Monday, September 29, 2008

The Matawan-Aberdeen Library's Community Meeting

This Thursday, October 2nd, at 7PM, the Matawan-Aberdeen library is hosting a community meeting to brainstorm on the library’s future. Since the Great Library of Alexandria over 2,000 years ago until the advent of the internet, the library’s mission has remained the same – to be an archive of knowledge. As all new information goes digital, and the internet begins to supplant the library, a new mission for our library is long overdue.

Though I will be unable to attend the meeting, I hope its participants will discuss two aspects – First, a new mission statement. What is the library’s purpose? What do people want it to do? How do we envision the library ten years from now?

The second item is what role, if any, will the library have in Main Street’s hoped for rejuvenation?

My personal opinion is that the library should facilitate intellectual stimulation by providing the needed resources for individuals to pursue, manage, or organize groups of diverse interests. Space, budgets, and other constraints should only be tackled after first deciding what we’d like to achieve.

The library was a special part of my education. Roaming the stacks and interacting with others is something the internet cannot provide. I hope the library finds a new way to put its excellent resources to their best uses.
>>> Read more!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Letter to the Independent

Please Note: I am presently in Houston and internet access is not readily available. Between that and the Jewish holidays, I will likely not post another article until the end of next week.

The following letter to the editor, after careful consideration by the Independent's editorial board, was rejected for publication:

Your article, “Councilwoman Probes, Meets with Resistance” (Sept. 18, 2008), by ace reporter, Erin Stattel, was both insightful and revealing. I applaud Councilwoman Gallo for challenging Aberdeen’s largest tax increase in its 150-year history.

Mayor Sobel’s condescension (“What do you mean you don’t understand?”), was inappropriate. When I had questions regarding Aberdeen’s publicized budget summary, Angela Morin, the township’s Director of Finance, told me the budget summary wasn’t intended to be understood by the average citizen and recommended I take a course in public finance at Rutgers University. Surely, Councilwoman Gallo, barely seven months into her first term, would have questions.

It was equally inappropriate for Mayor Sobel to have the township clerk, Karen Ventura, float a story that contracts for professional services weren’t approved until September because “necessary paperwork was left on former Township Manager Stuart Brown's desk.” Even if Brown’s desk had secret compartments and was booby-trapped, even if Mayor Sobel and the township attorney didn’t receive copies of all contracts, does it really take six months to ask a vendor to e-mail another copy?

However, I was most aghast by Mayor Sobel’s pooh-poohing taxpayer angst over Aberdeen’s rampant pay-to-play. CME Associates, the township’s engineer and largest contributor to the Aberdeen Democratic Party, receives over a million dollars a year in no-bid contracts. Other party contributors include Coppola & Coppola (township planner), Allen Falk (township prosecutor), Marc Leckstein (attorney for the planning and zoning boards), and Tom Fallon (township auditor).

Some vendors are selected because of their relationship to former township attorney Norman Kauff, the “unofficial” chairman of the Aberdeen Democratic Executive Committee (his wife signs the checks). These include his law firm Rogut, McCarthy, and Troy (township attorney), Marc Schram (public defender), and his neighbor Bill Parness (public relations).

Mayor Sobel’s claim that “we were one of the first municipalities to pass a pay-to play ordinance" is untrue. Ordinance 10-2007 was just passed last year and only refers to developers, not vendors. In fact, at the time of its passage, Ordinance 10-2007 only blocked one company from doing business with Aberdeen – the Columbia Group, Matawan’s developer for the Aberdeen-Matawan Transit Village. So much for being neighborly.

Unfortunately, this is what happens in the “Soprano State” when a town is run by a single party for over a decade. The most egregious example is Councilman Vinci. The county and township gave him 4,000 square feet of tax-free land adjacent to his home. Vinci receives regular payments from the Aberdeen Democratic Executive Committee, including “consulting fees” for work done on his own reelection campaign last year. He browbeat the county into demolishing a house and building a private access road so that state highway workers would no longer drive by his house. Vinci and Councilwoman Gumbs are the only council members to take a raise this year. Coincidentally, they are also the only two able-bodied members of the town council to park in the handicapped spots in front of town hall.

