Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Houghtaling and Downey Call for Suspension of Tax Administrator

For Immediate Release:

Asks on Current Monmouth Legislators and County Officials to do the same

Assemblymembers Elect Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey are calling on Monmouth County officials to move toward the suspension of Monmouth County Tax Administrator Matthew S. Clark.

“Matthew Clark has cast an even larger shadow over Monmouth County’s controversial tax program and we do not believe taxpayers can trust its implementation with an administrator who is part of an ongoing investigation. We are asking all twelve state legislators and five county freeholders representing Monmouth County to join us in calling for Clark’s suspension. There is too much at risk for taxpayers.”

Clark is part of an ongoing investigation into the controversial tax program implemented by Monmouth County, the Assessment Demonstration Program. The investigation gained momentum when emails released showed Clark shared sensitive information about Ocean Township’s reassessment project with a private contractor, Realty Appraisal Co. Realty Appraisal went on to win a contract worth more than $500,000 with Ocean Township just months later. Several Monmouth County mayors have already expressed frustration with the program and some municipalities have moved to file suit with the county in response. The ADP Program was enacted by legislation sponsored by several current members of the Monmouth County Legislative Delegation.

Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey were elected in early November 2015 to the New Jersey General Assembly to represent the 11th Legislative District. The district encompasses 18 municipalities stretching from Freehold to Monmouth County’s eastern shore. Houghtaling and Downey begin their first terms in the State Legislature on January 12th.

Does An OPRA Request Constitute Harassment?

For immediate release
November 24, 2015

On Friday, October 30, 2015, the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government ("NJFOG") attended a hearing in Kaplan v. Kratovil at New Brunswick Family Court. The hearing was to determine whether the Court would enter a Final Restraining Order ("FRO") against the Defendant based on an Open Public Records Act ("OPRA") request he filed with the City of New Brunswick. The Plaintiff, Ms. Kaplan, alleged that the Defendant, Mr. Kratovil, was harassing her because he filed an OPRA request that named, among other people, Ms. Kaplan's husband, who is on the New Brunswick Rent Control Board.

The Court had entered a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") against Mr. Kratovil based on the filing of his OPRA request. The October 30 hearing was held to determine whether the TRO should be dismissed or converted into a final domestic violence restraining order.

The entry of a final restraining order against a person is a serious matter. In general, an FRO prevents a person from contacting their victim under any circumstances, including by email, phone, text, or by talking to them. A violation of an FRO is a crime that carries serious criminal penalties. A second conviction of violating an FRO carries a mandatory 30-day prison sentence, which makes allegations of domestic violence against any person a matter of great concern.

Previously, a temporary restraining order had been placed on Charles Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, a newspaper that reports on and criticizes New Brunswick’s municipal government and police. In this particular case, the entry of a TRO based on a single OPRA request raises important questions regarding access to public records. While OPRA already prevents criminals from getting access to the personal information of their victims, this case presented the troubling question of whether an OPRA request itself could constitute an act of domestic violence.

Fortunately, in this particular case, the Court held that Mr. Kratovil's OPRA request did not constitute harassment, and the TRO was dismissed. However, this case raises important questions regarding whether and how government officials or their family members can use an OPRA request about them as the basis for filing a domestic violence complaint or even criminal charges.

NJFOG’s “Report 15-01: Does An OPRA Request Constitute Harassment?” provides additional information about the case, including the Court’s basis for denying our request to video-record, a partial transcript of testimony, the judge’s ruling, and our comments and conclusions.


The New Jersey Foundation for Open Government (NJFOG) is the only non-profit organization in the state dedicated solely to improving New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). We work to educate the public about these laws as well as increase governmental compliance, transparency, and accountability.

NOTICE: Tax sale on December 29. Tax sale list finalized for publication as of Nov. 25.

