Monday, May 31, 2010

This Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, let us honor the memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to secure our freedoms.

The following is an excerpt from Robert Sherrod's eyewitness account of the Battle of Tarawa, one of the bloodiest battles in World War II.

The fifteen of us - I think it was fifteen - scurried over the side of the amphtrack into the water that was neck-deep. We started wading.
No sooner had we hit the water than the Jap machine guns really opened up on us. There must have been five or six of these machine guns concentrating their fire on us... It was painfully slow, wading in such deep water. And we had seven hundred yards to walk slowly into that machinegun fire, looming into larger targets as we rose onto higher ground. I was scared, as I had never been scared before. But my head was clear. I was extremely alert, as though my brain were dictating that I live these last minutes for all they were worth. I recalled that psychologists say fear in battle is a good thing; it stimulates the adrenalin glands and heavily loads the blood supply with oxygen.

I do not know when it was that I realized I wasn't frightened any longer. I suppose it was when I looked around and saw the amphtrack scooting back for more Marines. Perhaps it was when I noticed that bullets were hitting six inches to the left or six inches to the right. I could have sworn that I could have reached out and touched a hundred bullets. I remember chuckling inside and saying aloud, 'You bastards, you certainly are lousy shots.'
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Do Hereby Proclaim

In contrast to Matawan’s professional and understated resolution, Aberdeen Township chose to attack the school board and the administration. I don’t know of a single other instance when one local governing body unanimously voted to denigrate another governing body. The fact that Aberdeen’s resolution is full of distortions and factual errors just aggravates an already egregious breach in protocol.

In response, I issued my own “proclamation” at Monday night’s school board meeting. Below is the text, in full.

Whereas Aberdeen’s Town Council has unanimously approved Resolution 2010-83 certifying Matawan-Aberdeen’s Regional School District’s budget

Whereas said resolution contains many clauses attacking this school board and our administration

Whereas said resolution purposely distorts the facts and our record

Whereas said resolution intentionally avoids mentioning a single accomplishment, academically or financially, of this school district under Dr. O’Malley’s administration

Whereas said resolution violates confidentiality by disclosing private conversations between representatives of the school board and the town council

Whereas the town council breached protocol by publicizing the resolution without first notifying the superintendent of the proposed budget

Whereas the town council, in violation of the sunshine laws, failed to give the public adequate notice of the budget vote

Whereas the town council, in violation of the sunshine laws, has never given the public adequate notice of the school budget vote for over half a decade, at least

Whereas the town council rejected a proposed school tax increase of $280,000 for Aberdeen Township but has submitted a preliminary budget calling for a municipal tax increase of $2,000,000

Whereas, over the last three years, the school district has raised taxes less than 2% compared to the town council’s projected three-year increase of more than 30%

Whereas Aberdeen Township has the fifth highest property taxes in Monmouth County due to the town council’s inability to attract commercial development

Whereas the town council, in violation of the sunshine laws, secretly authorized a Memorandum of Understanding with a local developer for the construction of 194 new residential units

Whereas the town council is using a Payment in Lieu of Taxes program to divert over $400,000 a year from the school district toward the municipal budget

Whereas the town council is obscenely compromised by pay-to-play

Whereas Aberdeen Township pays the town council’s largest political donor over $1.2 million a year for professional services

Whereas the town council only awards professional services to campaign contributors and the politically connected

Whereas town council members raised $40,000 during the most recent general election but didn’t disclose a single contributor

Whereas the town council retains one attorney who misrepresented crucial facts during a public meeting and another attorney who threatened residents, including members of this school board, with police action

Whereas town council members pay themselves tens of thousands of dollars a year in salaries while school board members work for free

Whereas Resolution 2010-83 leaves the ludicrous impression that the town council is better qualified to manage the school district than the board of education

We, the undersigned, award the Town Council of Aberdeen Township the Lifetime Chutzpah Award and hereby present to you the ceremonial boot.

--Since no one is here from the town council to accept the ceremonial boot, I am ashamed to accept it on their behalf.--

P.S. The above remarks have not been endorsed by Ms. Jan Rubino.
>>> Read more!

Welcome Principal Blackmore

Mr. Blackmore’s recent appointment to Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School Principal has aroused a fair bit of public opposition, most notably from some lemons on the town council. Let’s address the two most prominent issues.

Mr. Blackmore is unqualified
“How could a guy who couldn’t even make it in Asbury Park be appointed principal in our district?” So the critics say. Well, let’s see what the folks in Asbury Park have to say. Here’s an excerpt from the Asbury Park Press - "Departure of high school principal comes as shock":

School board member Danny McKee was so upset last week about high school Principal Tyler Blackmore leaving to become principal of the Matawan Aberdeen Middle School that when asked to accept the 36-year-old's resignation, McKee couldn't do it.

