Tag Archive: Heather Taylor

Bergen County Pay-To-Play Marching Band

When I was a young boy,

My father took me into the city

To see a marching band…

He said “Will you defeat them,

The plans that they have made?”


My Chemical Romance: The Black Parade

Last week six of the seven Bergen County Freeholders, both Democrats and Republicans, joined the band. You marched in unison to the Pay-To-Play music – to “the disappointed faces of your peers.” Paul Eisenman, Director of Bergen Grassroots (a progressive political organization aligned with Democracy for America), said, “It’s depressing to find elected officials from both parties conspiring to deprive the public of real pay-to-play reform.”

The hoped for sea change last November with voters throwing out Democrats and placing a majority of Republicans on the BC Board has produced only more of the same. On September 7 six freeholders voted during a first of three readings to support a plan that provides minor improvements but continues the so-called “fair and open process” which is so vague that it perpetuates pay-to-play – particularly among moneyed professionals. Heather Taylor of the Citizens Campaign, which also advocates for campaign finance reform, points out “Business entities will be able to give up to the current limit, which is $37,000 – that’s per year to a county party. That would be continuing business as usual.” State law permits the “fair and open process” loophole, but it should be ended. With no sign of legislators rescinding it, the simplest method of stopping pay-to-play in county and municipal government is to adopt the Citizens Campaign model ordinance for public contracting.

Without citizen activists quickly contacting their freeholders the answer to the question posed in the lyrics, “Will you defeat them, The plans that they have made?” is an emphatic NO! And this Band will continue marching to the tune of those who seek government business by making large donations, in concert with the politicians who acquiesce and wallow in the spoils.  

Hyperlocal Education Reporting

If you’re reading this, you are probably more involved with, and informed about, the political system in New Jersey than most citizens. You’re aware that despite being sandwiched between the New York and Philadelphia news behemoths, there are many outlets to provide you with news on the state level. But what about news that most affects your pocketbook and your daily life – news about your local community?

Local news has suffered with the cutbacks in dead-tree newspapers. If you’re fortunate, your community is covered by a hyperlocal site from patch.com or some other local citizen-journalist enterprise. Hyperlocal news sites are cropping up across the state and nation. But how do these citizen-journalists, some who put in 12 to 15 hour days, do their job effectively?

The New Jersey Hyperlocal News Association’s (NJHNA) mission is to provide training and resources for those journalists to enable them to report thoroughly and accurately. The group held its second general session today on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. The topic was reporting on the activities of local school boards.

Gene MaeroffAfter introductory remarks from Heather Taylor of NJHNA and Dr. John Pavlik, head of the Rutgers journalism department, the keynote address was delivered by Gene Maeroff, President of the Edison school board and a noted education writer. He described the school board budgeting process and offered some tips for those reporting on school board activities. (The entire session was videotaped and will be posted on the NJHNA web site.) Following the keynote, a panel discussion was held, with Jonathan Busch, an attorney who represents boards of education; Dr. Valerie Goger, superintendent of schools for Bernards Township; and John Mooney, founder and education writer for NJ Spotlight. All discussed the budgeting and election process from the perspective of their individual involvement.

Among the things the audience learned were the timeline for the budgeting and election process, how board of education members must not electioneer for or against the budget, and the impact of the governor’s tax caps and cuts on the education process. There were discussions on the best ways for local reporters to ferret out facts that might not always be easy to obtain.

NJHNA’s next session, scheduled to occur in about two months, will discuss how to cover municipal meeting and elections.

Party Democracy Act – Filed Today

The Party Democracy Act is making its New and Improved Debut for 2008. The bill has been completely vetted and refined.  

Will this be the start of a new era?

If The Party Democracy Act passes – it could be the very first official nail in the coffin of party boss politics in the State of NJ.

If the Party Democracy Act passes – NJ may no longer be the poster child for political corruption, but a model for ethics reform in the US.

If the Party Democracy Act passes – it will be easier for ANY democrat with a passion for serving the public to choose who winds up on the ballot.

