Category Archives: Linda Baum

Political Affiliations Over Participation Matter More When It Comes To Board Appointments

Due to my work schedule I can’t make as many Township Committee meeting as I would like, but when I do have to opportunity to attend a meeting I usually walk away enlightened, though usually not in a way that people would expect. I often walk away shaking my head because often those that sit up on the dais, both elected and appointed, show their contempt and arrogance for anyone that disagrees with them.

I have witnessed more than once, the shameful display of eye-rolling, sneers, snickering, laughter and outright contempt directed at those who express concerns that run contrary to what those on the dais feel or believe. Many times, instead of allowing a person to speak they are cut-off in mid-sentence and berated the likes of Tony Fiore or the Township Attorney Brian Nelson, and because an argument often ensues the speakers points go unaddressed.
During the Dec. 19th public hearing on Ordinance 2011-3048, the ordinance to expand the Middletown Library Board of Trustees, much of the same behavior was witnessed being directed at two who spoke against the expansion of the board of trustees. Only this time, Tony Fiore inadvertently admitted what many throughout Middletown already know,that is unless you are a loyal Republican you have no chance of having your concerns or opinions truly addressed or heard and unless you are someone that would have voted for him or others on the dais in an election, you have virtually no chance whatsoever of being able to participate on various boards or commissions that are sponsored by the Township.
Here’s the proof to back up my point; during the hearing Ms. Linda Baum, who has been very critical of the Township Committee, its members and their practices was addressing her concerns and disapproval of the ordinance. During much of this time, she was often interrupted by Tony Fiore and told that what she was saying was not relevant (even though it went to the heart of the matter for the reason for expanding the board of trustees) and when she reiterated the thoughts of another speaker, Melanie Elmiger, about politicizing the process for appointments, Ms. Baum stated how she had applied for one of the new appointments to the Library’s Board of Trustees but didn’t expect to get it because of her party affiliation (Ms.Baum is a register Democrat), at which point Fiore basically agreed. Ms. Baum continued her discussion by stating that active participation matters and that those that participate by going to meetings and paying attention to what goes on at said meetings, should have a higher priority for consideration when it come to appointments to the various boards that individuals take the time and interest to attend meetings for. She stated that those people would have a better understand of what goes on then those that have never attended a meeting before.
Somehow though, Tony Fiore disagreed with that logic and said that it wasn’t necessarily the case.
Below is an excerpt from the current edition of “It’s Your Town” newsletter that documented the exchange between Fiore and Baum along with a brief audio clip that captures some of the exchange between the two.
The audio is just enough to support my point about the arrogance of those that represent Middletown residents on the Township Committee and the blatant partisan politics that they play:

“…She said she wanted to repeat what Ms. Elmiger said earlier relating to the political appointments as a method of selection. She said she applied to be appointed to the Library Board but did not

expect to be appointed because of party affiliation. Mr. Fiore said that Ms. Baum had as much of a chance of being appointed to the Library Board as he had in having her vote for him in the election. Ms. Baum said that participation matters and they should think about who attends the Library meetings because they would be up on what is going on. Mr. Fiore said that is not always the case…”

http://www.archive.org/flow/flowplayer.commercial-3.2.1.swf

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, partisan politics, party affiliation, public hearing, Tony Fiore

Dec 19th Hearing on the Ordinance Adding Two Additional Trustees to the Library Board: M’town Patch & Independent articles contain inaccuracies

By guest blogger Linda Baum

If you are a regular to Mike’s blog, by now you are well informed about the Library’s $500,000 transfer to the Township this year and the Town Committee’s plan to increase the number of Library trustees from 7 to 9 in 2012.

A public hearing on the Ordinance increasing Board membership was held at the Town Committee meeting on Monday, December 19th. Several reporters were present at the hearing. Mike Davis’s article in the Independent and Sue Morgan’s in the Middletown Patch were posted within a day or two. While they get points for timeliness, they lose some for accuracy.

