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Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority partying heartily on public dime

lobster100209_optBY TOM HESTER SR.
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

At a time when many New Jerseyans are eating meat loaf, beans and franks or spaghetti more than once a week, Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority officials have spent thousands of dollars on retirement and holiday parties and Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce is not very happy about it.

Documents uncovered by DeCroce's aides show commissioners at the Rahway-based authority spent, for example, $4,198 for a 2008 holiday dinner at the exclusive Echo Lakes Country Club. The tab included $450 for a disc jockey (who only accepted cash from the public officials), hors d'ouevres including lamb lollies, tenderloin on tuscan toast, shrimp on sugar cane skewer, and entrees of filet mignon, veal marsala and rock lobster tails washed down with $1,018 worth of beverage and valet parking for all at $4 a person.

To celebrate one commissioner's retirement, the officials spent $497 on 13 people at Ferraro's in March. The tab included fresh fruit platters and nearly $150 worth of alcoholic drinks including Grey Goose, wine and a Bloody Mary with Ketel One. This was the only one of three retirement parties that included an itemized receipt.

DeCroce calls the spending outrageous at a time when New Jersey's unemployment rate is at an historically-high and its residents are confronting nation's highest tax burden.

"If a sewerage authority has money to burn on holiday parties held at an exclusive country club featuring rock lobster tails, lamb lollies and filet mignon, then its rates are too high," DeCroce said. "The spending at this agency is yet another outrageous insult to hard-working families ... that is aggravated by public officials who do not respect the public's dollars whether they come from taxes or sewer rates."

DeCroce's aides also found that for parties, retirement dinners and meals authority officials spent:

  • $3,767 for a similar holiday party for 36 people in 2006 that included a $739 beverage bill.
  • $2,421 for a similar party for 33 people in 2005.
  • $1,230 for a deposit and DJ for the 2007 holiday party at Echo Lakes. No voucher could be found providing a total for the bash.
  • $2,007 for a retirement dinner at La Griglia, a seafood grill and wine bar -- where choosing a bottle of wine is an event -- with the commissioners in 2006, and, a framed tribute resolution.
  • $1,234 for a 15 people to attend a retirement dinner in 2007 at La Dolce Vita as well as a framed tribute resolution.
  • $1,701 to cater a mayor's forum in 2006 for 50 people at The Westwood in Garwood, which is "known for fabulous food and impeccable service, unparalleled amenities in an inviting and elegant atmosphere. Guests enter through hand-carved cherry doors into a striking foyer with polished granite floors, artfully crafted woodwork and crystal chandeliers."
  • $995 for meals and expenses at the 2006 Association of Environmental Authorities of New Jersey's spring and fall conferences in Atlantic City. There are no itemized receipts for a $464 lunch at the Ram's Head Inn, which includes a separate $80 charge, nor a $116 breakfast at the Taj Mahal's Bombay Café.
  • $877 for expenses at the 2005 Environmental Authorities conference, including $121 for breakfast at the Bombay Café and $715 for the commissioner's lunch at the Ram's Head.
  • $578 for a commissioners' lunch and expenses, which included cab fares, to the Ram's Head in 2007 during the Environmental Authorities conference. That includes seven cabs from Atlantic City and a separate $57 bill at the Inn's "L-Bar."
  • $556 for a room and food for 12 during a mayor's retreat held at The Westwood in May.
  • $524 for the annual Ram's Head luncheon during the Association of Environmental Authorities 2005 luncheon. There is no itemization of the "food and beverage" bill that totaled $441 before a tip.
  • $458 for a commissioner luncheon at the Ram's Head during the 2008 Environmental Authorities convention.

Travel expenses:

  • $1,812 for six employees to take the Acela Express business class to Washington in 2005.
  • $2,752 for two employees to attend the Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference in Washington in 2005 One stayed four nights at the conference rate of $220 per night at the Marriott at Metro Center. He rode Amtrak's business class at $235 round trip. The other employee stayed three nights at the conference rate of $222 per night at the Marriott's Renaissance Mayflower Inn.
  • $1,983 for an authority member to attend the National Association of Clean Water Agencies winter conference in 2006 in California. No airfare voucher was included, but taxpayers paid for $26 in unspecified tips, $265 for meals including one at Morton's Steakhouse and five nights lodging at the $225-per-n ight Marriott's Desert Springs resort where "the majestic Santa Rosa mountains and spectacular desert landscape may beckon you outside, (but) our elegantly appointed guestrooms with luxurious amenities may persuade you to stay put and enjoy the great indoors."
  • $1,812 for six employees to take the Acela Express business class to Washington in 2005.
  • $1,408 for four employees to take the Acela to Washington in 2008.
Professional services:
  • The Weiner Lesniak law firm, of which Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-union) is a member, has represented the authority. Four randomly-selected vouchers show monthly bills ranging from $2,259 to $27,696.
  • The authority retained Murray, Montgomery & O'Donnell, a Washington lobbying firm for $10,000 per month until it terminated the contract in 2008. An August 2008 memo from the firm indicated it failed to get an authority project funded by the Senate's Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee but offered to continue working at a "significantly reduced rate." Vouchers include memos updating various legislation and meetings, usually with the offices of Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
  • According to OpenSecrets.org, the authority paid Murray, Montgomery & O'Donnell, $260,000 from 2006 to 2008, but a random sampling of vouchers pulled from the authority suggest more - at least $375,000 dating back to January 2005.

"Judging by the escalating prices and plush locale, the Rahway Valley Sewerage commissioners know how to celebrate the holidays in style,'' DeCroce said. "Unfortunately, the ratepayers who pay for this extravagance aren't invited.''

 



 
Comments (1)
1 Friday, 02 October 2009 17:20
Bob McHugh
Let tham eat sewage.

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