Category Archives: Stephanie Murray

January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 3

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This is part 3 of my 3-part post on the 1/18/12 meeting of the Library Board. The next Library Board meeting is this Wednesday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m.

PURCHASING RESOLUTIONS — SERVICE CONTRACT FOR LIBRARY ATTORNEY

New Board member Michael Convery, an attorney, had many questions about the legality of resolutions and whether or not there was a need to bid out contracts. Ms. O’Neal noted that libraries have a statutory exemption from purchasing laws for books and materials. “Where is the list of exempt services?,” he asked. In the statute, he was told.

Mr. Convery suggested having an attorney sign off on resolutions and the vendor list. Ms. Murray went a step further and suggested that an attorney be present at all Board meetings. The new Township appointees agreed.

Those in the audience whispered, “Didn’t they want to reduce expenses???”

The other Board members felt that there was little need to have an attorney sit in on regular meetings – one could always be consulted if an opinion was needed.

Some background: While “major” boards, such as the Planning Board, may have a lawyer present at each meeting due to the nature of their work, “minor” boards, such as the Historical Commission, do not. The Library Board used to have an attorney at meetings at one time, but there was little need in view of the low hazard operation, and the regular attendance of a lawyer was eliminated.

Vivian Breen suggested, somewhat facetiously, that they seek pro-bono services – maybe attorney and former Board member Gregory Milne would be willing to donate his time. There was no response from the new trustees. (That was also how things went at the Township Committee meeting the night before when residents offered their free services to renovate the pool club. That offer fell on dead ears, too.)

When it was time to award the contract for attorney services, experience in library law took a back seat to hourly fee, office location, and labor law experience.

In my 1/9/12 post, “Attorney representing TOMSA and the Township also seeks appointment as Library Attorney at the January 18th Meeting of the Library Board”, I mentioned that experience in library law was a requirement for the job, or at least had been considered important in the past.

The new Township appointees didn’t feel knowledge of library law was necessary. Mr. Convery was particularly insistent about that, seeming to ignore that all of his earlier questions required response from someone with an understanding of the statute. He and others felt that an interpretation of the library law could be provided by any attorney. Labor law experience was seen as more important.

While applicants without library law experience had lower fees, Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that they might bill significantly more hours while they are getting up to speed on matters an experienced attorney would already know.

Ms. O’Neal suggested that the Board might lower its costs by issuing a new RFP to hire an attorney on a retainer. The new Board members declined to do that for now, opting instead to pay by the hour in case the Board decides at a later date that attorney attendance at meetings is not necessary, or at least that was a reason given. (I found it odd that the new Township appointees, after having shown uniform support to have an attorney at meetings, wouldn’t opt for a less costly fee arrangement and wanted wiggle room to change their minds about attorney attendance. That is surprising considering how critical they were of the Board, and its president in particular, for not having had an attorney at meetings in the past.)

Attorney Richard Leahey’s local office was touted as a plus by the new trustees, who pointed out that it would mean fewer hours billed for travel time to Board meetings. (I wondered if the push to have an attorney at meetings was in part so that they could make a stronger case to keep the contract local…)

Leahey lacks library experience, but his rate was among the two lowest, matched by McOmber & McOmber, P.C., also local and lacking in library experience. While the two candidates seemed “neck and neck” for a while, the service award went to R. Armen McOmber, whose application indicated he would provide service personally. Mr. Leahey’s work for the Township was mentioned as a possible conflict and factored into the Board’s decision.

The Library’s budget was amended to increase the amount budgeted for attorney services from $4,000 to $10,000, in part to account for the fact that this is a labor contract negotiation year.

THE BY-LAWS

On the agenda was the formation of an Ad-hoc By-laws Review Committee to update the by-laws for the increase in the Board’s membership.

Mr. Convery was very critical of the by-laws. He called them “terrible” but wasn’t specific. I don’t have a lot of patience for such vague criticism and look forward to hearing what specific changes he feels are necessary, and who will benefit

Mr. Gabrielan explained that the by-laws, which were last revised ten years ago, were simple by design and, while needing update in a few areas, met the needs of this type of operation.

(Add by-laws review to the list of things this year’s legal counsel will be billing for. I wonder if the $10,000 budget will be enough.)

PURCHASING RESOLUTIONS — BOOKS & MATERIALS

There were numerous purchasing resolutions on the January agenda, and that’s normal. The Library’s ongoing operation requires purchasing year-round. Ms. O’Neal noted that there are seasons of publishing – different items are ordered at different times of year — and that the Board reserves money at the end of the calendar year to allow for that.

