Monday, April 26, 2010

Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale

It's that time of year again. The first Sunday in June is the Greater Aberdeen Garage Sale.

This is the third year and I expect it to be another success. All past participants will be notified and I expect most of them to participate again.

I apologize for not announcing it sooner but I'm using another person's software and there are still some minor glitches, the worst being it takes about 30 minutes for a new listing to post after being approved. I'll let you know when it's fixed.

Registration is completely free and I will not share your email addresses with anybody. Also, you don't need to register to have a yard sale. Nor does Aberdeen require any permits or the like. If anybody in any of the neighboring towns wishes to participate, you're welcome to join us.

The date is Sunday, June 6th, from 9AM to 4PM. Best of luck to everybody. >>> Read more!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More Township Lies Exposed

On April 19th, Aberdeen Township’s planning board and town council were very clear that they were being forced to approve an ordinance allowing the construction of 194 new housing units because, if they didn’t, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) would withdraw certification at its April 21st meeting. The only evidence that COAH would do such a thing was township attorney Dan McCarthy’s insistence COAH told him so.

On Thursday, I reported that McCarthy had lied because Aberdeen wasn’t on COAH’s April 21st agenda and RCM, the developer, had withdrawn its COAH petition so there was no possibility of losing certification at the April 21st meeting.

Now, more lies have been exposed. At the infamous April 19th town council meeting, the attorney and town council claimed COAH had threatened to withdraw Aberdeen’s certification during its March 10th meeting and that the only person who had heard the threat was township attorney Dan McCarthy.

Well, the minutes for that March 10th meeting were released this week.

First, Dan McCarthy was not the only representative from Aberdeen at that meeting. With him were Joe Criscuolo, Aberdeen’s town manager, and Diane Dabulas, McCarthy’s co-counsel. It’s amazing that nobody recalled Criscuolo was at the March 10th meeting, particularly Criscuolo himself who sat silently at the dais during the entire council meeting.

And then there are the March 10th minutes themselves. All it says about Aberdeen is that the “matter was referred to a task force.”

Furthermore, McCarthy claimed that Lori Grifa, acting commissioner for the Department of Community Affaris, personally threatened the township. Does that mean he’s also claiming the task force, consisting of three members of COAH (of which Grifa chairs) aren’t independent thinkers or that Grifa was so determined to hammer Aberdeen that she would the task force's recommendation?

Also, how likely was the task force to submit a recommendation at the April 21st meeting had RCM not withdrawn its petition? Do the task forces really operate that fast?

So, next question for the town council – Why did nobody know that the town manager was at the COAH meeting and why didn’t the town manager acknowledge being there?
>>> Read more!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Those Lying Lawyers of Aberdeen

Last Monday, Aberdeen Township was bamboozled into approving an ordinance zoning for 194 new housing units to allegedly appease the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), even though only 37 of the units are actually for affordable housing (19 for moderate and 18 for low income). I say allegedly because the only evidence that COAH ever made such a demand is town attorney Dan McCarthy’s say-so. And Dan McCarthy is a liar. But he’s not Aberdeen’s only liar for hire. So is our esteemed planning/zoning board attorney, Michael Leckstein.

Town hall was packed with over a hundred people protesting a massive housing development that would flood our schools, increase our taxes, and congest our roads, not to mention the environmental impact from high-density construction in a wetlands area. (Hat tip: AberdeenNJlife)

Leckstein famously set the tone by first insisting the public had no right to comment on any of this at the planning board meeting and then, when the audience asserted its right to speak, he threatened “police force”.

According to Leckstein, “There’s no requirement in the statute to have any public comment whatsoever about what’s happening.”

No requirement in the statute? Is it possible Leckstein never heard of The Open Public Meetings Act, a.k.a. “The Sunshine Law”? That particular statute states “a municipal governing body shall be required to set aside a portion of every meeting of the municipal governing body, the length of the portion to be determined by the municipal governing body, for public comment on any governmental issue that a member of the public feels may be of concern to the residents of the municipality.”

Leckstein – You’re a liar and I wouldn’t mind seeing you subjected to a little “police force”.

After the planning board unanimously approved the ordinance, the town council considered the issue, this time led by McCarthy. He claimed Aberdeen was the “poster child” of COAH’s cruelty. McCarthy insisted repeatedly and throughout the night that if the council failed to immediately approve the ordinance, Aberdeen would lose its COAH certification two days later at COAH’s April 21st meeting and be subject to an onslaught of builder remedy lawsuits.

