Union County gives 129 employees raises totaling $630,885

By Tina Renna | January 25, 2015

Union County Employee Position Control Changes were obtained through the Open Public Records Act for the period of 12/14/14 – 1/5/15. The UCWA requests these documents monthly as they reflect raises, promotions and new hires.

I am absolutely stunned by this batch. I have never seen anything like it. In this 3-week time period alone, not counting the rest of 2014, the county approved 129 employee raises which total $630,885. This is in addition to the automatic 2% raise given to most contractual and non-contractual employees at the beginning of the year. This is not a one shot deal. This $630,885 is now an annual tax burden.

Only a handful of these raises reflect law enforcement promotions including Sheriff Joseph Cryan’s raise of $29,293 ($145,582). The bulk of the raises are pretty much regular folk. Office staff received anywhere from $3,000 to $8,500 increases. Just general office staff making anywhere from $60,000 to $90,000 a year to do what a company would pay someone slightly over minimum wage. A large percentage of these employees only work 35 hours a week.

In addition to the $630,885 in raises, 25 new positions were created including 10 new sheriff’s officers – $34,095 per; and former Cranford Councilman Kevin Campbell – Assistant County Council $55,000 at 21 hours per week (at 20 hours he wouldn’t qualify for benefits).

Runnells Hospital which the county sold in 2014 but hit a glitch and couldn’t totally dump, shows changes including the Medical Director having his salary decreased by $-71,102, reflecting a change in hours from 75 to 50 (over two weeks) – with a new salary of $142,207 for a 25-hour work week. Melinda Zito was given a $6,000 raise bringing her salary to $119,285; and for some reason the county is retaining a Chief Financial Officer for Runnells, Michael Drummond (+4,282) $131,000.

The Public Information Department received raises including Director Sebastian D’Elia $2,400 raise bringing his salary to $120,640 (he was hired in 2001 at $67,000); Tina Casey $6,000 raise (hired 2008 at $40,000 now at $63,517). And former Star-Ledger reporter Gabriel Gluck who I have not been able to figure out what public outreach he does for the County Manager’s office was given a $2,000 raise bringing his salary to $99,478 (hired in 2009 by George Devanney at $91,856, and still finds the time to be an adjunct professor at Kean teaching journalism).

The Clerk of the Board, James Pellettieri got a $10,000 raise ($90,000).

The Open Space Trust Fund Administrator Victoria Durbin was given a $12,000 raise bringing her salary to $122,859 with funding sources of 60% trust fund and 40% county.

Armando Sanchez, who was hired as Union County’s Director of Golf Operations in 2008 with a salary of $110,000 was given a $4,000 raise bringing his salary to $120,732; despite the fact that since being hired an outside contractor was brought in to manage Golf Operations.

To give you a quick idea of the breadth and scope of these 129 raises, this Excel sheet lists the raises, only a few names are highlighted, it was just too much work to list them all.
January 2015 Raises.xlsx

All the details can be found by reading the actual position controls approved for the period of December 15, 2014 – January 5, 2015.
Batch 1
Batch 2
Batch 3
Batch 4
Batch 5

Tina Renna is president of the Union County Watchdog Association. She can be reached at tinarenna@unioncountywatchdog.org.

Annointing Holley

By John Bury | January 25, 2015

Joseph Cryan left the New Jersey Assembly and a the usual cabal got to pick his replacement. The obvious question as posed by a TMZ panel at Channel 9:

Jamel Holley, currently the mayor of Roselle, was previously involved wiht voter fraud which, according to him, was “one of the best experiences” of his life as you can see from the full Channel 9 segment:

Senator Raymond Lesniak’s attempts to be a master of disguise

By Tina Renna | January 24, 2015

An Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) investigation released this week found that Union County paid in excess of $1.5 million over a four-year period to the Union County Alliance (UCA), that produced a biannual newsletter, Directions, and little else in return for the public’s money.

The Union County Watchdog Association has been documenting the abuses of the Alliance for years, however the Alliance founders, including State Senator Raymond Lesniak and Union County government, set the Alliance up as a non-profit entity which is not subject to the Open Public Records and Meetings Acts, therefore without subpoena powers much information was not available to the public. Repeated questions to freeholders when they approved millions of tax dollars for the Alliance went unanswered through the years. The UCWA had asked many state and federal agencies, including the OSC to investigate the Alliance.

Part of the recent OSC investigation focused on conflicts of interest including one of the consulting companies, Clebe Consulting, owned by Kean University employee Audrey Kelly who was married to the (UCA) president Michael Murray. Prior to marrying Murray, Kelly was married to Union County Manager George Devanney who is the nephew of Senator Raymond Lesniak.

On May 29, 1998 Senator Raymond Lesniak wrote to the Dean of Kean University recommending Audrey Kelly for a job. Nowhere in the letter does it mention that Kelly is his relative.

In a article published in the Union County Directions newsletter in 2006 Sentor Lesniak wrote that “nepotism policies must be made mandatory in Elizabeth schools.”

