Category Archives: Patrick Parkinson

TOMSA Board’s 2012 re-organization meeting rumpled by nasty battle for the Chairmanship. Just kidding. It was all butterfly kisses.

by guest blogger Linda Baum

On February 9th, the Middletown Sewerage Authority Board held its 2012 reorganization meeting and introduced its newest member, Board alternate and first time appointee Anthony DeMarco.

The Board elected its officers at this meeting, heaping praise on each other as they went through the motions. In a sugary process that took under two minutes, last year’s officers slid smoothly into their same spots for the coming year.

Then, in quick installments, the Board re-appointed the existing auditor, engineer, and attorney. I guess it would have been awkward not to since two of them were sitting right there at the table and the third was on the way.

Showing uncommon humility for a newcomer these days, Mr. DeMarco didn’t seek the Chairmanship. No one bothered to nominate him for anything. (And believe me, I was tempted.) He seemed content to sit and watch. “It’s a learning experience,” veteran Board member and former mayor Joan Smith said to him earlier. Executive Director Pat Parkinson called it “a learning phase” and said, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” So basically everyone, including Mr. DeMarco, agreed he wasn’t ready to steer the ship.

Since this was the annual reorganization meeting, all the Board members were present – the 5 regular members plus the 2 alternates. All were there in person except Thomas Stokes, who participated via conference call for the third month in a row and appeared to be sleeping in between votes and sometimes during them. At least he called in on time – in December he dialed in 15 minutes after the meeting started and asked to be marked as a “yes” for a vote he missed. That was pooh-poohed, of course.

Actually, to be fair to Mr. Stokes, he’s not the only Board member who had nothing to say. Votes were taken, one right after the next, without any discussion. Any Board member comments were tantamount to cheerleading. Lots of praises were sung, and maybe that was for my benefit.

Now I have to set the record straight about something. I’ve said in the past that there are no name plates at TOMSA Board meetings, but in fact there are. There is a name plate for each Board member, but none for the professionals who regularly sit at the table. The name plates are the old style dark wooden blocks with tiny lettering that is hard to see from a distance. The blocks blend in with the table, so are easily missed.

As it so happens, I have a name plate just like that. I’ll be sure to mention it on my Citizen Leadership application.

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Filed under Linda Baum, Middletown NJ, Middletown Sewerage Authority, Patrick Parkinson, reorganization, Tom Stokes, TOMSA

Secret Public Hearing at Middletown Sewerage Authority

The following letter appears online at the Atlantic Highlands Herald:

At its 12/7/2011 Board meeting, The Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) held a public hearing on its 2012 budget, but didn’t bother to tell the public.

I attended that meeting and was caught by surprise when, at the start of the meeting, TOMSA Executive Director Pat Parkinson asked awkwardly if there were any public comments on the budget. He never bothered to announce that it was a public hearing. Such an announcement is protocol at hearings and typically includes mention of when notice was provided to the public in line with statutory requirement.

Not realizing it was a hearing and not prepared for it, I said nothing, and the Board quickly moved to adopt the budget by unanimous vote while I was still scratching my head.

After the meeting, I did an online search of public notices and found none about the budget hearing. Because the public wasn’t notified of the hearing, TOMSA’s 2012 budget is subject to legal challenge. It seems appropriate, then, that a new hearing be scheduled. The public deserves a real opportunity, and has a legal right, to review the numbers and ask questions.

Linda Baum
Middletown, NJ

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Filed under Atlantic Highlands Herald, letter to the editor, Patrick Parkinson, public hearing, 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 Citizens Campaign: Insider Tips For Accessing Public Records

Back on November 18th the Hyperlocal News Association along with the Citizens’s Campaign held a workshop on OPRA and the Sunshine Law, I couldn’t attend but a few people that I know did.