I was shocked and very disappointed," said McKee, who is president of the Asbury Park Little League. "I'm going to vote no."

Indeed, Blackmore, who is finishing his third year as principal, has been highly popular in the city and late last week, at the same time people were finding out he was leaving, received a special Spirit of Asbury Park award from the city chamber of commerce.

Blackmore said Thursday he's choosing not to discuss why he's leaving at this time.

One theory to explain part of what happened comes from Barbara Lesinski, the past school board president who just lost her seat in April.

Lesinski believes that when central office administrators first announced a few months ago that the district was going to apply for special school improvement grants funded with federal stimulus money, principals at the high school and middle school were told they would be released from their jobs as part of getting the large grants, as much as $2 million per school per year.

That did not turn out to be true, Lesinski said, but it took a while to straighten out and by that point, she says she believes Blackmore had started to see what other jobs were available.

She also said she believed Blackmore would have have been given tenure this spring despite three new people coming onto the nine-member board when Lesinski, Garrett Giberson and Danny Weiss lost their seats a month ago.

"But it becomes precarious," Lesinski said. "Why play games with your future?
Here's an excerpt from the APP's editorial page - "Asbury loses a keeper":
Asbury Park High School's loss is the Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School's gain.

The news last week that high school principal Tyler Blackmore is leaving the high school to become principal of the Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School has left students, parents, school board members and the community at large saddened. And some are left to wonder why this happened and what can be done to prevent outstanding administrators from leaving a district sorely in need of them.

Blackmore, 36, was a principal who got things done. Among other things, he started a mentoring program, administered through the Boys and Girls Club, in which 37 high school students have signed up. Another 15 teenagers attend a college-bound mentoring program run by Monmouth University. He recently received a special Spirit of Asbury Park award from the city Chamber of Commerce . . .

Blackmore's departure is a major loss to the district. His shoes will be tough to fill.
Promoting from within would have eliminated an administrator position
This statement assumes the only way to eliminate administrator positions is through attrition. Not so. We can also terminate. Upon the administration’s recommendation, the school board decided to employ twenty-two administrators. We had no obligation to do so. We could have fired every vice-principal in the district, the deputy superintendent, the directors of accountability, the director of technology, etc. We could have eliminated every single administrative position that isn’t mandated by law.

The school board decided how many administrative positions to staff. Promoting from within would have reduced terminations by one. It would not have provided any savings.

Do we still have too many administrators? I believe we do. However, I also recognize the need to maintain an orderly transition as we continue to reduce staff with minimal disruptions. We could have outsourced transportation, guidance counselors, child study teams, secretarial staff, teacher aides, etc. I proposed doing just that. However, the administration argued we’d be biting off more than we could chew and the school board sided with the administration.

Of all people, our town council members should be the very last to suggest the school board lacks the stomach to fire people.
>>> Read more!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Aberdeen’s History of Sunshine Violations

As reported at the beginning of the week, Aberdeen’s town council flagrantly violated New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act (a.k.a. the Sunshine Laws) regarding three major council actions – Aberdeen’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rick Cifelli’s RCM for the construction of 194 residential units was concluded in December behind closed doors without a council vote. In April, the first reading for the ordinance rezoning RCM’s properties was kept off the public agenda. This week, the town council’s original agenda didn’t include the vote for the school budget. After the public raised a ruckus, the town council shamefacedly replaced the original agenda with one that included the school budget vote but not until the morning of the meeting.

New Jersey’s Sunshine Laws require all votes to be public unless it would expose confidential or be otherwise detrimental to the public. Furthermore, all public agendas must include all items being voted upon “to the extent known”.

Sadly, the recent sunshine violations aren’t a departure from past practice – they are past practice.

On the township website are agendas and minutes dating back to 2005. With the exception of 2009, the town council has voted upon the school budget each year for nearly a decade.

On May 17, 2005, the town voted on the school budget but it’s missing from the agenda.

On May 16, 2006, the town voted on the school budget but it’s missing from the agenda.

On May 15, 2007
, the town voted on the school budget but it’s missing from the agenda.

On May 15, 2008, the town council held a special meeting for the school budget and it was on the agenda. Although the agenda isn’t posted on the website, then-Mayor Sobel stated that notice “was published in the appropriate newspapers.” Only problem is there’s no record of any public notices. Even more damning, the meeting’s minutes state, “There were no members from the public at tonight’s meeting.”