Sue Morgan misstates the amount of the Library’s annual budget as $700K – it is $3.7M – but that is a minor error compared to the second to last sentence of her article. She wrote:

“Under an agreement hammered out by both the board and the committee, the township is now carrying the debt service on the library’s parking lot which recently underwent extensive repairs, the mayor added.”

The statement is inaccurate in two ways. As far as I know, there was no major work done to the lot recently, and the Library did not proceed with its lot expansion. Further, per the agreement this year between the Library and the Township, the Library has only two options for covering the cost of its capital improvements – they can pay cash or they can make the debt service payments on bonds (or notes) issued by the Township.

I don’t recall Mayor Fiore making the statement as it reads in the Patch article, and I think it can be attributed to an intentionally misleading comment he made, as quoted in the Independent, about encompassing “some of [the Library’s] capital projects into [the Township’s] capital program, including their parking lot and solar projects.” That made it sound like the Township is paying, but there is no cost to the Township for either the lot expansion or the solar project, which is a power purchase arrangement that involves no capital outlay.

Both the Independent and Patch articles included comments made by both Melanie Elmiger and myself. Melanie presented her comments very well at the hearing and I think they were captured fairly accurately in the articles. However, I think some of what I said was misrepresented in the Independent.

I would like to set the record straight, so here is a recap of my comments at the hearing along with excerpts from the Independent where I feel Mike Davis missed the mark.

Mayor Fiore has been framing the increase in Library Board membership as just an increase in public participation, with no other motive. So if more participation is a good thing for the Library Board, I questioned why that isn’t also true for the Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) Board and for the Town Committee itself, both with just 5 members each controlling budgets of $9 million and $60 million, respectively. In contrast, the Library Board currently has 7 members, soon to be 9, overseeing a budget of $3.7 million.

My point was that the Town Committee’s stance about the need for more public participation on the Library Board runs counter to their stance about the participation levels on other boards & committees. (Keep in mind the Town Committee has resisted the formation of a finance committee that would increase public participation and oversight of its own activities.)

Mayor Fiore replied that TOMSA has 7 board members, and I was quick to correct him that it is a 5-member board with 2 alternates, where only 5 vote at any time. Fiore again insisted, incorrectly, that there are 7 members.

Besides the inconsistencies in board size, there are also inconsistencies in oversight. I compared the Township’s scrutiny of the Library’s budget and operations to its hands-off approach to TOMSA and said that a consistent policy was needed. Fiore said that they do oversee TOMSA and that the money TOMSA gave to the Township – $730K over the last two years – is proof of that. Ridiculous. As I see it, that handout could just as easily be interpreted as a concession to avoid scrutiny. Regardless, it certainly can’t be construed as proof of oversight.

(An aside: If the Town Committee is really overseeing TOMSA and is so gung ho about public participation, how is it the TOMSA Board was able to avoid the public’s eye recently by ignoring a legal mandate to publish notice of their budget hearing? And shouldn’t oversight of TOMSA’s budget entail elimination of unwarranted expenses, such as medical and pension benefits for Board members? The Township has sanctioned these costs!)

Mike Davis’s article contains some partial quotes, inaccuracies, and re-ordering of comments that, combined, miss the point I was trying to make. He describes my comments as follows:

“Public participation is a good thing. You see [that] nine members are needed to oversee a $3.8 million budget,” she said, also citing the seven members who make up the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority.”

The Township Committee was not exempt, she said.

“Right now you have five people on the Township Committee controlling a $60 million budget. It seems to me you need a consistent policy here. If you’re going to watch one closely, watch them all closely,” Baum said.

I think that anyone reading that would have trouble following my logic. Also, he makes it sound like I’m arguing in favor of the two additional appointees to the Library Board, which I wasn’t. I’m against it given the current political environment, but I admit I may not have stated that outright. I didn’t organize my comments as well as Melanie did, so I can understand if there was confusion.