Ms. O’Neal said that vendors have specialties in terms of what they provide, so different materials are ordered from different vendors, all of which were selected for their preferential discount schedules. She also noted that the Library has people who specialize in knowing what materials are required for specific subject areas.

The new Township appointees were hesitant to approve the purchases, one of which was an order of about $200K from the Library’s primary vendor. They had questions about how to review the orders and accounting. And that’s reasonable – they are new to this and there is a lot to know. The Board discussed training that would be available so that the new members could familiarize themselves with Library operations.

To me, the new Township appointees seemed conflicted between the need for continuity of Library operations and their apparent charge to cut the budget.

Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that these were pro-forma resolutions that the Board passes annually as part of normal operations for all New Jersey libraries, and he asked that the new members trust management and the other more experienced Board members.

The response from the new Township appointees was a blunt, “No.” And then they brought up Mr. Gabrielan’s books and then the accusations flew. They said, no one’s accusing anyone of anything, but…

Vivian Breen raised her voice, “This library has not been a problem. You’re
making this a problem, and it isn’t.”

Lawrence Nelsen harped, “No one had a problem with Bernie Madoff, either.” Audience members gasped.

“That’s totally different,” replied Ms. Breen, with restraint, considering.

Ms. Murray said, “We don’t feel there is a problem, but I don’t think it’s fair to invalidate our opinions because we don’t feel more comfortable.”

“But you’re invalidating what we’ve been doing for years,” said Ms. Breen, her voice elevated

.

Ms. Miloscia said that not everything needed to be ordered in February, but that they needed to start ordering. “Otherwise, you’re going to paralyze the Library,” she said.

Ms. Breen offered an analogy: “If you bought a supermarket, and you took over as boss, you would have to [continue]…purchasing cans to stock shelves until you figured out what was going on or you would go out of business.”

After discussion, the purchase resolutions were approved by the full Board.

For comparison, consider that the Township’s January bill list was approved by unanimous vote, and without any public discussion, by the Township Committee on January 17th, Ms. Murray’s first regular meeting as Committeewoman.

Note also that at the TOMSA Board’s February 9th meeting, a no-bid $343K engineering contract was approved without comment by the Board, who, coincidentally, voted at that meeting to approve their own salaries, a perk no other board in town gets. No other board in town gets the free medical benefits or pension credits either. Perhaps Mr. Nelsen should take a look over there.

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Filed under board attorney, Board of Trustees, budget cuts, by-laws, Lawrence Nelsen, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, service contracts, Stephanie Murray, Susan O'Neal

January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 2

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This is part 2 of my 3-part post on happenings at the 1/18/12 meeting of the Library Board. A reminder that the next Library Board meeting is this Wednesday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m.

LAWN CARE AND SNOW & ICE MANAGEMENT

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen figures tossed around on this topic. Here’s the story:

Committeewoman Stephanie Murray questioned the outsourcing of lawn care and snow removal. She asked why the Township couldn’t do this and was advised that DPW had been contacted but felt they couldn’t provide adequate services. DPW Director Ted Maloney had said to revisit the matter with DPW upon contract expiration.

“Lawn care” includes a great deal more than mowing. It also covers pruning, weeding, fertilizing, seeding, insect control, debris removal and more.

Land care and snow & ice management are grouped together as one line item on the budget, but are two separate contracts. The contract for land care is for one year only. Snow & ice management is a 2-year contract that runs through April 2013. The Board usually opts for a 2-year contract for ice and snow removal for two reasons: 1) as a hedge against increases in contract cost when the price of gasoline goes up, and 2) it helps to have a contractor in place well in advance to cover the late December/early January period.

For 2012, the budgeted amount is $30,000. In 2011, the contract for landscaping was $9,000. The Library paid the contractor an additional $1,700 for new trees in the front, which was approved as part of the job specifications. For snow removal in 2011, the Library paid $10,953. In all, these expenses were $21,653. The cost for land care is a fixed amount, however it is necessary to budget conservatively for snow & ice management in line with variations in snow fall and contract cost based on the proposal awarded. The 2012 budget for these services is the same as for 2011. In a low snow year, they make out okay.

Ms. O’Neal provided a brief history, noting that when the Library was renovated in 2003/2004, the Township Committee wanted a sprinkler system installed and extensive landscaping in order to enhance the value of the property. Once that was done, the members of the Board felt that proper stewardship of the property required the land care services of a private company because the services of the Township were not adequate.

