Category Archives: TOMSA

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

Presidency of Middletown Library Board sought by new Board member; Proof of Politicalization

By guest blogger Linda Baum

Last Wednesday’s Library Board meeting (1/18/12) started at 7:00 p.m. and ran over four and a half hours. This was the first meeting of the new 9-member Board, five of whom are new appointees.

Sixteen members of the public attended the meeting, in whole or in part, and it was a veritable “who’s who” of the Republican Party. Among others, there were Committeeman and former Library Board member Kevin Settembrino, Committeeman and Deputy Mayor Steve Massell, Emil Wrede (TOMSA Board), James Hinkley (TOMSA Board), Tristen Nelsen (former Township Committee candidate), and some others sitting with them. I caught what I can only describe as “knowing” glances that told me many there were not strangers to each other. I leave to you to decide whether their purpose in attending was to support, to intimidate, or simply to be informed.

There were some regular folks at the meeting, too – we were discernable by our much more casual clothing.

Things began on a cordial note, with introductions and brief backgrounds. That was followed by a discussion of expenses and service contracts, which I’ll address in a separate post. Overall, the new Board members were very critical of Library operations, even accusatory.

When it was time for the election of 2012 officers, Ms. Sherry Miloscia presented the Nominating Committee’s recommendation of Mr. Randall Gabrielan as president, Ms. Vivian Breen as vice president, and Ms. Marjorie Cavalier as treasurer. There was no recommendation for the office of secretary because the original nominee, Ms. Rachel Raymond, the School Superintendent’s alternate for the prior year, was not reappointed to the Board for 2012. Ms. Miloscia found that out just five days before this meeting and had then contacted new Board member Lawrence Nelsen to offer him the role of secretary, but he turned it down, saying he didn’t feel qualified.

Committeewoman Stephanie Murray took issue with the use of a Nominating Committee – commonly used by many boards – and was fast to make her own nomination when informed that taking additional nominations from the floor was routine procedure. She started right at the top, recommending newcomer Lawrence Nelsen for president. She turned to him and said, “Would you do it? Would you do this?,” as if it had never been discussed. He agreed, of course, and didn’t seem surprised, but many of the public attendees were amazed at the audacity.

Ms. Miloscia asked Mr. Nelsen why he felt qualified to be president when he said he didn’t feel qualified enough to be secretary. Mr. Nelsen denied saying that. “Yes you did,” she replied.

Ms. Murray felt that a person with a financial background should be president — Mr. Nelsen is an accountant. Others pointed out that the treasurer’s position would be a good place for an accountant concerned with finances to start. The treasurer’s position was available, but Mr. Nelsen wasn’t interested in it.

The reasoning that the Board needs a president with financial experience is not supported if you consider that the Library Board drafted and approved a budget that, despite a reduction in the Township appropriation, still managed to maintain services, employment and most materials.

Something I think was being overlooked is that Board membership provides each trustee the opportunity to oversee operations, whether that person is an officer or not. That participation is precisely the reason given by the Township for expanding the Board.

New Board member Michael Convery asked, “Why do you think Larry can’t be president?” The experienced Board members explained that the position of president requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of time, and that the need to provide guidance to an inexperienced person would put an unfair burden on the Library Director. The many answers and lengthy explanations Ms. O’Neal was required to provide to the new members at this Board meeting is evidence of that.

In short, having an inexperienced person as Board president could hamper Library operations. Therefore, the new trustees did not appear to be acting in the best interest of the Library.

It was suggested that the new members could consult with any respected source, including the New Jersey Library Association, and would be told of the importance of experienced leadership.

I wondered what the president’s rights and responsibilities are that made the position so sought after. I have been provided this explanation:

The president is the first among equals as the Board’s link to the Director on situations where library operations meet library policy, which is set by the Board. The president is the primary Board source for the Director on matters of economic, political, social, employment and legal concerns that impact the library. It is important that the president recognize and honor the distinction between the Trustee’s role of oversight and the Director’s role of management and that the president not attempt to interfere in library operations. In order to fulfill this role, it is essential that the president be knowledgeable and experienced in these matters, qualities that have become even more important in today’s challenging environment.

Also, I am told that the president’s role at meetings is similar to the mayor’s — he sets the tone and guides discussion but has an equal vote.

Ms. Breen pointed out to Ms. Murray that she would not expect to be mayor her first year as a committeewoman. She replied, “No, and I wouldn’t want to,” but seemed to miss the point that Mr. Nelsen was too inexperienced to be president.

The new Board members expressed concern about Mr. Gabrielan’s length of service as president, made reference to the size of the budget, and fell just shy of accusing him of wrong doing. The criticism was unfounded, in my opinion. It was an unfair attack on the character of a man who is well-regarded as a dedicated servant. But that accusatory tone underscored the meeting. Later on, Mr. Nelsen twice referenced Bernie Madoff. That comment offended many of us.

The new members also expressed some frustration with the materials they were provided and felt some information was missing. That drew a sharp response from the others, who asked what they were referring to. The Library Director did her best to explain the information provided and some differences between business in January and the other months of the year.

A woman sitting near me who was a former library employee felt strongly that the problem was that the new Board members were unfamiliar with library operations.

It seemed to me there was a lot of posturing going on by the new members. Last year the Library was villanized, and it seems the stage is being set for that again. I am reminded of that saying that the truth of an accusation doesn’t matter because the damage is done when the accusation is made.

