Memorial Day Remembrance

Courtesy of Sussex County Watchdog

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for "Decoration Day" to be observed annually and nationwide; he was commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of and for Union Civil War veterans.  His proclamation, Logan adopted the Memorial Day practice that had begun in the Southern states three years earlier.

The first Northern Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday. In 1868, memorial events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states, and 336 in 1869. In 1871, Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday and by 1890, every northern state had followed suit. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, located near major battlefields and thus mainly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

Since 1868 Doylestown, the county seat of Bucks County, in Pennsylvania, has held annual Memorial Day parades which it claims to be the nation's oldest continuously running.

Here is a clip from a movie about the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the “bravest of the brave” preparing for the storming of the Confederate Fort Wagner, in 1863.

Sussex County boosts one current and one former infantryman serving or having recently served in elected office.  Sheriff Mike Strada was a platoon leader (SGT) in Iraq during Desert Storm.  Former Freeholder Rich Vohden served in the Korean War in the U.S. Army Infantry.

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Candidate brags to local media about NBC “hit job” on Sheriff

By: Sussex County Watchdog

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…

https://newjerseyglobe.com/local/sussex/mud-flies-in-sussex-sheriffs-race/

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…

Is illegal labor being used to build cemetery? Was there a conflict in the approval process?

Park Lawn Corporation, a publicly traded Canadian-owned funeral, crematorium, and cemetery company, recently started work on a 78-acre cemetery in Lafayette Township in Sussex County.  Park Lawn is empire-building and doing so in one heck of a hurry. Since 2013, it has grown from six cemeteries in Toronto, Ontario, gobbling up other companies along the way. This new cemetery will be operated as part of Park Lawn's CMS Mid Atlantic subsidiary, which currently operates, manages and provides financial services for seven other cemeteries in New Jersey (6) and New York (1).

When local residents attempted to communicate their concerns to workers preparing the site, they faced a language barrier and were ignored.  Sussex Watchdog did some digging and discovered that part of the acreage contains wetlands and that site preparation will be on-going for two years.  Once in operation, the grounds will hold up to 30,000 corpses and is expected to be in operation for 200 years.

Based on the concerns expressed by local stakeholders during the approval process, good communications between residents and those preparing the site is essential, as potential problems with traffic, egress, parking, and water run-off were all expressed.  There are also safety issues, as much of the heavily equipment being operated is potentially hazardous.

As of the posting of this column, Watchdog has not been able to determine if the company sub-contracted to do the work follows E-Verify protocols or hires workers who have had the benefits of a state-certified apprenticeship training program.  Surprisingly, the Land Use Board of Lafayette Township failed to ascertain these important considerations before granting their approval. Again, this presents issues regarding safety as well as value for money. And if the workers are not properly trained or properly paid – if they are being exploited for profit – this robs local taxpayers in Lafayette Township and/or Sussex County of a potential source of income.  

When undocumented immigrants illegally resident in New Jersey are exploited, it harms the immigrants, the taxpayers, and the American workers.  It is an inhuman way to make a profit…

What Watchdog did find was a conflict-of-interest in the approval process.  When one Land Use Board member properly reported that he was a “friend” of the engineer handling the project, the board attorney inexplicably allowed him to remain involved in the process and even vote on its approval.  Perhaps the whole approval process should be re-evaluated and site preparation placed on hold pending said re-evaluation?  

Once upon a time – back when Bill Clinton still had the memory of being a blue-collar boy from Arkansas – he and his party, the Democrat Party, understood illegal immigration.  It was all about protecting American jobs and not exploiting the labor of illegal immigrants to suppress American wages. Now that the Clintons have become members of the One Percent – and the Democrat Party’s leadership is composed of Wall Street One Percenters like Jon Corzine and Phil Murphy – it is all about making a fashionable excuse for exploiting vulnerable immigrants who are here illegally.

We need mandatory E-Verify in New Jersey.  And in a state that requires tree-trimmers to be certified, make sure all those employed in the trades hold apprenticeship certification.  It makes sense for safety, for taxpayers, for American workers, and it protects those who are being exploited for profit.

