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Monday, 21 December 2015


 Hamilton's Ethics Policy, Not Worth the Paper It's Written On







What does it take to get fired in Hamilton township as a township employee?  The ethics policy in Hamilton needs a set of dentures. It lacks any teeth.



Hamilton Township Ethics Policy: Not Worth the Paper its written on



In September 2014, Trentonian crime reporter, Penny Ray wrote: http://queys3.rssing.com/browser.php?indx=3391586&item=7502


This article focused on the arrest of a Hamilton Township employee (worked in the planning and compliance department of the township) who was growing marijuana plants in his backyard and in his home.  The Mercer County Narcotics Task Force apprehended 52-year-old Joseph Fratticcioli, last year. while he was working at the Hamilton Township Municipal Building.  The police performed a search of the employees home. They found six large marijuana plants in the backyard. In their search they also found three additional marijuana plants and a vacuum sealer in the mudroom.  There was also seven large glass jars containing marijuana, a triple beam scale, a plastic container of marijuana, $910 in cash, a rifle and two shotguns in his bedroom. Police seized the drugs, the cash and a Dodge pickup truck as suspected proceeds from drug sales.


According to public records, Fratticcioli has been employed by the township since 1985, and his salary last year was $83,288.  Fratticcioli is a Supervisor Drafting Technician with the Department of Community Planning and Compliance. As of today, he is still employed by the township of Hamilton in his position.  A recent OPRA request of a list of employees in the township, clearly demonstrates Fratticcoli's employment. You can also call his office at the township and speak to him. 


Fratticcioli was charged with two counts of possession of marijuana, two counts of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, possession of a firearm while committing a narcotics offense and possession of drug paraphernalia. His bail was set at $75,000.  During this drug raid police estimated the street value of the seized marijuana plants is $25,000. The estimated street value of the marijuana that was found in containers is $13,500.  How is it that this gentleman, is still employed with the township, if the township has such a touch ethics policy?The residents of Hamilton want to know.


Another two recent ethical incidents also have residents baffled in the township.  During an OPRA request one resident found that all digital files and emails have been destroyed, prior to 2010,  by the leadership in Hamilton.  There was no certification done with the destruction of these records. 


Federal agencies are usually very careful with recordssometimes even preserving unnecessary or redundant tweets, blogs, Web comments and email. Why? Often, they fear losing valuable data among the inconsequential prose or worse yet, being accused of “hiding” information. Still, records are at risk from human error or even malicious intent. (That famous 18 ½-minute gap in the Watergate tapes, which eventually brought down a presidency, comes to mind.)


But even accidentally wiping out the wrong files can have equally dire consequences. Without those files your agency may not be able to properly meet the needs of the public, operate efficiently, meet regulatory or compliance obligations or even fulfill Freedom of Information requests. When a record is inadvertently deleted, federal guidance requires agencies to recreate as much of the lost information as possible from bits and pieces or earlier documentation stored elsewhere—a time-consuming and sometimes fruitless endeavor that most often results in an incomplete record.


Wouldn’t it be better if that information hadn’t been destroyed at all? Setting up a good records management program may seem daunting, but our government leaders have responsibilities that are manageable. A little effort in the short term will save an office trouble in the long term. Document accessibility will save government employees the headache of sorting through vast amounts of paperwork, dramatically improving efficiency. 


Local town leadership’s involvement with records management began the first day they became a part of the public office or employed for local government. 


The law defines public records very broadly. All records must be managed properly. Most records will be destroyed according to established policies and procedures. The small percentage of records deemed to have permanent value need to be deposited at the State Archives. When the policies are not followed, and records are willfully destroyed, criminal prosecution is in order. A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding $1,000 in many states. 


What is the role of a public official? Whether you were voted into office, appointed by an elected representative, or hired by a government agency, you are responsible for your organization's records.  Records must be maintained correctly to facilitate the transparency that the public expects of public office-holders.  To deliberately delete or allow deletions to occur and do nothing about it, is illegal. This clearly does not meet the ethics policy of any state or municipality.


State law makes all public officials responsible for making sure that records no longer needed are either offered to the Archives or are destroyed according to procedures that are spelled out in the states regulations. 