The article notes Councilwoman Gallo may be relinquishing her seat. How sad and how telling.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter

If there was ever any doubt our school district is pursuing mediocrity, last night’s board meeting put those concerns to rest. Board President Demarest made her intentions crystal clear – the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District will not consider any academic standards beyond the minimum state requirements. Our board president holds the local diner to a higher standard than our kids’ education.

The stage was set by Pastor Doug Crawley. He spoke movingly of his upbringing in Alabama, how he and his friends had benefited from mentors. Pastor Crawley then described the new mentor program he was organizing in concert with the school district. When one of the board members asked about financing for the program, he said community volunteers would work for free but volunteer teachers would be paid. Somehow, the word “volunteer” means something different when applied to our district’s teachers.

Next, Jessie Zitarosa, the Director of Elementary School Accountability, gave a presentation on the Response to Intervention program. The program is based upon Reading Recovery and differentiated instruction based upon “neurodevelopmental profiles”. I had been agitating for an update on the $650,000 program since February and was hoping to see some data justifying the cost and questionable teaching techniques. Unfortunately, Zitarosa had no data. No student scores, no progress reports, nothing but how many children were enrolled and at what level.

Sure enough, Ms. Zitarosa skedaddled outta there before any community member could question her.

Then came the board’s student representative’s report. Matthew Bratsch objected to an unnamed administration official seeking to censor his public statements.

During the public comments section, several parents complained bitterly that their children were spending 3-4 hours a day on the bus commuting to the Marine Academy. Ms. Demarest indicated she was aware of the problem but would not become personally involved and encouraged the parents to keep complaining until the situation was rectified.

Then I spoke.

Last year, six of eight teachers got their masters degrees from online universities. This year, nine of twelve got their masters degrees online, all from Walden University. I asked Ms. Demarest for the board’s position on the fact that 75% of all masters degrees were coming from a single online university. Ms. Demarest said the issue was of no concern to the board, they never discussed it, and the administration had not expressed any unease.

Walden University lacks professional accreditation. Does the school board have any preference for advanced degrees with professional accreditation? None whatsoever.

Regarding RTI, what are the benchmarks for success? We don’t have any. Do we have any data to suggest the program is working? No. Do we know if students are doing better with RTI than they were without it? No. What are the program's objectives? We haven’t defined them yet. Was the program designed and implemented without first determining its objectives? Yes.

When I asked for a time horizon, Dr. O’Malley requested four years. My response – four years plus $2.5 million.

I also requested some budget forecasting since daily operations were growing faster than the 4% budget cap and the capital fund had already been depleted. They said no.

Near the end of the meeting, I reminded Ms. Demarest that advanced proficiency on a state exam only reflected a score of 75% or higher. I asked the board president whether she considered a score of 75% on a state assessment test to be “outstanding”. Ms. Demarest answered that if her kids scored 75% on a state exam, she would consider that “outstanding”.

My last question regarded the math curriculum. In the online presentation on NWEA, there’s a slide showing a calculator to solve |2X+4| = 20. I asked for reassurance that, in our classrooms, students were not using a calculator to solve 2X+4 = 20. No such luck. They do. (The presentation has since been mysteriously removed from the school website but here's a copy.)

The finale for the night was a mother begging the board to provide more science and social studies for her child. She couldn’t understand why her daughter was being pushed into a chorus class in addition to her music class. Neither can I.

A $650,000 RTI program that uses Reading Recovery and “neurodevelopmental profiles” and the board doesn’t care whether it benefits or harms the students. Nine teachers get their masters degree from a single online university that lacks professional accreditation and the board doesn’t care. 75% on a state test is called “outstanding”.

I don’t know what the board’s leadership cares about but it’s not academic excellence.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Passing the Buck in Aberdeen

By Ken Aitken

I had to laugh when I read Mayor Sobel's remarks in the Independent ("Councilwoman Probes, Meets with Resistance"). He must really think the average citizen is a mindless ignorant dupe. How else could he expect us to believe his verbal poppycock? Let's analyze each statement as reported.

