Author Archive: ShoreBlue

Republican Mayor in Hamilton (Mercer) Wildly Inflates the Cost of Local Ethics Panel

Diary rescue from Monday – promoted by Rosi

Unelected Republican Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede came up with a whopper this past weekend to excuse why she doesn’t support a local ethics board in the wake of the worst corruption scandal in the township’s history.

In the Times of Trenton article by Mike Davis headlined “Fate of Hamilton’s ethics board becomes a political football” Yaede is quoted as saying that she is opposed because costs for the board could rise to $60,0000 or more.

First of all, the entire statewide budget for the administration of the Local Government Ethics Law is only $60K (2012)! That includes $35K to investigate complaints, $25K to issue advisory opinions and $5K to review local ethics codes.  

Republican Mayor in Hamilton (Mercer) Wildly Inflates the Cost of Local Ethics Panel

Unelected Republican Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede came up with a whopper this past weekend to excuse why she doesn’t support a local ethics board in the wake of the worst corruption scandal in the township’s history.

In the Times of Trenton Article by Mike Davis headlined “Fate of Hamilton’s ethics board becomes a political football” Yaede is quoted as saying that she is opposed because costs for the board could rise to $60,0000 or more.

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index…

First of all, the entire statewide budget for the administration of the Local Government Ethics Law is only $60K (2012)! That includes $35K to investigate complaints, $25K to issue advisory opinions and $5K to review local ethics codes.

Second, much of the work of local commissions in Hamilton is done in house or by volunteers and requires little in the expenditure of resources. Generally, the only real expenses are the monies paid to township secretaries who attend the meetings and keep the minutes. As you might imagine, this is a nominal sum and hardly a heavy lift given the issue of clean government. Legal advice is almost always done in house by the salaried municipal attorney and if the board sees the need, they can refer a question to the state board for expert advice.

Third, the current Ethics Board did a yeoman’s job in preparing recommendations that were ultimately rejected by Council and the administration without costing the township a single dime. In each of the years that the Board was budgeted by Council, there were no charges against that line item. To put that in greater perspective, the total budgeted figure was only $1000 per year. Again, they never touched that appropriation despite the work that was done.

Mayor Yaede is a prime example of the old adage that lip service doesn’t cost a cent, and it’s worth every penny

Hamilton (Mercer) Republicans Willfully Blind When It Comes to Corruption

Recently Republican Councilman David Kenny of hamilton had a letter to the editor published in the Times of Trenton touting the supposed honesty of the process for professional services contracts in the township.

Here’s the link to cut and paste:

http://www.nj.com/times-opinio…

What follows is the response I wrote that has been acepted for publication.  It’s merely a tip of the vast iceberg of corruption that floats just under the surface in the township that brought you convicted felon Mayor John Benvivengo:

The willful blindness to corruption around him shown by Councilman David Kenny in his recent letter to the editor (of the Times of Trenton) is probably as bad for Hamilton taxpayers as the corruption itself.  

Despite Mr. Kenny’s puffery, the Hamilton process for issuing non-competitively bid contracts is rife with abuse and higher costs for the taxpayer. One example illustrates just how bad the situation can get.

Under Mr. Kenny’s watch on Council between 2008 and 2011, Birdsall Engineering was granted $276,235 for 8 professional services contracts.  If there were “Savings” in the firm’s initial proposal, they vanished when Council later granted massive upward change orders totaling $71,266.  All of these change orders were passed as part of consent agendas with no discussion or challenge recorded in the Council minutes.

During that same time frame, the Birdsall Group participated in fundraising ad books that generated thousands of dollars for the Hamilton Republican Party, yet no reporting of contributions from Birdsall or any of its identified principals has been made that would account for the company’s ads.  We have since learned that Phil Anagrone Jr at the Birdsall firm admitted engaging in a widespread practice of employing straw donors to get around pay-to-play laws, and since Mr. Angarone was a key fundraiser for the Hamilton Republicans from 2008 to 2012, it is fair to assume that his perfidy did not halt at Hamilton’s borders.

We may never know the true extent of the quid-pro-quo between illegal donations to the Republican Party from professional service contractors and literally millions of dollars in contracts they received, but what we do know is that Mr. Kenny, our current Mayor and the rest of council turned a blind eye to the corruption all around them and Hamilton taxpayers have suffered as a result.  Mr. Kenny ought to be ashamed to claim otherwise.

Angry Birdsall Saga – Execs buy influence in Hamilton

Dear Fellow Democrats,

By now I expect you are aware that the former Mercer County Republican Chairman, Phil Angarone Jr. has pled guilty to a host of corruption offenses in Ocean County in connection with illegal campaign contributions made on behalf of the Birdsall Engineering Group. What you may not know is that this same firm has done over $275,000 in business with Hamilton Township (Mercer County) and that there is a very real probability that Mr. Angarone engaged in the same types of corrupt behaviors here that he has pled guilty to in Ocean.

For many months, I have been tracking the Birdsall saga and as each rock is turned over there are more and more squirmy dealings that indicate a culture of corruption that permeates Hamilton Township government. The corruption of a Mayor and his key aides was abetted by the witting, or unwitting, complicity of a Council that was unwilling to look beyond the party label to identify and prevent the selling of our government to an ongoing criminal enterprise.

Under the administration of convicted Ex-Mayor John Bencivengo, Birdsall Engineering Group has been the beneficiary of $276,235 in non-bid professional services contracts. That total includes four change orders that increased the original value of the contracts by 35% or $71,266. During that same time, the Birdsall Group has been featured in multiple premium full-page ads on behalf of the Mayor’s annual ball fundraiser (Gold Pages) which were priced in the thousands of dollars. Despite the placement of the ads in Birdsall’s name, no reporting of contributions from Birdsall or any of its identified principles has been made to ELEC that would account for the ads. I should also note that no other contractor has received change orders of this magnitude.

