The actions of the GOP-dominated Burlington County Board of Freeholders are a microcosm of all that is wrong with the Christie Administration.
First, there was the pay-to-play activity where the County Board awarded a lucrative no-bid contract to a big GOP donor, while acknowledging that there were several dozen other companies qualified and capable of doing the work. Even though there were objections and concerns expressed by the Democratic minority and county citizens, none of this was reported by the local newspaper, the Burlington County Times.
More recently, there was the strange departure of the Republican Freeholder Director, Leah Arter. Shortly after she voted to increase tuition at Burlington County College, she resigned from the Freeholder Board to take a $90,000 per year job at that institution – a job that was newly created. (If you are long-time reader of Blue Jersey, you may remember that Arter was the Freeholder who objected to a resolution supporting marriage equality because she needed to “study” the issue.)
Now, in an act of chutzpah that befits our governor, the GOP Freeholders appointed Bruce Garganio as the new Freeholder Director.
Garganio is a former freeholder, and a former director of the Board. He and his running mate lost overwhelmingly in their re-election in November 2012 to two Democratic newcomers despite outspending the Democrats by a 9 to 1 ratio (including a large sum of money given to Garganio by Sheldon Adelson.)
Garganio was appointed by the Burlington County GOP to serve out the rest of Arter’s term and will stand for election this November. It’s certainly within the right of the GOP to appoint Garganio to fill the empty seat. But it’s also pretty sleazy to elevate Garganio to the head of the board when just a short time ago the voters overwhelmingly rejected him.
County citizens don’t pay a lot of attention to the activities of the Freeholder Board, but the Director’s name is out there in many ways – on county signs, on the Facebook page, and elsewhere. Maybe this is not as overt as Christie’s self-promotion via YouTube and tourism ads, but like Christie’s actions, it’s leveraging taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes.
The Republicans would have been wiser to appoint one of their other two members as Director. Joe Howarth was (and is) Deputy Director and his term also expires this year. Why not appoint him? What else is a Deputy Director for? Joe Donnelly was Arter’s predecessor as Director and although partisan, he also respected the views of the minority and helped facilitate some of their initiatives like recycling improvements and transparency. Politics aside, he would have been a better choice.
Of course, the best solution would be to eliminate pay-to-play and cronyism by electing a Democratic majority. There are two seats up for grabs this November, and if the Democrats can sweep (as they did in 2012), then the GOP will be relegated to minority status. The County Democratic Party is scheduled to select their candidates at their meeting Thursday evening.