Under Mayor Sobel's direction, Karen Ventura, the township clerk, says she only recently found the vendor contracts on Stuart Brown's desk, thereby blaming him for the seven-month delay.

Nice try, Mr. Mayor! Mr. Brown was gone in February of this year. What was your interim manager, Mr. Lauro, actually doing? In the months he had the job, he never bothered to look at what was on his predecessor's desk? Do you actually expect us to believe that the town's professionals were on the payroll for months with no contracts? Found them on his desk? Almost as original as "my dog ate it!"

Regarding no-bid contracts, Mayor Sobel stated "I don't know of any municipalities that bid out for jobs like that. . . When you go out to bid for something as large as that job, you run into cost overruns and delays. I don't think it works."

Mr. Mayor, exactly which towns do not issue RFPs for professional services? How many municipalities award $652,000 no-bid contracts to their largest campaign contributors? Is "convenience" a benchmark for picking vendors?

Mayor Sobel claims we have a groundbreaking Pay-To-Play ordinance.

As the Aberdeener correctly reported, this ordinance was put in place
specifically for the train station project to block Matawan's developer. It is a "paper tiger" that does nothing to reform our government.

Mr. Mayor, how long are you, and the rest of your cronies going to blame Stuart Brown for all of the incompetence and alleged malfeasance that is taking place? In my opinion, Mr. Brown was one of the most honest and forthright people in government that I have ever met. He cares about Aberdeen and was initiating many progressive activities to involve more people and make government more accessible. Did you and the rest of the council (except for Councilwoman Gallo) just "forget" about these contracts? If so, you are incompetent and should do us the courtesy of resigning. Surely, you don't expect any thinking person to believe these talking points.

So, my fellow citizens, ask yourselves this - During his three terms as mayor, when has Mayor Sobel ever accepted blame for anything?

Ken Aitken served on the Matawan-Aberdeen School Board from 2005-2008.
>>> Read more!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Going EasyGreen

Jersey Central Power & Light has initiated an energy conservation plan named EasyGreen. Rarely has it been so easy to reduce energy costs and encourage conservation. The program costs you nothing, is easy to implement, and will save you money.

The greatest amounts of energy are used (or wasted) on moving parts and generating heat. Peak demand on the electric grid is during the hottest workdays when office buildings and homes are running air conditioning units plus the normal load from everyday appliances and factory needs. As the population grows, and becomes richer, energy demands grow as well.

When electric demands approach the grid’s capacity, the electric company only has three choices – 1) Build excess capacity 2) Implement rolling brownouts or 3) Encourage customers to use less.

Building more capacity would cost anywhere from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars and is simply uneconomical for the 10-20 days a year when the electric grid risks failing. Rolling brownouts, like what happened in California during the Enron days, are unacceptable. That leaves choice 3.

The EasyGreen program works by installing a sensor on your central air conditioning unit. For 95% of the year, the sensor does absolutely nothing. On those hottest workdays of the year, during peak hours, when the electric grid may reach capacity, Jersey Central will emit a signal that triggers the sensor to temporarily turn off the compressor in your central air conditioning unit. When demand recedes, the sensor will become inactive again.

A couple of points bear mentioning. First, the most likely occurrence is during the workday when many homes are empty. Secondly, the sensor only deactivates the compressor, not the fan, so your home will still get fresh air. Thirdly, if your house becomes too hot (more than 6 degrees above your current setting), the compressor will turn back on. (For those looking for the maximum savings, you can choose to allow the house to get 9 degrees hotter than the current setting.)

Jersey Central is providing the device and the service for free because it’s far cheaper than building/upgrading power plants or adding new transmission lines. For those people whose homes are empty during the workday, they’ll likely never notice the change. You save money by reducing electric usage during peak demand.

As an extra kicker, the first 3,500 people who register get a $50 gift card.

Oil is back above $100 per barrel and many oil producing nations don’t like us to put it mildly. Energy conservation reduces pollution and protects the environment. In this instance, Jersey Central Power & Light is doing their part. We need to do ours. The program only works if we all participate.