He lead off a tirade against the Elizabeth Board of Education ……“Willie Sutton being one of the most infamous criminals of the 20th Century, best known for daring robberies in the 1920’s and 1930’s and as a master of disguise. When asked why the robbed banks, Sutton quickly responded, “Because that’s where the money is.” The State of New Jersey today needs to curtail waste and mismanagement of its resources and the place to start is where most of the money goes – to fund public education.”

Senator Lesniak called for a state investigation of the Elizabeth School Board claiming that they hired their relatives after they got elected and that school employees were permitted to work on election fundraising actives using school equipment and facilities.

The Union County Directions newsletter, the very paper Lesniak is photographed in along with this article, was produced by the county Public Information Department right down the hall from his nephew, the Union County Manager’s office, and the postage and printing was paid for with tax dollars, approximately $50,000 worth.

The State Comptroller’s report shows that Senator Raymond Lesniak’s niece’s company was paid $108,000 for research and editing of the Directions newsletter while she also worked for Kean University and she was involved in approving $167,000 in payments from Kean to the Union County Alliance for advertisements placed in the newsletter. As president of the Alliance Kelly’s husband, Michael Murray was entitled to 15 percent commission from the advertisements placed in Directions.

State Comptroller Investigation of Union County government

Previously reported on Senator Lesniak’s nephew George Devannney: A deposition reveals that two-thirds (2/3) Devanney’s Government Relations firm clients work or perform work for County of Union – with no paper trail, and questions to Union County government go unanswered.

Senator Lesniak’s letter to Kean University recommending his niece, Audrey Kelly for a job:

Lesniak Kelly Letter of Recommendation to Kean

One of many Senator Lesniak’s articles in the Directions Newsletter through the years decries nepotism in the Elizabeth Board of Education:

Lesniak Directions Article

Bluster of a Shady Organization

By John Bury | January 23, 2015

From August 20, 2009, the Union County Alliance Board Chairman makes his case:

Among the findings of the Office of the State Comptroller which studied the workings of the Union County Alliance during that period:

The UCA did not follow a number of its own by-laws, which resulted in a lack of oversight and control over the UCA’s spending. For example, it did not have a functioning treasurer for the period of our review even though the UCA by-laws provided that the treasurer had to co-sign all checks. As a result, each check issued by the UCA only bore one signature, bypassing an important internal control. In addition, the former President acknowledged that he, the former Office Manager and the former Board Chairman occasionally signed checks for each other with each other’s permission.
Additionally, the former Board Chairman received regular $2,000 monthly payments, which the former President described as an allowance. During our review period, he received such payments totaling $82,000. The UCA by-laws do not authorize such payments to Board members, and the former Chairman did not submit any receipts or justifications for these payments.

A failing of that State Comptroller’s report is that it does not name names or provide exhibits. To partially remedy that:
Edward Zarnock: Deceased form Chairman of the Alliance
Michael Murray, Deceased former President of the Alliance
Audrey Kelly, Murray’s wife and Kean University employee, is the ex-wife of former county manager George Devanney who in 2013 was listed as a Director of the Alliance. Kelly’s consulting firm name is Clebe Consulting


George Devanney, Keywood Strategies (Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, former county manager, ex-husband of Audrey Kelly of Kean University)
Mauro Checchio, Chairman, Union County Alliance
Anthony Albanese, Alman Group (son of former county manager George Albanese)
Linda Carter, County of Union (Freeholder Chair, Ex-Officio)
Karen Conway, Valley National Bank
Elizabeth Ealie, Wachovia Bank
Dr. Dawood Farahi, Kean University
Alfred Faella, County of Union (UC Manager, Ex-officio)
Frank Lehr, Frank H. Lehr Assoc. (former freeholder)
Richard Malcolm, Ironworker Local 480
Margaret M. McMenamin, Union County College
Daniel Sullivan, Union County Utilities Authority (former freeholder)
Maureen Tinen, Union County Economic Development Corp

Union County Alliance form 990 – 2013

Union County Alliance form 990 – 2012

Union County Alliance form 990 – 2011

State Comptroller Investigation Questions Union County Alliance Contracts

By County Watchers | January 22, 2015

P.O. BOX 024
TRENTON, NJ 08625-0024

For Immediate Release
January 22, 2015
Contact: Pete McAleer

State Comptroller Investigation Questions $1.5 Million Spent by Union County on Non-Profit Agency

An Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) investigation released today found that Union County paid in excess of $1.5 million over a four-year period to a non-profit agency that produced a biannual newsletter and little else in return for the public’s money.

The agency, Union County Alliance (UCA), relied almost entirely on public funding but operated with virtually no oversight or recordkeeping, OSC found. Charged with promoting economic development, the UCA was headed by a Union County official, now deceased, who left the county payroll to become employed directly by the agency as its president.

As a non-profit organization, the UCA is not subject to the same ethics standards and regulations that typically apply to public entities. In its report, OSC recommends Union County take steps to ensure that vendors such as the UCA “are not used simply as a means to circumvent rules and regulations that would be imposed upon the government agency by law if it performed the services itself.”