Only one problem. Aberdeen was never on COAH’s April 21st agenda. I emailed COAH about the inconsistency and they replied -

Mr. Warren –

COAH heard oral argument at its March 10, 2010 meeting regarding a motion filed by C&M Real Estate and RCM Group for an Order to Show Cause as to why Aberdeen Township will not abide by the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding executed with RCM on December 17, 2009, based upon a settlement agreement reached at COAH mediation. However, because Aberdeen Township passed the ordinance in question on firsts reading two weeks ago, the developer withdrew the motion. Presumably if the Township did not pass the ordinance last night, the developer would have refilled the motion to be heard at COAH’s May meeting.
Now, one might be inclined to ask “What’s the difference? April, May, it doesn’t matter.” But it does matter.

The council claimed the only reason it was approving the ordinance was because McCarthy told them COAH had “put a gun to the head of the township” and would withdraw its certification. There is no documentation, no correspondence, nothing in writing whatsoever to substantiate McCarthy’s claim. Nor was anyone else from the township present at the March 10th hearing to confirm McCarthy’s reconstruction.

And McCarthy lied about the April 21st meeting. That doesn’t mean he lied about everything but what sane individual would vote to authorize 194 housing units based solely upon the testimony of a liar.

The township approved an “Inclusionary Housing Overlay Zone” for the largest construction project since Avalon because McCarthy told them to. The council never consulted with the school district, never conducted an economic impact study, and never asked the developer how many children we could expect from the development. Nor will the 37 affordable housing units do much to alleviate our COAH obligations, the supposed reason for allowing the project.

Was the council duped? I would have assumed so until they and McCarthy claimed to not know who the principal was behind RCM. Hmmm. What are the chances that, after negotiating for over a year with RCM, they never realized the company is owned by Cifelli, Aberdeen’s largest developer?

It’s also fascinating that the council never discussed COAH’s threat at its March 16th meeting. The first we see any discussion is after Governor Christie’s task force recommends abolishing COAH and sharply curtailing affordable housing obligations across the state.

Next thing, they’ll be blaming the school district for our high property taxes.

To everyone who was there to protest that night and to everyone who wishes they could’ve been there as well – this ain’t over. Not by a long shot. >>> Read more!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Aberdeen's Attorney Threatens Police Force

Tonight, Aberdeen's Planning Board voted to recommend two properties be rezoned for inclusionary housing, paving the way for 194 new apartments on County Rd. and Rt. 34. (The council then approved the recommendation.) Over a hundred people attended the meeting.

Here's what Aberdeen Township's Planning Board Attorney, Michael Leckstein, told the public.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Should I Yes or Should I No

On Tuesday, we’ll be voting whether to approve a 2% tax levy increase for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, the lowest proposed increase among the non-Abbott K-12 school districts in Monmouth County. (The proposed budget is $2.3 million below last year’s and $2.9 million below the budget for 2008-09.) Supporters and opponents of the tax increase both have valid arguments. However, on balance, I believe it is in our community’s best interest to support the budget.

If the budget fails, the governing bodies of Matawan and Aberdeen will likely recommend the tax increase be cut from 2% to 1%. No more personnel or program cuts will be necessary since the district will begin receiving 1.5% salary contributions towards health benefits from all employees represented by the teachers union, amounting to about $500,000. (All other employees already contribute.)

If the budget passes, that same money would go towards restoring programs and personnel; I would argue for restoring summer school, the librarians for the middle and high schools, and a child study team.

The arguments against the tax increase are straightforward:

Our taxes are already too high
Among Monmouth County’s 53 municipalities, Matawan has the 2nd highest property taxes and Aberdeen has the 5th highest.

We don’t raise taxes during a recession
All of us personally know people who lost their jobs and probably know people who either lost their homes or are at risk of doing so. The community cannot afford another tax increase on top of all the other increases from sewer fees to water prices to municipal taxes to county taxes to medical devices to loss of the homestead rebate to . . . Well, you get the picture.

The school district needs to cut more fat
We’ve got teachers who can’t teach and administrators who can’t administer. Why aren’t we getting rid of these people?

We need to send the teachers union a message
Every penny of the proposed tax increase is going towards staff salary increases. The new 1.5% salary contribution to healthcare only covers one-third of this year’s $1.5 million increase for health benefits (and less than 10% of the total cost for the union’s Cadillac plan). Meanwhile, the teachers union has refused to offer any meaningful concessions that would save jobs and programs or, at the very least, demonstrate a shared sacrifice during a deep recession. The budget vote is the community’s only opportunity to demonstrate its anger towards union intransigence.

