Despite Voters’ Call For Change, Somerset GOP Stacking Deck in Lame Duck With Their “Good Guy” Buddy
Somerville, NJ - At the final Somerset County Freeholder meeting of 2019 and following the election of a Democratic majority to the board, lame-duck Republicans have decided to ignore the voters’ call for change and spring appointments at the last minute without following accepted policies and procedures.
“Democrats ran on a campaign of openness, transparency and solid vetting of appointments to ensure Somerset County has the best possible staff and volunteers for our residents,” said Freeholder Shanel Robinson. “The voters agreed with us that the old ways aren’t working.”
The GOP did not include the re-nomination of Tim Howes to the Raritan Valley Community College Board of Trustees on the December 17 meeting agenda distributed to the public and the media, an agenda which is still on the county website. However, at the last minute, the nomination was added to the agenda passed out to the public with no notice to the Freeholders who were asked to vote.
When asked by Freeholder Sara Sooy for information on Mr. Howes’ education, work history, or time as an RVCC board member, the Deputy Clerk left the meeting to seek out a resume but was unable to find one. Despite being appointed to the RVCC board in 2013, reappointed in 2016, and now given another three-year term, there is not even a resume or a letter of interest in the Somerset County files.
“We made a motion to table the nomination until at least a resume was available for the members to review, but the GOP voted in lockstep to force the unscheduled vote today,” said Sooy. “Even though Freeholder Director Brian Levine said he agreed that more information was needed, he sided with his party over the students at Raritan Valley Community College.”
Robinson continued to ask for information on the process for selecting nominees, for information on Mr. Howes’ history as a Trustee, and the only responses were personal interactions between the Republican members and the nominee. Freeholder Brian Gallagher’s stated criteria for selecting Mr. Howes as a Trustees to oversee the education of our residents was that “he is a good guy.” At no time did any Republican Freeholder provide any work history, educational background, or information about Mr. Howes’ six years as a Trustee.
The rushed and improper nomination of Mr. Howes is the second instance of an RVCC Trustee nominee who was not vetted properly this year. Given how the previous instance took up valuable meeting time and created controversy, it is surprising that the Republican Freeholders didn’t even take the time to request a resume or do a simple Google search.
“Had the Republican members followed procedure and not tried to force this nomination through, there would have been time to find any issues and address them,” said Sooy. “It’s entirely possible that Mr. Howes is qualified and has done a good job, but because of the way this was handled none of us – including our Republican colleagues – have any idea other than he’s a ‘good guy’.”
The Democratic Freeholders and Freeholder-elect Melonie Marano propose that any open position be listed on the county website, and anyone interested be given the opportunity to submit an application prior to any vote. Barring emergencies, all Freeholders must be given a chance to review the qualifications of any applicant placed on an agenda at the time the agenda is distributed.
The voters in Somerset County have increasingly placed their confidence in the Democrats and demanded a change to the way county government is managed. Since 2016, Democrats have won five of the seven county seats up for election. In 2017 Steve Peter was elected Clerk, in 2018 Robinson and Sooy were elected Freeholders, and in 2019 Marano was elected Freeholder and Darrin Russo elected Sheriff.
On January 3, Marano will be sworn in as a Somerset County Freeholder and the Democrats will have a majority on the board for the first time since 1965.
“The voters of Somerset Country have sent a clear message that they want this kind of nonsense to stop, and a return to a day when the residents and voters came before the party,” said Somerset County Chair Peg Schaffer. “We are looking forward to a cooperative, collegial relationship with the GOP minority as the control of the Freeholder Board changed hands, but apparently they are not interested in working with us.”
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