“State laws exist to place a level of accountability over the expenditure of public money,” Acting State Comptroller Marc Larkins said. “When a group funded almost entirely by government money, managed by government officials, carrying out a government function, is allowed to operate outside of government rules and regulations, accountability disappears.”

OSC’s investigation focused on a series of annual no-bid contracts from 2008 to 2011 through which Union County paid the UCA $1.56 million (representing 80 percent of the UCA’s funding) to promote economic development in Union County.

Approximately 99 percent of the UCA’s funding during that time period came from the County and other public entities within the County.

According to OSC’s findings, the only material work product completed by the UCA during that period was the publication of a newsletter called Union County Directions. The newsletter, which was issued twice a year along with periodic electronic updates, consisted of information prepared and provided by the County, including interviews with public officeholders and information about the accomplishments of Union County government and local officials. The newsletter had previously been published by the County itself and cost the UCA approximately $120,000 a year to publish and mail.

As justification for awarding annual contracts to the UCA without considering other competition, the County asserted that it required services that could not be provided by other vendors. The County renewed its contract with the UCA each year without alterations and with no reassessment of its terms, OSC found. In its report, OSC concluded that the tasks undertaken by the UCA did not require any specialized expertise and the County could have either produced its newsletter in-house, as it had done in the past, or opened the contracts to competition as an attempt to save the public money.

The County’s justification for bypassing competitive bidding was further compromised by the fact that the UCA hired additional vendors and consultants to perform work on the newsletter, OSC found. One of those companies was affiliated with the former UCA president’s wife and was paid more than $108,000 for research and editing. The former president’s wife also worked for Kean University and was involved in approving $167,000 in payments from the university to the UCA for advertisements placed in the newsletter. She later recused herself from involvement in additional advertisement payments.

The former UCA president’s contract entitled him to 15 percent commission from advertisements placed with the UCA. In addition to the advertisement revenue from Kean University, Union County itself separately paid the UCA at least $29,000 per year for advertisements in the newsletter, which it was paying to produce.

UCA’s lack of recordkeeping made it impossible to accurately account for its finances, said OSC Investigations Division Director Noelle Maloney. The group did not have a functioning treasurer, even though its bylaws required a treasurer to cosign all of its checks, and it did not maintain any budgets.

“In order to conduct our investigation, we had to reconstruct financial details from UCA bank records and other sources,” Maloney said. “Even then, it was impossible to determine exactly how the UCA spent the county’s money.”

OSC did determine that most of the group’s expenditures went to salaries and other forms of employee compensation that raised more questions. The former UCA president received checks at different times, in different amounts, and at times received multiple checks on the same dates which did not correspond with payroll records, OSC found.

OSC also determined that the UCA had a separate checking account with a debit card that was used to charge $90,000 over the four years, much of it for meals and travel. Charges were incurred from a hotel in North Carolina, a restaurant in Florida and a liquor store in Ship Bottom, New Jersey, OSC found. The UCA kept no receipts or records to demonstrate that any of the expenses were for legitimate business purposes.

The investigative report concludes with six recommendations to Union County and other government units. Among them, it asks the county to consider whether the economic development functions currently provided by the UCA are more appropriately performed by the county itself. The report also provides several steps for all public entities to take when contracting with outside vendors, such as including a code of ethics to deal with conflicts of interest.

County officials said they are reexamining their financial commitment to the UCA in light of OSC’s findings. The UCA’s current president, hired in March 2013, said that steps are being taken to address OSC’s recommendations. For example, the UCA is now using a reimbursement process for expenses and, going forward, vendor contracts and any potential conflicts of interest will be disclosed to the UCA board.

OSC has referred its findings to the Internal Revenue Service, the New Jersey Department of Treasury’s Division of Taxation and the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
* * *
Click here to view the complete report.
Follow the Office of the State Comptroller on Twitter at @NJComptroller

Deposition gives glimpse into the County’s Human Resources procedures

By Tina Renna | January 16, 2015

Norman Albert is last, and certainly least, in this series of blog postings resulting from the Union County Watchdog Association’s use of the Open Public Records Act to obtain the depositions in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney.

The purpose of this series is to use the depositions to gain a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of Union County government, where much of the peoples’ business is conducted out of public view.

Deposition of Norman Albert, Director of Administrative Services, also holds the title, the Director of the Division of Personnel and Labor Management. Albert has held the position since November 18th, 2013. Prior to that Albert was the First Assistant Union County Prosecutor.

This deposition was recorded on September 16, 2014, so Albert was in this position for almost one year.

General notes: Albert appears to not know the simple basic rules of personnel, and he’s the boss. It appears the more he was questioned the more agitated he, and his attorney Robert Varady became. It appears Albert relies heavily on people who work under him to know the rules and how to run the department.

Not mentioned in the deposition is the fact that Albert is a partner in a private law firm with his predecessor, Mathew DiRado. Also not asked is why someone with more direct knowledge of how to run the department wasn’t promoted from within.

Page 13: Albert is asked how did it come to be that you obtained these two positions:
I applied and was hired ….. later on (page 24:50) he doesn’t know the process of how he was hired.