Transparency of government is only possible through records management. Continuity of records is an integral piece of public officials' responsibility to their constituents. Though it may sound challenging, adhering to good records management practices will be beneficial in the long-term. An office with easy and reliable access to its records will operate efficiently. 


Upon entering the place where many of the townships documents are stored, a normal person would be stunned at the condition of the room. There was visqueen plastic draped throughout the room clothes pinned to the ceiling. There were puddles of brown water laying within the visqueen.  When we asked one of the township employees what was the cause of having all this plastic hanging from the ceiling. Their response,” the roof has been leaking for quite some time so we have this up to protect the file cabinets.  Last year, I was in the tax office in the municipal building and saw this same dramatic visqueen plastic set up due to the leaking roof.  


One of the record  rooms at the townships municipal building is filled with numerous file cabinets. These file cabinets house important government records. All of the cabinets in this room had this plastic visqueen above them. There were extensive puddles of brown water scattered throughout the visqueen, above the cabinets. Obviously mold growing from the continued wetness.  Is this how our government documents should be safeguarded? This is also not an optimal work environment for the employees as well. 


The mess does not end with the cabinets. There are numerous old, collapsed unlabeled boxes of records. One would have to leaf through to evaluate the documents.  The boxes are not labeled just stuffed with numerous amounts of paper.


Governments are bound by law to protect all records; which includes emails.  which are in their custody.  The law defines the roles laid out in the Annotated Code in an effort to protect records considered essential to the continuing operation of government, guarantee the integrity and preservation of permanent records, ensure the legal admissibility of the permanent record, secure the rights and privileges of citizens, assure public access to the records of government, promote agency legal and fiscal accountability, provide a means to document agency administrative history.

The law also further states that a person may not willfully alter, deface, destroy, remove, or conceal a public record except under proper authority. Exploring the regulations makes it clear that records management is important to the management of your government's responsibilities.


The Division and the State Archivist have adopted regulations to define the character of records of archival quality; determine the quantity of those records;  set standards for the development of record retention and disposal schedules; and provide for the periodic transfer to the State Archivist or disposal of records, in accordance with the schedules. 


Each unit of the government shall have a program for the continual, economical, and efficient management of the records of the unit. The program needs to include procedures to ensure the security of the records; to establish and to revise, in accordance with the regulations, record retention and disposal schedules that ensure the prompt and orderly disposition of records that the unit no longer needs for its operation; and to facilitate compliance the law. One can only imagine if this program exists and if it does how does the leadership ensure its being followed.


In the event government documents are in danger of being destroyed  alternative solutions must be made to ensure the integrity of the government documents. (i.e. rent equipment, storage space, or services for records, including microfilming or photocopying, and, as appropriate). 


The State does not under any circumstances authorize any local government to perform destruction of a permanent book of account; the destruction of a land record of a clerk of a circuit court; the destruction of any record that relates to the financial operation of a unit of the government or to collection of State , the destruction of any record until the expiration of the period that a statute expressly sets for that record to be kept; the destruction of any public record that a statute expressly requires to be kept permanently.


In accordance with the record retention and disposal schedules, a public officials must offer to the Archives any public record of the official that no longer is needed, such as: an original paper; a book;  a file;  a record of a court of record for which an accurate transcript is in use; or  a record that relates to the internal management of or otherwise is a housekeeping record. 


Unless a government has received written approval from the State Archivist, a public official may not destroy any public record. If a record is destroyed there will be a record of approval of the destruction and how it was destroyed.  


The custodian of records shall, at the expiration of the custodian's term of office, appointment, or employment, deliver custody and control of all records kept or received in the transaction of official business to the custodian's successor, supervisor, or records officer, or to Archives. 

Public officials shall notify the Archives of any actual, impending, or threatened unlawful removal, defacing, alteration, or destruction of records that shall come to the agency's attention.  The State Archivist may request the Attorney General to seek appropriate relief. 


When nonpermanent records are destroyed in accordance with the terms of an approved schedule, the agency or Records Center have to submit a certificate of records destruction to Archives. In the township of Hamilton, no certification in the past 34 years has ever been done. The lack of focus on ensuring the integrity of sacred government documents in the local government of Hamilton is very disturbing. 


