Category Archives: public hearing

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Atlantic Highlands Herald, letter to the editor, Patrick Parkinson, public hearing, TOMSA

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

Leave a comment

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

It’s Your Town – Newsletter Volume 3, Issue 24-12/19/11

The latest and last edition of “It’s Your Town” newsletter for the year, which covers the Middletown Township Committee meeting for Dec. 19th, 2011, is now available for your reading pleasure.

Besides the usual contents of the newsletter such as the monthly bill list and various ordinances and resolutions, inside this newsletter you will read a very accurate representation of the public hearing concerning the expansion of the Middletown Library’s Board of Trustees, Ordinance 2011-3048 , which became a rather testy affair at times between acting mayor Tony Fiore and the members of the public that stepped forward to address their concerns over the expansion of the board.
The expansion of the Library Board is seen by many as a way for the Township to gain greater influence over the Library’s budget and business dealings, to ensure that future surpluses are readily available for the Township’s purposes and a repeat of the public spectacle that took place earlier this year over the Township Committee’s ruthlessly brutal extortion of $500K worth of surplus and reserved funds from the Library.
This was also the last Township Committee meeting of acting deputy-mayor Pamela Brightbill, who decided not to seek reelection to the Township Committee this year. A Proclamation was presented to Brightbill for her years of service.
You can download the newsletter ….. Here

Leave a comment

Filed under budget surplus, Its Your Town, Middletown Library, Newsletter, Pamela Brightbill, proclamations, public hearing, resolutions and ordinances, 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.

Leave a comment

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

Purpose Of Proposed Ordinance To Expand Middletown’s Library Board Is Questioned

Dear Mike,

As an advocate of our excellent Middletown Township library system, I am very concerned about the ordinance being presented at Monday’s (12/19/11) Township Committee Meeting regarding the addition of two Library Board members. This ordinance allows for the current seven member Board to be expanded to nine members as appointed by the mayor and his governing body. One Board member is the school Superintendant’s alternate pick (and therefore not chosen by the Township Committee).
Some may see this ordinance as a well intended gesture to “increase public participation” in the Library Board decision making process. However, based on the events of this past February, I am skeptical that the addition of two members is anything but a political move to put people in place to advance the agenda of the Township Committee.
Can we trust that the intention of this ordinance is not to divert money to the MTC budget when Committeeman Settembrino, in his role as Library Board member, pushed to have $500,000 transferred from the Library budget to the MTC budget, thereby depleting the library reserves? Mr. Settembrino acted in accordance with his role as a Committeeman to advocate for the taxpayer and provide property tax relief to our residents by plugging a budget hole with this money transfer. However, his action neglects his Library Board Trustee duty to be an advocate for a robust library system.
How can this new, larger Board remain independent when its members may be beholden to the desires of their appointees? The interests of the Township Committee may permeate this independent Board and take precedence over the best interests of the library and the public whom the Board is meant to serve.
The Library Board members must first and foremost be advocates of the library, and their fiduciary responsibility would require them to protect the library budget so that it meets the needs of the library and its patrons. Can we trust that Mr. Fiore will require his appointees to serve our needs, and not his own?
Thank you for all that you do to keep residents informed of the actions of their local government.
Warm Regards,

Melanie Elmiger

Note:
For more on this topic read “The $500,000 Raid On The Middletown Library Won’t Be The Last” and the comments that accompany the post along with APP: Middletown requests library hand over surplus of over $542G and Meeting Minutes From Library Board’s January 19th Meeting Contradicts What Was Said By Township Committee Members At Last Wednesday Night’s Meeting. You can also access the archives of this blog for various updates and opinions on this topic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Kevin Settembrino, letter to the editor, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, public hearing, resolutions and ordinances, surplus funds, Tony Fiore

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.

2 Comments

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

It’s Your Town – Newsletter Volume 3, Issue 22- 11/21/11

The current edition of It’s Your Town Newsletter is here and covers the only Middletown NJ Township Committee meeting that took place for the month of November held on November 21,2011.

This meeting included the passing of an ordinance that approved the rezoning of the Bamm Hollow property as a result of settling a lawsuit out of court. There was also an ordinance introduced for the purpose of increasing the number of members to be appointed to the board of the Middletown Public Library.
Currently there are 7 board trustees serving the Middletown Library, this ordinance will increase the number who serve as Library Board Trustees to 9.
The problem with this is that the Township Committee, which appoints the trustees to the Library Board, will handpicked loyal Republican cronies to serve on the library board, which will then make it easier in the future for the Township Committee to raid surplus and reserved library funds for its own use, as it did earlier this year when it extorted nearly $500,000 from the library (threatening that the library would be held responsible for police lay-offs if the money was not given up), in order to balance the Township budget.
A public hearing on the ordinance will take place at the December 19,2011 Township Committee meeting.

The bill lists that were included with this edition did not scanned well therefore some of the pages are missing information on the left side of the page.

Guest blogger Linda Baum has written a post concerning the appointment of new members to the Middletown Library Board and what it will mean to those who already sit on the board and for those who run Middletown’s governing body and how it will effect the library in general.
I will post it later today, in the meantime you can read the latest newsletter…. Here

Leave a comment

Filed under Its Your Town, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Newsletter, public hearing, resolutions and ordinances