Page 13: Albert begins to answer “I don’t know” when asked various questions about job postings and inner workings of his department. …..

Page 21: Albert if accused of being evasive and avoiding answers ……

Complete Deposition.

Deposition of Michael LaPolla, Former Union County Manager

By Tina Renna | January 16, 2015

“As I said before, that was the battle I fought every day. You know, Charlotte once told me that she really saw herself as the county chairman and the county manager and the freeholder chairman all rolled into one, so.” …… Excerpt from the deposition of former Union County Manager Michael LaPolla as recorded on June 2, 2014 in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney.

This is the fourth in a series of blog postings resulting from the Union County Watchdog Association’s use of the Open Public Records Act to obtain the depositions in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney. The purpose of this series is to use the depositions to gain a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of Union County government, where much of the peoples’ business is conducted out of public view.

More excerpts from Michael LaPolla’s deposition:

Q. – We are here to ask you about some of the allegations of the Complaint.
So let me ask you this first. You understand that this is a lawsuit in which your brother (Richmond LaPolla) claims that he is retaliated against in his employment, or was retaliated against by George Devanney because he is your brother. You understand that is the gist of what the Complaint is?

I think it is more than that, but yes.
Q. Well, what do you understand it to be, based on your reading of the Complaint?
… I thought it was things that occurred in my brother’s employment in the relation to George and to the county.

Q. Okay. Do you know of any reason why George Devanney would have retaliated against your brother because of his relationship to you?
A. I think it my relationship to him through the then county democratic chairman, Charlotte DeFilippo.

Q. And what do you mean by that?
A. Well, it was, I don’t think it was much of a secret that there was political tension between Charlotte and I from the day I got the job.
And – I don’t know how – do you want me to expound on that?

Q. What do you mean by political tension?
A. Okay, I was the first assistant prosecutor at the time. I was the prosecutor. Drew Rutolo passed away. There was an acting prosecutor that had come in from the state attorney general’s office. Another prosecutor was about to be nominated. The political ins in Trenton had changed from Jim Florio to Christie Whitman. So I was looking, knew that I would not hold the position of first assistant forever.

I was in the process of completing an application to become a Superior Court judge, and one day my phone rang, and in the course of that day, there were a series of calls.

I don’t recall, I think the first call came from Chris Bollwage and then the second one from Dan Sullivan, or vice versa. And it was basically, Ann Baron was out. They were going to appoint a new county manager. Charlotte wanted George Devanney to have the job. These guys and others didn’t, and they asked me if I was interested. And at the time, I said yes.

So there was no formal application. If that was your question, there was no formal application. There was no, you know, I did not submit a resume. I had spent six years as a freeholder, besides my five or six years as first assistant prosecutor, so I was pretty familiar to all the parties involved.

Q. Can you tell us who was on the Board of Chosen Freeholders when you were appointed county manager?
A. Linden Stender, Dan Sullivan. I actually think back then there were republicans on the board. I think Frank Lehr and a guy from Roselle Park….. Henry Kurz….

Q. Ed Force?
A. I don’t know if Ed was there. ….. I think there were three at the time.. I am not sure. I know the democrats were in control. ….

Q. So who were the other democrats….
A. …… Dan was there. Don’t think Al Mirabella and Debbie Scanlon. I think they got elected the year after I had gotten there. Carol Cohen and Nick Scutari and Walter McNeil, I think, were there. I don’t know the order in which they came on or whatever.

Q. Don Goncalves?
A. Don Goncalves was there. Absolutely…. There was a lot of changeover at the time, so I don’t recall who was there when. I do recall when I was appointed, some of the republicans were against me. So that much I remember. You don’t forget that.

Q. you indicated that you thought that Charlotte DeFilippo was against you. Do you know whether she tried to get anybody to vote against you?
A. My recollection of what occurred was there was conversations between me and Chris Bollwage, Dan Sullivan. I believe there was a meeting. Maybe even Senator Lesniak and George Devanney were there. And then after it was agreed upon that I would be the county manager – I was asked if I would agree to be county manager and George would be the deputy. I said I didn’t have an issue with that.
So, and after, it was a fait accompli, I believe it was communicated to Charlottte that I was going to be the county manager and not George.

Q. did you ever discuss that, your appointment with Charlotte DeFilippo?
A. Oh, yes.

Q. When ….
A. Either it was the next day or the day after I went to her house, which I think the address is 65 King Street in Hillside…..
She told me I was not her first choice to be the county manager. There was a lot of ranting and raving about how she had been disrespected by them and this was her, you know, decision and all this other stuff, you know.

Q. Can you remember any specific ranting and raving?
A. That I was not her first choice. She wasn’t happy about it. She had to make the best of it. She spent a lot of time criticizing Mayor Bollwage, Freeholder Sullivan. She was furious that Senator Lesniak had agreed to this, and that is basically the gist of the conversation.