For more information, you can call 866-531-8030 or visit
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When a Politician Opens His Mouth

For nearly a year, I’ve been regularly attending school board meetings and I speak at most of them. Yet, you won’t find my name or anything I’ve ever said in any of the board minutes; just a note that someone raised a topic for discussion. Nor do the school board minutes record anything said by the board members or invited speakers. By contrast, the Aberdeen Town Council’s minutes are a terrific read and virtually the only record we have of public statements made by our elected representatives. In hindsight, they’ll likely regret much of what they said.

On February 4th, Mayor Sobel presented Councilman Vinci an Appreciation Award for his service. Considering Councilman Vinci has taken “tax-free” land from the county and township, takes “consulting fees” from the local Democratic Party, had a private road built for his convenience, and is one of only two council members to take a raise, you have to wonder if he hocked the award at some pawn shop. As for Mayor Sobel, suffice to say the award not only displays a shocking lack of judgment but has tainted every award the township presents.

On March 18th, the citizenry began to make some noise beginning with Paul Rinear and Phil Petrignani of the Green Party. Rinear accused the town council of scheduling tax increases around the election cycle.

“Mayor Sobel stated there has not been a tax increase in three years. It has nothing to do with 2007 being an election year. If you look back over the history of this Town, it was rare to have a tax increase. . .”

No tax increases? Rare to have a tax increase? Not quite. As this chart shows, municipal taxes have risen 27% in the past five years. Since 2000, municipal taxes have risen 43%. (The data is drawn from the Monmouth County website.)

Petrignani then asked Councilman Vinci why, during hard economic times and a large tax increase, was he taking a raise?

“Councilman Vinci stated why shouldn't I? The time I spend in this town and I have to take money out of my family. I am retired. I have to put gas in my car. I am not here to make money, but I am not here to take money out of my pocket to supplement my family to do this.”

Steals from the people and demands a raise for his service. Vinci has no shame.

Then the township confirmed that SK Properties is one of the developers for Aberdeen Forge. The “K” stands for Murray Kushner. He’s the guy who was videotaped with a hooker and blackmailed by his brother, Charles, a huge contributor to the state Democratic Party who went to prison for tax violations. From Spalliero (Aberdeen Forge) to Bocra (Transit Village), to Kushner, the township has a fondness for people willing to “deal”.

Rinear and Petrignani then queried the council regarding the recently terminated town manager, Stuart Brown. The vote against Brown was 5 to1 with 1 abstention. Well, the math is pretty easy. The entire council wanted Brown gone except for Perry and Gallo who abstained because she was new.

This was also the time when Mayor Sobel allegedly stated “Norman Kauff is a close personal friend of mine.” (Mayor Sobel denies making the statement but other firsthand accounts claim he did.)

When asked if Kauff was involved in Brown’s termination, Mayor Sobel said no. I’ll let that statement stand on its own merits.

Vito Turchiano then rose to defend the town council, saying they’re doing a good job. Too bad their single defender has a son on the payroll.

At the following meeting on April 1st, Rinear asked about CME Associates, citing an article on this blog. Mayor Sobel implied my article was misinformed. Diane Dabulas, one of Kauff’s attorneys, responded “CME Associates is a major engineering firm and we are lucky to have them in Aberdeen. . . There are two processing for pay to play, fair and open and non-fair and open [sic]. We engaged in fair and open which allows everyone to see who is applying for what position and they let everyone know who they are contributing too. Just because there are contributions doesn’t mean there is any wrong doing.”

Allow me to correct the distinguished Ms. Dabulas. First, Aberdeen uses the “fair and open” process because the state forbids any municipality from giving business to an individual or company who contributes over $300 unless the municipality uses the fair and open process. If Aberdeen used the “unfair” process, they wouldn’t be allowed to take money from CME Associates and give them business.

Secondly, awarding millions of dollars of business in no-bid contracts, year after year, to your largest political contributor is prima facie evidence that you’re in somebody’s pocket. I guess when Dabulas says “we are lucky to have them”, "we" refers to the all-Democrat town council.

The minutes are sure to become more interesting over time. Former school board members Ken Aitken and Bill Maranella have begun challenging the council as well as Anthony Garaguso and Brian Pfeufer.