From all accounts, including the video of the workshop below, it was a lively and insightful event that engaged all that were in attendance and provided a wealth of information to those that believe in honest, open and transparent government while giving guidance to those who are interested in how to file OPRA requests with their local governing bodies or governmental entities.
Of particular interest to those who live in Middletown and have ever tried to get information from the Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA), this workshop made it clear that TOMSA is in clear violation of the OPRA law.
People who have inquired about TOMSA policies for providing documents like the budget or bill lists, are told that they are only in paper form and that those in the TOMSA office don’t have the ability to scan them, so documents can’t be provided via email or CD.
If there are any documents that just happen to be in electronic form, only TOMSA Director Patrick Parkinson can approve a request to deliver it via email or on CD. Parkinson then, in violation of existing OPRA rules and fee schedules, determines how much to charge requesters for information requested.
As a case in point, when Sean Byrnes was a sitting Committeeman on the Middletown Township Committee, he was charged an outlandish fee of $75 for a copy of the TOMSA budget! How crazy is that?
The video below is long, it runs for an hour and 42 minutes and I hope that readers can sit through it because when the floor is opened up for a Q&A a lot of problems that people are having trouble with in other towns sounds eerily similar to those problems that people in Middletown come up against when requesting information.

As an FYI to go along with this, NJ State Senator Lorretta Weinberg is working to update the Sunshine and OPRA laws. Senate bill S. 1351 increases from 48 hrs to 3 days the advance notice requirement for agendas, and brings the OPRA law (passed in 1975) up to date with technology, among other changes.

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Filed under Hyperlocal News Association, Lorretta Weinberg, OPRA, Patrick Parkinson, sunshine laws, the Citizens Campaign, TOMSA, workshop meeting

Update: TOMSA Complies With OPRA Request… Sort Of

I have an update to yesterdays post concerning the Township Of Middletown Sewage Authority’s stonewalling of Carolyn Schwebel’s OPRA request.
I received an email from Mrs. Schwebel stating that she received documents, via fax, of some of the documents that she had requested:
“The figures are large. I had asked for the TOMSA Commissioners’ pension, etc., but it’s not clear if they gave me that or the whole amount that includes TOMSA employees as well.

There is an arrogant resolution that at a meeting February 12, 2009, Tom Stokes made a motion that was passed unanimously that “each member of TOMSA” receive salary of $1750 except the chairperson who will get $2150 a year starting February 1, 2009! (Can they back date that way?

Lots of nerve in these times, when people are questioning TOMSA’s salary and the twp. committee has terminated its own.”


Carolyn Schwebel then sent a follow-up email that stated that she contacted TOMSA Director Patrick Parkinson for clarification:
“I have one question, as I’m not clear on terminology. I had asked for the TOMSA Commissioners’ pension ,insurance etc. Are the figures you sent for just the TOMSA commissioners, (Stokes, , Rogers, Raisch, Hinckley, Buow, Smith, Wrede) ) or do they also include payment for regular TOMSA employees as well.?”

Parkinson responded by writing,  “The pension payments are a total for all TOMSA employees.”

Come on Pat, this is totally unacceptable and a bad job on your part. 
You stonewall and provide false information to Mrs. Schwebel, in an attempt to discourage her request for information and them when you do provide the information, it is not the specific information that Mrs. Schwebel requested. 
Mrs. Schwebel sent me a copy of her OPRA request form and the documents that you supplied. She specifically stated that she was interested in just commissioners and alternate commissioners compensation. Not the two documents that you supplied her with that shows the total monthly cost of health benefits and pension for all that work for TOMSA
I am currently looking into the above statement of Mrs. Schwebel’s that mentions the raise in the yearly stipend that the TOMSA commissioner’s voted for themselves. This information was included with her OPRA request. When I track down further information on this, I’ll pass it along.    



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Filed under Carolyn Schwebel, health benefits and pension, Middletown, OPRA requests, Patrick Parkinson, TOMSA

Township Of Middletown Sewage Authority (TOMSA) In Violation of OPRA Law

What is the Township Of Middletown Sewage Authority (TOMSA) hiding and why wont they comply with  OPRA requests?