Q. Do you know whether Senator Lesniak was involved at all in this?
A. I believe that he knew that this was in the works and he did not – I gather a lot of the discussions had occurred before I was even called, so I can’t, id don’t know.

I was really, at the time, you know, doing a job which was not political. We were in the same building, so I knew what was going on, but I had no, you know, no day-to-day contact with any of these people.

Q. did you ever discuss your appointment with Senator Lesniak?
A. I believe I did. I always had a good working relationship with the senator.

Q. George Devanney was your deputy. Is that right?
A. Yes.

Q. Did you appoint him.
A. I submitted his name to the freeholders for a vote for the appointment, yes.

Q. What was George Devanney’s duties as deputy county manager?
A. Specifically, I believe economic development and strategic planning. I don’t know exactly when things were organized to put those under him, but those departments or divisions, whatever you want to call them, planning, all answered, you know, he served, I believe, as like the department head or they reported to him.

Q. Do you remember the years that you were county manager, roughly?
A. ’97 to 2002.

Q. During those years did your relationship with George Devanney change in any way?
A. All relationships change. It was not a relationship that was confrontational. If, you know, the tension existed or issues existed, that existed, all were driven by political issues with the county democratic chairwoman.

Q. And the end of your tem as county manager id you still have a decent relationship with George Devanney?
A. I would describe it as a more tense relationship. Last four or five months of it being difficult……

Q. What made it more tense or what made you perceive it as more tense?
A. My perception was that as, you know, it was right around the time of Jim McGreevey being elected governor, the months before that were anticipated that Charlotte had decided that it was time for me to leave being county manager and George to get the job.

Q. where did you get that perception from?
A. I was told

Q. Who told you?
A. By her.

Q. When did that happen and where?
A. It was one of the many times summoned to her house.

Q……. Prior to that did you still have a good working relationship with George Devanney?
Our relationship was not, it was, you know, it was tense, but not contentious. There was a, I think a fundamental disagreement over the role of the county manager and the roles of the freeholders and the role of the county democratic party and its leader, which, which sounds more philosophical, but it was, I think, consumed most of my day trying to do my job.

Q. how did you come to leave the position of County Manager?
A. …. There was a point in time where Charlotte made it clear, made it clear to me that it was time to move on. I said I liked what I was doing. I would consider other opportunities, but I wasn’t going anywhere that I didn’t want to go to.

There were also, there are no secrets in the county, so on any given day I would hear the rumor du jour about what job I was going to be offered, et cetera..

Q. Okay. So she (Charlotte DeFilippo) said it was time for your to go and you said I would consider going somewhere but I wouldn’t.—
A. Well, at first I said no, but then I am not, you know, I would consider opportunities,…..

Q. So did an opportunity come up?
A. Yes…. Executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

Q. How did that come about….
A. I believe shortly after McGreevey got elected, he took office in June, sometime in maybe February, I received a call from the governor’s office asking me to come for an interview. I remember in the governor’s office them making a joke that they had to get me in because they couldn’t take Charlotte’s phone calls anymore.
During the interview, we had a long-ranging conversation about what I might be interested in doing. Eventually, sometime after that I received a phone call offering me that position.

Q. Did you decide to take it?
A. I was beaten down, Counsel. I was, it was a long, five-plus year battle and I decided that, you know, rather than probably – I wanted to avoid the fate of my predecessor who was forced out, so I decided to take the position.

Q. What information, if any, do you have that would support the allegations of the Complaint that George Devanney retaliated against your brother because he was your brother?
A. ….. Well, two things. While I had a cordial relationship with George, there were never any screamfests or anything like that. You know, it was my opinion, and probably the opinion of most others. That George’s agenda and Charlotte’s were probably the same.

And then after I left being county manager I don’t remember exactly when this was, when my brother was having a hard time with George and he, my brother called me to say he heard he was going to be transferred, I called George and invited him to lunch. We met the next day in Bonito’s in Union.

…. It was a civil conversation…. It was basically can we, whatever these issues are, you know, and I was not going to argue with him over any points, can we try to work this out, you know, leave Rick where he is, and he said to me, “Yes.” After I got back, I called Rick. I told him about the conversation. The next day, I believe it was the very next day, Rick was transferred. I called George and I said, “What happened? I thought you said he could stay in the position, and George’s response to me was, “Charlotte said no.”

Q. Did you ask why?
A.I didn’t ask why because I didn’t have to.

Q. And why did you feel you didn’t have to?
A. Well, because I knew if the decision was just the county manager’s, if it was just George as county manager, George would have done what he said he was going to do. When it became a political issue and this became the party making the decision and the chairman of the party – there was no love lost between us. There was no point in even trying to, you know – it went back to the fundamental issue there from my tenure, which was basically what is the appropriate role of the county chairman in government.

As I said before, that was the battle I fought every day. You know, Charlotte once told me that she really saw herself as the county chairman and the county manager and the freeholder chairman all rolled into one, so. ……

Q. … Were you an open critic of Charlotte DeFilippo?
A. I was an open critic to the extent that I, I saw my role, because as the county manager under the open, under the optional county charter law, as very specific. I had lived through a period where we had gone through a, whole group of county managers. I saw my role as not only dealing with all the county employees who I was responsible for, but also I worked for the freeholders.