So, to recap, Mayor Sobel gives an Appreciation Award to one of the most shameless and self-serving councilmen in living memory. Then the mayor claims the town “rarely” raises taxes after hiking the municipal tax rate by 27% in five years. He cuts deals with another tainted developer and defends giving over a million dollars a year in no-bid contracts to his largest political contributor.

As Mayor Sobel said, “At the end of the day, all you have left is your integrity.” Words to live by.
>>> Read more!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

There's No Good Day for Everyday Math

Among Superintendent O’Malley’s fans, I take a certain pride in being his biggest critic. The most recent disagreement arose over the new math program. The superintendent has accelerated the high school math program by introducing algebra in 7th grade and, beginning next year, geometry in 8th grade. He is working on implementing Singapore Math to 6th graders. And Dr. O’Malley has introduced the NWEA program to track each student’s progression through the early years. For a school district where a third of seniors are taking remedial math courses to achieve 50% on the state Math HSPA exams, these are major advances. The problem is Everyday Math in the elementary schools.

This week, I received an anonymous email regarding a YouTube video on Everyday Math. The video features M J McDermott, a meteorologist associated with a grassroots organization that promotes a rigorous math curriculum ( The video’s description of Everyday Math is shocking.

Everyday Math is far more than simply asking conceptual questions such as “Judy has $25. A $30 dress is discounted 20%. Can she afford the dress?” It also teaches math in a fashion that enables weaker students to do math at their current proficiency level rather than build upon their strengths.

Imagine you were training a bricklayer. Rather than have him use standard size bricks, which are heavy and tiresome, you have him train solely on smaller bricks. Sure, he’ll get the job done, but he’ll never be as proficient as the person who trained with standard size bricks and he likely won’t be able to do those jobs that require standard sized bricks. Everyday Math only uses small bricks.

For example, the program uses two methods to do multiplication – Partial Products Method (PPM) and the Lattice Method.

Take the following question – 22 X 33. In standard math, you’d line them up and do
3 X 22 = 66
30 X 22 = 660
66 + 660 = 726

In PPM, you’d do the same problem as follows:
3 X 2 = 6
3 X 20 = 60
30 X 2 = 60
30 X 20 = 600
6 + 60 + 60 + 600 = 726

Sure, it’s easier that way but the number of rows necessary is squared. If you have to multiply 3-digit numbers, you’d need 9 rows versus 3 using standard math. For 4-digit numbers, you’d need 16 rows versus 4. The Partial Products Method is slow, sloppy, and error prone.

The Lattice Method has the student performing the calculations inside a 4-quadrant square with each section cut by a diagonal line. The problem here is that the process is non-intuitive, time consuming, and doesn’t easily lend itself to more difficult problems.

As for the “tough” questions, calculators are not only recommended by Everyday Math, they’re required. In my day, calculators were forbidden. Did math get harder or have the courses been dumbed-down?

As for division, the Everyday Math Teacher’s Reference states the following:

The authors of Everyday Math do not believe it is worth students’ time and effort to fully develop highly efficient paper and pencil algorithms for all possible whole-number, fraction, and decimal division problems. Mastery of the intricacies of such algorithms is a huge endeavor, one that experience tells us is destined to failure for many students. It is simply counter-productive to invest many hours of precious class time on such algorithms. The mathematical payoff is not worth the cost, particularly because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator.
To summarize – Why have your not-too-smart students struggle with division when they can just use a calculator?

The other problem with Everyday Math is that it uses a “spiral” curriculum. Rather than focus on one area until the students master the material, it teaches “age-appropriate” material in a variety of areas. Then, in the following year, it backtracks and overlaps the prior year’s subjects, reviewing what was taught before, and then moving along to the next level.

Contrast this with Singapore Math which uses drills of increasing complexity in a single subject area before moving to the next discipline. Rather than be exposed to a smorgasbord of mathematical topics, students first master the basics and use that foundation for higher level math.

Why would Dr. O’Malley introduce Everyday Math, which caters to students’ weaknesses, rather than Singapore Math, which builds upon their strengths? The answer is politics.

