Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - Parting Shot from Council's (outgoing) Political Majority

Faced with a loss of their majority in 2012, it appears that the departing regime wanted to leave their mark in a big way. Other than trying to teach us new economics, they leave with what appears to be a political attack document, disguised as an objective report, paid to the politically connected borough attorney and paid for by the Dumont taxpayers.

2004: Less than $5M debt = "financial crisis"
2011: Nearly $30M debt = "sound finances"

DPW Investigative Committee Final Report

I wonder whether the subcommittee members actually read the report before signing it. If any of them need it read aloud to them because they have trouble "seeing the words" just send me a message. Anyway, the attempted lessons imparted appears to be:

- DPW remediation failure stems entirely from the neglect of two individuals;
- Cooperation by individual to testify without counsel was used against them;
- Current mayor and council completely unaware of alleged noncompliance;
- Form a vague oversight committee to completely prevent the problem from ever happening again.

The cost of these lessons? Well in excess of $5000 in professional fees.

Sure, but new questions emerge:

- Why could the remediation work not be performed concurrently with the "investigation"?
- Why was a resolution needed in April 2011 to appoint a subcommittee to investigate if a resolution granting the governing body subpoena power was passed in October 2010?
- Why did it take some five months after appointing the investigative subcommittee to replace a member due to "conflict of interest"?

- Why did the attorney bill for testimony from members identified in the report as uncooperative?

Dumont DPW Legal Bills

- Why are "non-relevant" documents made available only via OPRA?


Was this research necessary? This is what the NJDEP says about compliance efforts:

01-06-2011 Correspondence from NJDEP Regarding Remediation at DPW

Since NJDEP opted against penalizing the borough, what does that say about the tone and conclusions drawn by the investigative subcommittee report? Is it any wonder why the incoming mayor has told the press he is focused on the work, rather than the blame?

Sorry if I think the report is not very credible and at times misleading, considering the delays, stonewalling, smoke and mirrors I generally encounter when I approach the governing body with anything other than showering praise. This bell rang true, right up to the last meeting of the outgoing mayor and council.

Is this the way for the current council members to welcome their incoming colleagues and set the tone for 2012? Is this the line being drawn in the sand? I hope that for the sake of all, the tone and delivery of the mayor and newly split council will change for the better.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12/20/2011 Regular Mayor & Council Meeting

Last but not final meeting of the year:

Some questions:

1. When the borough administrator commended the mayor for running the borough like a business (16:12), did he mean the borough was run like it was taken over by a hedge fund, extracting its value and saddling it with debt from excessive consultant fees and legal yet questionable deals before leaving it in a far weakened state for a future unwitting caretaker to deal with?

2. It may be legal, but is it appropriate for the outgoing council to vote on the scheduling of the M&C reorganization meeting knowing the mayor elect is requesting an alternate date?

3. What does it say about a councilman if he is so set on voting to award a multi-million dollar construction contract that the incoming mayor and council members did not fully review, yet when a resident challenges him to take responsibility for the project's schedule and budget, is on record saying that the resident is threatening him?

Mr. Mayor, I didn't attend every meeting to video record your self-absorbed being. I just so happened to attend more public meetings than you have because several of your current and past councilmen said that council meeting videos were too costly to produce. Your outgoing councilman also challenged me that I cannot possibly know everything that's going on because I didn't attend enough council meetings. Here we are, three years later worth of council meetings, budget hearings and committee meetings. If you and your team showed a modicum of humility, would you be welcoming Mayor Abrahamsen and councilmen Hickey and Riquelme next year? Is this a teachable moment? We will never know.

Friday, December 16, 2011

12/13/2011 Special Council Meeting

On the borough website:

Public Notice: A special meeting of the Governing Body of the Borough of Dumont will be held December 13, 2011 at 7:00 PM in the Executive Chambers of Borough Hall at 50 Washington Avenue, Dumont, N.J. The subject matter includes NJEIT Phase II Flood Control project and Twin Boro Field Remediation and Reconstruction project. There will also be a closed session to discuss litigation. Formal action may be taken.

