Category Archives: transparency

Amy Mallet Reflects Back On Her Time As Monmouth County Freeholder

The following letter was received from Freeholder Amy Mallet

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”- Former President Teddy Roosevelt

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve the people of Monmouth County for the past three years. I am proud of my accomplishments which began with promises I made three years ago.

Monmouth County is now a major developer of clean, renewable solar energy at no additional cost to taxpayers. This effort provides environmental and economic benefits now and in the future. User-friendly computers offer the public a chance to learn about our solar savings in real time at four county locations. This initiative has served as a model for other solar projects that are being planned and developed throughout Monmouth County.

A key element in Government must be transparency. I proposed using digital technology so that everyone in the public can hear unedited proceedings of our meetings. Today it is simple from any computer via http://www.visitmonmouth.com. The home page has a button “Listen to Freeholder Meetings”. This is transparency, but only a start.

Our Legal Department was restructured due to past instances of excessive billing. We hired an in-house counsel to serve in a full-time capacity. This brings accountability and efficiency to our legal matters and has saved over 1.3 million dollars in just over two years.

I lead the expansion of the Veterans Interment office to include professional Veterans Services. Through the passion, diligence and long hours of our trained Veterans Service Officers and Veteran volunteers, this office is busy helping veterans in Monmouth County every day.

A comprehensive Aging Advisory Board brings energy and ideas to helping our seniors. We introduced the free Wellness Discount Program for all residents which offers discounts on prescription medication and other health products and services. Through the Office on Aging, we also established the first caregiver respite program in our county.

I called for changes at Brookdale Community College in order to take it in a better direction. This call came after researching and questioning budgets, meeting minutes, policies and procedures. We need to do what is in the best interest of our students, while providing a premier learning environment, quality education and facilities to our college.

The backbone of county government is our staff, taking us through the day-to-day operations. Many are on the front line directly helping residents care for their health and well-being, improving the safety of our roads and bridges, maintaining our justice system, imprisoning criminals at the jails, disposing and recycling our waste, staffing our libraries, parks and many functions residents do not see.

As liaison to Human Services during my tenure, it is my hope that my successor has the passion to serve as a voice in helping our neighbors who are most vulnerable. This requires an understanding of the needs of those who are less fortunate. They are our neighbors, friends, families and constituents. These individuals and families may be homeless, unemployed, hungry, home-bound, emotionally or developmentally disabled, handicapped, seniors, caregivers, troubled youth, drug and alcohol dependents, returning veterans and so many more. Our staff tends to these needs with a case load which has been growing weekly during these difficult economic times. While the demand for services is that much greater, they have still been able to hold the line on their budgets.

I must point out the areas where I believe there is more to accomplish:

Boards and Commissions which are autonomous require Term Limits. Many residents don’t realize that these entities control spending of millions of tax dollars and influence policy. The makeup of the boards should also be diverse. Turnover would make for a healthier environment. Lack of turnover is contrary to the oversight expected from residents.

Continued consolidation of duplicative functions.

Transparency needs much more work. Meeting Minutes of all autonomous boards and commissions need to be online. I already made this request twice. The website is only as good as the information contained within it. In addition, we should list all employees and new hires online (name, position, department, salary, start date)

Ethics reforms are needed. The Democratic majority instituted an Ethics Board in 2009 which was reversed by the Republicans at their first opportunity. This voluntary board would have been quite busy given the questionable situations which have arisen. Government should not be left to police itself, and history tells us there is too much at stake here to be ignored.

Advertising Panels on our bus fleet will serve many purposes including a new revenue stream. My suggestion is that we start by cross-promoting our Care Centers to bring awareness and fill additional beds which will be a revenue source. After testing the program, we can promote this program to outside entities for advertising revenue.

In the words of John Quincy Adams “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I hope that my leadership will inspire more residents to ask questions, get involved and exercise their right to vote. Let’s never forget that this is a government “of” the people, “by” the people and “for” the people. Anything short of this is unconstitutional.

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Filed under Brookdale Community College, ethics reform, Freeholder Amy Mallet, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Monmouth County NJ, open government, transparency, veterans services

Public Discussion, Why Would We Want To Do That?

Anyone who has been to a Middletown Township Committee meeting this past year has noticed a marked difference between meetings held this year and meetings from the past 4 years,the difference being the length of meeting, or how long the the meeting took to end.

This year,Township Committee meetings (the typical business portion, after all the pomp and circumstance) are typically over in a hour or less. While in the past (when Democrats Patrick Short and Sean Byrnes were seated) Township meetings lasted a couple of hours.