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Filed under Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, budget surplus, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Middletown Patch, public hearing, the Independent, TOMSA, Tony Fiore

MIDDLETOWN SEWERAGE AUTHORITY (TOMSA) BOARD MEMBER SOON TO JOIN THE LIBRARY BOARD ??

by guest blogger Linda Baum

TOMSA and the Library – two topics I write about often. The differences are innumerable. Now, though, they may have something in common.

In my 11-28-2011 post, “The $500,000 Raid on the Library Won’t Be the Last — The Township Committee adds two additional Library Board members, sets the stage for majority control in 2012”, I speculated that the new members of the Library Board would be well-entrenched members of the Republican Party who are already serving on other boards or commissions.

Fast forward to the Library Board meeting on Wednesday, December 14th. I arrived late to find two other visitors in attendance. One was APP reporter Kevin Penton, who attended the November Board meeting as well. The other fellow, dressed to the nines in suit and tie, looked oddly familiar. He obviously recognized me as well and tried to hide his face. It dawned on me that I know him from the TOMSA Board meetings. I decided to try out a maneuver I learned from Pat Parkinson when I attended my first TOMSA Board meeting. I said, “Hi. I’m Linda Baum, and your name?” He had his guard up and replied dryly that it was nice to meet me but that he chose not to give his name, stating his right to privacy as a member of the public.

Putting TOMSA Board members’ names with their faces has been a struggle because there are no name plates at TOMSA Board meetings even though it’s typical practice by other boards, including the Library Board. So I’m not sure who the man is, or whether he is a TOMSA Board member or perhaps one of TOMSA’s professionals or high-level employees. However, I’m told he fits the description of TOMSA Board alternate member Emil Wrede, who is also a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The man, whoever he was, left early. So did Committeeman Settembrino. At the end of the meeting, I told the Board that they had probably just met one of their newest members. Wendy Latona, Library administrator, said she already suspected as much because he came in the day before to ask for a copy of a resolution. She didn’t say which one, but he obviously obtained it on the spot. In contrast, I have yet to receive even a phone call from TOMSA in response to my own information request.

I guess we will have to wait until Township Reorganization Day on Sunday, January 1st at noon to find out, with certainty, who the new appointees are. Another date to keep in mind is the Township Committee’s regular meeting at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, December 19th, when there will be a hearing on the Township ordinance increasing the membership on the Library Board. See you there.

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Filed under board members, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Sewage Authority, TOMSA

Secret Public Hearing at the Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) Board meeting of December 7, 2011

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This was the second TOMSA Board meeting I’ve attended, and like last month, I was the only member of the public there.

The meeting started promptly at 7:30 p.m. — I made it there just in time — and the first thing on the agenda was a public hearing on TOMSA’s 2012 budget. Huh?? I knew nothing about it and hadn’t even had a chance to read the words “Public Hearing” on the agenda sheet when Executive Director Pat Parkinson asked if there were public comments. He never announced that it was a public hearing, so I didn’t know. He just awkwardly asked if there were comments. How am I supposed to comment on a budget I haven’t seen at a hearing I didn’t know about? I was caught by surprise and said nothing – a free pass they won’t get next time – and the Board quickly moved to adopt the budget by unanimous vote while I was still scratching my head.

I wondered why nobody told me about the public hearing since I know a few people who regularly check the public notices in the paper. In fact, hat tip to ‘B’ for letting me know about a Dec. 2nd notice in the APP changing the TOMSA Board meeting date from Dec. 8th to Dec. 7th. That notice said nothing about the public hearing. I did an online search for a notice that did, and found none.

Because the public wasn’t notified of the hearing in line with statutory requirements, the budget is subject to legal challenge. I intend to press this issue in order to get another hearing scheduled. I want the opportunity to review the budget (and, oh yeah, obtain it) and to prepare prior to the hearing. You may be wondering why I don’t just use the public comments period at the end of the next Board meeting to discuss the budget. Because hearings are a better forum for obtaining information – different rules apply to them. For one, there’s no time limit, so you will get all of your questions in, while public comments following a meeting may be limited to just a few minutes. Of course, even at hearings there’s no guarantee you’ll get any answers.

