A jail study which was supposed to be released a year and a half ago, is still being kept from the public. I’ve been placing Open Public Records Act requests routinely seeking the release of this study. The latest response:
Dear Mrs. Renna, This email constitutes a formal and complete response to your September 15, 2014 OPRA request for “All studies, either completed or partially completed, produced pertaining to the Union County Jail January 1, 2012 to date”. Please be advised there is no completed study to provide. While there is a partially completed study, it is exempt from access pursuant to the “advisory, consultative, or deliberative material” exception within OPRA.
OPRA Compliance, Office of the Clerk of the Board
I expected this response, so at the same time I tried to get information about the study….
Dear Mrs. Renna, This email constitutes a formal and complete response to your September 15, 2014 OPRA request for ‘all correspondence between Union County officials and employees and Perselay Associates, Inc. and Paige Plus, January 1, 2012 to date’. The responsive documents are attached; the redactions required by OPRA are noted in the documents by numbers 1, 2, and 3. The redaction key is as follows: Attorney-client privileged information; Advisory, consultative, or deliberative material; Safety of persons or the public/security measures and surveillance techniques.
Correspondence Document 1
Correspondence Document 2
I just quickly glanced through the documents and found of interest:
In a proposal dated 5/10/12 outlining consultant services to review various aspects of the operation of the Union County Jail, Perselay Associates writes “ … in this engagement, Perselay Associates Inc. has formed a relationship with Gary Hilton, president of Paige Plus, LLC”. We are confident that we can review the operations of the jail and offer various suggestions to provide cost efficiencies and savings for your consideration.
On Thursday, January 9, 2014 Perselay sends an email to jail director Brian Riordan, “…The first would be a review of information for the report that I was told to hold up on several months ago, but now needs to be completed in the relatively near future.”
Well…. That was eight months ago. Why was he told to hold up on the report, and then told he needs to complete the report in the relatively near future? And why hasn’t it been completed yet?
I don’t represent the corrections officers, but if I did, I would fight like hell to force information out of the county. Including pursuing legal action to force Union County to release parts of this study. And I wouldn’t just rely on the county’s numbers. I’d be conducting my own research. You can be sure the county’s study is going to skewer the numbers to support their decision. For instance, it may not include all the costs of all the jail renovations, including the old Juvenile Detention Center which was renovated yet not repurposed for any use.
According to attorney Walter Luers who specializes in OPRA, the “advisory, consultative, or deliberative material” exception within OPRA is very broad in nature, however there may be parts of that study, like statistics or research figures, that a judge would release.”
This is a public safety issue of huge proportions, and it effects the livelihood of about 300 county employees. The fact that the county has admitted to discussions with Hudson County to possibly transfer Union County prisoners there, while keeping this study under wraps is suspicious. Are they using the study’s information to make a decision while not releasing the study to the public? Does the Corrections Officers Union have certain rights to access this Study in regards to collective bargaining rights? A judge might find that the public’s right to know outweighs Union County’s need to keep this entire study secret.
Why just sit around waiting for the county to release the study? It appears it may be tied into their decision on what to do about the jail, and it’s release is being manipulated.
In the 2014 Union County Executive Budget the County Manager message states: “The County will soon be receiving a study I mentioned in last year’s budget message focusing on the Union County Jail, ….” Of course the CM does not mention that on February 1st of  he had stated that that same study would be completed “within the next 30 days,”
The resolutions appropriating funds for the study:
In August 2012:
2012-646 FREEHOLDER BETTE JANE KOWALSKI: Authorizing the County Manager to award a contract to Perselay Associates, Inc., Chatham, New Jersey, for the development of a management study of the Union County Jail for the contract period August 20, 2012 through December 31, 2012 in an amount not to exceed $30,000.
In March 2013:
2013-57 FREEHOLDER BETTE JANE KOWALSKI: Amending Resolution Number 2012-646 to extend the contract period only with Perselay Associates, Inc., Chatham, New Jersey for the additional three (3) month period of January 1, 2013 through March 31, 2013 at no additional cost.
Also in March 2013 Geoffrey Perselay was named the new Union County Alliance Executive Director. The company he keeps: UNION COUNTY ALLIANCE 2013 BOARD OF DIRECTORS:
Mauro Checchio, Chairman, Union County Alliance
Anthony Albanese, Alman Group (son of former county manager George Albanese)
Linda Carter, County of Union (Freeholder Chair, Ex-Officio)
Karen Conway, Valley National Bank
George Devanney, Keywood Strategies (Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s nephew, former county manager)
Elizabeth Ealie, Wachovia Bank
Dr. Dawood Farahi, Kean University
Alfred Faella, County of Union (UC Manager, Ex-officio)
Frank Lehr, Frank H. Lehr Assoc. (former freeholder)
Richard Malcolm, Ironworker Local 480
Margaret M. McMenamin, Union County College
Daniel Sullivan, Union County Utilities Authority (former freeholder)
Maureen Tinen, Union County Economic Development Corp