The reason for this dramatic change in meeting times has become very evident over the past 8 months, agenda items listed as up for discussion are very seldom if ever discussed during these public meetings and Committee members have nothing to say to the public during “comments”.

In the past, Patrick Short and Sean Byrnes made it a point discuss items on the agenda during public meetings and because of their practice of informing residents through the discussion of agenda items, they were attacked by the majority for being “unprepared” and not reading through their meeting packets, which was never the case. To the contrary, Short and Byrnes were well prepared to discuss items in the public forum and were chastised for it.

So now, during the last Middletown Workshop meeting when resident Donna Kuntz stated that she was there to here what the Committee had to say about “easements”, which was Discussion item “B” on the night’s agenda, and wanted to know why nothing on the Discussion Item list was discussed, our acting mayor, Tony Fiore, basically stated there was no need to discuss items in a public forum. Committee members, if they have a question after receiving the meeting packets on the Friday before a meeting, call each other or the Township Administrator for clarification.

Listen to the audio:

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

As long as a quorum is not present, this type of behavior by elected officials is not in violation of any sunshine laws, but it is a rather dubious practice that keeps the sunshine from shining on those that administer the town. Any time you limit the input or knowledge of residents into how their town is run, is a direct attempt to limit the transparency of government and is a troubling practice to engage in and Middletown seems to do a lot of it.
You can read about this and other news from the last workshop meeting by reading the “It’s Your Town” newsletter, its the next best thing to actually attending the meeting.

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Filed under committee agenda, discussion items, Middletown Township Committee, sunshine laws, Tony Fiore, transparency, workshop meeting

It’s Your Town – Newsletter Volume 3, Issue 16- 8/1/11

This edition of It’s Your Town newsletter covers the Middletown Township Committee Workshop meeting that was held on Monday, August 1, 2011 .

There were only a few resolutions voted on and 11 items on the agenda for discussion. However, most of the discussion items were not discussed. When a resident asked about the lack of discussion a very interesting response was given.
Tony Fiore, Middletown’s acting mayor, said that there was no need to discuss agenda items in public because members of the Township Committee members receive their meeting packets on the Friday before every meeting. If a question arises, a Committee member will call a fellow Committee member, Township Administrator or someone else for clarification prior the public meeting, hence no need for discussions in public.
While this practice of Township Committee people calling others for clarification and information pertaining to items in meeting packets prior to open discussion of an item it not technically a violation existing sunshine laws, it is an extremely questionable practice that limits information being disseminated to the public by open and transparent means.
Read the newsletter for yourself, it’s all covered here in this issue.

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Filed under Its Your Town, Middletown Township Committee, Newsletter, open government, resolutions and ordinances, sunshine laws, Tony Fiore, transparency, workshop meeting

>Letting The "Sunshine" In Monmouth

>By Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet

Common sense tells us that government is more responsive and ethical when its actions are open to public scrutiny. As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” Woodrow Wilson, who appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court, wrote about the need to shed light on the government. He said, “Light is the only thing that can sweeten our political atmosphere.”

As far back as the 1890s several states were already experimenting with disclosure rules to combat corruption in campaign finance. This is not a new conversation. Modern times change the delivery, but history provides us with perspective, and sometimes even inspiration.

The digital age allows more opportunities to let the sun in than ever before. We are living in unique times where technology creates new, exciting opportunities to widen access between the public and government. New tools such as imaging, scanning, the Internet, mass storage capacity and millions of hand-held devices have the potential to give people better insight into governmental decision-making, budgeting and spending.

This progress allows for two-way communication. For example, through the county Web site, individuals can send an e-mail with concerns or comments on a particular issue. The success of our political system requires that citizens be involved.

Human nature is such that elected officials who see no public interest in their activities are more likely to stray from the core interests of their constituents. At its worst, circumstances where elected officials face an apathetic public provide a breeding ground for corruption and abuse. Citizens need to care about how we govern, understand how government works and be aware of the issues we are addressing. They also need the tools to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

Since taking office, I have advocated for certain changes geared toward a more transparent, accessible government:

In 2009, the Board of Chosen Freeholders supplemented online meeting agendas with the resolutions that were up for consideration by the board. This allowed the public to see more than just titles of these items.

Also in 2009, Monmouth County embraced social media and developed Facebook and Twitter sites.

In 2010, Monmouth County also began posting its proposed budget online. In the past it was posted only after it had been adopted.