That is the way the law reads. And I took that part of my job very seriously. And I did everything in my power to allow them to do their jobs without incessant political interference.

And, you know, there was a time when Charlotte was a county employee, actually after I started, for I don’t remember how long a period of time it was. She worked in human services and then, which made things very difficult. And then subsequent to that, I was asked and was very clear in my opinion that the county chairman should not be the head of the improvement authority.

NOTE: Charlotte DeFilippo was allowed to have a home office while she performed both her role as County Democratic Chairman and Executive Director of the Union County Improvement Authority, she resigned in May 2013.

DeFilippo had come under fire in the recent weeks prior to her resignation when the head of the state’s Local Finance Board, Tom Neff, questioned her stay at home job and benefits. The UCIA was seeking the finance board’s approval of approximately $20 million in bonds. It was wildly reported that Neff took exception to her $160,000 per year to supervise a staff of two people and other benefits including 35 vacation days. “It’s taxpayer money — might as well just be flushed down the toilet,” Neff was reported to have said. “I’m not supporting this. I won’t support anything that comes from the Union County Improvement Authority going forward until that situation is taken care of.”

DeFilippo’s stay-at-home job, along with the politics that co-mingled with the workings of the UCIA day to day business operations, was first reported on the County Watchers in 2011.

In deposition Union County Manager Faella tells who’s really the bosses

By Tina Renna | January 15, 2015

A deposition of current Union County Manager Alfred Faella shows Union County Democratic Committee Chairman Charlotte DeFilippo, along with Senator Raymond Lesniak’s nephew George Devannney, controls the actions of the Freeholder Board and county administration.

The following are excerpts from the deposition of Union County Manager Alfred Faella as recorded on September 15, 2014 in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney.

Q. How did it come to be that you were appointed County Manager
A. I was selected by the Board of Chosen Freeholders

Q. How did it come to be that you were a candidate for the position?
A. I was in my office and George Devanney who was the County Manager at the time came down to my office and spoke with me.

Q. What did he say?
A. He said that he was considering resigning and if he did, he asked me if I would be interested in the position.

Q. Did you have to talk to anybody?
About two weeks later…. I said I was interested and I am not sure what he did or how he went about it but sometime after that I spoke to some members of the Freeholder Board and also to Charlotte DeFilippo.

Q. When did you speak to Miss DeFilippo?
A. Sometime during that period.

Q. How did it come to be that you spoke to her about your becoming County Manager?
A. Mr. Devanney said that she wanted to speak to me.

Q. And what were the circumstances of your speaking with her?
A. I went to her home.

Q. What was the reason?
A. Because she was the County Chairman. I imagine that she would have to say that she was okay with me getting the job……. Because it is a position of importance within the County, reports directly to the Freeholder Board. And that would be something that would, she would, I would assume would be interested in who was going to take that position….. She said “I understand that you are being considered. Are you interested?”….. I understand that you are very close to Mayor Bollwage in Elizabeth.” I said “yes, I am.” And she said, “well I just want to make sure that you understand that your loyalty is to the Union County Democrat Party.”

My assumption or my thought as to why the question was asked was if there was something that the Mayor (Bollwage) would want me to do that perhaps she didn’t want me to do, would I do what he wanted me to do rather than what she wanted me to do. That is my assumption as to why the question was asked.

Q. What did she say after you answered her?
A. She said “okay, since George recommends you, I am okay with it. And I will talk to the Freeholders.

Q. Did you apply for the position with the County of Union in 2004, for the Division Head of Information Technologies?
A. No.
Q. How did you get the job?
A. I received a phone call.
Q. From whom?
A. From Mr. Devanney

Q. So during the time between 1999 and 2001 did you have any interaction, communication with Devanney at all?
A. Yes

Q. What was the circumstances….
A. We Worked together on a political campaign.

Q. And whose political campaign was that?
A. Mayor J. Christian Bollwage of the City of Elizabeth

Q. ….can you explain what it was that you did and what your understanding was that Mr. Devanney did?

I can speak to what my role was. I was the coordinator for the GOTV which was the Get-Out-The-Vote Campaign.

Q. Did you work with Mr. Devanney in connection with your position as coordinator as GOTV?
A. Yes…. We would discuss which wards and districts we would be focusing on to attempt to get the vote our for the Mayor.

Q. What was the year of the election
A. 2000 (Mayor Bollwage first elected Mayor in 1992)

Q. Do you know if Mr. Devanney ever worked on any other campaign for Mr. Bollwage?
A. yes
Q. What campaign was that?
A. Basically every campaign that Mayor Bollwage has been involved in.

Q. Have you worked on every campaign for Mayor Bollwage from 1993 to present?
A. That’s correct.

Q. Other than Mayor Bollwage is there any political figure whose campaign you have worked on?
Yes… Union County Freeholder candidates.