If the Party Democracy Act passes – I won’t have to wonder if my county committee vote actually was counted or not.

If the Party Democracy Act passes – I won’t have to worry about my entire Tenafly Municipal Committee – including the entire Elected Town Council being challenged at the BCDO special elections.

If the Party Democracy Act passes, I will be able to blog more about other things than what my Party Boss is up to THIS time.  

If the Party Democracy Act passes, I won’t have to worry about forged resignation letters turning up with my name on them.  

If the Party Democracy Act passes, I will be able to sleep at night, knowing that democracy is alive and well in my beloved state, and that the voices of my fellow NJ voters are actually – finally – heard.

Lets help this Bill PASS.  Please.

Here is the official press release:

January 24th, 2008 Contact: Heather Taylor, 732-548-9798 x.1

Sponsors Pledge to Fight for Adoption of Party Democracy Act Bill filed today.

While filing the Party Democracy Act for the 2008-2009 session, the Senate and Assembly sponsors renewed their pledge to seeing the bills adoption in the new legislative session. The Party Democracy Act guarantees county political parties operate under a constitution and bylaws and sets a fair process for the filling vacancies in public office. The sponsors of the Act are Senators Loretta Weinberg and Diane Allen, and Assemblywomen Linda Greenstein, Amy Handlin, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Charlotte Vandervalk, and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson. The legislation was developed by the Citizen’s Campaign Legal Task Force.

For far too often County Political Parties have operated in a closed and undemocratic manner with party chairs wielding immeasurable power over the award of ballot lines, campaign cash, and the filling of vacancies in public office. The legislation lays the groundwork for the county committeepeople—the elected neighborhood party representatives – to have clearly spelled out and fundamentally fair set of rules.

Senator Loretta Weinberg said, “This is really a step to protect the rights of the most grassroots members of our two party system. Party leaders should support and lead the way on this bill.”

Senator Diane Allen said, “This bill empowers our county committee people to do what they were elected to do so decisions are made by the people not by a single party boss.”

Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein said, “As a candidate who ran for Assembly in 1999 as a relative political outsider, I appreciated the open process in both Mercer and Middlesex counties that allowed me to build support among county committee-people without the threat of backroom deals. I would like to see a similar open convention process in all counties to encourage women, minorities and others to participate in the political process.”

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin said, “This bill will open doors to new talent. It will encourage the development of independent thinkers in both parties — exactly what New Jersey needs at every level of government.”

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle said, “Government reform begins with political reform. Keeping our political party system honest and transparent will help ensure the integrity of our democracy here in New Jersey.”

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson said, “It is amazing that in a Country that is the beacon of democracy to the world, there are institutions that do not function democratically. It is the responsibility of the state and national government to foster democracy and insure its proper function in its institutions. That responsibility extends to the political party apparatus of New Jersey. It falls to us to make sure that this most basic platform of democracy operates democratically.”

Citizen’s Campaign spokeswoman Heather Taylor said, “We are pleased to have such strong sponsors behind this effort to restore democracy to the political parties, we plan to lead an aggressive grassroots campaign to see this bill’s adoption.”

The legislation:

*Mandates county political parties adopt constitution and bylaws. Currently, it is optional for county political parties to have a constitution or by-laws. Constitutions and by-laws ensure fundamental fairness and allow all participants to know the rules of the game. Without them, political parties operate under clubhouse rules which are known by few and often result in domination by the chair. The actual content of the constitution and bylaws will still be determined by each individual county political party in a manner they choose.

* Because County Party Constitutions and bylaws are currently optional, it can be very difficult to obtain valid copies of the bylaws and constitution. It is critical to maintain a political culture where the rules are the rules, and they are available to all participants. In the case of a vote to fill a vacancy, it is even more important that those who wish to run for a vacancy be able to obtain the rules immediately.

*Requires voting machines for party committee votes to fill vacancies in public office. Voting machines are critical to enabling county committeemembers to vote their conscience, free from the threat or perception of intimidation from party bosses who in many cases control their livelihood. County Committees elect to vacancies in the legislature and board of freeholders.

