January Reorg Meeting

Hi Folks:

For those who have not had a chance to read it, below is the reprinting of my editorial piece in the Voorhees Sun online edition ( I was told it was too long for the print edition so here you go!)

Committeeman Mike

On Jan. 2, I participated in my second Voorhees Township Committee Reorganization meeting, or “Reorg” as it is commonly referred to in political circles, as an elected township committeeman.  Every year, the Reorg meeting in Voorhees is replete with the pomp and circumstance of the swearings in of the committeemen elected that year, as well as the designations of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor, or Deputy “Mayors” as the case would have it this year, by the rest of committee.  Reorg also features speeches by the mayor and the other official or officials sworn in which inevitably portray an overly rosy outlook for the township in the coming year and a multitude of self-serving pats on the back for various achievements occurring in the year past.

As important as some of the above traditions are, I am not writing this article because of what happens in the first part of Reorg.  It is what happens in the second part of Reorg that has prompted me to write this piece. At bottom, the residents and hardworking taxpayers of Voorhees elected me two Novembers ago not to simply be a rubberstamp for business as usual in Camden County, but to be a true check and balance to a one-sided local government and to shine a light on government activities that Voorhees residents deserve to know about. I believe I have done that and more in my first year in office, however, this second part of Reorg requires special attention.

You see, the second part of Reorg is the time of the year where Township Committee appoints all of its professionals for the year who perform necessary services for the township, all of whom are obviously paid with taxpayer dollars.  Cynics would say this is also the time of the year where local politicians pay their hefty campaign contributors back with lucrative municipal contracts, and as a result, force the very residents who elected them to pay inflated prices for services that could have been secured for far less. As a steward of your hard-earned taxpayer dollars, I bring (and brought) the utmost in fairness and integrity to this process.  Needless to say, I feel that committee as a whole, did not.

Case in point: 15 professional appointments were made by committee on Jan. 2.  I objected on the record to five of these appointments because in each of those five instances, the professionals selected were considerably more expensive than one or all of their competitors who likewise had responded to the RFP for that position and additionally in some cases either did not present the proper qualifications or were not the best suited for the position.  Those objections were as follows:

1.) Township Engineer

After several years of loyal and faithful service with an excellent track record of serving our town and knowledge of our town, committee decided to kick out our most recent township engineer in favor of a firm with markedly more expensive rates (old township engineer’s rates range from $80-$125/hour for a licensed engineer where minimum for engineer at new firm are $135/hour).  And yes, if you’re wondering, the firm selected as our township engineer is a loyal campaign contributor contributing the max amount allowable under law to the Democratic candidates’ campaign this year.  (See October 28, 2011 NJ ELEC 11 Day Pre Election Report).

2.) Bond Counsel

Despite the fact that the competitor responder for this position was a qualified, established, reputable law firm with rates literally thousands of dollars cheaper than those of the firm selected, committee ignored this fact and selected the more expensive firm anyway which will cost the Voorhees taxpayers demonstrably more.  (Fee schedule of $4,000 plus $1 per thousand dollars of bonds issued for the firm not selected vs. $5,000 to $9,000 for $1-$999,999 dollars of bonds issued; $9,001 to $13,000 for $1,000,000 to $4,999,999 dollars of bonds issued; and $13,001 plus $1.10 per $1,000 of bonds issued over $5,000,000).

And yes, you guessed it, the firm selected as our bond counsel is a loyal contributor to the Democratic campaigns in this town year in and year out, and this past year was no different as they once again contributed heftily to the Democratic candidates’ campaign.  (NJ ELEC).

3.) Prosecutor

Here, despite the fact that the RFP for this position specifically states and requires that the responder supply “Cost details, including the hourly rates of each of the individuals that perform services,” the firm chosen for this position (and who has been chosen year in and year out by the majority party) failed to supply this crucial detail and instead provides a vague, amorphous statement that the firm is “agreeable to accept the salary set by Township Council.”

As I argued at the Reorg meeting, this is not a proper response to the RFP because it omits the most important factor for choosing a professional, that of precise cost.