The “now” controlling wing of the Matawan-Aberdeen Board of Education took a public stance against Dr. O’Malley’s appointment. Just like Superintendent Quinn was pushed out the door when the “standards” wing had control last year, Dr. O’Malley’s tenure may be short lived as well.

One of Dr. O’Malley’s qualifications was that he was a complete outsider with no connections to this district, its politics, or its patronage game. Yet, after seven months on the job, he’s only been able to hire one outsider, a CPA to assist Sue Irons, the business administrator, and only after sacrificing his own secretary and enduring a bruising battle with the school board. To BOE President Demarest’s credit, he would have lost that fight without her support.

Considering the situation, Everyday Math has a number of advantages over Singapore Math. First, the curriculum hews very closely to the state’s standardized math tests. New Jersey’s state exams cover several areas at each grade level while Singapore Math focuses on a few areas in any year. Secondly, like the bricklayer working with small bricks, Everyday Math prepares students for the types of basic questions they’ll face on the state exams even though it doesn’t provide a foundation for technically advanced coursework. Lastly, the school district will have an easier time training elementary teachers for Everyday Math since the material remains the same even if the teaching methods have changed.

In short, Dr. O’Malley will be able to demonstrate immediate progress on the state math exams despite the long term consequences.

In fairness to Dr. O’Malley, from a political standpoint, he’s correct. Rather than risk being replaced by a superintendent who’s more concerned with empire building and patronage, Dr. O’Malley is seeking to build political support for his drive to raise educational standards across all levels throughout the district. Furthermore, he always has the option of introducing Singapore Math to the elementary grades in the future.

As he sees it, he’s moving the district ahead, step-by-step, without taking unnecessary risks.

In my opinion, Everyday Math is a terrible program that both cheats and demeans our students by assuming they’re incapable of handling challenging mathematics. Regardless of what we do in the future, our students today are being shortchanged and are more likely to lack the analytical skills they’ll need.

The situation reminds me of Coventry in World War II. According to several historical accounts, Churchill knew in advance, from his code breakers at Bletchley Park, the Germans were planning a massive bombing raid on Coventry. However, any defense or evacuation of the city would have tipped the Germans that their code had been broken. Instead, Churchill let the city burn to preserve a critical source of intelligence as Great Britain fought for its survival.

But the story is a myth. Churchill never knew Coventry would be attacked. He never chose to let a British city burn for the greater good.

I recognize we live in an imperfect world and that concessions often need to be made but this isn’t one of them. I would never choose to put students into a bad program to score political points for the greater good. I would never sacrifice one student today to save a hundred students tomorrow. Each student means the world and each student deserves the best we can give them.

In the world of public education, all eyes are on Washington, DC. Mayor Fenty recruited Michelle Rhee to be chancellor with a promise of unwavering political support and she has challenged the status quo more than anyone else.

Imagine what Dr. O’Malley could do with the full backing of the board. He should never have to choose between politics and our students’ welfare. >>> Read more!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

COAH's Fear Factor

From Upper Freehold to Aberdeen Township, Richard Coppola has been spreading fear in the hearts of men and women. There are new COAH regulations and they are “scary”. They may force us to permit building applications with heretofore unacceptable building densities or in contravention of the town’s master plan. Fortunately, I have a solution. I call it “Delay and Do Nothing”.

First, let’s review the new COAH regulations:

  • A new 2.5% non-residential development fee (read state tax)
  • Elimination of Regional Contribution Agreements (RCAs)
  • 13% of COAH units restricted to “very low income” families
  • COAH obligation has changed from 1:8 homes and 1:25 new jobs to 1:4 homes and 1:16 new jobs
  • Only 25% can be age-restricted
  • COAH no longer recognizes “Vacant Land Adjustments”
Scary, indeed. Using Aberdeen’s 2006 submission as a basis, Coppola has estimated our COAH obligation is 440 units. Furthermore, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to reduce our COAH obligation through “inclusionary” development. If a 100-unit building set aside 25% for affordable housing, only six units would be counted towards our current obligation. (The first 19 units would merely cover the growth share obligation of the 75 market units.)