Q. Have you worked on the Freeholder candidates elections every year?
A. yes

Q. Since When?
A. Since my employment with the County of Union (Since 2004)

Q. So how did you determine which candidates for the Freeholder Board to support?
A. The ones that were running on the democratic slate.

Q. Do you know how the democratic slate is picked?
The County Chairman makes the selection.

Q. Have you ever been to Charlotte DeFilippo’s house?
A. Yes…… On numerous occasions….. to discuss economic development projects for the County of Union

Q. Did you ever go to her home (DeFilippo’s) to discuss anything else other than the issues that were related to her position as executive director of the Union County Improvement Authority?
A. Yes….. County Freeholder elections….. to discuss campaign strategy for the re-election of various candidates.

Previously reported: Deposition of former County Manager George Devanney reveals that two-thirds of his government relations firm’s clients work or perform work for County of Union. The Union County Watchdog Association has not been able to find a paper trail, nor does County Manager Alfred Faella, nor the freeholders, answer any direct questions about this subject. Read More.

This is the third in a series of blog postings resulting from the Union County Watchdog Association’s use of the Open Public Records Act to obtain the depositions in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney. The purpose of this series is to use the depositions to gain a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of Union County government, where much of the peoples’ business is conducted out of public view.

Deposition of former County Manager George Devanney discusses his hiring and retirement

By Tina Renna | January 14, 2015

This is the second in a series of blog postings resulting from the Union County Watchdog Association’s use of the Open Public Records Act to obtain the depositions in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney.

The purpose of this series is to use the depositions to gain a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of Union County government, where much of the peoples’ business is conducted out of public view. The series will not feature every deposition, and will not be posted in any particular order.

The following excerpts from the deposition of former County Manager George Devanney taken on July 8, 2013 reveals, according to George Devanney, why he retired from the County in August 2011 and joined his wife at her firm Keywood Strategies.

Q. Before you joined the firm, what was your employment position?

Q. Why did you leave that position of County Manager?
A. Because I had, I guess I had always thought about retiring when I hit 25 years of service. I had 26 years of service in, and I had a couple of friends who had en encouraged me, thought that it would be a good idea and that the timing would be right for me to retire.

Q. Who are the friends who encouraged you to retire?
A. Mayor Jim Kennedy was one.

Q. Mayor of Rahway?
A. Yes, the former mayor. A dear high school friend of mine, Rich Gannon.

Q. Has Rich held an office with a public entity?
A. No.

Q. Anybody else?
A. I’m sure there are others. None that come to mind right at the moment.

Q. Was anybody encouraging you to retire due to your work performance?
A. No.

Q. So do you have an actual date of your last day of work as County manager for the County Of Union.
A. I believe it was August 1 of 2011.

Q. When did you begin your employment as County Manager for the County of Union?
A. I believe it was in March of 2002.

Q. How did you get that position, if you know?
A. The previous County Manager, Michael LaPolla….. had accepted a position with the Turnpike Authority and was moving on, and I was the Deputy County Manager at the time and I expressed my wishes to assume the County manager’s position at that time.

Q. Who did you express that to?
A. To members of the Freeholder Board

Q. Did you have any discussion with Charlotte DeFilippo about your wanting to become the Manager of the County of Union?
A. Yes.

Q. Tell me about any conversation you had with Ms. DeFilippo.
A. I don’t recall specifics.

Q. Well, in general, what was the discussion?
A. In general, it was “I would like to seek the County Manager’s appointment” and asked for her support.

Q. Why did you do that? Why did you ask Ms. DeFilippo?
A. Because she’s the County Chairwoman.

Q. Do you remember how many discussions you had with Ms. DeFilippo about that?
A. No.

Q. Was it more than One?
A. I don’t recall.

Q. Who appoints the County Manager in the County of Union?
A. The Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Q. Do they do it by way of a vote?
A. Yes.

Q. Do you know what the vote was when you were appointed?
A. I believe 9-0.

Q. Why is it that you needed Ms. DeFilippos’ support if the Board of Chosen Freeholders votes the person to become County Manager?

A. I asked for many people’s support outside of the Freeholders.
Q. Well, you said that you do not recall speaking to anybody else other than the Board of Chosen Freeholders and Ms. DeFilippo, is that correct?

A. I did not say that
Q. Who else did you speak to expressing a desire to become the County Manager?

A. I imagine, and I don’t recall specifically, but many elected officials through the County.
Q. you don’t recall specifically anyone in particular?

A. I could make guesses.
Q. Well, I don’t want you to guess.
A. No, I don’t recall specifically.

Q. But you do recall speaking to Ms. DeFilippo and asking for her support?
A. Yes.

Q. And why do you believe you needed her support in order for you to become the County Manager?
Q. Did you believe you needed her support in order to become the manager?
A. No, I needed the Board of Chosen Freeholders’ support.

Q. So why did you ask her for her support?
A. Out of respect for her and her position.

Q. Okay. Can you explain to me what you mean by that?
A. She’s the County Charwoman who heads the political party. Policies that the County adopts often have political ramifications and I just felt it was important for her to be part of the process.