Despite the response being non-compliant, Township Committee again simply rubberstamped this appointment.  That said, even if the prosecutor chosen is trying to state that he should be given the same amount set by Township Committee last year (and that he received last year), that amount was $25,864.

The competitor responder for the prosecutor position, a qualified prosecutor serving in other Camden County towns, properly included the cost details in their response stating that their firm would accept $15,000 to perform the services of Voorhees prosecutor.  As such, Committee would have saved $10,864 for the Voorhees taxpayer if they had gone with this selection.  They did not.  And yes, you guessed right again!  The prosecutor selected for yet another year for this position has been a loyal campaign contributor to the Democratic campaigns in this town year in and year out, and this past year was no different as he once again contributed heftily to the Democratic candidates’ campaign. (See 2011 NJ ELEC Report).  I think we’re starting to see a pattern here folks!

4.) Engineer Consultants for the Environmental Commission

The firm chosen for this position was the most expensive firm by far out of the five qualified responses provided to the township, yet committee decided to select them anyway. This firm is also not a stranger to political contributions donating frequently to the Camden County Democratic Committe.  (See NJ ELEC).

Lastly, although they were ultimately selected, several of my colleagues on committee, ostensibly on orders from their party bosses above, had initially voted to remove one of our long time loyal insurance brokers in favor of a designated party preferred broker. The broker to be kicked out was one that has been with Voorhees for years,  they have been a faithful, steadfast member of our community, they are located in Voorhees, they employ six Voorhees residents and have given back to Voorhees without hesitation whenever the township has asked.

On the afternoon of Reorg, and only after I and several others raised a stink about this disgraceful intended move, did my colleagues on committee reverse their vote and decide to stick with our longtime, loyal broker.

Now, political opponents and detractors will most certainly try to deflect and claim that I have set forth the above solely for political reasons.  Nothing could be further from the truth and fortunately those opponents and detractors can’t run from this truth as it is there in simple black and white.

What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong at its most elementary level.  Residents from all political parties should be enraged by the above.

In this economy, or any other economy for that matter, hard-working Voorhees taxpayers should not have to pay the elevated prices of political paybacks solely to benefit politicians who care only about themselves and who are beholden to powerful machine bosses.  As the sole check and balance on the Voorhees Township Committee, it is my duty to shine a light on such improprieties and I will continue to do so as long as the residents of Voorhees provide me with the honor of serving.

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Week of Dems Stifling Free Speech and Progress

Hi All:

This past week, we unfortunately witnessed a display of arrogance and hypocrisy  by Democratic legislators in our district that amazed even me.  In addition to jobs, the two most important issues for Voorhees residents and surrounding towns are: 1.) oppressive taxes; and 2.) quality education.

As many of you know, tonight, Voorhees Middle School was supposed to serve as host for a Town Hall Meeting with Senator Michael Doherty, to discuss the Senator’s “Fair School Funding Plan” with Voorhees residents and offer an extensive question/answer session on the plan. This NON-PARTISAN event promised to educate and bring valuable information to residents on how we can bring more money into our schools and demonstrably lower property taxes at the same time.  The Senator’s ground-breaking plan would ostensibly give our schools with the fair funding they deserve in order to truly cultivate our children’s learning experience, while at the same time providing unheard of tax relief that has been so elusive in Camden County and in Voorhees where taxes have skyrocketed over the past decade.

Not only was I looking forward to learning more about the Senator’s plan, but so were hundreds of our fellow neighbors.  Unfortunately, your elected Democratic legislators of the 6th District, decided to put their paranoia and their politics first and place their concern for the Voorhees taxpayer a far distant second.   For Democratic legislators who claim to care so much about education and education funding for our kids, the hypocrisy of their actions are truly incredible.

Because the Town Hall happened to be scheduled for three weeks before the election and because Sen. Doherty happens to be a Republican, your 6th District Democratic legislators took it upon themselves to intimidate and bully the Voorhees School administration into canceling this event.   I am angry not just because I helped to organize this event and bring the Senator here to speak to our residents, but I am angry because these issues are so vitally important to our residents and to our children.  Yet, because of their paranoia and desire to maintain absolute power, control and influence,  your 6th District Democratic legislators, stifled not just freedom of speech, but the opportunity for true progress.

