Category Archives: blogs

Crime Scene Middletown: MiddletownMike Banned From Receiving Township Press Releases

Last week, just after the 4th of July holiday weekend, I was expecting to recieve the latest press release from Middletown Police Detective Lieutenant Steve Dollinger, reporting the recent activities of the Middletown Police. I had noticed that updates for the holiday weekend activities had already been posted on the websites Redbankgreen.com,Middletown Patch and Atlantic Highlands Herald and I was wondering why, after 8 months of receiving the MTPD press releases, I didn’t receive the July 5th press release.

I sent an inquiring email to Detective Dollinger that afternoon wondering if I had been somehow overlooked when he had sent the current press release to those on his distribution list. Usually when I have sent an inquiry to the detective I received a prompt response, this time however was different. I never received a response from Detective Dollinger, instead the following day, Wednesday, I received the following email from Middletown Public Information Officer Cindy Herrschaft with no other explanation:

Dear Mr. Morris,

The township has revised the policy regarding the distribution of press releases. Please feel free to check the township website for information updates.

When I received this response coming from Ms. Herrschaft, I was puzzled. I have been receiving press releases for 8 months without any issue and wanted to know why I was now being excluded. I immediately responded by requesting that a copy of both the old policy regarding press releases and the new policy be sent to me so that I could review it. I also stated that no such policy was posted on the Township website for such review. Needless to say, I am still waiting for her response.

After waiting for an answer for almost 24 hours I decided to send an email to Township Administrator Tony Mercantante Thursday afternoon:

Mr. Mercantante,

For the past 8 months I have been receiving MTPD press releases from Detective Dollinger for posting on my Middletown Mike blog. These press releases have been very well received by the readers of the blog and are often the most read feature of the day when posted.

So you can imagine my dismay when I did not receive a press release from this past weekend and subsequent releases issued this week from Detective Dollinger, but found updates on other blogs or websites.

When I sent an inquiry to Detective Dollinger, I did not receive the usual quick response from him that I am accustomed to when I have a question, instead I received an email (below) from Cindy Herrschaft saying that the policy regarding the distribution of press releases had been revised and basically stating that I would not be receiving press releases for the Township anymore for posting.

I responded to Ms. Herrschaft, asking her if she could forward me a copy of the previous press release policy and that of the revised policy, so that I can understand why it seems that I am being singled out from receive township press releases from the MTPD or administration. So far I haven’t heard from her and that disturbs me.

If at all possible I would appreciate if you could look into this matter for me and provide me with the simple documents that I requested without having to file an OPRA request.

It would be great if this was just a misunderstanding and my name was taken off Detective Dollinger’s contact list by mistake and therefore you could authorize Detective Dollinger to once again include me in his updates.

I appreciate your help in this matter

Again nearly 24 hours pasted without a response, I figured that they were trying to come up with a plausible explanation as why I wasn’t to receive press releases any longer because it was becoming evident to me that no such policy documents exsisted.

So as not to be ignored,on Friday I sent yet an other email to the Township, this time to Assistant Administrator James Van Nest:

Mr. Van Nest,

As Assistant Township Administrator I am hoping that you could provide me with an answer to my inquiry below.

It has been two days since I respond to Ms. Herrschaft email notifying me that I have been taken off the contact list and will no longer be receiving Township press releases and almost 1 full day since sending an email inquiry to Mr. Mercantante about it, with no response in return.

I understand that it is the summer and people my have taken off a few days (hence no response from Mr. Mercantante) but I would like to know the true reason why I have been singled out by no longer being a recipient of direct notification of press releases.

In her email Ms. Herrschaft stated that the policy for distributing press releases has been changed. I would like to see in writing what the old policy was and how it differs from the new policy seeing how no such policy is listed on the Township website and that press releases are not always posted there in a timely manner.

Ultimately I would like to be restored to the notification list if possible. If you could be so kind to follow-up on this matter and respond back I would be greatly appreciative.

Thank you for your help in this matter.

They say that the third time is the charm and I suppose in this instance that old adage rang true because a short time afterwards Tony Mercantante finally responded to my emails with the following explanation:

Mr. Morris,

The policy for distributing Press Releases consists of essentially lists that have evolved over time. In order to keep distribution to a manageable magnitude it has been decided that automatic distribution of press releases will be limited to the following:

stablished new organizations and media outlets, whether they be print, online or on air organizations.

Community organizations and homeowners associations that have requested to receive information.

Other governmental agencies and officials.

We are currently reviewing the lists to make sure that all who are on it fall into the categories mentioned above. Blog sites are not included. If you ever become aware of a blog receiving such information automatically, please report it and we will look into it right away. You or anyone else has always the right to request specific information and/or pull it from the web site when it is posted, which is usually within a day.