In other words, not only would all new development have to set aside 20% of the units for affordable housing (or pay the township to build them elsewhere), Aberdeen will have to acquire hundreds of units to fulfill our COAH obligation. (The rumor is the town council will use the new COAH requirements as a cover to approve the RCM –Cifelli developments on County Road and Rt. 34.)

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Hence, my plan to “Delay and Do Nothing”.

Let’s take a second look at Coppola’s numbers. They’re based upon 2006 projections of 1,089 residential units and 457 jobs (page 10). That’s a lot of homes for a small town like ours. The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) only projected 410 units and 310 jobs.

Why does Aberdeen project over 250% more residential units and nearly 50% more jobs than the NJTPA? “Aberdeen states that it anticipates an increased rate of construction for the third round period” (Page 8). Of the 1,089 units, 839 come from two developments – Aberdeen Forge and Anchor Glass, leaving only 250 for the rest of Aberdeen (Page 12).

By removing Aberdeen Forge (where there’s no recognized developer) and changing Anchor Glass to a commercial zone (we can always change it back later), our numbers would drop below the NJTPA’s, thereby substituting their projections for ours. With one stroke of the pen, we will have reduced our COAH obligations from 440 to 261.

A quarter of that 261 has already been satisfied by the senior housing development on Church St., leaving 196. We have a “poverty district” planned for Wilson Avenue with 68 COAH units, of which 57 will be for the very low income (Page 19). Since we get double credit for very low income housing units, we only have 71 units remaining.

Avalon paid the township $1,080.000 towards the Mount Laurel housing obligations (Page 10). The money was originally to be used towards purchasing 36 RCAs. Since that never happened, we can theoretically use it as seed money towards a rental unit rehabilitation project to create more COAH units.

In the end, we don’t actually need to anything. Our only goal is to submit a plan by end of the year to shield us from a “Builder’s Remedy” lawsuit. We don’t need a good plan – it can always be revised later – just a plan that passes first inspection.

If we do get hit with a Builder’s Remedy lawsuit, like Matawant did, it wouldn’t be the first time. Aberdeen got sued over 20 years ago, in 1984 (Page 2). In 1990, the court ordered the township to build 325 affordable housing units. Nearly twenty years later, we’re still working on it.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey League of Municipalities is suing the state to halt implementation of the new regulations and there’s a fair likelihood the regulations will be revised again within a couple of years.

Last December, I had urged the town council to purchase as many RCA's as the law allowed. Now, it's too late. Still, there’s no rush and nothing to fear. Just delay and do nothing. >>> Read more!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Councilwoman Gallo Pushes Back

I did not vote for Councilwoman Gallo. I was unimpressed with her record on the school board and felt other candidates were better qualified. What I failed to take into account is that single prerequisite for all candidates of public office – character. During this week’s town council meeting, she refused to be cowed into supporting a bloated budget and no-bid contracts for political patrons. Bully for her.

It’s no secret why, with the exception of Councilman Perry and Councilwoman Gallo, the council members march goosestep under Kauff’s command; the Aberdeen Democratic Party only runs candidates that can be controlled. For Vinci and Gumbs, the only two council members to accept a pay raise this year or be involved in suspicious land deals (Vinci, Gumbs), it’s all about money and privilege. Drapkin gets printing business from the county democrats and hopes to get a state job. Raymond got his job at the MVC from Robert Axelrad, formerly the nominal local party chair. For Perry, it was the promise of becoming a state assemblyman. Gallo’s son-in-law is our police department’s newest member. As for Mayor Sobel, well, he loves being mayor and wouldn’t mind a state job as well.

In fact, the entire township works around the election cycle. In election year 2007, the township promoted no tax increases, the Oakshades Park lighting, upcoming roadwork at congested intersections, Aberdeen Township’s 150th birthday, the senior housing complex on Church St., and development at Cliffwood Beach.

In non-election year 2008, we have the largest tax increase in the township’s history, the firing of Town Manager Stuart Brown, and the property revaluations.

In election year 2009, we’ll have groundbreaking for the senior housing complex, groundbreaking for the intersection at Rt. 34 and Lloyd Rd., and development at Cliffwood Beach.

Notice how good news and bad news follows the election cycle?

