cautiously optimistic after hearing a long list of positive arguments in favor of the idea. But freeholder Vanderslice captured the reservation of the board in saying that decisions cannot be made strictly on the basis of a list of savings that might be realized without a corresponding list of costs involved. Several other questions were raised by the freeholders including concern over a new hire by the sheriff to administer the program.

Cross will take the proposal back to the sheriff to get detailed information on costs and whether current reimbursements to the county from agencies receiving the service would continue.




SJEDD DEALS WITH SOME DEBT; STARTS THINKING AHEAD

 

by John Evans
The South Jersey Economic Development District, composed of representatives from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties may be closer to stabilizing the damage from years of mismanagement that was identified and reported in two consecutive overdue audits. At a board meeting on Monday, February 4th, the SJEDD board approved a proposed cash injection from Atlantic county to pay off creditors

WHAT'S MISSING?



 

CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS SUSPENDED
Watchdog is seeking to update the public on status of County union contract negotiations. The county remains UNRESPONSIVE to Watchdog’s requests for information telling us who is on the committee, how many unions are involved, number of employees, what is the timeline...etc...etc...
The County emailed Watchdog a one line response to the inquiry:

"Contract negotiation has been suspended until the 2012 budget has been closed out and all 2013 budget projections have been finalized." -- Salem County Administrator Evern Ford

The response from County is a strange one, it does not quite ring true.... keep watching.

The CWA Local has an update on their website, we appreciate this info. It is more than the County gave the public:

Negotiations commencing in Salem County

The Salem County Bargaining Committee has met twice and will be commencing negotiations with the County shortly. The current contract between CWA and the County expires on December 31.

In July the County laid off 15 employees represented by CWA in order to balance the budget. Committee members said they expected to hear more talk about budget problems in the year ahead.



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Salem County Freeholder Workshop and Regular Meeting

January 16, 2013

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