If you’re behind on your sewer bills, now’s the time to pay up. There will be an accelerated tax lien sale on December 20th for sewer fees that were due by the end of June 2011. Between 300 and 400 households (or businesses) will be affected.

This is the second year that TOMSA, which operates on a calendar year budget, has done an accelerated tax lien sale. December 2010 was the first one. Prior to that, sales were held each April, including a sale in April 2010. So there were two such sales in 2010, which coincidentally is the first year that TOMSA transferred surplus revenue to the Township – transfers were $365K in 2010 followed by $368K in 2011, per the Township’s 2011 adopted budget. TOMSA’s switch to an accelerated sale schedule in 2010 gave them a one-time boost in extra revenue for that budget year that made up for some of the Authority’s forfeited revenue that year.

One other observation. Late payers caught unaware by the accelerated sale schedule in 2010 may have found themselves with an unexpected lien on their properties and owing far more than they anticipated.

If you read my post on the November 10th meeting of the TOMSA Board, you may recall that there was a lot of discussion about the excessive fees TOMSA was charging for OPRA requests. Well, there’s news. Since then, TOMSA’s OPRA request form has been revised to list the correct fees per the 2010 amendment to the OPRA law, which lowered fees to just 5 cents for letter-size copies and 7 cents for legal, effective 7/1/10.

I mentioned at the December 7th meeting that TOMSA may owe a refund to people who have submitted OPRA requests since 7/1/10. Executive Director Pat Parkinson quickly replied that there haven’t been any requests. No OPRA requests in a year and a half??? I said that seemed unlikely, and some guy at the table actually had the nerve to mock me as if Parkinson’s word is law and I should believe what I’m told. (It was that Brian Nelson-esque fellow I mentioned in my last post. I’ll have to get his name next time.) Well, I’ve done some checking around, and I now know of at least 2 OPRA requests submitted to TOMSA in that timeframe.

A couple of days after the Board meeting, I submitted my own OPRA request to TOMSA. One of the things I asked for is a list of persons who have submitted an OPRA request since 7/1/10. I figure those folks might like to know they have a holiday bonus coming. Mr. Parkinson handles all OPRA requests personally, so it will be interesting to see what I get.

I’m learning that Parkinson has almost complete control over all public communication outside of regular customer service. I’m not sure, but I don’t think the clerical staff even records when an OPRA request comes in – stuff just gets passed right along to Parkinson. If you call and ask for anything more than the most basic information, you will be referred to Parkinson. Other people either don’t know the answers or appear to be under a gag order. Surely, professionals such as the manager or staff accountant have knowledge enough to respond to many questions, but they won’t, and the clerical staff will tell you as much. “You’ll have to speak to Mr. Parkinson,” they say.

One of the capital projects discussed at the meeting had to do with “digging out” manhole covers that had been buried under dirt, tar, or other material over the years. Some were covered during construction operations, some just by the accumulation of foliage. I asked if TOMSA was going to seek reimbursement from any parties whose work projects caused the manholes to be covered in the first place, like the County, the Township, or private contractors. I was thinking, in part, that there might be insurance liability coverage available. Parkinson replied that the projects were done 15 years ago and that TOMSA has no plans to seek recovery. He said that TOMSA now has its people stationed at work sites to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Fifteen years doesn’t strike me as all that long ago. TOMSA was formed in the 1960s, so they’ve been around long enough to have had procedures in place in the 1990s to ensure that manholes weren’t buried during construction projects and, if they were, to be informed and to remediate in a timely manner.

Because TOMSA won’t be seeking possible recovery from the at-fault parties, rate-payers will bear the cost. Even if this is a relatively small project for which TOMSA has money in its budget, it means there is less money for other projects or less surplus to offer the Township for tax relief.

More on manholes: An interesting revelation was made at the Planning Board meeting just this past Wednesday, December 14th. An engineer was making a presentation about infrastructure in and around the Bamm Hollow site, where 190 homes are to be built. He mentioned that the sewer system currently in place is overloaded to the point where sewerage is leaking out of manholes, and that TOMSA is currently sealing manholes to prevent the leakage.

