The line of people was out the door at the County Annex Building on Pavonia Avenue on Sept. 27 – and it wasn’t because of a shortage of tickets to some new hot musical act. The line was the result of new security rules implemented after Freeholder Bill O’Dea complained at the Sept. 25 freeholder caucus meeting about the lack of security in the building. He cited open gates to the underground garage, lack of metal detectors, and an inconsistent policy for people entering the building through the front lobby.
In the past, a security guard monitored those who came and went, asking people to sign in, listing a time and a location. The new procedure forced people to show identification, slowing up the process of entering and raising the hackles of Freeholder Jose Munoz, who complained that some people coming to the meeting – especially immigrants – might not have identification.
“We want more people to come to our meeting and this is something that discourages them,” Munoz said.
Indeed, some people who wanted to attend the night freeholders’ meeting were turned away, surprised by the sudden request, although O’Dea said people should have identification.
Munoz also questioned the legality of county guards copying down the driver license numbers of people coming into the building.
Result of several incidents
The new and increased security measures were prompted by several incidents, including a confrontation in the county welfare offices at the Hudson County Plaza in August when an irate client apparently caused a ruckus. The county immediately began increased security on that department including setting up an X-ray machine at the entrance – but like the new security measures at the Annex building took employees by surprise and led to a confrontation with the head of the local union when security tried to X-ray her lunch.
O’Dea, however, said security measures at county buildings are inconsistent and often antiquated, as some offices have some way to keep track of who comes and goes, but most don’t.
“It seems a little unfair to have some departments where you don’t sign in or don’t do anything, others sign in, others scan in,” O’Dea said.
County Administrator Abe Antun said the matter needed to be reviewed by the county executive since there is no set policy. He said welfare already had a system in place because of reporting requirements which was upgraded later.
“The system at corrections was the result of a recommendation from the director which set up a system of scanning to see how it would work,” Antun said. “There has been discussion about doing things in other departments, but it hasn’t been the main focus.”
O’Dea said it is more than just a security issue.
“I was just thinking about recent issues such as North Bergen overtime problems,” O’Dea said. (James Wiley, a former supervisor at the North Bergen Public Works, was found guilty of having town workers perform jobs on his home. He also claimed that workers were sent to do campaigning during working hours.)
“Obviously our failure to have any system or any government entity makes more likely for potential abuse,” O’Dea said, “and that’s a concern I have.”
He added, “We’re literally relying on people filling out paperwork with no check and balance. That’s a significant concern of mine. We need to put in a program or a system. How hard it is to get an ID card and swipe a card? It takes all of five seconds to do. We should do it whether it is our roads and buildings, or law enforcement agencies. It could produce substantial savings in the long run.”
O’Dea asked for a report on what it would take to put in a system in place for all departments, what it would cost and how long it would take to implement.
“It would be in best interest of us everybody,” said Freeholder Chairman Eliu Rivera.
“It seems a little unfair to have some departments where you don’t sign in or don’t do anything, others sign in, others scan in.” – Freeholder Bill O’Dea
The Hudson County Freeholders voted to approve a request that $1.6 million of a $3.1 million grant to the Town of Secaucus be diverted from the purchase of two parcels of land to the upgrade of the 4.5 acre Buchmuller Park. O’Dea said the county needs to examine its rules in order to make sure that projects evaluated for purchasing property cannot be changed later.
The original award from the Open Space Trust Fund had been for the purchase of two additional pieces of property one on Farm Road and another on Oak Lane.
One of the properties has some questions about possible contaminated fill, which will be removed and refilled. The other property was expected to be deeded to Secaucus for $1, but may have contamination issues, and there is a dispute over a cap on the cost for cleanup on the site.
“So in the interim, Secaucus would like to use this money for improvements to the park,” Antun said, noting that Secaucus can come back and apply for more money later to complete the purchase of the two properties.
“But we’re trying to see if we can use some Green Acres funds [grants from the State of New Jersey] for the acquisition,” Antun said. “We would get reimbursed for the cost of the property and then turn the property over to Secaucus.”
Antun said the Open Space Committee Advisory Board reviewed this change of use.
O’Dea, however, was concerned about the change because in awarding grants, projects that include acquisition get more priority, and he was concerned with municipalities pulling a kind of bait and switch, where they would propose to purchase a property and once approved, come back with a change for upgrading some other project instead.
“While I think this is a good project and we should move forward with it, I think we need to put in a place a system that will not allow this happen in the future,” O’Dea said. “This lends itself to abuse otherwise.”
Antun said in the past, priority was given to acquisition but that over time, the board has amended those policies because acquisitions tended to be a lot more challenging and there was a lot more demand for park improvements and park ready projects.
“Whatever scoring system that we had in the beginning has been modified somewhat over time,” he said. “But we will look at your concern.”
O’Dea also raised concerns about the cost of projects.
“If we award a grant for $2 million to purchase a property, and it only costs $1 million, we should get the other million back. And the same for improvements, if it costs less than original said, the money should come back into the pool to go to other projects.”
He said he wanted to give notice, setting the end of this year as the cut-off for projects already funded, and reestablish a policy that would prohibit the transfer of funds from acquisition to rehab. If a funded project cost less awarded, then the balance should be returned to the county.