Presentations as follows:

Twin-Boro Remediation Project, presented by Alaimo Group Representative

NJEIT Phase II Flood Control Project, presented by T&M Representatives

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Comment: A councilman demands that T&M not reduce cost without reducing the scope.
- Agreed, but why admonish them against doing so next time?
- Why can you not demand that they rebid?
- What's the rush?
- Has the adage been forgotten: You can have the job done cheap, fast, or right. Just pick two...?

Comment: So many questions about the bids, yet some on council seem intent on voting before the answers are given.
- Have some on council already made up their mind whether to award the contracts?

General: Why are the bids not made public after opening? What is the secret? Public Bids and the purchasing process are no secret in this NJ township, for example.

Fortunately, voting has been tabled until the regular M&C meeting on 12/20/2011.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Site and Other Updates

Even though the site does not appear to have had many content updates, local news and commentary now appears in more places than ever! The following are a few of the many updates here at A Better Dumont media network:

- Mobile device support. Do you have a web-enabled feature phone or smartphone? A Better Dumont is now mobile-friendly. You can now read posts directly from your web-enabled mobile browser! Please note that your carrier may charge extra for accessing data over the cellular network.

- Twitter support. We are now on Twitter. Follow us on the go!

- Facebook support. We are now on Facebook. Follow us on the go!

- YouTube support. We are now on YouTube. Watch us from wherever you can access YouTube!

Whether you have a smartphone, tablet or network-enabled streaming receiver, you can watch council and other official borough meetings open to the public.  If I was there, you'll see it often within 24 hours of the meeting, unedited, warts and all.  Never be shut out of a conversation because you did not attend the meeting in person...

Of course, this effort would not be possible without your continued encouragement and support.  Thank you!

A Better Dumont - It's almost as good as being there!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

11/29/2011 Joint Land Use Board Meeting

Meeting Part 3

Kudos to Board Chair Hickey with the show of arrogance during the public session. Go on and show the mayor-elect who's boss of the meeting!

One would think that running the board (for how many years?) one would know the proper parliamentary procedure to enter executive (closed) session. Who knew the board chair needed prompting? Note to chair - try studying this for the next meeting.

Meeting Part 2

Where is everyone? Is there a sale I am missing?

Meeting Part 1

Barely made quorum, meeting waited for member to arrive so meeting could start.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Congratulations to New Mayor and Council

Unofficial results winner (does not include absentee ballots)
Abrahamsen          1409
Kelly                     2029

Riquelme               1571
Hickey                  1413
Hayes                   1894
Brophy                 1917

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What Does the Experience of Dumont Democrats Say?

In a letter to the September 29 edition of the Twin-Boro News, Messrs. Abrahamsen, Riquelme and Hickey, candidates for mayor and council respectively, states:

We have served on the Dumont council. Firsthand, we have experienced issues that concern the Dumont residents. With our vast experience, we will continue to work to resolve the issues that confront our town.

The letter concludes:

Our experience speaks for itself.

A brief review of documents available to the public seems to speak questionably about their experience and their suitability to serve as elected mayor and council members.

I see Mr. Riquelme at every Dumont organized activity while he served in and out of council. Whether at Dumont Day or at the Winter festival, he is there tirelessly and cheerfully helping out anyone who needs it; I consider Mr. Riquelme a model volunteer. As councilman; however, his record has been disappointing. From his appointment to the council in 2008 (replacing the resigning Mr. Abrahamsen) and subsequent election win later that year, he has been silent on every issue. Looking at his voting record as councilman during that period, it is difficult to find him casting a dissenting vote. Worse, he does not seem to respond to resident inquiries while he was councilman. Mr Riquelme introduced himself to me in early 2009 at a council meeting and gave me his business card, offering to contact him at any time regarding questions or concerns I may encounter. I tried accepting his offer, calling him over the phone emailing him in the Spring and Summer of 2009 to discuss the biofuel pilot project that he co-sponsored in 2008 as his election theme. Not once did he respond to my email. Messages left at his voicemail in borough hall were unreturned as well. Is ignoring the public to discuss his own policy the record that Mr Riquelme speaks of?