I have to wonder, now, if some of the manholes to be uncovered as part of TOMSA’s “access recovery” project were sealed by TOMSA itself.

There was an update at the TOMSA Board meeting on the Monmouth County Improvement Authority’s solar project, in which TOMSA, the Township, and the Board of Education are participating. The MCIA received only one bid for 16.9 cents per kilowatt hour and the bid was rejected by the MCIA as too high. No word yet on the next move by the MCIA or any of the participants.

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Filed under Bamm Hollow redevelopment, blog post, budget adoption, Linda Baum, manhole covers, Middletown Planning Board, Middletown Sewerage Authority, OPRA requests, Patrick Parkinson, public hearing, TOMSA

The $500,000 Raid On The Middletown Library Won’t Be The Last

The Township Committee adds two additional Library Board members, sets the stage for majority control in 2012.

by guest blogger Linda Baum

A couple of months back, there was a rumor that the Township Committee intended to appoint two additional members to the Middletown Library Board, bringing the number of Board members from 7 to 9. (By comparison, keep in mind that the Township Committee consists of just 5 people.)

As it turns out, the rumor is true. At the Township Committee’s November 21, 2011 meeting, Ordinance 2011-3048 was introduced to add two new Library trustees. A public hearing on the Ordinance will be held at the Town Committee’s regular meeting on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.

Two of the existing Board members, Mr. Milne and Ms. Raymond, are up for re-appointment at year end, and another Board member was already booted and replaced with Committeeman Settembrino at the start of this year. Add to those three spots the two new ones, and that’s a 5-4 majority to do the Town Committee’s bidding. So it would seem our mayor and his fellow Town Committee members have no intention of stopping at half a million.

As many of you know, I regularly attend the Library Board meetings and have since February of this year. I’m the only member of the public who regularly attends. If the woman who frequented Board of Education meetings was seen as the natural pick for that Board, I figure that makes me the front runner for one of the two new spots on the Library Board, right??? So I am submitting to the Town my application for Library Board membership, a futile effort since I am not likely to be appointed. My guess is that the two new appointees, or likely four if Mr. Milne and Ms. Raymond are replaced, will be members of the Republican Party faithful who are already serving on one or more other boards or commissions. I guess we’ll find out on Township Reorganization Day.

To understand what these changes could mean, let me recap a little history. In a taxpayer-funded play in 2010, Township attorney Brian Nelson succeeded in having New Jersey law changed to require our municipal public library to relinquish to the Township a significant portion of its surplus. (Previously, the law allowed for the transfer of funds but there was no requirement.) Now, the Library can keep some surplus — an amount no more than 20% above the prior year’s budget — but has to fork over the rest, with some exceptions. Some Library monies are protected under the law and are not considered surplus, such as restricted reserves for capital projects.

You may recall that of the $500K taken from the Library this year, half was restricted reserves that the Township was not entitled to legally. That’s one of the reasons such a battle erupted. The Library trustees were out-maneuvered from the start and in the end most felt obligated to pay the full $500,000. It was not without recognizing the precarious financial condition it left the Library in.

Faced with the substantial reduction in funding, the combined result of the $500K raid and an overall revenue decline in line with lower assessments, the Library trustees have been diligent this year about reducing costs where feasible without disruption to services. However, success in reducing the operating budget also has the effect of reducing the amount of surplus that can be retained (20% of the budget), leaving more on the table to be taken by the Township. In addition, the trustees have had to balance the need to set aside reserves – for unexpected expenses or to compensate for annual fluctuations in revenue – against what they stand to lose. The greater the reserve, the more the Township can take.

At its November 16th meeting, the Library Board discussed moving $122,000 to the capital fund to save for the parking lot expansion. Restricting a portion of the reserves for capital projects is supposed to protect the money from seizure by the Township. It won’t. The Library Board need only vote to unrestrict the funds, as was done this year. While the current Board is not likely to do that a second time, the newly re-structured 9-member Board might, and the Town Committee can ensure that it will by appointing the “right” people to the Board.