Defeating the budget will reduce future taxes
The state imposes CAPs that set strict limits on what percentage the district can increase taxes from year to year. Defeating the budget sets a lower baseline, which likely translates into lower annual taxes moving forward.

I agree with all of the above but I ask you to do the following:

Place all these arguments on one end of a scale and librarians on the other end. Put another way, is our community willing to increase school taxes by 1% to have librarians in all our schools. Libraries are a completely different learning experience from the internet and I fear that experience will be lost without school librarians. My vote is for the librarians.
>>> Read more!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and Elections

Well, it’s that time of year again where people lie for political advantage. So, let’s mention some now and feel free to add your own as you hear them.

The MRTA offered a pay freeze but it was rejected by the BOE
This ludicrous claim was recently made on 101.5 FM. Not only is it absolutely false (as in never happened) but runs contrary to MRTA President Kosmyna’s stated position that any concession must guarantee full employment. Well, we’ve got a $7 million hole and, to quote Donald Trump, somebody’s getting fired. But concessions from the MRTA could prevent most budgeted job cuts. It’s all dollar for dollar. Money saved from concessions would go towards job preservation.

The state mandated contributions to health care can be used to save the custodians
The $500,000 savings from the 1.5% contributions is not enough to save the custodians. Future savings could reach $1 million a year. Furthermore, nobody expects the budget to pass when every penny of the tax increase is going towards staff raises. If the budget fails, the health care contributions will probably be used for tax relief, not job preservation.

The school board is endangering our children
The teachers union has been alleging we’ve outsourced custodial services to a company with a reputation for employing undocumented workers. It’s a remarkable claim considering the union knows we’ve not selected anybody, yet, to provide custodial services. All we’ve done is hire a consultant to assist us through the bidding process.

As for allegations that outsourcing custodial services will endanger our students, I’ve not been able to find any local news stories to support the claim. But I have been able to find some New Jersey stories involving district-employed custodians.

Lastly, all custodians will go through standard background checks, including fingerprinting, and the administration will be reviewing security protocols. The schools are safer than they’ve been in years and the board would have never agreed to outsourcing custodial services if we believed it might create a security risk.

The school board is destroying education
This argument is coming from the tax and spend crowd. It’s particularly insulting considering the multiple school board initiatives over the past year, including writing programs, objective educational goals, college readiness, increased rigor, and accountability for all programs, like the recently deceased $2 million-a-year RTI program. The tax and spend crowd also conveniently ignores the public will; our community has a 9-year history of voting against tax increases.

O’Malley got a raise and is overpaid

O’Malley did not get a raise, he got a contract extension and will actually be earning slightly less money next year due to his inability to cash in unused vacation days. As for being overpaid, compared to whom? Quinn, who constantly raised taxes with nothing to show for it and maintained a personal secretary?

If qualified superintendents are a dime a dozen, why are so many districts so poorly run? Last year, we increased O’Malley’s salary by $9,000 beyond the contractual requirements and we’ve been getting our money’s worth.

The board is cutting arts and music programs
This is the Demarest campaign’s latest line (not that there’s any campaign, just a bunch of rumor mongers). I wish we were cutting ceramics but I don’t see it happening. Nor has there ever been any discussion of cutting music programs. The only clubs, classes, etc., that are being cut but were not specifically listed in the latest budget presentation are those that lack sufficient student interest.

The middle and high school libraries are going bookless
No, but the reality is still pretty grim. The librarians for the middle and high school libraries are budgeted to be cut, leaving the libraries under the supervision of library clerks. We may also be able to schedule the remaining librarians to spend some time at the upper schools’ libraries. I agree the absence of librarians will undermine the library experience as well as an understanding of how to do actual research. Without librarians, the libraries will likely morph into media centers. If the budget is approved, I intend to push to restore the librarians.

Demarest doesn’t like me
This, alas, is true but not her other claims. For example, she continues to tell people I “threatened” her. She’s referring to a June email two years ago when I wrote the following:

I see in the minutes for tomorrow night's meeting that [first name hidden] Zavorskas is being offered a work study position in the high school.

I just did a search and found that the only people in the white pages named Zavorskas in all of New Jersey happen to live in Cathy's house. I'm assuming this girl is her daughter. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

However, if she is Cathy's daughter, I beg you to deny her appointment. I had received personal assurances that there would be no nepotism. At the very least, this gives the strong appearance of nepotism. The fact that it's Cathy's daughter makes it a virtual certainty.

