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November  30

How To Ditch County Government 101

Instead of seceding from Essex County, why not just get rid of it? If you like that idea, you ought to go to Cedar Grove tonight, where Massachusetts state senator Richard T. Moore will speak about his state's experience getting rid of county government. (They even got rid of one called Essex County!)

Co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Change County Government Steering Committee. Cedar Grove Municipal Building, 525 Route 23 (Pompton Turnpike), from 7:30 to 9 pm. (Wed. November 30).

November 30, 2005 in Controversy | Permalink


This was somewhat of a card trick, by the way, having lived through it. By carefully shifting the graft, waste, stupidity, and sheer bureaucracy of county government to the Commonweakth, they made it look like the problems had disappeared. They have not. The cost has gone down a bit, but the services are not much better. Only a new group of "innies" are reaping the spoils. Where is George V. Higgins when we need him?

Posted by: Conan the Grammarian | Nov 30, 2005 2:33:15 PM

What's your point Conan?

All government is corrupt, so let's just sit on our asses and do nothing?

Shifting "County" functions to

(A) the state, and/or to
(B) the municipalities

certainly doesn't solve any graft, patronage and corruption at those levels, but it eliminates an entire layer of it at the county level!

Posted by: loren | Nov 30, 2005 3:27:30 PM

No, not all government is corrupt. Much of it is wasteful, though.

Removing redundant bureaucracies could be beneficial just in the elimination of duplicate and unneeded services alone. In Massachusetts, the county governments were themselves abolished - but most of their redundant functions were absorbed into other existing entities. There wasn't much net improvement, and taxes there are almost as bad as they are here.

I suppose it is a start, but if you are going to change things, I think you need to change more than the names or the packaging.

Posted by: Conan the Grammarian | Nov 30, 2005 3:42:45 PM

The system is fixed by expossure. We must have a transparent system. We need the county books on the web and published for the public so people can review them to find corruption and waste.

Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:03:29 PM

good idea laser...anything to make our servants accountable works for me.

Posted by: The Iceman | Nov 30, 2005 4:06:08 PM

Here's a start.


Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:06:18 PM

Bottom line: it's one less teat.

Things that actually get done are seldom, if ever, the "best way" (especially in the field of government). I'm not saying we shouldn't strive towards doing something in the best way as a goal, but if we allow that to be the only standard, nothing at all will actually get done.

Posted by: loren | Nov 30, 2005 4:10:25 PM

(My comments were a reply to Conan)

Posted by: loren | Nov 30, 2005 4:12:16 PM

Ok, our freeholder is Ralph R. Caputo and this is what he does.


Their site isn't very mozilla friendly. Being a linux user this effects me.

Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:13:10 PM

And this is when it happening.


Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:16:01 PM


You are mixing 2 separate things.

The question here is not whether our County Elected officials are doing a good job or are responsive.

The question here is whether county government is necessary at all (and worth the cost).

Posted by: loren | Nov 30, 2005 4:20:51 PM

Hmmm.. disappointing... looks like you have to buy your public records.


Maybe we can change that.

Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:20:55 PM

But isn't that the point? You are saying that county government isn't needed because it isn't effective. I'm looking to see if county gov can get more effective.

Centralizing power at the state level may lead to lopsided support in different parts of the state. County rule mean greater self control. Also county gov is there for town and city continuity.

Loren, whats your beef with the county gov?

Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:27:53 PM

You won't eliminate a trough so entrenched. It's a wonderful thing for those who feed there. Just think (or research) back on it's illustrious past.

Posted by: Johnny | Nov 30, 2005 4:39:03 PM

Ok Johnny, thats a big statement. What proof do you have? Any articles, books, court cases, etc?

Posted by: lasermike026 | Nov 30, 2005 4:46:18 PM


It's an extra layer of govt that is not necessary. Do you work for the county or something?

And I think Johnny was alluding to the high conviction rate of Essex County executives.

Posted by: loren | Nov 30, 2005 9:55:41 PM

If you want articles open the Star Ledger.

Posted by: Eddie Shore | Nov 30, 2005 11:07:10 PM

I live in The Commonwealth, too, and the thing is that our counties always did quite a bit less than your counties, largely because there is little or no unincorporated land, so the role of something like a sherriff is quite a bit smaller. Services are often taken care of by municipalities, too. The shared services were basically courthouses and jails used to detain for trial.

Sadly, George V. Higgins is dead, and it's shocking that so many of his books are out of print. Try checking Sandra Nichols Found Dead or The Friends of Eddie Coyle out of your local library, and you'll ensure yourself a very fun reading experience.