The Library has special needs given its hours of operation and 7-day schedule, and the Township was not able to make the Library a priority given its other commitments. This is true not only for snow removal, but also for property maintenance. Consider if you have ever seen work being done on the Library grounds during its operating hours. I haven’t. Work appears to be done before or after the public arrives, so that we can enjoy the serenity and quiet that libraries are so well known for.

When it snows, the Township is going to clear snow from streets first so that ambulances can get to homes and people to hospitals. Nobody lives at the Library, so it may be very low on the list.

During public comments, one woman commented on how quickly snow is removed now, so that the Library can be enjoyed by the public. Another resident said “This works” and encouraged the new Board to be slow to change.

In fairness, I should note that when there are particularly heavy snow storms like those of last winter, the Library may need help from the Township’s heavy duty plows to clear its premises.

Several of the new Board members – Brock Siebert, Michael Convery, and Ms. Murray – were insistent that the issue of land care and snow removal be re-opened with the Township and suggested that the Library “make” the Township handle this. They didn’t say how they expected the Board to do that, or how to ensure that the current high standard of service is met.

Ms. O’Neal pointed out that many Libraries that have snow and land maintenance handled by the municipality get charge-backs for those services, so “the elephant in the room” is that one way or another the Library pays the cost for these services.

MY PREDICTION: Snow removal and land care services will be handled by the Township upon contract expiration, or sooner, and the Library will not be billed. I say “or sooner” because the new Trustees are insistent that the matter be re-opened with the Township now, so it appears they are willing to cancel the contract and deal with any ramifications.

THE NUMBERS: The Library’s budget will be cut by $30,000. That increases the “take” by the Township by up to $36,000 given the combined effect of both the increase in surplus and the reduction in the budget, as described in part 1 of this post.

Why do I think the Township won’t bill the Library for these services? Because if they do, there would be no reduction to the Library’s budget, and the Township makes out the same or better if there is.

By not charging the library, the Township gets to look like the good guy, something I’m sure they will work into press releases. But, of course, they will make no reference to any slip in service quality or any extra costs the Library may incur to replace plants and trees that are not properly cared for. Nor will they mention the unusual sound of lawn equipment blaring while you’re reading.

STRATEGY: If the Township makes out the same or better by not charging the Library, then the Library might fare better if it pays the Township for these services – that is, more reserves might be protected this way. So perhaps the Library Board should offer to pay…

THE LIBRARY’S WEBSITE

New board member Lawrence Nelsen criticized the Library’s website, saying that many links don’t work. Check it out for yourself here (www.mtpl.org) and see what you think. Be prepared to have some fun – the Library’s website is cool, colorful, and informative.

I wonder if Mr. Nelsen has noticed that several calendar links on the Township’s website bring up the month of March 2011, a problem the Township has known about for months and still hasn’t fixed. And meeting dates on the Township’s online calendar are often incorrect. There are numerous examples from December: the Sewerage Authority board meeting was not on December 8th, the Zoning Board meeting was not on December 26th, and the Library Board meeting was not on December 21st. The latter date was correct on the Library’s website, though.

Ms. O’Neal replied to Mr. Nelsen that the Library doesn’t have a dedicated web person because the staff person who handles that has other duties, but she said that problems are fixed as quickly as possible once they are discovered.

MY PREDICTION: I have a very strong feeling that Mr. Nelsen’s out-of-the-blue comment was intended to start a discussion about the Township’s takeover of Library website maintenance and maybe other Library systems. That could possibly mean layoffs of library staff.

THE NUMBERS: I am told that the Township contracts out its website maintenance. If that’s true, the contractor would likely charge extra to handle more work. The Township might bill the Library for it, but might make out better if they don’t, as I’ve already pointed out.

Much like the other services the Library requires, the Township’s ability to take on this additional responsibility won’t matter. This is all about cutting as much from the Library budget as possible. Promises will be made, and problems will be dealt with down the road.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, budget cuts, lawn care, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, snow removal, Stephanie Murray, Susan O'Neal

A Few Words About Middletown’s Reorganization

Just a quick word about Sunday’s Middletown Reorganization meeting being held at Town Hall @ noon.

Seeing how the Middletown Republicans have already “leaked” their intentions to reappoint Tony Fiore as Mayor and Steve Massell as Deputy Mayor, I have to wonder why?