Perhaps in an attempt to quell the accusation and argument, Ms. Breen suggested making Mr. Nelsen vice president. I thought that was a generous concession considering his lack of experience with library matters.

Mr. Convery asked if the election of officers needed to take place right then and was told that there was a need to have officers in place for financial matters and for continuity of operations. The Library’s by-laws call for elections at the January reorganization meeting because terms expire then. (Note that the Township Committee elects its officers in January as well.)

In the end, Mr. Gabrielan was elected president by a vote of 5 to 4. The four new Board members voted as a block for Mr. Nelsen. The deciding vote for Mr. Gabrielan was cast by new Board member Cynthia Wilson, the School Superintendent’s appointee.

While Mr. Convery said that his reason for wanting to delay the vote was to get to know people before voting, I wonder if that was his motive. Had the vote been delayed until the end of the meeting, for example, the outcome would have been different because two of the Board members who voted for Mr. Gabrielan didn’t stay for the whole meeting. Those early departures, at this meeting or any future meeting, change the make-up of the Board. Late arrivals or absences would have the same effect.

After the debate over the presidency, the other officers were selected quickly. Mr. Nelsen was elected vice president; Ms. Cavalier was elected treasurer, and Ms. Breen secretary – each held the same post last year.

As vice president, Mr. Nelsen will run meetings in the absence of Mr. Gabrielan, who has had a near perfect attendance record. Also, the VP title puts Mr. Nelsen in line for the presidency in 2013, when he is certain to get it because the new Board members will have the five votes they need next year with the Township’s replacement of Ms. Miloscia, whose term expires at the end of this year.

With one more voice, the Township’s new appointees will be able to elect to any office any candidate they choose, award contracts as they choose, make employment decisions, and unrestrict any amount of Library reserves for Township use.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Lawrence Nelsen, Library Reserves, Middletown Library, Randall Gabrielan, Republican Party, surplus funds, TOMSA, Tristan Nelsen

Attorney representing TOMSA and the Township also seeks appointment as Library Attorney at the January 18th Meeting of the Library Board

by guest blogger Linda Baum

In my 12/19/11 post, “Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) Board Member Soon To Join The Library Board??”, I mentioned there was an attendee at the 12/14/11 Library Board meeting whom I recognized from the TOMSA Board meetings. I didn’t know his name and he wouldn’t provide it. I speculated that he was one of the new Library Board appointees.

That man was also in attendance at the January 1st Township Reorganization Meeting, and I heard someone call him “Rich”. I’ve learned he is Richard Leahey, TOMSA attorney. Mr. Leahey — spelled also as “Leahy” on some Township resolutions — received several Township appointments for 2012, including Workers Compensation Counsel and Tax Appeals Counsel. In addition, Mr. Leahey works for Bernard Reilly’s law firm, which was awarded a Township contract to provide legal services as Conflicts Counsel. Bernard Reilly’s name should be familiar. Mr. Reilly, a prominent member of the republican party, is former Township attorney and is currently representing the owners of the Avaya site.

As it turns out, Richard Leahey is not one of the four people appointed by the Township to the Library Board. The School Superintendent’s appointee is still unknown but I’m told that historically the person selected is an educator. The Township appointees are Committeewoman Stephanie Murray (the mayor’s alternate replacing Committeeman Kevin Settembrino), Brock Siebert, Larry Nelsen, and Michael Convery, all registered republicans.

In my December 19th post, I mentioned that Mr. Leahey, then un-named, had visited the Library the day before the 12/14 Library Board meeting to obtain a copy of a resolution. He didn’t provide his name, or his motive, to Library staff at that time. I telephoned the Library last week to find out which resolution he requested and to provide them his name. I spoke to Wendy Latona, Library Administrator, who said she already knew his name because Mr. Leahey had come in to the Library a second time after the 12/14 Board meeting to introduce himself and express his interest in being appointed Library attorney. The resolution he requested provided some specifications for that role.

That I didn’t see coming. The conflicts of interest are numerous, and I am amazed that Mr. Leahey is so ethically challenged as to overlook them or to expect that the Library trustees would. It is not a secret that the Township Committee and the Library Board have been placed in an adversarial position as a result of what transpired last year. If Mr. Leahey has an eye on retaining his coveted Township appointments, how can he be counted on to fairly represent the Library’s interests? And is it proper that Mr. Leahey should represent both the Library and TOMSA, whose funds are also of interest to the Township, when more monies transferred to the Township by one client may mean less required by the other?

Maybe Richard Leahey knows something that we don’t know about his chances for appointment. I think he must or he would not have applied for the job in the first place. My concern is that the newly re-configured Library Board will appoint Mr. Leahey, regardless. If they do, it adds a whole new dimension to the game plan by Township officials where Library money is concerned. The first move was appointing a sitting Township Committee member as a Library trustee – that person cannot act in the best interests of both the Township and the Library. The second was politicizing the Board by appointing close party ties and increasing the Board’s size in a bid to gain control. Now, if Mr. Leahey is appointed as Library attorney, we can add pocket-lining to the list of offenses.

I’m told that the resolution Mr. Leahey requested specifies that legal experience with library matters is a criteria for appointment. If he doesn’t have that experience, it is enough to prevent his appointment, the conflicts aside. But Mr. Leahey must feel he is qualified, or else he would not have visited the Library a second time to formally present himself.

The Library Board holds its annual reorganization at its regular meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 7:00 p.m. If you can attend, please do. There should be a strong public presence there to watch how this all plays out.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Richard Leahey, 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

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