Posted by: Lisa Williams | Nov 30, 2005 11:22:08 PM

Lisa Williams - while I share some of your regard for George V. Higgins' novels, his technique of emphasizing dialogue over description often worked against the success of his books. I remember an instance where two characters are supposed to be scurrying across Washington in the teeming rain, and yet, and yet! they have a conversation which runs something like 15 pages. Ridiculous. A drain on readers.

But of what relevance is this former Asst US Attorney to county government in NJ anyway? Frankly, given the extent of and dedication to corruption in this state, I doubt that even George V. Higgins could have adequately handled this state fictionally. We're still waiting for a writer who can, I think.

Posted by: cathar | Nov 30, 2005 11:44:33 PM

Go to a freeholder meeting sometime; you 'll first be amazed, then anesthetized.

county officials do not expect the public to attend. fewo do, other than those receiving honors as "Italian American of the Year" and "County Champ Soccer Team" ...

freeholders vote in effective secrecy, prevent discussion, decline to answer questions, publish their agenda ((VERY LATE)) on the day of the meeting and tack on resolutions as they see fit. as for the public record, they approve meeting minutes in six-month batches, and air the procedings on public access on an indiscernable schedule

meeting rules are arcane, ensuring the public either cannot speak at all, or must wait until 11 pm to do so

want to know where your tax dollars go? ask joe di -- he's 'extraordinarily comfortable' with his prospects:

"as DiVincenzo prepares to seek re-election to a second term in 2006, he looks extraordinarily solid: he has no major problems among the traditionally divisive Essex Democrats, and Republicans have few prospects to run a competitive race. And after DiVincenzo's Chief of Staff, Phil [the hulk] Alagia, delivered an 85k vote plurality as head of Jon Corzine's Essex [joke] campaign, possible opponents are running away."

better yet, try to find a copy of 2004's Analysis of County Procurement & Contracting for a v. interesting read on where and how Essex Cty spends your $$$.

while you're at it, conduct a little public-interest research into how many county officials, elected or appointed, have relatives feeding at the government trough. it's disgusting to make a family business out of "public service"

Posted by: minniver | Nov 30, 2005 11:53:38 PM

"It's an extra layer of govt that is not necessary."


I'm willing to entertain the notion but certainly not based on generalities.

I note that MA didn't get rid of county gov't, only somehow abolished the gov'ts of approximately half of the states' counties. There's a lot here that needs explaining. Why were the remaining county gov'ts not deemed unnecessary?

Posted by: crank | Dec 1, 2005 12:00:21 AM

Actually, just like Massachusetts, New Jersey has no unincorporated land. Every square inch of New Jersey is in one of our 566 municipalities.

The forum this evening was very interesting, as was the last one (about the history of County Government in NJ). Anyone who pays property taxes or rents property in NJ should be very interested in this issue.

It was especially interesting to hear how similar their county governments were to what we have here, and how services are better than before, with a modest cost reduction and a fairer distribution of the burden to boot.

Of course, there are differences between our situation and theirs, but those differences mostly underscore why the abolition of County Government makes even more sense here, (and also why it will be much harder to accomplish):

Dual officeholding is commonplace in NJ.

NJ has no Initiative & Referendum.

NJ has much more powerful County Political Machines, with each party controlling a significant number.

Tremendous indebtedness of our counties.
(Our Essex County debt service alone will top $100 million in 2007)

The next forum will be on the
Millburn & Summit Studies on County Government
and will be held in Summit:

Summit Municipal Building
512 Spingfield Ave
Summit, NJ 07901

Thursday, Dec 15, 2005
7:30pm to 9pm

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Dec 1, 2005 12:28:23 AM


Perhaps you should consider going to one of the forums...

If you live in Baristaville, approximately 18 - 25% of your property taxes go to the County, if you think you (or the general public)are getting a good return on that expenditure, you are in the minority.

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Dec 1, 2005 12:44:20 AM

Loren, I don't work for the county government. hmmm... lasermike026 of the parks & rec... in any case.

The county government provides essential services that New Jersey towns depend on and can not afford themselves. I don't know if Bloomfield, Glenn Ridge, and Montclair could survive without the county system. Much of New Jersey civil system runs on the county level. To eliminate county government would mean to remake the entire state of New Jersey. And for what? Instead of going to Newark for freeholders meetings we go to Trenton?

To have county government is not the issue. People getting involved in civic affairs and transparent government is the issue.

Posted by: lasermike026 | Dec 1, 2005 12:55:08 AM

Some people on this thread have referred to New Jersey as "the Commonwealth" like "the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania". The correct term is "the State of New Jersey".

Posted by: lasermike026 | Dec 1, 2005 1:03:46 AM

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