Tony Mercantante
Township Administrator

That to me was an interesting reply. I responded by stating that I was in disagreement with his response and that it made it clear that there was no written policy in place that specifically dealt with this issue. I pointed out that my blog serves the community as a source of local news and opinion to those that read it and that I believe the township was being arbitrary in it’s decision to exclude my blog from directly receiving press releases. At which point Mr. Mercantante replied that all blog would be excluded, not just mine.
I asked him how does the Township differentiate between what is a News site and what isn’t and what is constitutes a community group? By definition Blogs and other Social Media outlets are virtually the same and almost impossible to differentiate. Websites such as Middletown Patch, Redbankgreen.com and MiddletownMike are just as much social media outlets as they are news outlets. Any website that allows reader comments to be published in response o columns posted are considered social media.
Thus it doesn’t make much sense not to include Blogs or Social Media in the Township’s policy, it only makes sense that public information should be disseminated in all possible manners and not excluded for arbitrary assumptions as to what constitutes a news outlet.

Out of further curiosity, I asked Tony Mercantante if Art Gallagher’s blog MoreMonmouthMusings, was considered a legitimate news outlet, seeing how often I have seen Middletown press releases on his site well before being posted on the Township’s website.

His responded by stating “...we specifically discussed Mr. Gallagher’s site and concluded it was a blog and will not be getting automatic distribution of press releases.”
At this point in our email exchanges I ended my inquiry but stated that I will be on the look out for evidence to the contrary.
Regardless of Mercantane’s explanation and assurances that no other blogs will be included in automatic press release notifications, I can help but think that this petty behavior on the Township’s part is in retaliation to negative posts I have published concerning members of the Township Committee. It would not be the first time that the Township Administration tried their hand at childish retaliation against a website.
I was reminded by Carol Schwebel that when Allan Dean, the publisher of the Atlantic Highland Herald, was attempting to help her fight the new Middletown website requirement that users must first register name, address and other personal information before hand to get information, the Administration stopped sending him information as well.
It’s just all par for the course I suppose. Why make the system more transparent when you live for it to be opaque? Saying that the reason for such a decision has to do with manageability of lists doesn’t cut it, a distribution list is not that hard to manage.
So while the crime of me being officially banned from directly receiving press releases from the Township has been committed, it wont prevent me from lifting press releases from other websites, be it directly off of Middletown web page or others. I wont allow them to intimidate me it such a way. I’ll just start posting all the press releases I notice, not just those from the MTDP.
I’ll show ’em 🙂

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Filed under banned, blogs, Crime Scene Middletown, Detective Lieutenant Stephen Dollinger, Middletown Police, MiddletownMike, press release, public information officer, social media, Tony Mercantante

>As A Matter Of Fact…..Budget hearings on the economy and State revenue collections

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This week, the legislature will begin to consider Governor Christie’s proposed FY 2012 budget. This is traditionally the time when the State Treasurer and the Legislative Budget and Finance Officer (LBFO) present their assessment of the state’s economy and what that means in terms of revenue collections for this year and the next. Today, State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff and LBFO David Rosen addressed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee; tomorrow, they will address the Assembly Budget Committee. Both of these full-day budget sessions traditionally are broadcast online.

The seven taxes in the table below account for eighty percent or more of the revenue collected by the state. It compares actual revenues collected in FY 2008 and FY 2010 to the amounts Governor Christie is using as a basis for his FY 2012 proposed budget. In an earlier blog, Taking the Long View, we outlined why it is appropriate to consider state collections and spending over a longer period of time than the year-to-year manner of the Governor’s annual budget. Suffice it to say, these are unprecedented times and we need a clear understanding of the situation.

In FY 2008, the state collected and spent more money than in any other year. Then the recession hit and revenues dropped precipitously. The FY 2008 and FY 2010 tax rates and structures are roughly comparable in those two years, i.e. no major increases or decreases were enacted in FY 2008 or FY 2010. Governor Christie is proposing a budget that also includes no significant rate changes.

The one rate change impact would be from the calendar year 2009 income rate increases on taxpayers earning more than $400,000. This likely had a residual effect on income tax collections in FY 2010. This is because higher income taxpayers tend to settle their tax bills in April and in 2009 their tax bills would have been higher (so additional calendar year 2009 taxes that are due would have been paid in FY 2010).

To understand more about state revenues and what these numbers mean, tune in to the hearings and look for Treasurer Sidamon-Eristoff and LBFO David Rosen’s testimony.