Politicians fight in municipal court

It's a new-found perk to holding municipal office:  When you don't like something someone says about you, instead of hiring a lawyer and going to court using YOUR money, just file a criminal complaint, have it signed-off on by a municipal employee whose job YOU control, and then have the part-time prosecutor (a lawyer also in private practice) whose job YOU control prosecute the case for you.  Heck, YOU even control the job of the municipal court judge you will be appearing before. 

And even if they transfer it to another court, it is still the same law firms chasing the same municipal court appointments.  One year you are the prosecutor in this town, the next in that, or someone in your law firm is -- and it goes for municipal court judges too who are also lawyers in private practice (an unheard of practice across America).  Which one of these attorneys is going to stand up to a Mayor or Deputy Mayor who holds their living in his or her hands each January when they select the attorneys to fill the lawyer-only part-time municipal jobs the property taxpayers will be paying for?   

Yesterday, the Star-Ledger reported on such a case in Union County between Assemblyman Jamel Holley and Roselle Mayor Christine Danserau:

"Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) faces a petty disorderly person's charge of harassment that carries a $500 fine, but the money isn't the point, said Roselle Mayor Christine Danserau.

'This is about the fact that harassment is unacceptable,' said Dansereau, who claims she was the target of Holley's obscene tirades.

...The strained relationship between Holley and Dansereau stems from a dispute over the borough's proposed $56 million library and recreation center, called the Mind and Body project. Holley has been pushing for the project to move forward, and Dansereau has pushed for more details about how much it will add to homeowners' tax bills."

Guess what?  The taxpayers are paying for all of it because it's a perk of holding municipal office.

This systemic corruption is being examined right now by the media, legal organizations, and by the New Jersey Legislature.  The Gannett publishing organization -- the largest in America by circulation, reaching over 21 million people every day -- has been taking the lead with its watchdog investigative series on municipal court corruption in New Jersey.  The series has focused on the too cozy relationship between court employees and the local governments who pay their salaries. 

New Jersey's municipal courts have been described by the media as "a system that increasingly treats hundreds of thousands of residents each year as human ATMs." 

"Many cash-strapped municipalities have turned to the law for new revenue...

Towns have the power to pass new rules or increase fines on old ones. And just like the singular judge-jury-and-jailer of the old Western days, a town first enforces the higher fines through its police force, then sends the defendant to its local court — which is headed by a judge appointed by the town leaders who started the revenue quest in the first place.

While municipal judges are sworn to follow the rule of law and judicial ethics, the pressure to bring in the money is potent in New Jersey, lawyers and former judges told the Press. In Eatontown, email records between town officials showed that increasing revenue generation by the local court was the main reason the council replaced the municipal judge in 2013..."

The New Jersey Legislature is planning to address the corruption at municipal courts, with the Chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee  calling the "fairness of the system into question" and for the Legislature to "study municipal court reform."  Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon (Republican Budget Officer) is promising to make it happen this year and plans on holding hearings across the state to understand the full extent of this local corruption -- case by case.  He calls the current system a "municipal money grab" and promises to explore "legal remedies."

According to the state Administrative Office of Courts, over 75 percent of the more than 4.5 million cases handled by municipal courts statewide are adjudicated with a guilty plea or a plea deal and some kind of payment to the court.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently studying how municipal court corruption impacts the state's residents, especially the poor.

The Gannett report notes that the New Jersey State Bar Association earlier this year assembled a panel to study the independence of municipal judges and whether the political pressure they face through their appointment impacts decision-making. The panel is still receiving testimony and hasn't yet disclosed its findings.

The Gannett report also notes that "the municipal court system can be altered or abolished by an act of the Legislature at any time."

It cites a former member of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Courts, who said that "the first step in fixing the broken municipal court system is to professionalize staff."  Most prosecutors and judges are part-time employees who work in multiple towns. 

Blogs like More Monmouth Musings and Sussex County Watchdog have received tip-offs about local municipal corruption in the past.  If you have anything to pass along confidentially, please contact More Monmouth Musings at artvg@aol.com or Sussex County Watchdog at info@sussexcountywatchdog.com.

Will legislator be sued for trying to silence blog?

What did Assemblyperson Gail Phoebus mean when she told her Assembly colleague that Andover Township was going to silence Bill Winkler?