I hope all of you are as disgusted as I am with the actions of our Democratic state legislators in the 6th District.    I encourage you all to call the offices of Lou Greenwald, Pam Lampitt and Jim Beach at 856-435-1247 and demand an explanation as to why they felt it was necessary to bully and intimidate the Voorhees Administration into canceling this important Town Hall and why they are more concerned with their own political position, than the welfare of the residents they were sworn to represent.

All the best,

Committeeman Mike

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September 19 and September 26 Meetings

Hey Folks:

Long time no speak!  Now that summer is over the Voorhees government is back in full swing!  A few topics to mention covered at our work meeting on September 19:

1.) Buzby Landfill Site We are moving forward with the landscape architecture program at Rutgers University to assist the township in transforming what was once a vast landfill into a beautiful passive recreation park.  In all likelihood, a solar panel project will be installed on the back section of the park (so as to be obscured from view as best as possible) and will take up no more than 20% of the land for the planned park.  The solar panels will create green renewable energy which will allow the township to pay for the creation of the park itself without using tax dollars.  Right now, the Rutgers students are busy designing their concepts for the park with ideas ranging from Asian gardens, to walking paths to water features.  As Voorhees residents what would you like to see in the new environmental park?

2.)New Website This is an issue I pushed for during my campaign and have pushed for while on Committee.  I am happy to say our new website design and concept is moving forward and should be ready for full rollout in October!   The new site will be more user-friendly for Voorhees residents with more information at your fingertips.  As I promised constituents, residents will now be able to access ALL past meeting minutes, agendas and budgets.  This will prove to be the biggest demonstration of transparency we have seen in some time and the residents deserve it!   The website will also focus more on promoting and marketing our wonderful township businesses whose successes are vital to the township’s health and well being.

3.) Energy  Also discussed at the meeting was the potential of having Voorhees Township serve as an Energy Aggregation company which would not only provide a solid revenue stream for the township but would also result in reduced electric bills for residents who might “opt in” to the program as electricity would now be purchased in bulk.  More to come on this exciting new possibility, so stay tuned!

 

9/26 Meeting

At tonight’s meeting, which was again unfortunately sparsely attended, Halloween trick or treating is set to occur from 2-8 pm in Voorhees on Oct. 31st.  Additionally, a “Place to Place” liquor license transfer for Firecreek Associates was approved which was the old Diamond Diner license which Preit now owns.  Firecreek Grill promises to be a terrific new addition to the Voorhees Town Center and a great new option for area residents.  Firecreek will essentially share the license with its attached neighbor Doghouse Gourmet Burgers so both establishments will be permitted to serve alcohol.

Lastly, Voorhees has joined a consortium of 8 towns in Camden County to bid for trash removal services.  This has resulted in a first year savings of $118,000 in this shared services initiative!    Smaller, efficient government and shared services are the way to go and we need to continued to do more of the same in every area!

Till next time, send me your ideas on the new Voorhees Environmental Park and make sure to come out to the committee meetings to let your voices be heard!

All the best,

Committeeman Mike

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June 13 Meeting

Hi Everyone:

The highlight of tonight’s meeting was the adoption of the Voorhees Twp. Municipal Budget. As I stated at the meeting, while I am happy with a great deal of our budget and the fiscal responsibility that Committee largely exhibited this year (as opposed to the last ten years), I could not stand behind the document as a whole and voted agains it.  I voted against this year’s budget because we have still allotted some $100,000 for taxpayer funded health benefits for my fellow committeemen.  In this economy, when so many Voorhees residents are having difficulty paying for their own healthcare costs, it is absolutely unacceptable that under this budget residents must pay for the Cadillac health plans of 1/4 time elected officials.    That said, there will be a small decrease in municipal taxes this year for each household in Voorhees.  However, we can and must do better as we move forward in terms of increased transparency and efficiency in our local government.  In that regard, I look forward to a vastly improved township website and corresponding services which promise to provide the Voorhees taxpayer with a new and improved responsive government and an ease of doing business with the township not previously seen.