*Requires the County clerk to maintain a list of the county party committees. For candidates seeking nomination or election in a committee vote to fill a vacancy in public office, it is critical to know who are the eligible voters. In the case of Senator Weinberg’s special election, she was unable to get an official list for several days while the list was being changed last minute. By establishing a standard list which must be updated and a public record, last minute replacements will not be allowed.

*Provides for resignation, vacancy and appointment records to be maintained by County Clerk to ensure the lists accuracy. Notarized resignation letters to be submitted to the clerk. Persons selected to fill a va cancy on the county committee will also file a certificate of acceptance which regularly elected county committeepersons file. The Citizen’s Campaign is a non-partisan organization which devises innovative government reforms and promotes citizen leadership.

The actual Bill filed just today – in black and white and hot off the presses!

AN ACT concerning county political party committees and amending R.S.19:5-3 and R.S.19:13-20.

BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. R.S.19:5-3 is amended to read as follows: 19:5-3. The members of the county committees of political parties shall be elected annually at the primary for the general election in the manner provided in this Title for the selection of party candidates to be voted for at the general election by voters of a municipality. The county committee shall consist of one male and one female member from each unit of representation in the county. The male receiving the highest number of votes among the male candidates and the female receiving the highest number of votes among the female candidates shall be declared elected. Members of the county committee shall actually reside in the districts or units which they respectively represent. The county committee shall determine by its bylaws the units into which the county shall be divided for purpose of representation in the county committee.

The members of the county committee of each of the political parties shall take office on the first Saturday following their election, on which day the terms of all members of such committees theretofore elected shall terminate. The annual meeting of each county committee shall be held on the first Tuesday following the primary election, except that when such meeting day falls on a legal holiday then the said meeting shall be held on the day following, and when such meeting day falls on the day of a municipal runoff election within the county then said meeting may be held on the day following, at an hour and place to be designated in a notice in writing to be mailed by the chairperson of the outgoing county committee to each member-elect, at which annual meeting the members of such committee shall elect some suitable person as chairperson who shall be a resident of such county to hold office for 1 year, or until a successor is elected. The chairperson of the outgoing county committee shall transmit, with the notice of the annual meeting, a copy of the constitution and bylaws to any newly elected committee member. The members shall also elect a vice-chairperson of the opposite sex of the chairperson to hold office for 1 year or until a successor is elected and the vice-chairperson shall perform all duties required by law and the constitution and bylaws of such committee. The members of the county committee shall adopt a constitution and bylaws, ensuring fundamental fairness and the rights of the members of the county committee in the governance of the county party. Any person elected or appointed to membership on the county committee pursuant to R.S.19:5-2 may request, in writing and by certified mail to the county chairperson, such constitution or bylaws. The committee member requesting the constitution or bylaws shall receive the constitution or bylaws within 48 hours of the receipt of the request by the chairperson. The chairperson shall preside at all meetings of the committee and shall perform all duties required by law and the constitution and bylaws of such committee.

When a member of a county committee ceases to be a resident of the district or unit from which elected, a vacancy on the county committee shall exist. A member of a county committee of any political party may resign his or her office to the committee of which he or she is a member, and upon acceptance thereof by the committee, a vacancy shall exist. A vacancy in the office of a member of the county committee of any political party, caused by death, resignation, failure to elect, or removal for cause, shall be filled for the unexpired term by the municipal committee of the municipality wherein the vacancy occurs, if there is such committee, and if not, by the remaining members of the county committee of such political party representing the territory in the county in which such vacancy occurs. The chairperson of the outgoing county committee shall provide a copy of the constitution and bylaws to any committee member appointed pursuant to R.S.19:5-2 to fill a vacancy within three business days of the committee member’s selection.

The chairperson of the county committee of the several political parties shall, before April 1, certify to the clerk of each municipality in the county the unit of representation in such municipality, together with the enumeration of the election district or districts embraced within such unit.