Phoebus, a former Andover Township Committee member, has targeted Winkler claiming that he is the "founder" of the Sussex County Watchdog blog.  Phoebus knows better, as the blog was created at the time of her first run for countywide office in 2012.  In fact, Phoebus' campaign mail featured the Watchdog in it, so she should know that the blog was founded by the late Rob Eichmann and has been maintained by a group of his associates ever since. Phoebus herself has contributed numerous stories to Watchdog.

Sussex County Watchdog has a long history with Andover Township that of late has become contentious.  The Watchdog has complained about Andover Township's failure to follow OPRA (Open Public Records Act) rules and has written about its failure to abide by the Open Public Meetings Act.  The blog acted as a whistleblower when it uncovered the improper way in which a recent resolution was drafted and passed.  Now that the blog has criticized Phoebus and her former colleagues in the Andover Township government, Phoebus is angry with the Watchdog.

What has upset Andover Township's politicians the most is Sussex County Watchdog's coverage of the former headquarters of the notorious American National Socialist Bund -- Andover Township's own Camp Nordland.  According to Assemblyperson Phoebus, township officials became incensed when the Watchdog made the following recommendations:

That Andover Township place a plaque at the site of the American National Socialist Bund's Camp Nordland, to honor the victims of the ideology practiced there; and that Andover Township donate all proceeds from events held at the former Nazi Beer Hall to organizations representing the victims of the Holocaust and their families.

Phoebus told a fellow legislator that Andover Township was going to "get" the person they held responsible.  And now, it appears that an attempt is being made. 

On Monday, October 31st, the Sussex County Watchdog blog posted a report about how an old Quaker gentleman had been accosted by Sussex County Freeholder Director George Graham and two Andover Township Committeemen.  The blog report is posted here:

http://www.sussexcountywatchdog.com/blog/2016/10/31/graham-supporters-accost-pro-lifer-at-gop-event.html

The incident took place at a GOP event held at the former headquarters of the notorious American National Socialist Bund.  For some strange reason, instead of demolishing the former Camp Nordland, the town leaders of Andover Township have maintained the building that hosted numerous Nazi, Fascist, and Ku Klux Klan rallies in the 1930's. 

The day after the Watchdog blog posted its story, the Deputy Mayor of Andover Township filed a harassment complaint against the old Quaker who was accosted by the three Sussex County politicians.  According to witnesses, one of the Andover Committeemen had threatened to "punch someone in the face," while another Andover Committeeman had threatened a bystander earlier that evening by saying "you better not be his (the old Quaker) friend."   

Of course, the people who run Andover Township would have you believe that it happened the other way round.  They want you to believe that a 60 year old Quaker assaulted a 40 year old Marine and his two comrades.  They want you to believe that writing about their political corruption is "harassment".

As David Danzis of the New Jersey Herald reported today, the Andover Township Deputy Mayor has filed a complaint against the alleged blogger:

http://www.njherald.com/20161214/county-political-consultant-faces-assault-harassment-charges

Really?  In America?  Are they really playing the old brown-shirt trick of beating up the Jew and then claiming he started it, in order to have him arrested?  Shame on the elected and appointed officials of Andover Township and shame on the residents who elected them and then stood by and let it happen.

Filing a false report is a serious offense, as is the attempt to deprive American citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights -- both the right to report the news and opinion, and the right to read it.  Of course, the former Hudson County Democrats who have switched their party registration and now occupy positions of power on the Sussex County Freeholder Board (Graham) and in Andover Township are following the playbook of where they came from.

A few years ago there was a similar case in Hudson County when the mayor of a city there decided that he wanted to "take down" an anonymous website that was publishing news and opinions that he didn't want published.  The mayor and his son conspired to "take down the website and to identify, intimidate, and harass those who operated and were associated with the website."  The United States Department of Justice takes such civil rights violations very seriously and the feds arrested both the mayor and his son.  The son took the rap and was convicted in federal court.     

Is there a similar conspiracy in Sussex County?  Watchdog knows the names of a great many political figures in Sussex County who were aware of this matter well before the accused was and that Assemblyperson Phoebus herself was making calls about it, spreading false information, and that she has expressed her animosity towards the Watchdog website and the individuals she claims are associated with it.  Yes, this stinks to high heaven! 

Will this end up in federal court?  If it does, it will impact you greatly if you are a taxpayer in Andover Township.  Remember, you elected them.  And you are responsible when they behave like fascist thugs.  As they say, stay tuned...