Considering New Jersey has an annual May 19th deadline to pass the school budget, the township can’t claim they didn’t know. Nor does it matter if they didn’t have the resolution’s final language prior to posting the agenda. The law requires “to the extent known.”

I’m sure we’ll hear more evasions and twisted rationale why one of the biggest votes of the year is never on the agenda but these arguments are tiresome. Undoubtedly, these aren't the only sunshine violations. I had hoped the risk of exposure would set the council straight. Apparently not. Now for step two.

The state prosecutor’s office has jurisdiction over municipal violations of the sunshine law. Their address is Division of Criminal Justice, PO Box 085, Trenton, NJ 08625. They’ll be hearing from me and it won’t be just about violations of the Sunshine Law.
>>> Read more!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tempest in a Teapot

Note: Certain individuals are trying to purposefully distort the record so I'm including my full correspondence with COAH.

Yesterday, several critics accused me of lying. Here’s the background.

On April 19th, the township attorney declared unequivocally and repeatedly that Aberdeen Township would lose its COAH certification two days later at the April 21st COAH meeting if the town council did not approve an ordinance creating an Inclusionary Housing Overlay Zone for the purpose of constructing nearly for the construction of 194 residential units.

I have since argued the attorney lied. We were never on the April 21st agenda, the developer had withdrawn its petition, and, according to an email from COAH, if the developer had resubmitted its motion, it wouldn’t have been considered until the May meeting.

On Sunday, I wrote “a majority of town council members have commented privately or, in the mayor’s case, publicly that they were misled by McCarthy regarding COAH.” Meaning, it was their understanding that we would lose certification on April 21st and, since the lie had been exposed, they were tacitly acknowledging being misled.

My critics have argued the council members have never acknowledged being misled and I’m wrong on the facts – that we could have lost our certification on April 21st.

Here’s one anonymous comment –
You have not established that it would have been impossible for the developer to have its Order heard on April 21st. I absolutely defy you to find anyone at COAH who will tell you that COAH would have turned away the developer on April 21st if they had appeared. [Bold in the original]

Well, I did something wholly unpredictable and unusual. I contacted COAH again and I’ve posted my email for anyone wishing to see the full exchange. [Bolding not in original]

COAH - 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.

Warren - I'm sorry to bother you again regarding this matter but could you please clarify the following point. If Aberdeen Township had failed to pass the ordinance on Monday, April 19th and the developer refiled his motion on Tuesday, April 20th, was there any likelihood the matter would have been considered at the April 21st COAH meeting?

COAH - No. Motions require a briefing schedule, which is usually 30 days. Emergent motions are occasionally scheduled, but the briefing schedule is rarely shorter than 10 days. The Council also would have had the option of issuing an order to show cause without a motion being filed.

So, there you have it. McCarthy told us if the ordinance failed to pass we would definitely lose our COAH certification two days later. He lied.

I’ll leave it to the reader to judge for himself – When a council member says he thought we would lose our certification on the 21st, is that the same as saying he was misled? One thing’s for sure – it’s the closest they’ll ever come to admitting the township attorney lied to them and lied to us.
>>> Read more!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Aberdeen Hides from the Sunshine Laws

This Tuesday, May 18th, 2010, at 7PM, Aberdeen Township will, once again, violate New Jersey’s Open Public Meetings Act, a.k.a. the Sunshine Laws. According to the agenda, “This meeting is being held in conformance with the Open Public Meetings Act.” But that can’t be. Why not? Because the township will be voting on the school budget and it’s not on the agenda. How do I know the township will be voting on the school budget? Let see.

  • First, the township has a state deadline (page 8) of May 19th “to determine and certify to the county board of taxation the amount of money necessary for school purposes to be raised by taxation for the ensuing school year.”
  • Second, it’s on Matawan’s agenda for that same night
Could it be they simply forgot to include one of the biggest votes of the year? No. This will be the town council’s third offense in just six months.

Last December, the township authorized, in secret and without a vote, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with developers to rezone two properties to allow for the construction of nearly 200 units. The authorization occurred a month after now-Governor Christie was elected following a pledge to demolish COAH and a month before a new mayor and three new councilmen would take their seats. By all accounts, the MOU triggered a series of events leading to the ordinance rezoning the properties, despite the likelihood of COAH being terminated.

On April 6th, Councilman Cannon motioned, Deputy Mayor Vinci seconded, and the council unanimously passed a first reading of the ordinance rezoning the properties to create an Inclusionary Housing Overlay Zone. Remarkably, only one month later, township attorney McCarthy, who was present at the meeting, couldn’t remember when the first reading took place. More remarkable still, despite being unable to recall the first reading, McCarthy was able to explain why it wasn’t on the agenda, claiming the council didn’t know it was going to be on the agenda until that day. (The ordinance had been in development since the March 10th COAH meeting.)