Steve Massell is up for reelection this year and historically (thought not always the case recently) , the person on the Township Committee seeking reelection is appointed mayor, but I guess, seeing how Massell hasn’t made more than a handful of public comments during his 2+ years of tenure on the Township Committee and often seems as if he doesn’t want to be up there on the dais, and if you take into consideration the rumor that has been circulating for the past few months about how Massell doesn’t intend to seek reelection anyway after his current term expires at the end of 2012, the Republicans couldn’t appoint him mayor.

Why reappoint Tony Fiore as mayor than?

I suppose it must have more to due with Fiore’s abrasive, arrogant and cocksure personality than the actual job he did representing the Township as the committee’s mouthpiece.
Beside, who else could it be?
Gerry Scharfenberger? No, I don’t think so. He is too much of a polarizing figure and is a lighting rod that has attracted too much controversy over the years. Governor Christie wouldn’t want his favorite employee in the spotlight taking away any of the attention from himself while making a run to be either Mitt Romney’s Vice -Presidential or possible his candidate for U.S. Attorney General.
Kevin Settembrino? After his snake-in-the-grass performance doing the Township Committee’s dirty work of threatening the Middletown Library Board of Trustees to turn over nearly $500K of surplus and reserved funds or else the Middletown Library system would be over to the County and all the while pitting the Library Board against the Middletown Police, saying that if the funds weren’t turned over the Middletown Library would be solely responsible for Police layoffs. Settembrino didn’t make many friends in his first year on the Committee to say the least, but next year will be his year to shine as mayor.
And of course there is just no way Stephanie Murray could have been placed in either position in her very first year.
So Tony gets to be mayor again by default.
Also, I would like to thank all of those who will be appointed and reappointed to the various board and commission sponsored by the Township, most are volunteers and give of themselves freely to help out others and regardless of how partisan the process of their appointments are they deserve to be thanked.

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Filed under Gerry Scharfenberger, Kevin Settembrino, Middletown Library, reorganization, Stephanie Murray, Steve Massell, surplus funds, Tony Fiore

Morrill Charges Republican Candidate Murray With Unethical Campaign Lapse That Violates HUD Code Of Ethics

Richard Morrill, the Independent Candidate for Middletown Township Committee, is claiming his Republican opponent Stephanie Murray and her campaign, is ethically challenged.

Morrill and Murray are both Middletown Township Housing Authority Commissioners. While attending to his duties as a commissioner for the Housing Authority, Mr. Morrill came across Fiore & Murray campaign material being delivered to residents of both Daniel and Tomaso Towers. Both senior living towers fall under the jurisdiction U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and therefore are overseen by the Middletown Housing Authority.

According to Morrill, HUD has very strict guidelines concerning housing authority commissioners who are involved in campaigning for elected office. It is a violation of HUD’s code of ethics for any sitting housing authority commissioner to engage in any type of electioneering in HUD buildings that fall within a commissioner’s jurisdiction.

Here was how Morrill explained it in an email to me:

“Part of the job of a Housing Commissioner in Middletown is to sign checks. I am often called to sign checks during the daytime hours. Yesterday was one of those days. While signing checks at the Alice V Tomaso Plaza yesterday, I noticed political literature being delivered concerning Fiore and Murray. Ms Murray is a sitting commissioner on the Housing Board as she points out in the campaign literature, who managed to bring fiscal stability to the Authority by herself. It is unethical to campaign according to HUD at the Authority that you are a sitting commissioner.”

According to Richard Morrill this lapse of ethics could have easily been avoided by simply not sending these campaign pieces to residents of Daniel or Tomaso Towers in the first place. However he stated, “...but once again ms Murray thinks that it (the rule) does not apply to her.

He also accused Stephanie Murray of leaking confidential information from an Executive Session meeting of the Middletown Housing Authority to a close personal friend of hers, who then confronted Morrill with the information at the October 25th, Oak Hill Association’s Meet the Candidates Night.

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Filed under Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD), Independent Candidate, Middletown Housing Authority, Middletown Township Committee, Republican Candidate, Richard Morrill, Stephanie Murray

Middletown GOP Thug, Stephanie Murray Supporter, Leaves Threatening Comment On MiddletownMike Blog

Hello All,

Earlier today I received a disturbing comment left on my MiddletownMike blog by someone who claims to be a personal friend of Middletown Republican candidate for Township Committee Stephanie Murray.

This individual writing anonymously as “The real Big Mike” left a number of derogatory comments about myself ,which is not an issue, I’m a big boy and it comes with the territory, what does disturbs me though is this persons idle threats. Threats to find credit card statements or track down doctor visits and to “go all out” digging for information against me and “everybody” in my circle.

