Tag Archive: Charles Mainor

CEC Investigation: The Clamor and Urgency Grow – Part IV

The Senate and Assembly are each now considering launching an investigation into NJ halfway houses, most of which are operated by Community Education Centers (CEC). Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) has approved the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee to launch an investigation if committee Chairman Senator Robert Gordon (D-38) wishes to proceed. Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-31), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, has said, “We definitely want a hearing and we want to concentrate on finding out why there are so many escapes going on, along with the recidivism, along with the crime that’s being committed by people that are escaping.”

Prior to the release of the NY Times’ scathing report on CEC and halfway houses, Governor Christie said at CEC’s Delaney Hall in 2010, this is “someplace where the work is purely good.” “Places like this are to be celebrated.” Just months before an inmate was murdered there. After release of the report Christie said his administration “takes its responsibility to properly administer this program very seriously.” Nonetheless, he line-item vetoed two important provisions which Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) wrote into the Budget bill. Christie has been aware of these problems since even before becoming governor. His approach has been to sweep them under the rug, use line item vetoes and only grudgingly make minimal changes.

Christie’s numerous connections to CEC, CEC’s significant donations to his campaign, and Christie’s overriding belief in privatization all serve to create conflicts of interest. As the NY Times series documents, Governor Christie’s championing of CEC started in 2001 when he and law partner William Palatucci became registered lobbyists for CEC. Palatucci went on to become a vice President of CEC and close confidante of the governor. Since Christie took office 1,300 halfway house inmates have escaped, one of whom went on to murder a woman within hours of escaping from a CEC facility. Last summer Christie attended the wedding of the daughter of John Clancy, Founder and Chief Executive of CEC. Christie hired the groom, Samuel Vivattine, to work as an assistant in his office. Paul Krugman in a NY Times piece concludes what we are witnessing is a corrupt nexus of privatization and patronage that is undermining government across much of our nation.

It is not surprising that a wide variety of media and individuals have raised a hue and cry. See below the fold outraged editorials and commentary, as well as responses from two apologists/defenders.  

CEC Investigation: There’s A Lot Of Dirt In Them Thar Hills

Eleven months after an inmate was killed at CEC’s Delaney Hall, Governor Christie served as keynote speaker for its 2010 10th-anniversary celebration. He said, “This is where I need to be, because even as governor, you treasure the times when you can come and be someplace where the work is purely good.”

Following the New York Times three-part series, countless other newspaper articles over the years, NJ Comptroller Boxer’s report, an SCI report Gangs in Prisons, information from prisoner advocacy groups, and many Blue Jersey diaries, the need for a full independent investigation of Community Education Centers (CEC) is apparent. Its facilities are not places where “the work is purely good.”

The problem as Charles Stile points out is that founder William Clancy, his family, and CEC since the early 1990’s have donated over $600,000 to elected officials at the state and local level. That’s a lot of dirt and many enriched hills. Essex County has proven particularly fertile ground for CEC, but Clancy’s largesse has included governors of both parties and officials in counties where CEC operates or would like to operate. Particularly troubling has been Governor Christie’s past participation as registered lobbyist for CEC, his frequent visits to the centers where he spews praises, his acceptance of donations, failure to address publicized problems, and his close relationship with CEC Senior Vice President William Palatucci.

In addition to the largesse, which constitutes conflicts of interest for those who might investigate CEC, the problem for any investigatory group is the sheer number of issues to be examined: “pay-to-play,” public safety when inmates “walk away” from a facility, violence, rape, and drugs within the institutions, lack of quality counseling and education, lack of financial accountability and collusion with local authorities to obtain business.  

With so many pockets of enriched hills and so many varieties of dirt, what group is independent enough with sufficient staff and skills to attack the problem?

Charles Mainor (D-Hudson), Chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, is one of two individuals who has called for legislative hearings. How independent can he be, however, as his county houses and receives monies for CEC’s Talbot Hall in Kearny. In Part I of the NY Times series he was quoted as being asked for his estimate of how many people escaped from halfway houses in 2011. “I have heard of no more than three,” he responded. According to state records, the number was 452. Another member of the committee Sean Kean (R-30) in the NY Times article appeared dismissive, saying about the escapes, “It’s not really a problem. It’s a cheaper way of doing business, so that’s why it behooves us to use that option.” In summary, this committee is not a promising group to investigate the matter.

Senator Barbara Buono is the other individual who has expressed concern, stating, “They should be held accountable for their failures.” One of her key staffers said that with the current budget issues on the front burner, she has not yet developed a strategy on how to move forward. She is Vice Chair of the Senate Oversight Committee. Although she has received a combined $2,600 in donations in 2010 and 2011, she has shown the independence and fervor necessary to undertake such an investigation. She has not discussed the matter yet with Chair Robert Gordon (D-38), nor Paul Sarlo (D-36), neither of whom reside in a county where CEC operates. However, another committee member Teresa Ruiz (D-29) is a part of the Essex County Democratic machine which is probably the largest recipient of CEC largesse. With a small committee and an even smaller staff it would be difficult for this group to undertake such a far-ranging investigation.

Because of conflicts of interest and the broad scope necessary, a legislative investigation does not seem the best course. Individual committees, however,  can review matters within their purview and promote legislation. There is currently a Senate bill (S927) sponsored by Jeff Van Drew (D-3) and Steven Sweeney (D-3) which would require the State Auditor to review Department of Corrections privatization contracts to determine whether privatization yields a reduction in costs and whether there was any malfeasance on the part of DOC with the contract. It has been reviewed by two committees, however, the identical Assembly bill (A1880) has seen no committee action. If the bill were to gain passage it would represent a step forward, with some dirt removed, but large mounds still remaining.

There are other more promising venues for investigation which will be discussed in Part II of this diary.  There is a lot of dirt, a lot of hills and we need heavy duty equipment to level the land.  

Assembly Democrats Rally Mashup

As thousands of New Jersey’s first-responders – firefighters, police, corrections officers emergency medical services members & many of the people they protect every day – rallied outside the State House, many of their signs expressed their disgust with Senate President Steve Sweeney, members of NJ’s other legislative body were out in force at yesterday’s massive rally.

Below, in video shot by the Assembly majority office, Democratic legislators look out at a sea of blue:

Assembly Democrats Voice Their Support for Workers’ Right to Collectively Bargain from NJ Assembly Democratic Office on Vimeo.