I recall Mr. Hickey as the mayor-appointed chair of the Joint Use Board on occasional visits to record public board meetings. Mr. Hickey seems to be a nice fellow; however, the board which he oversees seems to struggle with transparency to the public. Joint Land Use Board public meeting minutes have been chronically unavailable since I first observed it in 2010. It was not until an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed earlier this year that the release of those hidden meeting minutes were compelled. Worse, a look at the meeting minutes reveal a continued lack of making public meeting minutes available to the public despite a recently completed best practices survey indicating otherwise. A review of campaign information on the Dumont Democratic Organization website does not appear to support that Mr. Hickey ever served on council, though serving extensively in various volunteer and appointed posts. Is lack of public transparency the record that Mr. Hickey speaks of?

I remember meeting Mr. Abrahamsen earlier this year at a council meeting. As he has not been on the council since I began recording meetings in December 2008, I am not familiar with his conduct as councilman. However, a review of council public meeting minutes in 2007 and 2008 indicate an absence when it came to strengthening of ethics for elected borough officers. Namely, as councilman Abrahamsen, we never knew how he would have voted on the anti-nepotism ordinance intended to minimize the appearance of conflict when applied to family member appointed to paid positions at borough hall. In fact, he posted his resignation before its vote. Unfortunately, we will never know whether his resignation from borough council had anything to do with the appointment of an immediate family member. Is the retreat from having strong ethics policy the record that Mr. Abrahamsen speaks of?

Worst of all, as lead candidate in the joint election campaign, there appear to be no documents filed with the State Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) since May, before the primaries where they won unchallenged in their party primary election. Is it another coincidence that only basic and not the more detailed disclosure forms were filed with ELEC a week after an OPRA request was filed with the clerk and to this date has not been answered? Besides being non-compliant with NJ state law, they may also be out of compliance with the newly passed campaign financing ordinance ratified last year requiring campaign committees to file reports disclosing contributions from individuals and organizations. As the lawn signs and pamphlets from both political make their way through the streets of Dumont, how long will the dark asterisk cloud hang over the candidates who confidently claim that their record speaks for itself?

Monday, April 11, 2011

What's Going on with Dumont's Special Ed Program?

As a resident and taxpayer, I feel it is important that we have easy access to financial and operational documentation of our municipality and school district as required by law.

Sadly, our school district does not seem to make completing that task easy.  I mean, what is there to hide?

While other school districts have Bills Lists and Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports freely downloadable by the public at any time, district officials requested I file an OPRA request.  If it was that easy...

I looked at the meeting minutes for the 2010-11 school year.  They referenced "policies and procedures", "bills list" and "schedule A" in the minutes but they were not included in the minutes or anywhere on the district website.  I first asked why could the documents not be available on the district website.  The response:

The bills list and other support documentation are not posted on the website due to the volume of documents.  These items are available under OPRA and can be emailed in some instances depending on the size.  Please let me know what support documents you need and I will get them in the appropriate form.

So I filed a request for the missing referenced documents.  Upon filing the request, I received this response:

...attached please find the Policies that you requested as part of your March 29, 2011 OPRA request.  Additional documents will follow via email if possible.  Please provide me an address for which I can send any documents which cannot be sent via email.

Huh?  I asked why the transmittals could not be sent electronically.  It took a few days, but here they are, doing my part to share them with other residents since there seems insufficient storage on the district web server:

One of the documents in the list caught my attention:  A settlement document.  As recorded in the November 18, 2010 minutes:

It was moved... that the Dumont Board of Education approve a Settlement Agreement with J.T. on behalf of I.T., dated November 18, 2010.