Middletown Township will hold a sale of unpaid property taxes and sewer fees on Tuesday, December 29. The sale will include property taxes owed through the fourth quarter of 2015 and sewer fees owed through August, including accrued interest. (Typically, only sewer accounts with balances of more than $150 through the cut-off date are included in the sale.)

Middletown’s published tax sale notice will include accounts with balances as of Nov. 25, so residents have until the close of business that day to pay in full to avoid inclusion on the list. Due to the accelerated sale schedule, payments must be certified funds – either bank cashier check, money order, or cash.

Balances paid after Nov. 25 will include additional charges (from $40-$125 last year) for sale and publication. The last day to pay to avoid inclusion in the sale is typically the day beforehand. No payments will be accepted the day of the sale.

If you have questions about the property taxes you owe, contact the tax collector’s office at 732-615-2086. If you have questions about sewer fees, call TOMSA at 732-495-1010.

Middletown Township first held this type of accelerated sale in December 2010.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pallone Introduces Legislation to Modernize Food Labeling

November 23, 2015

Pallone Seeks to Clarify, Update Nutrition Information Address Misleading Health Claims

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-06), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2015, which seeks to minimize confusing and misleading information that consumers encounter on food packages. Pallone introduced the bill in the House with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and it was introduced in the Senate by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA).

The Food Labeling Modernization Act (H.R. 4061) approaches food labeling reform in a comprehensive manner, addressing front-of-package labeling, misleading health claims, and requiring updates to the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredient list. FDA has proposed updating the Nutrition Facts label to require information about 'added sugars,' updated serving size requirements, and make calorie and serving size information more prominent. FDA also recently requested public comment on the use of 'natural' on food products.

“When families make the effort to eat nutritious, healthy food, the labels on food products should help them make the right choices, not confuse or mislead them,” said Congressman Pallone. “The Food Labeling Modernization Act addresses this problem by taking a comprehensive approach at ensuring consistency and clarity on food labels and setting reliable standards for what healthy and natural actually mean. Healthy eating is especially critical to combating the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, which has nearly tripled in the past 30 years and is one of the most serious public health problems in this country. For the health of our children and our country, the time is now for this long-overdue legislation”

Nutrition information, ingredient lists, and health-related claims on food labels can play an important role in the battle against obesity and diet-related disease, which are responsible for hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in the United States each year, as well as increased health care costs. Food labeling requirements, however, are in need of a major overhaul. Major food labeling provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act have not been updated since 1990 and in some cases have not been changed since 1938. As a result, labels do not provide the information that today’s consumer needs to evaluate and compare products in order to make healthy choices.

In an effort to help consumers select healthy products, the Food Labeling Modernization Act’s signature initiative will direct the Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary to establish a single, standard front of package nutrition labeling system in a timely manner for all food products required to bear nutrition labeling.

The bill will also strengthen current law to target trends in marketing that confuse or mislead consumers when they are attempting to compare food products. Specifically, the legislation will require new guidelines for the use of the words “healthy” or “made with whole grain.” The bill also requires the percent daily values for calories and sugar, as well as the amount of sugar that is not naturally occurring, be listed on the Nutrition Facts label.

“Food labels should inform -- not mislead -- consumers as they grocery shop,” said William Wallace, Policy Analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “Consumers deserve labeling that is simple, straightforward, and meaningful, so they can easily compare products and make healthy choices for their families. The Food Labeling Modernization Act would make the significant, sensible updates to nutrition labels that consumers need. We urge all members of Congress to support it.”

“When ‘whole grain’ waffles can be made with white flour, and ‘all natural’ ingredients can contain synthetic high-fructose corn syrup, it’s clear our food labels are due for a makeover,” said CSPI director of regulatory affairs Laura MacCleery. “And putting easy-to-interpret nutrition symbols on the fronts of packages would be a major advance for consumers who want to make healthy choices in an instant.”

A section-by-section breakdown of the bill is available here.

Safely Thaw Your Turkey Info Chart

Need to know how to safely thaw your frozen turkey in time for Thanksgiving? This info chart will show you how.