(cf: P.L.1980, c.105, s.3)

2. R.S.19:13-20 is amended to read as follows:

19:13-20. In the event of a vacancy, howsoever caused, among candidates nominated at a primary election for the general election, which vacancy shall occur not later than the 51st day before the general election, or in the event of inability to select a candidate because of a tie vote at such primary, a candidate shall be selected in the following manner:

a. (1) In the case of an office to be filled by the voters of the entire State, the candidate shall be selected by the State committee of the political party wherein such vacancy has occurred.

  (2) In the case of an office to be filled by the voters of a single and entire county, the candidate shall be selected by the county committee in such county of the political party wherein such vacancy has occurred.

  (3) In the case of an office to be filled by the voters of a portion of the State comprising all or part of two or more counties, the candidate shall be selected by those members of the county committees of the party wherein the vacancy has occurred who represent those portions of the respective counties which are comprised in the district from which the candidate is to be elected.

  (4) In the case of an office to be filled by the voters of a portion of a single county, the candidate shall be selected by those members of the county committee of the party wherein the vacancy has occurred who represent those portions of the county which are comprised in the district from which the candidate is to be elected. At any meeting held for the selection of a candidate under this subsection, a majority of the persons eligible to vote thereat shall be required to be present for the conduct of any business, and no person shall be entitled to vote at that meeting who is appointed to the State committee or county committee after the seventh day preceding the date of the meeting. Within 20 days after the meeting of each county committee that is held on the first Tuesday following the primary election at which committee members are elected, the municipal clerk shall certify to the county clerk an official list of the duly elected county committee members. The county party chairperson shall have a continuing duty to report to the county clerk any vacancies, resignations, and committee positions filled pursuant to R.S.19:5-2 or 19:5-3. A report of a resignation shall be accompanied by a notarized letter of resignation signed by the resigning committee member. Notice of vacancies in the membership of a county committee that are filled pursuant to R.S.19:5-2 or 19:5-3 shall be accompanied by a certificate of acceptance signed by the newly selected member. The official list of the county committee members maintained by the county clerk shall be deemed to be a government record and only those county committee members listed thereon seven days prior to a selection to fill a vacancy and otherwise qualified to vote on the vacancy shall be entitled to vote on filling a vacancy pursuant to this section. In addition, every person appointed to the county committee shall file with the county clerk a certificate of acceptance which shall be preserved by the county clerk as a government record. In the case of a meeting held to select a candidate for other than a Statewide office, the chairperson of the meeting shall be chosen by majority vote of the persons present and entitled to vote thereat. The chairperson so chosen may propose rules to govern the determination of credentials and the procedures under which the meeting shall be conducted, and those rules shall be adopted upon a majority vote of the persons entitled to vote upon the selection. If a majority vote is not obtained for those rules, the delegates shall determine credentials and conduct the business of the meeting under such other rules as may be adopted by a majority vote. All contested votes taken at the selection meeting, as referenced in subsections a. and b. of this section, shall be by secret ballot in a voting booth of the type used in primary and general elections.

b. (1) Whenever in accordance with subsection a. of this section members of two or more county committees are empowered to select a candidate to fill a vacancy, it shall be the responsibility of the chairpersons of said county committees, acting jointly not later in any case than the seventh day following the occurrence of the vacancy, to give notice to each of the members of their respective committees, as certified by the county clerk, who are so empowered of the date, time and place of the meeting at which the selection will be made, that meeting to be held at least one day following the date on which the notice is given.

  (2) Whenever in accordance with the provisions of subsection a. of this section members of a county committee are empowered to select a candidate to fill a vacancy, it shall be the responsibility of the chairperson of such county committee, not later in any case than the seventh day following the occurrence of the vacancy, to give notice to each of the members of the committee, as certified by the county clerk, who are so empowered of the date, time and place of the meeting at which the selection will be made, that meeting to be held at least one day following the date on which the notice is given.    