I don't know what is going on with Dumont's special education program, but something seems very wrong when the district is paying $240,000 to settle a lawsuit and there is an open case that is now joined by a federally funded agency earlier this year.  What additional risk is the district on the hook for and why are these amounts not accounted for on the budget?  Can the district afford to continue this practice, where the plaintiff attorney claims:

The District's "separate but equal" policy is actually more expensive than the alternative, and fails to educate children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers, as required by federal and state law.

Having seen this, how good is Superintendent Triggiano's assurance that changes to staffing or programs will not be made?  Is the assumption that the district will prevail, or that an unfavorable outcome won't torpedo the budget until next year or the year after?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Nightmare in Dumont (schools)?

Wow, did I have a nightmare, or so I thought...

On March 31, Superintendent Triggiano and Business Manager Cartotto made a joint presentation on the proposed Dumont Schools 2011-2012 budget (video here).  The takeaway I had from the hour long slide show was this:

Triggiano:  I am pleased to say that if our budget is successful at 2%, we are not planning 
on making any major changes in staffing or programs at this time.

I thought that sounded great, until I noticed the following:
  • If the district received almost $400,000 more state aid and $310,000 more federal aid than last year, why does the district want another $618,006 from taxpayers?
  • In the 2009-2010 budget, the regular student enrollment estimate for the coming year was up 6 but actually down 20, or 1% error.  For 2010-2011 the estimate was up 27 but was actually down 40, or almost 3% error.  For that, the 2011-12 estimate has little credibility with me.  Why has the district overestimated student enrollment for the past two years?  
Why is this a big deal?  Because a rising enrollment better justifies a higher budget.  Because of these seemingly small estimation errors, the actual "Total Comparative Per Pupil cost" from 09-10 to 10-11 shot up from $11204 to $12809, or 14.3%.  Had pupil population remained at 2007 -2008 levels, the per pupil increase would have been just over 10%.  How does that fare for Dumont, whose population actually decreased 0.1% from 2000 to 2010, contrasting population increases of  2.4% for bergen-passaic and 4.5% for all of NJ respectively according to official census figures?  In other words, decreasing enrollment coupled with a decreasing population (fewer taxpayers) in a fully developed town is a recipe for an upward spiral of tax levy that will become unsustainable for more taxpayers with every passing year.
Is there any chance for these folks to 'share the pain' that teachers and custodians have agreed to last year  even though these folks enjoyed a 3% raise, even if the savings seems only symbolic?  Would the school board award a raise for these people again this year?  Do our teachers and custodians deserve less than administrators?

I do not make these comments lightly.  Both of my children are in Dumont schools, but I am also a taxpayer.  In my humble opinion, I think the statement "This board of education has decided to remain at the 2% limit recommended by the governor" smacks of ignorance at best, arrogance at worst and endemic of an attitude  that became obsolete when the recession began three years ago.

Why this is not an April fools' nightmare but the bleak reality?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

PSE&G Solar Panels in Dumont

The article in last Sunday's Record about solar panels had a pic where all the panels are pointed neatly in one direction.  I took a look around Dumont and I found them seemingly pointing in different directions.  Take a look for yourself...(click for full size)

Directional Diversity?

Installed in the AM or PM?

Point towards the sun...

To the left or to the right?

Here's a close up
For the record, it does not really bother me whether the panels are there or not.  After all, PSE&G received permission from the NJBPU to charge ratepayers for this feature.  Never mind that according to PSE&G's estimates, it takes at least 28 panels, at full sun, to power the electrical needs of an average house.  Even that seems optimistic.  If the observations made by this individual are correct, this amounts to a feel-good project of questionable worth...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is this Legal?

Recently it was announced that in the interest of saving money on utility bills, the borough of Dumont changed electric power supplier from Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G) to Viridian Energy.

The availability of third party power suppliers have become abundant recently as electrical power prices on the open market have declined to a level where resellers can still make a profit while claiming to save the consumer money over the local incumbent electrical power supplier, which is PSE&G.