Lastly, please come on out to my monthly coffee this Friday at 8 am at our new location, Panera’s in Voorhees right off of White Horse Road.  I look forward to answering any and all of your questions and concerns regarding our town and its government!   Till next time!

Committeeman Mike

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May 23rd Meeting – First in New Town Hall!

Hey Folks, a small but spirited crowd joined us as we held the first public Voorhees Township Committee meeting in the new Town Hall at the Voorhees Town Center.  As I’ve said before, our first class township finally has a first class town hall to do business in and to serve as the face of the township.  Our move has also spurned new confidence in the town center already as five new tenants have agreed to make the Town Center their home since the township has set up shop just last week.  Strong ratables and a strong Town Center will only serve to help all of us and solidify the financial health of our great town!

As for the meeting, the main highlight was the unanimous passage of an ordinance to appropriate funds for a revaluation of real estate in Voorhees.  Originally I was against his revaluation as I was concerned about spending $325,000 and was concerned that those residents who have recently and proactively appealed their taxes, would face a tax increase in a reassessment scenario.   However, when it became clear to Committee that once again this year the township will in all likelihood be forced to disgorge approximately $475,000 in tax appeals coupled with the reality that Voorhees residents as a township are paying over their fair share of Camden County taxes, I decided to change my vote to a Yes vote on this ordinance.  As a result, properties in town will be adjusted to reflect the true value of the current market, thereby removing the necessity for tax appeals and saving the township hundreds of thousands in disgorgement payments.  The clincher for me though was the fact that with this revaluation, EVERY Voorhees resident’s county taxes should go DOWN across the board to reflect our new fair share of county taxes which have been disproportionately high since 2005.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the reval.

In the meantime, I hope to see everyone at the annual Kirkwood Memorial Day Parade at 11:00 am on Monday starting at the Carriagebrooke restaurant to honor our nation’s fallen veterans and to celebrate Voorhees!

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May 9 – Last Committee Meeting in the Old Municipal Building!

Hey Folks:

Although brief, the last ever Committee meeting in the old Voorhees Municipal Building on Haddonfield-Berlin road was held this past Monday, May 9.  On Monday May 16, the new Voorhees Town Hall will be open for business at the Voorhees Town Center.  I encourage all residents who are able to, to come on out to Town Hall for the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting ceremony at 10:30 am on Monday.

The new building will be larger, safer and more energy efficient than its predecessor saving thousands in tax dollars in energy costs each year.  This building will finally provide our town with the central government building that a leading Camden county township like ours deserves and that our residents can be proud of for many years to come.  Coupled with a new township website, which we are in the midst of of creating, our local government is finally stepping up to offer vastly improved service and communication to all of its deserving residents.

Thank you again and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the Grand Opening on Monday and at my monthly coffee with residents next Friday the 20th, 8 am at the Country Club Diner.

All the best,

Committeeman Mike

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April 26 Meeting

Hi Everyone:

Very brief meeting today.  In short:

Time for public hearing on the 2011 Budget began tonight.  Unfortunately no one spoke on the budget, but public hearing is open until the budget is approved next month, so if you want to speak your mind on our municipal budget come out and do so!

Revaluation:  the proposed revaluation of real property was tabled again until the May 23rd meeting.  Again, we have to diligently analyze the makeup of the tax appeals that have been filed.  If many are residential and are residents filing for the second time in a row, these appeals most likely will not have as large an impact, making the revaluation less necessary.  However, if there are many first time appealers and commercial appeals, these factors will necessitate a revaluation in committee’s eyes.   We will know for sure by May 23!  If you have opinions on this issue please attend the next couple of meetings and let your voice be heard during public portion!

Committee also passed a resolution to apply for $650,000 worth of open space funds from the county to purchase open space behind the Coliseum.  We are very hoepful that  the county will come through for us on this one.

I want to also congratulate Detective Bob Monahan who retired this week from the Voorhees Police Department after nearly 30 years of faithful service!  Congrats Bob and thank you for all you have done for our township!

Last of all, remember to vote in the school election tomorrow April 27!   Till next time…

Committeeman Mike

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