Please, do not approve this appointment. Despite our differences, I have always respected you as a person of great integrity. However, for myself, I need to draw a line in the sand somewhere. I have been quite restrained lately in my writings regarding the school district. When John and Jan reached out to me, I responded in kind. But I cannot watch something like this happen in my town and be silent.

I have never asked you to choose sides but I'm asking now. Please do not allow this. Otherwise, and I say this hoping it will not come to pass, I will act forcefully to expose and defeat the coalition that elected you as president of the board.

Please, do not let this come to pass.
Best regards,
As an aside, the following year, the board briefly discussed the policy regarding board members’ children taking work study positions. At the time, I asked Mr. Glastein if, in his long experience, he could recall a single instance when a board member’s child applied for a work study position and was not appointed. He said, “No.”

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more stories leading up to the elections. Feel free to share. >>> Read more!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The School Board's Three-Legged Race

On April 20th, three candidates will vie for two seats on the Matawan-Aberdeen school board – Incumbent John (Jeff) Delaney, former board president Patricia Demarest, and Reverend Thelma Gattis. Only one will lose. Tragically, the booby prize will likely go to Rev. Gattis; a comeback for Demarest is a setback for the rest of us.

Historically, voters unfamiliar with the candidates tend to vote for those at the top of the list and Rev. Gattis will appear last on the ballot. Worse, Rev. Gattis is little known beyond the Cliffwood community, where she has been pastor of the St. Mark A.M.E. Zion Church since 2004. Additionally, voters may be wary of supporting someone who only changed her legal residence to Aberdeen in 2007, has had minimal involvement with the school district, and doesn’t pay property taxes. Nor is there any indication of Reverend Gattis running a strong campaign.

A Gattis victory would require very high negatives for her two opponents, which simply don’t exist beyond this blog.

Dr. Delaney’s main negative is his friendship with me. (Full Disclosure: Although I have not participated in any campaign meetings or made any campaign contributions, I do intend to support him.) Delaney is a highly credentialed longtime resident with an amazing personal story who’s been deeply involved in our school district for several years. During the past year alone, Delaney co-authored two of the board’s three goals and got our school policies in compliance with state law. (Our district scored 100% on QSAC.) Although he did not vote for Dr. O’Malley’s raise, last year, Delaney has been a strong supporter of our superintendent.

Ms. Demarest is presenting herself as the “everywoman” candidate. If you like Dr. O’Malley, she can point to her work with him during her term as president. If you don’t like him, she can point to her vote against his appointment. If you want low taxes, Demarest can point to the small tax increases during the “O’Malley” years. If you want more spending, she can point to her earlier years of large spending hikes.

Unfortunately, a Demarest victory would send a terrible message that our community is either oblivious to what happens on the school board or just doesn’t care. Here is the Demarest record:

A vote for Demarest is a vote against everything our district has achieved under Dr. O’Malley’s administration. Writing programs have been integrated with class curricula. For the first time, every school made AYP (adequate yearly progress) under No Child Left Behind. We’re now above average in state testing for our District Factor Group in over half of the exams. Spending levels are falling. We’ve reduced out-district placements by 10%.

Yet, Demarest opposed O’Malley’s appointment and still does. And for those who don’t think there’s reason to be afraid, remember this – One year ago, Demarest represented the majority.

Those who forget Pat Demarest’s history may doom our community to repeat it. And those who want Dr. O’Malley to stay shouldn’t be giving him reasons to leave. >>> Read more!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

For two and a half years, nobody has tried vandalizing this blog until now. Tuesday night, during the Passover holiday when I could not monitor the blog, somebody ran a computer program generating the comment "Tell the truth, Mr. Warren” at a rate of 17 messages per minute. By the time it was discovered and stopped, 550 repetitive comments were posted under Rodeo Clowns in the MRTA.

Blogger only allows the programs to be removed one at a time. I asked one of my programmers to write a program to delete the spam. However, between the script posting the spam and a second script removing it, Blogger appears to have flagged the article. Although the comments are still being received and still appear in the recent comments section, they’re not appearing in the main article. Hopefully, this is a temporary problem.

If the comments do not reappear by tomorrow, I will post all the comments within the article itself.

As for the vandal, you can thank him for the new security measures I’ve had to implement. Moving forward, all comments will require “word verification” to prevent automated spammers.

However, let’s remember it was just one guy and not representative of any group in our community. We will continue to debate even if we have to work a little bit harder at it.
>>> Read more!