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?