This time, the school budget isn’t on the agenda. The Sunshine Laws require “to the extent known” the agenda of the meeting be posted. Furthermore, all items must be public unless the law specifically provides for an exemption.

To understand how unusual this is, consider this – After covering the school district for over 30 months, there has never been an instance when the school board was aware of an agenda item that wasn’t on the public agenda. Nor has the board ever approved a motion by any board member that was pre-planned but not on the agenda.

Sadly, the town council’s record isn’t shocking. The township continues to retain an attorney who threatened police action against residents asserting their right to speak at a public meeting. McCarthy blatantly lied to the council. Yet, he remains the township attorney.

Enough is enough. Action will be taken.
>>> Read more!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Two-Faced Tax Hike

Click here for Aberdeen Township’s preliminary 2010 budget

Once upon a time, I argued the Matawan-Aberdeen school district and Aberdeen Township had a shared responsibility for our high taxes. And, once upon a time, that was true. But no longer. The school board set a goal of limiting tax increases to 2%. The residents have declared that no tax increase is acceptable and the actual increases have been below 2%. The town council, however, has no such restraint. Over the past three years, Aberdeen Township has imposed larger tax increases, both percentage-wise and in real terms, than the school district. Aberdeen Township has the 5th highest tax rate in Monmouth County and you can thank the town council.

To understand the impact of the school district’s tax increases, we must first recognize that Aberdeen pays for two-thirds of the tax levy. (Aberdeen currently pays 67% of the tax levy, which is slightly lower than it was before the property assessment revaluations but two-thirds is still a reasonable estimate.)

This year’s school tax increase is still being decided by the municipalities (and could be appealed) but, for the sake of argument, let’s err on the high side and say they only cut $200,000 from the proposed budget. That would leave a $676,000 increase for the district or a $453,000 tax increase for Aberdeen Township.

The town council’s preliminary budget calls for a $2 million tax increase. (Sheet 3b) Now, that will certainly be revised downward but how much do we truly expect the council to cut? For guidance, we can look to Matawan. After their voters rejected a $223,000 school tax increase by a 5 to 3 margin, the council unanimously approved a $555,000 municipal tax increase.

Last year, an election year, the council was only able to cut $352,000 in taxes between the preliminary budget and the final budget. (Sheet 3b) Still, for argument’s sake, let’s assume the council cuts one million dollars from the projected tax increase.

Using the above assumptions, here’s a comparison of tax increases from 2007 to present between the school district and the municipality.

2007 Tax Levy
2010 Tax Levy
% Change
$ Change
$6,990,240 $9,225,073 31.97% $2,234,833
School District
$29,111,480 $29,800,190 2.37% $688,710

Even using overly generous assumptions, over the past three years, municipal taxes have outpaced school taxes by 3 to 1 in real dollars and over 13 to 1 on a percentage basis. And this doesn’t include fee hikes like the $92 sewer increase per year per household. Nor does it include the over half million dollars CME (town engineer) snares every year from local homeowners and businesses.

Nor does it excuse the town council from using one attorney who lies to the public and another attorney who recommends using police action against the public as the basis for creating more unwanted development that will crowd our public schools.

So, the next time your tax bill skyrockets, please remember to thank your town council. And the next time your kid gets stuck in an overcrowded classroom, please thank your town council. And when you try to leave but can’t sell your house due to high property taxes, please give a big “thank you” to your town council.

But when the town council tells you its cutting the school budget to lower taxes and then turns its back on you and votes for a massive eye-popping municipal tax increase, please tell them what you really think. >>> Read more!

Friday, May 7, 2010

They Mayor, McCarthy, and I

For the handful of readers disappointed they missed my "performance" at the April 19th Aberdeen council and planning board meetings, here I am at the May 4th town council meeting. I had to cut the beginning and end because YouTube only permits ten minutes. You can click here for the entire video if you're interested.

The only missing highlight was my gaffe in referring to the planning/zoning attorney of "police action" fame as Lesniak instead of Leckstein.

Included in the video are McCarthy's denials and explanations for:

  • Claiming COAH threatened to withdraw certifacation
  • Claiming Aberdeen risked losing certification at COAH's April 21st meeting
  • Implying he was the only Aberdeen representative present at the March COAH meeting
  • Explaining why the council never voted to approve the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the developers
  • Explaining why the residents were not entitled to know about the MOU
  • Claiming he didn't remember the first reading of the ordinance creating an "Inclusionary Housing" zone was in April
  • Explaining why the ordinance's first reading wasn't on the April 6th agenda
The audio isn't great but I think it's good enough. Enjoy. Thanks to Ken Aitken for providing the video.

