Since its founding in 2012, the contributors here at Watchdog have generally been just ordinary citizens, not professional journalists. Nevertheless, we have got the ball rolling on a number of big stories in Sussex County – including the illegal negotiations to sell the county solid waste facility (caught in time and prevented), the solar program that ended up going bust (which ultimately cost taxpayers $26 million), the corruption at the county college (leading to the resignation of several trustees), and environmental issues impacting the health of county workers (CWA members) in Newton (which was addressed after our report). Whether via tips or submitted columns, we publish stories that address the bad behavior of the government and corporate establishment.
Generally we work with for-profit corporate media, which is advertising based. As we do not run ads, we do not have a need for click-bait, as they do. Nevertheless, we respect them for the work that they do. So we were shocked when a local media person had a story concerning a media organization outside the county – in New York City, in fact – that was using Sussex County to attract viewers.
Apparently, a candidate for Sheriff in the upcoming GOP primary – Andy Boden – bragged to local media that he had arranged for a “hit job” on his opponent, Sussex County Sheriff Mike Strada. It seems that Boden said the “hit job” would be about how Strada has suspended him for running, and that now he must work construction and that his wife had to take a job. Boden claimed that the “hit job” was being done on his behalf by a friend of a friend who has a show on NBC out of New York City.
Andy Boden is a rather sad case. Earlier this year, a police psychologist found him “unfit for duty” and he was placed on leave. Boden went to Sheriff Strada and asked him to restore him to duty – which meant giving him back his power over people, a firearm, handcuffs, and badge. The Sheriff’s office told Boden that he needed to get well first and re-evaluated by a mental health professional, before he could be re-instated.
Boden’s case mirrors the current national debate concerning mental health and gun laws. Should employers act when they observe traumatic stress in employees (in this case, confirmed by a mental health professional) or should they wait until after something actually happens? It is a complex issue.
Boden’s case has been further complicated by his candidacy, which was not his idea, but rather that of a local union fighting to preserve the jobs of corrections officers at the Sussex County jail (the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility). The jobs of many who work at the jail were put in jeopardy by the passage of Bail Reform, a bi-partisan bill aimed at reducing the number of people incarcerated while waiting for trial. Before bail reform, many innocent people were locked up for weeks or months simply because they couldn’t afford the cost of bail. They often lost jobs, homes, and relationships while they were locked up – only later to be found “not guilty” or have the case against them dismissed.
After bail reform became law in New Jersey, jail populations began to diminish drastically and elected officials started to consider shared services agreements that would allow them to close or scale-down some facilities and save money for taxpayers. The August 2014 “needs assessment” on the Sussex jail (Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility), conducted by Pulitzer/Bogard Associates LLC, clearly outlined the devastating impact keeping the jail open would have on county taxpayers. Making the jail compliant with basic standards would cost $11 million in short term and $64 million in long term expenditures.
At the insistence of county Freeholders, Sheriff Strada has been working to scale-down the jail and enter into shared services agreements with Morris County. An agreement to house Sussex County’s female inmate population has recently been reached (and the quality of life for female inmates markedly improved, according to media reports).
A working group that includes county bureaucrats, elected officials, and union leaders has been working to place every corrections officer likely to be displaced by the plans for the jail. It is our understanding that County Administrator Greg Poff will shortly announce that positions have been found for every officer likely to be displaced. Unfortunately, some union people have continued to oppose any changes to the jail. They’ve complained about the length of the commutes to other facilities and such. And it is this group who recruited Andy Boden as their candidate and spokesperson.
They have been using their media contacts to shop around “dirt” on Sheriff Strada and even used a fake Facebook account to distribute a fake video of an “incident” between the Sheriff and a female firefighter, which was later found to have been doctored by the media (including the Star-Ledger/ NJ.com and the New Jersey Herald). After the media spoke with the female firefighter, who confirmed that the incident never happened, Andy Boden claimed to have had no knowledge of it – despite the fact that Boden’s campaign managers had met with the local party chairman and threatened him with the release of the video some 48 hours before it was released. This according to a legal statement given by the party chairman.
Boden’s managers went to a well-known statehouse blog in Trenton with their “dirt” – but after the reporter reviewed the transcript of the public hearing Boden asked for regarding his “unfit for duty” status – the story that was written was not to Boden’s liking:
Incumbent Sheriff Mike Strada faces a challenge from corrections officer Andy Boden, who suspended earlier this year after a police psychologist ruled he was unfit for duty.
Following his suspension, Boden has mounted an offensive against the three-term sheriff, accusing him of endangering his deputies and misusing public funds.
“My decision to run is to end the culture of harassment and mental abuse that Strada has created and fostered. His actions, along with his posse’s, will come out in the upcoming weeks,” Boden said.
Boden has been suspended since early March. The New Jersey Herald first reported his suspension.
In testimony provided to the New Jersey Globe by Strada’s campaign, a police psychologist said he or she could not rule out the possibility of Boden harming someone if he was allowed to continue working while receiving therapy.
The psychologist recommended the corrections officer receive additional treatment to restore fitness for duty.
“Lt. Boden was to engage in individual treatment outside of the treatment that he had already been receiving with his wife with the sole purpose on managing his stress level, identifying coping mechanisms that work for him so that he could return to his position,” the psychologist said.
For further reading, visit New Jersey Globe at…
Watchdog is attempting to find out just who the NBC person is who Andy Boden was speaking about when he told local media that a “hit job” was being done on Sheriff Strada. Stay tuned…