Note: NJJP’s “As a Matter of Fact” blog has taken the place of NJJP’s Monday Minute and will be posted here from time to time.

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Filed under As a Matter of Fact, blogs, Budget, budget hearing, Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey Policy Perspective, Newsletter, tax collections

Rep. Frank Pallone: We can’t turn away from health care reform

Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D 6th) was a guest blogger today for NJ Voices over at NJ.com. His blog post advocates for the continued push to reform the Nations health care system. “We can’t turn away from the job of finishing comprehensive health care reform for all Americans. We need to provide real choice for all Americans and lower premiums, end discrimination based on preexisting conditions, and end the status quo that has failed.” He stated on his facebook page.

The goal of health care reform is rather simple: to insure those who don’t have coverage, to hold down costs for those who do, and to abolish the abuses of the insurance industry. The status quo may be good for some special interests and their allies, but it is terrible for everyone else. Doing nothing doesn’t mean nothing happens; it means the situation will only get worse.


With all the discussions about a public option, health care exchanges, pre-existing conditions and other terms of the debate, we should remember why we are working for reform in the first place. The health care system is in a state of crisis.

There are more than 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Another 14,000 lose coverage every day. The American family pays an average of $14,000 a year for coverage. Within 10 years, that figure will rise to $24,000. The extra $1,000 annually that everyone with coverage pays to care for the uninsured will increase every year.

Although New Jersey has more consumer protections than other states, people will still have their claims rejected because of pre-existing conditions. More businesses will face the bad choice of paying more or not covering their workers. Government costs will continue their upward spiral, putting more pressure on taxpayers. And the share of the GDP taken by health care costs will continue to grow, hampering the economy into the future.

The health care reforms moving through Congress address these concerns. Coverage would be offered to every American from their employer or through the insurance exchange. Costs would be controlled through competition, economies of scale, improving access to preventive care and doing away with the costs of the uninsured. The insurance companies would not be allowed to cap coverage or deny coverage because of age, race, gender or previous medical conditions.

The real choice is between the status quo, with all its consequences, and reform. We can’t turn away from this issue or those choices. We would be denying the American people what they need and deserve. I would hope that Republicans would join this discussion with constructive ideas. Health care should not be treated as a political battle; it is too important to the well-being of all Americans.

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Filed under blogs, Congressman Frank Pallone, health care reform, NJ.com

Patrick Murry: Christie’s Message of Change Lacks Hope

This blog post is from Patrick Murry’s blog “Real Numbers and Other Musings”and orginially appeared as a guest column for In The Lobby.

Chris Christie put out a new web video in response to President Barack Obama’s campaign stop for Governor Jon Corzine Thursday. Christie has been trying to use Obama’s “Change” mantra to unseat the incumbent, but has been having limited success in getting it to resonate with voters.


As I watched that video, the penny finally dropped on why this message wasn’t working for Christie. But first, a quick note about why Obama was here to begin with.

The inevitable question – or at least the question most reporters are asking – is whether Obama can really help Corzine’s reelection chances. The answer for that is found in two numbers: 87 and 64.

The former is President Obama’s job approval rating among New Jersey Democratic voters. The latter is Governor Corzine’s job rating among his fellow Democrats. Obama’s visit is not meant to sway undecided voters. It’s to get reluctant Democrats in Corzine’s column and out to the polls.

As part of our research strategy for this election, we have been tracking a panel of nearly 1,000 voters. Among the many shifts evident in this churning electorate, we’ve seen a small shift from undecided and other candidates to Corzine.

One Democratic voter who was leaning to Daggett in late September, but switched to Corzine in mid-October, said he was worried that the media would paint a Corzine loss as a referendum on Obama. As unhappy as he is with Corzine’s first term, this voter was reluctant to see the president suffer because of it. I assume he is not alone.

And that brings us back to Chris Christie. From the very beginning, the Republican’s camp has claimed that the electorate is in a “change” mood. Americans were unhappy with the way things were going in Washington and so they kicked out the Republicans in 2006 and 2008. Since New Jersey voters are similarly unhappy with the way things are going in Trenton, the Christie thinking goes, they’ll be just as willing to kick out the Democrats this year.

There are two problems with this line of thought. First, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hades that the Democrats will lose control of the Assembly. In fact, if they lose more than two seats, the GOP can claim some sort of moral, albeit meaningless, victory.

The bigger problem, though, is that Christie’s campaign communications folks apparently read only half of the Obama playbook. His message in 2008 was not “Change.’ It was “Hope” and “Change.” Or more accurately “HopeandChange” – sometimes even shortened derisively to “Chope” by his critics. But it was effective. [A recent Jimmy Margulies cartoon about Corzine played off the hope theme.]