The presence of the annual ads on behalf of Birdsall in the mayor’s ad books would indicate that large sums of money were being provided to the election fund of the mayor and the local Republican Committee without their true source being revealed in reports to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission or in documents required by the Township to certify that no play to play violations are associated with a contract. Further, were such contributions to be reported, they would constitute a violation of the Township’s pay to play ordinance. As it is, the hiding of the contributions through the use of “straw donors” as admitted to by Mr. Angarone, is illegal by itself.

The members of Council have asserted that Birdsall’s contracts were granted on the basis of open and competitive bidding. That is untrue. Although they did issue Requests for Proposals, these were not advertised beyond the township web site and, in some cases, they approached select contractors and invited them to provide quotes. The bids are not competitive in the true sense of the word in that they are not sealed, nor are they opened at the same time in an open public bid opening session. This is legal, but amounts to little more than putting a wig on a turd and calling it a prom date. It is absurdly easy to manipulate that process in order to route contracts to a favored contractor, especially if one is willing to go outside the law as Birdsall employees have admitted doing.

In the case of Birdsall, it wouldn’t matter if the initial process was fair. They secured substantial additional revenues through the use of uncontested change orders to the original contracts that were granted by Council without discussion and often as part of their Consent Agenda. These change orders were not part of any bidding process.  It is telling that even after the story has broken about Mr. Angarone and Birdsall’s illegal activities in Ocean County, two members of the all-Republican Council voted this week to give another contract to Birdsall.

Under the administration of former Mayor Bencivengo, Birdsall has profited greatly with little or no oversight. Although they obtained several small contracts prior to the Mayor taking office, it was his election that led to an explosion in the level of business for the firm. From 2008 through 2011 the firm was granted 8 contracts. All but one of these contracts was approved on the Council’s consent agenda with virtually no discussion. In addition, four of these contracts were subsequently the subject of massive upward change orders totaling $71,266. All of these change orders were passed as part of consent agendas with no discussion recorded in the Council minutes. All of them, of course, were no-bid professional services contracts.

Remember that the current Council, as well as the new Mayor, has been part of these decisions.

Further, Hamilton’s pay to play ordinance prohibits firms that have no-bid professional services contracts with the municipality not only from donating to campaigns, it also prohibits them from soliciting contributions from others, Phillip Angarone Jr., was listed variously as Event Co-Chair and Ad Book Chair for a series of Mayor’s Ball ad books from 2008 through 2011. In that role he was the key player in fundraising for the Mayor’s balls that have netted hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Mayor and the Republican Municipal Committee.

Based on this information, I have sent a letter to the NJ Attorney General requesting that the state broaden its investigation of Birdsall and Mr. Angarone to include probable criminal activities in Hamilton Township as well. I have provided him with a list of the contracts and change orders in question and I have offered to provide copies of the ad books which include the unreported Birdsall ads.

I have also cc’d this letter to Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini and to the Executive Director of the NJ Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Republicans In Hamilton Close Meeting to Public Over Corruption Investigation

Last evening the all-Republican Hamilton Council took their meeting into closed session to avoid a public discussion of a reported corruption investigation into the activities of the Town’s Mayor, John Bencivengo.

Over the formal protests of non-political and democratic attenddes, the five Republicans  went intio closed session to discuss among themselves the rules of succession if the Mayor Bencivengo resigns (Or at least that’s what they SAID they were discussing.  Who really knows?)

The Council’s reticence to discuss the issue only adds to the failure of the mayor to comment on the investigation in any meaningful way since last Thursday when the Times reported that an investigation was in the works.

Council members claim to have no knowlege of what’s going on and none of them have simply picked up the phone to ask the mayor directly.  (Or, if they have, the news is very bad)

A Visit to a Very Scary Place

Last Monday evening I attended Karl Rove’s presentation for Rider’s Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics. I think it’s good to get a direct look at the “best” the other side has from time to time.

I can best describe that experience as being on a particular Jet Blue flight to Las Vegas. I’m sitting there looking forward to an interesting flight. I’m told to turn off all electronic and recording devices (I figured out why later.) From there it’s a steady climb to altitude and Pilot Rove steers us through the usual spin doctor statistical artifacts that pass for analysis these days. Then, with the onset of questions from the audience, pilot Rove comes storming out of the cabin with some of the most bizarre and offensive analogies I’ve ever heard from someone who wasn’t wearing a hood or sporting a small black mustache.

The question referenced the onset set of SuperPAC’s on our political landscape and asked why we shouldn’t require a more stringent disclosure of donors in line with what is required of candidates. His response equated the attempts to make these PAC’s release donor information to the efforts by state’s attorney generals in the 1940’s to force the NAACP to disclose the source of its donors. How he could ever equate the experiences of blacks in this country as they sought equality from a reluctant nation with the wanton corruption of our process by corporations is daunting in its brazen arrogance and racism.

Unlike usual Rebovich Institute events, the questions were all pre-screened from cards circulated and collected before Mr. Rove spoke so it wasn’t possible to challenge his short circuit “logic” directly.

There were a few more little asides in the same vein, but I have to admit that he is one smooth charlatan. Good at clothing a basically amoral message with wit and a few glittery baubles to enrapture the very friendly audience. I’m not so sure that he would have fared so well in a two-sided exchange with a less facile opponent to challenge him.

It’s good to go to these things on occasion to remember that this is why I fight.