For years, Councilman Perry has been the lone voice of dissent on the town council but this week, in Perry’s absence, Councilwoman Gallo fought for her constituents. You could hear the arguing through the closed door during executive session. She opposed the 12% municipal tax increase. She opposed giving another no-bid contract to CME Associates. She opposed using the same auditor, another politically connected crony, for over a decade.

The council has reason to worry. If the democrats lose next year’s election, Councilwoman Gallo will be the swing vote on every contract and every appointment. Her dissension could even prompt newspaper stories and possibly upset the election.

Forget about politics. Forget about party loyalties. Councilwoman Gallo is fighting for us and she deserves our support.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Protection for Whistle Blowers

I’m not very popular at town hall. Nearly everyone is friendly, professional, and helpful, but they must be wondering what I’ll publish next. I don’t blame them. I’m certain many have witnessed things in the township they wish they hadn’t.

Lately, rumors have been swirling among the staff that the council is attempting to engage in a witch hunt. Tidbits have been dropped to see if they result in an OPRA request or a new posting. Others have been accused of giving me too much information in response to my OPRA requests. I’ve witnessed documents gone missing from the files. Yet, most township employees are as repulsed by unethical behavior in government as I am.

For those who wish to be heard but fear the repercussions, this post is for you.

New Jersey’s “Whistleblower Act” is called the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). The law prohibits any employer from taking retaliatory action against an employee who

  • Discloses or threatens to disclose information to a supervisor or public body regarding actions unlawful or contrary to the public welfare
  • Refuses to engage in acts unlawful or contrary to the public welfare
The law allows for compensatory damages and also applies to vendors and contractors who work substantially in an employer/employee relationship.

However, the law does not extend to termination for sharing information with “reporters”. For that, we need to rely upon New Jersey’s Shield Law.

For purposes of the statute, this blog fulfills all criteria for “News Media”. The shield is “absolute” for all civil cases. No state court can compel me to reveal any non-public information that may reveal a source except under extreme circumstances in a criminal proceeding. Federal courts have a bit more leeway but still need to consider the societal cost of compelling a journalist to reveal a source and determine there are no alternative methods.

However, these protections only go one way. NEVER send me an incriminating email from a work computer. Your employer owns all work emails and you have no right of privacy to anything on your work computer. If you wish to contact me, you can email me your contact information and I will call you. I never exchange incriminating information by email. Email is NOT secure.

So long as all communication is done by phone without witnesses, you will be safe. No one will be able to prove you were the source for any specific piece of information. If you ever feel pressured to do anything unethical, tell your supervisor, in writing, that you refuse and why. Even if the municipality has other justifications for terminating your position, they will be extremely hesitant because of their civil liabilities.

This blog has documented far too much to assume our township employees haven’t witnessed any improprieties. And this blog will continue to investigate.

For my readers, here are some examples of the difficulty I have retrieving information.

I once requested a vendor history of all payments made to former town manager, Mark Coren. Shortly after retiring, he was paid a $1,479 consulting fee regarding the transit village project. Since it appeared “within reason”, I didn’t question other reimbursements, such as his $185 monthly cell phone bill, or the inflated expenses for the ICMA conference. However, the township “neglected” to provide the vendor history of Coren Municipal Advisors. Sure enough, he received another $8,500 in payments a year later for “consulting” work on the non-existent Anchor Glass development. For all I know, he’s still receiving payments under the name of other corporations. I have no reason to believe the township if they say otherwise.

Another time, I requested a series of financial documents and received a letter claiming the search would take several hours, possibly over ten, and incur fees. I complained to Mayor Sobel and had all my documents within the hour (save one paper detailing bond payments which I received that afternoon).

Another example is when I hunted for evidence that CME Associates tried to fleece the taxpayers over Oakshades Park. I submitted a number of inquiries but the township always remained firm that CME Associates never had nor attempted to have any involvement in the park’s new lighting system.

Sure enough, I finally found the proof I needed – the township’s grant application to the county included $80,000 for engineering work that was never used.

Steady but slow, bit by bit, more and more will be uncovered. If anyone in the township has witnessed anything contrary to the public welfare, have no fear. The law is on your side. >>> Read more!