Sadly, the result may be a Library Board that fails to act in the best interests of the Library.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, reserved funds, resolutions and ordinances, surplus funds

Highlights From The Sewerage Authority Board Meeting Of November 10, 2011.

by guest blogger Linda Baum

I attended my first Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) board meeting on Thursday night, November 10th. I got there about ten minutes early. There was a conversation going on that promptly ended. The moment I walked in, Pat Parkinson jumped up to introduce himself and get my name. I felt set upon. I shook his hand because he caught me off guard, but gave him only my first name. It took him about a minute to run out of the room to inquire, and I heard my full name mentioned in the hall by someone I didn’t see, and who didn’t see me, when I walked in. So I had to wonder how that person knew who I was. The front gate took a long time to open when I arrived, so it appears someone is watching. In fact, the gate remained closed for so long that I thought I had come to the wrong place and had begun to back up to leave when it finally opened.

Chairperson Chantal Bouw also came over to introduce herself and get my name — she wasn’t there for the Parkinson maneuver. At that point I was annoyed and admit I was impolite.

When it was time for public comments at the end of the meeting, I said that never before had I attended a public meeting and had so many people in a tizzy to know who I was. I said that it was a public meeting and I was a member of the public and expected to just come in and sit down. Ms. Bouw said they rarely had visitors and wanted to make the public feel welcome and part of the process. I said a better way to do that (besides leaving the gate open!) is to make more information accessible easily and at no cost, and mentioned all the information they could be providing via email and on their website like the Town does — financial documents, agendas, resolutions, etc. (And by the way, even the documents the town offers are just the tip of the iceberg.) Parkinson said that people are welcome to come in during office hours and review documents, and I said no they aren’t because not everyone is free during the day and some people are disabled and can’t easily make the trip.

I also said TOMSA’s copy fees are unreasonably high and further deter people from obtaining the information. (Per their OPRA form, the first 10 pages will cost you a hefty $7.50, and 100 pages will cost you $32.50. Compare that to the Town’s charges for paper copies, for which 100 pages would cost you $5 for letter size or $7 for legal. However the Town typically emails material at no charge. TOMSA does not.)

Parkinson said that they are a small operation and that copy fees are to offset their costs. I can’t recall if I mentioned the $750K surplus gifted to the town over the last two years, which shows TOMSA doesn’t need the additional source of revenue. Parkinson said that most people are not interested in financial documents, anyway. The fact is he has no way of knowing that — maybe they just don’t want to pay the $50 bucks for them! I said it didn’t matter how many people were interested in the information, that TOMSA is a public entity and should be providing it. Then someone whom I believe may be their attorney stated they are in full compliance with the Open Public Records Act. (A very Brian Nelson-esque comment.) I said the Act didn’t preclude them from providing information and wasn’t meant to be a guide as to what they should be providing.

There was no notebook with copies of resolutions and ordinances for me to look through like there is at Town Committee meetings. There should be that at least since TOMSA doesn’t list the documents on their website. This is something else they could do to make “the public feel welcome and part of the process”, as Ms. Bouw put it.

They were all pleasant at first but started to steel themselves during my comments. Parkinson finally launched into talking points that reminded me of what we hear at Town Committee meetings. He offered familiar comparisons about operating at lower cost than other towns. I let it slide but next time may point out the $750K surplus and excess benefits, without which operating costs would be much less. He also said something about providing services they don’t charge for, like timely response when a resident is having a problem. I said those aren’t free services, that residents already pay fees for that.

There was mention that the solar bids are due December 1st from the County. Currently, TOMSA is paying about 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, which includes the delivery charge.

Aside from the professionals in attendance, board members there were Chantal Bouw, Emil Wrede, Tom Stokes, and Charles Rogers. Absent were Joan Smith and James Hinckley.