Q. Do you believe that you would have been appointed as the County Manager had Ms. DeFilippo not supported you?

A. I believe, yes.

Q. And that’s based on what?
A. Based on my personal relationship and working relationship with the freeholder Board.

Q. Did you speak to Mr. Chris Bollwage when you wanted to become County Manager for his support?
A. I believe so. Again, it’s one of those I just can’t say with any certainty.

Q. you believe you did speak with him?
A. Yes.

Q. Okay. Do you recall the conversation with Mr. Bollwage?
A. No

He goes on to answer questions on the same subject stating that he does not recall speaking with: Senator Ray Lesniak (who is Devanney’s uncle), and Senator Scutari.

He then goes on to discuss how he came to be Deputy County Manager and his prior employment with the City of Elizabeth as the Director of Policy and Planning which he started when Mayor Bollwage was first elected.

On Devanney joining the county as Deputy County Manager:
Q. Well, how did it come about?
A. I had expressed an interest in being the County Manager along with Michael LaPolla.
Q. And who had you expressed that interest to?
A. Many of the current Freeholders, our County Chairwoman, and I Know Senator Lesniak and Senator Suliga and Mayor Bollwage.

Deposition reveals two-thirds (2/3) of former County Manager’s Government Relations firm clients work or perform work for County of Union

By Tina Renna | January 12, 2015

This is the first in a series of blog postings resulting from the Union County Watchdog Association’s use of the Open Public Records Act to obtain the depositions in the on-going matter of Richmond LaPolla vs. Union County and George Devanney.

The purpose of this series is to use the depositions to gain a glimpse into the behind the scenes workings of Union County government, where much of the peoples’ business is conducted out of public view. The series will not feature every deposition, and will not be posted in any particular order.

We begin with an excerpt from the deposition of former County Manager George Devanney taken on July 8, 2013.

Devanney retired from the county in August 2011 and joined his wife at her firm Keywood Strategies. Devanney describes his position as being “a government affairs agent”. Keywood Strategies is registered with ELEC, however they show no expenditures for the reporting year 2013. This is a grey area to me. I don’t know, nor can I find any reference, as to whether they have to report their business dealings or not.

Devanney states in the deposition that two-thirds (2/3) of his Keywood Strategies work comes from Union County government. However, he is not asked to not name his specific clients.

Since before he left his position as county manager, I have been trying to gain insight into how Devanney is involved with county contracts, and have been thus far thwarted. For instance when Devanney recused himself when he was County Manager via two memos in July 2011 “in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest” pertaining to the following companies and/or projects – Birdsall Group and the Union County Arts Center. I asked several times during public comment at freeholder meetings for an explanation and was given none. Efforts to find a paper trail in these instances have also been unsuccessful.

I am currently trying to gain access through the OPRA to all emails between Keywood Strategies and Union County government employees and as it stands the County is stating that they don’t have the capabilities to search the County server this way.

Devanney’s admission that two-thirds (2/3) of his firm’s work comes from clients wanting to do business with Union County government should have turned up at least a few emails. The IT professionals that I’ve contacted for advice find the County’s response to my OPRA requests laughable. The effort to gain access is ongoing and will result in legal action if necessary.

There are other notables from Devanney’s deposition which will be covered in a separate blog to follow.

Q. How many of your clients percentage wise work or perform work for the County of Union?
A. I don’t know off the top of my head.
Q. Can you give us an estimate?
A. Two-thirds.

Full Excerpt on Keywood Strategies:

Q. What is your present employment position?
A. I’m a partner in Keywood Strategies.
Q. And what kind of business is that?
A. It’s a government relations firm.
Q. What does that firm do?
A. Government relations. We do some press for and public relations for different companies. We advocate on behalf of different clients attempting to secure work. We help manage some development projects through public processes.
Q. How many employees does Keywood Strategies employ?
A. Two.
Q. And who is the other person.
A. My wife
Q. Where is it located?
A. We work out of our home.
Q. How long have you held this position?
A. Soon to be two years.
Q. And what is your wife’s position in this firm?
A. She’s the managing partner.
Q. And what is your title?
A. Partner.
Q. And what is the difference e in the duties the two of you perform?
A. Very similar.
Q. Is there some reason why she’s designated the managing partner?
A. She started it.
Q. Keywood Strategies was in existence before you jointed the firm?
A. Yes.
Q. So you said you advocate for clients to secure work?
A. Yes.
Q. What does that mean? What kind of clients and what kind of work are we talking about?
A. It does a range. It’s an architect, an engineer, a developer, insurance. There’s a spectrum.
Q. And this kind of work that you’re advocating for is work for public entities?
A. No, not solely.
Q. Do you advocate for clients to secure work in the private companies as well?
A. Yes.
Q. Is one of the entities that you secure work for clients at, is that the County of Union?
A. Yes.
Q. How many of your clients percentage wise work or perform work for the County of Union?
A. I don’t know off the top of my head.
Q. Can you give us an estimate?
A. Two-thirds.

Excerpt of deposition of former Union County Manager George Devanney as recorded on July 8, 2013.