  (3) A county committee chairperson or chairpersons who call a meeting pursuant to paragraph (1) or (2) of this subsection shall not be entitled to vote upon the selection of a candidate at such meeting unless he or she or they are so entitled pursuant to subsection a.

  (4) Whenever in accordance with the provisions of subsection a. of this section the State committee of a political party is empowered to select a candidate to fill a vacancy, it shall be the responsibility of the chairperson of that State committee to give notice to each of the members of the committee of the date, time and place of the meeting at which the selection will be made, that meeting to be held at least one day following the date on which the notice is given.

c. Whenever a selection is to be made pursuant to this section to fill a vacancy resulting from inability to select a candidate because of a tie vote at a primary election for the general election, the selection shall be made from among those who have thus received the same number of votes at the primary.

d. A selection made pursuant to this section shall be made not later than the 48th day preceding the date of the general election, and a statement of such selection shall be filed with the Attorney General or the appropriate county clerk, as the case may be, not later than that day, and in the following manner:

  (1) A selection made by a State committee of a political party shall be certified to the Secretary of State by the State chairperson of the political party.

  (2) A selection made by a county committee of a political party, or a portion of the members thereof, shall be certified to the county clerk of the county by the county chairperson of such political party; except that when such selection is of a candidate for the Senate or General Assembly or the United States House of Representatives the county chairperson shall certify the selection to the State chairperson of such political party, who shall certify the same to the Secretary of State.

  (3) A selection made by members of two or more county committees of a political party acting jointly shall be certified by the chairpersons of said committees, acting jointly, to the State chairperson of such political party, who shall certify the same to the Attorney General.

e. A statement filed pursuant to subsection d. of this section shall state the residence and post office address of the person so selected, and shall certify that the person so selected is qualified under the laws of this State to be a candidate for such office, and is a member of the political party filling the vacancy. Accompanying the statement, the person endorsed therein shall file a certificate stating that he or she is qualified under the laws of this State to be a candidate for the office mentioned in the statement, that he or she consents to stand as a candidate at the ensuing general election and that he or she is a member of the political party named in said statement, and further that he or she is not a member of, or identified with, any other political party or any political organization espousing the cause of candidates of any other political party, to which shall be annexed the oath of allegiance prescribed in R.S.41:1-1 duly taken and subscribed by him or her before an officer authorized to take oaths in this State. The person so selected shall be the candidate of the party for such office at the ensuing general election. Each candidate for the office of Governor or the office of member of the Senate or General Assembly filing a certification shall annex thereto a statement signed by the candidate that he or she:

  (1) has not been convicted of any offense graded by Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes as a crime of the first, second, third or fourth degree, or any offense in any other jurisdiction which, if committed in this State, would constitute such a crime; or

  (2) has been so convicted, in which case, the candidate shall disclose on the statement the crime for which convicted, the date and place of the conviction and the penalties imposed for the conviction. Such a candidate may, as an alternative, submit with the statement a copy of an official document that provides such information. If the candidate has been convicted of more than one criminal offense, such information about each conviction shall be provided. Records expunged pursuant to chapter 52 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes shall not be subject to disclosure.

(cf: P.L.2005, c.136, s.21)

3. This act shall take effect immediately.

STATEMENT

This bill requires county political party committees to adopt and distribute a constitution and bylaws. The bill requires the constitution and bylaws to ensure the representative rights of members of the county committee in the governance of the county party. In addition, the bill provides that within 20 days of the first county committee meeting after a primary election, the municipal clerk will certify to the county clerk an official list of the county committee members. The bill provides the chair of a county committee will have a continuing duty to report changes in the committee membership, with appropriate documentation, to the county clerk. It also provides that the official list of the county committee members maintained by the county clerk will be a government record that is accessible to the public and only those county committee members listed thereon seven days prior to a selection to fill a vacancy and otherwise qualified to vote on the vacancy will be entitled to vote on filling a vacancy. In addition, every person appointed to the county committee will be required to file with the county clerk a certificate of acceptance.

Requires adoption and distribution of constitutions and bylaws by county political party committees; requires certified list of committee members to be filed with county clerk.