Sussex County Clerk Jeff Parrott is hiding behind inadequate legal counsel in his contention that the taxpayers of Sussex County do not have a say in the function of the Sheriff’s office, which they pay for entirely from their property taxes. As one activist put it, “The Clerk doesn’t understand the idea that he who pays the piper calls the tune. In this case, we taxpayers are paying, so we want our vote.”
In a New Jersey Herald story today, Parrott agreed with the Administration of Democrat Governor Phil Murphy, “that only questions about issues over which a governing body has control can be submitted for a ballot referendum. In this case, the policy in question is set by the Attorney General's Office.” Parrott used this argument to cancel a vote by the people on a public question on the November ballot. The ballot question asks voters their opinion on whether Sussex County Sheriff Mike Strada should follow American law on illegal immigration – or the directives of the Murphy administration.
However, just a few sentences later, Parrott raised the question of “Sussex County taxpayer funds” and stated “that only the freeholders control the budget.” This is essentially the Freeholders’ argument that they – not the Murphy administration – have the authority to ask the taxpayers how they want the Sheriff’s office, which they pay for, to function.
The Herald story – written by reporter Bruce Scruton – contains one whopper of a lie. Somehow Scruton got it into his head that the County Clerk has retained three attorneys. This is not true. The Clerk has only one attorney contracted to advise him in regards to this question, and according to news reports he is more of a specialist in criminal matters (sex crimes, homicides, and such) as opposed to election law. Somehow the Herald was led to believe that County Clerk Parrott had a stable of three attorneys, reporting the following:
“County Counsel Kevin Kelly, the clerk's attorney Gary Kraemer and special counsel Douglas Steinhardt all advised Parrott that such a question could not be put on the ballot.”
Of course, it was County Counsel Kevin Kelly who conducted the legal review that cleared the Ballot Question to be placed on the Freeholder agenda in April. Kelly signed-off that it was legally sound before allowing it on the agenda, so the Herald’s claim is nonsensical, unless the newspaper is alleging malpractice against an attorney who has often represented the corporation that owns the Herald itself.
As for Special Counsel Douglas Steinhardt, he was hired by the Freeholder Board less than 48 hours before the County Clerk precipitously sent his “letter of surrender” to the Murphy administration. He is a very good attorney, but even a legal savant would not be so reckless as to throw together a constitutional argument in so short a time, especially as he was travelling out of state the morning after he was hired. It simply wasn’t possible for Steinhardt to provide the kind of legal argument the Herald claims the County Clerk based his opinion on.
To add further injury to the Herald’s claims, when the newspaper was asked to interview Steinhardt for its story, they failed to do so. If they had done so, they would have been provided with the following statement from Steinhardt released on July 13th:
“To be clear, Sussex County conceded nothing. On July 24th, its Freeholders will consider revisions to the public question that will strengthen it & make clearer the County’s resolve to stand firm & fight the Murphy Administration's gross overreach & attack on the safety of the residents of Sussex County.”
Why did the Herald allege that Special Counsel Steinhardt supplied advice to County Clerk Parrott, but then fail to interview Steinhardt or even include a statement that has been in the public domain since Saturday? Did the Herald deliberately mislead its readers and advertisers? Did its reporter lie to provide a fig leaf by which the County Clerk could excuse himself?
And finally, why wasn’t a statement by Sussex County Sheriff Mike Strada part of the story? The Herald article appears to be mainly written from the perspective of one politician – County Clerk Jeff Parrott – an apologia as opposed to a news story. In contrast with the Clerk, the statement of the Sheriff could not have been clearer:
“Sheriff Strada states that he will cooperate with ICE officials and does not plan on letting any immigration inmates that have a detainer out of our facility unless they are turned over to ICE officers. I will not jeopardize the safety of the citizens of our county.”
What is the upshot to all this? Does the Herald support illegal immigration? Does it wish to see its readers and advertisers less safe? Is the reporter the problem?
One thing’s for certain… in the era of Trump, there are still some Christie Whitman Republicans out there. Let the voter beware!