I learned that Emil Wrede and Joan Smith are actually alternate members, even though Joan Smith is listed as Secretary/Treasurer on the TOMSA website and Emil Wrede is listed as Commissioner. There is no mention of their “alternate” status. According to Ms. Bouw, the TOMSA board is actually a five-member board that currently has one empty seat that was vacated by Cliff Raisch earlier this year.

It will be interesting to see if that empty seat is filled because any new board appointee would not receive pension and medical benefits, which were stripped per a 2009 Town ordinance. That ordinance also “grandfathered in” those benefits for existing board members, whose compensation was never meant to include them.

When I had no more comments, Ms. Bouw stated that business was concluded and that there would be no executive session. No one said otherwise. Yet, with the exception of two staffers, no one was leaving and they were clearly waiting for me to leave. I did, only to realize afterwards that there was no formal vote to close the public meeting in line with Robert’s Rules of Order. And today I noticed that the last page of the meeting agenda does list an executive session as the last item.

I was in my car but hadn’t left yet when I realized I should pick up a copy of the OPRA form before going because it’s not on the TOMSA website. I went back in to find the conference room door closed. So, was that an executive session or a continuation of the public meeting, which was never formally closed? And will there be minutes for that non-public discussion, I wonder?

A woman was in the office when I came back in and she provided me the OPRA form. Per quick glance at it, I saw no information for submitting it other than a street address, so asked for the fax number. I asked a few other questions about the process, but the woman said she didn’t know and that Mr. Parkinson was the person to ask. She then went into the conference room to let them know I was there.

Parkinson came running out, happy to help. As long as I had the opportunity, I pointed out to him that the fees listed on the OPRA form were much higher than what he quoted during the meeting – the starting price is 75 cents per page, not the 25 cents he quoted. He said he didn’t know those details exactly. That struck me as insincere. The policy has been the same for years, and there has been plenty of criticism of TOMSA’s fees and overly burdensome records request process, enough that he should be well familiar with all the rules. He’s the executive director, so he set the policy, didn’t he?

What’s interesting to note is that Mr. Parkinson made a habit that evening of rushing over to help. In one instance, as two TOMSA staffers were leaving at the end of the public portion of the meeting, I stopped them to ask their names. In a flash, Parkinson was between us, offering to help. It was ridiculous. He was clearly running interference. I think the question is, why did he feel the need to?

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Filed under guest blogger, Linda Baum, Meeting Minutes, OPRA requests, TOMSA

Letter: Statistics Meant to Mislead Middletown Residents

The following letter appears online at the Atlantic Highlands Herald:

Middletown residents are being misled by the Republican Party once again. As they’ve done many times before, Middletown Republicans are misrepresenting information for their own benefit.

At issue now is the inappropriate use of “per capita” (per person) statistics.

At the candidates forum in Lincroft on October 27th, Stephanie Murray spouted some of the same per capita statistics that appear in Michael Vitkansas’s October 26th letter. The statistics are a recycled version of what we’ve heard in the past from the Town’s Republican officials.

Ms. Murray compared Middletown’s spending per capita to Hazlet’s. Hazlet’s statistic is higher, she points out.

But hold on a minute. Middletown’s population is enormous. There are close to 67,000 residents, far more than in neighboring towns. Further, not all town expenses increase with population – for example, we still have only one town hall and one municipal court, the same as Hazlet. With so many people in Middletown to share those fixed costs, the overall cost per resident drops.

Therefore, it’s inappropriate to compare per capita statistics for towns of different sizes and populations. To do so is deceptive.

Besides a large number of residents, something else that reduces spending per capita is inadequate funding of core services, but I bet Ms. Murray won’t be pointing that out.

Mr. Vitkansas talks about Middletown’s small workforce per capita, but fails to mention that nearly the entire staff of the Parks and Recreation Department was laid off this year.

If the real picture were as rosy as Republican candidates would have you believe, they wouldn’t need to mislead you by pulling statistics out of a hat.

Linda Baum
Middletown, NJ

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Filed under Atlantic Highlands Herald, letter to the editor, Linda Baum, Middletown Republicans, per capita statistics, Stephanie Murray