Huffington Post

Thanksgiving Planner Info Chart

If you've just started planning for Thanksgiving you're running a little behind but it isn't too late.

Huffington Post

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Weekly Address 11/21/15: In the Face of Terror, We Stand as One

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week's address, the Vice President spoke to his and the President’s commitment to protecting our country from terrorists, while also providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. He emphasized that he and the President consider the safety of the American people to be their first priority. But slamming the door in the face of refugees fleeing precisely the type of senseless violence that occurred in Paris last week would be a betrayal of our values. The vast majority of Syrian refugees are women, children, and orphans; survivors of torture; and people desperately in need of medical help. And all refugees undergo the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States. The Vice President reminded us that ISIL wants us to turn our backs on Muslims victimized by terrorism. We win by prioritizing our security while refusing to compromise our fundamental American values of freedom, openness, and tolerance.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

President Obama's Weekly Address 11/14/15: Giving Veterans Their Chance

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week's address, President Obama honored our nation’s veterans, who have served and sacrificed in defense of our country. This past week, Americans came together on Veterans Day to pay tribute to those men and women in uniform who have risked their lives to protect our freedom. In recent years we’ve worked to reduce the veterans’ unemployment rate to 3.9 percent and slash the disability claims backlog at the VA by nearly 90 percent from its peak. But there is still more that can be done. Since day one of his Administration, the President has remained committed to serving the brave men and women who have served us. And in his address, he reminded us that we all have a role to play in ensuring that veterans have the opportunities and support they deserve.

Thanksgiving Safety Tips from the Middletown Fire Department

Middletown Public Information:

Did you know?

Thanksgiving is the leading day of the year for home fires involving
cooking equipment.

The Middletown Township Fire Department provides the following
safety tips for safe and happy Thanksgiving!

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.
  • Keep children away from the stove. 
  • The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids.
  • The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffeemaker, plate warmer or mixer are not
  • dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children alone in room with a lit a candle.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

Have activities that keep kids out of the kitchen during this busy time. Games,
puzzles or books can keep them busy. Kids can get involved in Thanksgiving
preparations with recipes that can be done outside the kitchen.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pallone Urges of Rejection of Amendment that Would Cut $50 Million Per Year from NJ Transit

November 12, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and a bipartisan group of his colleagues are urging the removal of a provision attached to the House-passed surface transportation reauthorization that would cut federal public transportation funding to several states by approximately $263 million per year, including a $50 million annual federal funding cut to NJ Transit. The amendment would eliminate the High Density States Program, known as the 5340 Program. The lawmakers sent a letter to the bicameral Conference Committee that is negotiating a final draft of the legislation urging them to recede to the Senate bill, which maintains 5340 funding.
“I am calling for the elimination of this amendment because it would do unnecessary damage to New Jersey and six of our neighbors,” said Congressman Pallone. “Half of all transit users nationwide live in these states. This misguided amendment would trigger detrimental funding cuts that would force NJ Transit and other transit systems to reduce service, raise fares, cuts jobs, and create additional hardships for the millions of people who rely on public transportation every day. At a time when our nation should be investing in our transportation systems and infrastructure, the amendment moves us in the opposite direction.”
In addition to New Jersey, the amendment would drastically cut federal public transportation funding to Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. It would force transit systems in these states to cut jobs, service, and service frequency.

The full text of the letter follows.

To the Conferees:

The Herrera Beutler amendment to the House-passed Surface Transportation Bill that passed by voice vote that eliminates funding for the 5340 High Density States program will create a crisis in the states that provide half of all public transportation in the United States at a time when demand for transit has never been higher. This amendment doesn’t just eliminate funding, it takes funding from a critical formula-based program and redirects it to a 100 percent discretionary program controlled by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Importantly, Chairman Shuster’s amendment vote recommendations, which were developed in concert with Ranking Member DeFazio subject to the “Big 4” agreement, recommended a NO vote on the Herrera Beutler amendment.