There is nothing wrong in saving money, so what can go wrong? For one, Dumont is now paying "market rates" for electricity, which means if the "market" goes haywire and prices spike into space, the borough (and consequently taxpayers) will be stuck with the bill. Meanwhile, PSE&G has announced a rate decrease. Will there be any cost savings left?

Unlike you or I; however, the borough cannot just arbitrarily change vendors. In an article published by the NJ League of Municipalities in which Dumont is a member:

First, it is important to emphasize that the procurement of power supply must be consistent with the Local Public Contracts Law (LPCL). The bottom line is: when the estimated amount of spending for power supply is above the municipality’s bid threshold, power supply must be publicly bid or purchased subject to an exception to the bid law.

Under the LPCL, power purchases from regulated public utilities that use their BGS-FP tariff are exempt from bidding. And while there are several other public bidding exemptions on the books that apply to unique electricity purchasing scenarios, none of these is applicable to purchasing retail supply from a TPS. In other words, procuring power supply from a TPS (directly or through a broker) requires a public bid. Moreover, for electric accounts large enough to warrant attention from a third-party supplier, the contract value will be above the bid threshold.

Also to be considered is the time and cost aspects of preparing bid specifications and conducting the bidding process. This can be a time-consuming and possibly labor-intensive process. Municipal officials should carefully consider all these factors in determining whether they should proceed with a public bid or stick with the BGS-FP tariff.

In awarding the electric supply contract to Viridian Energy, did the borough of Dumont:
  • Prepare Bid Specifications? No
  • Approve resolution for public bidding? No
  • Receive evaluated bids? No
  • Prepare decision matrix of bidders based on bid specifications? No
  • Choose winning bidder based on decision matrix? No
  • If claiming exemption from public bid, request authorization per statute? No
  • Approve resolution awarding electric supply to Viridian Energy? No
From a practical perspective, how does Dumont Boro know they signed with the lowest cost vendor if there was no documented evidence of shopping around for the best deal?  According to the borough attorney, this award was legal.

I ask again - is this legal?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Trouble Paying Bills? So seems Dumont.

It seems for that for those who have trouble keeping up with the utility bills, you are not alone. It appears that borough hall is having trouble paying them too. It seems that for some months the bill is not paid at all...

PSEG 2010 Statements

As you are looking through them, you may have noticed empty pages. According to the borough clerk for some pages

Finance is having trouble locating the June statement and has requested a copy from PSE&G. PSE&G said they would mail it and as soon as we receive it I will forward to you.

Why are bills that are just months old missing? Is the finance department having trouble with record keeping? This does not look very good for a department who was cited in 2009 and again in 2010 for:

Internal controls regarding the preparation of the Borough's general ledger be reviewed to ensure that the general ledgers are complete and reconciled with the subsidiary ledgers and records on a monthly basis

by the external auditor. In other words, the bills were not being paid on time. Meanwhile the clerk advises

any bills which have shut-off notice is due to the receipt of the bill after the bills list has been generated

Huh?  Does that square with the bills list approved by the third Tuesday of each and every month?  Why were there no payments in some months?  Does this pattern represent a borough in healthy financial condition?

Where was the CFO?  Where was the oversight from our council's finance chair in those years? I hope this year's finance chair can get a handle on what's going on in the finance department.

Did you see Sunday's Record Article on PSE&G proposing to report 60+ day delinquent payers to credit reporting agencies?  What do think that will happen to Dumont's AA ratings from S&P?  How much more will Dumont's future borrowing costs multiply once this payment record is known to lenders?

UPDATE: Duplicate statements (presumably replacing the ones missing) are located here.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year 2011!

What will the new year bring...

Honesty, Integrity and Reliability,
Mistrust, Misunderstanding and Obliqueness, or
Deception, Fraud and Thievery?

For whatever it's worth, I predict 2011 will be an interesting year with full of surprises.  Hey, what do I know...

Anyway, wishing everyone in Dumont and the followers via blip, twitter, scribd and youtube a Happy 2011!