>>> Read more!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The School Board Votes to Outsource

Last night, about two hundred MRTA members and their supporters attended the Matawan-Aberdeen school board meeting to oppose the sole agenda item – outsourcing custodial services. In contrast to the March meeting, the staff acted with great decorum and restraint. Most of the speakers had prepared statements and attacked the concept of outsourcing, not the board members’ motivations. The crowd allowed each of the board members to speak without interruption.

The union proposed allowing labor negotiations to proceed in hopes of reaching a settlement that would save the custodial positions. The board members responded the union had ample opportunity to offer concessions that would match the expected savings from outsourcing but, unfortunately, the union concessions were too little too late. In the end, the school board voted unanimously to outsource the custodians.

The story hasn’t quite ended because there are three custodians in their 25th year of service. If the school board can reach accommodations with the union, it’s possible those three custodians will have the opportunity to complete their 25 years and thereby acquire lifetime health benefits.

I’d also like to respond to some of the issues raised at the meeting.

The district expects to save $500,000 this year and $700,000 next year from outsourcing the custodians. Despite the “substantial concessions” offered by the MRTA, they weren’t enough. I assume that if any board member thought the MRTA might match those savings through additional concessions there would have been a motion to table the issue.

For everybody who remembers the bumps we had (and still have) privatizing the substitute teachers, if we hadn’t voted last night, the vendor may have had difficulties properly staffing, processing, and training its employees by July 1st.

The district has not provided all the documentation the union has requested. Personally, I prefer full disclosure when reasonable and I don’t believe the union has made any unreasonable requests. Even if the administration is within its rights to withhold certain documents, I disagree with its decision to do so.

Lastly, I stand by me earlier comment of “Show Me the Money”. After college, I took a sales job. My manager told me that what differentiated a great salesman from a failure was attitude. A great salesman began his day with a plan to succeed. A failure began his day with a hundred excuses why nothing was his fault. Excuses are like butts, he told me, everybody has one and they all stink.

Right up to the moment the board voted, the union leadership had an opportunity to save the custodial jobs. Their excuses for failure are just that – excuses. All they had to do was offer to stick with the current salary guide for one more year. For MRTA members, the difference would have been $1,000-$1,500 per year before taxes. That’s how little they cared for their colleagues.

If it’s not about the money, then what is it about?
>>> Read more!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Custodians’ Last Days

Tonight’s school board vote on whether to outsource custodial services marks a sad turning point for Matawan-Aberdeen. Our custodians have been long-serving, dedicated, and hard-working employees. They’re being unceremoniously dumped because we can no longer afford to retain them. It didn’t have to be this way. The teachers union had the ability and the opportunity to save the custodians but, given a choice between saving the custodians and taking their raises, the union leadership preferred to take their raises.

Three companies submitted bids to provide custodial services and Pritchard was the lowest bidder at $3.1 million. That’s nearly half of what we’d pay to retain the custodians. For guidance, we can look to Marlboro. In 2006, Marlboro had a projected cost of $2.77 million for 35 custodians. Pritchard, the lowest bidder, was awarded a custodial contract for $800,000. We’ve been in touch with Marlboro and they’ve been pleased with their services and continue to use Pritchard.

For Matawan-Aberdeen, next year’s projected costs are $2.9 million for 36 custodians. On a per employee cost basis, that’s only a 1.8% increase over Marlboro’s estimates despite four years having elapsed. Like Marlboro, that cost includes “salaries, health benefits, pension contributions, Social Security and workers' compensation”.

In March, the teachers union membership argued vociferously to retain the custodians but not one speaker suggested he was prepared to offer any concessions aside from voting to raise property taxes.

The union leadership has had multiple opportunities to save the custodial positions. They could have negotiated healthcare contributions before it became state mandated. They could have offered concessions as a sign of good faith to help the budget pass. They could have given the membership an up or down vote on a pay freeze to save the custodians and other positions.

Today, however, we have a failed budget and a vendor’s bid substantially below expectations. Nothing short of a one-year pay freeze would suffice to offset those savings.

Never again will the union membership be able to proudly wear buttons proclaiming “I CARE about our kids”. When given an opportunity to join in our community’s shared sacrifice and to save their colleague’s and fellow union members’ jobs, the union said no. Next time the union leadership organizes a show of force, maybe they should distribute buttons saying “Show Me the Money”.
>>> Read more!