Upon further discussions and follow up with the Hamilton Municipal Clerk, who has been in her position for 35  years we learned from the clerk:


"Emails just "disappear

All servers just "disappear" when people leave office

No email or digital file was ever saved prior to July 2010, they were all deleted

In the past 35 years there has never been a certification (this properly documents what documents or emails have been deleted or sent to the state archive) done ever in the history of Hamilton township in Mercer County. All certifications come through the clerk and she has never processed one

The Hamilton clerk is well aware of the shenanigans going on with the deletion of files and emails, her own have just disappeared, but nothing has ever been done to rectify the situation or document this behavior is going on."


How does the destruction of public records in Hamilton support the towns "touch ethics policy?" How is it that the clerk and the leadership all know this goes on and there are no ramifications for this behavior? The residents of Hamilton want to know?


Since Sept 2010, Susan Sternberg has been the executive director of the Hamilton Township library. In August of this year, the executive director of the Hamilton township library presented to the Friends of Hamilton (a nonprofit group that helps financially support the library) the need for new computers. The estimated cost was $9,000 for the new computers. Sternberg presented this need to the Friends of Hamilton Library and the Trustees of the library approved the purchased.  What happened next with this, clearly does not meet the sniff test of the Yaede administrations ethic policy.


Sternberg used her personal credit card to make the purchase of the computers for the library. She bragged to staff that she did this so she could get frequent flyer miles.  This is not the normal process that happens for purchases for the library. The normal process entails the library getting an invoice and the Friends of Hamilton will either pay the vendor directly or reimburse the township for whatever was purchased. It is not the process to use ones own personal credit card to make purchases to reap the rewards of airline mileage.


The trustees of the library were very disturbed by this behavior, so they have placed Scott Chianese in the role of executive director at the library, an interim role they are saying.  


According to sources at the library, Sternberg is on family leave to take care of her father who recently had orthopedic surgery in California. They were told this by Hamilton Township's business administrator John Ricci and Mayor Yaede, according to sources. They state she is out until the end of this year, and into 2016 as well.


However, sources at the library clearly have seen Sternberg out and about in Hamilton, clearly not in California according to sources. Sternberg is still on the Hamilton township payroll collecting a paycheck.


How do these above three examples meet the "tough ethics policy" of the township. Well, clearly they do not. The residents of Hamilton want to know why this behavior is the accepted normal? 



Response to Residents


Mayor Yaede touts an open and accessible government with her "open-door policy" for residents. The reality of the matter for residents is there is a bolted door, lack of response from her and her directors, and lack of response even through the HAMSTAT system. Several residents for over a year have been trying to contact the township via phone, letters, emails, etc in regards to the negative effects of their poorly planned economic development. All of the communications have been ignored and unresponded to.  How is this behavior demonstrated by the township leadership meeting the "open door policy" the mayor touts? This clearly demonstrates a town that has something to hide.






Double Dippers


Public service is supposed to be enriching work, and by now you know why: Many public servants turn this calling into a double-dipping obscenity, then justify it as an accepted Jersey tradition.


Hundreds of state employees simultaneously collect high salaries and retirement pay, gaming the pension system with impunity by exploiting a loophole in the law. The only way this ends is if taxpayers – assuming they resist the impulse to drive their heads into a wall – voice their intolerance for charades .  There are 15 employees on the Hamilton township payroll who are collecting two incomes for one job.  They have tricked the system and are taking advantage of the "special retirement provision" of their public pension plans: They cash out after 25 years, then return to a similar post that is covered by a different pension plan.


Few legislators are interested in prohibiting the practice, because at last count, 18 of them also double-dip. Senator Jennifer Beck has made this her passion to change. Her bill when passed will suspend pensions for workers who resume public employment with a salary higher than $15,000 – no exceptions.


As for those pensioners who think about challenging it in court, they'll have two choices: They can cease their double-dipping voluntarily, or they can prepare for it to be a campaign issue.


No one begrudges a public employee's comfortable retirement – especially cops, who spend their lives on the front lines of violence. But as New Jersey's pension deficit grows more onerous each year, state employees concede they have to make sacrifices. Now it's time for the legislature to do its part, starting with a look in the mirror – the only way to prove that its desire for comprehensive reform is earnest.



Posted by tammyduffy at 8:08 AM EST

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