Obviously this person is delusional but a threat is a threat and they can not be taken lightly no matter how absurd they may seem.

Is this the type of person that Stephanie Murray and other members of the Middletown GOP like to call supporters and friends?

I hope not, but if so then others should know about it. That’s why I have forward the below message to Mrs. Murray, as well as everyone else in my address book. I am asking you to do the same.

This type of behavior in the name of a candidate for elective office crosses the line and should never be tolerated. If it is, then we have to question whether or not that candidate is fit to hold elective office in Middletown or elswhere.

Mike

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: The real Big Mike <noreply-comment@blogger.com>
Date: Sun, Nov 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Subject: [MiddletownMike] New comment on The Making of a Republican Candidate in Middletown….
To: mikeinmiddletown@gmail.com

The real Big Mike has left a new comment on your post “The Making of a Republican Candidate in Middletown…“:

So a friend of mine told me about your left leaning site. As is typical with all leftist people, you dont report the news. Instead you report your side of a story and in your head, you actually believe it to be accurate. We do have one thing in common. Im big Mike also…Im big cause Im 6’4 and 230 lbs. Your Big cause your 5’11 and 320…Either way we have something in common……

As I read through you posts, it hasn’t been to difficult to see why you have never hit it big in journalism. I think I’m going to due some poking around also.Your life needs to be examined a little so the other bloggers know who they are talking to. There must be a picture out there of you shoving a few yodels down your throat while watching Tom and Jerry reruns. There must be a credit acrd that you made a late payment on or some doctors visit that you had and gave a flase name to avoid payment. You obviously arent a fan of Michele Obamas anti obesity campaign so I wont find anything there.

Im a personal friend of MRS. Murray. Yep I said it..Can you imagine. What scares liberals is the truth. You won’t discuss the issues because you will lose. So you try to dig up some secret dirt that you think will help sway votes. Here is the Deal…Her Dedication to public service is unquestionable. In fact she does it for free….Her parental skills are awesome. She is a wonderful mother and wife. She is loaded to the gills with friends. Her children go to Catholic school to learn about God. Just like some jewish children go to Hebrew school. She is basically knowledgable in every subject from why trees have leaves to the liberal agenda….She lives her her life based on code and dignity.

Now, if you want to discuss political issues Im your man. If you want to try to figure out waste in Middletown, again Im your man. And if you want to slant people or talk trash Im your man once again….I think it wouldnt be in your best interest to go that route. If I start diggin, I go all out…That includes everybody in your circle…just saying………..

.

Posted by The real Big Mike to MiddletownMike at November 6, 2011 11:52 AM

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Filed under blog comments, MiddletownMike, Stephanie Murray, threats

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

The Making of a Republican Candidate in Middletown…

1) Plump a bio with appointments 2) Conceal employment


by guest blogger Linda Baum

Stephanie Murray is this year’s new republican candidate for Middletown Township Committee, and, as usual, her bio touts appointments to various boards & commissions, including the Housing Authority and Zoning Board.

You might be wondering what qualifies Ms. Murray for her role on these boards. Probably nothing. She was appointed by our republican-run Town Committee for only one reason, to pad her bio and fool us about her credentials. My guess is that she didn’t even have to bother filling out an application for membership, which I recently learned can be the case for appointees who are hand-picked. Ms. Murray most certainly took the spots deserved by more qualified candidates.

In fact, room was made for her on the Housing Authority in January 2010 by bumping the then Vice Chair of the board, a highly regarded, dedicated individual with a real estate background who, unfortunately, is not a registered republican. The former Vice Chair had also successfully completed the five courses required for Housing Authority board membership. It’s not clear if Ms. Murray has. She had 18 months from the date of her appointment to do so, which means she should have completed the requirements by July 2011. I’ve been told that if the deadline is not met, past practice has been to promptly terminate board membership. However, per the Department of Community Affairs, that decision is left to the discretion of the Housing Authority Chairperson, another member of Middletown’s republican party.

Ms. Murray was added to the Zoning Board in January 2011, but as a 3rd alternate, not a regular member. As a 3rd alternate member, she has voting rights only on those rare occasions when more than one member of the Zoning Board cannot attend a meeting.

Another detail that Ms. Murray has failed to reveal to the public about her background is that she writes fantasies under a pen name and has for many years. Her skill at story-telling should serve her well in toeing the party line.

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Filed under Housing Authority, Middletown NJ, Middletown Township Committee, Middletown Zoning Board, Republican Candidate, Stephanie Murray