Also in 2010, at my request and at little expense to the taxpayers, our Clerk of the Board moved from an antiquated tape system of recording minutes to digital recording technology. I would like to say this brought us into the 21st century, but it is more accurate to say it brought us out of the 1980s. This simple improvement has now allowed staff to more accurately transcribe the minutes, freed up space that had previously been used to store cassette tapes and gave the freeholders and staff immediate access to the important discussions that take place.
I am proud that as a result of moving to digital recordings of freeholder meetings, full audio of regular and workshop meetings are now available on the county Web site,http://www.visitmonmouth.comThis allows residents who are unable to attend meetings to hear the discussions that took place and stay more engaged in issues that are relevant to their lives.

The benefits of this technology go beyond convenience. We find ourselves in troubled times where citizens and the governments that serve them confront dire financial challenges. Municipal, county and state governments must be held to the highest standards of efficiency and productivity. The best means of reaching that goal is to pull back the curtain. In addition to posting meeting minutes and the budget we should post expenditures and employment and other contracts.

Despite these technological advances, I recommend that residents attend the meetings. They are generally held at the Hall of Records, 1 East Main St. in Freehold, with workshops at 2 p.m. and regular meetings at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. There are exceptions when the board takes the meetings on the road. A full and detailed schedule of meetings, as well as a wealth of other information, can be found on the county Web site.

Moving forward in this fashion would be a marked departure from the way many of our local public bodies have approached accessibility. But as technology advances excuses for failing to make this type of information available will evaporate.

Public officials need to be imaginative and efficient in organizing and making these documents available to the public. They should be encouraged in the knowledge that their efforts to promote government transparency fulfill the intent of those who founded our great country and ensures that the power entrusted to elected officials will not be abused.

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Filed under Facebook, Freeholder Amy Mallet, Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, New Jersey, sunshine laws, transparency, Twitter

>ReBankGreen.Com: SCHARFENBERGER BLASTED FOR PAY CLAIM

> Nice job on the column posted at RedBankGreen.com detailing the events that went on last night at the Middletown Township Committee Meeting. Dustin Racioppi told it like it happend, with little sugar coating of the details.

What stood out to me the most about the column was the after interview that Scharfenberger gave to Racioppi, it was a further attempt on Gerry’s part at a little revisionist history.

Racioppi states that, “…he (Scharfenberger) didn’t make an announcement about the state job for two reasons: the state, he said, was in the middle of restructuring the planning agency, and he thought it would put out some sort of press release announcing his hiring; and he didn’t want to appear he was using the job to show his support of the Christie administration in an election year…”

This comes after he was qouted last week in the Two River Times and the Independent that he thought “everyone knew” because everyone around him knew about it and because it was posted on the State’s website .

Scharfenberger, then went on to add that those that have bashed him have a personal vendetta against him.

After reading this type of crap comming out of Scharfy, is there any doubt why so many question his integrity and issues with disclosing the truth, it’s not a personnal vendetta against him, it’s a vendetta for truth and transparency from those that are elected to represent Middletown’s residents.

Scharfenberger, an archaeologist and adjunct professor at Monmouth University, told redbankgreen that he didn’t make an announcement about the state job for two reasons: the state, he said, was in the middle of restructuring the planning agency, and he thought it would put out some sort of press release announcing his hiring; and he didn’t want to appear he was using the job to show his support of the Christie administration in an election year.

You can read the full article >>> Here

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Filed under Dustin Racioppi, Gerry Scharfenberger, honesty and integrity, RedBankGreen.com, transparency, Uncategorized

President Obama’s Weekly Address: 4/17/10 Holding Wall Street Accountable

The strongest consumer protections ever. Bringing transparency to financial dealings. Closing loopholes to stop recklessness and irresponsibility. Holding Wall Street accountable and giving shareholders new power in the financial system. President Obama lays out what Wall Street Reform is about, and questions whether opposition from the Senate Republican Leader might have something to do with his recent meeting with Wall Street executives.

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Filed under consumer protection, President Obama, transparency, Wall Street, Wall Street bonuses, weekly address

Middletown’s Patrick Short Talks about Transparency In Government

In this latest video of Middletown’s Democratic Committeeman Patrick Short, Patrick talks about how he and fellow Democratic Committeeman Sean Byrnes fought hard for open government in Middletown.

Because of their efforts residents can know access Township information such as ordinances, resolutions and bill lists from the Township’s website. This informed information was never before made available to residents before Township meetings, until Patrick Short and Sean Byrnes made it possible.

Learn more about Patrick Short and what he stands for visit www.middletowndemocrat.org

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Filed under Middletown NJ, Patrick Short, resolutions and ordinances, Sean F. Byrnes, transparency