The elimination of funding to the High Density States program would force transit systems in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island to cut jobs and service and eliminate the ability to meet demand and keep our respective systems in a state of good repair. A bill that was carefully crafted to do no harm and ensure no one lost anything now creates devastating loss in the areas where demand for public transportation is the highest.

The effect of this hardship isn’t limited to transit providers and customers. The loss in funding will negatively impact local transit manufacturers and suppliers of transit related goods and services, as well as the jobs they create. We view this as an issue of responsible governance. An amendment that eliminates funding for states that provide public transportation to 50 percent of all transit riders in this country is irresponsible and can in no way be considered to be in the best interest of the people we all serve.

We strongly urge the Conference Committee to recede to the Senate’s position that retains the 5340 apportionments. We need a surface transportation bill that maintains an appropriate level of funding to not only meet the current demand, but ensure people in these states have the ability to access jobs, education, and health care.


NJ Watchdog: Corruption case undermines Christe claims as prosecutor

On the presidential campaign trail, Chris Christie boasts that he was a no-nonsense prosecutor above politics.

“The fact is that this Justice Department under this president has been a political Justice Department,” said Christie during last month’s debate on CNBC. If elected, he promised to nominate “an attorney general who will enforce the law and make justice more than just a word.”

But back in New Jersey, the Christie administration appears to be burying a corruption case involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, his second-in-command. An alleged $245,000 pension fraud occurred when Guadagno was Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, the year before she first ran for lieutenant governor as Christie’s running mate.

On Thursday, a New Jersey appeals court ruled the state attorney general’s Division of Criminal Justice must release two confidential documents to New Jersey Watchdog. Justices George S. Leone and Carol E. Higbee rejected a lower court’s decision to block release of the records as an “abuse of discretion.”

“We cannot agree that the fact the investigation concerned possible sensitive issues of public corruption weighs against disclosure,” the ruling stated. “In cases involving allegations of public corruption, transparency and the public’s right to know are particularly important.”

Guadagno made false and conflicting statements that enabled her sheriff’s chief officer, Michael Donovan, to improperly collect an $85,000 a year pension in addition to his $87,500 salary, as first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in 2010.

In 2011, DCJ began an investigation at the request of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System board of trustees. From the start, the probe was riddled with conflicts of interest.

Guadagno is a former deputy director of DCJ who had supervised or worked with many of its investigators. Yet Christie did not use his authority to appoint a special prosecutor or independent investigator under the State Constitution.

What happened to that investigation is a mystery slowly being revealed through years of public records battles between New Jersey Watchdog and the Christie administration.

The complete story is online at http://watchdog.org/246981/nj-corruption-undermines-christie/.

NJ Watchdog: Appeals court orders release of corruption probe records

A New Jersey appeals court has ruled the state must release two confidential state records from a corruption probe involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to New Jersey Watchdog.

The opinion released Thursday by the Appellate Division reverses a trial court decision by Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson last year not to release those records from a state Division of Criminal Justice investigation of alleged pension fraud.

In a 14-page opinion, Justices George S. Leone and Carol E. Higbee rejected Jacobson’s reasons for blocking release of the documents to the investigative news site as an “abuse of discretion.”

“We cannot agree that the fact the investigation concerned possible sensitive issues of public corruption weighs against disclosure,” the ruling stated. “In cases involving allegations of public corruption, transparency and the public’s right to know are particularly important.”

As New Jersey’s second-in-command, Guadagno frequently serves as acting governor when Chris Christie travels outside the state on presidential campaign trips. She is mentioned as a likely Republican candidate for governor in 2017 – and could take the reins earlier if Christie steps down before his term expires.

The alleged $245,000 fraud occurred when Guadagno was Monmouth County sheriff in 2008, the year before she first ran for lieutenant governor as Christie’s running mate.