And that’s where Christie’s campaign has fumbled the message. His new web video starts out by using Obama’s voice over images of homeless men in Camden, figuratively depicting New Jersey as being on a one-way street presumably to nowhere.

Frankly, I found it depressing. That’s when it hit me. Chris Christie is offering a message of change without hope. And not just in this web video, but throughout his entire campaign.

The punditry and the media have focused on his lack of specifics, charging that he has not given voters a clear policy proposal that they can hang onto. I have said before that despite their discontent with the incumbent, voters still need to be able to say, “Here is something concrete that Chris Christie is going to do,” before they will vote for change. But the problem with lacking a specific message is larger than just the policy details.

A specific campaign promise is, in itself, a message of hope. And Christie’s campaign strategy has been lacking that element of hope from the very beginning.

Yes, I know that the Republican nominee has used phrases like “hope is on the way” and “New Jerseyans hope real change will come.” But listen closely to Christie’s rhetoric when he talks about state government. The tone lacks a sense of hope.

That doesn’t mean you can’t attack your opponent’s record. In fact, it still amazes me that Christie has not used every opportunity offered him, especially in the debates, to point out specific Corzine weaknesses – i.e. the governor’s failed toll hike plan and the fizzled-out special session to reform property taxes. These are the reasons why Jon Corzine’s job approval rating is so low and are fair game in this race.

Instead, Christie has chosen to speak in generalities about how Corzine has raised taxes. And rather than leave the blame at Corzine’s feet, he follows that up by saying that the mess in Trenton is due to chronic mismanagement by both parties over the years. A common refrain from Chris Christie is that New Jersey is broken.

And therein lies the problem. Attacking the incumbent is one thing, especially if done well (which it hasn’t been in this case). But who wants to vote for a guy whose underlying campaign theme is that we are all headed down the toilet? Maybe his delivery is just a byproduct of the prosecutorial personality. But it doesn’t resonate with independent voters who need a positive reason to go out and vote.

New Jersey voters already believe the state is broken. That doesn’t mean they want to be constantly reminded of it. They want someone who is going to lead them out of the wilderness. Not someone who is going to point out every dried-up stream and dead tree.

It’s all about hope and change, Mr. Christie. Change and Hope.

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Filed under blogs, Chris Christie, Gov. Jon Corzine, Monmouth University, Patrick Murry, President Obama

Extra Extra Read All About It – The Courier Is Sold To New Owner

Yesterday was a sad day after I read the post on Melissa Gaffney’s blog Sableminded about the April 1st demise of the Courier newspaper.
I have been a fan of the Courier for  a long time, and have been lending this blog to the online version of it for a number of months now. At one point I was considering having MiddletownMike visitors redirected to the Courier version of this blog. I had been hearing for quite awhile that the Courier was in trouble and that it’s future was in question, but I had thought and hope that the paper would somehow survive and live on in some form or another, but due to that uncertainty  the redirect just never seemed to happen.
When the Courier’s publisher Jim Purcell announced that the Courier was only going to publish bi-weekly and that through a partnership with Rutgers University, it was going to attempt to survive on-line as a web based publication, I was at first disheartened.  I became encouraged a few weeks later however when I was told by Jim that it looked like the web based model was going to work out, revenue had already increased over the previous months due to the new venture with Rutgers.
So, when I heard a couple of weeks ago that the Azzolina family had changed their mind and no longer desired to be in the news business it came as a mild shock, if they couldn’t find a buyer they were going to shutdown operations.  I didn’t quite want to believe it, after all the paper seemed to be on track to  profitability once again. Needless to say then, that when I stopped by the office to say hello, it was a rather gloomy place.  
Today though, when I returned home from work and logged onto the blog I noticed  the headline on the Courier widget “The Courier is sold to new owner“, my spirits were lifted.
I don’t know who has brought the Courier or whether or not that they intend to keep the online version up and running, but I am happy that they did. It would have been a real loss to the bayshore if the paper had folded, the Courier after all has been a staple of northern Monmouth County for since 1955. 
As for MiddletownMike’s future with the Courier, I don’t have an answer for that just yet. I need to make a few phone calls to see what the future may hold. I am just glad that the paper did not fade away like so many others have done lately.
I am also happy to think that some of the people at the Courier, who have become my friends, may now not have to worry about losing their jobs and finding employment elsewhere. I hope  

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Filed under Bayshore, blogs, demise of newspapers, Jim Purcell, Joe Azzolina, Melissa Gaffney, Monmouth County, Rutgers University, Sableminded, The Courier, web-based publication