Middletown resident Carolyn Schwebel has been trying for weeks to get information about compensation and benefits that are given TOMSA Commissioners. She wants to know if commissioners receive health benefits to go along with their maximum yearly stipend of $1750.
Health benefits for TOMSA commissioners has become a hot button issue among some in town since Committeeman Sean Brynes suggested that these benefits should not be awarded to Township appointed officials. 
Sean Brynes suggested during recent budget meetings, that in order to save township tax payers money during these hard economic times, the township should look into ending the practice of giving sewage authority commissioners health benefits.  According to TOMSA meeting minutes, most meeting last on average less than 1 hour per month.  Brynes therefore argued that to pay each of the 7 township committee appointed commissioners a stipend of $1750 per year and health benefits was excessive.
Committeeman Brynes’s suggestion to discontinue the practice of awarding benefits to TOMSA commissioners was dismissed entirely by the King and Queen of the Township Committee, Gerry (I want to be an Assemblyman) Scharfenberger and Pam Brightbill. Both argued that the  health benefits that the commissioners enjoy are not issued by the township but by TOMSA and therefore the township committee could not act to take away the benefits. When pressed further on the issue, the mayor and deputy-mayor simply resorted to the old standby line of  ” they do a good job so they deserve it”.
This answer lead to Mrs. Schwebel and others to seek the ordinances which established the creation of the sewage authority through an OPRA request.  For their effort they receive several ordinances and resolutions from the township clerk.       
Ordinance 1856, notes salaries to be paid to commissioners, but adds, “as shall hereafter be determined by the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority, provided, however, that in no event may any member receive any additional compensation for his services as officer, agent, or employee of such authority,” 
In no ordinance or resolution  was the issuance of health benefits stated or mandated by the Township Committee when it authorized the creation of TOMSA. In fact, it seems that the Township Committee was quite clear in ordinance 1856, that NO other compensation was to be given to commissioners. So what happened to change this?  Carolyn Schwebel was told by the township clerk that she would have to submit a separate OPRA request with TOMSA to find out. So, that is exactly what she did.
Finally on Friday of this past week, Carolyn Schwebel received word that her OPRA request was ready for pick-up and that it would cost her $1.00 per page. When she stated that she had requested that the pages be faxed or emailed to her because she has a disability and it is hard for her to get around, therefore there should be no cost.
When she insisted to the secretary that her request should be faxed or emailed to her as OPRA guide lines allow, the director of TOMSA, non other than are very own disgraced former mayor, Patrick Parkinson said “We don’t do that”‘ and that the payment is to pay them for “running around collecting the stuff.” Parkinson said, “We have always done it this way, and they do it all over the state.”.
Mrs. Schwebel said to Patrick Parkinson, that OPRA materials and Middletown clerk’s OPRA request form describes the 75 cents per page as a copying fee only, and “The fees for duplication of a government record in printed form are listed on the front of this form.”

She told him the town clerk, does not refuse to send fax or e-mail responses. Parkinson responded by saying that they have nothing to do with the township clerk, and that they have their own form. Parkinson said that he would mail her OPRA response once they had her check.

This is truly an outrage and unfortunately this type of behavior seems to be standard practice amongst Middletown GOP members. When residents ask hard questions or seek out information that may be embarrassing to the local GOP, people like Patrick Parkinson, Gerry Scharfenberger or Pam Brightbill will either refuse to answer them, stonewall  or discourge people from abtaining  the information that they are after.
As Carolyn Schwebel states in her letter sent to township officials and copied to me:
“I am concerned that in spite of their salary, medical benefits, and pension, the Middletown Sewerage Authority Commissioners are not demonstrating proper oversight of TOMSA. This violation of OPRA has apparently existed since the beginning of OPRA. The policy needs to be rectified by the TOMSA commissioners and you. Other residents have no doubt been given the wrong information already and have had to go in and pay to get printed copies that they neither needed not wanted. The policy under TOMSA can be a to burden older people, working people and those with disabilities.”

Stop the stalling TOMSA and send the documents that Mrs. Schwebel has requested.  Stop trying to cover up and be forthright with Middletown residents by answering the questions. 
Are commissioners of  TOMSA receiving other benefits other than the stipend originally outline in township ordinance 1856? If so, why? And who authorized commissioners to receive health benefits and a state pension? I and others would like to know.       


   

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Filed under Carolyn Schwebel, Middletown Township, OPRA requests, Patrick Parkinson, Sean F. Byrnes, Sewage Authority, TOMSA