Guadagno made false and conflicting statements that enabled her chief officer, Michael Donovan, to improperly collect an $85,000 a year pension in addition to his $87,500 salary, as first reported by New Jersey Watchdog in 2010. The story included links to smoking-gun documents, including an internal memo initialed by Guadagno.

In 2011, DCJ began an investigation at the request of a state pension board. But the probe was riddled by a major conflict of interest since Guadagno is a former DCJ deputy director. Christie did not use his constitutional power to appoint a special investigator or independent prosecutor.

The story is online at http://watchdog.org/246882/nj-corruption-probe-records/.

Pallone Celebrates Veto of Proposed LNG Project Off of the New Jersey Coast

November 12, 2015

LONG BRANCH, NJ – Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, applauded New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s veto of a proposed plan to build an offshore liquefied natural gas port 24 miles off the coast of Long Branch, New Jersey. Pallone has consistently fought against the proposed Liberty Natural Gas (LNG) Port Ambrose terminal, which poses a threat to New Jersey's ocean and coastline, crucial economic engines for the state.
“The rejection of this project draws a line in the sand that instead of focusing on industrial uses of the ocean, our country and the State of New Jersey should be encouraging the use of renewable energy resources,” said Congressman Pallone. “Such a forward-looking energy policy will protect our oceans and coasts, create renewable energy jobs here at home, and move us away from importing polluting fossil fuels from other countries. I thank Cindy Zipf and Clean Ocean Action for their years of advocacy and steadfast opposition to this project. I believe Governor Christie should also formally file his opposition to this dangerous proposal.”
Last week, Pallone submitted a statement at a public hearing on the Final Environmental Impact Statement in opposition to the project and called for its rejection. The statement is available HERE.

In October, Congressman Pallone, sent a letter to Governor Christie urging him to veto the proposal. Governor Christie vetoed a similar proposed project in 2011, and in the letter Congressman Pallone asked the Governor to remain consistent in his opposition. The letter is available HERE.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day 2015

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — President John F. Kennedy

“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!” — Sun Tzu

“Our veterans accepted the responsibility to defend America and uphold our values when duty called.”
 — Bill Shuster

"On this Veterans Day, let us remember the service of our veterans, and let us renew our national promise to fulfill our sacred obligations to our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much so that we can live free." – Dan Lipinski

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Congressman Pallone Statement on Veterans Day 2015

The text of Pallone’s statement follows.

“Just as the military pledges to leave no solider behind on the battlefield, Veterans Day is an opportunity to renew our commitment to leave no veteran behind when they return home. It is an opportunity to renew our commitment to the nation’s nearly 22 million veterans, including more than 30,000 in my Congressional District – and to our current troops and reservists, and their families. We must ensure that their sacrifice to our nation is never forgotten and that they have the tools they need live successful and healthy lives when their services are concluded.

“My father fought for our country during World War II, and I have gained an understanding – from him and many other veterans in my Congressional District – of the successes and challenges of our efforts to support our veterans.

“In many ways, the successes of programs designed to help veterans with the support they deserve – and have earned – are overwhelmingly positive. Thanks to Veterans Affairs, 80,000 veterans avoided foreclosure last year and 2.3 million veterans, service members and spouses are VA home loan participants as of this year. With the Post-9/11 GI Bill we enacted, nearly 1.5 million veterans and their family members have pursued their education.

“Yet, there is still much more to do.

“I am proud to be working with my colleagues in Congress to ensure the Veterans Administration no longer fails our veterans. Among other efforts, it is important that we remove the needless obstacles and complexities in the VA, as well as implement new technology to improve the VA’s health care delivery.

“We must also address the employment of veterans when they come home. Members of the armed forces who defend our safety and freedoms should not have to fight for a job here at home, which is why it is critical that we work to expand job opportunities for returning veterans.

“This day and every day, let us honor the service of our nation’s veterans and pledge to fulfill our commitment to them when they return home.

“To our veterans --- Thank you.”